WERTHEIM Manual Sewing Machine. Made in Germany! Ca. 1920.

“Made in Germany! Y’know the Germans always make good stuff! Y’followin’ me, camera-guy? It sews, it patches, it fixes, it goes forwards and backwards! It can even sit on your shelf and look a darn sight more decorative than the modern junk you could buy today! Ain’t that right, Charlie!? Charlie says ‘Yes indeed, folks!'” 

Wilkommen, mein damen und herren!

This post is all about…this:

I picked up this beauty at my local auction-house. I also picked up a mini-hernia trying to lug it home afterwards! Isn’t it a beauty?

What we have here, my curious compadres, is a German-made sewing machine, manufactured sometime in the 1920s. It was produced by the Wertheim company, which was one of the major European competitors to big-name American brands like…I dunno…SINGER. Or WHITE. Or NEW HOME.

Along with big names like Frister & Rossmann, and Seidel & Naumann, Wertheim was one of the most popular manufacturers, during the 1800s and early 1900s, of German-made sewing machines. While many people would swear by Singer, the Germans were giving the Americans a serious run for their money in the sewing machine department! And in cars! Radios…typewriters…hey, you just can’t beat German engineering, guys…

Unlike American companies, where sewing machine manufacturers made…sewing machines (Duuuuuuuuuuuh!)…German manufacturers made much more! Seidel & Naumann, for example, also made bicycles…and typewriters! Wertheim made sewing machines…and pianos! Wertheim pianos were extremely popular in Australia, where a factory was set up to manufacture them. This machine may not sound like a piano, but certainly is as sleek as one!

What Made German Sewing Machines Different?

German-made machines differed from their American cousins in a number of ways, both good, and bad. German machines had gears which were more precisely cut and fitted, than their American counterparts. This made the machines smoother, quieter and easier to operate for longer periods of time. They also had features which most American machines wouldn’t have for a good long while!

The back of the machine, revealing the detail of the decorations and gold-leaf applications.

Features like an auto-stop bobbin-winder, or a forward-reverse lever (something which SINGER didn’t have until WELL after the Second World War, but which German machines had back in the Edwardian era!), or even built-in measuring tapes on the bases of the machine-beds, for convenience in measuring, or even – built-in pin-cushions!

Another feature common to German sewing machines, and seen only occasionally on American ones, was what I like to call the ‘shuttle-launcher’. After advancing the shuttle through the race to the point of extraction, sliding back the plate to take out the shuttle would catch a lever inside the race. This would flick the shuttle out of the machine to make it easier to extract, to refill the bobbin. Depending on the machine, the extraction lever might just nudge the shuttle up, or it might flick it up into the air!

It was little touches like this which made German machines popular, and American machines seem…I dunno…’adequate’…by comparison. I mean in theory, they’d all do the same thing – they all sewed, but like those ads for ‘V’ energy-drink, the German ones had that massive hit, which improved them a bit.

What Do We Know about This Machine?

Not a gigantically-enormous amount, but we do know a bit. First: it was marketed for the English-speaking market. Secondly, it would’ve been one of the company’s later machines. We know this, because it’s a vibrating-shuttle machine, and not an older transverse-shuttle machine (which were still being made in the 1930s in Germany!).

Although German machines were highly innovative in some areas, in other areas, they rather tended to lag behind the competition.

In the 1920s and 30s, companies like White, or Singer, in America, were producing compact, easy-to-use, round-bobbin machines, very similar to the types of domestic sewing machines still manufactured today. They were easy to operate, easy to load, easy to understand.

By comparison, even in the 20s and 30s, German companies like Wertheim, or Frister & Rossmann, were still manufacturing machines like this – vibrating shuttle machines.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s a great machine. But when you consider that the invention of the vibrating-shuttle mechanism PRE-DATES the American Civil War…you’ll get some idea of just HOW outdated this technology WAS by say, 1925. On top of that, the Germans were still making transverse-shuttle machines, as well! Now the technology behind that is even more ancient! It gets its roots from the shuttles which rolled back and forth between the warp-and-weft layers of threads which made up old cloth-looms…which dated back CENTURIES! All the way to the Middle Ages!

By comparison with this, the Americans surged ahead with the latest and greatest – electric machines, more compact designs, built-in electric lights, attachable electric motors! The Germans, on the other hand, tended to stick with more traditional, dare-I-say, antiquated designs, and then over-engineer and over-develop them until they were absolutely the very best that they could be…and then just keep on making them! Germany was still producing machines like this when the Second World War broke out, at the end of the 1930s.

