Sewing Machine Bios


Happy Earth Day to you! 13 Days and Counting til the opening of the South of the James Market in Forest Hill Park! To while away the time, here’re bios on the three handcrank machines I bring to the market in rotation. With the handcrank of the day I make rice bags with interested children – the bags are free, but each child has to crank the machine while I maneuver the fabric; hold the bag open while I pour in the rice; and catch the trimmings as I pink around the edges to finish.

1895 Singer Model 28 – aka, Persimmony Snickett: This is my first handcrank, and still a favorite. I found it in the West End Antique Mall here in Richmond. I’d been looking for a treadle until I discovered handcranks in 2005 – Mary Biggs brought hers to the Folk Festival that year to help us make quilts tops in the Children’s Area. This machine was in excellent shape – missing only the check spring, which All Brands on Broad Street replaced for me. Its case has a square wooden top resembling a tea chest. It’s a vibrating shuttle machine, which means the long bobbin case moves back and forth. Bobbins are hard to come by, and don’t hold as much thread as modern day round bobbins, but I have enough.

1959 Spartan: This machine is stamped ‘made by Singer’ and is same machine as the Singer Model 99. Like the model 28s, it’s 3/4 size. When I first saw it I thought it was a Featherweight, but those machines are 1/2 the size of a standard cabinet model. It has a round bobbin, with a convenient finger lever for popping the bobbin out of the drop-in case. This is so much easier to work with than the later Singers with the removable bobbin cases. This machine came with a motor and foot pedal. With the info available on the Treadle-On people-powered sewing machine website, and the help of my father, we were able to convert it to handcrank.  It has the added ability to stitch in reverse – flip the reverse switch and continue cranking in the same direction! The Spartan was sold without any accessories and without a case.  When I found this one at an estate sale it was in an old tweed suitcase with slanted sides made for a different machine.  At one of the Treadle On Gatherings I found a round top case from an early 1900’s machine that my father modified to fit this handcrank.  For more photos of the case, see Spartan Case Photos.

1920 Singer Model 28: A friend of my mother’s mentioned she had the handcrank sewing machine that her mother brought from England and had made all her clothes on.  I was eager to see it, and thought I might offer to buy it if it was in good condition.  When she showed it to me, the case was broken and the machine itself was frozen with rust. Storage in a Florida basement for many years will do that.  I asked her what she was going to do with it and she said, ‘Give it to you!’  I was a little concerned that I may not be able to get it working. With the help of my husband and a lot of penetrating oil and good old machine oil, it sews like a charm!  This is the same model as the 1895, so it also has a long bobbin in a vibrating shuttle.  The top of the case, which my father repaired for me, is curved.

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