Half Scale and Full Size Alder Dresses

I bought Grainline’s Alder shirtdress pattern a year and a half ago, but I didn’t get around to sewing this dress until last winter, when it was too cold to wear it. It’s finally starting to feel like summer around here, so I got a chance to wear my Alder dress and take some pictures.

Alder dress sidefront cropped

I got the pdf version of the pattern, so I thought it would be fun to print the pattern at half scale and sew it up to try on my DIY half-scale dress forms. Plus it would give me the opportunity to insert a shameless plug for my mini dress form patterns – which you can buy on Etsy and Craftsy.

Before I sewed the dress for myself, I sewed View A in half-scale. I used fabric from an old silk shirt, since I knew I would need thin fabric to sew a collar and other details that small. Getting that collar sewn on was a bit of a challenge, not to mention the armhole bias binding done at half scale. My treadle Singer 201 did beautifully sewing the thin silk with tiny seam allowances.

I was determined to sew everything at true half scale, and I had even planned on putting tiny buttons on the dress. However, by the time I got to the buttons I was just ready to be done, so I cheated and used size 14 Kamsnaps instead of buttons.

The dress turned out pretty cute.

It was a blustery day when I took pictures. The wind was blowing most of the time, but then there would be a few seconds of calm when I could quickly snap a picture.

Half scale alder dress windy

I wasn’t really sure if the Alder dress would look good on me or be my style. After seeing the half-scale View A, I decided it was too tent-like for my taste, so I thought I would sew up View B with the gathered skirt for myself. I bought some rayon challis to make the dress from, but then this crinkly rayon fabric I’ve had in my stash forever caught my eye. I’d never been able to figure out what to make with it.

The fabric shrinks up along the crinkles when it’s washed, but it can be ironed mostly flat. I wondered what would happen if I ironed the fabric flat before cutting out the dress, then let the wrinkles shrink back up in the wash on the finished dress. My hope was I would get a dress that was more figure hugging and less tent like. I barely had enough fabric to sew View A (without the gathered skirt), so I didn’t make View B like I had planned. I had no idea if this experimental dress would work or if my dress would be too tight, but I wanted to see what would happen.

Alder dress sidefront

I had so many problems sewing this dress because of this fabric. I ironed it, decided which was the right side and wrong side, and marked the wrong side. After I cut out one of the front pieces I decided I had somehow gotten the right and wrong sides mixed up. I don’t know how many times I flipped the fabric over trying to figure out which was the right side. In retrospect, I think both sides look the same! After all of that confusion I ended up with the button placket on the wrong side. Oh well.

Despite my marks on the wrong side of the fabric, I kept getting the wrong side and right side of the dress mixed up as I was sewing, too. The dress is also so nicely finished on the inside it wasn’t obvious which was the inside of the dress. I sewed the collar on the wrong way TWICE! This fabric doesn’t handle seam ripping very well, and the second time I’d actually trimmed my seam allowances before I realized my mistake. I almost gave up on the dress, but I decided to give it one more try.  With the help of some Fray Check on some little holes, I finally got the collar on the right way. Now I’m glad I didn’t give up on it.

I came to the conclusion that marking the wrong side of the fabric doesn’t work for me. Somehow my brain just can’t handle it. For me, it makes more sense to mark the right side. That way my marks don’t get enclosed inside yokes and collars. Next time I’ll mark the right side. And definitely no sewing fabric that doesn’t have a clear right and wrong side when I’m tired!

Since this dress was an experiment, I just sewed up the size that matched my bust measurement without any alterations at all. I’m 5’2″, so the hem ended up about knee level. It would probably look better if I shortened it a bit, but I’m always afraid of short skirts. Mid-thigh on a short person doesn’t cover as many inches of leg as it does on a tall person!


Here’s a close up of the fabric. I used linen for the undercollar to give it more stability.

Alder dress detail

I’m calling this experiment a success. I like the Alder dress in this fabric, and I expect I’ll wear it a lot this summer, but I don’t think I’ll use this pattern again. Shirt dresses with defined waists are more my style. I got McCall’s 6696 for my next shirtdress. Hopefully it won’t take me another year and a half to get around to using it!


Posted in Half-Scale Patternmaking and Sewing, Sewing

3D Printed Sewing Machine Parts

I decided to attempt to make a 3-step zig-zag special disc for my Singer 411G. In my opinion the 4-step zig-zag that is built in just isn’t a substitute. I usually use a 3-step zig-zag when I’m sewing through elastic, and the fewer stitches you put through elastic, the better.

Time for a little analog computer programming. I carefully measured one of my existing special discs, deciphered the “code”, and drew up a 3-step zig-zag disc. I decided to draw up the design in Tinkercad, since it’s free and has a short learning curve. In Tinkercad you basically stack a bunch of geometric shapes together to make more complex shapes. I used Inkscape to draw the more complicated shapes that could be extruded, then imported the .svg files into Tinkercad. Hooray for free software.

After I finished the 3-step zig-zag disc, I decided to make a few more things while I still remembered how to use the software. The only Singer slant needle to standard snap-on foot adapter available is a simple plastic one, and it’s not that great, so I decided to try to improve the design a little. I also made some tension stud sprockets for my Singer 237, and the two missing template sizes that were never made for my buttonholers.

I had the parts printed by Shapeways. The only low-cost, high resolution option they offer is their “Strong and Flexible” plastic (nylon). I figured ABS would be better for strength and abrasion resistance, but I couldn’t find a 3D printing site with reasonable prices for high resolution ABS that would also allow me to sell the parts to other people. I figured after going to the trouble of making these parts, it would be nice to be able to make them available to other vintage sewing machine enthusiasts.

At least initially, nylon seems to be OK for these parts. The parts are thick enough that they are rigid, not flexible. They are very lightweight, but seem strong enough. Only time will tell how they hold up under use.

The 3-step zig-zag disc was a little tight. I had to file one of the holes a little larger to get it to go on my machine.

Here’s my 3-step zig-zag disc next to an original Singer special disc. These are for the Singer slant needle machines with model numbers in the 400’s, 500’s and 600’s that take the original style black “top-hat” stitch pattern discs.

The stitch quality is not perfect, but the disc works! I’m pretty sure the crooked stitches are due to minor math and drafting errors on my part, not a printing problem, since it looks like the stitches are shifted the same amount on each set of stitches. I showed the stitches to my husband, and he thought they looked straight, so maybe it’s not that noticeable. I think I’ll use this disc for a while, and if it doesn’t wear out too fast, I’ll correct the design and make it available for others to purchase. (A 3-step zig-zag disc and 2-step zig-zag disc are now available for purchase in my Shapeways shop.)

Here’s the 3-step zig-zag compared to the 4-step. For the top two rows, I unthreaded my sewing machine and sewed on heavy paper.

The plastic snap-on slant needle adapter I previously purchased isn’t designed very well. The presser foot sits too far to the right, and it’s a bit crooked:

I designed my version so the foot would sit a little further to the left, but it ended up not being far enough. It’s kind of hard to measure what shape it should be. At least the foot is sitting straight now. This is my version:

I usually only use my slant shank snap-on adapter with my blind hem foot, which is wider than the feed dogs, so the foot being shifted over doesn’t really matter.

I can’t manage to make a manual buttonhole, and I have no interest in buying a modern machine that I’ll have to pay to get serviced, so I make my buttonholes with vintage buttonholers. I have one (OK maybe I actually have three) of the older style Singer buttonholers that don’t take templates and can make any size buttonhole, but you get skipped stitches with these buttonholers if you don’t stabilize your fabric really well, so I usually prefer to use the template type buttonholer.  I’ve collected all of the template sizes that were made for the Singer/Greist buttonholers, but there were two possible sizes that were never made. Until now!

These templates actually came out just about how I intended, so I set up a shop on Shapeways so you can buy them too, if you like. Mine are a bit snug in the buttonholer, but still fit just fine. The 3D printing process seems to create products that vary in size a little, so if yours are too tight, you could sand the outer edges a little with fine grit sand paper.

The Singer buttonholers were made by Greist, so they take the same templates as Greist buttonholers. These templates are about 1 3/4″ long and 3/4″ wide, and will fit Singer buttonholers 160506, 160743, 489500, and 489510. Greist made buttonholers to fit many different brands of sewing machines. I don’t have the model numbers for the Greist buttonholers these templates will fit, but I think they should fit all of the Greist buttonholers that were designed to work with straight stitch machines (or zig-zag machines set on straight stitch). These templates will not fit in buttonholers that only work with zig-zag machines, such as the Singer Professional buttonholers and the Greist buttonholers with a “Z” at the end of the model number.

