Bag Sealer

I have used this space mostly to present my vintage sewing machines, but from time to time I like to showcase other gadgets that are useful in my craft studio. 

One of these is my vintage bag sealer. Originally designed for sealing up foodstuffs in tke kitchen, this gadget is one of the handiest items in my craft room.

I use it mostly for packaging small notions that I want to keep tidy or together: game pawns and dice,  small screws and bolts,  notions for a craft kit, parts for my button machines . . . .  I also use the bag method for keeping matching buttons together in my stash. I used to tie them with string, but I've found that the knot frequently comes loose, scattering the matching buttons among the random ones in the box. Sealing them into clear bags is quick and inexpensive and works really well. 

When I make embroidered toy eyes, such as these ones I've been doing for my sister, I keep them in pairs by sealing them into custom sized packets. They can be seen through the clear plastic, so it's easy to pick out the ones  you need, but they're protected from dust and soil until they're ready to be used. Fantastic! 

The bag sealer is a simple gadget, really. A current runs through a wire, which heats up. (You can see the wire at the front of the open jaws of the device). You just lay the bag across the wire and close the lid, pressing down to activate the heated wire and seal the plastic, which takes 10-30 seconds depending on the plastic used.

The best part is that you don't need special plastic:  just about any plastic bag can be used, which means you can recycle some of the clear bags you get on products you buy. And you can actually fabricate small bags to fit your project, as I did with the toy eyes and game pawns above. I've even used the bag sealer with mylar wrap to seal up tiny stocking stuffers -- it works a treat! 

As a bonus, one of the things I learned early on is that I can use the bag sealer to shrink wrap small items as well -- what a nifty thing that is! Plastic will draw up and shrink when subjected to heat, so you just seal the item into a bag that fits fairly closely, then use a heat source to gently warm the plastic enough to shrink it around the item. If you use the thin plastic from drycleaner bags, or the kind that is intended for sealing off windows in the winter, you can do the shrinking with a hair dryer. For thicker plastic, a heat gun may be necessary. I've used the heat gun successfully, but It takes some practice to keep from melting holes in the plastic bag, and you do have to be careful if the item you're shrink-wrapping is likely to be damaged by the heat. 

I've seen many of these over the years at yard sales and thrift stores, usually for under $5. They aren't as ubiquitous now as they used to be, but they do still show up from time to time. I've got an extra one here in case my first one wears out (it has been serving me for 20 years and isn't ready for retirement yet). I keep one always available in the craft room, because I use it several times a week. 

Singer 401

I've just been looking over the past entries I've made for my various machines and was surprised to discover that I've never talked about the celebrated Singer 401. 

I've noticed several vintage machines characterized as "the greatest Singer every built"  but this one might just be it. 

The 401 is a 60s machine, the last of the great Singers before they started introducing plastic parts. It's an all-metal machine with steel gears and innards and an aluminum housing. It's a direct-drive too, which means no belts to slip or need replacing.

All that metal means these machines can be a little noisier than those with plastic parts, but that's a small price in return for the strength and robustness of these beautiful machines.  This one has been sewing up a storm for about 60 years, and, if half decently taken care of, will sew for another 60 and beyond. 

The 401, like the Rocketeer, is a class 66 machine, with the drop-in bobbin that became the standard on most 

subsequent Singers, and on almost all machines from other manufacturers.  Personally this is my favourite bobbin system -- it's easy to use and maintain, almost never goes out of time, and the bobbins hold a good quantity of thread. 

Like the 301, the 500 Rocketeer, and the later Touch & Sew series, this machine features Singer's slant needle set-up, which gives greater visibility around the needle so you can more easily see what you're doing when the work is detailed.

The class 66 bobbins are readily available as are the needles for this machine, which are standard domestic #15x1. The slant accessories are not quite as ubiquitous as the low-shank ones, but Singer built so many slant machines that if yours are missing, a set can usually be found at yard sales or thrift shops. (I picked up a box just a few days ago for $5). 

The 401 fits most Singer cabinets, but it's made as a self-contained portable and can sit on a tabletop on its rubber feet. The case for these machines is the suitcase-style trapezoid one with the grasscloth covering, though your thrift shop or garage sale machine may not come with a case. 

There's even an on-board guide to stitch settings -- just flip up the top of the machine to find it. This machine can also chuck two needles at once, so you can get a double needle effect without the need of buying an expensive twin needle.

