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Dec 8, 2013

A Swingin' Sewing Machine for a Groovy Guy



Friends, you are to be forgiven for thinking that this portable, circa-1969 sewing machine looks an awful lot like an Elna Lotus -- on acid.



It's approximately the same size, the same weight, the same shape, and has the same swing-down doors.  And they're both all-metal, mechanical zigzaggers.







But there are differences.  The Elna Lotus was made in Switzerland.  The knock-off was made in Japan and badged "Penncrest," a J.C. Penney brand, and sold as the Swing 'n Sew.  (Swinging was a very Sixties concept -- remember the Polaroid Swinger instant camera and the 1966 Ann-Margret film, The Swinger?)









One thing I really like about the Penncrest is that it has a reverse lever.  To reverse the Lotus, you have to turn the stitch length knob all the way to the left and back again to your designated stitch length -- very inconvenient, imo.  The Penncrest is the simpler machine: while later models offered more stitches, this one does only straight-stitch and zig-zag.  (The Lotus boasts a blind hem stitch, a stretch zig-zag, and a multi-step buttonhole.)  The Penncrest has a 1 amp. motor and takes class 15 bobbins.

Maybe it's on account of the foot (similar to a vintage Singer's), but I prefer the experience of sewing on the Penncrest, and it has a beautiful, balanced stitch.  It's not as smooth, silent, and refined-feeling as, say, a Singer Featherweight, but what Japanese machine is?   It's very similar to the Elna, however.











Best of all is the flower-power styling -- very reminiscent of a Singer Genie, maybe better!





There's something extremely unpretentious about this Penncrest Swing 'n Sew.  The Elna is austere and stiff -- certainly well-designed, but kinda' high-brow.  The Penncrest evokes less Swiss precision than shag carpeting, black-light posters, and lava lamps.  And J.C. Penney.

Did YOU swing in the "Swingin' Sixties" and what did that refer to exactly -- go-go dancing?   We owned a Swinger Polaroid camera, which was a little messy to use, as I recall.

Have a great day, everybody! 



26 comments:

  1. How is it that I can't remember where I put my keys, but I can remember all the words to a 40+ year old commercial for a camera that I didn't even own!

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    1. I've got one of those memories too...people are always calling me to give them the name of some obscure character on some obscure television show from the 70's because they know I'll remember (and the name of the actor who played him). It's obscene how much brain power I have used to store this stuff--I mean, put to better use, I might have been able to cure some disease or solved the energy crisis. Is it weird that I want one of these camera's now?

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  2. The swinger commercial failed to mention the spongy pink thing (looking somewhat like a foam roller) with chemicals that you had to swipe over the picture to keep it from fading. And, Ali McGraw.

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    1. You would NOT be doing that at the beach, that's for sure.

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  3. I do remember the Swinger camera and the catchy jingle, wow, so Mad Men. As for the swing and sew concept they were desperately trying to keep sewing hip at that point, but our moms were over it and it was going out of style.

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  4. Speaking of commercials of the era.....

    "LaChoy makes Chinese food (budda budda budda bump) SWING American!"

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  5. I love the flower power decor on that machine, it's very groovy.

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  6. The only swinging I did in the 60s was on an actual swing, my age being in the single digits at the time. But I love late 60s and early 70s rock and roll. I barely remember any of it from the time, but now--love it. Your new machine is cool, and in fact, groovy!

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  7. Introduction of the birth control pill - 1960. Far out man!
    A.

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  8. Ah, I recall the Swinger camera. I was not allowed to have one, as my dad worked for Kodak. :( I love the machine, I bet it could churn out some great bell bottom jeans and peasant tops!

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  9. Oh my, what a gorgeous machine! Seems to run like a dream, too - did you need to have it serviced at all?

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  10. I entered high school in 1970, so I remember swinging and the Swinger camera. We didn't have one, although I am surprised because my dad was a gadget hound. He loved cameras especially.

    Thanks for the commercial. Yes very Mad Men.

    PS: I married Don Draper.

