Momentos of the Past – Restoring My Grandmother’s Singer 99k Sewing Machine


This is a little outside the normal realm of what I post on this blog, but I figured it might make interesting reading.

The Backstory

My grandmother was born on the 7th of May, 1914, in Singapore. She was a first-generation Chinese-Singaporean, her parents having migrated to Singapore from southern China. She had a mere five years’-worth of education at an English-language school in what was then Singapore Town, from 1921-1926.

She married my grandfather during the Second World War in 1943.

When the War ended, she occupied herself in looking after her husband’s three children by his first marriage. In 1953, she opened her own dressmaking and tailoring shop, in the Malaysian town of Batu Pahat. She shared the premises with a women’s beauty-salon, and consequently, it was called the ‘Kam Seng Beauty Parlour‘ (Kam Seng is Cantonese. It means ‘Golden Star‘).

When my grandmother opened her shop, she was gifted a beautiful, and brand-new sewing-machine. She used that machine for every single one of the thirty years that she ran her shop, and when my grandfather died in May, 1983, she closed the shop, retired, and immigrated to Australia.

She brought the machine with her, and continued to use it almost every single day, up until about 2003. She repaired clothes for friends, she took in alterations from her church-group, and she repaired the many rips and tears in clothing that will come from it being worn by two lively grandsons…one of them was me.

Gran and her sewing-machine were inseparable. I remember when my father purchased her a modern machine, she barely touched it, and went back to using her Singer. She was always a bit set in her ways, and while she was more receptive to other modern technologies (at the age of 85, she knew how to use Microsoft Word, type, and print on a computer), she was absolutely dead-set that the only machine she would ever use for sewing was her own.

Around 2000-2003 (I forget exactly when), my grandmother had to move into a nursing-home. Her Alzheimer’s Disease had become too much of a liability and a risk to house her safely at home. Alzheimer’s is a horrible, crippling illness. Unless they’ve seen it firsthand and had to deal with it for years on end, don’t believe anyone who tells you that “I understand” when you talk about Alzheimers…because they don’t. Unless they’ve seen it, or studied it, or treated it…they really don’t.

When gran moved to the nursing-home, her sewing-machine was put downstairs in the basement, where it has sat for the past 10 years.

My grandmother died on the 28th of November, 2011, at the impressive age of 97.

With her gone, and my father and I constantly discussing antiques and heirlooms and him telling me all the stuff that his family used to own, but which they don’t anymore, because they were thrown out, but which today would be worth a pretty penny…my mind was drawn towards gran’s sewing-machine.

That machine was her life. She carried it EVERYWHERE with her and it was her baby. She would let nobody else touch it (except me, because I used to set it up for her every morning. The machine weighs 31lb, 4oz…about 15kg…and it wasn’t easy for an seven-year-old boy to haul that thing around!). Now that she was gone, we had nothing left to remind us of gran, except her sewing-machine.

With all of my father’s stories ringing around in my ears, I began to wonder what would happen?

That machine was gran’s mainstay and anchor and rock for 50 years, or over half her life. And it was the one machine that represented her character and told her life-story better than anything else. Tough, simple, elegant, stubborn and impossible to destroy.

Be there as it may, I knew that it wasn’t going to last long rotting downstairs in the basement. So I decided to haul it out of that godforsaken hole in the ground, and restore it to a level where it was once again a functional piece of machinery.

STEP ONE – Cleaning the Machine

Carrying it as carefully as I could, I hauled gran’s Singer…because that’s what it is…out of the basement. It was locked up tightly inside the curved ‘Bentwood’ case, cocooned by wood and shrouded in the dust of a decade. I cleaned off the dust and then set about opening the case.

The cases are held onto the machine-bases by very simple, but surprisingly effective locks. Without a key, these cases are literally impossible to open. I squirted some oil into the lock and while I waited for it to settle, I went off to find the one tool that I would need to open the case.

Not the key, that was long gone.

A 3mm flat-head screwdriver.

If anyone reading this has ever tried to open a Singer bentwood case but doesn’t have the key…pay close attention…

The profile of a 3mm flat-head screwdriver perfectly fits the keyhole of a Singer bentwood case’s lock. A few generous squirts of oil, a few minutes of waiting, then I shoved the screwdriver, horizontally, into the lock. I turned it clockwise 90 degrees, until the lock was in the vertical “Unlocked” position.

Then, I shifted the whole top of the case to the left about a quarter of an inch. This is to disengage the other bolt or latch, which secures the right side of the case to the machine-base (the lock with the key is always on the left), and then lifted it up.

Here’s the bentwood case:

Here’s the keyhole:

That rectangular thing is the keyhole. It’s 1mm high by 3mm wide. You can also see the bolt underneath, that you have to throw over, to unlock the case

And this was the machine as it looked when I broke open the pharaoh’s tomb:

I’m no expert with sewing-machines. I just like old, vintage, antique-y things. And this is the closest thing we have in my family to an heirloom, so I decided almost immediately, to try and get it running again.

In all honesty, this thing probably hasn’t been serviced by your friendly local Singer Man since it left the factory back in 1950. I had no idea what I was getting myself in for, but I started, anyway.

