Sunday, December 9, 2012

Threading a Pfaff 335 Cylinder Arm Machine

Here's how to thread a Pfaff 335 cylinder arm sewing machine.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Bernina 730 Record

This Bernina 730 Record was first purchased back in 1971. A Swiss-made marvel of engineering.  Self-contained motor, free arm, embroidery stitches and all-metal construction are just a few of it's great qualities.

It will also sew button holes and has a table adapter that converts it from a free-arm machine to a more standard flat bed machine.

This example has been refurbished and everything works well. Near mint condition means no noticeable marks or dings.

This wonderful Bernina 730 was sold locally and will be cherished by it's new owner who will get a big surprise when she sees it. Shhhhh, don't tell anyone, it's her anniversary surprise...

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Thursday, April 19, 2012

Elna Supermatic and Cam Embroidery

Elna Supermatic Cam Mechanism
As I mention before in the "Dial a Stitch" post below, before the advent of built-in embroidery mechanisms, sewing machine manufacturers developed a series of drop-in cams that would allow precise embroidery stitching. Each cam would provide you with a unique stitch.

Elna Supermatic Cams (Elna-discs)
By 1952 Elna, a Swiss sewing machine manufacturer, developed a cute green machine that would rival all others in the embroidery cam business. The Elna Supermatic.

This 1957 ad campaign boldly asserted the ease of making an embroidered blouse, by implying it was as easy as boiling an egg.

The great thing about the Elna-discs and machines were their ability to sew backwards, thereby giving the egg boiling capable woman the ability to make beautiful embroidery patterns not possible with all the other machines that could only sew embroidery forward.

The Pfaff 360/362 as well as many other sewing machines of the 1960s were not capable of sewing embroidery stitches that required sewing in reverse direction.

Click on the image at the bottom of this post to see the amazing amount of fancy stitches available for the Elna machines.

See if you can tell which ones are forward only and which ones go forward and backward.

To be honest I have had bad luck with the older green Supermatics. Motor failures on more than one unit scared me off.

Don't be disappointed though, I'm sure there are sound working examples out there. I can tell you I  have had great luck with Elna's later models like the SU (1972). 

Advanced design and reliability; this is what I hear from other sewing machine enthusiasts.  Below is the Elna SU I had about a year ago - she worked flawlessly and was one of the smoothest running machines I've had. Same cams as the old 1957 Supermatic, go figure...


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Chandler 850 / Bernina in Disguise?

Chandler has been in the sewing machine business since 1905 - I haven't been able to find much information on the company history, but I can tell you that this Chandler 850 is a Bernina 850 from the button making feature to the utility and fancy stitch selection.  Indeed, this is an industrial Bernina 850 with the Chandler logo.

This is truly a wonderful sewing machine. Bernina's may be the best sewing machines ever made - Swiss precision as well as a high price tag.

I also have a Bernina 730 Record - what a joy to sew with.

This particular machine was not working when I got it. Too many years sitting around in a humid environment, then some inexperienced would-be buyer tried to make it work and forced it, thereby jamming it and making things worse.  I bought it not knowing if I could get it going again. I tried my best to make it sew before I purchased it, but could not. Risky business getting a Bernina that doesn't work - parts aren't as easy to come-by, and they're a little on the expensive side.

It took some work and some parts to get her back to life.

Lesson? If you find a sewing machine that is gummed up from sitting around for years - don't force it!! Use a solvent to release the old dried up lubricant. I know better - I use penetrating oil and heat to free all the moving parts before I try to make the machine work.

She is back to her old glory and working great - I have the Service Manual and was able to get her up to tip-top shape - she is for sale locally:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Skiping Stitches

So what do you do when your wonderful sewing machine is skipping stitches? I cry a lot. Hey, it happens, grown men cry.

Skipped stitches occur when the hook does not grab the needle thread.  After the needle penetrates the material and reaches its lowest point it moves back up - approximately 2mm from bottom the thread makes a small loop in the scarf of the needle. This is where the hook snatches the needle thread and loops it around the bobbin thread.
This animated gif demonstrates this pretty well. So what are the possible causes of skipped stitches?

Bent needle.

Needle not inserted correctly.

Wrong adjustment: needle rise, hook clearance, height.

