Saturday, February 4, 2012

Nellie ~ My Singer 403A

Nellie ~ My Singer 403A
I have wanted to upgrade my 15 year old basic zig-zag model White sewing machine for quite some time. A few years ago, I mistakenly purchased a computerized Brother with lots of decorative stitch functions (a display model on clearance), but the automatic threader never worked right and I've never found a way to manually thread it without taking the whole machine apart so it is rather useless.

Because I had this bad experience with a computerized "plastic wonder," I decided to look for a high end vintage machine that had capabilities beyond Zig-Zag. While I lusted after Elnas, Necchis and Berninas when it came down to it, I was torn between 1970s free-arm Vikings and 1960s gear-driven Singers. I tried a couple different Viking models from the 1970s, but neither of them worked correctly: one was stuck in reverse (a common problem that happens when you change stitch cams on these Vikings) and the other had been submerged in water and showed visible signs of corrosion. Thankfully I was able to return both of them.

I wanted to go for the Singer, but I was a bit gun shy after the Viking failures. Then I helped one of my neighbors with a computer problem she had and we got to talking about sewing. It turns out that she owns one of the Singer models I was considering, a 403A. She bought it new in 1961 and has had it for over 50 years. After she let me play with it, I decided to take a chance on finding a Slant-O-Matic Singer of my own.

Singer Slant-O-Matics have a slanted presser bar that puts the foot in front of the machine head instead of directly under it for better visibility. They also have gear-driven motors so I didn't have to worry about broken or rotted belts. There are several types of Slant-O-Matic series: 300s, 400s, 500s, 600s and 700s. The 301s are sought after by quilters. They are a lighter, more portable machine that is straight stitch only unless you have an Automatic Zig-Zag attachment (a large accessory about the size of a buttonholer). 401s and 501s have built in camstacks. 403s and 503s use cams or "fashion discs" to make their decorative stitches. 404s are straight stitch only. The 500s have a much more futuristic styling and are known as Rocketeers. The 600s and 700s have a few extra functions, especially for sewing knits, but I believe they started to use a few plastic parts in these and I wanted to avoid that. I loved the Rocketeer styling, but I saw a couple things while I was researching that made me choose a 403A: the machines with built in camstacks occasionally have issues with their internal camstack and the Rocketeers occasionally have problems w/ the hinges on their top covers breaking. A minor point, but the Rocketeer also has a small handwheel and I learned to sew on a 1950s aqua blue Viscount with a huge chrome flywheel and after handling the Vikings, I knew I really didn't like the smaller wheel.

Fashion Discs
I got Nellie in November 2011. She's a 1960s Singer 403A, gear-driven, slant shank, all steel beast of a sewing machine. She came with several accessories, I've found some more online, and have a list of a few that I may get one day. Around Christmas, one of my friends who is incredibly mechanically inclined helped me clean, oil, and set Nellie's tension. Tonight I finally sat down with the 1960s Teacher's Manual for the 400 series and tried to see exactly what she's capable of doing.

First off, I only have 2 vintage metal bobbins for her. She takes 66 class and has a horizontal bobbin case. The first thing I found out is that the new metal 66 class bobbins I bought for her do not fit on the bobbin winder as their shaft is just slightly too narrow. I also bought some plastic ones, they fit the winder, but plastic shaved off when I wound a bobbin. So far I have not been able to successfully wind a smooth even bobbin and I understand that this may cause issues when I am sewing so I am considering a separate bobbin winder to make it easier and maybe I can still use the new metal bobbins I purchased.

Stitch Sampler
Next, I tried out the stitch cams to make a sampler of the patterns they make. I found that the stitch length and tension have to be just so for the pattern to come out right. It is also important to use the special purpose foot because it has an arc in the center that raises it over the stitches if the pattern makes them a little heavy. Before I put all of this together I had several patterns that ran too long or got stuck, not to mention whether the bobbin side was smooth or balled up. I had to take the throat plate off to unwind one mess I made, but I was having difficulties with that until I read through the manual and found out the take up lever has to be all the way down in order for the throat plate to be removed. Also, The stitch selectors have to be set at Center and S/1 (straight stitch) or the cams will not come out of the machine. I forgot this when I was changing my #4 cam and tried to force it and ended up breaking the cam in half. I have spares of some of the 21 different patterns, but the #4 isn't one of them.
Nellie with Ruffler Attachment

I decided to try out some of my crazier feet before calling it quits for the day without much success. I was using thrift store napkins for test fabric and I think the thickness and the loose weave of the material may have caused some of the issues. I could not successfully use the multislotted binder which was a huge disappointment. I have two of these attachments that are slightly different from each other so I think I will try again with a different fabric and maybe some video instructions to see where I was going wrong. I also tried the rolled hem foot and the fabric just didn't want to go through the very narrow opening. I really want to use this foot on silk; I think it will be perfect for that. I did successfully figure out the ruffler. I have no idea what I will ever ruffle, but I know I can use it now.

