I used a 1924 Singer to sew a skirt

I was gifted a 1924 Singer 99 electric several years ago and recently had it serviced to be sure it was in good enough shape for me to sew a garment with it.

Here’s the machine:

This is a Singer 99 sewing machine, built in February 1924 with a ton of accessories!

The Singer 99 is a smaller and lighter version of the Singer 66.

The skirt is complete, and it was a delightful experience to create it using only a vintage machine and hand-stitching.

What I liked about using the Singer:

  • The moving parts just glide, particularly the hand wheel. When people say “like a well-oiled machine,” this is what they’re talking about. It has a wonderfully smooth motion.
  • It’s gorgeous. It has a shiny black body with elaborate gold detailing and an embossed faceplate. It’s a pleasure to sew with something so pretty.
  • I was able to connect to history in a real way. Although there are many bells and whistles available on new sewing machines to make sewing a little easier, the actual process of creating a garment isn’t really any different now than it was 91 years ago. I enjoyed experiencing sewing just the way people did back in the 1920s.

Here’s a video of the Singer in action:

Kickin' it old school with my 1924 Singer #sewinglife #vintagestyle

A video posted by Jeanne Marie Tokunaga (@jmsewingstudio) on

What I missed about my Fancy Damn Viking:

  • The foot pedal. It was really hard to get used to operating the machine with a knee lever (really, a thigh lever). Ergonomically, I think it would take a while for using it to become truly comfortable, let alone second nature. When I put the Singer on my sewing desk, I unplugged the foot pedal from the Viking but left it in place, so I kept trying to use it out of habit!
  • The reverse button. The Singer is just a few years too old to have a reverse lever on it. Starting and ending a line of stitches was a little cumbersome because at first I opted to flip the entire garment around in order to stitch backward then forward. After a while, I decided to sew forward about a half-inch, then raise the needle, move the fabric without cutting the thread, and restart the seam from the beginning.
  • The presser foot button. I’m now accustomed to using a button to raise and lower the presser foot on my Viking. (There are three different heights I can raise it to!) Using a traditional back lever was not a problem except for its proximity to the exposed light bulb with metal shield on the back of the machine. Ouch, that’s hot!

What seemed to be a drawback but wasn’t:

No zipper foot. At first I was dismayed to see that the Singer did not have a zipper foot among its accessories. Zippers were not yet used in clothing in the 1920s (according to Wikipedia anyway), which explains why it didn’t have one originally. (I could probably buy one that would work.) So, I sewed the zipper in by hand. This is my first time hand picking a lapped application; but in general, I’ve found that hand-sewn zippers are more successful for me than sewing them in by machine. The zipper slider isn’t in the way of a hand needle, so it’s easy to maintain a straight stitching line. I’m not particularly eager to sew another garment zipper in by machine.

Now that the project is complete, the Viking is back on my sewing desk, but I have no doubt I’ll be using the Singer again. I’m thinking it would be wonderful to make a quilt with it.

Next time, I’ll share the project that I sewed with the Singer.

Linen skirt sewn with a vintage Singer

I found an irresistible embroidered linen at Jo-Ann’s a month or so ago.

I thought this blue linen with cream embroidery would make a pretty top.

I thought this blue linen with delicate cream embroidery would make a pretty top.

I really need to start looking more closely when I buy fabric, because when I was prepping it for washing, I discovered that I had actually bought this:

When I was prepping this fabric for washing, I discovered that the fabric wasn't quite what I thought!

Whoa! That was a surprise.

It was really too heavily embroidered for a top, so I decided to turn it into a skirt: Butterick 5737.

I made view A on the left, which I've made twice before.

I made view A on the left, which I’ve made twice before.

I was about 1 1/2 inches short of fabric, so I let the hem of one pattern panel hang off the cut edge. Some of the seams end up on the bias, so I’d have to let the skirt hang and trim the hem even anyway.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I decided to use the 1924 Singer 99 electric for all the machine sewing:

  • Sewing the side seams
  • Finishing the side seam allowances with rayon hem tape
  • Attaching the waistband
  • Sewing single-fold bias tape to the hem edge

The rest I did by hand:

  • Inserting the lapped zipper
  • Finishing the waistband
  • Sewing the hem
  • Attaching the hook and eye

I have found that on embroidered fabric, the embroidered design doesn’t go all the way to the selvage edge. In this case, there was a rather wide area that wasn’t embroidered, so I worked it into my cutting strategy.

I decided to cut the skirt panels so the edge of the embroidery would run along, but not into, the center front and back seams. I also decided to cut the waistband from an area with no embroidery at all.

Here’s a good look at the center front seam:

IMG_1018

The edges of the embroidery along each selvage were really different, so this doesn’t look quite as good as I’d hoped.

And the waistband:

Waistband with no embroidery.

There aren’t supposed to be tucks at the center front, but I needed to ease in the skirt panels and tried to do it with pins instead of ease-stitching. You can see how well that worked out.

And here are some of the other details:

IMG_1009

Hand picked zipper. (The waistband looks a different color here, but it isn’t.)

The hand picked zipper from the inside.

The hand picked zipper from the inside.

