Playing with my old machines

Remember the embarrassingly bad buttonholes I did on my daughter’s coat? I certainly do, and it coincided with my husband telling me to get the Singer 401 looked at so that I can use it. I took it to the local sew-vac on Saturday and was almost seduced by a lovely computerized new Babylock that I DON’T need. I did inquire about a coverstitch only machine, but the saleswomen were big on the serger/coverstitch combo machine that they keep in stock. Erm, no thank you. Anyway, the demonstration buttonhole was satisfactory, though not overwhelming, and when I got home, after looking at all of the nice machines to be had online, I decided that I should use all of the machines I have right now before I get too hung up on the idea of something new. That’s right, Bernina 830 Record, I will figure out how to use you. Thankfully, I found the manual for it on Bernina’s website yesterday, and the Singer was ready for pickup today, so I spent the afternoon getting to know the vintage machines I already owned.


Look at that vintage goodness.  I just need a cabinet for the machine and I’m set!

The wonky tension I had been struggling with on the Singer was fixed and I had a lovely straight stitch. Trying to figure out the zigzag setting was a little more problematic since the machine’s dials are lettered by letter with no indication what each letter means. A chart in the manual would have made sense, but apparently in the 1960’s they weren’t into that. After finally realizing that BL3 was the winning combination, I put the buttonholer on and gave it a whirl. Oh my goodness, it was amazing. The machine I asked for solely for this buttonholer has justified its place in my sewing room. The buttonholes are fast and the legs look the same, which is more than my poor Elna has ever quite managed and I think I’m looking forward to a project requiring buttons just to try it for real instead of samples on muslin.


Oh for the keyhole buttonhole on the coat ::wistful sigh::

Buoyed by my good results, I decided that I wanted to see if I could figure out the Bernina’s 4 step buttonhole. The manual makes everything easier and I have a good straight stitch with my West German-made Gutterman thread (I shudder to think how old it is). How hard can a buttonhole be? Well, when the machine refuses to do a zigzag stitch, pretty damn hard. I couldn’t make any of the embroidery stitches work either, so right now, it’s a straight stitcher only. I really hope the guts aren’t too messed up inside as I don’t want to put a lot of money into it.

DSC_0621     DSC_0625

Pretty machine and this is what it gives me.  Only one of those lines was intended to be a straight stitch, alas…

I enjoyed learning more about these sewing machines, but they both gave me a new appreciation for my modern one.  Yes, it’s mostly plastic and hence lighter weight and doesn’t have the speed of the Bernina or the projected longevity of either, but it has a thread cutter at a location that makes sense, swapping feet is easy as can be, and all of the stitches and stitch lengths were intuitive right out of the box.

DSC_0615     DSC_0619

I love the old packaging and manuals.  Of course any housewife worth her salt sits around in her living room sewing on the coffee table.


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