Monday, July 19, 2010

Singer 66 in a treadle base

Singer 66 in a treadle base, originally uploaded by Chinkypin.
I am a madwoman. This is my newest acquisition, and my oldest machine. It dates from 1912. In 2 years, it will have been kicking around for a whole century, and it sews just as beautifully as any machine I've ever used. I don't know if the cabinet is the one it was born with, but I suppose it's possible.

There are lots of things I'm super excited about this machine for. Yes, because it's a zillion years old. Yes because it functions; I don't like to collect things that won't do what they're supposed to, but there are a bunch of nerdier things too. This machine illustrates a principle I've heard described as "make everything as simple as possible, but no simpler" and now I don't remember who said it.

This machine has a number of functions in common with modern machines. The bobbins and needles are exactly the same as most home machines today, I think it's the first generation of machines that were made this way. Earlier machines had a more complex bobbin arrangement: the bobbin was loaded into a shuttle which sat in a mechanism that zipped back and forth. This model has the bobbin stationary, and simply has a hook that grabs the needle thread and loops it around the bobbin- mechanically, much simpler. It's a system they got so dead-on that it hasn't changed in a hundred years. It is maximally simple, yet maximally effective.

By contrast, this machine also has bobbin winder, that I'll post pictures of soon. I love the little gadget, it has this adorable, lilliputian victorian steampunk aesthetic with its little gears and levers. And it's beautifully designed, if you come over sometime, I'd love to geek out and show you how it functions. Or rather, how it ought to function. You see, it is neither maximally simple nor maximally efficient. Its parts are complex, and and require some fiddly types of adjustment to perform a basic operation like winding a bobbin. Modern machines have a system where you just run the thread around a knob and hey presto! it winds perfectly evenly. But the gears are beautiful. I'm just fascinated by this thing as a snapshot of engineering history from the late victorian age.

The design of the treadle irons merits a whole geek-out of its own, but I'll restrain myself. I will say that its really fun to use. I named her Aldonza. Weird huh? Somehow, she just ain't an Austen girl.

Now, who wants to come over to play with my sewing machines? I got lots to go around...

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