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5. Reviving an Old Sewing Machine

 
Hey, folks, I’m Nicole Gilbert, and you’ve joined the Stop Scrolling, Start Sewing podcast. Are you new to sewing and want to start quilting, but have no idea where to begin? Each Wednesday, join me as I share the ins and outs of that quilt Life. If you don’t have a sewing machine, have no idea how much fabric you need or you’re just trying to figure out where the heck to stick that bobbin, this is the podcast for you.  
 
Hey, folks, I’m your host, Nicole Gilbert. And on today’s episode, of the Stop Scrolling, Start Sewing podcast, I’m going to help you take that old sewing machine that you found in your grandmother’s attic or at the neighborhood garage sale and make it your favorite quilting work horse. But first, today’s sponsor.  
 
Today’s episode is brought to you by my quilting set up made easy checklist. Get my no fluff guide to everything you need to start quilting at themodernquilterscircle.com/quiltingsetup all one word.  
 
Okay, folks, let’s get sewing.  
 
I love me a sewing machine from the 50s and 60s. Avocado Green, weighs 500 pounds, has like five settings. But dang, that thing is a beast. Treat it right, and it will outlast you. Seriously, that thing is gonna be a hand me down, They’re so good.
 
Today I’m going to walk you through where and how to buy one, cleaning and tuning it up, and where to get a manual, and the accessories you’ll need.
 
First up is finding one. If you’ve already been gifted one, lucky you, hold tight. There is plenty of value coming your way a little bit later in this episode. For those of you who are still on the hunt, I suggest checking Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, local garage sales, in a post COVID world, of course. And writing up your own Facebook post looking for one. When you’re going out and viewing these machines, make sure that you’re looking for models that come with a foot pedal, an electric cord, manual and accessories. Now, the manual and the accessories are kind of a nice to have, but absolutely not a deal breaker if it doesn’t have them. I mean, honestly, I think I just did a Facebook live over on The Modern Quilters Circle Facebook page, and I was talking about how I lost one of the presser feet. Like, it happens. So a machine that’s 60- 70 years old, Yeah, I doubt it’s gonna have all the accessories, but you should always ask. What is an absolute non negotiable, 100% deal breaker every time is if it does not have its electrical cord or foot pedal. Those are things that are not replaceable. So if it doesn’t have a foot pedal and it doesn’t have the electrical cord, don’t buy it. I’m sure somewhere in the world there’s a replacement cord, but it is not going to be easy to find. And it is probably going to kill the deal that you just made on buying the sewing machine for 40 bucks because it’s not gonna be cheap. So just don’t do it. And also, the other thing I want you to look for when you’re looking for these machines is finding a model with snap on presser feet. I know I’ve talked about this in past episodes, but a snap on Presser foot is going to be so much more inexpensive to replace. Now, I just mentioned it’s probably not gonna have all of its accessories, meaning you’re going to have to buy more presser feet. It’s so much easier if they’re just snap on, because those things are practically universal. So just keep that in mind the ones that have screw on presser feet. It’s going to be a lot harder. Read more expensive, to replace those presser feet. So please keep that in mind. I’ve spoken about sewing machine brands in the past on Episode two, so themodernquilterscircle.com/episode-2 I kind of gave the low down of all of the things in regards to sewing machines. And honestly, most of those brands are the brands I want you to look for in 60 or 70 year old machines. Bernina, Janome, Pfaff, Singer. Yes, I recommend Singer for a machine of that age. Those things are beasts. Go for it. Also Sears and Kenmore. Great, great machines. Little known fact in that era, Kenmore Zigzag, a Sears Zigzag, and a Singer Zigzag are all the exact same machine and they’re pretty bomb, so keep an eye out for those brands. Brother does make them, but at that time period you’re more likely to find an industrial brother than you are to find a domestic. So I don’t know if you’re like one of those people who are just, like, super brand loyal. It might not work for you if you’re trying to find a Brother of that time period. But, otherwise, all of those brands are great ones to look for. So now you’ve kind of kept keeping your eyes peeled. If you’re anything like me, you stalk Facebook marketplace all the time. And you know where all of these are? Believe me, I’ve got my eye on quite a few when we’re allowed to go travel on go look at these things because they’re just, they’re so good.  
 