Where Does This Machine Come From?

The lands across the oceans, where rain sings and clouds mourn and flowers dance in the sand…

…I dunno! I was the only bidder on this machine at the local auction-house, and managed to get it dirt cheap (or as close to dirt as I was able to, given the setting)! I packed it up, paid for it, and then lugged it home by hand, almost putting my back out in the process! They didn’t do things by halves in those days! This thing weighs a ton!

What did the machine come with?

A bad attitude, a drinking problem, and a string of angry ex-wives.

Probably, but not this machine. No, it came with four bobbins, one shuttle, the original green-and-gold (how Australian!) tin machine-box, the original lid, key, and a beautiful set of intact decals and decorations! It really is a beauty!

What’s wrong with the machine?

Not too much. The bobbin-winder needs a minor repair, but apart from that, the machine works perfectly. Or it did, once I’d lubricated it, and adjusted all the relevant thread-tensions. This machine comes with a forward-back lever on it, which I was eager to test – I’d never had a vintage sewing machine with this feature on it before. I’m pleased to report that it works perfectly! In my eagerness to test the machine, I completely forgot all about thread-tension and as a result, of course, it wouldn’t sew! I adjusted the tension-nut on the side of the machine, and then adjusted the tension-screw on the shuttle as well, to get it working right.

Once I’ve repaired the bobbin winder itself, it’ll work wonderfully!

What Type of Machine is This?

Machines using this type of technology, involving a bullet-shaped shuttle with long, barbell-shaped bobbins, which swings back and forth, is called a ‘vibrating shuttle’ sewing machine (usually just called a ‘VS machine’ in collector circles).

In sewing machine evolution, it’s the second stage in sewing machine design, one step up from the older ‘Transverse shuttle’ machine (‘TS’).

VS machines were made from the late 1800s (about 1860s and 1870s), right up to the 1960s, although they were already outdated by about 1910. VS machines are popular because they hold large amounts of thread, and are fun to operate.

What is the ‘Wertheim’ Company?

The Wertheim company was established in 1868, by Joseph Wertheim. By the turn of the century, the machines were being sold in England, Spain, Germany, and even Australia! This last, was made possible by Hugo Wertheim (Joseph’s nephew), who migrated to Australia in 1875.

To say that young Hugo (and he was young, in his early 20s at the time), had buckets of money, is putting it mildly. As with any family which delved successfully into sewing machines in the 1800s, the Wertheim family, just like the Singer family, made an absolute fortune in manufacturing, distributing, exporting and selling these beautiful machines. This advertisement is all the proof you need!

Determined to make a name for himself, young Hugo became an importer of his family’s sewing machines, and made a deal with his Uncle Joseph to be the family’s representative in the colonies! Hugo started with an emporium in the Australian city of Melbourne, with his shopfront opening onto Flinders Lane, in the middle of the Melbourne Central Business District. In time, he would also expand into Bourke Street, William Street, and Collins Street, nearby.

Apart from sewing machines, Hugo, and his growing Australian branch of the wealthy House of Wertheim, also sold anything else with the Wertheim name on it, including bicycles, laundry-mangles, infant perambulators, and most famously of all – Pianos! And you can still buy Wertheim pianos easily in Australia today. They even had a factory manufacturing them in Richmond, a suburb east of the Melbourne CBD.

So what does this say about my Wertheim sewing machine? It proves that it was imported by a family which came to Australia, and made it big, in a big way! It’s a part of Australian, and Melbournian history, and I for one, am very glad to be its latest owner!


Puzzle Box No. 2!

Antique Singer sewing machines of the 27-28 variety, and the 15 variety had special toolboxes that came with them, when they were brand new, back in the 1880s and 1890s. Made of wood, rectangular in shape, with a square cross-section, these boxes held all the main tools and accessories that one of these machines would need: Bobbins, needles, screwdrivers, various attachments and bits and pieces which were vital to the smooth operation of the sewing machine.

Made from 1889 until about 1910, these wooden boxes, called “puzzle boxes”, by collectors, are relatively rare. Rare, because they were made for a short period of time, and rare because they were only made for two different types of Singer machines.

A few years back, I bought, and have since filled up – a puzzle box for my Singer 28 portable machine.

Since then, I got my hands on another sewing machine…

…which is a Singer 15, the only other model of Singer machine for which a puzzle box was made.

