Saturday, February 16, 2013

Vintage Machine “Read Me” File!

I  had a little experience last night that made me feel that YES ---We Can Do This!

This is in specific regard to Vintage machines, and I know that you've probably been told that you shouldn't mess with the tension on your machine, and if you have a computerized machine I’m not advocating that you go about doing this, but little by little, I am finding *I CAN*  do things to keep my machines running.

I came along on this trip with my School bus colored Featherweight, Missy.

Missy has had tension issues since I got her.

It was bad enough that I had taken her in to be "fixed" around Thanksgiving time.  I trusted she was doing better, but really haven't sewn on her until this trip.  Uhoh.  Same problem.

When I started sewing on her last night, the tension seemed way too tight, even though I had the knob all the way to the right at the lowest tension possible.  I thought it might be a case of tight bobbin thread ----so I got in there.

“Lefty Loosey, Righty Tighty” I chanted to myself as I tried to discern whether the tension on the bobbin case was too tight….

Nothing I tried made any difference….the fabric looked wavy along the stitching line after coming out of the machine, and I knew enough to know that if the fabric is not laying flat – it HAS to be a tension issue.

It would sew an even stitch length…..and then it would skip a couple of stitches….and then it was sewing normal stitch length, and then it would skip just a couple --- even the skipping stitches weren't regular in any way shape or form.  In the back of my mind I was hoping it was NOT a timing issue, because I do NOT know enough to deal with that yet ---

Really looking hard at my machine to see if anything was amiss, I noticed that the +/- symbols that were supposed to be on TOP of the tension assembly were rotated a bit to the right, and off center.  Could this be my problem?

This is where the manual comes into play.  if you have a vintage machine, you MUST locate a copy of the manual.  Many old manuals are available online as free pdfs.  Several are in the Smithsonian archives and you can read them online!

Hopefully ALL of you who have featherweights have also located a featherweight manual.

I opened it to the tension assembly page.  Following the diagram, I unscrewed the nut and one by one removed all of the pieces and laid them out in the order that they came off on a hotel wash cloth I had placed next to me on the desk.

You will notice that there is a “split bolt” that everything sits on.  This was rotated in the machine so it wasn’t straight up and down and so everything was crooked.

I had a screw driver with me, and I needed to unscrew that split bolt a bit to straighten it, but I didn’t want to splay the bolt halves apart because then the nut wouldn’t fit back on --- so, **brainstorm moment**  I took the end nut, the very first piece to come off, and the last piece that would go back on ----and screwed it back in place on the end of the split bolt.  THEN I could take the screw driver, carefully insert it into the slot in the bolt and carefully rotate the bolt into position to where it was straight without worrying that I was spreading those two halves of the bolt further apart to the point where the end nut wouldn’t go back on.

Once the bolt was straight, I removed the nut I had put on the end of the split bolt and  simply followed the directions in the manual to realign and reassemble the whole tension unit.

It now sat straight!  I started out test sewing with the number at zero and gradually increased it until I had it sewing a perfect stitch.  My tension is now sitting moderately between 3 and 4 and my seams don’t pucker or flute the fabric.  Before doing this, I had my tension as low as it could go and it was still too tight!

Georgia_Feb2013 537

Oh, and miracle of miracles --- the intermittent skipped stitches have COMPLETELY STOPPED!

Could I would I do this on a plastic wonder machine that costs thousands of dollars?  Probably not.  I’d have to take it in and pay at least $100 to have someone else do it for me.  Paying by check may be easy, and less scary --- but you also don’t LEARN anything in the process!

Georgia_Feb2013 589

Beautiful stitches, great tension!

I was so happy it was fixed I spent the rest of the night sewing my brains out until the wee small hours.

I was up early this morning doing the same thing!  ((Yes, the stitches stayed good!))

Georgia_Feb2013 538

Tonight?  Yep ----sewing and smiling all the way!



  1. Awesome! Saving this in case I need it later for my fw!

  2. Anonymous9:50 PM EST

    Love love love my featherweight. In fact she's been freshly serviced and I think it's time I take her for a bit of a spin :)

  3. Love it, Bonnie! Give yourself a good pat on the back!

  4. I had to do something similar on my 66 treadle. The spring was way off to the side. My directions told me to but the little nut back on before using the screwdriver. So good job in figuring that out for yourself. Keep telling us all this stuff because it makes me braver when I need to make adjustments. Today I was sewing on it and it kept pushing the seams so they didn't nest. So I started loostening up the presser foot pressure. That really helped a lot.

