Sunday, November 19, 2017

Singer Featherweight Love #2

She nearly became a tractor.

Wow, back in June when I wrote the Featherweight Love #1 post, I did not envision it being this long before I wrote about my second machine purchase. You may recall that in finally actively pursuing a long-held dream of owning a Featherweight, I became the owner of two within one weekend! This girl was the first one I spied on kijiji, a buy/sell site, when I decided to 'just see' if there were any available in my area. There was just this one, in Belle River, which is where I got my first teaching job when we moved here in the 80s.
Here she is on her first sewing job, on May 4. Yup, the thread is not being fed through the cone thread guide in this photo, but I always always do, as these machines were not made for the cross-wound style of threads we have nowadays.

Just look at her tension and be amazed when you find out her background:
Right side is top thread, left side is bobbin thread. Pretty darn fantastic, no?

What's with the tractor?

Like I said, this was the first one I emailed about. The person selling her did not respond for two days. She had no case, and no cord, and hadn't sold, so the price was reduced to $90. I checked with my good friend Danielle, who owns two Featherweights, and had rekindled my flame to own one. She said they normally sell for around $300 here. So this one must've had something seriously wrong with her. When the guy still hadn't responded after a few days, I looked a little further afield which is when I found Mathilda, aka Tillie up in Tillsonburg.

Then he responded, on a Friday. Someone else was supposed to take a look the next day, and he'd let me know if it was still available. However, the next day, Saturday, we'd arranged to take the trip to Tillsonburg. As you know, we bought Tillie. I wasn't sure what kind of state the Belle River machine was in, nor whether she'd still be available. Well. That very evening, Belle River emailed back and said I could come Sunday and see her. Did I really need another Featherweight? No. But she was the first. She's American; Tillie is Scottish. She was an incredible price, and well, I'd bought a spare case from Tillie's seller just in case I acquired her... She could share Tillie's foot control.  It's only 25 minutes' drive away.... I had a déjà vu sort of feeling about her...

Well, we arrived, and when the garage door opened, I saw not one little dusty Featherweight but many, many Singer sewing machines, various models, in various states of disrepair and pieces. Yep. Pieces. And then.  I saw a little tractor, the tractor motor housing and steering wheel being a Singer machine, modified (noooo) to look like a tractor. Painted. Apparently the guy's dad who was deceased, used to collect old Singers and turn them into display tractors (that link will show you). The machine I had come to see actually did work though. He showed us. She was a little rougher than Tillie, but still purred along. No case. No foot. No attachments, had sat for who knows how long....would he consider $75? He certainly would. Sold.

And then, he said, "I might have a foot cord you can take that will work with the machine. You might have to replace the wiring. As you see, my dad collected all kinds of old machines, and repurposed them into tractors."
Had to wipe off some layers of grime!

Now, what to name this new girl? I was super-duper-excited to have scored her for this price! I cleaned and oiled and greased her up at the same time I was doing Mathilda. Hmm, Belle? She certainly was a little beauty as I shined her up, working over the course of many a spa session on the tape residue on her bed. She came from Belle, Belle is too close to Bella. It took some time, but she is just Billie. Close to Belle, rhymes with Tillie. She's feisty. She escaped becoming a John Deere.  She waited for me to bring her back to life. She's built the same year as our house, 1947. She actually sews quieter and smoother than 1951 Tillie! And, well, the other Billie I know is Billie Halliday, a pretty fine, smooth-voiced singer....😍 My grandmother's treadle machine, which I inherited, is Millie, my grandmother's name. A good trio. (ya ya, I do have two other vintage Singers, not Featherweights, but their names do not rhyme. I will write about them as well, don't worry.)

So I take turns on the Featherweight girls. I sewed most of the summer on Tillie, but this Fall, pulled out Billie and have been using her a lot. The more I use her, the smoother she sews. My one and only concern is the elusive 1/4" seam. At first, I would switch out Tillie's throat plate that her seller had had engraved with the seam allowances. That was okay but the 1/4" marking was a tad healthy.

Long story short, I decided to buy the acrylic seam guide from Nova (not an affiliate link). I sewed for the months of September and October using this seam guide.

I like the unobtrusive screws you use to hold the acrylic in place.  You can get it to exactly a scant 1/4" (note my little ruler to the right for this purpose).  However, there were a few issues. The first was despite being flat on the bed, threads did occasionally find their way between the acrylic and the bed of the machine, and the fabric would sometimes slide under it slightly. She suggests removing the front screw of the throat plate to get it as flat as possible on the bed, but that is the original screw, though not the original throat plate (it's Mathilda's) and so it did lie very flat. I was not a fan of removing that screw anyhow (gotta find a safe place for it); what about when I don't need the acrylic, then I need to put that screw back in, and remove the guide to clean under the throat plate when I oil her. I also found it a bit of a pain ensuring the guide was exactly perpendicular as well, holding it in place while I finger-tightened the screws, adjusting again as it invariably wiggled (think smooth acrylic on smooth machine bed).