‘Singer Manufacturing Company’ factory; Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland, U.K (Photo ca. 1901).
Gran’s machine was made here

First, I had to clean out all the gunk and fluff and crap that was inside the machine. Over the decades, this machine built up an enormous amount of dust and fluff, lint, loose thread, dead insects, coagulated oil and other…crap!…which rendered it totally unusable. I basically had a really awesome boat-anchor sitting on the living-room floor.

So, off with the face-plate…

The faceplate is that pretty steel plate with all the patterns on it that you see in the photo above. It was held on by one screw, and one nut. Somewhere in there is a bad joke…

Behind the plate is the crankshaft mechanism that powers the needle-bar (along with everything else in the machine apart from the light). It looks like this:

It’s quite simple, really. The crank turns around. It simultaneously lifts the needle-bar and lowers the uptake-lever (that’s the doohickey sticking out on the right with the hole in it), and then does the opposite when it completes one revolution.

As you see it there, the machine was completely immovable. It was covered in gunk and crud that I had to pick out with tweezers and wipe down with tissues to remove. It’s not just taking out the Dyson or the Hoover and sucking all the crap out of the machine…a vacuum-cleaner wouldn’t be able to remove 90% of the gunk inside here, because it’s stuck in really inaccessible places which only tweezers are able to reach, like behind levers, rods, shafts and plates.

Once that was done, I then had to tackle the handwheel assembly, at the other end of the machine. The handwheel is this big shiny wheel:

The handwheel spins around thanks to a belt-drive wrapped around it, which hooks up to the machine-motor at the back. You can see it here:

That black lump at the bottom left is the machine-motor. Above it, you can see the black light-shade. To the left of the lightshade is the drive-belt that runs the machine.

Anyway, I digress. I had to remove the clutch-wheel, also called the stop-motion wheel, which is that silvery wheel in the middle of the handwheel. You might notice that it’s held on by a single, but surprisingly effective screw, which took quite a while to loosen up. Once it was loose and I could unscrew the clutchwheel, I was confronted with this enchanting scene:

This is a part of the machine that NEVER sees the light of day, and yet it’s full of fluff, lint, gunk, dried oil and other crap. This is why complete disassembly of the machine was necessary…it’s this stuff that stops it from running, because it jams up the works. I took off the washer (that’s the doughnut with the three nubs sticking off it), and cleaned it, the crankshaft and the wheel, thoroughly. This is what it looked like when I was done:

This is the other (non-shiny) side of the clutch-wheel, with the washer sitting on top of it:

If you’re reading this as a guide on how to clean and fix your Singer (provided it’s the same model that I have!), you’ll notice that there’s a little nub sticking out of the clutch-wheel, around the 9 o’clock position. That’s the screw that holds the clutch-wheel onto the larger handwheel. It’s sticking out there because it doesn’t (and is not supposed to) be removed entirely from the clutch-wheel. It’ll unscrew a few milimeters and then it will stop. Do NOT force it…you won’t achieve anything at all, and what you want to have achieved (which is removal of the clutch-wheel) should be well within your capabilities by then.

Anyway, next step was to clean the bobbin-mechanism:

The bobbin mechanism is what holds the…bobbin. The bobbin being that shiny steel spool with the three big holes and the one small hole in it. It’s what feeds the thread to the underside of the machine to make the classic lockstitch.

Oh, and a warning note here…

See that nice fluffy red felty cloth on the right?

If you’re fixing, cleaning or repairing a sewing-machine, and you see the felt…

LEAVE IT ALONE!!!

The felt is your friend. It is there for a purpose! So DO NOT touch it! Without the felt, you’d have the oscillating hook (that catches the thread and pulls it under the needle to make the lock part of the lockstitch) scraping against metal inside the machine, and that would wear everything down and eventually just break it.

Fortunately, I”d read this warning on another blog before commencing work on this machine, so no undue damage was done to the intricate inner workings of this Singer by my hands.

Once the topside of the machine was cleaned, polished and defluffed, I had to tackle the underside of the machine. To do that, I unscrewed this nut, and swung back this catch:

That allows me to lift up the whole machine and tilt it back on hinges to access the storage-compartment underneath the machine:

This handy little compartment is where you would store things like thread, spare needles, bobbins, the machine-manual and all that other stuff. But more importantly, it was where I could get my hands on this:

This is the other side of this:

And it had just as much fluff, crap and mostly…loose thread…as the topside did.

Once the entire machine was completely cleaned, inside and out, topside, downside, upside and underside, it was ready to oil it.

STEP TWO – Oiling the Machine

Singers were made to be idiot-proof and user-friendly. To that end, they are incredibly easy to use, and look after. Especially a machine like this. The next step was to oil the machine to unjam all those frozen pistons and rods and cranks. To do that, you need high-grade machine-oil. You can buy this stuff at sewing-shops, decent hardware shops and whatever. Ideally, you want sewing-machine-specific oil. But if you can’t get that, any really thin, runny, high-grade oil (which will work for sewing-machines, and says so on the label), will do.

For this, I used SuperLube machine-oil.

And a LOT of it.

It took about an hour to fully lubricate the machine to the point where it would move as it once did. Oiling it is pretty easy. Just remember to squirt oil where-ever something moves. On a sewing-machine, that’s a surprisingly large number of places!

