Tagged: 1950s

Jul 29

1954 Singer 99k hand-crank


Take a look at this sewing machine bought by a friend in a local charity shop.

Singer 99k sewing-machine case

Singer 99k in Cheney case

It’s a 1954 Singer 99k hand-crank with the most wonderful faux-croc case made by suitcase manufacturer Cheney.

Cheney clasp on Singer 99k case

Cheney clasp

Its delighted new owner was a little crestfallen when the machine refused to form stitches; the needle moved up and down OK and everything appeared to function, but her test fabric revealed only a disappointing line of holes and some straggling threads.

There are several reasons why this might happen. The thread quality might be poor, or the needle might be blunt (or of poor quality), or unsuited to the thread/fabric. I began by removing an obvious problem: a thread jam around the bobbin case. Then I gave the machine a really good brush to remove any unhelpful lint build-up and gave it an oiling with good quality dedicated sewing-machine oil, took out the needle (and found it had been inserted incorrectly), wound some Sylko onto a bobbin and tested it on a scrap of calico.

Lo and behold, she worked.

Singer 99k, stitching again

Forming stitches

Just a little tension adjustment here and there and she was up and running again and ready to be used exhaustively by an 11-year-old eager to hone her sewing skills. Nice.

Singer 99k hand-crank

Up and running again

If you have a vintage hand-driven Singer sewing machine in need of some TLC, I’d recommend visiting Sid & Elsie’s helpful blog. These cast iron machines were certainly built to last and it may be surprisingly easy to get yours running again. You don’t need many tools: just a couple of screwdrivers and a small brush (the hammer there on the table is a red herring, by the way – if you find yourself wanting to resort to using a hammer, please take your sewing machine to a professional!).

It’s important to have a manual for your machine (to find out how it’s supposed to be threaded, for instance, and where to oil it), so if you don’t have one to hand, plug the machine’s serial number into the Singer website to find out your machine’s name/model/date of manufacture and seek out the appropriate manual on the internet. The last time I looked, you could even find some available for nothing.


Sep 27

Knitting needle bracelets

Vintage Knitting Needle Bracelet

Vintage knitting needle bracelet

I’ve just popped this onto one of the eye-level shelves in my Etsy store.

My sons call these upcycled bracelets “knit-knacks” which I think is a fantastic name for them. I’ve sold quite a few at fairs and am gearing up to making a new batch for Christmas.

Though the knitting needles need to go through a certain level of abuse to reach their final elegantly curved state, I don’t feel too bad about it because most of them are slightly wonky before I set to work on them. If I find perfect vintage needles, I do tend to sell them on intact. Well, I hope that sets things straight (as it were) with the upcycling authorities.

These ones are made from a particularly nice quality of plastic in shiny cherry-red. There are lots of other colours and thicknesses available so if you’re looking for a particular style, shade or even brand of knitting needle, do enquire and I’ll have a rootle around for you. I’m happy to combine different needles if you’d like to mix and match for a desired effect. You’ll find details of the dimensions of this particular one on the Etsy listing.



May 24

Grandmother’s quilt

Shredded quilt

My grandmother's pinwheel quilt

Just take a look at my grandmother’s quilt.

Made in the 1950s – I think, though employing older fabrics – it has been well worn (dare I say abused?) and is terribly shredded but retains much its pinwheel charm.

Feedsack pinwheels

Feedsack fabrics

I washed it yesterday using a delicate soap, gently agitating it by hand in the bathtub (just prodding it, really) before letting it drain (boy, that water was satisfyingly yellow!), rinsing it, draining it again, rolling it carefully and putting it in the washing machine to spin. Then I let it dry flat and supported before hanging it (just damp) on the line to finish drying in the fresh air. All in the name of work avoidance, of course.

Dotty pinwheel

Feedsack pinwheel

You might see it as a cutter, but I think I will drape it somewhere and watch it gently deteriorate.


Apr 04

My first sewing machine #3: Julia Laing

I’m delighted to introduce another of my favourite makers to reminisce about her early sewing experiences in My First Sewing Machine. This time, Scottish artist Julia Laing of Materialised.

Julia Laing of Materialised

Julia Laing of Materialised

I first became aware of Julia’s exquisite embroidered brooches via Twitter (I think); her hearts with sometimes startling, emotionally charged adjectives and nouns caught my eye (see image below).  I was soon charmed by the rest of her delightful, tenderly embellished pieces: purses, pouches and textile art created from recycled and vintage textiles.