While looking up model numbers just now I learned there was an adjustable Singer buttonholer made in the UK, model 86718, that has a stripper foot (to prevent skipped stitches) like the template buttonholers do. Great, now I’m going to want one of those, too. At least buttonholers take up less room than sewing machines.

Now I can make perfectly sized buttonholes for those buttons that I bought a whole bag of at the thrift store!

As for those tension stud sprockets . . . they weren’t quite what I’d hoped, but I think they’ll work OK. The resolution on the 3D printer isn’t high enough for the inner diameter to come out exactly as designed. These sprockets are available for sale on various sites that sell vintage sewing machine parts (sometimes they call it a “gear”), but the hole on the inside is too small, so the parts have to be drilled or filed out. Well, mine had to be filed out too, but I happen to have a chain saw file that worked just fine to enlarge the hole. Next time I’ll just buy a sprocket instead of having it printed – it’s probably better quality plastic. Here are some pictures of me replacing the sprocket on a Singer 237:

The future is here! Pretty cool, right?








Posted in Vintage Sewing Machines

My Singer 411G

For the last couple of years I’ve been searching for the perfect zig-zag sewing machine that can be treadled. I haven’t found one that meets all of my requirements, but I’ve found several that come close. My Singer 328K is all metal, it makes most of the stitches I need, and it is easy to treadle, but it skips stitches on stretchy knit fabrics. My Janome 712T does well on knit fabrics but is hard to treadle and has plastic parts that I worry about breaking when I sew thick fabric. I found a Fleetwood F-5000 free-arm machine that I was able to convert to treadle. It is all-metal, handles knits well, and is easy to treadle, but only does straight stitch and zig-zag. Also I prefer to sew on a flat bed machine most of the time.

In the back of my mind I kept wanting a Singer 411G. I knew it wouldn’t be quite what I wanted, since it doesn’t do a 3-step zig-zag (it’s multi zig-zag stitch is 4-step), and it is almost impossible to find one with a treadle balance wheel. However, I know some people have managed to treadle the electric version by shimming out the balance wheel, using a string or spinning wheel drive band instead of a leather belt, or cutting a groove in the balance wheel, so I figured that with some effort I should be able to treadle the electric version. And as for the 3-step zig-zag, I think I can design a new cam and have it 3D printed [which I did].

I finally decided to just stop buying fabric for a while so I could save up for a 411G. They are fairly rare, especially in the US where they were never sold, so I had to buy one on ebay, which I hate doing. It survived being shipped, but some idiot (probably the seller, who claims to be an expert at servicing sewing machines) had squirted massive amounts of grease in most of the places that should be lubricated with sewing machine oil. That took a while to clean up.

I kept getting irritated because the “nearly perfect condition” machine I paid too much for was a greasy mess, the tension assembly needed fixing, it was missing a screw, one spool pin was broken off, the other spool pin was stuck in place with epoxy, and the motor needed servicing. Then I would remind myself that those were the reasons I swore off buying sewing machines on ebay. Right, right.

At least the only shipping damage was the broken off spool pin. Although I can’t really count that as shipping damage, since the plastic pin was superglued in place and would have broken the first time I used it anyway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a 411G locally, so ebay was my only option.

My 411G is the electric only version:

There is a version of the 411G that was made to convert between treadle and electric. Maybe one day I’ll find one. There is a groove for a regular leather treadle belt on the balance wheel. It has a belt cover on the front and a different type of clutch knob on the handwheel:

I tested out my machine on some cotton/spandex fabric that my Singer 328K,  Singer 401A, and other vintage sewing machines had a hard time with. The 411G did great on this fabric. Yay! It seems to work better on tricky knits with Singer size 90/14 ball point needles, though. I also tried Schmetz stretch needles and Organ ball point needles, but I got a few skipped stitches. I can live with having to buy Singer ball point needles for this machine. Organ universal needles work fine in this machine for sewing woven fabrics, which is good, since they are cheap and I have a lot of them.

Another reason I wanted a 411G is that it chain stitches (if you have the chain stitch needle plate, part #503599). I have a Singer 604E that I got for chain stitching, but it doesn’t produce a very consistent stitch. The 411G’s chain stitch is a bit better, but I’m still getting the occasional giant thread loop or broken thread. Maybe I can get it to work more consistently if I play with the tension and stitch length.

I decided to clean and lubricate the motor, just to see if I might be OK using it as an electric sewing machine (directions for cleaning a Singer slant needle motor can be found on this page). I also cleaned the motor commutator with a pencil eraser. I put the motor back in, and it sounded better and might have had a little more power. For a vintage machine, it’s pretty nice. It was a top of the line machine in it’s day. I still couldn’t handle sewing on an electric machine, though. It’s too loud, it’s too hard to control the speed, it’s hard to push the button on the foot controller, and it makes that annoying electrical humming noise when it gets stuck on a thick seam. So I promptly took the motor back out.

It took some work to get this machine into a typical Singer treadle base. Maybe this machine will fit in the newer (1950’s and 1960’s) Singer treadle cabinets, but the older one I have needed some modifications.

First I had to take out the metal plate on the right side of the opening for the sewing machine. It is attached to a giant spring, which also had to come out. With a mirror and a light, I was able to see the screws I needed to remove.

I’m not sure I would be able to put that spring back in. It was under a lot of tension, and I’m not sure how it all fits together. Here are the parts I took out:

I tried putting my 411G in place, but the ledge on the front sticks out too far and hits the machine:

I sawed off 4 mm from the edge of the front piece of wood.

Now the machine fit into the opening, but I discovered I couldn’t lower it completely to shut the cabinet!

I couldn’t fix that, so I just put a plastic cover over the sewing machine and tip up the left side of the table against it when I’m not using it. I can’t leave the cabinet open all the way since it sticks out into the middle of the room and gets in the way.

The Amazon product links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I will earn a small commission.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to treadle my 411G. First I thought I’d try using size 2/0 candle wick in the little notch on the left side of the balance wheel. I ordered some, but then the next day (after it was too late to cancel my order) I decided I’d rather try using a flat urethane belt over the flat part of the balance wheel. I got 1/2″ wide, 0.062″ thick belting. I don’t think anything thicker would fit over the balance wheel without scraping against the body of the machine.

I had several options lined up to try – candle wick, my spare urethane spinning wheel belt, and flat urethane belting. There is a piece of 3/16″ leather treadle belt in the picture below for reference. I decided to try the flat belt first, and it worked so well I didn’t try the other options.

I cut the belt lengthwise into 7 mm and 6 mm wide strips. I used the 7 mm wide strip. I joined the belt by melting the ends near a candle flame then pressing them together. After it cooled I cut off the bead at the join with a razor knife. After practicing a couple of times, it’s not hard to do.

Here’s the join:

The flat belt works pretty well. It doesn’t slip at all, even when I sew over thick seams. Most of the time it rides at an angle on the drive wheel:

Sometimes the belt works its way part way over the edge of the drive wheel, and it looks like it is going to pop off, although it hasn’t actually come off yet. I shortened the belt a little to see if more tension would help, but it didn’t make any difference. [Edit: Actually, shortening the belt did help. The belt has been staying on the drive wheel.] It sews fine, though, and if I notice the belt working its way over the edge, I just give it a little nudge to get it back in place.

I really like that the urethane belt never slips, even on the thickest fabrics, so even though I have to nudge it sometimes, I’m happy with the flat belt. Cutting the belt narrower, maybe 5 mm wide, would probably help keep it on the drive wheel, but I was worried a narrower belt would stretch out too much or get wedged into the notch on left side of the balance wheel. I do have that other piece of belting I could try cutting narrower if the belt does ever start coming completely off the drive wheel.

I don’t like that the spool pins are on top of the upper cover. You have to open the cover to see the stitch pattern chart, which is hard to do without knocking off the spool of thread. Since the one remaining spool pin is too short anyway, I decided to use a separate thread stand.

This Superior Threads stand is pretty cute, but considering how much I just spent on this machine, I decided I’d better just make my own thread stand for now. I made one from an old yardstick, a skewer, an old plastic food container, half of an old knitting needle, a bag of sand, a pair of nuts and bolts, and some tape. Not very pretty, but effective.

I was having problems with the spool spinning too fast causing the thread to wind around the knitting needle, but wrapping the thread twice around the thread guide seems to have solved that problem.

I like the mismatched drawer pulls on my treadle cabinet. Kind of shabby chic, or in my case, just shabby. Maybe I’ll replace those when I get around to refinishing the cabinet.

