Sunday 11 August 2013

“Cuts out all fatigue!”

First of all, I’m so very pleased and relieved to report that my Singer 8280 is back, almost as good as new (I say almost, as there's currently some alignment problems with the slide-on table which was caused by transit that I'm trying to sort out). It arrived about a week ago, carefully wrapped in layers and layers of cardboard and bubblewrap (so much that I actually gave up before all the bubbles were popped). In fact, the machine sews in a much more smooth fashion, and makes less noise when it does so.

But this post is all about my vintage Singer 99k. When my modern Singer was away, naturally I turned to my beautiful 99k, as of course, a week or two without sewing was not going to be an option. Before then, although I had test sewed on a couple of fabric samples with the vintage machine, I had no real reason to use it for an entire garment, when my loyal and familiar is already on the table, ready to go.

As soon as I started using the 99k, I fell in love with it. Of course I can’t deny the vintage factor, where I feel that I’m touching a piece of history with my own hands, but man is it a good little worker. Here’re just a few reasons why I love working with it:

  1. It’s a solid piece of kit. The metal body not only looks curvy and attractive, but it is also more robust when compared to a modern version with a plastic casing. Also, it gets through thicker fabric without trouble, so is very versatile indeed. I’m already looking forward to working with some tricky fabric with it.
  2. The generous work surface. The integrated fold-up table helps, but the area below the arm is also much wider so that it’s easier to handle a larger amount of fabric underneath. I was really surprised by how much of a difference it made, and this was particularly appreciated when I was inserting the lapped zipper onto my dropped waist dress, and when I was adding the tape to some curtains. Big thumbs up for this one.
  3. The handwheel is so easy to use. These machines were first made as hand crank versions, so the handwheel was a critical part of the entire operation. Luckily my 99k is a 1950s version with a motor and foot pedal included already (see above the picture taken from the instruction manual, and hence the title of this post. The picture made me laugh!), yet I found the handwheel to be of great help at the start (to get the motor going) and at the end of each seam. It’s so much easier to turn, and gives you a lot more control manually.
  4. The speed. Once it gets going, and if you are sewing a straight line with your foot down, I’ll tell you, this machine does not mess about! It gets up to quite a speed! I don’t know what it can get up to per hour, but I was very grateful of this when I was altering some curtains. Once the thread is threaded, and the tensions are sorted, the project was done in no time!
  5. The backstitch function. I’ll be honest here - it took me a while to realise that my 99k had this function (as the older ones don’t often do this), and by then I had already convinced myself that I did not need this. But the massive relief when I realised that it did backstitch showed me that I was just kidding myself.
  6. Its compatibility with my various sewing feet. Although it does not have a “snap-on” foot like my modern machine, its shank is interchangeable with that from my modern Singer, which means that all my sewing pressure feet can still be used on the vintage model. Bravo Singer! This is a pleasant surprise and is very much appreciated, certainly in a world where everything appears to have new versions very quickly, which then render the original accessories largely useless, be it cables, chargers, cases, even sim cards... 

Of course, it is only a fairly basic machine, and did take me a little bit of time to familiarise myself with the threading, etc. A particular struggle I had was with winding the bobbin – the instructions and the pictures are for an earlier model, so I scratched my head for quite a while before consulting the knowledgeable YouTube. The other slight difficulty is that it does a straight stitch only – it was great to use when I wanted to assemble things, but not so great for finishing seams. In fact, I’ve still got the seams on my dropped waist dress to do! After wearing it out for our 1st anniversary meal at the end of last month!

So what's next? Now that my modern machine is back, will I continue to use the 99k? Yep, without a doubt. As I have been enjoying its smooth action so much in the last few weeks, I think I may actually try and do all the assembling with the 99k in the future, and let my 8280 do the trickier bits, such as inserting an invisible zipper, finishing the seams with the overlocker foot, and of course, working with jersey, which is what I’m hoping to do next!

Do you have a vintage sewing machine? Do you use it, and do you love using it?


  1. Ooo your machine is so beautiful and how fantastic you can use your other presser feet. I don't have a vintage sewing machine . . . yet.

    1. Hehe, yet is the key word I see! I think I snapped mine up from ebay for £25! I'm a very happy bunny :)

  2. I have a Singer Featherweight! It's more or less my only reliable machine, though it is supplemented with a series of old-ish machines that do zigzag, but not very well. It has some tension issues and I really want to take it to a shop and have them show me how to maintain it properly, but for the most part it's a dream. Finishing the seams is a pain though, I try to flat-fell or french seam everything and resort to the zigzag machine only on things like princess-seams.

    1. Woo a Singer Featherweight sounds very exciting! Lucky you! What a shame that the old solid machines don't tend to zigzag - for the other old machines (how many, dare I ask?), can you get an overlocker foot for it? This is what I use to finish seams on my modern Singer, and I much prefer the finish to the normal zigzag.

  3. I keep looking at lovely old 99k machines on Ebay but I just don't have the space at the moment. My back up machine is a (1960s?) Novum (which I think was bought out by Janome?) which is a really solid machine. I also have a treadle at my mums place that I need to fix up. It belonged to my great aunt and is a copy of the Singer 201K. So I guess I don't need any more machines right now!!

    1. It doesn't sound like you are doing too badly, Helen! I'm particularly envious about the copy of 201k - isn't that the industrial, "I can sew through just about anything" model?? And you've got to keep some room for your fabric and pattern stashes...


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