  5. Way cool! I need to do this to my Singer 15-90 that I got from Freecycle. I was able to tighten up the bobbin case to adjust for the overly tight top (even when set at zero) but it causes the fabric to gather ever so slightly so I've been wanting to fix it. I do have a manual for it so I'll take a chance and take the tension discs apart. I'll remember your tip for putting that piece back on, too, to hold it together while I adjust it!

  6. You are so brave! I just got the call that my little Featherweight is ready to be picked up at the 'doctor's'. I had an awful stitch too and tried working on the tension to no avail. It turned out to be the timing so I guess it was a good thing I took her in.

    I am hoping to sell this little one to a friend and I wanted to make sure that it runs perfectly before she leaves home. I will still have two more to play with and I don't see me letting either of them go anytime soon.

  7. I have been looking for a 221 for months. I found one this week in a little antique shop in the next town over. Me & hub went to pick her up today ~ my birthday is next week..YaY me! The owner of the shop..Mary.. told me that she found it in a shed. She didn't know much about it other than it sewed. The cord is a bit ratty, the bulb needs changed and the belt slips a bit. But sew she does. I found a manual online and am trying to follow it as much as I can. I have oiled it and dusted it and even took the bobbin casing out. I never would have had the courage if I hadn't been following your vintage adventure. Thank you so much for that. I still plan on taking her to someone to really tune & clean her up but for now ~ I am one happy camper. I named her Sassy. =)

  8. Oh, Bonnie, you are SO SMART! Lol. That's what my grandmother would say!! I agree. I wld try to fix something (taking it apart) on one of my vintage machines....and it would be an interesting learning experience but I'm sure if I had one of those "fancy dancy" new expensive machines, I wldn't take a chance trying to fix it.

  9. Is it just me, or do those spool blocks look like bowties to you too? I think they look more like bowtie blocks than the bowtie blocks do....so cute.

  10. This is what I love about all my vintage machines...ease of working on them. They actually give you confidence to try more because they are so easy to oil, clean and "service" to some degree. I don't think I am up to timing yet, either, but will not be to far in the future. Knowledge is Power.
    Faye in Maine

  11. Oh, how I love that internet makes you my neighbor. Thanks for teaching me SO much. You've made an impact on my every day.


  12. congratulations! I always have tension problems and have the worst time trying to fix them - you go girl!!

  13. Bonnie, your can-do spirit and approach really gets others motivated to dig in and figure things out. By sharing your questions, concerns, trials, and successes it makes us realize we can push ourselves to learn more too! Thank you!

  14. After I retired, I had decided that I wanted to quilt. I got my sewing machine out and was having the same kind of skipping problem with my "plastic" machine that you were having.. I took it into the shop paid $100 and brought it home. It didn't fix the problem. I took it back in again and brought it home with the same results. I wish I had a clue about vintage machines before I went out and buying a different brand "plastic" machine. I would love to have a featherweight or a 301.

  15. You are so inspiring! Keep up the good work and the great blog letting us know what you are doing!

  16. Anonymous7:07 AM EST

    Wow! This post is one of the best "public service announcements" I've seen! Thanks, Bonnie - I'm going to fix some tension problems today!

  17. I have read that section in the Featherweight manual as well, hoping never to have to mess with the tension. On the other hand, it appears doable as the break out diagram is quite clear. You have given me the courage to do it should it ever become necessary. Thank you, Engineer Bonnie!

  18. I have several fetherwieights w similar tension issues. Obviously after reading your post someone too them apart trying to "fix" them and didn't solve the problem so they SOLD them! One is skipping stitches and doing that tension thing. another has the tension nob on all wrong.
    Thanks forgiving me the knowledge to now work on them. I need to sell a couple as i have a lot more than I need.

  19. I recently acquired a Singer 301-A and a couple of weeks later another Singer which I think is a 15-89 hand crank. Both machines are in pretty good shape, especially after oiling and living, but the top tension was off on both machines. It turned out to be an easy fix, and the same problem on both--the bobbin case tension was way too loose. A little tightening fixed it and both are sewing beautifully now. I want to thank you for giving me a new appreciation for these machines. I feel such a connection to these machines, Alice (the 301) and Kathleen (the 15-89(?)). I have a feeling this is just the beginning of my collection. I know I'd like to add a treadle, a Singer 201-2 (wonder what the difference is between the 201-2 and the 201-1), and a Japan clone model. I love the feeling that these machines are knowable. And although he is not particularly sewing machine trained, I am lucky to be married to a real Rennaissance man. He can fix anything, so when I messed up, he can usually bail me out. I love my "new machines" and hope to grow this little family of vintage beauties. Hope to find one that "needs work," so G'pa and grands can explore the workings together. Thank you again for your encouragement, inspiration and generosity. I hope someday I'll get to meet you face-to-face!