Julia’s sells via Etsy and will be selling in person at Glasgow’s monthly makers’ market, Byres Road, on 30th April. You can also keep up with her via her Facebook page.

OK, I’m settling myself into my interviewer’s chair, propped (if only in my imagination) against one of Julia’s adorable cushions (which you can still nab from her Etsy store, if you’re quick).

Scrapiana: Tell me about your first sewing machine, Julia? What was its make, model  and colour? Did it have any other distinguishing features?

Julia: The first sewing machine I ever used was a black hand operated Singer. Unfortunately, I don’t have an image of it, but that one on Flickr looks just like it. It was old but had been well looked after and the wooden case had a lovely patina. I remember the distinctive smell, as soon as the case was opened: a musty mixture of wax polish, oil, and dusty old threads. The key which locked the case had a piece of string threaded though it, which was always kept wound through the carrying handle for safe keeping. The string was worn through in places, which added to the well used and loved aura that surrounded the machine.

Scrapiana: Was it gifted to you or borrowed? Do you know its history?

Julia: The Singer had belonged to my gran, and after that my mum used it. I know some of it’s history. Mum told me stories of how, during the war her mother had taken suits apart, turned them inside out and painstakingly put them back together again – to get the maximum wear from the fabric!  I’ve seen faded photos of Mum as a teenager, wearing beautiful 1950s party dresses her mother had sewn with it. My mum was also a great dressmaker. She made loads of clothes for me when I was young, and dolls too. Eventually Mum upgraded to an electric model, which left the old one available for me to use.

Embroidered cat

Embroidered cat

Scrapiana: Do you still have it? If/when you got rid of it, did you give it  away to someone you knew? Do you know where it is now? Do you regret  parting with it?

JuliaI inherited another machine, from my other granny, so then my  sister used the old Singer, and I’m glad to say she still has it, although she’s now upgraded to an electric machine too. I wanted to take a picture of it, but it’s packed away, while her house is up for sale. I don’t regret parting company with it, because it served me well, but compared to a modern machine it’s capabilities are limited.

Scrapiana:So what’s your earliest memory of using it? What did you make?

Julia: My memory is hazy, but I remember using it to make sage green cord trousers for my favourite doll, and then I had a go at altering my own trousers. It was 1979, and I thought it was about time I had some new ‘drainpipes’ as my flares were so last Tuesday!  I was 11 and was experimenting really. I don’t even know if I’d asked permission to use the machine (probably not) but I was happy enough with the results to want to keep on sewing.

Scrapiana: Oh my! I have matching flare-altering memories, Julia! Who taught you to sew? Were they a good teacher?

Julia: Again, my memories aren’t crystal clear. I don’t remember being sat down and taught to sew, but because I was surrounded by a culture of making and doing at home (Mum was always knitting, baking, gardening and painting) it seemed natural for me to experiment. I’ve always been introverted, and was happy to spend hours on my own, drawing or sewing. If I had a problem with whatever I was making, Mum was on hand to help, but I’ve always had a stubborn streak so usually I’d just try to work it out for myself. We had compulsory Home Economics at High School, which included some sewing. I remember making a cushion cover, and then a cornflower blue, wool pencil skirt, which I teamed up with fuzzy purple knee high socks my gran had knitted for me…What was I thinking?!  At school the emphasis was very much on doing it ‘right’ and exactly by the instructions, which has always been a struggle; even now I find the instructions on commercial patterns pretty hard to fathom!

In 2002 my passion for sewing was rekindled when I began a City and Guilds course in Creative Embroidery at Telford College in Edinburgh. It was so liberating! there was a strong emphasis on design and I learned loads of new techniques, including free motion machine embroidery. Although I didn’t manage to finish the course because of the cost and time involved, the teaching I got there was top class. I can honestly say I learned more there, in several months, than I did in the four years I spent at art college. That’s when I became very enthusiastic about working with textiles, and I started my own crafts business in 2005.

Silk word-hearts

Heart brooches: to wear on your sleeve, perhaps

Scrapiana: What did your first machine do especially well or especially badly? Did you like or loathe it?