After cleaning, fixing and restoring this machine, I thought:

“Wouldn’t it be awesome if I had a puzzle box for this, too?” 

Then I thought:

“Yeah. Right…” 

Then about two weeks ago, I saw this…

That’s right! Another puzzle box!

It was empty, but it was cheap, so I snapped it up at once! I brought it home and started filling it up. So far, I’ve put in a screwdriver (left), a tucker (far right), a full packet of needles (far right, again), and a ruffler (Inner-right, top).

There’s still quite a few pieces missing (compare with upper box), but the main piece missing is the rack for the bobbins. Fortunately, this can be homemade. Bobbin racks for Singer 15 puzzle-boxes were shaped out of thin, steel wire, and once I’ve got the wire, I reckon it’ll be easy to shape it and simply screw it into place. Singer 15 puzzle boxes are even rarer than the 28 ones, or so I believe. I can’t wait to get this filled up and complete!

As Fats Waller said: “I’ve got my fingers crossed…” 






The Return of the Indian Star!

This took a bit longer than I expected, but here’s the result:

Is it perfect? No.

Does that matter? Probably not.

The machine wasn’t in perfect condition when I got it anyway, so it was never going to look as good as brand new. But at least here it looks complete again, with a front panel back on and the missing pieces replaced. All in all, a very pleasing result.

And there you have it. A 1945 Singer 15 ‘Indian Star’ back to working order and saved from almost certain destruction.

Here is the interior of the new base:

And here is the new bed-support, to stop the damn thing from SAGGING whenever it sits down (which believe me is more important than you might think – it prevents you from opening the slide-plate!):

This is what the same machine looked like about two weeks ago, when I got it home:


Back from the Dead: The Rise of the Indian Star!

The Indian Star! It sounds so regal. Like some great diamond hacked out of the dusty earth of the Subcontinent, back in the days of the Imperial Raj, which became the object of desire sought after by thieves and bandits and which played a key role in some dastardly Sherlock Holmes adventure!


THIS is the Indian Star:

It comes from this rather battered-looking Singer 15 sewing machine. My latest sewing-machine purchase:

At just $30 at the local flea-market, this thing was in a SORRY state when I got it. This is what the machine looked like after several hours of hard scrubbing and scouring to remove 70 years’ worth of grime!

That’s right. This machine dates all the way back to 1945! And for a machine that was missing its whole front panel, it was in pretty decent shape, apart from needing a damn good clean and a bit of rebuilding work. It came with its lid as well. Once I get the time I’ll rebuild the front panel and put in a new base for it (the base is absolutely dead), to keep this thing in one piece. It’s barely holding on as it is.

I replaced one hinge, the slide-plate and fixed a few other things, mostly by sanding or scrubbing off rust and grime.

This Singer is a ‘full-size’ machine. That means that it could fit into a treadle-base if I wanted it to. It’s an absolute beast and weighs a ton! It’s hard to believe that something like this (which weighs about 35lbs!) was ever considered “portable” back in the 1940s!!

Will be posting updates as this progresses…


Vintage Sewing Endeavor – A New Bag

I know this blog hasn’t been updated in over a month. That’s what happens when real-life affairs take precedence over online activities. From family events, looking for work and writing other stuff, I haven’t had much time to write much for here.

Well today I do.

I don’t drive. Never have, never will, can’t do it. Eyesight won’t allow it. Joy of joys. This greatly limits my mobility obviously, and I gotta rely on lifts from friends, public transport of questionable reliability, and a good pair of shoes. It also means I need a good bag. One that’s strong and which lasts. I don’t have the luxury of hauling half my house with me, dumping half of it in the car, taking what I choose, and then walking off somewhere and coming back later to get something else if I forgot. When I go out, I have to take everything I need with me, in one bag. This means that the bag has to be a decent size, good quality, and strong!

…What a pity that most of them aren’t.

In five years, I’ve had three bags, and they’ve all proved unsatisfactory in one way or another. They rip, they tear, they wear out, they fall apart…

I was so fed up with it that I decided to try and make my own bag. I researched fabrics and looked up designs online to try and figure out what my eventual bag would look like. I found a fabric warehouse in town which sells huge rolls of fabric to the public. They’re surplus from clothing-factories and they sell it off at so many dollars a square meter.

