Chainstitching on a Touch & Sew

While I was researching my Singer 401A sewing machine, I discovered that there are vintage sewing machines made in the 1960’s and 1970’s that will sew a single thread chainstitch with the right attachments. I immediately decided I had to have one, since I don’t have a serger or cover stitch machine that sews chainstitches, and I hate picking out basting stitches.

Singer 604E sewing machine with chain stitch attachmentsAfter doing some more research (which I will detail at the end of this post since I want to clear up some misinformation I found) I decided to buy a Singer 604E Touch & Sew. Unlike most of the 600 series Touch & Sews, this is a straight stitch only machine. I decided on this one because there is less to go wrong with a straight stitch machine and I wanted to leave it set up for chainstitching, so I wouldn’t be using the other stitches anyway.

 

Here are some ways you can use chain stitches, which quickly unravel when you pull on the thread at the end:

  • Basting for trial fittings
  • Marking a hem before you press it up
  • Basting zipper openings closed
  • Use anywhere you need to machine baste but will not be sewing directly over the basting stitches
  • Attaching collars and trims that need to be removed for laundering
  • Sewing hems that will need to be altered
  • If your weight fluctuates, you can take in side seams, then easily let them out later
  • Use single thread chain stitches as a stretch stitch on knits (2-thread chain stitches like you find on sergers and cover stitch machines are not stretchy)

I am having so much fun sewing basting stitches. Pulling out a seam in less than a second hasn’t lost its novelty yet. I’m like a kid playing with my new toy – sometimes I’ll sew a seam on a scrap of fabric just so I can pull it out!

P.S. I thought I’d throw in this basting tip – if you don’t have a chainstitch machine, try using wash-away basting thread for easy basting stitch removal.


The rest of this post is about the research I did on vintage chainstitch machines, which will probably only interest you if you are looking to buy one.

I very briefly considered getting a toy machine that chainstitches, but they usually don’t work, and for sure won’t work on thick fabric. Just go check out all the one star reviews on Amazon. I have memories of being frustrated with my toy sewing machine as a kid – I think maybe I got it to work once or twice for a few stitches. I looked at industrial chainstitch machines, and even simple vintage ones are at least as expensive as a cover stitch machine. Antique chainstitch machines are pretty, but they are expensive, may or may not work, and many of them use needles that are no longer manufactured.

As I was researching my Singer 401A, I read a lot of forum posts about vintage sewing machines, and I was excited to discover that there are some sewing machines made in the 1960’s and 1970’s that can chain stitch with a few simple attachments. Some of these machines are the Singer 600 series Touch and Sew machines (the 700 series Touch and Sews chainstitch too, but they all have plastic gears, so I would avoid those). The Singer 411G and 431G can chain stitch. Some Kenmore machines (many in the 158 series and some others) can also chain stitch with the right attachments. See this blog post and this thread for more info on Kenmores. Note that the Kenmore chainstitch attachments look completely different than the Singer chainstitching attachments.

I had a hard time doing research on these sewing machines. I found lots of conflicting information on blogs and forums, so I’m collecting what I learned here in one place, hopefully minus most of the mis-information other people have spread around the internet. I didn’t find as much information on Kenmore sewing machines, and I ended up buying a Singer, since the machines and attachments were less expensive and easier for me to find. The vintage Kenmores are good sewing machines, and they kept using metal gears even after Singer switched to plastic gears sometime in 1966, so if you can find one, don’t overlook a Kenmore as an option for chain stitching even though all of what I discuss below is about Singers. You might have trouble finding the right attachments to go with a particular Kenmore machine, so I’d suggest if you’re going to buy one, try to get one that comes with the chain stitch attachments.

Just to clarify, not all Singer sewing machines with model numbers in the 600’s are Touch & Sews, and not all Touch & Sews have model numbers in the 600’s. “Touch & Sew” machines have wind-in-place bobbins. The Touch & Sew machines I’m going to talk about are “600 series Touch & Sews” manufactured in the 1960’s. The 700 series Touch & Sews all have plastic gears, and as old as these machines are, if those gears haven’t broken yet, they will fail soon since the plastic is at the end of its expected lifespan. Singer has also re-used the name “Touch & Sew” for some modern sewing machines. Those are something completely different and I’m not discussing those at all.

All Singer 600 series Touch & Sew machines can chain stitch with the right attachments, despite what you might find on the internet leading you to believe otherwise.