Needle loop not fully formed (thread too elastic or too taut, thread check spring stroke too long, needle plate bent, pressure on presser bar not high enough.

Needle is being deflected by presser foot.

Needle bar is bent.

If you can think of any other thing that can cause skipping stitches please let me know and I'll update this list.

Maybe I won't cry as much...

Needle & Thread Size Compatibility Chart

I've often been asked about needle sizes and which thread goes with what. Below is a chart I found on a needle manufacturers site. If you want a little more explanation scroll down to my other post about the same subject:

12, 15
12, 15, 23
12, 15, 23
23, 30
23, 30
23, 30, 46
23, 30, 46
30, 46, 69
30, 46, 69
46, 69
69, 92
69, 92
69, 92
92, 138
138, 207
138, 207
207, 277
207, 277, 346
207, 277, 346, 415
277, 346, 415
346, 415

Who Do I Recommend ?

On occasion my readers will ask me to recommend a place they can get sewing stuff. It varies a lot - some want to know where to get needles or bobbin cases and others want to know where to get big items like servo motors and table tops.

I depend on two sources for most of my stuff. Nick-O Sewing Machine Co. for all the big stuff. Motors, table tops, legs with casters. He also sells refurbished industrials as well as new heavy duty industrial sewing machines. Click on the banner below and you'll get to the website. BTW - he also has an eBay store:

If I'm looking for a rare or hard to find part - like say a Bernina 317 bobbin case, or a slack thread regulator and screw for an old Singer 20U33 or how about a stitch length control knob assembly for an old brown Pfaff 335 - I go to Rudy at  I have purchased all kinds of parts from Rudy. The Pfaff 145 in this blog was refurbished with parts from Cut Sew Service. Talk to Rudy, tell him I sent you:

As far as needles and bobbins I usually search eBay - search by system or brand or even your machine model. As most of you already know - if eBay doesn't have it it probably doesn't exist.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Pfaff 260

This model was the next to the last version of the "Dial-A-Stitch" machines from Pfaff. They streamlined the design by getting rid of the cumbersome stitch width dial. They combined the left-right needle position knob with the stitch width dial and added a momentary zig-zag lever. The forward-reverse lever was also improved by adding a spring loaded reverse.  They added smaller increments to the stitch length dial to facilitate the selection of embroidery stitches. The Pfaff 260-360 and subsequent Pfaff 262-362 were much better machines than the earlier generation of the "Dial-A-Stitch" like the 230 or 330. See post on Pfaff "Dial-A-Stitch" Sewing Machines below.

Click on the video below and watch this machine sewing upholstery leather. 

Monday, March 12, 2012

Bernina 317

Swiss-made Bernina sewing machines are the smoothest machines made. Engineered for reliability and precision. This Bernina 317 is an industrial machine that produces a very beautiful straight stitch and will also make precise zig-zags and includes reverse stitching.

This machine is up for sale on eBay at the moment:

Click on the video below to see this machine sew upholstery leather.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Necchi BU Mira - Big Wheel

Here's another Necchi BU Mira - this one has the "Big Wheel." I modify these Necchi's so they can work even harder then normal - all steel construction allows for a tougher than nails sewing machine. The heavy hand wheel and double pulley system gives this machine incredible punching power - she can eat through multiple layers of leather for breakfast - no problemo. These Italian wonders are bullet-proof.

This classic machine now belongs to a very talented young artist from The Parish Trust, she uses it to sew leather bags and such. If you are in San Francisco you can't miss this wonderful store. You'll find art, antiques & amusement:

Here's Mariele's website:

Monday, February 6, 2012

Pfaff 130

This is one of the most popular sail-repair sewing machines you'll find. Small in size but very powerful and with a zig zag stitch. This Pfaff 130 was meticulously cleaned and polished to mint condition.

I even found some gold paste to refurbish the zig zag knob. These sewing machines are very popular, I've seen some for as much as $600 and not as good looking as this one, I might add.

These are truly indestructible so if you find one that doesn't look to trashy get it, they clean-up well and work as strong as an industrial machine, but much smaller.

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Pfaff "Dial-A-Stitch" Sewing Machines

Marvel of design and engineering. The Pfaff 332 is an all metal cylinder bed machine with flat bed attachment and built-in embroidery stitches, as well as straight and zig-zag.

