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In my last post I promised I would talk a bit about my Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine.

A friend of mine was given this gorgeous Singer treadle sewing machine. One of her friend’s aunties or granny had moved into a nursing home and couldn’t use her machine any longer. My friend never got into sewing, so the sewing machine was languishing in a corner and one day she decided to give it to me, as I had expressed an interest.

Although the machine was still just about in working order, it obviously required a lot of cleaning and lubricating to make it usable again. So I found the Treadle On website, which contains a lot of useful information. Therefore only a small summary here: I took the machine head out of the cabinet and removed an enormous amount lint from all the nooks and crannies. Then I removed all the rust with WD-40 and also attempted to remove most of the grime. I then generously lubricated the machine head with sewing machine oil, and greased all the moving parts of the treadle, including the gears underneath the machine head. After I put everything together again it purred like a kitten.

Here are some pictures of the beautifully embossed cover plates, which give access to the internal workings, so you can lubricate the lot. It also has the Singer emblem underneath the stitch length selector. The serial number plate showing “EC661.971” was still attached, so I managed to work out that my machine was produced in the Clydebank, Scotland, UK factory in 1940!

Despite its age, it still had most, if not all, accessories in a variety of biscuit tins and boxes. We have here from left to right, top to bottom: a lint brush, a collection of bobbins, a darning plate (this covers the walking dogs), a zipper foot, a gathering foot for shirring, an adjustable hemmer, a binder (for applying bias binding to an edge), a ruffler, a foot hemmer for sewing a fine narrow seam, the edge stitcher makes for easy joining of lace and insertions, a little tool for threading the needle, and last but not least, a blind stitcher for “superior invisible hemming”.

There is also the famous button hole attachment, to make perfect machined button holes on this straight stitch machine. Instead of the needle going left and right for zigzagging, this clever contraption moves the fabric to left and right! Although it sounds like this would never work, it actually makes the most beautiful button holes ever, as you have full control over everything. You can adjust: button hole length, spacing of the stitches, the width of the bight (this is the width of the stitch used for the button hole), and the width of the cutting space. Gorgeous!

And as you cannot zigzag with a straight stitch machine, there is also the following attachment: a zigzagger. The round inserts determine the zigzag stitch: normal zigzag, arrow head, groups of three zigs and three zags, and a scallopped stitch. Like the button holer, there is a lever that cups around the screw for securing the needle in the shaft, and that’s how it drives the mechanics inside the attachments. You can see the lever in situ in the picture above.

The stitch length selector also controls the direction of sewing. Unlike what I previously thought, you always spin the flywheel in the same direction (when I start treadling, I give it a swing with my hand, from the top of the wheel towards me). So if you need to reverse, you switch the stitch length selector lever from bottom to top. The length of the stitches can be selected by unscrewing the small screw and moving it up our down. This controls how far down or up you can push the lever. You can kind of see how this works in the picture below. The engineering is all very clever!

Luckily my machine also still had all the instruction manuals, otherwise I wouldn’t have known how anything works, or indeed, what they even are!

Without these, I would never have been able to thread the machine and work out how to service it. The machine is built in such a way that you can easily service it yourself, and the instructions show you how to take the machine head apart and put it back together again. I doubt you would ever see that in modern sewing machine manuals! Despite this it has taken me up to last week before I understood exactly how to set up the tension dial again, after I had taken it apart for cleaning and lubricating.

So, this is my Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine. It is easy to operate, and it makes the most beautiful soft noise when you use it. It gives you superior control over the sewing speed, something I always struggled with with electric sewing machines. And although I have many knitting projects in the pipeline, I hope to be able to make a pair of woollen charcoal trousers for the coming winter, which I think will go very well with the fire engine red Cornish guernsey that’s on the needles right now.

DEAR READERS, PLEASE NOTE THAT I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO HELP YOU WITH ANY ENQUIRIES ABOUT SOURCING SPARE PARTS, OR PUTTING A VALUE ON YOUR OLD SEWING MACHINES. I WILL ALSO HAVE TO DELETE ANY COMMENTS BY PEOPLE TRYING TO ADVERTISE A VINTAGE SEWING MACHINE FOR SALE.

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Two months ago, one of my sheets ripped due to old age. And a month later, another sheet ripped. Pants! I had bought them at the same time, so they grew old together.

But my woes were not over yet, as a few of my older boxer shorts also ripped during this period! But, as the saying goes: if life deals you lemons, make lemonade. So I decided to make myself some new boxer shorts. I used an old pair of boxer shorts to make a pattern.

I made a front piece and a back piece. These is a very simple pattern, so I just used one piece for both left and right sides.

I then cut squares out of the sheets, making sure they would be large enough for the pieces plus a margin for the seams and a casing for an elastic band. I made sure to cut these from the edge of the sheets, where the fabric hadn’t worn yet. Then I could cut the pieces. Luckily the fabric was woven, not printed, and right side and wrong side were identical.

I sewed the boxer shorts on my gorgeous Singer 201K treadle sewing machine (on which I shall write another post in the near future). I started with sewing the short inside leg seams of the back pieces and the front pieces. Then I made the hem at the bottom of the legs. Next was the side seam, with my attempt at a small split. Or at least, that’s how I call them – after trying to find instructions on t’interweb I only found references to splits in seams due to wear and tear and how to fix those, so perhaps they are called something different in the sewing world? My two sewing reference books don’t have anything on that either!

Then I had to employ some fabric origami to make the fly. I just fiddled around a bit until it looked like a boxer short fly, referring to the old pair of shorts. First I sewed the long seam from the back to the crotch and then up to the fly, then graded the seam allowance and made a flat-felled seam. I sewed up the fly along with the flat-felled seam. Last but not least, I made a casing for the elastic band. I hadn’t taken the correct measurements, so the elastic was two inches too short for each boxer short, so I had to sew down the ends in the casing, two inches apart. I cunningly did this on either side of the fly, so it looks intentional.

I now have five new pairs of boxer shorts. Perhaps not entirely made according to the text book, but that’s okay. I think they look good at first glance, and only my partner will get to see them in close-up…

PS, if anybody knows where I can find instructions on how to make those split seams, I’d be ever so grateful!

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