quilts, treadle sewing machines, crochet, watercolor, dogs, & other fun stuff

Welcome, Singer 15!

There’s a new old sewing machine in the house.  
That is, a new-to-me vintage sewing machine.  
It’s been here in the house for a while, actually, but what with one thing and another, I haven’t gotten around to writing about it until now.  
Okay!  Confession:  I actually wrote most of this blog post back in March, and I’m only now coming back to the draft in late August.  It’s long and rambling, but I’ll probably keep most of it.  There will be a “too long; didn’t read” summary just before the photos.  
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As much as I like the Minnesota, it has its drawbacks– the special needles and the less-common (and more difficult to replace) shuttle.  I’m almost afraid to use it too much, for fear that I’ll completely wear out the shuttle… I still will use it, I guess, and just hope for the best (and maybe find a spare shuttle, if I can), but I thought it might be nice to have a more modern vintage treadle.  Something with a rotary-style bobbin assembly.  Something that uses modern, typical needles.  A Singer or Singer clone, so replacement parts (if needed) would be easier to come by.  
I won’t go into the long story of how we acquired this machine and brought it to its present condition.  The short version is that this treadle cabinet didn’t come with this machine.  It’s an older style base, but it’s in better condition than what came with the Model 15, so we traded it out.  (That’s another good thing about Singers– the cabinets are so readily available, and most of the Singer machine heads fit interchangeably into any Singer-style cabinet.  Of course, things get more complicated if you have one of the ¾-size machines, the Singer 28, the Singer 128, and the Singer 99.  Those are different because they’re three-quarters of the size of the standard machines.)  
If we fix up the other cabinet– it needs a bolt or two and could use some aesthetic improvements– I might trade them back, eventually… We’ll see!  This one is prettier than the more modern cabinet, though– more ornate.  (I’m fairly sure that two of the drawers in this cabinet have been replaced, though.  Either that or the decorative elements fell off, at some point.  I think it still looks nice, though.)
It wasn’t easy finding a local non-electric Singer 15, for some reason.  This one was electrified, too, but it was the type with the external motor that is quick and easy to remove.  Take out a few screws, slip off the belt, put away the motor and foot pedal, and it’s ready for treadling, unlike the Singer 15-91, which has a potted motor that (from what I understand) is not easy to convert for treadling (if it’s possible at all).  
Most of the Model 15’s I saw for sale around here were the 15-91 type with the built-in motor.  This one is– I believe– a 15-88.  There are quite a few variations, so… Who knows, really?!  Actually, I believe this one came with a solid handwheel, so according to this chart, that means it’s a 15-90, but since we changed the solid handwheel out for a spoked one– and that seems to be the only real difference between the two– perhaps that means it’s now converted to a 15-88… 

Well, anyway.  It doesn’t matter.  It’s a Model 15 that works on a treadle base, which is what I wanted.  I would’ve been happy with a Japanese-made Singer 15 clone, but even those seemed difficult to come by.  They come in some beautiful colors (pastel pink, powder blue, mint green, red etc.) and are evidently quality machines.  In some places, you can– or could, recently– find them priced very cheaply (under $20, even) in second-hand shops, but we weren’t able to find any around here.  (If I ever do find one for $20 or less, I’d snap it right up!)