  20. Once again, this IPAD assumed I didn't know how to spell and changed "lubing" to "living.". I need to turn that feature off!

  21. My hubby went overboard when I told him I wanted a pre1960 machine. I now own 5 1940-1960 portables, 4 1906-1930 cabinet machines, and a working treadle with 4 bobbins. The amazing part is that he bought all of them for under $200 and 3 were free including a Fleetwood & a 1906 Singer which barely used b/c it was too expensive and might get broken! One generation's treasure is another's trash, but they are my treasures now. All I need now is manuals so scary cat me can adjust tensions and use the feet that appeared with them. I am one lucky Cajun!

  22. Way to go, Bonnie! I figure that, no matter what I do wrong, someone else can help me fix it if I can't get it right. If I can fix it, I saved myself the repair cost and inconvenience. If I can't fix it, I'll pay for the repair, but I've gained some knowledge along the way. We all have limits, but we don't usually test those limits to see where they are. We accept what others tell us we can't or shouldn't do. Stretch those limits - that's what helps us grow!!

  23. I about broke my own hand patting myself on the back last weekend. I had to pull the mother and daughter circuit boards from my APQS Milliennium send them to Iowa for repairs and replace the mag collar. I about scared the pants off myself doing it but you know? It was really kind of exciting and fun in the end.

    I got my long arm up and running and saved myself about $200 on a service call. It really has given me a whole lot of confidence in being able to maintain my machines myself. Not the computerized ones but definitely the Singer 301 and the 221's.

    Good for you Bonnie. I bet you almost broke your own hand too!

  24. We women are more amazing than we give ourselves credit for. I have a few vintage machines and have worked on them all.. I did take my hand crank in and had it serviced but know now I could have done it myself. DH fixed my quilting machine. We had the rep. come several times and still the same prob. He timed it and changed some belts and tightened some things that were lose and this was all on a new machine.. factory screw up.. thank goodness for my man that says, Its only a machine, it can be fixed.. at one point I was ready to get the sledge hammer out and have a no stress day..lol. Love my vintage machine because I can fix them.

  25. Bonnie - you are so awesome!!!

  26. I actually replaced, yes replaced, the entire tension assembly on my 1926 Featherweight using the instructions in the manual. The new assembly cost me $15.00 on ebay and no labor. Can you imagine how much it would have cost if I had to send it for repairs??? Boy, did I ever feel proud!!!
    Yes, it can be done. Oh, btw, I took pictures of the dis-assembly each step of the way so I could refer back to them if needed.

  27. You amaze me girlfriend :O)

  28. Bravo Bonnie!!

    Such great satisfaction when you fix it yourself. That's what screwdrivers are for.


  29. Well you might have just solved my problem. I've only been working and sewing on featherweights for about 30 years and the first one I have started to skip stitches. I changed needles and the tension. Have taken many of those tension sticks apart and redid them but never thought about them being crooked. Thanks Bonnie, I shall get that old one out and see what I can do with it.

  30. Good for you! I often get that "If I perish, I perish" kind of mentality and just go for it. Most of the time it works just fine, and to me, it's still worth it even if I mess up a few times. Learning is a good thing!

  31. I've been afraid to mess with the tension on several of my vintage machines, but, now I think I'll find the time and play around with them. Yes, I have a manual for most of my machines (most are Singer 15 clones). Glad that lovely machine is working nicely now.

  32. Yesterday I was in an antique mall in Cashmere, WA and guess what I asked the clerks if they had. Sewing Machines!!! I feel like I know so much more about the older machines now and recognize names on them. There were old Singers and a Sargent. No Featherweights tho but that didn't surprise me. I just want you to know how much you have taught me about older machines in the past 2 or 3 months. We still have my grandmothers treadle but at the moment it is buried in a back corner of my sisters spare room so hopefully the next time I am over that way we can get to it and I can take a look and see if it still runs. She passed away in 1971 and I know that my Mom used it after her. I have 30 trip around the world postage stamp blocks Grandma was making for me when she passed away. I am hoping that I can get at them and make a quilt because they are absolutely beautiful. Thanks again Bonnie for all that you do for our Quilting World.

  33. Don't you LOVE IT when you can fix something? Doesn't it make you feel awesomely powerful? Yeah, me, too! And I do love that school bus yellow Featherweight! I want one just like it. Or orange. Or maybe '57 Chevy turquoise. Sigh. So many colors.

    Love your work, Bonnie. I have enjoyed your blog, and quilt cam, and loved the class I got to take with you at Music City Quilt Guild. You're a genius! (and mighty hard-working, whew...)


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