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May 9, 2010

Wouldn't you have done the same?

First, Happy Mother's Day to all you mothers out there.

Dear readers, wise readers, it had been my original intention today to write about this striped cotton knit tank top I stitched up Friday afternoon.  I'd bought the fabric locally the day I picked up Cathy's black gloves, nothing special.  And as you can see the final result is...nothing special.

Here's the back:

OK, like I said, I was going to tell you how I trimmed the edges, how I lined up the stripes, blah, blah, blah -- but then this happened:

So I'm walking home from the flea market yesterday afternoon with the dogs (WAIT till you see the opera-length gloves with original price tag attached I found for $2 -- in lavender!) and I'm crossing north on 25th Street, I'm not even sure why since I live on 24th Street, when what do I see sitting amid a pile of discarded clothes, plastic bags, rotting food -- the usual New York City pile of trash left in front of a shuttered storefront -- but THIS:

Can you friggin' believe it?  Just sitting there amid this debris like it was yesterday's pizza box, in fact I think it was even sitting next to yesterday's pizza box.  Well, I don't have to tell you what I did: I picked it up -- first looking around to make sure it hadn't already been claimed by some loon living in that pile of trash -- and shlepped it the three blocks home.

What would you have done, peeps -- left it there?

Now look, you know I can resist a flea market sewing machine, I can resist a thrift store sewing machine, I can scroll past hundreds of eBay sewing machine listings like they didn't exist, but when I find a sewing machine in the street...well that's where I draw the line.  I simply cannot ignore it.

Needless to say, like just about every discarded mechanical anything, this machine has issues.  First, it has no motor.  Second, it has no belt.  Third, it has no tension assembly.  Fourth, it has no whatever-that-thing-is-the-drop-in-bobbin-sits-in-is-called.  But guess what?  When you turn the hand wheel, the needle goes up and down.  It works!  And it even came with a straight stitch presser foot.

I was able to date it from 1951 and I think it's a Singer 66, though I'm not completely certain.

So now I have to decide what to do with it.  I already have a perfectly good Singer, my beloved 15-91, and I don't think I have the energy to restore this one.  I also have all the doorstops I need. 

So now what?  At risk of further establishing a dangerous precedent, I once again turn to you for advice.

What would you do, peeps?  Throw this baby back on the street?

Think carefully; the fate of a sewing machine lies in your hands.


  1. Quirky conversation piece for a garden or balcony? Doorstop? Ummm.... paperweight?

  2. This looks more 1851 than 1951!

    I know nothing about restoring sewing machines, so I don't know if this could be fixed. Could you contact vintage sewing machine repairers/dealers to see if they would have any interest in a donation?

    Gold star for saving it; if nothing else, perhaps you can find a place for the parts to be recycled. Better than it going to a landfill.

    P.S. - love the pups pic.

    P.P.S - great tank. I'd like a shirt just like this, but with 3/4 sleeves, in a camel & white stripe...

  3. Oh Peter, you EMT of cast off machines, how great of you to rescue this poor little thing. ;-)

    The first thing I would do is just clean it up without regard for restoration. You know...just try to make her a little bit more presentable. Then, I would keep it for decor or wait until a likely suspect comes along that shows some interest. Dealers basements are full of machines like this so I doubt one of those would want it. You could always list it on Ebay and see if anyone shows interest?

    Your new shirt is fantastic. Great job and fit.

  4. Peter, a lot of people use 66's as upholstery machines. I have one i bought for $25 and it still runs excellently and will sew through canvas and leather. If you get some sewing machine oil and polish it up, you could probably sell it.

  5. I am living in one room with the entire contents of a 3 bedroom house, my husband, 2 cats and 2 dogs (while the rest of the house is being renovated.) At the moment I am anti-stuff. Give it to the Salvation Army.

  6. OK, I'll admit, it DOES look like something that went down with the Titanic, but couldn't it be a lamp base or something?

    An impromptu Mother's Day gift....?