Second, pinning, which I don't do a lot of, but at intersections I almost always do, was a learning curve. Because of the thickness of the acrylic, about 3/16", if you pin with the pin sticking out on the right side of the fabric, the pin hits the guide, and you have to remove it. So I made sure to pin so that the pin is sticking out to the left, and the tip didn't stick out past the 1/4" seam. A bit of a pain, especially if I'm dropping in pins as I go. I'm right-handed, so I'd be either awkwardly trying to pin on top of the fabric with my left hand, or lifting up the fabric and pinning with my right hand but underneath the fabric layers. Ugh.

Finally, the worst and not fixable issue is sewing on either side of a marked line. With a seam guide resting on the bed of your machine, the fabric will not lie flat. See below where you see me trying to do the corner connector method to make Lorna's Dog Gone Cute dog blocks for Karen at kaholly.

So ix-nay Corner Connector method, No-Waste Flying Geese, HSTs, as well as joining binding ends, unless you cut the 1/4" seams before stitching. I'd go back to my Bernina for any of these techniques. Not the end of the world when I have both machines as you see in the first photo, on either side of my sewing table. However, were I to be sewing at a friend's house, or at a retreat, I'd not be packing along two machines!

I wrote to Nova before I posted this, to see if there was a solution or suggestion to my concerns. I let her know I'd be writing about this on my blog, and that a few readers had asked my thoughts on the seam guide. I told her that had I realized the third issue, I'd have probably put my money towards a 1/4" foot instead. Well, she was not the best at customer service, let's just say that. Wow. I was pretty surprised at the tone of her response. I will say that she has added a sentence in the product description about the geese and HST issue. She was most definitely not very understanding, devoting an entire paragraph to the much better benefits of her guide, by being able to adjust seam guides from 1/4" to 1" and beyond...  Not too many quilters I know of who require anything other than 1/4" for the vast majority of their quilting.

So.  What did I do? Well I had a generic 1/4" foot I bought 20 years ago or more for my Elna. It fit on the Featherweight and I sewed with it for a bit.  Then I decided you know what? After 20 years of use, I do think I could buy a new 1/4" foot that is known to be terrific, and works fabulously with Featherweights. So I ordered the Little Foot from Sewing Machines Plus. (affiliate link) It is still on sale for $19.99.  I have been sewing with it for the past week and I love love love it.  Yup. Three loves.  It has a little beef, or muscle, meaning more than my generic 1/4" foot for my Elna.  It actually sews better than my Bernina 1/4" foot made for Berninas! Sadly, my Bernina has always annoyed me going over any bulky seams; it chokes a bit and the stitches go very tiny, and often I have to help her by tugging gently on the fabric as it is trying to get out from under the foot.  Not so with the Little Foot and little Billie.  She chugs along merrily and smoothly as can be. See for yourself:
One thing to note, that the iPhone is propped between my boobs in my bra, lol, (good thing they're tiny but perky), resting against the inside of my t-shirt, therefore quite close to the machine. Thus it sounds a bit more "clunkety" than it truly is.

Here is a photo to compare the original Singer foot with the new Little Foot.
Ha! Nesting seams means sometimes you find you've pressed them the wrong way when you line up intersections. A little re-pressing once this is sewn and Bob's yer uncle!

One of Nova's arguments for her seam guide was being able to adjust it to exactly a scant 1/4", whereas with the 1/4" foot one is relegated to the manufacturer's idea of a 1/4". Well, I measured.  Pressed my seams to one side as you see.  Lined up just-sewn pieces with the next piece and all is very very well.

So in my honest opinion, if you are wanting a tool that helps you get that perfect scant 1/4", I would recommend the Little Foot. The acrylic guide that Nova sells is also a great tool, and sure does adjust sideways to whatever width seam you may require, but it is limited where certain quilting methods are concerned.

One other thing to note about my sweet Billie is her bed. See how shiny it is?!  Look back at the first photo, taken May 4, and see the gummy and hard residue from previous sewists using tape to mark the seam guides. With lots of spa sessions, gentle massage (lol) rubbing with machine oil, gentle scraping with fingernails, I've been able to get it pretty much completely all off.  I am also getting totally comfortable with oiling her and even gave her a little grease on her gears the other day.  I did order Nova's motor lubricant, which I haven't used yet, but plan to shortly. It doesn't need doing like the regular oiling does.