I showed up and got myself a healthy supply of denim fabric. I picked denim because I wanted a bag that was – first – blue, and – second – strong! Leather dries and cracks and flakes. And cotton just rips apart. I would’ve used canvas but I couldn’t find any, so I decided that denim would do as a suitable substitute.

I’ve never been much of a sewer, but I learned the basics from my grandmother – how to fold raw edges, how to sew seams, how to cut buttonholes and sew them by hand. How to measure, how to cut, how to make seam-allowances, and so-forth. I only do this stuff occasionally, so I’m still learning, but I felt that I had enough skill to try and make something which I would be comfortable using in public and carrying around. And so, I set to work.

Measurements and Calcuations

Before I did any cutting, the first thing I did was sketch what the bag would look like. I drew up a rough diagram and penciled in measurements on how wide, long, deep and high I wanted it, how many pockets, what the over-flap would look like, and so-forth. Now that I had the chance to make my own bag, I wanted to try and do it as best as I could. It wouldn’t look THAT professional, but still, I had a plan.

If you ever make a bag for yourself, like I did, one important thing to keep in mind with measurements is to decide what you’ll be putting in the bag, and to have those items near you when you’re doing your measurements. Measure the items you intend to put in the bag (laptop, iPad, umbrella, dead body, whatever…) and then proportion the bag accordingly so that whatever you put in will be housed securely and neatly. My big issue with a lot of my older bags was that they weren’t big enough to hold my bulkier items without compromising by chucking out other things which I might’ve needed. I was determined to make it and shape it to fit in everything I wanted.

Cutting the Fabric

To cut the fabric, I used my grandmother’s 8in. WISS tailor’s shears from the 50s. To get accurate measurements, I used one of those big, old-fashioned folding rulers made of wood, which have the measurements in inches. A modern plastic ruler warps and bends too much to be reliable when you’re cutting massive amounts of fabric. And this old wooden ruler extends to three feet long! More than enough for what I needed!

To try and minimise screw-ups, I measured how big I wanted the bag to be, then measured again, adding on extra inches, for seam-allowances, folding raw edges and for errors in my own calculations. To give the bag as much strength as possible, I used as few pieces of fabric as I could, and which pieces I did use, I tried to make them as big as possible.

The bag has eight pieces of fabric.

The first, huge piece was about a foot and a half wide, by three feet long. This gave me enough space to fold over the edges half an inch or so, to make space for mistakes, if there were any. The body of the bag is deliberately made of one big piece of fabric. The fewer seams there are, the fewer things there are to rip and tear, and the longer it’ll last.

Next came two side-panels for the end-walls of the bag. Then came pockets.

The bag has two pockets at the front, one big one at the back, two interior pockets, and one side-pocket for pens. I also cut extra red velvet fabric to act as a partial liner inside the bag, and some of the pockets. I didn’t have enough velvet to line the entire bag, so I just did the key areas. On top of that, I cut extra fabric for stuff like buttonholes, straps and so-forth.

Assembling the Bag

To put the bag together, I used my antique Singer:

My 1936 Singer Sewing Machine. A V.S. 128 model.

Friends have asked me questions about this machine for years.

“How do you use it?”
“Does it work?”
“How do you control it with only one hand?”
“Does it sew through thick fabrics?”
“Aren’t you scared about breaking it?”

The answers are:

“Yes” (although, not leather).
“No. It lasted this long, it’ll last a hell of a lot longer!”

I prefer using this machine to a modern one for all manner of reasons. It’s easier to set up, it’s much easier to operate, it’s HIGHLY portable and it’s forgiving of your mistakes!

The great thing about a manual sewing machine is that you can set it up literally ANYWHERE, regardless of light, space, and of course, whether or not there’s a power-outlet nearby! You just plonk it on the table, open it up, thread it, and sew!

The other great thing is that, since it IS a manual machine, you, yourself, decide how fast, or how slow, this machine is going to run. Not some electric motor with a gummy power-pedal which is as fidgety as a spooked stallion. This machine can go as slow and as fast as you want. Give it enough speed and a long-enough run-up, and it’ll punch through four, six, even eight layers of denim with no problems at all!

Because I can directly control the machine, I can decide precisely how to use it. I can run it at a snail’s pace if I’m doing something delicate, or as fast as I can turn the handle, to finish a seam. For someone with poor eyesight, it’s good to know that I can operate it slowly and precisely, when I need to get close and personal to my work and make sure that everything is lined up properly, instead of sewing my hands together!