The earliest models in the Touch & Sew series for sure had metal gears. These are the 600, 600E, 603, 603E, 604, and 604E. You sometimes find metal gears in later model numbers, like the 620 series models, but you’ll have to unscrew the bottom cover and look inside to find out if the gears are metal or plastic. I’m going to ignore any other Touch & Sew models, because . . . old plastic gears.

The only difference between the earliest Singer Touch & Sew models (600, 603, 604) and the later versions with “E” at the end of the model number (600E, 603E, 604E) is the location of the bobbin winder button. The very earliest 600’s were called Auto-Reel, before someone decided Touch & Sew was a catchier name. A “Singer 600 Auto-Reel” is exactly the same machine as a “Singer 600 Touch & Sew”.

Of the vintage Singer machines that can chain stitch, I would recommend choosing one with metal gears. These include (but are not limited to) model 600/600E (lots of built in stitches plus takes “top hat” special discs), 603/603E (will only make zig-zag or special stitches with a “top hat” special disc – no built in stitches), the 604/604E (straight stitch only), 411G (rare – built in stitches plus takes “top hat” special discs, and can be hooked up to a treadle base), or the 431G (rare – built in stitches plus takes “top hat” special discs, and has a free arm).

I wanted a machine to leave set up for chain stitching, so I chose the 604E, since as a straight stitch machine it has fewer parts to to break, it for sure has metal gears, and I happened to find one on ebay at a low price. I found a free Singer pdf manual for the 604, but not the 604E, so I also downloaded the 600E manual for the updated bobbin winding instructions. I found the 600 series chain stitching guide on the TNT repair website. TNT Repair is a good source for repair information and parts for many vintage Singer machines. The Singer 24 manual has additional tips for sewing with single thread chain stitches.

You need three attachments to chain stitch with any 600 series Touch & Sew sewing machine. They are the chain stitch throat plate (part #21913 for zig-zag models OR part #21915 for straight stitch machines), bobbin cover (part #21908), and thread guide (part #163455).

Here’s what the 600 series Touch & Sew chain stitch attachments look like. You might find them for sale mis-labeled or in with other attachments, so it helps to know what you’re looking for.

For the 411G or 431G, you will only need a chain stitch throat plate (part #503599) to chain stitch. It looks similar to a mirror image of part #21913.

 

 

Posted in Sewing, Vintage Sewing Machines

Treadle-izing My Singer 328K

I’ve been looking for a vintage all-metal zig-zag sewing machine to keep in a treadle base ever since I was confronted with my Singer 252’s limited life expectancy. This search led me to the Singer 328K.

My requirements for a sewing machine were:

Singer short shank sewing machine so all my attachments and accessories are compatible
All metal gears and no timing belt to break
Takes special stitch cams (fashion discs)
Can be used with a treadle base
Uses regular sewing machine needles
Top-loading drop-in bobbin (they have fewer thread snarls than front or side mounted bobbins)

I wasn’t sure my perfect sewing machine existed, but then I found the Singer 328, and it seemed to meet all of my requirements. The only thing I wish it did that it doesn’t was hold two fashion disks at once so I can switch between zig-zag and 3-step zig-zag easily.

Singer 328K treadle

I bought my Singer 328K on ebay. On the auction listing there was a video of the seller putting it through its paces without thread, but the motor worked, the needle went up and down, and the feed dogs moved, so I thought there was a very high chance it was in good working order.

When I got the sewing machine, it had survived shipping. I attribute that more to the shape of the sewing machine and the fact that it was in a case than the limited amount of packaging material. I cleaned and oiled the machine, then put thread in it. As soon as I started to sew, the thread immediately jammed in the bobbin area.

I finally figured out that the spring on the bobbin case was broken off and the bobbin tension screw was missing. Well, I just happen to have a Singer 252 parts machine with a very similar bobbin case, so I took the spring and screw off of its bobbin case and put it on the 328K bobbin case. They fit just fine, and the sewing machine works! Do you know what lesson I took from this? NEVER, EVER get rid of vintage sewing machines or sewing machine parts. Which means I will have to be very careful not to acquire too many sewing machines, or my house will be too crowded to live in.

One of the things I noticed about this sewing machine is that the shuttle race oscillates rather than spinning around in a complete circle. I suppose it is cheaper to manufacture an all metal machine this way, since you don’t have to have gears down below the bobbin. Also you don’t have a timing belt that can break. The affect of this design is that the machine vibrates when sewing at high speeds, which is kind of annoying. It’s not quite as bad as my antique vibrating shuttle machine, though. Now that it is on a treadle base, I can’t sew fast enough to have the vibration be an issue.