When I break Nellie out again, I have a few simple feet to try out as well as some more interesting attachments like a blind hemmer, a walking foot, an automatic zigzagger and a couple different buttonholers. I'd also like to set her up to try twin needle sewing. Even though I still have a lot to learn about how she works, about the only thing I wish she could do is be a different color. She's what Singer dubbed Light Beige and Oyster White (LBOW). Almost all of the Slant-O-Matics are this color scheme or solid beige and overall it's an okay look. However, I have seen a few ebony black 301s. If only they'd made all the Slant-O-Matics in black, Nellie'd be beyond cool if she sported that.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Week 4- Painting

Painting started around Christmas.
I love the colors, I hate the center.
I like the leaves on the lower right so more of those are in this painting future.
I started a painting around Christmas and another Wednesday night when I had the day off for my birthday. I think I have at least 4 and maybe 6 additional unfinished paintings from summer 2011 on. I really will finish some of these at some point. Mostly, they all have the first layer completed so there won't be any white spots showing through. Eventually, when finished they won't look much like they do now.

Birthday Painting.
Base layer in Blues and Greys only.
Think I'm going to add Yellow and Green.

Weeks 2 & 3- Trying to Get Organized

I feel that in order to really start opening up creatively I have to get my space organized so I don't feel like I am drowning in STUFF. Most of weeks 2 and 3 involved trying to install things, clean up and put things away.  

This included: 

Installing a rack under my cabinets for mugs.

Washing lots of dishes.

Washing even more clothes.

Mending holes in sweaters and sewing buttons back on.

Putting up pivoting towel rods on the half wall upstairs so I can hang clothes up rather than throw them on the floor or over the wall itself. (This has been working well in conjunction with rearranging the bathroom so I could fit a hamper upstairs out of the way. Although that led to moving towel bars which means painting will have to take place at some point).

 So a bit of a bust on true creativity, but hopefully something that will help me to get to that creativity in the near future.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Week 1 - Teal Vertical Striped Scarf

I think I started this scarf sometime around Christmas. The first one I made in these colors a few months ago was too short and too thin. This one is about 6-7 feet long and 4 inches wide. Unfortunately, I was using up some remnants of yarn and had to splice in on some of the stripes. I've never run out of yarn on a row while making one of these long row scarves before so I wasn't sure how the splices would turn out. The knit is very loose so the splices are pretty obvious, but can be hidden as you wear it. It's much easier to just have plenty of yarn.

Even with its issues it looks good and I love the colors. I can tell that trying to take a good looking picture of knitted items is going to be challenging. I should also make a note to self that I need to take my pictures when the sun is still strong; it was just starting to fade when I got around to taking the picture and the colors aren't as rich as they should be.

Monday, January 2, 2012

2012 The Year of Creativity

In 2011, I joined the 365 Project. The idea was to take one photo a day and post it online to document your year. I like photography, but what I found out early on is that I like to edit photos more than take them. At least, that's how I felt when my subject matter was limited on the days when all I did was go to work and come home and I took pictures of the same places and things day after day. Before the project, I always took lots of pics when I went somewhere and did something interesting. I found myself missing days or weeks at a time, then when I would go out and about I'd take lots of new photos and fill in all the spaces. It felt like I was cheating the project that way.

I invited several of my friends to do 365 with me. Some of them were very true to the project and managed to post a photo every day, or at least rarely gap and fill in quickly. Some struggled like I did. Overall, I'm happy to say that everyone seemed to have a good time with it and it gave us an opportunity to be involved with each other's day to day lives and get together a few times this past year. Some of the Photo Squirrels (as we called ourselves because a few of the group's squirrel pics were so popular) are going to continue 365 this year, but I while I'll check in on them from time to time, I'm not.

For 2012, I am going to try to create something new each week. I'm going to be incredibly lenient with myself about what that means. I'll paint, knit, sew, take some pictures, cook, and do some remodeling projects around my house. Sometimes I may start a project one week and not finish it right away (I've already got a couple fairly large projects in mind that I know will take extra time to complete). That's just how it's going to be and I'm going to be ok with that.

So goodbye to the Year of the Camera and hello to the Year of Creativity.