Fortunately for us, Singer thought about this, and provided us with these:

Those holes (next to the ‘T’ the ‘The‘ and under the ‘i’ in ‘Singer‘) are just two of several oiling-holes. You squirt or drip the oil down those holes to lubricate the machine!

What’s in there?

Why the crankshaft that runs the machine, of course! But before you do that, make sure you stick your needle-nosed tweezers down those holes first. There might be some unexpected surprises in there (like dead insects or dust, lint and fluff), that you don’t want to get all over the insides of your beautiful vintage sewing-machine.

Once the machine was generously oiled, I ran it by hand for several minutes to work the oil into the mechanism. You can do this easily by just turning the big, black and silver handwheel anticlockwise to work the mechanism. It doesn’t damage the machine, so don’t worry about that. Now that the machine was running, it was time for…

STEP THREE – Testing the Machine

This is a Singer 99k knee-lever machine made in Kilbowie, Clydebank, Scotland, in 1950. It’s called a knee-lever because it uses one of these to get it running:

That’s the knee-lever. And this is the socket that it slots into, on the right of the machine:

So, you plug in the power-cord, you stick in the weird, twisted “?”-shaped crank-thingy and you let ‘er rip!

And boy does it ever.

The machine was running like a jackhammer on steroids. In other words…perfectly!

Then, I had to make sure that, not only the sewing-mechanism was working, but that the bobbin-winding mechanism was working.

The bobbin-winder is this little thingo here:

It’s used to mechanically wind thread back onto the bobbin (that little steel thread-spool from further up in the posting) when the thread runs out. It turns a task that would take several minutes, into an event that’s over in about 30 seconds. You work the bobbin-winder by loosening the clutch-wheel (turning it anticlockwise), slotting a bobbin onto the rod:

Setting the release-lever against the bobbin (to stop it flying off the rod when this thing gets moving!), threading the bobbin, and then pressing the knee-lever to do the rest.

The automatic bobbin-winder will keep spinning, and the bobbin will keep filling, until such time as the thread in the bobbin fills up to such a level that it pushes away the release-lever. This automatically disengages the flywheel, which stops the mechanism dead in its tracks. And you have a full bobbin.

STEP FOUR – Accessorising the Machine

The next step was to accessorise the machine, or to find extra bits and bobs for it. These aren’t essential things, but they’re things that would be nice to have…like…extra needles…extra bobbins…original packaging…oil-cans…all that stuff. When the machine was brand new, it would’ve come with all kinds of nick-nacks and doodads and whizzle-whozzles that would’ve allowed the owner to attain a mastery of the machine good enough to make a suit.

I got lucky at the local flea-market and picked up a whole heap of needles and bobbins (eleven bobbins and two packs of original Singer needles) for a good price. Here they are, along with the one bobbin and the one Singer packet (with the one extra needle) that came along with my machine when I found it in the basement:

In time, I do hope to get other bits and pieces to make the machine more complete.

Along with the needles and bobbins, I got my hands on an original Singer bentwood key, for the case, kindly given to me by a friend…

“SIMANCO” is the “Singer Manufacturing Company”. The number next to it (96507) is the part-number for the key.

It was now that I also started looking at the bentwood case which housed this machine. It had all these weird little things inside it which I had no idea what they were for. That was when I found the bracket to hold the knee-bar:

This bracket is directly under the handle on the top of the case, and in the apex of the arch. You stick one end of the knee-bar into the socket on the left, then slot the rest of it into the slot on the right, and swing the catch (which will then go up and over the bar) to lock into place, to stop it wriggling around and falling off. Also inside the machine is a little black, wire bracket. It would have originally held a dome-shaped Singer oil-can, which would’ve looked like this:

Unfortunately, I don’t have a dome-shaped Singer oil-can (…yet…), but that’s what that bracket is there for, if you’ve ever wondered.

At the time of this posting, I’m still searching for extra bits and bobs and thingummies for the machine. If and when I find them, I’ll probably post about it here on the blog.

STEP FIVE – Replacement Parts

The next step was to find replacement parts…or to be precise, one part.

The part that goes here:

As you can see, the jerry-rig solution was a piece of balsa-wood held on with tape. Hardly the best substitute for the machine’s slide-plate, which is supposed to cover the bobbin-mechanism. Fortunately, I found a reproduction slide-plate (and yes, there are modern reproduction Singer parts), which I found on eBay (and that’s where you can get them, if you need them. There are also websites out there which sell original spare Singer parts. It’s just a matter of how desperate you are and what you want to pay). It was purchased on my behalf by my cousin, Hansen, who lives in Singapore, and which was hurried off to me with all due speed. It arrived…today, actually…and now the same part of the machine looks like this:

Yes, the slide-plate has a different metal-finish to the needleplate next to it, so they don’t match exactly, but it’s close enough for my purposes. And the important thing is that it fits and it does what it’s supposed to do!…Slide!:

All modern replacement slide-plates for Singer 99’s, 99k’s, 66’s, and 66k’s (and any other Singer models that take the square slide-plate…Singer parts were surprisingly interchangeable!) come in this same matte-finish, and not the shiny mirror-finish of the originals. But we should be thankful that there are reproduction plates at all!