Singer 328K plug for treadle belt notchIf I hadn’t read that the Singer 328 can be put in a treadle base, I never would have guessed that it would work. On the bottom right of the sewing machine bed there is a plastic plug that unscrews to reveal a notch for the treadle belt to go through.

After removing the plug, the motor belt needed to come off. I found this blog post that helped me figure out how to get the motor belt off.

I have two treadle bases; one is a Singer base from the early 1900’s and the other is a German treadle with a larger wheel. There is so little clearance for a treadle belt I figured the Singer base would be the only one that would work.

Singer 328K belt rubsI made my own table top with a custom hole (nothing fancy – it’s made from scrap wood) so I could position the sewing machine exactly in the right spot to get the best clearance for the treadle belt. I quickly realized that no matter how I positioned the machine, the treadle belt would rub on the front of the sewing machine frame just below the bobbin winder. I think you are supposed to replace the handwheel with one with a smaller pulley before hooking it up to a treadle, but I don’t have one that fits. I’ve seen pictures of a Singer 401G (which has a similar shape to allow for a treadle belt) with leather shavings all over the machine from the belt rubbing. Yeah, that wasn’t going to work for me. Some of the sewing machine frame had to come off.

I’ve marked below the part I cut off. The frame is aluminum, so it wasn’t too hard. I drilled holes along the cut line, then filed down the edge. A Dremel would probably be good for this, but I don’t have one. For anyone else doing this, learn from my mistakes – mask off the end of the machine so it doesn’t get metal shavings all over inside and put tape on the front of the machine so you don’t scratch it when your drill bit or file slips.

I could have just left the original wiring in place, but the old cord was getting a little stiff and I didn’t want to have the foot controller in the way, so I put in a new power cord to the light only. Since the machine is metal, my electrician husband suggested grounding the machine to avoid the possibility of electrocution if there is an electrical fault. Sounds like a good idea to me! There are moving parts in there right next to live wires, so I could see the possibility of something bad happening.

Singer 328K treadle belt no stapleSince there is so little clearance for the treadle belt, I didn’t want to use a metal staple to connect the ends of the belt. I figured it would scrape on the inside of the sewing machine. Instead I connected the belt ends with upholstery thread and put Fray Check all over the thread. We’ll see how it holds up.

I would not describe the Singer 328K as “treadle ready”. It took a lot of work to get it set up, and even now there is barely room for the treadle belt. Maybe someday I’ll get a replacement handwheel that works better for this machine.

Would I recommend this machine for treadling? Not really. It’s not terrible, but it takes some modifications to make it work and it sews slowly since the pulley on the handwheel is so large. It should be a good machine for teaching young kids to sew on, though, since it treadles slowly and easily. I just happen to have a couple of kids I’m teaching to sew, so maybe this isn’t a bad thing.

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines

A Treadle and a Quilt

Singer 127

After my recent sewing area re-arrangement to accommodate my new Singer 401A, my antique Singer 127 treadle sewing machine is now accessible instead of being buried behind my main sewing machine. I haven’t sewn much on this machine, since the stitches were uneven and the tension went from tight to loose every few stitches.

I decided to try to fix it up some more. I polished the rust off of the tension disks, cleaned some bits of ancient thread from under the spring in the shuttle, and replaced the missing oil wick. I also switched out the tension dial and worn feed dogs with the ones from my parts machine. After a good oiling, this 99 year old sewing machine works almost as good as new. The tension is a bit fiddly, but it’s making pretty decent stitches now.

Unlike modern home sewing machines with plastic gears that choke on thick fabric, this machine will happily sew through anything that I can fit under the presser foot. It doesn’t like topstitching thread, though, so I won’t be using it to make jeans.

After fixing up this sewing machine, I wanted to sew something with it. I decided to sew a baby quilt for my niece-to-be, which has been on my to-do list, and it’s a project that only requires straight stitches.

Surprisingly, my modern snap-on quarter inch foot works perfectly with this machine. It works even better than the original presser foot, which tends pull the fabric to the side when I sew near the edge of the fabric. My walking foot works with this machine, too.

Singer 127 with quilting foot

I love looking at those patent dates on the slide plate (the slide plate came off of an older machine).

