I need another sewing machine like I need a hole in my head. But, I think this video of my oldest is all the justification I need:
If this machine could talk, she would have quite the story to tell. I found her on craigslist for $110 — making her my most expensive VSM yet. It’s difficult to find hand crank sewing machines here in the US so I didn’t feel too guilty for paying a premium for her. This particular machine has a few bonus features that aren’t found on more common Singer models, too. For one, it has a stitch-length lever (not a knob!), which includes a reverse (!!!). This machine also has an ejection button for the shuttle, which is super cool.
The gentleman who sold her to me said it belonged to his grandmother and then his mother, both of whom were “master seamstresses.” He insisted that it was a Singer, but lucky for me, it is not 🙂 Of course, realizing what *it is not* is quite different from knowing what *it is,* ha! After hours (and hours) of scanning photographs, I tracked the machine to Germany and then finally identified its manufacturer. As it turns out, this machine was never made for the US market and must have been carried across the Atlantic by one of its previous owners. I am so fortunate to own such a treasure!
This Vibrating Shuttle (VS) hand-crank machine was made by Bernhard Stoewer AG, around 1907-1910. The machine was probably badged, but the decals with the badged name are long gone. Similar machines can be found here: http://www.needlebar.org/cm/thumbnails.php?album=181, http://www.sewmuse.co.uk/german%20sewing%20machines%203.htm, and http://tammyscraftemporium.blogspot.com/2009/11/1910-bernard-stoewer-treadle.html. I suspect that the badged-name may have been removed deliberately during WWII because the surrounding decals are undamaged. The first two photos here are before shots, and they make her look better than she did.
Restoring this machine was challenging to say the least — some parts were broken and the finish was quite damaged. If this machine had a wooden lid, I’m afraid it’s missing too. Unlike other Stoewer bases, this one doesn’t have brackets to support a lid, so maybe it’s not missing? Regardless, it’s evident that the machine spent several decades, if not the the last century, exposed to the elements. Perhaps as a result, the clear-coat was completely shot, though the decals were mostly intact.
To the previous owners’s credit, the machine was well oiled, but that oil also acted like a magnet for dust and grime. She did turn, but she couldn’t make a single stitch and I don’t collect expensive doorstops. I cleaned her as gently as I could (sewing machine oil and soft rags!), but the only thing holding on to the decals was grime … and the grime had to go.
After an overall cosmetic cleaning, I began breaking her down. Where possible, I removed the inner workings and cleaned them with very fine #0000 steel wool and rubbing alcohol. Um, and a metal pick because the grime was stubborn. The rest of the inner workings were cleaned in place using the same method, but I was super careful not to get the rubbing alcohol on the painted parts of the machine. Then I flushed all the oil points with Blue Creeper, and gave her a nice drink of sewing machine oil. The shiny bits were polished with my Dremel and Mother’s Mag & Aluminum polish. The wooden base was restored with Howard’s Restore-A-Finish, and then a generous amount of Howard’s Feed-N-Wax. Hm, that’s like one paragraph of explanation for 140 hours of work! I had mechanic’s hands for weeks!
I had to leave my comfort zone quite a few times on this restoration, including:
- taking apart the tension assembly
- repairing/reshaping the tension spring
- removing the entire presser foot assembly
- removing and disassembling the hand-crank
- removing the spring from the shuttle bobbin
- fabricating new parts (more on that in a minute).
Even when I’m armed with service or adjuster’s manuals I’m wary of those tasks… but um, guys, there’s no adjuster’s manual for this machine. Hell, I didn’t even have a user manual (I do now, please email me if you’re in need!). I used manuals for the Singer 27/28 and Singer 127/128 for reference, but, I digress. My overall tactic was pretty simple: I took a hundred million photos as I went along, and somehow I managed to put things back together correctly. I am not going to ugly-up the place with working photos, but if you’re in need of WIP photos please send me an email!
Thanks to my set of Chapman screwdrivers, I was able to prevent further damage to the screw heads, many of which were partially stripped. PHEW. I don’t know about you, but I never want to track down a replacement screw for something that was machined in Germany over one hundred years ago.
Once everything was cleaned and oiled, I turned my attention to the missing thread guide on the face plate. I bent a cotter pin to match the shape of the missing guide, and used a high heat glue gun to attach it to the backside of the face plate. I was so afraid that the repair would be an eyesore, but it looks fine. You really can’t tell from the front, and it isn’t half bad from the back either.
After two months on the work bench she’s fully restored and in full working order. My daughter is learning to sew and becoming increasingly independent on this machine. She’s working on some improvised quilt squares and it’s just amazing to see her work through the piecing on her own. I’ve also used the machine myself for making my niece a leather purse — I put a low-shank teflon foot on and away she went! The top-stitching really was lovely… until I couldn’t fit multiple layers under the presser foot 🙂
Overall, I’m thrilled with the functionality of this machine and her place in history. It is clear that this machine was heavily used and central to someone’s livelihood, but she wears it well. I do wish that I had been able to do better by her cosmetically. If I win the lottery, she might become a candidate for a custom paint job. Maybe she would enjoy her new lease on life in royal purple with silver decals?