  7. lampbase is a brilliant idea...but do clean it up

  8. Hey I love your blog and I have to keep coming to it again and again. (and Brian's too - wish I had two men that lived close by that sewed! - I'm in Brisbane Australia) anyway... I think a lovely cut and polish with car polish with make it a fantastic 'piece' or 'dust collector' as I would say but how beautiful! I do like the lamp base idea too. Sofie

  9. Freecycle it. Someone might restore it.

  10. It looks like it is beyond restoration but it's beautiful. clean it up and keep it as an object of art until someone somewhere wants to adopt it. If I wasn't on the other side of the globe I'd adopt it.

  11. CORRECTION: It DOES have whatever-that-thing-is-the-drop-in-bobbin-sits-in-is-called.

    All it really needs is a motor (or hand crank), a tension assembly, and half a face plate. And a good scrub.

  12. As a fellow softie for orphaned sewing machines, I commend your rescue effort. I say clean it up a little and let it be a decorative piece for now, but keep your eye open for whatever it is you need to get it running, you know, just casually. Like a treadle! Wouldn't it be nice to have a sewing machine you can use in a power outage?

    She looks like she could be the neglected sister of a machine that my Grandmother is going to give me as soon as I can find space for it. Non-motorized and in good condition. I'm so excited!

  13. Clean that puppy up and use it as "decor". That's to amazing to get rid of : )

  14. This is exactly how I got my serger!! well, almost. my friend found it in her alley in the place where people usually put stuff that they want others to to take. she saw it and said " this shouldn't be here!" and took it. She is a newbie to sewing and doesn't know enough about sergers to know if would work or not so she gave it to me on the condition that she could use it. I had it for about a year, got a copy of the manual from the manufacturer and got it to work. not perfectly yet but it works and we have a serger date in a few weeks.

    I would try and hold on to it. you might be blessed with someone you can give it to that would be the perfect home for it or you might break a doorstop or you might find the perfect time to start restoring it. and then you could just ogle it and think "what a good find!"

  15. According to the Singer serial number docs, it's a 1951 Model No. 638, made in Elizabeth, NJ. Definitely Craigslist or Freecycle it (is there a Freecycle in NYC?) if you're not going to keep it. There's probably a motor out there somewhere, though, and you might be able to effect a full rescue!

    A gentle cleaning with a damp cloth, and a light finishing with a mild wax (would bee's wax work? you don't want to use a chemical car wax that might dissolve the gilt) might make this baby sparkle.

    A dry toothbrush might clean up the bobbin area nicely; it may only need a very light coat of a lightweight oil to get it back up to snuff. The belt shouldn't be hard to find; a lot of sewing stores still carry them, and any sewing repair shop should have them.

    My Singer Featherweight was made the same year (the hundredth anniversary of Singer) and works like a dream. I'm not sure anything could kill those motors, although detaching them would certainly accomplish essentially the same thing.

    These are beautiful machines -- just look at those (completely unnecessary) decorations. Total treat for the eyes!

  16. For what you will spend to restore it - parts and elbow grease - I wouldn't. You can get a good condition 66 any day of the week on Craig's List and/or Ebay. They are not rare.

    It doesn't have a motor because it looks to be a treadle machine, but missing its treadle and table among other things.

    Since I have a 66 treadle that I restored and know what's involved, I probably would have left it on the street. But if I didn't have that experience, I'm sure I would've picked it up same as you. So, I don't know what to advise.

    Do you love it? Do you have the room to display it (because as it is, it won't sew)? If not, there *are* still some parts on it that can be cleaned up and sold separately on Ebay. It just depends whether you want to spend the time cleaning them up (fine steel wool, old toothbrush, Tarn-X, time).

  17. Maybe I'll find another one and make earrings.

  18. More - Noile said it's a 638, but it's not. It's definitely a 66 with a manufacturing date of April 26, 1951 (Elizabeth NJ), per the Singer website. It's also missing the spindle to hold spools, and the rubber wheel for winding bobbins. Looks like someone else already started using this as a parts machine for another.