Singer 27 slide plate patent dates

I’ve never been a huge fan of quilting, but this time I added an ingredient that made it so much easier and more accurate – cornstarch. I used one teaspoon of cornstarch per cup of water, sprayed it on the fabric, let it soak in for a few minutes, then pressed the fabric dry before cutting out the pieces. I highly recommend starching when quilting – it is so worth the extra time.

Here’s the finished rainbow heart quilt, sewn entirely on my antique treadle sewing machine:

Heart_baby_quilt

 

Posted in Sewing, Vintage Sewing Machines

Creating Tiled PDFs in Inkscape

Do you want to make professional looking print-at-home PDF patterns? How about doing it with free software?

There are many ways to create a tiled PDF pattern. Here’s how I do it in Inkscape, which is a free vector graphics program. I wrote another post on getting started with Inkscape, so check that out to see tips for getting started with Inkscape and work-arounds for some of the bugs I’ve run into.

If you want to see what my finished PDF patterns looks like using this method, download one of my free patterns from Craftsy.

I made an example .svg file that you can use to follow along with the steps below. Click the download button in Google Drive to save it to your computer (that upper bar auto-hides, so move your mouse cursor to the top of the screen to see it). Feel free to copy and paste from this file if you want to save yourself some work making borders, test squares, and alignment marks. It is set up for 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper, with a 7″ x 10″ pattern area.

DownloadGoogleDrive

Decide what size border you want on each sheet. I usually use 7″ x 10″. You may need to match a standard size if you are uploading your pattern somewhere – for example Burda style border size is 6.625” by 10”. Pick a size that will print well on both 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper and A4 paper.

Note: I don’t suggest using strokes thicker than 0.5 px for any borders that are used as match lines, test squares, etc. I make my pattern lines 0.5 px, too, so that they can be cut accurately.

In Inkscape, draw a rectangle the size you chose for your border. Use a thin stroke and no fill. Turn on object snaps and make sure snap nodes or handles is selected. Duplicate the rectangle and create a grid big enough to fit all of your pattern pieces on.

Fit copies of your pattern pieces into the grid, and draw and label alignment marks. Make sure to add test squares so people can check that they printed to the correct scale. Make the test squares a minimum of 2″ x 2″ (5 cm x 5 cm), and make sure the stroke is 0.5 px or thinner. I’ve seen 1″ test squares drawn with a marker, and they are useless.

pattern in grid

Now group all of your pattern pieces and the grid together so you can click on it as one object (select the objects, then press Ctrl-G).

In the page layout area, draw a rectangle the size of the paper (snap to the page border), then another one inside it that is 7″ by 10″. Make sure the inner rectangle is on top (select the rectangle, then use PageUp and PageDown keys to change which object is on top). It helps to temporarily set the fill for each rectangle to a different partially transparent color so you can see what’s going on.

Borders1

Select both rectangles, and from the menu, select Path > Difference. Now select the border, change the fill opacity to 100%, and change the fill color to white (don’t remove the fill – actually set it to the color “white”). I’ve left it pink in the picture below so you can see what shape it should be.

Borders2

Create a new layer that is above all other layers, and put the border on this layer (select the border and press Shift-PageUp to change its layer).

If you want to add page numbers, make a text object on its own new layer that is above the border’s layer. You will have to manually update the text before exporting each sheet.

Now turn on object snaps, making sure snap to paths and snap to cusp nodes are selected. Select the grid and pattern grouped object, and snap the upper left corner of your pattern grid to the upper left corner of the inner rectangle on the page border. Edit the page number if necessary. See how the white border is masking off the pattern around the edges?

snap grid to border

Now you are ready to export the first page to a PDF. From the menu, select File > Save a Copy. Change the file type to Portable Document Format (*.pdf), choose the folder to save in and a file name, and Save.

Move the grid over to the next sheet, update the page number if you are using them, and repeat to create the rest of the pages. I find that snapping to the page border is sometimes buggy, so if I’m having trouble dragging and snapping the grouped pattern pieces over for the next sheet, I use Object > Transform, Move to move the pattern to the left/right and up/down as needed. For example, if my border is 7″ by 10″, I would move it -7 inches horizontally to go to the sheet to the right or 10 inches vertically to go to the next row down.

transform move Inkscape

Now you will probably want to combine the PDFs into a single file. I use the free software PDF Split And Merge Basic to combine PDF files, but there are a lot of other free options available too.