Sewing the Components

Using my Singer, I sewed all the seams and lining and pockets, and then pieced everything together.

It’s easier to work with pieces and piece pieces to pieces and then put it together. That is, it’s easier to do that, than build the bag up, and THEN try and tack extras onto it like pockets and loops. It’s better to build up each component with all its necessities, before building the bag itself. That way there’s nothing leftover at the end to vex you! Some elements were easier to do than others, but I’m glad to say that about 90% of the sewing for this bag was done on my old Singer. The only hand-sewing I did was to sew on the buttons for closure, and to cut and sew the buttonholes by hand (I didn’t trust the sewing machine to stitch in the buttonholes reliably with its buttonholer-attachment, which has failed before now).

There was a time where I had considered sewing in a zipper or two on the bag, but in the end I decided to leave that to another project. I’d rather stick with what I knew for this project, and try that another time. I was much more comfortable with buttons and buttonholes, and I didn’t want the bag to be too ambitious, and screw it up at the last minute! That said, the button-closures I did make have worked very well!

I made the buttonholes vertical instead of horizontal. This would, I hoped, prevent the fabric from tearing from constant opening and closing. At the front of the bag, I made denim tags and sewed rope loops into them, to act as buttonholes, as I reckoned these would last longer than ordinary buttonholes, since they would be opened and closed more often than others. I used large, brass buttons instead of plastic ones. Plastic cracks and breaks and brass is stronger. To sew them in place, I used string instead of thread, so that they wouldn’t snap or wear out easily.

Attaching the hardware came next. To do that, I used more spare denim to cut tabs for holding down the D-rings for the shoulder-strap. I made everything here double-thickness and sewed everything back and forth, over and over at least two or three times on each side, since they would be taking the entire weight of the bag on just two points. I wanted to make sure that everything was secure.

When sewing, I used navy blue thread. I wanted a thread that matched the colour of the denim as near as possible. Admittedly, this was to camouflage my own deficiencies in sewing. If I was better Might’ve used white thread, but I didn’t want any mistakes or obvious screw-ups to stand out. And at any rate, I doubt anybody would be looking closely enough to really care. In the end, this was the result:

The Finished Bag:

The finished bag. The canvas and leather strap came from one of my previous bags which was falling apart.

The back of the bag with a three-button closure on the back pocket. I originally wanted to use brass snaps, but they weren’t strong enough.

One of the D-rings for attaching the strap.

Considering that this is my first real attempt at something like this, I’m pretty pleased at how it turned out, although the proof of quality will be in how long it lasts! We’ll see!


Return of the Winder – Some Things Just Die Hard

A while back, I made this post about trying to fix the malfunctioning bobbin-winder on my antique Singer sewing machine.

Despite my most determined efforts, and my initial success, it still failed to work flawlessly all the time. It kept jamming or loosening, and none of my adjustments worked well enough for it to be a lasting repair.

 In the end, I completely disassembled the winder to see how it was put together, and what were its component parts.

It assembles in this way:

Nut – Bolt -*WINDER-ARM* – Bolt – Washer – Toothed Wheel – Heart-Cam – Bolthead/screw-head.

My attempts to fix the jamming and loosening by adjusting the nut at the end of this assembly were unsuccessful. On a whim, I added a second, small, flat, round brass washer into the mix, between the bolt and the main wheel, but still kept the original washer (a flat, thin, slightly concave piece of metal) in-place. My guess was that the original washer was probably damaged or worn out from 70-odd years of use.

I reassembled the ‘new, and improved’ bobbin-winder, with the additional brass washer in place, and screwed everything in tight and firm.

And that has made all the difference, so it seems.

The addition of one small piece of metal has had the most remarkable, and pleasing result, in that the bobbin-winder now works 100% flawlessly! I’m very pleased with the results! Yay!!



My, What Big Teeth You Have!

Out of boredom, I decided to remove the dust-cover on my sewing-machine’s crank-assembly to see what it looked like underneath, and maybe clean it up a bit. This was what I found:

The crank-cover is held on by two screws. You can see them lying on the lid of the attachments-compartment under the balance-wheel. The screws are loosened and then the ring-shaped cover is simply slipped off and over the hand-crank to reveal the teeth of the gear-wheel behind it.

This was filled with old gunk and dried oil or grease. So I cleaned it out with some cotton-buds. Then, I put the cover back.

It’s nice to see the workmanship on something as simple as a pair of gear-wheels. The teeth are good and long, so they lock together really well. No chance of the gears slipping and failing to mesh together.


