Sunday, February 19, 2012

Meet Betty White

She's just 7 years older than the "real" Betty. It's no secret that I adore vintage sewing machines. Most of the machines in my collection are from the 50's and 60's (I also love automobiles from this same time frame but that's a whole different obsession). The quality and styling of those years is unmatched. But to me, the most beautiful sewing machines ever built are the treadle machines of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Two words, Simple Elegance. High quality components, straightforward engineering and beautiful presentation. They are built to do one thing, do it well, and last forever. I have been keeping my eyes open for an affordable treadle machine which uses round bobbins instead of the vibrating shuttles. Not that there's anything wrong with the latter but I am more familiar with bobbins and they are easier to come by. I was actually hoping (and still am) to find a Singer treadle machine because those can actually use modern bobbins and attachments. However, when I was offered this 1915 White Rotary Machine for a mere $25, I couldn't say no. That's practically free! Yesterday I enlisted the husbeast's help and we drove to Renton to retrieve my prize. I really had no idea what condition the machine would be in or if it was all there. I'd only seen a few pictures. But for $25 I wasn't going to dicker. I didn't want the fellow to come to his senses and realize he was basically giving this lovely machine away. Once I saw it in person I could tell it was indeed complete, right down to the original box of attachments and an old oil can. Be still my heart! We couldn't figure out how to remove the head from the base so had to transport them still attached which isn't wise. I worried the entire drive home. But the machine made the trek just fine. Once I had Betty set up in the living room it was time to clean her up a bit. As you can see, she is covered, inside and out, with about 50 years worth of dust. Even grimy she is still beautiful, with her fancy decals and gorgeous oak cabinet.

The machine head.

The business end.

The bobbin case.

I brushed and vacuumed as much of the dust out as I could. The poor machine was dry as a bone. Luckily I had located a manual for a later version of the White FR Model 12 and could see where all the oiling spots were. It really isn't difficult to figure, even without a manual. Turn the hand crank while you have the bottom of the machine exposed and if something is moving, oil it. There are also a few places on top of the machine to oil, as well as a spot on the bobbin race. Once she had some oil Betty loosened right up. I was anxious to see if she would sew and ran to get a spool of thread. Threading her was tricky since the threading diagram in the photocopy of the old manual was rather hard to make out.

The bobbin was a bit easier to figure and soon I was ready to take that initial stitch.

Try as I might I couldn't get the machine to pick up the bobbin thread. Was my machine broken? I took the bobbin case apart, reassembled it, and tried again. Still nothing. When all else fails, read the manual. It seems that the hand wheel on these early Whites needs to be turned AWAY from you, not towards you like on my other machines. Once I had the wheel turning the correct direction the bottom thread was picked right up. I grabbed some fabric and sat down, ready for my first treadle sewing experience. What a laugh. Between having to keep the wheel turning away from me, and the awkwardness of the treadle, I had a heck of a time. I did manage to sew. Not straight but it still counts.

I will need lots of practice to feel comfortable sewing on her. Then I can play around with all the attachments she brought along.

I am thrilled to have Betty join my little sewing machine family. We will have lots of fun together.

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