The machine is now essentially complete. And I mean that literally..all the essential parts are present and correct. Needles, bobbins, plates, thread, machine-oil…the machine has been cleaned, oiled, tested, and it’s back to operational condition. I’m still after other Singer bits and pieces (attachments, extra feet, button-holers etc), but as it sits now, this machine will do, without any kind of hindrance, the task for which it was built when it left Scotland 60+ years ago…sew!

This is my grandmother’s Singer 99k knee-lever, as it appears now:

A Note on Construction

During this little adventure of mine, it occurred to me how fantastically-built these old Singers were. Of ALL the components on this machine, a grand-total of…FIVE…are made of something OTHER than cast iron, steel or wood. The plastic (bakelite?) shield on the steel light-shade…the lightbulb itself…the tire on the flywheel for the bobbin-winder, the drive-belt on the handwheel, and the power-cord and plug (also bakelite, I believe).

The Singer 99k was one of the MOST popular Singer machines ever made. They were produced from 1920 until 1962 and they’re incredibly simple, robust and powerful. Their simplicity is obvious. The motor is only there to power the drive-belt, and the light. Literally everything else on the machine is mechanical. And there’s no plastic on there at all. Nothing to crack…melt…warp…twist…shrink…expand…It just WORKS. I can’t think of a damn thing made today which was this solid when it was new, and which would still be that solid 60 years later. The Singer 99k was originally a handcranked model:

When it was released, it was a manual, hand-cranked machine, but an electrically-powered variation, with the knee-lever attachment, or the electric foot-pedal attachment (depending on variant, of course), were also available. These machines are so tough that they just NEVER break down. If you have an electrical one like I do, you might need to get the wiring checked if it’s spotty, but otherwise, they just never stop working.

And a Singer like the 66 or the 99/99k was a big investment. 11 pounds, 3s in 1930s Britain, or about a hundred and twenty dollars in America at the same time. Even in the 20s and 30s, a lot of people (mostly women) still made their own clothes, or clothes for their family, at home. Having a solid and dependable sewing-machine like a Singer was part an essential, and part a luxury, because their quality meant that they were priced pretty high. Even today, a sewing machine like my grandmother’s Singer 99k will easily sew through things like…

Denim.

Canvas.

Leather.

Multiple layers of cloth.

Things that would probably kill a modern machine…

ADDITIONAL PHOTOS

Here’s some additional photos of the machine, now that it’s complete:

The machine in its entirety!

The slide-plate doing what it does best – sliding!

The name of the beautiful pattern on the Singer 99k was called the ‘Filigree’

The Singer Manufacturing Company

More filigree!

Filigree + Plates!

Presser-foot, needle and feed-dogs (the little bumpy things)

About these ads

76 Comments

  1. Jason S. Ganz said,

    April 26, 2012 at 4:24 AM

    Mr. Cheong,

    I love the proper chronicle of the restoration of your grandmother’s sewing machine. The cleaning details, the step by step disassembly and subsequent reassembly, the before and after pictures… it just amazes me how “old” things can be just as complicated as modern digital things. Any layman can, with time and effort figure out how to program a small computer (ie: raspberry pi) to undertake a task, or to operate a machine to do a task, but analogue machines do not care for such programming; they rely on levers, pulleys, chains, and the proper amount of lubrication to work; lubrication that back in the 1950s was deemed permanent barring disaster. Modern lubricants can do much the same, but with nanotechnology can do the job even better (synthetic lubricants, for example tend to not break down as readily as their fossil-based counterparts).

    What restorations and upkeeping of vintage – and ergo presumably obsolete – machines does is provides a glimmer to the past, and it’s a glimmer that modern youth for the most part fail to appreciate fully. Our cohort find providing autonomy to the machine to be more satisfying than the actual employment of – and understanding of the mechanisms of – a machine that gives the user autonomy, if at the cost of the acceptance of user-culpability if a cock-up ensues. (My Leicaflex is that way… saying to the photographer “I’ll give you control, but if you mess up, it’s your fault for not checking with me first”.

    Perhaps though what struck me as amazing is your statement that vintage machines – particularly luxury ones such as the Singer 99k – don’t break. They don’t break not because the technology was there to build carbon-fiber everything, but because top-end goods were built on the premise of “this is designed to last a lifetime… the only reason I want this customer to return is for accessories, NOT to buy new machines every 5 to 10 years”. A top-end machine that failed in short time was viewed as a failure to the customer and an insult to the manufacturer. (This is why the Gillette company uses disposable razors… they were willing to sell the handle and complimentary blade at a loss knowing that the VAST majority of consumers would buy more blades – the blades were the source of much of the Gillette company’s profits.) Singer didn’t want homeowners to buy tons of machines… that yielded short-term customers (and angry ones at that) unless the customer was someone like Triangle Shirtwaist…. they wanted customers to buy needles, bobbins, cases, etc., that were designed to optimize the use of the machine(s). Contrast that to modern disposables such as the digital camera or the computer, where the evolution of nanotech is so quick that today’s gaming computer, or today’s $10,000 Digital Camera will find its technology in the point and shoot of 5 years’ time.

    Very nice chronicle of your restoring of gran’s machine. I think (if you could), you should put a video of it running and making “hell on wheels” as it stitches through denim, leather, silk, etc., It’d do your gran proud and give the reader an audiovisual ability to appreciate what existed before “push button, get stitch”.

