Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Yet another new sewing machine

Well, it's new to me!

I've acquired another  Singer 28K handcrank; her serial number dates her to the first half of 1908. She came from a rural car-boot sale via a friend, for the grand sum of £8.
Singer 28K handcrank sewing machine made in 1908
Singer 28K, made in Kilbowie, Clydebank
Scotland, in the first half of 1908.
We put her on my dining room table, changed her needle, wound her bobbin on my ~1914 Jones Family CS (as the Singer's bobbin tyre is missing), threaded her up - and she sewed. Not quite perfectly yet; the tension mechanism needs a thorough cleaning, and the stitch length adjuster is jammed, but the application of plenty of WD 40, followed by a good dose of sewing machine oil in all orifices and wherever metal meets metal, will soon solve that problem, I have no doubt. 

Jones Family CS sewing machine, described as 'As supplied to HM Queen Alexandra'. This machine dates from about 1914 or 1915.
Jones Family CS 'as supplied to HM Queen
Alexandra', with 'coffin top' case seen behind.
The lid to her accessories compartment is missing - I think it was a sliding lid, so it must have slid right off - and she has neither accessories nor cover - which I think would have been a 'coffin top' similar to that of my Jones Family CS, seen on the right here. The desirable bentwood cases came a bit later, I'm sure.

How many domestic machines of any type are still perfectly functional at 105 years old? There are literally thousands, probably millions, of century-old hand-crank and treadle sewing machines still doing useful, often vital, jobs all over the world. 

I wonder if the men and women who made these machines a century and more ago had any idea at all of the heritage they left us? I wish my old machines could talk! I'd love to know about some of the garments they made, the women who used them and the conditions in which they were used. Gas-light? Oil-lamps? Or did they push a table to the window and place the machine there when they needed to sew? 

I love my slick computerised machines and overlockers, make no mistake about that. They sew slick, quick and beautiful. They need judicious coaxing, caution in the fabric put through them, specialist servicing and a kind, considerate user. They also need a reliable electricity supply. 

My old machines produce a perfect straight stitch on any fabric that can fit under the presser foot, and are so relaxing to use - on short seams at least. They offer the ultimate in control, stitch by single stitch, which can be invaluable for some projects, and the torque on them is amazing. With a good quality new needle they will go through the thickest, toughest layers of fabric like a hot knife sliding through butter. They do all this on only a generous supply of sewing-machine oil and the muscles of a human's right arm. They do have a great thirst for oil! 

Most sewers, if they buy sewing machine oil at all (it must not be used on computerised machines), buy it in a wee little bottle which costs a couple of pounds for about 100 ml and lasts for years and years. I buy ten times as much - a litre - for less than a fiver and it lasts me about a year. They drink the stuff, I think! 

As long as I could get hold of lubricant, I could sew through the Zombie Apocalypse and the collapse of civilisation as we know it, with my old handcranks. Let's hope it never comes to that, though!


  1. I've enjoyed reading your blog, very entertaining, I like the straightforward approach!

    Re. your old Singers, here is an interesting site if you ever need any bits and pieces, (you may have already found it)

    1. Yes, I've known Helen for several years now - she's supplied me with parts for several antique machines. I think they should be used if at all possible - gently used, perhaps, but used - as that is what was intended in their manufacture, but needles can be a problem for some of the very oldest or the more unusual.