Thursday, February 22, 2018

Singer 28 Vintage Sewing Machine - How We Found Our Handcrank

Hello everyone today we are going to be talking about another one of our favorite people powered sewing machines, the Singer model #28.  Even though I truly enjoy my treadle sewing machines and our vintage electric sewing machines I still have a soft spot for hand-powered machines, otherwise referred to as hand-crank sewing machines. I regard them as the ultimate portable all-purpose sewing machine.

Learn more about one of Paul's favorite people powered sewing machines, the Singer 28.


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Here in the Quilting Room we currently have two hand-crank sewing machines. We have a 1953 Model #99 that I converted with an after-market hand crank for the grandsons. It keeps me from having to share my original 1891 Model #28.  I started them sewing with me almost 3 years ago when the oldest was almost 5 and the youngest was barely 3. Now we have 3 and the youngest is almost 2 so he doesn’t get to sew yet. The oldest is almost ready to start using a 99K in a cabinet but the middle one is still a little too rambunctious for anything but the hand crank. But I will say he gave me a memory with my model #27 that is priceless. When he was three Mel was helping his mom fit her wedding dress while I was supposed to be watching the boys and keeping them out of trouble and occupied. I failed by going to the kitchen and refilling a drink for his brother and when I returned to the sewing room he was sitting on a bar stool facing the hand wheel of my #27 holding it like a steering wheel and singing, I’m a race car driver –I’m a race car driver- while turning the hand wheel from wheel lock to wheel lock. Not sure how fast the old Singer was going or what road course she was traversing but judging from the thread nest wound all up in the shuttle she was flying. I was giggling so hard trying to maintain a stern appearance. When he realized he was caught I almost lost it when he said Sorry Grpa Paul. Yep, you guessed it. Grpa helped him off the stool and he never got into trouble. Later that night it took about 20 minutes to free the shuttle while singing I’m a race car driver – he was gone and I did laugh out loud long and hard. Just writing this brings a smile to my face that I am sure will still be with me forever.

My Singer Model #28 was commissioned in 1891, she has always been fairly well-taken care and she carries all the hallmarks of being lovingly used. She has pin rash and worn spots and her decals are faded but there weren’t any signs of rust or abuse anywhere on her.



She is the only #28 that we have found around our neck of the woods and she was not for sale. She was shelf decorations in an old quilt shop that we happened into while doing a shop hop several years ago.  As Mel and I wandered the store mixing and matching fabrics for a couple different projects I couldn’t help but notice all the old machines around the store. I also noticed that the ladies behind the counter and cutting table were intently watching and whispering in my direction. I was the only guy on the floor with about 20 women and I was actually fabric shopping. Mel and I have been in this situation before and when it came time to get our fabric cut and pay we managed to let a couple of other customers get between us. Mel was first to the cutting table and after she got her cuts she went right to the register to pay for her stack. When I was getting my fabric cut, the owner was telling Mel she would wait until I had brought the rest of her fabric over then she would run it all together. I heard Mel laugh and say ok but that the fabric I was holding was all mine and she wasn’t sure if I would pay for her fabric or not. This, of course, confused her and she was trying to apologize for assuming we were a married couple. Mel assured her we were married but with both of us being quilters we often bought our own fabric separately. Now the stage was set for me, all the other ladies in the shop had heard the laughter and the conversation and it was my turn at the cash register.  As I set my fabric down on the counter I asked Mel if she had already paid for her fabric, and if not then I would. The owner sternly looked over the rims of her glasses and said calmly, your wife says you’re a quilter and you do your own projects and buy your own supplies. I agreed with her statement and then asked, did she tell you I can’t sew with shoes on and I won’t use her machine? And the only things we share are rulers and a soft spot for vintage sewing machines. The stern look over the glasses couldn’t hide the ornery twinkle in her eyes. I knew we were going to get along just fine. So I was ready for her next question. If you don’t like your wife’s machine what kind of machine do you prefer to use? I answered with, a treadle machine. Now I had the full attention of the rest of the patrons in the store. A what? A treadle machine similar to the one you have on display. Oh well, that one is too old to sew a quilt on. I told her it looked like a 1930 ish Singer 127. She agreed it had belonged to a great aunt who had gotten it in 1936 as a wedding present. I then told her my machine similar to that one was made in 1895 and it still sews a great stitch. One of the other customers became interested and asked what kind of quilt was it. Was it strips or piece blocks? I told her it is a patch block quilt because it was made out of 9” blocks, some of which were comprised of smaller blocks. When I told her it was made from denim, both new and used she looked a little amused. So I told her it was King size and weighed almost 17 pounds. When we showed the pictures of it from the phone they also saw various machines with all kinds of blocks as well as old machines in the different stages of rehab. They were amazed and full of questions. I went from the one they were talking about to the one they were talking to. The most significant question I answered that day was from the owner of the quilt shop. She had tried several times to get her aunts old machine to sew and it would either not pick up the stitch at all or it would make half a dozen stitches really loose then snarl-up.  I pulled her shuttle and turned the bobbin around showed her how to thread the shuttle and proceeded to sew about 24 inches of perfect stitches. I showed her how to wind the bobbin and how to get it properly installed into the shuttle so the thread went under the tension spring. Her husband had joined us along the way bringing with him the coffee pot and extra cups. We had transitioned from customers to guests and when he offered a tour of the Longarm area we happily obliged. It quickly became apparent the true passion that drove this shop was longarming.  We spent an afternoon bonding over fabric, sewing, quilts, family and the different machines around the shop, including the #28. Over the next few months, we would have several of these shopping adventures with them. We knew they were wanting to downsize and really wanted to relocate closer to grandkids and family as well as do some traveling. During one of these visits, they told us that they stumbled into a chance of a lifetime to do all the things they dreamed of and were just waiting for the last few details to close the deal. Two weeks later they had an everything goes sale and closed the shop. With mixed emotions, we went to the sale to bid them farewell and good fortune. When we walked in they were overjoyed to see us, they had been trying to call us at home. On some of our previous visits I had offered to clean-up the #28 for them just so I could play with it and I told them if it ever needed a good home I had a special place at my house it could live and be used. I also knew that a collector friend of ours had offered them a small fortune for it and was shut-down cold. Well, when we walked in she immediately called her husband from the back to talk to me. He asked me if I would still like to sew with the #28?  I told him yes and he said make me an offer. I knew what he had turned down and knew I couldn’t meet the offer and I told him so and he needed to call the other guy. His exact words were, He wants to collect or resell not keep, love and use the machine, so how about $50 and no arguments. As I walked up to the counter carrying it I saw the ornery twinkle in his wife’s eyes again and she was telling Mel, I told you it was going to go home with you.  With it being a hectic chaotic day for them, we only stayed long enough to exchange hugs and handshakes while paying for enough fabric for half a dozen quilts. When we got home Mel pulled the receipt out of her pocket with the change from the purchase and while the machine was listed only about ¼ of the fabric was listed and the total bill was less than what we should have paid for the fabric that was listed. In its place was a huge smiley face and these words. Thank you guy’s for everything, we’re going to miss you. Your simplistic togetherness is an inspiration to everyone around you. Until we meet again, Love you both. A week later they were gone lock-stock and barrel living their dream in a summer house on the coast.