Before the advent of built-in embroidery, sewing machines had multiple cams that would be installed to sew any number of different stitches. Each cam would give you access to a different embroidery stitch.

The Pfaff 332 came with a built-in cam system they called "Dial-A-Stitch" which meant you didn't have to carry any more cams. Just turn the appropriate knob or dial in the right combination and you had access to a multitude of embroidery stitches.

It was quite a complicated set of knob and dial positions. Pfaff devised a wheel computer that would enable the user to pick an embroidery stitch and determine the corresponding dial setting.

These Pfaff 332 and similar sewing machines always remind me of old Navy battleships, tough and unsinkable.

If you run across one of these, the most common issue is a gummed-up cam system. Old oil residue in the cam system needs to be cleaned out carefully so as not to damage the delicate cam mechanism.

Pfaff 230

This video shows a Pfaff 230 a flat bed version of Pfaff's Dial-A-Stitch machine.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Nina Serrano - Kitchen 1940s

My dear friend Nina Serrano read my Blog a couple of weeks ago and sent me this beautiful original drawing she created from her childhood memories:

I asked Nina to write a couple of words to describe the drawing:

This pen/ink and wash drawing was created in 1980 to illustrate two poems I'd written about my childhood memories in the early 1940's in New York City. 

As a child I often visited the crowded apartment  of Haydee and Orencio  Miras and their children with my uncle. There was always a big pot of food on the stove in the kitchen, near the sewing machine where Haydee's elderly mother stitched. 

In the living room adults played guitars and sang, while we kids played among the piles of coats on the bed in the bedroom. The sewing machine was the hearth and heart of that wonderful home.  
Nina's book of poems is available as an ebook on

Friday, February 3, 2012

Thread Sizes Explained

A few readers had asked me about thread sizes and the appropriate needle to use. I found this information on the web and post it here for your info.

Size 33 is a lightweight thread typically used for sewing garments. It is stronger than comparable polyester and cotton threads. Stitching, with a size 12 or 14 needle, is unobtrusive.
Size 46 is a lightweight thread typically used for sewing leather, lightweight upholstery fabric and drapes, canvass, and vinyl. It is sometimes used for sewing heavy duty garments because it is twice as strong as comparable spun polyester and cotton threads. Stitching, with a size 14 or 16 needle, is not highly visible.
Size 69 is a light-middleweight thread typically used for sewing leather, lightweight upholstery fabric, canvass, vinyl, awnings, banners, flags, patio furniture, sails and tents. Stitching, with a size 16 or 18 needle, is noticeable.  **It is the largest size that most home sewing machines can handle.
Size 92 is a middleweight thread used for sewing leather, heavy upholstery fabric, drapes, canvass, auto interiors, awnings, boat covers, banners, flags, patio furniture, sails and tents. Use a size 18 or 20 needle.**This size thread normally requires a commercial sewing machine.
Size 138 is a heavy-middleweight thread typically used for sewing leather, heavy upholstery fabric, drapes, canvass, seatbelts, auto interiors, awnings, boat covers, pool covers, banners, flags, patio furniture, sails and tents. Stitching, with a size 20 or 22 needle, is noticeable. **Requires a commercial sewing machine.
Size 207 is a heavyweight thread typically used for sewing heavy-duty leather, upholstery fabric, canvass, and auto interiors. Stitching, with a size 22 or 24 needle, is very visible
Size 277 is a heavyweight thread typically used for sewing heavy-duty leather, upholstery fabric, canvass, and auto interiors. Stitching, with a size 24 or 26 needle, is very visible.
Size 346 is a heavyweight thread typically used for sewing very thick leather, upholstery fabric, canvass, and auto interiors. Stitching, with a size 26 or 28 needle, is very visible and often used as a focal point.
Size 554 is an ultra heavyweight thread typically used for sewing heavy-duty leather, shoe repair, canvass, and auto interiors. Stitching, with a size 30 or 32 needle, is very visible and often becomes a focal point.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Adler 30-70 Leather Patcher

For those who are interested; the video below also shows you how to thread the machine properly.

I love these cobbler machines. This Adler 30-70 is the last model made by Dürkopp Adler in Germany. Other manufacturers make patchers based on the older Singer 29 cobbler machine.