  19. I am JEALOUS!!!! I have been looking for an affordable 66. And you are right, the Singer serial number site says 66, 1951. You need a treadle base, a leather belt, and the Yahoo group , Vintage Sewing Machine Repair ( And there ARE vendors who can provide the missing pieces economically. If you have never treadled, you are missing the control that it provides, and the satisfaction that YOU did it all! Besides, that is the only part missing from your collection! :)

    Your blog has to be the most interesting of the many that I follow. You make me think, which I truly appreciate! Thank you!

  20. I don't see how you could have left it--I'd certainly have picked it up, and I'm not particularly interested in vintage machines (except for the aesthetics). The dogs seem interested--maybe they need their own machine. :-)

    I admit I'm not wild about the lamp base idea. If there were some way you could use it for storage of small sewing notions, that would be lovely. But I would deffeinitely keep it.

  21. I've a friend who restores old machines, and she recommends plain old carnuba wax after cleaning. I see an amazing wall display in the future featuring defunct machines from every era. You have such a tender heart, what are we to do with you ;-)

    PS. great bands on the tank, perfect stripes!

  22. Oh!! Check out, too!

  23. Wait a second, Debbie! According to the Singer site ( Peter's machine, AK328156, is an AR series machine.

    Then, taking this information to Singer's "AR Series Registered Numbers" pdf ( you discover that his machine is a model 638. (You can check all this yourself, since I've included the links.)

    Do we have competing Singer sites here??? Enquiring minds want to know! However, like any good researcher, I've including my own documentation trail here. After all, I didn't just make up the information!

  24. Hey, girls, take it outside, would you please? LOL

  25. Wait a second -- didn't this start with it outside??? Moving on . . . Rosie's link is cool. Advice on cleaning and wax here: (scroll down) and on restoration here:

    Lotta love in this advice -- the ISMACS guys would clearly vote for "keeping"!

  26. Hon, sometimes, you just gotta let stuff go. Yeah, I know, it seems like sacrilege that such a fine piece of equipment has been allowed to die such a slow, painful, ugly death. But nothing lasts forever. Give this machine a proper disposal (drop it in the Hudson River?). If you don't, I'm afraid that we'll be watching an episode of "Hoarders" in a few years whose subject is a man living in a New York city apartment that's crammed full of old, discarded, forgotten sewing equipment. It won't be pretty. Say farewell to this formerly fine Singer soldier as quickly as possible, and get on with the rest of your sewing life!

  27. Give it a moderate cleaning and use it as a bookend for all your sewing books. If after awhile you don't want it get rid of it.

    The way you pick up machines, you might want to consider keeping it for parts. I see a nice face plate on it. Also lots of little things like the needle tightening screw, a presser foot, presser foot screw, thread guides and so on. If you do get rid of it you might want to save these parts in little labeled bags. I had to search for a missing screw for one of my machines once and it wasn't easy.

    I would never pass up an old sewing machine in the garbage--it's against my nature.

  28. Here's a picture of a similar machine I HAD to have. It works and needs only minor restoration. So it weighs as much as a car and I don't know how I'll get it up to my sewing room. Big deal. The paint on mine is a little worn, the previous owner must have been an avid sewer. All the pieces are there including the manual. Pardon my squeal - it even has the cabinet! I hope when you log into ebay you can track down this link... :O)

    Sorry, had to share, this is the only place I've found where people ogle antique machines.

  29. Before you do anything else with it, get that Singer seal thingy replicated somehow so that an artsy friend (or you, with previously unrevealed skillz) can deftly and artistically silkscreen it onto a fantastic vintag-y t-shirt. Or a sunhat. Or all kinds of good stuff. If no one wants the machine for anything else, I'd get that part off and frame it.

  30. You must keep this. It is the history of someone's (presumably a lady) sewing. It would be too sad to relegate to the streets of New York. Someone loved this machine once.

  31. Sorry Peter, coming back inside for a moment. Go sew something if you don't want to watch. ;-)


    "Wait a second, Debbie! According to the Singer site ( Peter's machine, AK328156, is an AR series machine."

    Noile, A machine that starts with "AK" is an AK series machine. It really is that simple.