As for the #28, she was dusty and stiff with old oil, but she was complete including a ruffler foot tucked under the bed of the machine in the base. She came from the factory in what was known at the time as a mahogany coffin box.  Similar to the later bentwood case but the base is much thinner so the machine sits closer to the table top. The lid is taller than a bentwood and it is bell-shaped when viewed from the end. The lid attaches to the base by means of small L shaped brackets attached to the lid, hinging through a pair of slotted plates mounted on one end of the base. On the other end of the base, there is a slotted hinge that lines up with a twist-lock clasp mounted to the lid. One of my slotted base plates was missing and the existing plate was bent beyond repair. I remanufactured both plates and they work as well as the originals and look timeline perfect. The lid and the base of my machine have been painted with a very pale robin egg blue and the lid is adorned with very old water-slide Rose decals.



It puts me in mind of some of the early English machines I have seen photos of and I know the original owners of the quilt shop were from England and they sold the business, building and all contents when they retired. That was how the folks we got her from acquired her. All I can say with certainty is when it was painted someone did a very nice job doing it and they painted every surface. The hardware has paint under it as well as under the machine hinges. Even the inside of the base and lid were painted in the same blue.

After stripping off the century-old whale oil and old grease the machine operates as smoothly and precisely as she did when she was brand new. The wooden handle for the crank has a minor crack starting closest to the machine and following the contour of the neck and stopping at what I call the body of the handle. I painted some wood glue into the crack and user some dark brown embroidery thread to clamp to pull the crack closed. I wrapped the length of the crack with several layers soaked in glue and tied the end off in the wet glue. The repair reflects the style one would have expected to see from the turn of the century.



Her decal set looks to be an early variation of the LaVincindor, Ottoman carnations and Scrolls and Roses. Elements from all three style decals can be spotted. So up to date, I have not positively identified them. They are worn and faded and they show that the machine has been loved and those characteristics are the ones that tell the story for me.

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So until next time enjoy your machines your way and may they give you the same type memories mine have given me. Remember, dull blades create more accidents than sharp ones so change your rotary blade when it starts to feel dull not when it stops cutting.

Want to learn more about our Singer 28 vintage sewing machine?


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Melissa Shields
Melissa Shields

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1 comment:

  1. I bought a 28 recently. (It's 1892 so likely a vs3, but I think it gets confusing when you talk about vs and 28s.) Mine has wild rose decals, with thorny little stems. I got interested in them through a couple of tutorial videos on You Tube by Appleturnover.tv. She uses a hand crank with the victoria decals.

    I love my treadles, each and every one. But sewing on the hand crank makes you feel like a kid with a toy. It's fun. I can even sneak in a little sewing between calls, since I work from home. I'm going ahead with plans to rebuild another 28 that was originally a hand crank. It's from 1890 and has a black, not chromed hand wheel. I have to watch myself because I do like to sew on these machines. If I get too many, I spend my time fussing with the machines and not sewing.

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