Below is a Singer 29K I restored with a great local artist -
Amanda Lynn. This cobbler machine now belongs to the Goorin Bros. Hat Company in San Francisco.

These machines have been made for over a hundred years with very little change. Like someone once said "...if it's not broken, don't fix it." (see my other blog post on the Adler 30-1)

This video shows how to thread an Adler 30-70 - this will work for cobbler machines that are based on the Singer 29 and similar sewing machines.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Singer 111W155

Singer's often copied, walking foot sewing machine. Every industrial sewing machine manufacturer has made a version of this machine. They all have that unusual bump you see on the neck.

When I purchased this Singer 111W155 it was all out of timing and needed some serious cleaning. You can tell by the lost paint that this machine had been used through the years.

These are indestructible sewing machines. Connect it to a motor and it will sew through a steel wall - OK, maybe not steel. Leather, on the other hand, is easily conquered.

I went through and adjusted this one according to the factory specs, and replaced the bobbin case with a new one. She now runs smooth. No excessive play or wear.

Newer machines have reverse but their prices are quite a bit higher. I've been told by an old-time user of upholstery sewing machines that reverse is overrated. I suppose the convenience of not having to flip the material around to backstitch is worth something.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Singer 107W1

It's a vintage industrial Singer 107W1 zig zag sewing machine. It sews fantastic stitches and wide zigs and zags. It also came with a cool vintage wooden table and an unusually controllable clutch motor.

This baby had been sitting for years in a warehouse collecting dust. The safety clutch on the roller unit was gummed-up and it was preventing the roller from working properly. I am amazed this Singer was still working in spite of her age. I was able to free all the gummed-up parts and she came back to life with a vengeance.

This machine produces one of the best looking straight stitches I've seen, and one of the largest zig zags. I put her up on craigslist and soon she was sold to a local clothing designer. I'm so happy this machine is now owned by a wonderful young artist here in San Francisco.

Again - I love it when nice people get my machines - I'm confident this machine went to the right person - she knows what she got and will make great use of it. She'll probably pass this Singer 107W1 on to her grandchildren many years from now. After all, this is her first industrial.


Pfaff 145

This is a refurbished Pfaff 145 H3 walking foot machine. This Pfaff was repainted before I got it, but it was in need of extensive mechanical work.

The timing was 90 or more degrees off and the hook was worn to a nub. I replaced the hook assembly, and adjusted the timing and all parameters to factory specs.

The Pfaff 145 H3 is a very popular upholstery machine. You won't find anything better than a properly adjusted mechanically sound Pfaff 145.

The newer Pfaff 545 has a bigger bobbin and the current model 1245 is basically the same mechanically.

If you find one make sure it has been gone-over and checked for wear and excessive play, and make sure the hook is still good and timed correctly.

The Pfaff 145 won't let you down, it will sew through numerous layers of leather as well as vinyl or just about anything you through at it.

This wonderful Pfaff 145 now works on any number of items made by Jack Knife Outfitters.

BTW - I got the servo motor for this machine from Nick-O-Sew. NKS-5500.

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Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Adler 30-1

A cobbler's machine. Anyone remember what a cobbler is? Have you ever had your shoes repaired? Don't people just buy new shoes when their old ones die?

This beautiful machine was built in the mid thirties in Germany. Adler is the German word for eagle; and this machine is as beautiful as the bird of prey.

Having the long cylinder arm allows the user access into the deepest part of a riding boot. The foot also rotates to allow repairs where most sewing machine dare not go - actually places they cannot go.

Also check out my post on the Adler 30-70 for sale on eBay, I might add:

Necchi BU Mira

Necchi is a renowned Italian sewing machine manufacturer.  These are prized by many, and considered by owners the best sewing machines ever made - sorry, I wouldn't go that far.

These Italian masterpieces are very tough though, and I love modifying BU Mira's with double pulleys and selling them to Sailors. This is my third modification, I'm working on two more that should be up for sale soon.

This particular one is on its way to Mexico on a sailboat. The new owner had his sailing friend buy it from me and sail it down to Mexico for him to have on his sailboat.

I guess you never know when you might need to repair your sails.  If you're in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and your sail rips wouldn't you want to have your own Necchi Bu Mira hidden away below decks.