    Jason

    • scheong said,

      April 26, 2012 at 6:39 PM

      Hey Jason! Long time no comment. Glad you liked it. It was lots of fun to write about.

  2. Lin said,

    May 20, 2012 at 9:53 AM

    I just got the same machine today but make in year 1955 and I am very happy to see how you clean your machine. I book mark this for my reference. Thank you so much for the valuable and easy to understand instruction with all those lovely pictures.

    • scheong said,

      May 20, 2012 at 3:10 PM

      Hi Lin,

      You’re very welcome! Glad I could help. These old mechanical sewing machines are very easy to fix and operate. If I can do it, you can do it! Feel free to send messages if you have questions about how to clean and oil the machine.

      If you intend to use your Singer 99k on a regular basis, make sure you oil it after every heavy use. This will stop the lubricants drying out and the will prevent the gears, levers and cranks from jamming and freezing for lack of oil. If you don’t, then the machine will just grind to a halt and you’ll have to start all over again, pulling the machine apart piece by piece.

    • September 4, 2012 at 11:40 AM

      I was born in Jan 1955. My dad got my Mom a 99k for Christmas 1954 just a few days before I was born. He worked nights so Mom and her best friend(whose husband worked nights too) took it out at night and made baby clothes for me without my dad knowing she found it! I do not know if she ever told him. I have her 99K and some of the baby patterns she used for my clothes. I will always cherish it!

      • scheong said,

        September 4, 2012 at 12:05 PM

        Hi Yvonne, sewing machines are important to cherish. I cherish my gran’s all the more simply because it was the moneymaker in our family when my father was a child. Without it, I probably wouldn’t be here.

  3. Lin said,

    May 20, 2012 at 9:24 PM

    I am very happy to hear from you. I shall start cleaning during my coming vacation. What did you use on your parts to make it so shinny? Thank you so much for the advice.

    • scheong said,

      May 21, 2012 at 8:38 AM

      Hi Lin,

      I have posted a new posting about how to service your old sewing-machines. You can find it under the new category dedicated to sewing-machines on the blog. I hope that helps. Feel free to post questions there, if you have any other issues.

  4. Lin said,

    May 21, 2012 at 12:15 PM

    Thank you for the posting. I really can’t wait and I have opened up the machine and noticed that the machine wasn’t used a lot because it was really clean inside… just some dust. About the red felt, mine only have a very tiny piece between the spring. And I have oiled it, hopefully the very tiny piece of red felt serve the purpose and won’t break my machine. FYI..my brother live in Melbourne too.

    • scheong said,

      May 21, 2012 at 1:54 PM

      Hi Lin.

      Yes it’s only a small patch of red felt. Nothing major. About the size of a small coin. But it’s there to prevent metal-wearing and damage.

  5. Lin said,

    May 21, 2012 at 9:13 PM

    I saw yours is a very big piece but mine is just about the size of a tenth of yours. Maybe I need to find a piece of felt and insert betwen it. Would appreciate very much if you could take a close up picture of the position for my reference. I am in no hurry, ok. Thanks again.

  6. Asumalami said,

    May 24, 2012 at 8:34 PM

    I have the same machine as well. Mine is from 1939. I too had a very tiny amount of red felt but my aunty picked it out trying to clean it. Glad she stopped after that and didnt ruin anything else. Im about to try your restoration on mine but not sure what to do about the red felt? Does anyone have a solution for this? Also what did you use to make it so shiny? Thanks for the post its muchly appreciated.

    • scheong said,

      May 24, 2012 at 8:46 PM

      The machine will run perfectly fine without the red felt, it’s just that it’s best NOT to remove it. It’s purpose is to act as a sponge. You drip oil onto it to keep it moist, and it stops the oscilating hook from scratching against the side of the machine. Not that it should, but at high speed, you never know. If you don’t have the felt, then I guess regular oiling should do the job just as good. Or you could buy some felt from an art-and-craft shop, cut a small piece (say, 3/8ths of an inch by 3/8ths of an inch) and stick it in there.

      To polish the metal, I use a German-made product called “Simichrome”. It’s a polishing-paste that comes in a red and yellow tube. In my experience, it’s pretty damn effective on anything, but brass (which for some reason it doesn’t shine). But any quality, general-purpose metal-paste should suffice.

      Please read the posting I made regarding servicing vintage sewing-machines (to be found in the appropriate category listed on the left of the blog). I cover things in greater detail than I do here. You’re welcome to ask more questions if you want/need to.

      The Singer 99k was manufactured between 1920-ca.-1965. It came in treadle, electric knee-lever, and hand-cranked varieties. It may also have come with an electric foot-pedal, I can’t remember.

      • Brandywine27 said,

        October 17, 2012 at 10:42 PM

        I have two 99k’s and they both have foot-pedals. One machine travels to class with me the other is set up in my sewing room. Awesome sewing machines!

  7. Asumalami said,

    May 24, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    Thanks so much. You’ve been a huge help. One thing to add is I didnt have a key either but opened it easily with an allan key or allan wrench (which ever you call it) I guess its called a hex key as well.

    • scheong said,

      May 24, 2012 at 9:02 PM

      Hi,

      You’re very welcome. You can find original bentwood case keys online pretty easily. But if you can’t, then a 3mm flathead screwdriver will do wonders.