IMG_1042

Seam and hem finishes.

Here’s the skirt as part of a whole outfit on Gene the Dress Form:

The blouse is Simplicity 6104 (modified), and the scarf I picked up on sale at Pier 1 about two weeks ago.

The blouse is Simplicity 6104, and I picked up the scarf on sale at Pier 1 a few weeks ago.

Next up, I’m supposed to be recovering the patio dining set cushions.

But I’d rather make a red polka dot top. Who wouldn’t?

A flannel rag quilt — just in time for summer

My local quilt shop, Country Sewing Center, for years has had various iterations of the same flannel rag quilt on display. There’s pretty much always one hanging in the shop to promote the “Flannel With a Flair” class where instructor Linda Bergmann teaches how to make it. Every version has drawn my acute attention to its pretty patchwork pattern and fluffy exposed seam allowances. I must confess that I have fondled the displays more than once.

I finally couldn’t stand it any more and signed up for the class on a whim and bought all the necessary fabric right then and there. More than 10 yards of flannel. In April. I don’t remember why I went into the shop. I’m not even a quilter.

The process to make the quilt involves sandwiching precut squares and rectangles of something called Osnaburg (a loosely woven, somewhat coarse cotton) between matching pairs of flannel. The sandwiched layers are all sewn together in a patchwork pattern with half-inch seam allowances, and the quilt is bound in the usual way.

I don’t have a walking foot, which the instructor said doesn’t help much for this kind of quilt anyway because the flannel ends up shifting all over the place regardless. My supposedly half-inch seam allowances varied from one-fourth to three-fourths of an inch as the layers moved around. And some of the corners did not remotely line up.

All those seams allowances end up exposed on one side of the quilt. All of them are then snipped close to, but not through, the seams. Snip-snip-snip. Snip-snip-snip.

Jeanne Marie's Sewing Studio. Snipping a rag quilt.

I snipped seam allowances for three days. There’s a tool designed specifically for snipping rag quilts. It was a huge help during this tedious step.

After all the snipping of all those quirky seam allowances, the front of the quilt looked terrible. TERRIBLE!

Jeanne Marie's Sewing Studio. Snipped rag quilt.

I had no confidence this caterpillar of a quilt was going to turn into a butterfly after washing.

The magic is supposed to happen when you wash the quilt. All those snips are supposed to turn into fluffy seam allowances. This being my first time making one of these, I had my doubts about all the crazy seam allowances right up until the quilt came out of the dryer. I needn’t have worried. The instructor said the quilt is very forgiving, and she was right. It looked just like all the pretty samples I had seen at the shop over the years. You can’t even see the variations in seam allowances or the ones that don’t match up like they’re supposed to, so I guess they weren’t as bad as I thought.

And here it is!

The quilt fabrics were picked out to match my family room.

How pretty is this? I just followed the process, and the process worked beautifully.

When fall comes back around, the quilt will live on the family room couch.

The quilt fabrics were picked out to match my family room.

I picked out the fabrics to match my family room. Fifteen different flannel prints are used for this quilt.

And here’s the reverse side:

The back of the quilt doesn't have any seam allowances.

The back of the quilt is smooth but not nearly as pretty.

Here’s an up-close look at the fluffy seam allowances:

The seam allowances end  up looking surprisingly tidy, almost like a ruffle or braid.

The seam allowances end up looking surprisingly tidy, almost like a ruffle or braid.

Binding is optional. You can actually snip the edges and let them ruffle as well, but I prefer a tidy edge.

Binding is optional. You can actually snip the edges and let them fluff out as well, but I wanted a tidy edge.

There were only two class sessions, with all the cutting done before the first, and some sewing done in between. After the last class, all I had left was binding, snipping, washing and drying.

The whole thing was completed within the month of May. All that flannel is fairly pricey, but, as the teacher warned us, it’s such a satisfying quilt to make that you end up wanting to make more. I can see making one for my daughter’s dorm room before she heads off to college in 2016.

I still don’t call myself a quilter, but I’ve been collecting free simple quilting patterns off the Internet for several months, so I’m hoping to dive into that really soon.


Flannel With a Flair

Country Sewing Center, Elk Grove, Calif.

Next class: September 21 and 28, 6-8:30 p.m.

Instructor: Linda Bergmann

Fee: $30

For information on registering, visit http://www.countrysewing.net/.

TCM’s Summer of Darkness

1944's "Laura" starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews is playing this Friday on TCM's Summer of Darkness.

1944’s “Laura” starring Gene Tierney and Dana Andrews is playing this Friday on TCM’s Summer of Darkness.

Being a film noir lover (the costumes!), I’m spending the warm months hiding in the shadows of the TCM Summer of Darkness. Every Friday in June and July, Turner Classic Movies is showing nothing but noir.

I’m even taking the free online course TCM is hosting in conjunction with the Summer of Darkness, called “Into the Darkness: Investigating Film Noir.” We’re in Week 2 of 9, and I’m learning a lot already about one of my favorite film genres — or is it a style or even a movement? There’s still time to register for the class and catch up on the fun homework (or just learn more about noir and what movies TCM is showing) at summerofdarkness.tcm.com.

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