I’m really hoping I can manage to stop buying sewing machines now. My fleet of sewing machines is feeling pretty complete. I have six treadle machines, which are the machines that I actually use (The electric machines sit on a shelf. Or on the floor. Or up in the storage loft). My Singer 201-3 is my most frequently used straight stitch machine. I have my Singer 15-88 set up for jeans topstitching thread. I probably won’t use my Singer 328K much now that I have the 411G, but my kids use it sometimes. I have a Fleetwood F-5000 free arm machine that I mostly use for hemming jeans. My Janome 712T only gets used for sewing bras and underwear, but if I can get the 3-step zig-zag special stitch disc made for the 411G, I probably won’t use the Janome much.

In addition to the treadle machines, I have a Juki MO-654DE serger, which I really like, and a Brother 2340CV coverstitch machine. I also have a portable electric walking foot machine that will sew material up to 3/8″ thick. So I’m all set to sew just about anything from lightweight silk to a teepee. I can stop now. I don’t need any more sewing machines. This time I really mean it. Seriously. Well, except maybe if I find a treadle version of the 411G . . .

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines

Measuring Body Width

Body width measurements aren’t commonly used when altering sewing patterns or patternmaking, but they do come up occasionally. I’ve used body width when drafting pants and locating princess seams. The problem is, how do you accurately measure body width? I checked to see if there is a tool for this and found a body caliper, which would not be long enough to measure larger people, and this expensive tree caliper, but neither were viable solutions for me.

In Kenneth King’s Jean-ius Craftsy class, he uses two L-squares attached together with rubber bands to measure body width. I have one L-square, and I looked into ordering another one, but I couldn’t find the exact model number I had, and I was afraid the width would be different on another model and it wouldn’t fit together with the one I had. Pattern drafting L-squares are fairly expensive, so I certainly wouldn’t want to buy two more. Carpenter’s squares are less expensive, so buying two matching ones would be another option (but I already found other solutions that didn’t cost me anything).

Here’s a picture to give you an idea of how the L-squares go together. There is an imaginary light blue L-square behind the real one, and they are held together with hair bands. I tried using rubber bands, but the sharp edge of my square broke them immediately. You adjust the L-squares to match the width you are measuring, then set down the squares on a table and measure the distance between them with another ruler or a tape measure.

I decided to try to find a solution that wouldn’t require me to buy additional tools. I remembered seeing body width measured with a ruler held up to an L-square:

I guess this works OK if you are measuring another person, but it’s hard to hold the ruler steady and keep it perpendicular to the square. If you want to take the measurement by reading the numbers on the square, you have to judge by eye that the ruler is held perpendicular to the square, then remember to subtract the width of the square. It’s also difficult to measure yourself this way. I thought about buying a T-square to use up against the L-square, but then it occurred to me that I could wrap some narrow elastic around the point where the ruler crosses the square. This would hold the ruler in place, but still allow it to slide back and forth. This worked well and allowed me to measure myself.

The elastic is wrapped tightly in a criss-cross pattern and pinned in place.

My L-square isn’t all that long, however, and I wanted to make sure I had an option for measuring wider people I might be sewing for. I tried using two rulers attached to a meter stick with elastic, and that worked, too.

After the measurement is taken on the body, you set down the rulers and measure the distance between them with another ruler or tape measure. Since the rulers will not be perfectly perpendicular to the meter stick, you have to be careful to measure the width at the same point where the rulers touched the body. I decided to always take the body width measurement at the ends of the rulers, just to be consistent.

At this point I had some viable options for measuring body widths, but I was annoyed at the thought of having my rulers literally tied up and having to take the elastic off to use them.

Since you don’t actually use the markings on the rulers, I found some wood scraps and made a semi-permanent body caliper, which I’m quite happy with. The nice thing about this solution is you can make it any size you want.



Posted in Patternmaking

Pretty Tiffany

Whoops, I did it again. I bought another vintage sewing machine. This is a Singer 115 with Tiffany decals, made in 1919. I don’t typically name my sewing machines, but I think I’ll call this pretty lady Tiffany.

Singer 115 front

I had made a few rules for myself in an effort to keep my vintage sewing machine addiction somewhat in check:

  1. Only buy machines that I want to actually sew with. Since other than my serger and coverstitch machine, I can’t stand to sew on electric sewing machines, that means I also have to be able to treadle the sewing machine.
  2. I have to have a specific reason for buying it. The sewing machine has to perform at least one task better than the machines I already have.
  3.  I have to be able to figure out a place in my house to put it. I have six treadle bases squeezed into my house, and I can’t fit in any more, so I have to be willing to displace one of my other machines from its treadle stand in order to use a machine regularly. I’d rather not swap out machines frequently, and it seems like six machines should be enough for one person.

So how did I justify Tiffany’s purchase? Well, the Singer 115 has a full rotary hook, which means no vibration at high speeds, and I was hoping it would treadle with very little effort (which it does), making it a good machine for quilting. Never mind that I hardly ever sew quilts, and when I do they are usually small and made from large squares. The other reason I bought this machine is that I really like the Tiffany decals. I figured I’d keep this machine out as a decoration even if I couldn’t get it sewing. So, OK, maybe I mostly bought this machine because it’s pretty. I’m allowed at least one machine in that category!

I did the most thorough cleaning and polishing job on this sewing machine that I’ve done yet. I found a series of blog posts about cleaning up a Singer 15-30 that were very helpful. I did all of the cleaning and polishing by hand with the help of Evaporust and metal polish, so it took me a couple of days. This machine deserved it, though.

Here are some before and after photos:

Singer 115 front before

Singer 115 front after

Singer 115 back before

Singer 115 back after

Singer 115 left before

Singer 115 left after

Tiffany was locked up at first, but the problem ended up just being a bit of ancient-looking thread caught in the bobbin area. I’m guessing the previous owner decided their machine was broken, put it in the back of the closet (where it sat for over half a century), and went out to buy a new modern sewing machine with advanced features such as reverse and zig-zag. Ha, and I fixed it in a few minutes just by jiggling the balance wheel until the piece of thread came into view and I could pull it out.

I found a manual for the Singer 115 on ismacs.net. Apparently Singer reused the model number 115, because if you look up 115 in the manual search on the Singer site, you get the manual for a different machine.

Tiffany did not come with a bobbin case, which was a bit of a problem. The original bobbin cases are really hard to find. You can easily find inexpensive replacement bobbin cases advertised to fit the Singer 115, but they don’t actually work well with the 115. I got a bobbin case and L type bobbins from SewClassic, and although they seem to be high quality items, they were designed to fit other machines that take L type bobbins, not the Singer 115.

The first problem I ran into was that the bobbins would not fit on the bobbin winder. They went onto the shaft OK, but the finger that is supposed to go down inside the bobbin would not fit into it. I think my bobbins have thicker edges than the originals did. I decided to file down the sides of the finger until it fit into a bobbin. This took forever, since I didn’t have the right tools, but I got it to work. I really need to get a Dremel one of these days.

Singer 115 bobbin winder

When I started to sew, at first I thought everything was fine, but I kept getting thread snarls every few inches. I watched what was happening in the bobbin area, and the thread was getting caught on the edge of the bobbin case in two places. There were corners there that the thread was getting hung up on, so I used a diamond knife sharpener to file those corners off and smooth out the curves. After that I sanded the area with 1500 grit sandpaper and polished it with metal polish, and I think the area I worked on ended up smoother and shinier than it was originally!

Singer 115 thread caught on bobbin case

Singer 115 file bobbin case

I tried sewing again, and now the thread slipped right around the bobbin case with no problems. I sewed for a bit, and things went well for a while, but then I got another thread snarl. I figured out that the bobbin case was gradually rotating counterclockwise, since there is nothing to hold it stationary. The machine would sew fine until the bobbin case rotated to about an eighth of a turn from horizontal, then the thread would get caught on the bobbin case.

I tried to find pictures of what the original 115 bobbin cases look like. I could only find this blurry picture and this picture of a broken one that show the top of the bobbin case, but it looked to me like the original bobbin cases have some sort of protuberances at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock to keep the bobbin case from rotating. My bobbin case did not have those, so no wonder it was turning around. There is a stationary piece on the sewing machine that the little bumps sit on either side of.

I thought it would be easy to find some little things to glue onto the bobbin case to keep it from rotating, but I couldn’t find anything around the house that was small enough. I ended up cutting 2.5 mm by 2.5 mm by 1 mm thick pieces of metal from the corners of a hinge. I have a small hack saw, but I don’t have a setup appropriate for working with tiny objects, so this was a bit of a challenge. At one point I dropped one of the tiny pieces on the floor and had to crawl around on the floor for a few minutes to find it. That was fun. I rounded down two adjacent edges on each piece to help keep the thread from getting caught on them, then I glued them onto the bobbin case with JB Weld.