      Or if you *MUST* have a ‘key’ key. Then search flea-markets and find someone who sells old vintage keys. If you’re lucky, you can find a small, generic, flat key with a 3mm head. If you do, just buy that. If the key doesn’t fit, you can use sandpaper to grind down the head of the key until it does fit.

      Happy fixing! If you have any other queries or issues, please post back, and I’ll try to help in any way that I can.

  8. Asumalami said,

    May 24, 2012 at 9:07 PM

    I found some on ebay for $20-$30. I’ll shop around some more but im in no rush to get one. Thanks again

  9. Gene said,

    May 30, 2012 at 1:46 PM

    Greetings from malaysia…thanks for the step by step instructions. my mom has the same machine at our home. very much abandoned but it served us well throughout our school going years! nice blog! keep it up!

    • scheong said,

      May 30, 2012 at 6:11 PM

      Hi Gene, get that machine running and you’ll never have to buy another one ever again. Those vintage Singers will literally last forever, provided they’re looked after. Get a competent repairman and/or electrician to rewire it, if the wiring’s a bit sus, but otherwise, everything else you can do yourself.

  10. K J said,

    August 23, 2012 at 11:56 PM

    Hi, Scheong,

    I would like to say a very big THANK YOU for your instructions. I acquired the same machine about a year ago at a thrift store for $25. During my early years, up until I was about 38-40, I made most all my clothes. But as the years went on and my son got older, I gradually stopped. When he was young, I made his shorts, western shirts, etc. My mom was a WONDERFUL seamstress, and I’ve always loved working with my hands. She taught me how to sew, and many times, I have yearned to get back to it.

    I’m in the process of that, now. I wondered how I was going to service my machine, as I didn’t want to have to purchase a manual. You are my manual! :-) Now, I am truly looking forward to working on it and getting back to doing something I’ve always loved doing. THANK YOU!

  11. Gene Maddux said,

    August 24, 2012 at 1:42 AM

    Hi,

    The mystery feet are for an industrial machine. Those particular feet are used for welting and cording. They probably came off of a model 31-15, which is just a gigantic version of your 99, with a couple changes.

    You can roll up craft felt to replace the red felt plug to keep the shuttle and race lubricated. Wool or synthetic both work fine, but purists like wool.

    You can put a ball point pen refill tube into the holes and slowly rotate the handwheel to know when the oil holes are vertical and will accept oil. It is usually with the needle at the tippy top of it’s travel.

    The zig-zagger and buttonholer work by moving the material side-to-side underneath the attachment and mine actually perform well, just can’t go super fast.

    You can buy specific straight-stitch-only walking foot attachments from SewClassic which greatly help with slippery/sticky materials and quilting.

    I like your blog entries and what you’ve done with the machine. I hope you take up sewing somewhere along the way.

    Good luck on your degree!
    :) Gene (from Springfield MO USA)

  12. Martha said,

    September 12, 2012 at 1:16 PM

    I, too, have a Singer 99k and love it. After reading your delightful article, however, must ask…now that you have restored your grandmother’s machine so meticulously, whatever are you going to do with it? Will you learn to sew, or do you intend to “rehome” it?

    • scheong said,

      September 12, 2012 at 6:06 PM

      If by “rehome”, you mean give it away, I certainly won’t do that!!

      I would like to learn how to use it. Just making simple things at first, though. Covers and sheets and such. No clothing just yet.

  13. Holly said,

    September 30, 2012 at 12:32 PM

    I came across your blog while trying to find some place that can restore my great grandmothers Singer sewing machine. I unfortunately dropped the machine and busted the very old bentwood case. Any ideas of where
    I can send the sewing machine for restoration? I live in South Florida.

    • scheong said,

      September 30, 2012 at 2:47 PM

      Hi Holly.

      Yeah, you don’t wanna drop these things, but I don’t blame you for doing it. They’re quite heavy!

      Provided the MACHINE ITSELF is undamaged, you could just build a new case for it, base, lid and all.

      Simply remove the machine from the case (it’s just screwed in there on hinges), salvage all the locks, plates, screws and latches, and then use the old case for measurements on how to build a new one. Then simply install the machine back in.

      Lots of people make their own cases for old machines, when the original case has been damaged beyond repair. There’s no reason why you can’t.

      Or if you can’t, then find someone who can.

      If the machine body ITSELF is broken, then I think you may be out of luck. There ARE people who repair and restore these things, but I’m not sure to what extent they do it. There ARE people online who fix antique sewing machines. Search for them and ask them for advice.

  14. shelly said,

    October 10, 2012 at 3:32 PM

    Thank you so much for sharing. I reacently recieved one as a gift.

  15. Kelly Bryant said,

    October 13, 2012 at 9:59 PM

    Hi I have just been given one of these sewing machines from my mum who found it in her cupboard when moving into new house. It does not come with a motor. When i turn hand crank the neddle does not seem to move up and down???? Why would this be? Thanks.

    • scheong said,

      October 13, 2012 at 10:53 PM

      Because it needs cleaning.

      Read my blog-posting about cleaning old sewing-machines (just search for it on the blog).