The Gang’s All Here: A Full and Complete Puzzle-Box!

It has taken six months of searching, but I finally have a full set of FIVE BOBBINS for my Singer 128k puzzle-box! Huzzah! Here they are:

Five bobbins in their holder, all in a neat little row!

This is the full and complete puzzle-box!

From Left to Right:

– Tucker-Foot
– Original green paper SINGER needle-packet. Filled with foil-paper, and complement of 12 needles in their little paper sleeves. (wrapped in tape to preserve it and prevent further deterioration. Needles are still accessible and usable, though).
– Clip with the original complement of five bobbins.

– Braider-Foot.
– Hemmer-clamp Foot.
– Ruffler-foot.
– Quilting Foot (not part of the original box. But chucked it in anyway)

– Rack of five hemmer-feet, ranging from 1/8th inch, to 1in.
– Binder-foot.

– Shirring plate
– Underbraider
– Hole-puncher (extreme right)
– Screwdriver (next-right)
– Needle-threader
– Seam-guide + screw.
– Bias Gauge

This is more-or-less how the box would’ve appeared (there were variations on this throughout the roughly 30 years that these boxes were produced) when it was purchased, brand-new, ca. 1900. There were a total of fourteen different variations on Singer puzzle-boxes, and they were produced for Singer vibrating-shuttle machines (Singer VS2, 27-28 series) and for Singer 15 series machines. When and why they ceased production seems to be unknown.

Here’s the machine and all its other bits and pieces, along with the unfolded puzzle-box:

Other attachments include the buttonholer (big box in front of the case-lid), the blind-stitcher (left), zig-zagger (right, next to the machine-bed), and the unfolded puzzle-box! Now full and complete. And a traditional green “SINGER” attachments box stored inside the machine’s compartment under the crank-handle.


Antique Sewing-Machines – Cleaning the Decals

One of the BIG draw-cards for antique sewing machines are decals.

Decals are the decorative stencils and patterns which were transferred and printed onto the cast-iron bodies of these antique beauties back in the factory, when they were being made. Although most of these patterns were never given names, sewing machine collectors, restorers and users have given them names in modern times, to help us differentiate between them. Such as “Victorian“, “Egyptian Sphinx“, “Filigree“, “Indian Star“, “Lotus” and “Red Eye“, to name a few.

Antique sewing machines which have spent years and decades in rough storage can often have their decals dulled, gritted up and darkened by years of dust, grime and gunk which have gathered on the machine, and then dried and crusted over.

Some people leave the machines as they are. While others wish to buff them up and restore them. Understandably, some people are scared of doing this, for fear of simply scraping the paintwork off and losing the patterns altogether!

On a whim, I conducted a small experiment today.

My Singer 128k is my ongoing restoration-project. And for a while, the gunky, grimed up decals have been an eyesore to me. Pondering how to clean them, I discovered a very simple and easy method:

Steel Wool. 

To buff the decals and polish and scrape off all the accumulated grime, dust, grease, cigarette smoke, nicotine and other gunk that has built up on the surface of my Singer, I used extremely fine-grit steel wool.

You can buy this stuff at your hardware shop. It comes in lumps in cardboard boxes like cotton wool. Buy the FINEST GRADE steel-wool – nothing else. Finest-grade steel-wool is specifically for polishing and buffing and removing gunk and rust.

Tear off a small lump, about the size of your thumb. Roll it into a ball or mash it into a pad, and then simply buff and polish away on the decals to remove the grime.

Here are the results:

Before (on the left), and After (on the right)

Here’s the decal at the base of the head:

Before: Dull, dark and covered in grime

After: Bright, clear and shiny! Don’t worry about the white specks you see everywhere. That’s the dust and lint from the steel-wool. You can just wipe it off later with a piece of tissue-paper

Here’s the main “SINGER” decal:

Look at how dark and brown the decal around the screw-head is

After a buffing with steel-wool, it looks like this:


This is the decal on the other side of the pillar:

Oh yuuuuck! Eww…

Clean and pretty!

The set of decals on this machine are called the Victorian.

Gosh this is satisfying 🙂 How’s that old Brylcreem ad go?

Steel wool,
A little clump’ll do yah,
Use more, only if you dare,
Watch out, the re-sults may surprise you,
You’ll want to try and use it everywhere… 

…it’s also great for polishing your knob…

Reflecty! Ooh…

…on the end of your sewing machine, that is!