Once you get home, you’re gonna have to give it a tune up. It’s like anything. Can you imagine if you hadn’t driven your car in, like, three months? The reason why I know like, how bad that could be is my husband is in the military and he deploys and one of his deployments. I did not drive his car for four months, and I know that I was supposed to take his car to the grocery store. That was, like, my promise to myself if I drove his car every time I went to the grocery store. His car would get driven once a week once every two weeks or so, but I didn’t do it. So then, once it came time for him to come home, his car wouldn’t start. And so it ended up being like a battery issues like the whole thing, but the same principles apply here with the sewing machine, So you’re going to have to give it a little bit of a tune up, a little bit of love. But it’s really nine times out of 10 and I, you know, there’s always that one time. You know, there’s always one time, but nine times out of 10, a good cleaning is all it’s going to need because these things are built wonderfully.  
 
So in order to do a tune up, the materials that you’re going to need are, you’re going to need Q tips, tweezers, sewing machine oil and that compressed air can that you used to clean in between the keys of your keyboard on your computer, one of those. For sewing machine oil, you need to get specific sewing machine oil. I know you can probably Google and find alternatives because there’s like a ton of alternatives to everything. But the fact that when I did it looking it up for this this episode, one of the things came up was coconut oil. And I was like, OK, I understand Coconut oil is supposed to be like magical, but it’s not going to do it for your sewing machine. So please just get sewing machine oil. You can legit get it at Walmart, Hobby Lobby, Jo-ann’s, Amazon. You name it, they got it. And it’s like, super inexpensive. It’s only a couple of bucks, so get it. It’s white mineral oil and it’s got no sent. Its got no color. It’s very, very particular.  
 
So what you’re going to do is you are going to remove the needle plate. Now in these old machines, it’s I mean, no two machines work the same way. So if I gave you like a blanket thing like this is how you’re going to do it, I’d be lying to you because it’s they’re just not all the same. So you’re going to remove the needle plate. When you look at your needle the area of the sewing machine right underneath it. There will be a metal square and nine times out of 10 there will be measurement markings on that on that piece, that’s your needle plate. There will also be screws. You’re just going to take a screwdriver, unscrew those screws and pop that needle plate right off, and you’re going to see whatever is inside. If this is a machine that was lovingly used over the last 60 years and just getting passed on to you, it’s probably clean in there. If it is a machine that has been heavily used but not well taken care of, it’s going to be full of dust and junk, lots and lots of lint. And then I mean, if it’s been sitting, who knows what’s in there? But anyway, you’re gonna have to clean it.  
 
I suggest taking your can of compressed air with that long, skinny straw, then sticking the straw inside and just spraying around in there. That will get a lot of the stuff moving and up and out. I start there because that gets like most of the loose debris out. Then what I want you to do is I want you to take your tweezers and pluck out any lint that is for lack of a better word, dreadlocked together. I feel like I gave you a visual, and that’s all you really need it. So any of the lint that has managed to, like dreadlock itself in there, use the tweezers to get it out. Then you’re going to take your Q tip and you’re going to dry rub all of the mechanisms inside. I also suggest doing the same thing with the Bobbin case. Now some of your machines will be drop in bobbin cases, which means that it’s a fixed case and it is right next to your needle plate. So when you took your needle plate off, there may have been a little door that you moved where your bobbin would drop in. So that area is pretty much clean now because it would have gotten all cleaned together with what you just did on the needle plate area. If you have a bobbin that is front inserted or rear inserted, meaning it’s in the base off the sewing machine, you have to like, remove a compartment door, take the bobbin case out. You put your bobbin in this little metal case, and then you insert it back into the machine, which is pretty common in the older machines. You’re gonna have to also clean that area as well. And I said, just doing all of the exact same things. So compressed air from the can, tweezers to get anything that’s been dreadlocked and gunked up in there and then a dry Q tip to wipe it all down. Once that’s done, leave everything open so all the mechanics are open. Make sure there’s no needle inserted. Hold onto your flywheel, which, if you’re unfamiliar, it is that large dial on the side of your machine on the right hand side of your machine and turn it towards you. So if you’re looking at it, its counterclockwise. If you’re sitting at the machine, it’s just turning it towards you and turn it slowly. As you turn it slowly, look inside under the needle and in the bobbin case, and look at all the pieces that move. That is what you’re going to put the sewing machine oil on. If it’s metal and it moves, you’re going to oil it and a little bit of oil goes a very long way. And guess what? This is a routine I want you to do monthly if you’re heavy sewer, bi monthly if you’re a moderate sewer, and semi annually, if you’re a here and there sewer. But as you can see, you’re gonna be doing this little routine frequently. And the more frequently you do it, the less yucky it’s gonna be and the smoother your machine is gonna work.
 