Singer 115 bobbin case with tabs

The next day after the epoxy had cured, I tried sewing, and it worked! No more thread snarls! I really hope the JB Weld holds. I’ve been having problems with it on other projects, and I think it might be because I didn’t get the proportions of the two components right or the hardener had separated too much. I have a milligram scale now, so this time I weighed the two components to make sure I got equal amounts. I cleaned the parts with alcohol before I epoxied them together, but I’m not one hundred percent sure I got all of the oil off, which would also cause problems. At least the little tabs aren’t under much stress.

Singer 115 Sewing Machine 32

One other problem I had with this machine was that the tension would not release when the presser foot was lifted. I finally figured out that the tension release pin was slightly too short. I found a longer pin on one of my parts machines, filed it to the right length, and now the tension release works perfectly.

When I was looking for my 115, it took me a while to figure out how to tell the difference between a Singer 115 and the very similar looking and much more common early model 15’s. The simplest way to tell the models apart is to open up the slide plate or look at the underside and see what the bobbin area looks like. There are some side by side pictures of the bobbin areas of a 115 and 15 on this quiltingboard thread.

Here are some tips if you are trying to identify a Singer 15 or 115 from pictures and you don’t have a picture of the underside:

•  The first thing to look for is that the tension assembly is on the left side of the machine. 115’s, 15’s, and 15 clones all have this feature.

•  Look for the typical rounded, curvy body shape of a model 15. There were quite a few variations of the model 15 over the years. Some versions of the model 15 have the exactly the same body shape as the 115, and some are different.

•  If you know the serial number, you can look up the model number in the ismacs database. I think all 115 serial numbers start with G followed by a seven digit number. Many model 15’s have serial numbers that start with G too, though. The “G” may be smaller than the numbers, right on the edge of the serial number plate, and/or covered by grime, so it can be easy to miss.

•  Model 115’s were never made with reverse. Model 115’s and early model 15’s have a round knob that slides up and down to change the stitch length. If the machine has a stitch length/reverse lever with a round plate around it, it’s a later version of the model 15.

• Look at what type of balance wheel (handwheel) the machine has. If it is solid, that doesn’t tell you anything, but if it is spoked, count the number of spokes. If there are 9 spokes, it could be either a 115 or a 15. If there are 6 spokes, it’s a 15.

•  If the sewing machine is not in a cabinet or case and is sitting on a table, a 115 will sit level. A 15 will be tilted at an angle, with the left side up a little higher.

•  Model 115’s only came with either the “Gold Wings” (aka “Wings”) or “Tiffany” (aka “Gingerbread”) decals. If the machine has Gold Wings decals, it’s a model 115. If it has Tiffany decals, it could be either a 115 or 15.  If it has some other decals, it’s a 15. Of course this only helps if the machine has the original decals. If the decals are bright and perfect looking, it’s possible the machine was repainted and new decals were applied.

I couldn’t help taking a lot of pictures of Tiffany, since she’s so pretty. I didn’t want to overload this blog post with them all, so click on over to Flickr if you want to see more pictures.

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines

The White Shirt (finally) and How to Make Perfect Collar Points

I finally finished my husband’s white shirt that was supposed to have been a Christmas present. I procrastinated on working on this shirt for months, since I was terrified of staining that white fabric. I just don’t live a “white shirt” kind of lifestyle. When I had finished sewing, the shirt had mysterious brown spots that I blame on the cat, my washable marker markings, and a couple of small black oil stains from my buttonholer. Everything but the black oil stains washed out fine, and those are not very noticeable.


The other reason it took me forever to get the shirt done is that I tend to research a project to death, trying to get it right the first time. I hadn’t sewn a men’s shirt before, and I did learn a lot. Actually, about four years ago, I decided to improve my sewing skills until I could sew a shirt for my husband that would pass for ready-to-wear. I think I just achieved that!

Now my new goal is to work on my organizational skills so that I can get more sewing projects done. My list of things to sew has just been getting longer and longer, my wardrobe is looking a bit worn, and I’ve changed size since last year, so there are many things I need and want to sew. I’ve completely lost the desire to buy any ready-to-wear clothes other than socks, so I’ve got to get sewing! Even something as simple as a RTW t-shirt doesn’t fit me well enough to satisfy me now that I know how much better clothes can fit. I don’t normally make New Year’s resolutions, because I never keep them, but I made one this year to get more sewing done.

I have been gradually working my way through the Threads magazine archives, starting with their first issue. Here’s one tip I learned (issue 64, page 45) that came in handy on this shirt:

If you have a pocket with curved edges, you can use silk organza (or tissue paper) to help you turn up the seam allowances over a heavy paper template. Place the organza under the pocket, then pull it up over the edges as you press them over the template.

Here’s an example of how I think everything to death, then rarely get any actual sewing done. I’ve been trying various collar point turning methods, trying to find one I like. The last time I sewed a collar had been on a shirtdress for myself. I used the traditional home sewing method for trimming and turning the collar point, and I ended up with limp collar points with holes at the tip. I was pondering why RTW collar points are so much better, and then I had a slap my self on the forehead moment – if I want RTW results, I have to use RTW methods. And, as it happens, I’ve read about RTW collar point turning methods, but never tried them.

In this Seamwork article, David Page Coffin writes about various point turning methods. On the white shirt, I used the “Third Approach” method from that article. After my bad experience with the shirtdress collar, I went completely the other way on the white shirt. I didn’t trim my interfacing out of the seam allowances and I barely did any trimming on the collar points. Predictably, the collar points were very bulky and difficult to turn. I couldn’t get them quite as sharp as I wanted, because there was simply too much bulk at the points (they still look fine, though).

I tried all sorts of things trying to find the perfect collar point method.

I tried turning a collar with tweezers and a hemostat. I didn’t like it at all. It was hard to do, and although I’m sure it gets easier with practice, the collar does not end up turned out completely, especially if your fabric is thick, so why bother? You might as well just turn the collar by pinching it with your finger and thumb (which I demonstrate below).

Of course I tried using a bamboo point turner. This works OK on thin fabric, but I couldn’t get my points to turn out completely on thicker fabric.

I thought maybe I needed a collar point turner like the “Ms Designer’s Multipurpose Point and Tube Turner” (the thing that looks like tongs) mentioned in the Seamwork article on turning points. This point and tube turner is no longer made, but I saw used ones on ebay and Etsy. I almost bought one, but then I decided to try and make a collar point turner instead. Here’s what I came up with, after looking at two different industrial collar point turners (here and here):


Unfortunately, my point turner is too flimsy to work well. The points tend to slip past each other instead of staying together, even though I filed the tips of the needles flat. I did manage to turn a few points with it, however, and I decided a point turner wasn’t what I needed after all. It didn’t quite turn the point out completely. I imagine that industrial point turners work better, but they are expensive and I don’t have room for one.

Then I tried the thread loop method from Off the Cuff. I was only successful with this method about half the time. My turning thread got sewed through sometimes and would get stuck or break before I had the point turned out. Another method crossed off my list.

I hadn’t tried the thread turning method mentioned at the end of David Page Coffin’s Seamwork article, because it just looked way too risky. It would be way too easy to rip out your stitching at the collar point. After I’d tried just about everything else without success, I decided to modify this method by adding more stitching to secure the thread loop, and I finally found something that worked consistently and safely to get a perfect collar point.

Here’s my collar point sewing and turning method:

These are my mini test collars. They have quarter inch seam allowances. If you use larger seam allowances, trim them to 1/4″ after stitching, but do not clip or notch the seam allowances.


I’m not sure why I trimmed the interfacing out of the collar point area on my sample collars. It’s probably not necessary. In fact, these RTW collars that I dissected have extra interfacing in the seam allowance just at the collar point! That’s exactly the opposite of the “trim, trim, trim, reduce bulk, reduce bulk” message you get from home sewing directions.


Start stitching the collar seam. Always stitch with the interfaced collar piece facing up. Stop with the needle down one stitch away from the first collar point.


Raise the presser foot and insert a one foot (30 cm) long piece of thread between the layers of fabric right up against the needle, with the longer portion of the thread off to the right. Lower the presser foot and take the final stitch to the corner.


With the needle down, pivot at the corner, then raise the presser foot. Take the thread that was off to the right and snug it up against the needle, leaving a loop of thread to the right of the collar point.


Finish stitching the collar, making another thread loop at the other point. Open up a collar point and check that the thread loop is not twisted.


Stitch a line of reinforcing stitches at the corner as shown below. Start and stop 2 mm from each fabric edge, and use a single backstitch (or a couple of tiny backstitches) to secure the stitching at each end. Use stitches about 2 mm long, and lengthen or shorten your stitches as needed to make sure the needle enters the fabric right at the seam corner. The goal is to form a stitch over each thread without punching the needle down into the thread and splitting it in half.