    I think you're confused because on the Singer page the link to AR series machines is sorta/kinda across from groups of serial numbers and AR sort of lines of with Peter's machine's serial number. But the serial numbers and the red links to machine series are not "positionally related."

  32. Arghh. Typos. "sort of lines of" "should be sort of lines UP with ...."

  33. Oh, hey! I have one of those!

    It's my only sewing machine, inherited from my grandmother. After several decades of benign neglect, it's been through a great deal since then--my first attempt at a pillow, all the way through 3 years of couture and patternmanking classes at FIT--and all the maintenance it's needed is regular oiling, and a bobbin cover and a new belt about 15 years ago.

    I find it's been an excellent machine. Admittedly, all it does is go forwards and backwards, but so do the professional Jukis. I hear that these machines are great for making things like men's shirts, where the quality of the stitches is very important.

    Also, they can accomodate all the amazing vintage feet, like rufflers, tuckers, hemmers, edge should see the buttonholer in action!

    I think you should restore it, or have someone else do so, and blog about the process--I bet it would be fascinating.

  34. Debbie is right. It is a 66. Noile, sorry, but you are reading that Singer page incorrectly. The red links are simply a list of downloadable pdf's with the serial number info for the various prefixes; they don't relate positionally to the list in column 1. You'd want to be looking at the AK link for Peter's, not the AR link. (Also, just wanted to clarify, those dates aren't technically the manufacturing dates. They are the dates that the serial numbers were issued for upcoming manufacturing for a particular model- as you can see they allotted numbers for 35000 66's that day... they wouldn't all have been made that same day.)
    Anyway, I would have probably picked it up also, but I probably would not put effort into acquiring all the missing parts. You could likely pick up a nice condition one with all its parts for as little as $25-50 if you keep your eyes open.
    I have some similar doorstops as well as others in working condition...

  35. OK, so far my first choice is bookend (Thanks, Susan!). Of course, my sewing books are just piled one on top of another so maybe it would be more of a bookweight.

    Second choice is lamp. Though where you put the bulb is anyone's guess.

    Third choice: boat anchor.

  36. It's safe inside again, Peter -- the contretemps is done! Thanks, Debbie and Anonymous -- I get it now.

    Debbie, that's exactly what I did -- went for the link that apparently lined up. I thought that AK/AR stuff was wonky. (Should have stuck with the gut feeling!)

  37. Oh, and, Anonymous, thanks for explaining the "allotment" column. Now at least I can read the pdf when I access it incorrectly . . . !

  38. Sounds like time for a contest/giveaway on the blog to me!

  39. So, is it a treadle or not? One way or the other, it looks similar to the machine I learned on at home back when I was in junior high (but probably not the same and impossible to check as Katrina ate it). It was my mom's machine, had a nice large light behind the needle head. Yes, I am that old. I have a BabyLock Ellageo now--my only machine as the two Kenmores were given to my grand-daughter, and my daughter-in-law. As to advise about disposal, well I would send it to the recycle center after rescuing that decorative piece, even though no sewing machine made to day will be the art pieces they once were.

  40. You mentioned that you don't think you have the energy to restore this one so I think your decision has already been made.

    The decals are in decent shape and the body of the machine will clean up nicely.

    It's really all about what YOU want to do with this orphaned machine, Peter!

    Does the thought of scouring rust off of the presser foot bar, searching for missing parts and restoring it sound like an exciting challenge or a huge hassle?

    Answer that question and you'll have your decision.

  41. Anonymous, you must understand that I decided to have a blog so that I would no longer have to make difficult decisions like these. I have ceded all responsibility to my readers.

    And I have never felt so light!

  42. The machine is indeed a 66. A three-quarter size version of this was sold (for many years!) as the 99. Your beloved Spartan, Peter, sold to compete with inexpensive Japanese machines, is a stripped-down version of the 99. They're all FABULOUS straight-stitchers, but thousands and thousands of them were made and beautiful individuals can still be found easily.

    Have you investigated the 201's? Oldtime sewing machine repairmen vow it was the finest sewing machine Singer ever made. The 201 was marketed to seamstresses and the 15-91 to tailors. Very clearly his and hers. Go figure.


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