Tuesday, 25 January 2011

Restoring a Vintage Sewing Machine.

Have you ever looked at an old vintage sewing machine which is perhaps a bit rusty and thought "ooh I'd love that, if I had time to clean it up" - imagining that it might take a team of magic pixies and a whole year's worth of elbow grease to do..?

Well .. Here's how you can do it without the pixies and only a weekend's worth of low grade elbow grease.  With just a few household 'substances' you can have a very old, very beautiful machine working as well as it was the day it left the factory.  So without further ado, heres is

Mrs Marmalade's definitive guide to Vintage Sewing Machine Maintenance and Restoration!

You've all met Wilma before .. she's 120 years old and has for the last 22 years, lived in my loft.  She was in a bad state when I rescued her from Oxfam but deteriorated a little more over the years.  I thought her sewing days were over.


Poor Wilma has a yellowed bed and rusty parts but she is still young inside, all her bits work as they should.  After surfing around a few sites looking for info about machine maintenance, I figured I could try to restore Wilma.

The 'traditional' method seems to be by soaking the entire machine in Kerosene and then scrubbing and rubbing the thing clean and then lots of polishing preferably with a Dremel.

Well I don't have a Dremel, and Mr Marmalade won't have Kerosene anywhere near the place - it is ridiculously dangerous - much more flammable than petrol, it stinks, it is messy ..yuk yuk..

So instead of Kerosene, this is what I used - I bet you have the same stuff in your cupboards:


Here we have, a can of coke (most important), car polish, metal polish, dusters, wire wool and, not pictured, a toothbrush, some Barkeepers Friend and a camera.

First of all make sure you take plenty of 'before' shots, both distant and close up - you really wont believe your eyes and you wont remember how 'bad' she was before.


Keep taking pictures as you  dismantle your machine, lots of pictures, make labels of all your bits, and take pictures of said bits, on the labels.


If there are multiple parts which fit together, take a picture of the thing before you dismantle it, take pictures as you dismantle it, and take a picture of the parts in the order they should be put back when dismantled - you can never take too many pictures.


If your metal bits are rusty, take most of the rust off by rubbing the part with some grade 00 wire wool - dry.  It will come off quite easily.  If the rust is stubborn, add a bit of WD40.   If there are screws that you can't undo, use WD40 to loosen them.

I couldn't get this part off so I just polished it up with wire wool and Peek
Take off the face plate and the back plate and clean the insides as well as possible with a duster/toothbrush/dry paint brush/air can - don't get the insides wet.  If there is alot of gunk in there, use WD40 to loosen and clean it.

Don't forget the underside - give it a good old clean with a dry cloth and some WD40 if necessary.  The most important thing is to never get the insides wet with water as this will cause rust in unreachable places.


When you were little did you ever do the coke and penny experiment?  Put a dirty penny in coke over night and the next morning it is shiny and new?


A similar principle applies to your metal sewing machine parts - when they are as de-rusted as possible, soak them in the coke overnight.  Do not soak painted parts in coke! Only metal.    *Please note, only soak your metal parts if all there is no chrome present!!  Obviously Wilma started off life with chromed parts but after 120 years there is no chrome left so these parts are back to the bare metal.

While they are soaking you can get on with the body.  I scrubbed Wilma on the outside with washing up liquid and a toothbrush, and rinsed her with a damp cloth - this wont get all the dirt off but it will shift most of it.  If you have really really stubborn dirt, use a 'bug remover' for cars - available in car part shops or Halfords.  If you are in doubt about what you use to clean the body, test a little area first, at best, you may silver the decals, and at worst you may rub them off or dissolve them!  Car cleaning products are generally 'kind' to sewing machines.  You may end up with patches on the machine which look a little brown - don't worry about them.

When you have washed and dried the body, and have dusted and de-gunked the insides, give the machine a liberal dose of sewing machine oil on all the moving parts and turn the wheel so that the oil gets in all the nooks and crannies.  Oil some more.

On the outside, you can polish the body using T-cut, this will do four things 1. remove deeply ground in grime which can't be budged by soap alone,  2) restore the blackness in the colour,  3) give a lovely shine and 4) ...


Even if by chance you have accidentally scratched your paintwork with wire wool, T-cut will make them good.  It's like a miracle!!

these have just been removed from the coke .. as you can see they still look dirty, but the dirt is really loose now and scrubs off easily
The next day, when your metal parts have soaked in coke, take them out one by one and deal with them by scrubbing again with wire wool to remove the now loose dirt, then apply a little Barkeepers friend.   This finishes off the job of the coke, removes really awkward stains and adds a little bit of shine.  Rinse whilst still 'polishing' with the wire wool under running water.


