Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A new addition to my collection

Country auctions are usually a summertime thing for me. Half the fun is driving out into the countryside on a sunny day, with the car windows open, and just enjoying passing by the little villages and farms on the way. Someone writing about Jane Austen once said that her novels still appeal to us today because deep down, in our true selves, we all live in the country.

But a few auctions still go on in the winter, and I check the listings on The Auction Fever just to see what's going on.

Last week an auction came up in Lanark, about an hour out of town, and in the listing they mentioned a Singer sewing machine. There was a picture of some jumbled furniture, and sure enough, an old sewing machine sitting among it all. But looking closely at the sewing machine, I thought I could see something coming down from the balance wheel at the end. It looked like ribbon. Could it be that this was... a treadle machine? It was sitting on a wooden desk, and I saw one small door open at the bottom. I started searching pictures of Singer sewing machine cabinets, and then I hit the jackpot. What I was looking at was this:

A Singer parlour cabinet. Unlike the usual stand with the metal foot pedal and side gears open to view, this closes up and becomes a piece of living room furniture. (Looks a bit like a wine cabinet.) It was impossible to tell from the picture what sort of condition it was in, but I felt it was worth a trip out to Lanark just to check it out.

When I saw it, it was all folded up, with a saddle sitting on top of it. I uncovered it then started opening the doors and pulling up the machine. This was not the super-deluxe model of the cabinet, with a button that you'd press that would activate a spring and cause the sewing machine to rise up out of the depths. The machine folded down into the cabinet like all the later cabinets. It looked very old, and the leather belt was detached and wrapped around the balance wheel. But when I pressed the treadle with my hand it moved easily, and the wheel at the side of the cabinet revolved as well. The machine itself had a nice smooth action, almost soft as the wheel went round and the needle went up and down. The cabinet was in pretty good shape, though very dusty. Some of the veneer had flaked off, but the doors all opened and closed easily, so it wasn't warped or broken.

Long story short, I bought it for $55. I started at $25, but one other person bid it up to $35, and then mine was the last bid. It was darn heavy, but I managed to haul it out to the car on a dolly, then a man helped me lift it into the trunk. It's always so nice going out into the country; there are ALWAYS men who'll help a lady wrangle a piece of furniture into the car! I never count on that sort of thing here in town.

Dean helped me get it into the house the next day, and then I went online to find out what I could. The machine had a serial number, and by going to the Singer serial number database I discovered that it was a model 15, built in 1909! Here are some pictures of the case and the machine:

The cabinet has a mahogany veneer; you can see a bit coming off the bottom of the door at the lower left. I don't know what the actual wood underneath is - probably pine. I'm going to get it professionally restored, and I may be able to get a key that fits the left-hand door on eBay.

I think the decals on the machine are called "Tiffany" or "Gingerbread". The colours make it look rather like a Tiffany window.

I saw pictures of other machines with these decals, and figured that mine had been a simplified version, without any center design. Then I looked closely and realized that the design on the center and lower left area had completely worn off! That's how much this machine had been used! Some say that results in a very well broken-in, smooth functioning machine, and it's certainly the case with this one. It must have been well maintained right up until the time it was put into storage.

When I pulled back the throat plate, I was disappointed to find that the bobbin case was not in the machine. I figured I'd have to go online and buy a replacement, but then I recalled that I'd seen a few bobbins in one of the drawers. There, right at the back, was a bobbin and the bobbin case! A little rusty inside, but I cleaned it with some metal cleaner, and it was perfectly good. There was no manual, but I found one online and threaded the machine, needle and all. Turning the balance wheel with my hand, I was able to sew a line of stitches!


Now I've ordered a new leather band for the treadle, and I'll be able to sew with it! I'm going to try to clean and polish up the machine, as well as give it a good oiling. Now I'm the ultimate prepper; when the grid goes down, I'll be able to keep us alive by sewing! And I even have a brass iron from India that you fill with hot coals, so I can sew AND iron!

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