It’s thrift store day! And one of my favourite thrift store projects is sewing machine rescue!
Imagine if you will, you walk in to your favourite thrift store- across the room you spy a beat up old carrying case and your heart skips a beat. You open it up and find an old sewing machine, maybe it’s completely intact, maybe it’s missing some parts – neither is a guarantee that it will or won’t work, but with a little hands on assessment and some TLC you could end up with a kick ass machine!
First you want to hand turn the flywheel to make sure the machine isn’t corroded or seized inside, if it moves freely plug it in and run the motor. Is it straining or does it purr like a kitten? If the machine moves and the motor sounds good check to make sure the bobbin case is there for a front loading bobbin machine, there is no case for a top loading bobbin like this one, and if it all checks out, you’ve got the necessary parts, and the price is right you can move on to the next step- cleaning and oiling!
When you get home clear off your kitchen table, turn on all the lights, and grab your computer, tablet, or smartphone because just about any vintage sewing machine manual can be found online and more often than not they’re free! Somewhere on the machine there should be a name or number for the model in addition to the name of the manufacturer, in the case of mine it’s a Singer machine, and the model is 185J. Once you find your manual read the maintenance section, it will tell you where to oil it (pretty much if it moves give it a drop) and how to take the bobbin race to clean it. Yes, not just the bobbin case comes out, but the race too! If you get a thread jam when you’re sewing this is where it will be, and the race should be removed, cleaned, and oiled as a part of the regular maintaining of your machine.
So now that you’ve read the manual you can go ahead and clean! Open it up anywhere it opens, this one opens on the front, but some have a removable top as well. Use a stiff paintbrush and clean dry paper towels on the inside to remove dust, threads, and whatever else is in there. Dry cleaning only, no water in the machine! For the exterior you can use damp, not wet, cloths or towels, dish soap, and elbow grease. Depending on the state of the machine when you found it the cleaning could take a while…
Once it’s clean it’s time to lubricate! a drop or two of oil everywhere the manual says to, on this machine because the top doesn’t come off there are holes for oil on the top. I know the bottle in the picture says spinning wheel oil, it’s an old bottle I filled with sewing machine oil because it has an amazing precision tip which makes for more oil where I want it, and less mess. If you can find a bottle with a needle tip I highly recommend putting your sewing oil in it.
Once you’ve oiled everything plug your machine in and run it to work the oil in to where it needs to be, it’s time to sew! First put a new needle in, ALWAYS start with a new needle in an old machine. I used to work in a sewing machine repair shop and one of the things I learned was that a lot of the time when someone thinks there’s something wrong with their machine it’s because the needle is old, there’s a thread jam in the bobbin race, a lack of maintenance, or a combination of these. After I left the shop and took up collecting and restoring at home I discovered these are also the main reasons they end up in thrift stores too!