Sewing on a Singer 66.

I mentioned last week that I’ve been sewing on a Singer 66 foot-treadle sewing machine, so I thought I’d post a little bit about the machine.

My family has it because about thirty years ago one of my father’s co-workers bought a furnished house, and was going to throw this sewing machine away. My dad bought it from them for $10, and since then, it’s lived in my parents’ house in Connecticut. (That house had no electricity when I was a child, thus the mechanical sewing machine rather than an electric one.)

I learned to sew on this machine when I was around ten or twelve, and played with the foot treadle and base of the table before then: it made a great fort if you draped sheets around it and you were very, very small.

These days, it usually looks like a little table right next to the dining room table:
S66-Closed

When you remove the candles and runner, you can see that at some point in its history, it wasn’t treated all that well. One of my projects for this summer is to lightly sand off the existing finish and oil the wood, to help it be a little better protected from the sun. I did the same thing to my spinning wheel a couple of years ago: it takes focus, and willingness to do rather tedious, repetitive work, but the end result is completely worth it: the wood just gleams. But that’s in the future. For now, it looks like this:
S66-Closed-bare

Then you flip open the tabletop, which folds up to the left, and you see that this little table holds something rather more interesting than a drawer! Other than, of course, the four drawers it has on its sides, which are fabulous for holding thread and pins and needles and scissors and all the other notions you want to put somewhere close at hand. This machine is really well designed.
S66-Open-flat

You flip up the piece of wood closest to you, (which is unfortunately a little hard to tell in this picture):
S66-Open-One-Up

Then you look in: it’s a sewing machine! Lying on its side!
S66-Open-Look-In

You pull the machine up, and lift it just high enough that the front piece of wood goes beneath it: the machine rests on it, and stays up and solid. This is a really well-engineered machine, and it all fits together very well.
S66-Open-Up

From a little more of a distance, it looks like this:
S66-Open-Up-Full

Then you make sure the belt goes around the drive wheel, under the table, and check it’s seated properly around the machine’s wheel, and you’re almost ready to go. You can see the drive band in this picture: it’s the red thing that loops around the cast-iron wheel. When you treadle, the large wheel (let’s call it the drive wheel) goes around: the belt connects it to a smaller wheel on the machine, and a series of little gears and belts powers the machine, making the needle go up and down as you treadle.
S66-Treadle

Now you’re almost ready to sew! You thread the machine (and this is one of the places where looking at the manual I found online was helpful, as I was running the thread just a smidge wrong before:
S66-Open-Up-Threaded

The biggest difference for me in sewing on this machine, once I’d gotten it oiled properly and the tension adjusted (you turn the large knob on the head of the machine to adjust the top thread tension, and the bobbin thread just sort of does its own thing), is that you have to remember that your feet need to keep moving. Once it’s in the swing of things, this is easy enough: it’s trying to sew while the machine is still waking up (so to speak) that’s a chore. Sometimes I’d have to re-start the wheel by hand on each full rock of the treadle, because it stalled out, which was very annoying.

But I did learn to sew on this machine, so it came back to me — kind of like riding a bicycle, I suppose. It’s the same muscle-memory coming back to help you, after all. I still found that my seams are less precise (I don’t have a quarter-inch foot for this machine, for one thing, thus the masking tape) and that the fabric tends to drag more — I’m going to try buffing the bottom of the foot, to see if getting rid of some of the corrosion will help the fabric move more smoothly. Overall, though, it’s a fun project, and I’m really enjoying myself — I feel very lucky to get the chance to use this, and to also be able to go home and use an electric machine with a simple one-foot-pedal, which always seems so easy in comparison when I first get home!

If there’s anything in particular you’d like to know about the machine, just ask — if I know the answer, I’ll answer to the best of my ability!

I’m not sure when this machine was made: there are a lot of websites about the history of sewing machines, and they mostly seem to suggest that the Singer 66 model was made for a long period of time. I don’t know how to localize it more specifically than that.

Let’s end with a quick reminder about the Lets Get Acquainted Blog Hop on Plum and June. Today is the Monday link up!

Head on over to find out who will be posting this week, and check out their blogs on Tuesday and Thursday — you’ll find some really excellent tutorials and quilters this way.

About Alisa

I'm a graduate student studying medieval European history. I knit, spin, quilt, and occasionally sew other things. I learned to knit and sew from my grandmother as a child: spinning I picked up on my own thanks to stubbornness and the internet. I have two spinning wheels and one sewing machine, and more knitting needles than I probably really need. My yarn and fiber stash is large enough that I think I'm probably well supplied for the aftermath of the zombie apocalypse.
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4 Responses to Sewing on a Singer 66.

  1. Books_Bound says:

    What a gorgeous, well-thought-out machine. It’s great you’re giving it a new life and allowing it to be loved and used, rather than a mere decorative piece!

    • Alisa says:

      It really is a remarkable machine — I count myself very lucky to be able to work with it. And the more I learn about it, the more impressed I become: it’s so very flexible!

  2. Reuben says:

    Good grief. I think we have one of those tables tucked away somewhere in my parents’ house.

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