Pull on the cut ends of the turning threads so you no longer have loops. Trim off the point 2 to 3 mm (1/8″) from the line of stitches at the collar point. If the angle of your collar point is close to a right angle, that’s all the trimming you need. Trim off a little bit more on the sides for an acute point, especially if your fabric is thick, but don’t clip into your line of reinforcing stitches. If your fabric is thin, you can skip trimming altogether and just fold down the fabric at the point.


Press open your seam allowances over a point presser.


Insert your index finger into a collar point. Fold down the seam allowances toward the interfaced collar piece and pinch them in place with your thumb.


Keep pinching the seam allowances between your thumb and index finger and turn the collar point over your thumb. Your thumb will end up inside the collar.


Here’s where all that extra work pays off. Getting a perfect point is now super easy. Pull on the thread ends to finish turning out the collar point. I found a few gentle tugs worked better than a steady pull. Clip the thread near the collar point and pull it out. Repeat for the other point, and press the collar.


Here’s another sample, done in a thinner fabric. See how the collar point was turned out completely, right up to the stitching at the corner? Oh, how pointy it is!


I was able to turn the collar points out completely, even on the test sample done in lightweight denim. I could even see the stitch right at the corner. Of course, you will use matching thread on a real collar, so hopefully the stitches won’t be as visible. You can tell by looking at this picture that the often repeated advice to take a diagonal stitch or two at the corner of a point to get a sharper point is completely wrong. The only thing it will give you is a diagonal point on your collar and maybe a hole in your collar point. It’s unbelievable how many people have repeated that bad advice. I’ve come across so many bad ideas like this repeated over and over by so-called sewing experts that I tend to not trust anything they say unless I’ve verified it myself.

Here’s one more tip for sewing collars to make them look less homemade. If your pattern calls for topstitching 1/8″ (3 mm) from the edge, do your topstitching 1 mm from the edge instead. I use a blind hem foot to keep my stitching an even distance from the edge. Make sure the interfaced side of the collar is facing up when you do your topstitching.



Posted in Sewing

Speed Draping and the Dangers of Wearable Muslins

The Amazon product links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I will earn a small commission.

My husband has been asking me to make him a white shirt. This fall decided I would make him the shirt for Christmas. I got fabric and prewashed it twice. I bought interfacing. I bought the Sew Better, Sew Faster: Shirtmaking Craftsy class, which includes a free copy of the Islander Sewing Systems Men’s Shirt Maker’s Express pattern. I watched the class. Watched it again. I printed out the pdf pattern and glued the sheets together. Finally I got started. Sort of. Really, I think it’s that white fabric that scares me more than anything. I’m afraid I’ll stain it if I look at it wrong.

I wanted the shirt to fit really well, but I hate making pattern alterations. I don’t mind adjustments that involve pinching a bit of fabric out, but trying to figure out how much to enlarge an area is a problem for me. Judging from how my husband’s ready-to-wear clothes fit (or don’t) I expected to have to enlarge the neckline and make a broad back adjustment.

Since Mr. GrowYourOwnClothes as been working out of town quite a bit lately, and wouldn’t be available for frequent fittings, I decided to drape a fitting shell on him and use that to help me make the pattern adjustments. Plus I just like to make clothes the right shape in the first place rather than trying to “read the wrinkles” and figure out how to fix the shape after the fact, even if it takes more time, since I think I get better results that way.

A few years ago when I first attempted to drape a fitting shell, I kept thinking there had to be a better material to use than fabric. Something that I could tape instead of pin, a material that would hold a crease well; something flexible that had just a little bit of give, but wouldn’t stretch on the bias; something not too slippery, and maybe transparent  . . . Well, I found it.

To make the draping material, I layer together about five layers of commercial grade PVC plastic food wrap, keeping some wrinkles in each layer to add stability, then press it flat with a rolling pin. You have to use commercial grade PVC plastic wrap – the safer types of plastic most consumer brands have switched to aren’t as sticky. Store brand cling film might be PVC, but it’s too thin. Stretch-Tite brand will work – it’s the same stuff as the Polyvinyl Films food wrap I have, just in a smaller package. I haven’t tried pallet wrap, but it might work too – it is stickier and stretchier than food wrap, though.


This plastic wrap draping material is fairly easy to work with, but it does have some drawbacks. The main problem is that you have to prepare the draping material, do your draping, and trace the pattern onto paper all in one day, because the layers start to separate after a few hours and the material starts to stretch out of shape. The only other problem I’ve had is when I folded my plastic wrap pattern in half, then had trouble getting it apart again. You have to keep in mind that it sticks to itself, which makes it easy to fold out darts, but it can be a problem if you are not careful.

I’m always astounded at the excellent results I get when draping with this stuff. Mr G is a volunteer firefighter/EMT, and he was on call when I draped his fitting shell, so I really hurried to get it done, since I knew I might have to rip it off of him any second if his pager went off. I didn’t look at the clock, but I think I got the draping done in about 20 minutes. It was a sloppy draping job – the left and right sides didn’t match very well, but it didn’t matter, because after averaging the two sides, the pattern came out quite well.

The key to successful draping, especially when draping on a real person, is to drape both sides of the body. I’m not sure why so many sewing experts tell you to only drape one side, even on an actual person. Maybe because that’s the way it’s always been done, it sort of works on a symmetrical dress form, and no one will take you seriously as a sewing expert if you don’t do what everyone else is doing? In my experience you will get better results in less time if you drape both sides, even on a symmetrical dress form. Keep the center front and center back vertical, and try somewhat to keep the darts and seamlines the same on both sides, but don’t waste a lot of time trying to keep the left and right the same.

After you mark the darts and seamlines, remove the draping material. To “average” the two sides, trace the left and right sides on top of each other, aligning center front or center back lines. I use dressmakers tracing paper and a tracing wheel to do the tracing. Everywhere there is a corner, make a dot midway between the corners on the left and right side tracings. Then simply draw a line midway between the two traced lines. I usually just do this by eye, and only measure if there is an especially large gap between the two lines. The only exception would be the shoulder line – I adjust it to fit the higher shoulder when I’m draping on a real person or custom dress form. True up the darts similarly.

After that, I add wide seam allowances to the pattern, sew up the fitting shell in fabric, and make any minor adjustments needed. Despite the hasting draping I did on Mr. G, I only had to deepen the back of the armholes and lower the front neckline a tad. Everything else was fine. I swear this “averaging” technique works like magic. It really doesn’t take long, and it cuts down on the pattern alterations needed later, since your full circumference measurements will be correct, and it allows you to quickly make a symmetrical pattern to fit a not perfectly symmetrical figure.

Since coming up with this plastic wrap draping material, I’ve learned about additional alternative materials other people use for draping – heavy weight non-woven interfacing, Swedish tracing paper, plastic sheeting, paper, etc. Swedish tracing paper is the only other material I know of that has similar benefits to layered plastic wrap when used as a draping material (and it doesn’t have the drawbacks plastic wrap does), but I still don’t use it. Every time I need to do some draping I reach for my giant roll of plastic wrap. I think it’s mostly just a cost issue – Swedish tracing paper is great, but a bit expensive for my taste, and I already have a lifetime supply of plastic wrap.

So, back to Mr. G’s shirt. I placed his torso block over the Islander men’s shirt pattern I got with my Craftsy class. After staring at it for a bit, I decided the alterations would be more than I wanted to deal with, and there were some features I didn’t like about the pattern anyway, so I decided to mostly re-draft the pattern. I tend to go to great lengths to avoid complex pattern alterations.


I used the book The Practical Guide to Patternmaking for Fashion Designers: Menswear by Lori A. Knowles, which takes the non-traditional approach of designing men’s clothes based on basic blocks, like the method most pattern making textbooks follow for women’s clothing design. In my opinion, this is a better approach than drafting everything from measurements, as is often done for menswear, since you don’t have to make as many fit corrections on the final pattern when you’ve already fitted your basic blocks. I followed the directions in the book for making a shirt pattern from the torso block, mixed in some elements from the Islander men’s shirt pattern, some ideas from a ready-to-wear shirt, used Pam Erny’s shirt sleeve placket tutorial, and somehow I came up with a shirt pattern.

After I had make the pattern, I sewed up a quick muslin. The only changes I had to make were to shorten the sleeves, take in the side seams, and raise the back yoke line. Yay, no slashing and spreading to make it larger!