So, back to this machine…
After a few ups and downs, I think it’s running pretty well.  It came with only one suitable bobbin, so I ordered more, because I wanted spares.  I say there was only one “suitable” bobbin, because there were actually a few others included with the attachments, but none of the others are the correct type!  A couple are clearly the wrong size.  They’re too large to fit into the bobbin case.  There’s one that fits, but it’s narrower than it should be and doesn’t completely fill the bobbin case.  After a little research, I learned that it’s a bobbin for a Singer 66.  You’re not supposed to use the class 66 bobbin in a Singer 15, really, and besides, it holds less thread than a class 15 bobbin. Not ideal. 
During all this research, I learned that the class 15 bobbin is standard for many (most?) modern domestic sewing machines.  It’s the same size I use on my computerized Brother, for instance, so while waiting for the new replica bobbins to arrive, I thought I’d try one of those modern, plastic bobbins on the Model 15.  (Maybe I need a better name for this machine… I’m not great about remembering and using actual names for inanimate objects, though.  I have enough trouble remembering people’s names!) 
This modern, plastic bobbin does fit just right, as far as I can tell, and the machine sews with it.  However, I did have some issues with the top thread sometimes getting caught in the bobbin area.  I don’t know if that could be linked to the incorrect bobbin or if it was due to something else entirely.  (From what I read online, it could stem from a variety of causes– bad needle, needing oil, incorrect threading, etc.)  After removing the plastic bobbin, I went back to the original one, and I haven’t tried the new metal bobbins enough to say if they work perfectly or not.  I’ve just been refilling the original one whenever it runs out.  It does last a long time!  If it’s ever lost or damaged, though, I’d need a working replacement.
We bought this machine in Pensacola, FL, from a young woman who didn’t know anything about its history.  It wasn’t a family heirloom, and she didn’t know where it came from originally.  (August-Me thinks she said she bought it up in Tennessee, but I’m not certain I didn’t just make that up!)  All I know for certain is that, based on its serial number, it was allotted on November 10, 1950– one of 17220 Singer Model 15s for that date.  I find it interesting that it’s from 1950, yet it has the blue-rimmed badge that reads as follows:  “Century of Sewing Service, 1851-1951”.  I guess they just couldn’t wait until 1951 to start their centennial celebration!  (Just looked it up; this badge was used from 1950-1952.) 

The decal pattern used on this sewing machine is known as “Trefoil” or “Trefoils”, and apparently it was used to decorate Model 15s from the 1930s through the 1950s.  

There’s not much to say about the treadle cabinet, except that we got it in Mobile County, where it had been in the family for generations– maybe bought new just a few years before 1920. 
I have it set up in the living room (our main room) for now.  There’s not space for it in my craft room, unless I move something else out first.  It seems okay where it is.  Luna’s crate right next to it on the left gives a little extra surface to put strings (pretty much the only thing I sew on the treadle), and the little TV tray with the iron fits to the right.  Everything can be pulled out or tucked back, as needed.  I’ve added a couple of LED lamps– one floor lamp and one clip-on lamp– to make it bright enough for comfortable sewing at night.  
“Too Long; Didn’t Read” Summary:
It’s a Singer Model 15 from 1950 fitted into an older (date unknown, possibly circa 1920) treadle cabinet/base.  I have it set up in the main room/living room, because there’s no space in my craft room.

Here are a few photos:

And here it is at night, with the LED lights on:

I’ve been using it quite a bit lately.  All the string blocks for the string-block HST project were pieced on this machine, as were the rainbow color string blocks on my design wall in an earlier blog post.  I think I’m getting better at treadling, though there’s still (always!) room for improvement.  
I wouldn’t want to have to sew on a treadle all the time (though I suppose I could, if I had to), but there’s something special about powering the sewing machine with your own motion.  It’s just more fun to sew (when you’re sewing something simple, like strings).  It feels calmer, somehow.  I don’t know if it’s just a reaction to the charm and history of an old-fashioned sewing machine or if it has something to do with the motion of treadling.  Maybe it’s the sound the machine makes.  It’s a different experience from sewing on a modern, motorized machine.  
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Sidetrack:  I don’t remember if I’ve shared this link before… “The Torture of the Treadle Sewing Machine”.  I’ve read it before, but just happened across it again.  Apparently, in the late 1800s a competitor of the treadle sewing machine used some sort of spring-powered contraption instead of a treadle to power their machines.  In a bid to scare people away from treadles, they made outrageous claims about how treadling was dangerous and detrimental to women’s health.  “Thousands of women killed by treadles”– for instance.  Anyway, it’s an interesting article/blog post for fans of treadle sewing machines or historical curiosities.  


I’m Michael (a female Michael, to remove any doubt).  I live on the Alabama Gulf Coast with my husband, Donald, and our crazy American Eskimo Dogs. 

I love to fill my spare time with various crafts and other hobbies, and this blog is where I share photos, record my progress, and ramble endlessly.

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