      It’s not too difficult, and you can do it with stuff you can find around the house, and buy at the local supermarket.

      The needle-bar won’t move up and down because the machine is jammed with dried oil, dust, fluff, gunk and other debris that is impeding its movement.

      You need to clean the ENTIRE machine, then oil it ALL OVER. Then it should run perfectly.

  16. alisonbutcher said,

    October 17, 2012 at 11:47 PM

    I also have a Singer 99K that belonged to my great grandmother (a dressmaker), then my mother and I inherited it when she died 27 years ago. I haven’t used it often but now I have just retired I’m using it far more frequently. I researched it online and it was made in 1934 and had the motor fitted in the 50s. It has a foot pedal. Whenever I use it it just works! No hassle like a far newer Janome I own that feels like its going to shake the table apart and which either goes flat out or stops. The old Singer is so much more controllable that I’ve gone back to using it rather than the newer machine. I’ve just bought a copy of the instruction booklet to find out what all the accessories do and have spent some time cleaning it up. Really enjoyed reading your blog and I’m glad I didn’t manage to pull out all the red felt!

  17. Fiona said,

    October 28, 2012 at 6:06 AM

    A lovely story, thanks for posting it.

  18. Celina said,

    November 3, 2012 at 12:46 PM

    I just wanted to say I have learned a lot reading your blog! Thank you for taking the time to put the information on the web! My husband and I purchased a vintage singer 99-13 w/knee control at an antique shop in Oregon. The bottom of the bentwood case was in really bad shape as it has had water damage. The belt needed to be replaced but all the parts were present and accounted for! We brought it home and I started to do some research before I tried anything. I found your blog and it helped me a lot! I have since purchased the correct felt (thank you for that) that goes in the machine, the correct type of motor oil, sewing machine oil, belt, bobbins, and needles! I have ordered the correct manual for it and I am looking for the seam guide and will purchase it soon. Also will keep my eye out for the box of attachments! I had to replace the bottom of the bentwood case and also replace 3 of the 4 corners within the inside of the case. I painted it a little darker than the original color (all I had on hand) and I put a protective coating over it. I also had the leads inside where it connects to the knee control motor fixed and the plug in needed to be replaced. I painted the bottom of the bentwood case instead of staining it since I could not find a stain to match. I glued the vainer that had been coming off and ran a coating of old english on it to bring back the color of the case. Then I lightly stained it to make it shine. I also put old english on the top of the bentwood case to bring back the color. I have put it to the test after figuring out how to adjust the tension and the stitch length since the machine I have does not have the dials with the numbers and this machine works better than the Kenmore my husband bought brand new for me 5 years ago!

    Thank you again so much for your blog as I have been able to properly clean and refurbished this beautiful machine! It does not look as beautiful as yours but it works wonderfully. Do you know anyone that wants to buy a Kenmore? LOL!

    • scheong said,

      November 3, 2012 at 1:22 PM

      Hi Celina.

      It’s quite impossible to destroy these machines. To do that would take some SERIOUS effort!!

      Early Singer 99s did not come with numbered dials and such. Adjusting the stitch-length and the thread-tension was figured out ENTIRELY by trial and error.

      Remember to keep the machine COVERED when not in use for long periods of time. They breathe in dust, they do. And if you don’t cover it, it’ll get clogged and you’ll have to clean it all over again.

      I’m glad I was able to help. I have other postings on sewing machines on my blog, if reading them should be of any interest or further help to you.

  19. November 27, 2012 at 5:22 AM

    A most colorful and informative account of renovating your grandma’s Singer machine. You have spurred me on to look at my wife’s sewing machine which, although working, needs some TLC. The serial number of the said item is EC 028.018 so it was probably made Kilbowie in about 1940. The bobbin is in a vertical position and there is no pink felt but it does have an electric motor.
    Full marks for the article – I can see, so far, that it has been enjoyed by many people and will delight a future audience, I’m sure.

    • scheong said,

      November 27, 2012 at 7:30 AM

      Your machine is probably a Singer 15k. They started production in 1879. A serial-number EC.XXXXXX would make it a 1939/1940 machine, around the time of WWII.

  20. Clarence said,

    December 9, 2012 at 6:43 AM

    Thank you for sharing your adventure and experience. Very nostalgic!

  21. Rosie Holmes said,

    January 11, 2013 at 8:28 AM

    Hi I left my machine plugged in and when i came back about 15 mins later the machine was running and i can’t get it to stop other than pull the plug out of the wall. Any ideas?? Its one that you have a rod for your knee to push but it just stays on full speed ahead!

    • scheong said,

      January 11, 2013 at 8:53 AM

      Hi Rosie. How old is your machine? It may be possible that the mechanism is just stiff from years of use. I’d take it to a professional sewing-machine repairman and tell him to have a look at it.

      The knee-lever is a simple ON-OFF switch. Pressing it down turns on the machine and runs it. Pressing it harder makes it run faster. Releasing the pressure turns it off. If it ain’t turning off, then it’s probably jammed and needs cleaning, but electronics is a bit outside my field of expertise.

