Thursday, November 29, 2012

Man against the sewing machine

Lazy Sunday afternoon... a break in the rain... snoozing on the sofa... dreaming... Lottery... tropical islands... coconut palms... piña colada... don’t even like piña colada... glass of dry rosé would slip down nicely though...





“HUGH!!! Please can you mend the sewing machine?”

Probably not, if truth be told. For the sewing machine is a mighty beast, not to be trifled with by a half-asleep chap still shaking off his afternoon doze.

A black hand-cranked Singer 99 of 1927 vintage, with all the original filigree and a bentwood case, it looks more like one of those steam engines that pull trains full of disgruntled tourists up Welsh mountains than the sort of gadget a deft seamstress would use to knock up a ball-dress or a camisole.

Industrial archaeology. (Picture by Lloyd Ellington)

It has instructions that say things like: “Place spool of thread on spool pin. Raise take-up lever 5 to its highest point. Lead thread into thread guide 1, down and from right to left between tension discs 2, into the loop of the take-up spring 3, under the slack thread regulator 4 (not through the eye in the thread regulator).”

Which are enough to put even the most mechanically-minded of chaps right off his breakfast, but clearly held no fear for the genteel ladies at whom the Singer 99 was originally marketed.

It even has a shirrer and a ruffler. Whatever they are.

And it’s sticking.

This sounds like a job for the internet. You can diagnose any illness after five minutes on Google, so surely you can solve a Singer 99 malfunction with a quick blast of a search engine?

The first thing you find out is that you should never, ever, fiddle with the piece of red felt next to the bobbin. Point this out to Mrs D, who goes a bit quiet and admits that she did  have a tug at it because it looked like lint. It’s not. It a lubricating wick.

Slather with oil, loosen pull-rods, tighten reciprocating cams, turn crankwheel back and forth with increasing desperation. Still locked solid.

Remember when you were eight, and you took your alarm clock apart to see how it worked? And then you couldn’t put it back together again?

It’s like that, only five times worse.

Suddenly all becomes clear: the needle is jamming. Adjust needle alignment, spin handle, Singer 99 whirrs into action.

But there’s a nagging doubt: deep in the instruction manual, Mrs D has read the dire warning: “Under no circumstances must the screw EE be loosened.” It’s confession time: in the course of all that fiddling around in the bowels of the machine, screw EE did get loosened. But only for half a minute before it was tightened up again. Honest.

By now it’s nearly bed-time, and Weston’s answer to Kirstie Allsopp puts off her crafting to another day.

That day dawns, and with it a ghastly truth: the machine turns, but the bobbin won’t lift. The timing is out, the Singer won’t sew. And it’s beyond rescue by an amateur.

Thank heavens in Bath we have sewing machine shops who are prepared to have a look at it.

But spare a thought for the chap who has to carry it in for repair.

Because it weighs a flipping ton.

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