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  11. I was there for all of it.
    I look at the Swing 'n Sew...then close my eyes and see MTM tossing her hat in the air. Well..actually..what I focus on is that woman in the background...the one wearing the babuska...who's giving her a dirty look.
    The Polaroid Swinger was the low end of the line. The film packs were really spendy so there wasn't a lot of that in my life.
    You could buy flower pattern Contac Paper that looked just like what's on the machine.
    As for Ann Margret (some will remember her appearance as Ann Margrock on the Flintstones)...I had a Latin teacher at a Chicago area Prep School who dated her as he put it "before she had some work done". He spoke highly of her but pointed out that dating the head cheerleader (or the head cheerleader type) isn't all it's cracked up to be.
    I think the whole "Swingin' 60's" thing revolved around mature adults thinking they missed out on something and then making really embarrassing attempts to be part of it. Think Larry Tate in Bell Bottoms.
    There were good times...a lot of the music was good...they helped you forget that you could get drafted at a moments notice.

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    1. You've done alot of livin'!!!

      Please recount and regale as much as you care to do.

      An insiders dish on the 60s is a treasure trove to behold.

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  12. I wonder if swinging means the same thing as it does to me in Australia . Here a swinger is someone who spends time in spa baths or other sensually enticing situations with other peoples partners in a "party" setting . This is often with the full cooperation and participation of the said partner .A swinger camera would therefore be a camera designed to take pictures of copulating wildlife ???

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  13. I may have missed where you picked up this gem. Ebay? Flea Market? Curbside? Someone who knows you like sewing machines and was cleaning out a relative's belongings?

    It sounds like a nice machine, but I think I still give the Genie an edge on the cute factor.

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    1. You're right, Gail. It's an eBay impulse purchase!

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  14. I was a teenager in the 60s but not a cool one. The "swinging" was done by odd people on TV, not anyone I knew, as most people were "straight." As a college student from 1966 to 1970, I was very busy studying, and participating in all kinds of protests and campaigns (local redlining by realtors, the Vietnam war, environmental pollution, various university policies)... who had time for anything else? Now I'm old and wonder if our protests had any effect, other than SHOCKING our parents?

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    1. My age was mostly in single digits in the 60's but I've recently discussed with my retired state trooper father the fact that much of what the "hippies" of the 60's had to say was spot on.

      While the idea of "free love" and the benefits of certain "drugs" have of course been successfully "disproven", the ecological state of the world and the horrendous impact of corrupt corporate America have indeed been proven true - and my father (quite pig-headed conservative in the 60's) readily agrees. I actually thought I would pass out when both of my parents stated that they wished our state would hurry up and legalize marijuana, as they both believe it would help my Mom deal with her residual shingles pain!

      I don't think all of those protests were in vain- and I think the time will be here soon for those protests to resume.

      In the meantime due to the proliference of poor quality clothing offerings mandated by corporate America (forcing most of middle and lower class America to have to continuously replace these items) those of us with the knowledge and skill to produce our own garments are harkening back to the concept of self-sufficiency...our own little protests against "the man".

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  15. What a cool machine. What memories you dredged up for me!

    Dang computer won’t let me Reply to comments.

    I was thinking the same thing as Sewgranny. I was able to sing along with the Polaroid Swinger commercial, but I can’t remember what someone told me this morning.

    I was in grade school and I really wanted that camera. I think they were really marketing to the pre-teen-and-younger set and showed teenagers looking oh so cool. Yeah, that’s what I wanted to be! My father said it was a piece of junk and got me a better Land camera for my birthday, but that wasn’t a COOL camera. It also had the little tube of chemicals that was messy and the photos deteriorated over time.

    For Mem, back in the ‘60’s, while some people used “swinging” in the partner sharing/swapping sense, it was also someone who was just really cool, now and “with it” – not me on both counts.

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  16. prettiest sewing machine I ever saw, looove the flowers!

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  17. That Penncrest is a real beaut!

    This is inspiring me to dust off my vintage portable Elna and sew something with it.

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  18. I own a Singer Genie. Hopefully, your "Swingin' Sewing Machine will sew as awesome a straight stitch as my Genie does.

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  19. I have a friend who just found a Penncrest like this at a thrift store. She's in need of a manual. Any suggestions? Also, is the light turned on/off by plugging/unplugging the machine? Seems odd!

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