Julia: My old Singer machine was great to learn on. Because it was operated by hand you could sew at your own pace, so there was never any danger of it getting out of control and stitching through your finger! I liked how basic it was: it only did a straight stitch. If you needed to adjust the tension, it was just a case of twiddling a screw to tighten it, and because it was mechanical it wasn’t hard to figure out how it all worked. It was a wonderful design, which was hugely popular in it’s day. The only drawback was because you were using one hand to turn the handle it made it difficult to guide the fabric through the machine with much accuracy.

Dress brooches

Scrapiana: What machine do you have now? Is it your dream machine? If not, what would that be, if  money were no object? Here you can be fanciful: bespoke colour, extra fantasy features such as tea-making… OK, maybe not the tea-making.

Julia: The machine I use now is a Brother PS-31, which I’ve had for 9 years. I didn’t do a lot of research before I got it; if I had done, this probably wouldn’t have been the model I’d have bought! I was in a hurry when I went shopping because the machine I had been using at the time had an electrical fault. It was going to be expensive to fix, so I thought I might as well buy a new one. I went to John Lewis and the Brother was within my budget and available to take home on the day.

Julia's Brother PS-31

I’ve read reviews since which all agree with my experience – it copes badly with thick fabrics, in fact it often point blank refuses to sew. The tension is very temperamental, and it’s quite noisy. Having said that, it’s had a LOT of use, and is still going strong, more’s the pity! If it would just give up on me I’d feel justified in buying something better. I make a ritual of cleaning and oiling it regularly so that’s probably got something to do with it’s longevity. Reliability is the most important consideration because sewing is my livelihood. I don’t use most of the built-in stitches, mainly just the straight stitch and zig-zag. I often change the presser foot to a clear perspex hoop for free motion embroidery, but that’s quite straight forward. One thing that I’d like in a new machine is automatic bobbin winding, because with my Brother machine I have to take the bobbin out it’s casing, fiddle about with the thread, put it on a holder on top of the machine, turn a knob and then fill it up, which is tiresome if I’m sewing at full pelt! I’ll probably look for the best reconditioned machine I can afford next time around. I don’t have a lot of experience of sewing with other machines so it would be interesting to hear which brands other people would recommend for quietness and reliability.

Bunny brooches

Exquisite bunny brooches, sniffing the April air

Scrapiana: Thank you so much, Julia, for taking the time to share those evocative memories. I haven’t managed to winkle out precise model details for your original hand-cranked Singer, but maybe someone reading this will have one just like it and be able to tell us more about it. Guessing at the age of that machine, I’m assuming it’s possible that your grandmother had it from new? If so, how lovely that it’s remained in your family as a treasured possession! Thanks again.


Dec 06

Scrap of the Week #8

I wanted to show you this old strip of barkcloth.

Barkcloth strip

Barkcloth strip

I’m not sure what to do with it. It’s only 21cms wide, and I don’t think I can bear to cut it up further because I like the conversation the trees are having with each other. It’s crying out for some bright cherry red, I think, to set it off.

Barkcloth strip

Tree conversation

The back-story of this scrap is that it belonged to my mother-in-law. I’m guessing she got hold of it in the ’50s or early ’60s. I don’t know if it was left over from curtains, though I know she was most definitely the curtains-making type.

2010 Dec Minolta 001

Barkcloth trees

What would you do with it?

2010 Dec Minolta 006

Barkcloth branches


Nov 21

My first sewing machine

Singer 99k, 1946

Josephine, a 1946 Singer 99k

Meet Josephine. She was my mother’s sewing machine, the one I learned to sew on. I was nudged to dig her out of the basement and dust her off by this blog post.

Poor old Josephine has seen better days. Second-hand by the time my mother got her in the 1970s, she never struck me as especially pretty. In fact, quite the opposite. She’s led a hard life (witness scratches and scars), and was converted from treadle or hand-crank to electricity some years after manufacture; that’s when she acquired her clunky housing and cardboard case. I imagine some cowboy sewing-machine repairman performing this atrocity, a cigarette butt clamped ruthlessly between his teeth throughout the ordeal. Piling insult onto injury, I’ve neglected her and half meant to get shot of her for years – well, her charms aren’t immediately apparent, unlike her petite cousin, the 221k – but I’m beginning to change my tune. Especially as I know a little more about her now. I’ve even discovered her birthday.