Posted in Inkscape, Patternmaking

A Surprise Singer 401A

Singer 401A in cabinetMy husband went to the feed store to buy chicken feed, and when he got home he showed me a couple of little things he picked up at a thrift store on the way back. Then he said, “Come out and see your new sewing machine!” So, I’m thinking oh no, a random thrift store sewing machine, what am I going to do with that? I mean, it was sweet of him to think of me, but, really? He doesn’t know anything about sewing machines.

So we bring it inside, and I open up the cabinet. It’s all metal, so that’s a good sign. Then I open up the inside, and that’s all metal, too. And everything is gear driven; no belts. So now I’m thinking this could be the jeans machine I’ve been needing! Score! It’s a Singer 401A. Out of curiosity I looked these sewing machines up on ebay, and they can sell for over 10 times what my husband paid, and that’s without the original cabinet and stool.

I had to bang gently tap on the innards a bit to un-stick the stitch selectors, but now it’s oiled up and working smoothly. The red arrows in the picture below point to the parts that were stuck. The metal parts are very well made and survived my less than gentle repair efforts. I think I maybe knocked something out of alignment, though, because one of the stitch selector knobs won’t go to the last setting, and I can’t figure out how to fix it. I don’t think I’ll ever actually want to use the “J” stitch settings, but it still bugs me anyway.

Singer 401A stuck parts

Here are the stitch settings. I found it odd that instead of a 3-step zig-zag stitch, it has a 4-step multiple zig-zag stitch. The quality of the straight stitches wasn’t that great at first, but the stitches got more even when I increased the presser foot tension. So hopefully it will do nice topstitching on jeans. One interesting feature this machine has is you can put in two regular needles side-by-side, so you can do narrow double needle stitching without having to buy expensive twin needles.

Singer 401A stitch settings

It came with all of the accessories, but only one bobbin. Luckily, I just happened to have a set of these bobbins that came with my Singer 252. I have a bunch of plastic bobbins I use in the 252, and they work just fine, but I don’t like to alternate between metal and plastic since the bobbin tension might need to be adjusted differently, so I’ll keep the metal ones with the 401A.

Now I just have to get used to using an electric machine again, and I can sew jeans without worrying about breaking my sewing machine. I’m so spoiled by the perfect speed control I have on my treadle-mounted Singer 252. The 401A starts and stops smoothly, so I’m not too worried. I’ve never had a machine with a knee lever before, though.

I spent the weekend re-arranging my sewing area to make room for the new machine, and the new arrangement actually works better despite the additional sewing machine I squeezed in. The 401A’s cabinet doubles as a serger table next to my primary sewing machine.

How about a little more sewing machine porn? Want to see those metal gears she’s got under her cover?

Singer 401A inside top

Singer 401A under side

Singer 401A left face

Posted in Sewing, Vintage Sewing Machines

New Half-Scale Knit Dress Pattern

I have a new free half-scale pattern on Craftsy. This one is a sleeveless dress designed for knit fabrics.

The dress has a one piece neck and armhole facing that is sewn entirely by machine using this method, which I really like.

KnitDressSideFront

When I was out taking pictures of the dress, my cat Felix came over and wanted his picture taken too, so of course I obliged him. I took more kitty pictures than dress pictures.

KnitDress-Felix

Then he needed his chin scratched . . .

FelixChinScratching

Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Sewing

Upcycled Kids’ T-Shirts

I’ve been coming up with all sorts of things to do to avoid working on my bra pattern. My latest project was upcycled t-shirts for my kids.

My husband came home with a stack of old men’s work t-shirts someone had brought into his office. For some reason he thought I would use the fabric to make something :)

I used rub-off patterns to make the shirts, since I’m usually happier with the fit of kids’ clothes when I go that route rather than using commercial patterns.

I fiddled with my finicky serger and actually got it to work for this project, using ideas from the book The Ultimate Serger Answer Guide: Troubleshooting for Any Overlock Brand or Model. I highly recommend this book for everyone with a serger. There was one suggestion from this book that didn’t work for me, though – they suggested using larger needles to prevent skipped stitches, but I found smaller needles did the trick. I finally ended up using a size 10 Schmetz universal needle for the right needle and a size 12 ELx705 overlock needle on the left, even though those special needles are not recommended for my machine.

I used rolled hems on the long sleeve t-shirts, and when I went to switch the foot back to the normal position I stripped out the screw that holds the stitch finger in place. Figures. It is always something with this machine. I used craft glue to glue the stitch finger into the normal position, so I guess there will be no more rolled hems for a while. I am so looking forward to the day when I have the money saved up for a new serger.
Upcycled kids shirts 2

Posted in Sewing
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