Tuesday, March 5, 2013

One Man's Trash is Another Man's Sewing Machine

Although I don't blog about it all that much anymore, sewing is one of my favorite hobbies. I make things for the house as needed such as pillows, window treatments, and alterations to kids' clothes, mostly I make clothing for myself. It has been years since I shopped retail for clothing. Everything I wear is either hand made, thrifted, or both (as in refashions). So I am a big enthusiast of sewing machines, and I have amassed quite a collection of both modern and vintage machines that each shine in their own way. The truly amazing thing about vintage sewing machines is just how well made and really powerful they are. Sure they don't have automatic threaders or fancy stitches, but hit the right yard sale and you can get all sorts of cool vintage attachments like ruffler feet, narrow hem feet, and, well, frankly I haven't figured out what half the feet are even for.

Last year I was venturing out on my own one weekend and I spotted a big piece of plywood spray painted with FREE on it. I slowed down and decided to pass on the 80s era coffee tables and lamps, but then I saw a sewing machine and did a U-turn to snatch it up. Which isn't exactly the right description since the thing weighed about 40 lbs, but I tossed it in the car as best I could, and then excitedly called my husband even though I'd only been gone five minutes and we likely hadn't been out of each other's sight in weeks. You can call it co-dependent, but I call it teamwork!It;s just that an awesome discovery doesn't really mean anything without an appreciative audience!

My real hope for the thing was that I could use the table to hold my beloved vintage Pfaff that is currently residing in the lower part of the original carrying case (which has seen better days). But after getting it home and checking it out, I realized that the White Rotary machine was actually in a lot better shape than I'd initially thought. It was manufactured in 1917, but had been converted with a motor and installed in a new cabinet at some point probably in the 50s (based on the motor assembly). Still, it was worth salvaging, and although the cabinet was gross, I had faith that it could be beautiful once again!

This was after I'd started to take it apart and with a bit of sanding done. It was mildew-y, as if it had sat in a shed or wet basement for awhile, but it wasn't peeling apart like the last sewing machine cabinet I dealt with.

Unfortunately, the top did have some damage, so it seemed like painting would be better than stripping and staining it. The thingie on the left is a cool slide out mechanism that transfers the weight of the top when open back down through the case into the legs. I like that much better than the kind that rely on the front panel to be opened in order to support the weight of the top.

The little plug box was wired through the cabinet, so it must have come with it and was added at the same time as the external motor. There was no pedal with the machine, so I scavenged one from an old, broken Singer machine and rewired everything to get the machine up and running. Much to my surprise, the lightbulb still worked!

The machine itself was a good bit more work. I had to clean it all up, but also ended up taking most of it apart so that I could get inside and oil the appropriate bits and pieces. It took awhile, but eventually I got it all cleaned up (when I say "I", I mean that Neal helped a lot. This thing is HEAVY!) and working with only the addition of a new belt.

Interesting fact about White Rotary machines? They run backward.You have to spin the wheel away from you instead of  toward you as on most modern machines. There's a threaded hole to add a handle so that this machine can be worked manually with only the upper body. Also, they thread sideways - from left to right.

Once it was working, I was really excited to get the cabinet finished. I sanded it by hand with 100-, 150- and then 220-grit sandpaper, and then went over it again with 0000 steel wool. Honestly I didn't do that great a job since I was planning to prime and paint it. When we went to buy the spray paint, Neal talked me into trying Krylon Dual Paint + Primer in Glossy Black. This stuff is AMAZING! I've spray painted a lot of things in my life, but I'm not sure any have turned out as well. I sprayed on probably three coats, maybe four in some spots, just to make sure it had good coverage.

And voila!

I wish I had a picture of the whole thing when I first grabbed it, but I assure you, it looked nothing close to this. The machine cleaned up pretty nicely, too.

And of course there's the additional fact that now it works. 

Look how shiny! Although the handles and hinges are brass, no amount of steel wool or Brasso was helping, so I primed them, painted them with chrome spray paint, and then used antique gold Rub and Buff, followed by a coat of clear acrylic to seal it in.

When it's closed, I can shove the pedal into that little shelf on the door so that it just looks like a table.

I'm very very happy with this restoration, now I just have to think of something to make with the crazy, backwards sewing machine!

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