Singer 99k 1950s case

1950s cardboard case

The joy of today’s internet is that you can look up serial numbers of yesterday’s Singers and discover when and where your machine was made, and the model type. The model type is very handy if  you don’t have the sewing machine’s original instruction booklet. Free pdf downloads of instructions can be found out there, so it’s worth searching a little. Otherwise, they can be had for a small fee. It’s useful to know how your machine is supposed to be oiled, how tension can be adjusted etc.

99k register number

Singer serial number

From a quick dip into the Singer site I’ve learned that Josephine was one of 30,000 99k machines registered on May 20th 1946 in Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland.  That date was when the entire batch was assigned, so I imagine she was still a lump of metal at that point and didn’t gain her final gleaming-gold-decal form for days, weeks or months. Anyway, it’s nice to have an anchoring date. Maybe next year I’ll bake her a cake and Singer happy birthday (ouch).

Singer 99k

Singer lettering

By the time Josephine came to us, she already bore the marks of a hard grafting life, the scratches of myriad pins passing by on miles of fabric, a thousand scissor-nicks from hurriedly clipped curves.  Her motor bears the installation date of February 1956. When we first got her, she had to be plugged into a light socket. This meant that every sewing experience was preceded by a perilous clambering above the dining room table to extract the bulb and insert her lead into the pendant fitting. I’m amazed that no-one was electrocuted in the process.

Singer 99k with Sylko spool

Hand wheel, bobbin-winder and the odd decorative flourish

The absence of ceiling  light made it pretty hard to see what you were doing, and eventually someone in the family changed her plug to a regular three-pin wall variety. It was slightly annoying that she had no light source of her own, but my fresh eyesight didn’t seem to mind that at the time, and I enthusiastically made up a lot of patchwork and a number of Laura Ashley dresses on this machine.  She worked reliably, until I got her out a couple of years ago and found, to my horror, that she ran manically without her foot control being activated; this seems to have been a simple case of ‘sticky pedal’, and I’m happy to report that she’s fine now.

99k decal

The scratches of hard use

My mother wasn’t an enthusiastic needlewoman, just a utilitarian one. Same with all handicrafts. It was my maternal grandmother who’d been the real crafter of the family, and perhaps my mother naturally rejected that role as one generation tends to react to the previous one. She’d gone to college and pursued more academic pursuits. She typed fast, played piano well, but the sewing-machine isn’t something I can picture her at. It was at school that I was instructed in how to operate a sewing-machine. Home Economics hadn’t been chased off the curriculum in those days, and we learned from rather joyless, stern teachers (“unpick that again”) on rows of hand-cranked machines. But that’s another story.

99k face plate close-up

Surprisingly fancy face plate

I’m seeing Josephine in a slightly different light now. A no-nonsense post-war workhorse from an age of austerity, her few redeeming features (such as her surprisingly decorative face plate, the pleasingly robust bobbin-winding facility, and the houndstooth-patterned paper inside her case) stand out all the more. One last detail: in the spirit of make do and mend, she still carries a piece of masking tape on her needle plate, marking some long-forgotten seam-allowance I once used. No fancy screw-on seam guide for her.

Now I’m wondering where all of Josephine’s 29,999 siblings are. These 99ks strike me as real survivors. How many are still sewing? How many have been melted down for scrap? Where are they now? If you happen to have one, I’d love to hear about it. I”m also wondering what your first sewing machine was like? Was it basic or luxurious? Do you still have it? What did you make on it? Show and tell.


Jul 12

Scrap of the Week #4

This floral spray comes from a 1950s eiderdown.

1950s eiderdown close-up

Floral spray from 1950s eiderdown

At least, it looks solidly 1950s to me, though I guess it could be 1940s, at a pinch. Unfortunately, there’s no label on it to give further clues.

Ruffled corner

Corner showing frilled edge

The fabric isn’t the usual eiderdown cotton; it has a canvas-type weave which has taken the print in an interesting way making it look almost as though it’s been painted on. The filling definitely isn’t synthetic, though what proportion of feather/down is in it I don’t know.

It’s a pretty piece, and one of the many things I’m hauling off to the It’s Darling! vintage & handmade fair on Saturday (have I mentioned that already…?).

Pink vintage eiderdown

Scalloped quilting

If I can get past the attention-seeking cat, that is.

Mittens & eiderdown

Mittens knows she sets off the dusty pink background perfectly.

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