A Singer Model 27/28 Puzzle-Box!

A box without hinges, key, or lid, 
A golden treasure, inside, is hid. 
What is it? 

A Singer “Puzzle Box”!!:

The top reads: “PATENTED FEBRUARY 19, 1889”

My father and I went out antiquing today. Today being Australia Day, we did what all red-blooded Aussie blokes do!

We went to the annual Fryerstown Antiques Fair.

Nine hours of father-son bonding. And in the 30’c heat, we almost bonded permanently! Phoof! It was hot!

The Finding of the Box of Power

I’ve been mesmerised by these things ever since I saw pictures of them on the International Sewing-Machine Collector’s Society (ISMACS) website. And I figured I’d like one for my own long-bobbin Singer 128 sewing machine. I remembered seeing such a box at the previous year’s antiques fair, and went off today in hopes of finding one.

I knew that my chances were slim. Such things are rare in Australia. We never made this stuff, we only ever imported it. Whatever exists today is whatever hasn’t been thrown out, smashed, trashed, lost in floods, fires or tornadoes, and which has been lovingly stored in someone’s attic or basement.

We perused the market and saw many interesting things, took pictures and bought a couple of trinkets. But nothing was there that made us go “oooh…”. Or at least, not for the prices they were asking! I don’t go ‘ooh’ unless I get a good return on my investment!

Chugging home, we passed through a small-town antiques shop. We stopped and went inside. And, laid out on the table like some ancient tapestry was the puzzle-box…

The box completely unfolded, showing everything inside. I’ve examined pictures from old manuals, and I think mine is about 95-98% complete. There are one or two small pieces missing. Hell, it’s 100+ years old. You can’t expect everything…

I was enthralled and I almost did a wild little skip of joy. But then I saw the price and the skip of joy might’ve led to me twisting my ankle as I came crashing back down to earth again. But, I was lucky enough that the owner let me knock off a third of the price. So, I rolled it up and trotted it back home.

What is a Singer ‘Puzzle Box’?

Collectors call these whimsical little containers ‘Puzzle Boxes’. Probably because the only way the box folds up properly is when EVERYTHING is in its correct position (otherwise the lid won’t close). But, when these were introduced in 1889, they caused a sensation. The design was so ingenious that the designer, John M. Griest, a Singer Manufacturing Co. employee, was granted a patent for it.

The Puzzle-Box all folded up

They were originally called “Style Boxes”. And they were designed to hold a complement of attachments and other accessories (bobbins, screwdrivers, needles, thimbles etc), which would be used with the new, improved Singer vibrating-shuttle line of sewing machines. In all, 14 variations of the ‘Style Box’ was created. And they were accordingly named sequentially. There are no markings on my box to tell me which of these fourteen variations mine is. If anyone can work it out based on the photographs, please let me know! 

The box with one side dropped open

The puzzle-boxes came with all kinds of attachments and bits and pieces. Bobbins, screwdrivers, hemmers, binders of varying sizes, seam-guides (an essential attachment if you can’t hold your fabric straight to save your life), and all other manner of nick-nacks. They are without a doubt, one of the greatest things ever invented for a sewing machine after the point-eye needle.

My four long bobbins for my 128 now have a home of their own! Don’t they look cute all tucked up in bed?

Puzzle boxes were manufactured for both Singer round-bobbin No. 15 domestic machines, and for Singer, long-bobbin No. 27 & 28-class domestic machines. The puzzle-boxes catering to each style of machine varied slightly, due to the size and style of the bobbins used in each respective machine.

I love the ingenuity of design with this box. But one thing I love even more is just how solidly its built. Steel parts, purple felt, and solid wood sides. These days, we’d get something like this made of plastic parts in a plastic box that cracks and warps and melts. This has held its shape and integrity for at least 100 years.

We Interrupt this Program to Bring you some Breaking News…

Here are some of the antique sewing machines which I saw for sale, while I was out antiquing today:

A Singer 27 “Coffin-top”, probably from the turn of the century

Then I saw this, next to it…

Singer 27 with an early-style bentwood case, which would eventually become a trademark of Singer

And then I saw this cute little number…

Jah, das ist ein Frister und Rossmann transverse shuttle nahmaschine, mein herr. Gemacht im Deutschland!

This was a cute little thing I saw in an antique shop on the way home…

An antique “NATIONAL” machine. Cute, huh?