Now again, this will work 90% of the time. There’s always that one, that one machine that has just lived a rough life. So keep that in mind. Now you’ve kind of gotten yourself a little bit familiar with machine. When you know you’re taking your needle plate off, you’re opening your bobbin case. You’re poking around, you’re cleaning. You’re kind of getting familiar. You’re in it with your machine, but you’re probably still need a manual. It’s amazing how foreign these machines can feel, even though they’ve got, like, five settings. It’s like tension. Three stitches and that’s it. But they do feel foreign. They feel very different, especially if you’ve used an entry level Brother or Singer, or if you have a high end machine, like a high end Janome or Pfaff machine, which is like little computers. So it’s gonna It’s just gonna feel different. It’s gonna feel weird. A lot of things aren’t going to be intuitive. So you’re gonna want a manual. Obviously, I said, if you’re buying the second hand, if you can get the manual, that’s wonderful. But don’t you worry, because there is a website called sewingmanuals.com, and you can find a ton of vintage sewing machine manuals in digital format on that website, all linked to it in the show notes. You can find the show notes at themodernquilterscircle.com/episode-5. So I will have that available for you that link.
 
Now they don’t have every single model ever made because that would be ridiculous. The person is obviously a machine-o-phile, but that doesn’t make him like omniscient as well. So if you don’t find your model, don’t worry. Try looking for another model of the same era by the same manufacturer, and there are pictures on the covers of these models of these manuals of all the different models, so just kind of click through until you find a model that looks very similar to yours. It’s not a perfect solution, but it’s definitely better than having no idea what’s going on. And for the most part, a lot of the mechanics are gonna work the same. So just kind of keep that in mind.
 
OK, guys, now it’s time to outfit your sewing machine. I suggest getting a universal Presser Foot kit. This is why a snap on foot is so important to look for when you’re purchasing your machine. A snap on foot fits any snap on machine 90% of the time. I mean, there’s always that one outlier, but it’s really a game changer when you can purchase a brand new universal kit. It is so much easier than trying to hunt for a specific presser foot for a specific machine that hasn’t been in production for over 50 years. It’s going to be difficult to find, and it’s going to be super expensive, so definitely keep that in mind. I actually have found a pretty good kit of 15 universal snap on sewing machine sewing machine presser feet that included a walking foot quarter inch seem like you name it. It had it. And I want to say it was like, 25 or 30 bucks. I will link to it in the show notes of this episode so that you’re able to head over there and check it out. The show notes are at themodernquilterscircle.com/episode-5. So I will have that resource for you. Now if you don’t want to get a complete kit, I suggest buying a walking foot and 1/4 inch presser foot and you can get that quarter inch presser foot either with or without the edge guide. Um, some presser fee are just not going to be useful for your older machines. You know, if you want to do buttonholes, you’re probably going to have to use a different machine or hand stitch that buttonhole. It just doesn’t have the functionality for it. So you don’t need a buttonhole foot. Same thing goes with free motion quilting. For a lot of these machines, you can drop the feed dogs, but for a lot of them, you can’t. So even though you would love to free motion quilt, you probably won’t be able to do it with your machine, so kind of keep that in mind. Think of those kind of things because this is an era where some of these options are right on the cusp so you can find some higher end machines that do some of these things. But for the most part, it’s not gonna have the ability.   
 