After procrastinating for so long and spending so much time working on the pattern, I didn’t get the white shirt done in time for Christmas, so Mr. G got a wearable muslin instead. It’s made from quilting cotton with roosters all over it. The fabric was from a stash my mother bought at an estate sale and gave to me, and it’s come in quite handy for making muslins. I didn’t quite think through the consequences of choosing that particular print, though.

rooster-shirt rooster-shirt-back

Mr. G wasn’t supposed to wear this shirt out of the house. Now he’s out on another business trip, he took the shirt with him, and he said he’s going to wear it out to dinner! Erg. He brags about the things I sew, and I just imagine people snickering at the shirt. What do people think of me for sewing such a wacky shirt? Do they think less of him because he married a nut job who sews ridiculous things? I think maybe he just wants an excuse to make rooster jokes, using the other word for roosters, of course, as in “I have a lot of [roosters] on my shirt”. Ha ha. How did I not think of that before I made the shirt? I should have used the fabric covered in acorns – oh, wait, no, then there would be nut jokes.

His comment on the fit was “It feels like I’m not even wearing it,” which pleases me. It was a lot of work to get that perfect fit, but it all worked out, and now I have a pattern I can use many times.

I like this method of making sleeve plackets. They come out well, even without a lot of practice.

The hem was sewn before the side seams, which keeps the curved hem from curling up. I think I’ll only do this when the seams are flat-felled, though. I wouldn’t want to see any seam edges peeking out.


Now it’s time to brave that white fabric and make the real shirt!

Posted in Patternmaking, Sewing

Converting a Singer 66 Back Clamp to Side Clamp

For the first few years that Singer produced the model 66 sewing machine, the machines had back clamping presser feet instead of the low shank side clamping feet used on their other machines. The back clamp feet are expensive and hard to find, and you are limited as to what feet and attachments are available, so it’s nice to convert a back clamp Singer 66 to side clamp if you plan to use it regularly. These sewing machines are so old they were made before zippers were used in clothing, so you probably won’t be able to find a back clamping zipper foot. After converting to side clamp, you can use those new-fangled inventions like zipper feet, walking feet, and buttonholers with your machine. You can also use a low shank snap on foot adapter with the machine so you can use modern snap on feet.

I found text directions for the conversion on the Treadle On site, but I couldn’t find any pictures of the process, so I’m writing up a tutorial on how I did it.

You’ll need a side clamping presser bar from a Singer 66 parts machine. You can find these on ebay sometimes, but I found it was cheaper to just get a whole parts machine for myself. I got mine on the shopgoodwill auction site. Just make sure you get one with a side clamping presser foot.

The conversion process is pretty simple, but you might run into problems due to old hardened oil and rust. If you have any problems with stuck parts, apply some penetrating oil (such as kerosene or Liquid Wrench) and let it sit for a bit, then heat the area up with a hair dryer, which does wonders to soften up hardened oil. I don’t like to get WD-40 near my sewing machines, but if you choose to use it, make sure to clean it off thoroughly before putting the machine back together. If left on the machine, it will eventually dry to a film that will glue the parts together.

On my rusty parts machine, in order to remove the foot pressure knob, I had to wrap the knob with a strip of leather, then grip it with locking pliers. I use the locking pliers as a last resort, though, because no matter how much I try to protect the knob from damage, I usually end up scraping it up. My presser bar was a bit rusty on the ends, but after soaking it in Evapo-Rust and polishing it with metal polish it looked pretty good.

The procedure for removing the presser bar from a donor side clamping machine is basically the same as for the back clamping version, so I’ll just show the steps for the back clamping machine.

This probably goes without saying, but clean all parts and rub them down with sewing machine oil before putting them back in the machine.

    1. Remove the needle, just so it isn’t in the way and you don’t stab yourself. Remove the presser foot and the screw that holds it in place. On a back clamping machine, also unscrew and remove the presser foot holder that the presser foot attaches to.
    2. If you have a thread cutter, remove that too. To remove it, wrap it in a rag so you don’t hurt your hand, then twist it back and forth as you pull down on it.
    3. Lower the presser foot lever. Clean the exposed portion of the presser bar. I use rubbing alcohol on a cotton swab to remove hardened oil (be careful not to drip any alcohol on the black finish – alcohol dissolves the shellac used on it). Rub some sewing machine oil on the bar after cleaning it.
    4. Loosen or remove the upper screw holding the side plate in place, remove the thumbscrew, and remove the side plate.
    5. Unscrew and remove the foot pressure knob.
    6. Remove the spring through the top of the machine. There should be a washer sitting on top of the spring, so be careful not to lose it.
    7. Loosen or remove the set screw that holds the presser bar in place. Remove the presser bar through the top of the machine.
    8. Insert the side clamping presser bar down into the machine. Turn it so the flat edge on the lower end of the bar is facing the left side of the sewing machine.
    9. Put a general purpose presser foot on the bar. Turn the flywheel (hand wheel) until the feed dogs are in the lowered position. Adjust the position of the foot so it is straight and down against the machine bed.
    10. Adjust the position of horizontal bar that the set screw goes in so there is about a 2 mm gap between the lower edge of the bar and upper edge of the presser foot lifting lever (this is just based on how my machine was originally adjusted – I don’t know what the official gap should be). Insert the set screw and tighten it. Raise the presser foot lifting lever, turn the flywheel a full revolution, and make sure the needle bar doesn’t hit the presser foot. If the needle bar hits the presser foot, lower the presser foot and adjust the horizontal bar up a little further.
    11. Lower the presser foot lever. Insert the spring down through the top of the machine. Place the washer on top of the spring.
    12. Screw the foot pressure knob back in.
    13. Put the side plate back on.
    14. Remove the presser foot and the screw that holds it in place. Slide the thread cutter onto the presser bar. I used a small flat head screw driver to pry it open a little as I got it started. Put the presser foot back on.
    15. Test out your machine and adjust the presser foot pressure. The pressure should be just enough to feed your fabric evenly and give you stitches that are all the same length.


Posted in Vintage Sewing Machines

Antique Iron Pattern Weights

I sew with treadle sewing machines, so if the power goes out, I can just keep on sewing. However, most of the time when I’m sewing I also need to iron, so I thought it would be nice to have a sad iron that I can heat up on the wood stove. I put off getting one, since it seemed silly to buy something I would only use once a year or so at the most, but then I realized that sad irons would also make perfect heavyweight pattern weights that I could use year round, so I went ahead and got some. Plus they are just fun to look at.

Most of the patterns I use are either pdfs printed onto printer paper or patterns traced onto butcher paper. Pinning thicker paper onto fabric doesn’t work well at all, so I hold down patterns with weights, then either trace around the patterns or cut around them with scissors or a rotary cutter. I like to use small weights around the edges of the pattern, but for large pattern pieces, it’s also nice to have a couple of heavy pattern weights that hold the pattern firmly in place so there’s no chance the pattern will shift.

sad iron pattern weights

I looked at new sad irons designed for off-grid users, and uh, no, I wasn’t going to pay that much for a single iron. Then I looked at antique sad irons on ebay, where there are some reasonable prices for sad irons (although shipping costs can be high), but also some sellers who seem to think that anything old is worth its weight in gold. I found my irons on the shopgoodwill auction site, and including shipping they ended up around $10 each, which is less than the prices I’ve seen for professional pattern weights.

I got the kind of irons with attached iron handles, since the old wood ones tend to break. I also ended up with two bases for Asbestos brand irons. They are a little hard to pick up without handles, but the detachable handles are where the asbestos was, which I of course don’t want, so I’ll just have to be careful when I use those ones as pattern weights. They are 4.5 to 5 pounds each, so I’d probably break a toe if I dropped one on my foot.

The small iron on the right in the photo below looks like it will be perfect for the type of pressing I do while sewing – mostly pressing seam allowances and pressing up hems.

five antique sad irons on pattern

Sad irons are made from cast iron, so they rust if they are not properly seasoned. They are seasoned with oil just like you would season a cast iron cooking pan. Most of the irons I got were in pretty good shape, but I did have to use a pumice stone and a wire brush to get some rust off of a couple of them.

If the seasoning is done properly, you end up with a hard non-stick surface on the iron. The first time I tried seasoning my irons I didn’t do things right. I looked up directions for seasoning cast iron pans, so I thought I knew what to do. I rubbed palm oil on the irons, then baked them at 450° F for an hour and a half. I ended up with a sticky, greasy mess. The thick brown oil residue rubbed off, leaving brown stains, which obviously wasn’t going to work for ironing fabric.

I did some more research to figure out what I did wrong, and found this blog post on seasoning cast iron pans. It turns out that most of the directions you will find online for seasoning cast iron pans are flat-out wrong. The key to success is to use a very thin layer of flax oil, then bake at a high temperature. To get a thick enough coating, you repeat the process several times. I scrubbed the greasy brown residue off my irons and tried again with flax oil, with perfect results. The coating on the irons is black, hard, non-stick, and doesn’t rub off.