Dry the parts and polish with Peek or Brasso (I prefer Peek).  The metal polish buffs up the metal but also adds a protective coating which will give the metal parts a new lease of life and protect them from immediate rust attack.

You might discover some hidden gems ...


Reassemble your sewing machine bit by bit as you polish your metal parts.  This is where your photos will come in handy - even though it hasn't been long since you dismantled, you will be surprised at how quickly you might forget which screw goes where!

When done,  stand back and admire your work!


There are many more pictures over at my Flickr Stream right HERE.







24 comments:

alethia said...

You did fantastic job!

Sew Create It - Jane said...

WOW- you did a great job!

I can't help but wonder if coke can do that to metal...what the heck does it do to my insides!! LOL

solomi558 said...

All I can say is on my part ,Envy---cottonreel

Marie-Anne said...

I was given an old Raymond machine. I had to use a hammer to free some of the moving parts. Did you do anything to the wood parts?

Penny Dreadful said...

How fascinating, and what a difference. I love seeing old things done up like this.

ps well done on getting into the Cision vintage top ten! x

SewChristine said...

How does she sew now? This is the kind of machine that any sewer would love to have in her collection. Well done.

Butterfly said...

Thanks for this post. I found a Singer in a charity shop last week for £12. The poor little fella does need some tlc and now I know how to do it!!!! Perfect timing, thank you so much.
Looks brilliant by the way xx

Kimberly said...

wow, that's really beautiful!
A friend is giving me his grandmother's old machine/ cabinet in a couple of months and i will surely be taking some of your advice to restore it.

Joanne said...

So beautiful, these old machines. I have yet to find one in any of my charity shops but will fall upon it in a frenzy if I do...

Vanilla Rose said...

Life would be easier with helpful pixies, though.

Deborah said...

Wonderful post! I have 3 machines that need some fixin'. I have many original attachments and bobbins to them as well. Such a labor of love and so worth the time. Thanks for the information!

Louiz said...

Wow, that is really impressive! I recently offered to clean and make work a singer machine, but it was in a much better state than yours (still doesn't work though, the owners are taking it to a specialist to fix it. There're a few bent bits which I can't straighten).

Weaverbec said...

Great tutorial! I have a machine similar. It sews prettier stitches than any other I own. There is a toll-free telephone number you can call Singer 1-800-4-SINGER; you give them the serial number on the silver plate on the front right of the machine bed, and they can tell you where and when your machine was made. Or, check out their web site: http://www.singerco.com/support/serial_numbers.html

Laura said...

Ooh, thank you so much for this! I have a similar machine that has been lurking since my birthday at the end of August, just waiting for me to pluck up the courage to deal with her. I'm going to print this out and see what I can do!

Laura x

Billie Jane said...

Excellent Job!! I LOVE the old machines and having now tidied up 3 (only two working but third looking pretty) vintage/antique sewing machines I can definitely vouch for your technique. Especially the taking photographs bit - can't tell you how much that came in handy.. lol!

Red said...

Oh dear. If I buy the next vintage sewing machine I see, it will be because of this post:)

Claire (aka Seemane) said...

Thanks for the great tips & how to! I've just bought a Singer 28 Model and she needs a good clean-up :)

Perdita said...

OMG, thank goodness I saved this post a while back! Just got a vintage singer in need of some TLC...hurrah!

BU said...

Hi!
Thank you so much for your help and pictures explaining how to revive vintage machines. I just applied T CUT to a 1918 Singer and after buffing with a dry cloth I have observed white marks on the paint. Is this expected? I am a bit upset, as I think the machine looked better before the T CUT. Any help appreciated.

Kind regards

Sarah

JuliaB said...

Hi Bu.. without seeing what your machine's white marks look like, I can't help much ... It may be that some polish has got in a crack, but even then you should be able to buff the t-cut clear .. unless you used a coloured t-cut ?

Orlando Brother Sewing Machines said...

What an amazing idea, using Coke to clean off the parts! There's a use you don't see in their advertising, ha ha. I might have to try that on some of my Orlando Brother sewing machines were left in the shed too long (unfortunately). Thanks for sharing this!

embroidery design said...

I love seeing the old singer machine photos, my mom used when i was a child. Its about 20-30 years ago, these great pictures!!...:)

Dede said...

Thank you so much for this, i got a beautiful 1936 singer for christmas ans have since got three more from the car boot sale (HA i got two yesterday for £7.50 and one is from 1906) they really need some tlc so i have just taken all my befor photos and cant wait to start making them back to there full glory!!!

Stephanie McDonnell said...

Where do you buy the T-cut?