These days, 401s can vary considerably in price. If you're in the market ,  your chances of finding one at a thrift shop or garage sale are actually quite good, since Singer produced millions over the five

One of the best things about the 401, at least to me, is the wonderful range of stitches it can produce, both with the settings on the built-in camstack or using any of the 21 top hat cams. It's 100% mechanical too, so it's easy to service on your own, and unlike a computerized machine, it has no electronic bits that can fail.

years of its production, but expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $300 or more, especially if it's been serviced. 

I've seen them advertised for as much as $500, but occasionally you can find an unbelievable bargain: last winter I picked one up at a thrift store for a mere $11. It was missing its power cord and attachments, but I had extras of both so was able to supply the machine once I got it home. A few drops of oil and a good cleaning were all it needed. Now it's sewing beautifully.

The controls on the 401 are pretty much the same as those on the Rocketeer and the Touch & Sews. All those knobs and settings look more complicated than they are, and once you've got the hang of them you can sew just about any household project with ease.

I currently own three of these and have given one to my sister as well. Until just a week ago I had one of them set up all the time in the sewing room, but as I sort out which machines I'm rotating out of service, I've temporarily taken it down. I find myself missing it, though, so I may have to restore it to availability.


Greist Buttonholers

I think I just might be Queen of the Vintage Buttonholers. At last count I own more than two dozen of them, yet I'm still tempted to grab another if I see one in a shop.  

Every collector of vintage machines has seen these in their plastic "treasure chest" cases:  green for  low-shank and burgundy for the slants. They are simple to operate and make gorgeous buttonholes, greatly expanding the capabilities of a straight-sew machine. In fact, my friend Nancy, who tailored all her own garments when she was in high school, still swears that no electronic machine she's had since can match the quality of buttonholes she got with this attachment and her mom's old Singer 15.

These were invented by John M. Greist, who was employed by Singer to create sewing machine attachments in the late 1800s. His company produced attachments not only for Singer but also under their own name, and badged for many others, including White, Morse, Domestic, and even Kenmore.   

The later buttonholers are mechanically identical to the earlier models, though a plastic housing replaced the metal. Eventually the cams would be made of plastic as well, and the plastic cases gave way to cardboard boxes.

Some of the later models can be found in assorted colours, such as the blue one at right, and with a variety of badge names. All of them attach in the same way and use the same style of cams.  The original buttonholer came with five, and you could buy an "expansion pack" that gave you four more. There is even an eyelet cam, but those are quite rare.  

In the late 1950s the "treasure chest" style cases were replaced by these iconic space-age inspired "Jetson" cases, still with the same colour coding: green for low-shank, pink for slants. They're kind of eye candy, but their shape makes them a bit of a pain to store. 

Greist was still producing buttonholers well into the 1960s, in fact right up until the advent of electronic machines and their built-in buttonhole functions.  

They are still functional and still make lovely buttonholes. In fact, I still use one of these to make the buttonholes on my gift bags.  Unfortunately there's still no explanation as to why I feel the need to own dozens of the darned things!

Rob's Badged "Ideal" (Fukusuke)

A few weeks ago I featured my Japanese badged "Maritimer" and mentioned that my sewing machine guru, Rob, was keen to find one for himself. Well,  just a couple of days ago he was lucky enough to do just that, and he's provided a little more information than I had. For one thing, he tells me that this unusual machine was manufactured by Fukusuke. 

My identical machine is still sitting in my friend's warehouse a thousand miles from here, so I haven't had a chance to sew with it yet (if we ever get through this pandemic, I'll drive out to retrieve it -- which I'm even more keen to do now that Rob has got his up and running!)

Rob reports that this machine sews beautifully,  tracking very straight on both forward and reverse, and producing a wonderful quality of stitch. I should probably note that it's a straight sew only machine, but it's made for hefty tasks, with its built-in oil reservoir that keeps the innards nicely lubricated. Here's Rob's picture of the oil reservoir access point.  

As I mentioned when writing about my Maritimer, this is a low-shank, class 15 machine, and takes standard bobbins and needles, both of which are easy to find. It can also use low-shank attachments, which are ubiquitous, so it's easy to add additional specialty presser feet.

Rob's machine isn't badged "Maritimer" as mine is, but it sounds like "Ideal" is exactly the right name for what has been described as the strongest home sewing machne in the world. It's all metal inside and out, and can take on any domestic sewing task with ease. I'm not sure of the manufacture date of this model, but I'm guessing it probably came to be in the 1950s -- which means it's been sewing for 70 years or more. Judging from the condition of Rob's machine and the look of mine, at least in the photos my friend sent, they'll both be sewing robustly for another 70. 

I wish I'd been the one to find this for Rob, but since I've had no luck locating one, I'm thrilled that he found it on his own. Next time I see him I'll be able to get some tips for when I can finally bring mine home with me! I can't wait!