I have cast iron frying pans that I rarely use because food sticks to them, but I think I might re-season them too now that I know how to do it right.


Posted in Sewing

Review: Janome 712T Treadle Sewing Machine

Janome 712T treadle head

The Amazon product links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I will earn a small commission.

I’ve been sewing on treadle sewing machines most of my life, and I really don’t enjoy sewing on electric machines, so when I first saw the Janome 712T, which is a modern treadle head designed for the Amish and other off-grid sewers, I was curious about it. But it’s currently selling for $289 online, and that’s a lot of money to pay for a machine I couldn’t try out first. When I saw a barely used one for a quarter of that price, I couldn’t resist buying it.

As I was researching this machine and reading reviews, I noticed a lot of preppers are recommending this machine. Before I get any further, just in case you are a prepper and don’t read down to the end of this review, please don’t waste your money on this machine. It’s probably not what you need. More on that at the end of the review.

Janome 712T on treadle base.jpg

Lets start with what I like about this machine, since the list of things I don’t like is really long.

The manual is pretty good, and it was written or at least edited by someone who actually speaks English. If you’d like to look at the manual for more information on the features, you can download a pdf copy from Janome’s website.

The Janome 712T makes nice stitches, and has a decent selection of utility stitch patterns. The only stitches I ever use are straight stitch, zig-zag, tricot stitch (3-step zig-zag), blind hem, and stretch blind hem. I really like the feather stitch, but I’m not sure where I’d use it. Here’s a sampler of the stitches it can do. The upper edge was finished with a wide zig-zag stitch and the overcast foot. I think it finishes the edge better than the overcast stitch used on the lower edge. The stitch width on the buttonholes seems a bit narrow and is not adjustable – the stitches might not hold well in coarsely woven fabric.

Janome 712T stitch sampler top

Stitch sampler – right side

Janome 712T stitch sampler wrong side

Stitch sampler – wrong side

Compared to vintage zig-zag machines, the Janome 712T does really well sewing knit fabric. If you use the right type of needle, it will sew on any fabric without skipping stitches. It is not terribly picky about needle type or thread type for most fabrics. The ability to sew well on knits and elastic is probably the one thing that makes this machine worth keeping for me. All of my vintage machines tend to skip stitches on knit fabrics and elastic.

The extra-high presser foot lift is nice. If you push up on the presser foot lifter, it will raise up extra high to help you position the foot. It lifts higher than any of my other machines, and is really helpful when you are positioning the buttonhole foot.

It takes plastic class 15 bobbins, which are common and easy to find.

I like the clear bobbin cover and clear bobbins, so you can easily see how much thread you have left. I also like that there is a diagram showing the proper bobbin thread direction, since I use several sewing machines and they all thread a little differently.

Janome 712T bobbin cover.jpg

You can open up the machine with a phillips head screwdriver and oil it, so you don’t have to take it to be serviced for routine maintenance. The manual says that it only needs to be oiled two or three times a year if used constantly, but remember that your vintage treadle base needs to be oiled with sewing machine oil after every 8 hours of use.

The manual does not mention using twin needles, but you can use up to 4 mm wide twin needles with this machine. To thread the machine, either put a bobbin on top of your thread spool, or use two bobbins if your spool is too tall. To prevent thread tangles, position the upper bobbin so it is unwinding in the opposite direction from the spool or lower bobbin. Hold the ends of the threads together and thread the machine as if it was a single thread, except for the very last thread guide before the needle. The thread that goes through the left needle should go through the last thread guide, but skip the last thread guide for the thread that goes through the right needle.

Janome 712T Twin needle threading spool

Janome 712T Twin needle threading

Here are some views of the insides.

Janome 712T inside left angleJanome 712T inside leftJanome 712T inside topJanome 712T underside

The Janome 712T does have some nice features, but its main disadvantage is it’s REALLY HARD TO TREADLE. I don’t think Janome went to any special effort to design a low-friction machine here – I’m guessing they just modified a design for an electric machine to have a different handwheel so it could be used on a treadle base. There are plenty of vintage zig-zag machines that can be put right into a treadle base, and none of them I’ve tried have anywhere near as much friction in their inner workings as the 712T.

I first tried putting my Janome 712T on a Pfaff treadle base with a large 14 inch diameter drive wheel. It was so hard to treadle, I almost couldn’t keep the machine going. I had to lean forward and really push on the pedal. After just a few minutes my legs were burning. I needed a treadle base with a smaller wheel for this machine. For reference, I previously had my Singer 328K on the Pfaff treadle base, and I could sew all day on it without getting tired.

Smaller treadle drive wheels make pedaling easier, but the trade off is slower sewing. I have a couple of Singer treadle bases with 12 inch diameter drive wheels, but I’m happy with the machines I have set up in them and I didn’t want to modify the cabinets to fit this machine. To get the 712T to fit in a typical Singer treadle cabinet, you have to remove the metal piece that the belt goes through on the right side of the hole in the cabinet top. It is typically attached to a large spring that assists with raising and lowering the machine. Other reviewers have also mentioned having to cut or sand their treadle cabinets a little to get the Janome to fit.

Here’s how I ended up getting the Janome on a treadle base that worked better with this machine. I used an Elgin treadle base (a $25 garage sale find) with the table top from a Singer electric sewing machine cabinet. The Elgin drive wheel is just slightly smaller than a typical Singer drive wheel, which makes pedaling a bit easier (but still not what I would call easy – you are going to get some exercise using this machine no matter what treadle base you put it on).  The table top is one that fits a longer base Singer machine, such as a Touch & Sew, 328, 401, 500, etc.

Janome 712T on treadle baseJanome 712T lowered cabinet closed

Here are the dimensions of the hole in the table top:

Janome 712T table top dimensions labeled

I wanted the sewing machine to be able to fold down, and to do that you need about 7.5 inches clearance between the underside of the table and any obstructions on the treadle irons. The Elgin treadle bases (the same as “The Free” brand bases) have the wheel and a cross brace up pretty high, so to be able to lower the sewing machine I had to raise up the table about 2.5 inches. In my typical haphazard woodworking style, I screwed together some scrap wood into a frame and screwed it onto the top of the treadle base to raise up the table. I’m only 5’2″, so with the table raised up I have to sit on a tall stool to put the table at elbow height, but I think sitting up higher gives me more leverage to push on the pedal anyway, so I’m OK with it.

Janome 712T lowered in cabinet

If antique treadle cabinets or cobbled together frankentreadles like mine aren’t your style, you can buy some nice Amish made cabinets to fit your 712T (or any other sewing machine that would fit in a Singer treadle table). I wouldn’t mind having one, but they sure cost a lot. I’m guessing they are worth it, though, if you have the money, since they look well-built enough to last generations. Or if you have the skills and tools, you could make your own table top. Just a solid piece of wood with holes to fit the sewing machine and belt would work.

Here are some of things I don’t like about this sewing machine:

It requires a lot of effort to treadle. Did I mention that?

It’s not a heavy-duty sewing machine. Your legs will provide more power than a typical sewing machine motor does (at least at low speeds), but I don’t think this machine should be used for sewing jeans, for example. An occasional jeans hem might be OK, but make sure you hammer the seam flat before you sew it, and sew slowly. With my vintage machines, I can sew fast to get enough power to sew over the seam in a jeans hem, but I’d be seriously worried about breaking the Janome 712T doing that. Just because you can sew over thick fabric with this machine doesn’t mean you should. There are a lot of plastic parts inside. You’ll need an all-metal vintage machine or an industrial machine if you plan to sew heavy fabrics regularly.

Like most low-end to mid-range sewing machines made these days, it’s “disposable”. You use it until something major breaks, at which point it’s cheaper to buy a new machine than to have it repaired. For example, take a look at the timing belt as seen from the underside of the sewing machine. I’m not a sewing machine repair expert, but it looks like you’d have to disassemble half the sewing machine to replace that.

Janome 712T underside timing belt

It’s not good for sewing 1/4 inch seams. Janome does make a 1/4″ foot with a guide on the edge, but with the needle in the center position, 1/4″ to the right is right in the middle of a feed dog section, which might fray the fabric edge. I did figure out that you can put the needle in the left position and adjust the blind stitch foot (which comes with the machine) to get a 1/4″ edge guide. This would only work for sewing straight edges, though. I wouldn’t recommend this machine to quilters. Besides, when you are quilting, you will probably be sewing for long periods of time, and you will quickly get tired, because this sewing machine takes a lot of effort to treadle (I think I mentioned that . . .). A vintage straight stitch machine is probably the best option for piecing quilts, and requires almost no effort to treadle. If you want to have zig-zag stitches for applique, there are vintage zig-zag machines that you can treadle (more on that later).