Something else I ordered from Nova is a set of four rubber bed cushions. However, I have since found out they are $4 cheaper (only $6 for the set) at Sewing Machines Plus. Billie's were either not there at all, or so compacted and eroded that even MacGyver had a bit of a time digging them out. But we persevered, and she now has four new feet! You can soften them up with a bit of kerosene, apparently, but we got them out okay.
Fancy-footed girlie! Look on the brown towel and you see the bits of shrapnel from the previous eroded, rotted feet. Also note to the right of the machine is a red felt spool cushion, also purchased from Nova for only 35c.

Just a note on my 150 Canadian Women quilt. My OMG for November is getting it to flimsy form.
Here are half the blocks, 75 of them, with side sashing sewn on. I am finally using this gorgeous leaves low volume fabric from Benartex, 'Nature Studies', that I've had for eons, and that I love. It was the lining and featured in several blocks of a lightweight jacket I made about a decade ago!   Anyhow, for the Canadian Women quilt, I was unsure what I was doing, two quilts, or one, sashing or not, so I didn't sew these on as I went. I've been doing it as a leader/ender project. I am not quite half way on the next 75.  And I have now realized I need to do 6 more blocks since I'm doing just one big quilt, so that it will be 12X13 blocks, = 156.  I'd figured all along it would be 10X15 blocks, a rather long narrow quilt...  Anyhow, stay tuned for further developments on it, progress on my Splash of Colour, which you see one of the blocks of in the second last photo, and more on my other Singers.

A note that next weekend is the last one in November, and therefore a DrEAMi! party opens on Saturday.  In case you may have been sidetracked by a squirrel... Oh and I'm sure some sales will be sidetracking your wallet too, no doubt! Remember to check your email from Connecting Threads (affiliate link) for whatever fabulous deal they are going to offer on Monday. I don't even know!

Linking up
Cooking Up Quilts


  1. I couldn't imagine what you meant by "sewing machine tractors" then I clicked to see all the Pinterest links. That's crazy! There are dozens of them like it's a real thing! Who knew!

  2. Yeah for deals. I had ideas of what I was going to write, and then I got sidetracked with the image of your phone between your boobs. That's a photo I'd pay to see. LOL

  3. The joy when a machine runs smoothly. Today I took the ancient ( maybe 35 plus years or more ) Gammill to a wonderful man, about a 2 hour drive, we talked, he looked at the table plan, suggested some strengthening in a few places, we discussed the pros and cons of a complete service, then decided to disconnect the drive belt, and actually turn on the motor, and after 10 plus years of no use at all, it purred away so silently.And I have another lady to contact if I find this hefty beast to much to run up and down the frame. Thanks so much Kerry and Claire. tractor machines, they would be so much fun to see.

  4. Still haven't gotten a featherweight yet. Tractor machines how interesting.

  5. What an awesome machine. I loved reading about Billie's story.

  6. Enjoy your new machine, Sandra. She sure is a beauty. Long live feisty Billie :-) May you create many beautiful projects together.

  7. I'm glad you were able to find not one but two FW's. It took me a while to find mine also. Thanks for your tips and resource links also and the tales.

    I bought my FW while traveling, checking Craigslist ads in my destination city. I saw the FW ad, called the seller and told him I traveled to this city weekly and I would pay and pick it up on my next weekly trip. He held it for me. I had a friend pay & pick it up and I proudly carried Josephine V aka "Ms. J" home with me on the plane. She had a spot right under the seat where I could admire her case all the way home. We have been happy since.

    I had acquired 6 vintage Singers before I found my FW. Strangely I haven't bought another vintage Singer machine since then. Perhaps I was waiting on Ms. J all along. Finding the perfect FW does require us to travel at times. I was willing. :)

  8. A very sweet deal indeed - they are lucky to have you! Guess I must get my machine out for a spin, as it's been over two years. And btw, maybe you'd want to invest in a tripod next!

  9. Gotta love a good quarter inch foot! I'm sorry you had to hear some bad customer service. Harumph to that. I can't use my best 1/4" foot to do geese and HSTs, either, but at least I can use my pins the way I like to. And fortunately, my second best foot is still pretty good for those times when there's a lot of back and forth between different types of stitching.

    Also? It never occurred to me to use my bra as a camera stand. I will remember that for possible future quilt sewing video-ing :D

  10. loved your little video clip, or is it a vlog? If I put my iphone down my bra, I dread to think what I would photograph! The old gentlemen sounds lovely, but it puts me in mind of the boy in Toy Story, you know the one who was mean to Mr Potato Head and his sister's dolls? Love that huge stash of Canadian women

  11. Love, love this post as always Sandra... Boobs included too lol... You sure know how to tell us a good story make it so interesting. Wish I could have done with you to see the tractors lol...what a great machine you have... Love and hugs xxx

  12. Wow, that's a lot of good info packed into one post. Enjoy your stitching time this week on your new upgraded sewing buddy.