I also want you to get a non skid mat. Now a non skid mat is for all of you that buy a machine that doesn’t come with the table. I know when you think of a sewing machine in a table, you have an idea in your head of those like old school singer machines. But sewing machines came in tables all the way through the seventies, so a lot of these machines will come in a table and you could tell a machine that’s supposed to be in a table because it’s got this like, funky kind of base. And quite frankly, a lot of them can’t be used outside of a table. So keep that in mind as well. If you don’t want to keep the table when you’re searching, Um, but anyway, back to the non skid mat. A non skid mat is pretty thin, but it’s ever so slightly cushioned. And what it does does is these. Heavy machines have such powerful motors, and they’re made of metal. And when they really get humming and going, there’s a loud vibration sound. And if when you have it on a hard surface, it sounds like a B-52 is coming to land in your backyard. And so by putting this non skid mat under there, yes, it’s keeping it from skidding. But in reality, what it’s doing is it’s dampening a lot of that sound, So it is crucial if you’re going to be using this. Side note. For those of you using a brand new entry level machine like a Brother or Singer that you get at your local box store, those ones have motors in them. That’s what makes these old machines great, is that they have these metal casings. These big, heavy metal bodies that are just never gonna break Everything is just like, really solidly made. These new machines have these motors in them, which, while they’re still not as great of a motors they’re still, they’re still doing some work, but now they’re in these plastic cases, and because of that, it creates a lot of rattling. So a non skid mat is a great way to help with that loud sound that you’re getting from these entry level machines as well. So if you don’t have one of these vintage machines, but you have one of those entry level machines, I still recommend getting a non skid mat. It might be just the difference you need to keep loving your machine for just a little while longer. So that’s my little blurb on the nonskid mat.  
 
Next up is an LED light. Now I use an Ott light O T T L I T E, and I am absolutely obsessed with it. It is blindingly bright. I will say it is an investment. They’re not cheap, and I actually purchase mine on Black Friday at Jo-ann’s. Jo-ann’s is my favorite place to go on Black Friday. It’s the only place I go on Black Friday, and my husband comes with me and we act like crazy people, and I am not ashamed to admit it. But that is another story for another episode. Back to the story at hand. Ott lights can be a bit of an investment. I don’t suggest getting a stand up ott lite. I don’t really see the use for it, but that’s also because I’m a quilter. If you’re a seamstress and you’re using a tailor’s mannequin, maybe a stand up ott lite is exactly what you need. I use a desktop ott lite, and my ott lite has two arms. One of the arms has the really bright light, and the other arm has a giant magnifying glass. And I know so funny it. I mean It is what it is. It’s pretty hilarious looking, but I love it because what I do is I set up my ott lite just off to the side of my machine, and I bend one arm down the arm with the light behind my machine so that it shining on the creative space and needle plate area. And then I bend the arm with the magnifying glass in front of the machine so that it’s positioned right in front of the needle, and it creates such a delightful sewing environment. It’s bright, it’s clear it’s enlarged. It’s wonderful. I love it. If you have the extra to invest in that, please do I suggest it. I think you will love it. I will put a link to the model that I have in the show notes. But it is. It is an investment, and it also takes special bulbs. So it’s not like you’re gonna be able to just replace the bulbs with the bulbs at Home  Depot, you’re gonna have to get an ott lite bulb. So another thing to keep in mind. Now, if you don’t want to invest in an ott lite, I suggest getting an L E D Strip. And so these strip lights are very similar to like rope lights that you would like decorate a teenage girl’s bedroom with. But they’re about 4 to 6 inches long and they’re adhesive. And so you just take it. And like a sticker, you put it up on the throat like the roof of the creative space on the underside of the arm, and it will do a fantastic job lighting up that area. The reason why you want lights, I kind of got ahead of myself But the reason why you want lights is that, like nowadays and I mean even still, I use one. So there’s that. But nowadays a lot of these machines come with really nice led lights, um, built into the creative space, and every machine comes with some sort of light in these throwback machines. Some of them will have lights, but none of them will be led lights, and most of them won’t be lit at all. And having a light there is crucial. Even when you’re sewing in the middle of the day in the brightest room of your house. Having that light in your creative space will be a huge game changer for both the actual sewing and street nous of your seems as well as your eye health. Because eye strain is real when you’re sewing, especially if you’re like me and you sit down to just sew something real quick and five hours passes, because that’s what I do. So that is my thing with led lights.  
 