Janome 712T quarter inch seam allowance

It doesn’t take standard snap-on presser feet or short shank feet. You have to buy Janome feet. Standard snap-on feet will attach to the machine, but the needle is a little over to the right of the center of the presser foot, so the needle won’t line up right with a standard foot. You can see this with my favorite quarter-inch foot. The needle hits the foot rather than going through the hole.

Janome 712T standard snap on feet do not fit

The zipper foot that comes with the machine is just dumb. Snap-on zipper feet are not good in general, but this one is particularly bad. Since the needle is a little to the right of the center of the foot, you really can’t sew close to the zipper teeth. I recommend getting an adjustable low-shank zipper foot. Because the foot is adjustable, the needle being a little off-center doesn’t matter. Just remove the snap-on foot adapter and screw on the zipper foot.

The presser foot pressure is not adjustable.

There is nowhere to attach a hand crank or motor. This machine can only be used with a treadle stand.

Janome 712T right side

There is a setting called “Auto” on the tension dial. This is misleading. This is just the default tension that works most of the time for most thread. The machine is not magically adjusting the tension for you. Adjust your tension as needed. For example, you might set the tension to 2 or 3 for machine basting and 5 or 6 when using thick topstitching thread.

Here are some directions for attaching a treadle belt and getting started treadling. Use a 3/16″ leather treadle belt, or if you prefer you can use 3/16″ quick-connect hollow-core urethane belting and matching connectors. If you use a leather belt, prolong its life by slipping it off the drive wheel between uses. Since this machine takes a lot of force to treadle, I had to adjust my leather belt to be pretty tight and rub it with rosin to keep it from slipping. Also, instead of connecting my leather belts with the staple it comes with, I prefer to sew them together with heavy thread through the same holes you would use the staple in. After going through the holes several times, I tie off the threads and put fray check on the knot.

If you are new to treadling, the main thing you need to do is develop a habit of always using your hand to get the hand wheel going in the right direction every time you start sewing. The top of the hand wheel moves toward you on this machine (a few vintage machines turn the opposite way).

A lot of references on how to treadle a sewing machine don’t mention this, but it’s way easier to operate the foot pedal with one foot at the back edge of the pedal and the other foot on the front edge of the pedal. It doesn’t matter which foot is in front. Experiment and find the foot position that works best for you. The Janome 712T requires so much force to treadle (I know I probably mentioned that a couple of times) that proper foot position really matters. I also found it easier to treadle this machine while wearing shoes, although I usually sew barefoot or in socks on my other treadle machines.

My advice for preppers:

It really bothered me when I saw this machine being marketed to survivalists and preppers. I know the reason why this machine is being recommended – affiliate links. It’s not like you can link to a vintage machine on Amazon, right?

Since sewing is no longer a commonly taught skill, most people seem to be completely clueless about sewing machines these days, and I read a lot of things on forums that really made me cringe – the blind leading the blind in completely the wrong direction. If you want to see proof of how clueless the general population is about sewing machines, just go look at the sewing machine ads on Craigslist. I bet you can find a few ads where the seller only shows pictures of the back of the machine. Sometimes there are half a dozen pictures, and not a single one is of the front of the machine. Can you imagine trying to sell a car and only posting a picture of the back end?

If you want to be prepared for the future, you don’t sew now, and aren’t interested in learning, just pack up some hand sewing needles, thread, fabric scissors, a seam ripper, and a book that shows you how to sew basic hand stitches, and call it good. Hand sewing is fine if you just need to do a bit of mending.

If you are at all mechanically inclined and/or you sew regularly now and would like to be prepared to start a sewing business with treadle machines, you need to have machines that will last and know how to fix them yourself.

I would start by getting the Tools for Self Reliance Sewing Machine Manual (free download), sewing machine oil, and a set of special screwdrivers. Now get two machines of the same model – one of the models the TFSR manual covers (Singer 66, 99, 15, or 201, but not 15-91 or 201-2 – those two are gear driven). The Singer 15-88 (treadle), 15-89 (handcrank), or 15-90 (belt driven electric – when putting it on a treadle base you can replace the handwheel with a Singer 9-spoke wheel or just use the solid handwheel) would be my first choice, since they are common, versatile, and can stitch in reverse. Many other companies made clones of the Singer model 15 – these are also a good option. Now go through the manual step-by-step and learn how to fix your sewing machines. You’ll have two sturdy machines in good working order, and if a part breaks, you can use parts from the other one. Of course, then you’ll start to want just one more machine so you can fix the one that’s now missing a part …

Honestly, unless they are missing parts, usually vintage machines just need to be cleaned and oiled, and maybe have a bit of rust polished off. Even a completely frozen machine can often be unstuck by just oiling it well and warming it up with a hairdryer (or leaving it next to the wood stove or heat vent).

I can’t mention working on vintage machines without warning you to never use 3-in-1 oil or WD-40 on a sewing machine. When these products dry out, they leave a film that will glue the moving parts together. If you need a penetrant, use kerosene or Liquid Wrench, then oil well with sewing machine oil after the parts are moving. Use only clear sewing machine oil to oil sewing machines – if it’s turned yellowish, the oil is old and it’s time to get some new oil. If your machine has gears, they probably need grease – Tri-flow synthetic grease is often recommended for sewing machine gears. The Singer 201 is one exception I know of – use oil, not grease, on its gears.

Also, I should mention that there are some new reproduction parts available for these machines. Since there were millions of them made, and they were made to last, there is still a demand for commonly missing parts like slide plates. Take a look at Sew Classic to see what’s available.

There is a lot of information on fixing vintage machines available on blogs these days, and there are forums and yahoo groups where you can find people willing to help with vintage sewing machine issues, too. You can also find some books on the subject or courses you can take if you really want to get into it.

Once you have some basic vintage sewing machine repair skills under your belt, get a vintage zig-zag machine and fix that up. I recommended Singers for your first straight stitch machines because they are good machines and they are easy to find and get parts for, but I don’t care for Singer’s early zig-zag machines. The Singer 237 is probably the only common metal Singer zig-zag machine I would recommend for treadling. It has a plastic race cover, but you can get a new replacement race cover. Get a replacement even if the old one isn’t broken, because those old plastics are at the end of their expected lifespan and can break at any moment.

There were many good treadle-able metal zig-zag machines produced in Japan in the 1950’s and 1960’s, sold under many different brand names. Some of them even take cams to make decorative stitches. Look for machines with an external belt driven motor, a hand wheel that sticks out past the base of the machine, and no other obstructions that would get in the way of a treadle belt. Look underneath the machine and see what you find. If you don’t see any belts or gears, there’s a good chance the machine will treadle easily. Usually all you need to do to treadle the machine is remove the motor (held in place by one large screw) and put it right into your treadle cabinet. You can use the original handwheel – there’s no need to try to replace it with a spoked wheel.

Buy machines locally if you can. Shipping is expensive, and most people don’t know how to pack a sewing machine so that it will survive shipping. Also, you can try the machine before you buy it if it’s local. I just checked my local Craigslist ads and there were over half a dozen metal zig-zag sewing machines priced from $30 to $65 that could be treadled. I could buy five or six of them for the price of buying the Janome 712T new, and they will most likely be in good working order 20 or 30 years from now when the Janome’s lifespan is up.

I have to warn you, collecting vintage machines is highly addictive. Once you have one in good working order and realize how well it works and how sturdy it is compared to new machines, you will see the value. It’s like there are all of these dirt covered gold nuggets lying on the ground, everyone else is passing them by and calling them dirty rocks, and you just have to pick them up because only you know how valuable they are.

If working on your own sewing machines sounds like too much work, check if there is a sewing machine repair place near you that will work on vintage machines, or buy one already fixed up from a reputable seller like Stagecoach Road Vintage Sewing Machine Restoration. The labor costs will be expensive, so you might pay as much or more than you would buying the Janome 712T, but if you keep your vintage machine dry, oiled, and run it once in a while, it will likely still be in good working order longer than you are.

Finally, I wouldn’t recommend the Janome 712T to preppers or quilters, so who is it good for? If you live off grid or have unreliable power, only sew for short periods at a time, you need to sew knit fabric and elastic frequently, and you don’t need to sew heavy fabric, this would be a good machine for you. It would also be fine as a second machine to use only when you need the special stitches or to sew on knit fabrics, as long as your primary machine is a good vintage straight stitch or zig-zag machine that treadles easily.

Posted in Sewing machine reviews, Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines
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