Regular readers will no doubt have noticed that there has been something of an upsurge in the art of sewing here at Well Dressed Mansion, even going so far as to establish the Waistcoat Laboratory. The Waistcoat Lab is on a mission to evolve and improve the common waistcoat through a series of increasingly elaborate garments designed and assembled by yours truly. Feedback so far has indicated that the endevaours are apprecitated by like-minded admirers of armless attire, which does prove inspiring at moments when all looks dark and dismal her in the lab.
And the past couple of weeks have been dark and dismal. There has been gnashing of teeth, wails of frustration and too many stitches unravelled to bear thinking of. All due to the buttonhole function of the modern Singer failing again and again. Literally hours have been spend undoing failed stitching, the fabric wearing thinner and thinner, as was my motivation to continue. A sense of gloom has pervaded the space where splendid stitches should be sewn. Even an expensive service and tune-up failed to set things right.
So what can be done in the face of failing modern technology? The obvious answer is: Spend more money and get more modern technology! The not so obvious answer is to look back in time. Being that times are lean, I started looking at older machines. Often quality can be picked up cheap second hand, though the small ads weren’t presenting anything very likely.
Until I came across the Singer 201K. This one stopped me in my tracks and the more I read, the more fascinated I became. Produced by Singer from the late 30’s until the late 50’s it is considered to be their finest moment, the Rolls Royce of sewing machines. In the 50’s it cost the equivalent of 2 years salary for an industrial worker. A spendy piece of kit, no question! There is no plastic at all involved, all quality metal gears and transfers, and it’s built by humans to be maintained by humans. And they are said to last almost forever.
Which does mean that a good one should still have plenty of life left in it, right? Oh, I almost forgot: Legend has it that the Mk2 variant, which has the chassis in aluminum alloy (which makes it 4.5 kilos lighter than the cast iron Mk1) was made from melted down WW2 aircraft. I can have a sewing machine made of a melted down Spitfire? Call me sad, but that is very cool.
Can a 60-year old machine keep up the pace with modern electronic stitching stations? Considering which functions I actually use when sewing: Straight stitches, forward and backwards. Button holes. Twin needle for perfectly aligned double stitches. Hardly advances stuff, and the old Singer does all this. Heck, it’s not as if the way we sew clothes has changed dramatically in recent times. And this will do denim, leather and heavy canvas, which is more than many of the reasonably priced modern machines will do.
So, suitably primed and motivated I went looking. There are lots for sale on eBay in the UK, ranging from around 30 pounds to well over 200. The cheap ones are obviously quite raggedy and the expensive ones are fully serviced and quite beautiful. And even at 200 pounds you’re not looking at getting much of a modern machine, so it’s still pretty decent value. Having one shipped from the UK to Norway would cost as much as the machine itself though.
The online small ads were more promising though, with a similar selection to eBay. Oddly though, only those asking the most unrealistic prices responded to my questions, and given that they were very much in the upper end of the price range I wasn’t too temped. Otherwise much of what is advertised is pretty junky. Vintage sewing machines are very pretty, not only to those of an engineering mind, but also to the shabby chic crowd, so there are a lot of ill-maintained machines around, usable only as decoration. And make no mistake, cheap vintage sewing machines can be had for a song.
I had almost given up on the idea when I recalled seeing a vintage Singer in a local second hand shop a while back. All I really noticed then was that it was a Singer, vintage, had an electric motor and was affordable. So I went back for a look. And it was still there, and too vintage for me. Whilst looking around in there though, what did I spy? A black 201K, with the proper table it came with, looking a little sad, but even cheaper than the other one. In fact, it was 35 pounds all in. Looking just a little sad, but in pretty decent condition under a layer of dust and grime.
So this weekends project has been to clean and oil the vintage Singer. Working on this gives me a feel of working on a properly engineered machine, at times a similar feel to working on the carburettors on a vintage Jaguar. Trial sewing is so far looking very promising. What I need now is to get one of the original buttonhole attachments, but they are also plentiful on eBay. Then we’ll be very much under way.
Will this be the solution to my buttonhole problems? I will report back in a few weeks time when it’s been tested.
Pretty cool, or what say you?