Now, the next two things, I would box them in the nice to have. Some of your machines are going to have this capability anyway, so you don’t even have to think about it if the machine that you get has these capabilities. But if it doesn’t have the capabilities I condemn, Finitely say there might be something that you want to invest in. One is a needle threader and it is just like a little tool, like a little gizmo that you run your thread through, Hold it up to the needle. And when you squeeze it a certain way, it threads the needle for you. It’s awesome. I personally, you know, all of my machines have needle threaders on them. You’re gonna find some machines from this era that have needle threaders on them. But if your eyes aren’t the greatest or you just really don’t have the steadiest hand, you might want to invest in a needle threader.  Likewise, a bobbin winder, this one is a little bit closer on a scale from nice to have to absolute must. It’s a little closer to the must side if you ask me. Again, some of the machines will be able to wind bobbins for you, but for about 15 to 20 bucks, you can get a bobbin winder at Hobby Lobby and winding bobbins suck and if you don’t wind it right, you can end up with a big bird’s nest of thread. So I kind of put this a little bit more in the must category. But again, if it’s not something that you wanted to invest in and you want to do it by hand, by all means go for it. You’re my hero. I don’t personally wind bobbins cause I suck at it. So there’s that.  
 
So at this point, you should be all set with actually getting the machine ready to go. Two other things that are accessories that you’re going to need and you’re going to. They’re kind of gonna be constant investments so it’s not necessarily something that you need to get the machine to work, but you’re always going to be using them are needles and bobbins. Now, I would say, 95% of the time you’re not gonna get any accessories with these machines, But there probably is going to be a bobbin in the case and a needle in place simply because the last person that used this set it, and they had no idea that was gonna be the last time they ever used that machine. And so there’s a bobbin and needle in there, which is a huge help. Just take that bobbin, take it to the store, line it up and pick out which bobbin you’re supposed to get. Now. Bobbins are not universal. However, there’s only a handful of types out there, and so it should be a pretty quick match up if it came with the bobbin, if it didn’t come with the bobbin, you’re gonna have to invest a few bucks legitimately like less than 10 bucks, buy a few different bobbins and see which one works, and then you’re all set from there on. You just use that type of bobbin or needles. I mean, every machine pretty much takes every size needle. The big thing is whether or not your needle is going to have a flat back or if it’s round. Spoiler alert. I have used the wrong type of needle in my machine before. Guess what? It worked fine. So don’t be too stressed out about it. It’s not a big deal, but again, if it’s already in the machine, just pull it out, see if it’s got a flat back. And now you know.  
 
So all of these little tips and tricks will work with pretty much any machine that’s just been sitting around collecting dust. It won’t work for a machine that it’s been through some trauma. So flooded basements, chewed cords. I mean, some things are just insurmountable. I don’t care how well made something is, you know.
 
 But this episode was peppered with some awesome little resource is. And if you were driving or you were chasing after kids like I usually am when I’m listening to podcasts, don’t worry. I have put links to everything in the show notes, so head on over to themodernquilterscircle.com/episode-5. I’ve got you covered. Don’t worry.  
 
And you’ve just finished another episode of the Stop Scrolling, Start Sewing podcast. Thanks for hanging out with me. Make sure you never miss an episode by hitting. Subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts. And don’t forget to download your no fluff guide to quilting set up at themodernquilterscircle.com/quiltingsetup. Now stop scrolling and start sewing!

Quilt Love

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and...

Noelani T.

The Modern Quilters Circle
5
2020-06-26T11:01:26-04:00

Noelani T.

I worked with Nicole in a one on one environment on a large quilt. I have limited sewing experience and Nicole’s expertise was invaluable for this large project. Nicole is very patient and explained the different steps and their purposes clearly. She improved my original idea to better accomplish my overall goal. I highly recommend Nicole as an instructor and would personally have another session in a heartbeat!

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked...

Michelle L.

The Modern Quilters Circle
5
2020-06-26T11:05:18-04:00

Michelle L.

I seriously didn’t even know the names of parts of my sewing machine before I worked with Nicole. She walked me through everything step by step. And it was amazing. She taught me the ins and outs of my machine and how to add each basic concept together. It was invaluable, because now I can figure things out and get creative without fearing the dreaded unravel!
2
The Modern Quilters Circle