Costume design, vintage sewing machines, painting
I brought home another stray machine… and this was a first for me; it did not bear any brand name that I could locate. Being the avid researcher that I am, I was surprised to find *nothing* about this machine or its maker. Ed Lamoureux’s excellent post about Japanese sewing machines in the 40s, 50s & 60s helped shed some light on the absence of identifiers. I highly recommend reading the post and the comments. To summarize: After WWII, Japan began manufacturing sewing machines based on the Singer 15 and 99 models (often making them better and quieter than Singer). They released the machine under various names, styles and colors. Over 5000 of these “brands” exist, however, records of them do not. The Singer models they are based on are still highly prized (and often pricey) but the clones can be found at thrift stores for peanuts. The great thing about this is the fact that the Singer parts fit the clones & vice-versa, no specialty parts needed! UPDATED: I recently found out that this machine was often called a “Toyota Arrow”, and one recently sold on eBay for $170! Also, the identical machine was sold in Australia under the name “Pinnock”, with the brand name on the stitch width knob rather than the crown.
On to my find… while browsing the sewing machines at Salvation Army, an older gentleman struck up a conversation with me. Turns out, he’s a retired sewing machine repairman, and had a lot to say about vintage machines. It was cool to have someone to poke around these machines with me, however we did not find a single machine in their collection that didn’t need a certain amount of work or replacement parts. He did advise me to swing by Goodwill on my way home, and said nothing more. On that day, I was specifically looking for a machine in a table that could straight, zigzag and backstitch reliably. That’s it. And I found it for $9.99 at Goodwill (BTW, did you know you could shop Goodwill online at shopgoodwill.com? Search for ‘sewing machines’ and you won’t be disappointed). The machine came in a great mid-century desk with 4 drawers, a knee pedal and a big sign that said “NEEDS REWIRED”, hence the $9.99 price tag. After inspecting it, I could see no reason it would need to be rewired and happily loaded it into my car. I didn’t even look in the drawers until I got it home, but when I did I discovered a smorgasboard of accessories, notions, bobbins, presser feet, stitch templates, a ruffler and an invisible zipper foot! Total score!
Then I checked under the hood and found a sticky orangy residue coating everything, but after a WD40 bath, gentle scrubbing, grease and oil, she was good to go. Then I checked the motor. Ugh, it was in bad shape. It was in such bad shape I immediately found a replacement on Ebay and ordered it. However, I am impatient and wanted to play with my new toy. That combined with the fact that a replacement was on its way compelled me to take it apart and try to save it. I’ve never seen a more disgusting motor. There was black gunk coating everything. I broke it down as far as possible and cleaned it as I went. The brushes were worn down to nubs (replaced them), the copper plates needed some serious buffing (they now gleam), everything else needed a good cleaning and I did also decide to play it safe and rewire the motor. Success! Purrs like a kitten. A VERY quiet kitten.
I was mostly flying blind with this machine as far as learning how to thread it and what all the buttons actually do. I found that the bobbin case from my Singer 15 fit perfectly, and that most machines thread in the same basic way, so I was sewing in no time. The tension was perfect as-is, and made a beautiful stitch.
Some features: Needle-position selector – I LOVE this and use it a lot. Feed dog height knob – Also very useful to be able to drop the dogs for using my buttonholer. Knee pedal – I’m really starting to prefer a knee pedal to a foot pedal. When I’m in the middle of a big show, my calf and ankle get really sore using a foot pedal. Reverse and stitch length are in the right place, are clear, and easy to use. Specialty stitch templates – So far I’ve only used the basic zigzag, but I have 14 templates total along with the original chart that goes with them. Bobbin winder – Easy and works great, ’nuff said. Feed dog plates – VERY easy to change out. Great for switching between straight, zigzag and buttonhole stitching.
There are 2 smaller knobs numbered 1-4 next to the main stitch width knob (the one with the crown on it). I have no idea what these do. Looking inside the machine it seems to be linked to the stitch width, and may have something to do with controlling the width if using a pattern with the needle in the left or right position, but I haven’t tested that yet.
The label on the front that says “Lit”. I’m concluding that it means the machine does, in fact, have a light. The “Precision Built” label also seems to say more about the machine rather than the actual maker. The only maker’s mark I can find are on the underside of the machine, “Toyota” is machine stamped into the metal. So yes, the parts were made at a Toyota factory, however it’s not necessarily a Toyota machine. Or is it? No matter, I love the machine.
This has become my favorite machine. It is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. I have used it to sew everything from chiffon to leather, and it has performed beautifully. My only complaints are its weight (40+ lbs) and sometimes the threads snarl if I’m not holding them when I start stitching. The weight is only an issue because I love the machine so much that I take it with me when I’m working on-site, and it’s really too heavy for that. As long as I leave it in its table, it’s fine. (Side note: anyone know of a good vintage machine that has all the features of this one, but weighs less? No plastic, please.)
Do you have a mid-century clone? Tell me about it!