    • January 25, 2013 at 3:01 AM

      Hi Rosie
      Recently I had exactly the same problem with my 99K machine with a foot pedal. We took the pedal apart but there was nothing obviously wrong. We cleaned it but it made no difference. We managed to find a replacement pedal on eBay for less than £10 and when we replaced the old one with this one it worked perfectly. The joys of eBay! You might be able to find a replacement knee control as it is obviously something to do with the on/off mechanism not working. I hope you get it working again soon.

  22. Helen Smith said,

    February 17, 2013 at 5:49 AM

    I too have a 99k dated 1933 and manual no electrics! Mine too came from my grandmother and despite the fact my daughter has a snazzy new electric machine i still prefer my Singer and its funny smell. You don’t seem to have a wooden extension plate which gives you a bigger flatter area for fabric or did I miss it in the pictures?

    • scheong said,

      February 17, 2013 at 5:55 AM

      Hi Helen, You mean the extension-bed? My machine probably DID have one at one point in history (there’s a slot for it in the lid where it’s supposed to go), but like a lot of the things on this machine, it went missing over the 60-odd years since it was new. I have plans to make a new one, though. One day…

  23. Jtiran said,

    February 19, 2013 at 12:29 PM

    Thanks for the post. I recently inherited the same machine from my grandmother, now I know where to start.

    • scheong said,

      February 19, 2013 at 1:59 PM

      You’re welcome! I have a more comprehensive and complete sewing-machine restoration-guide under the “Sewing Machines” section of my blog. Read it, if you need more information :)

      • Nora Clark said,

        February 22, 2013 at 6:06 PM

        I found this so interesting. My mother had a Singer, but I have no idea what model. When she was a young woman she worked at the Clydebank Singer factory, 1920s t0 1935. My husband lived up the hill from the factory, and as a small boy (before their home was bombed out and he was evacuated) he watched the clock tower Singer sign from his window as it revolved. His bedtime ritual. I regret that I didn’t ask my mother a ton of questions about her time working there. This information about reconditioning will be passed on to my friends who own vintage Singers, mostly what they call Featherweight machines. Thanks… it prompted a trip down memory lane!

  24. Robin James said,

    March 22, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    thank you for posting this most interesting & “teachable ” blog.I have a $5 singer 99,knee bar and am restoring it this day.It works!!!Came in Bentwood case, 3 spare needles and in tip top shape.I am learning as I go and I love your Whizzle-whozzles, thingumies etc.
    God bless you.

    Robby J

  25. Dr Dennis D Walston said,

    April 14, 2013 at 3:00 PM

    I am working on a 99K right now for my 8 yr old granddaughter to learn on. I will find a 0.5amp motor for it to keep the speed down a little or maybe replace the solid flywheel with a spoked one and treadle it. I learned on my mom’s 99K. what is your opinion for a child starting out? Treadle is slower, gentler. What about a knee controller or cabinet knee controller? A foot control may be too sensitive. Buying vintage bobbins makes sense but buy new straight, sharp, and rust-free needles. I love sewing machine genealogy!!!

    • scheong said,

      April 14, 2013 at 4:18 PM

      Hi Dennis,

      The needles I have are all in perfect condition. I would never buy needles which were rusty or otherwise defective. There’s no reason why you can’t teach your granddaughter to sew, but for purposes of safety, I would stay AWAY from electrical machines. High-speed sewing is only for those who have either experience, or enough hand-eye co-ordination to handle the speed effectively. These old machines are very powerful. They can, and will, sew through fingers. A friend of mine (who’s machine I fixed) told me that such a thing had happened to her once.

      As for control, I would suggest either a treadle, or a hand-crank. Electrical control can be rather finicky and sensitive. Save that for when she’s more proficient. The last thing you want is for her to sew her hands together because she couldn’t stop the machine in time. With treadle and crank, all you have to do is stop moving your arms and legs.

  26. April 23, 2013 at 10:47 PM

    Thanks to my father who stated to me about this blog, this website is
    truly awesome.

  27. Kate said,

    April 29, 2013 at 1:28 AM

    I am so glad I have discovered your article, I’ve read it with interest as I have just acquired a 99k 1957 Electric machine and I am hoping to use your guide to “service” my machine. The only thing is, my machine hasn’t got any bobbins with it, can you advise which”size/type” I need to get – Everything else looks present.

    • scheong said,

      April 29, 2013 at 7:59 AM

      Hi Kate, the Singer 99 sewing machine takes “Class 66″ bobbins. You can see what they look like in the sixth photograph from the end of the article.

      I believe they’re still made brand-new, but it’s better to buy vintage ones, if you can.

  28. Bill Countryman said,

    August 11, 2013 at 11:38 AM

    Thanks again for all of the information. Just purchased a1955 99k and can not figure out how to change the light bulb. The housing is plastic and completely round with a rather large convex lens that the light shines through. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks Bill

    • scheong said,

      August 11, 2013 at 12:00 PM

      The housing is certainly NOT plastic. It’s too much of a fire-risk; these lightbulbs get insanely hot. It’s plastic on the outside, but the underside is made of steel.

      The lightbulbs screw out of the socket. Just be careful not to damage the lightshade when you remove the bulb.

  29. cathy said,

    October 4, 2013 at 9:56 AM

    hi can you please tell me how to get the cover off the 99k singer sewing machine to put in a new light bulb,does it unscrew off or be pryed off model no em349003 thank you cathy

    • scheong said,

      October 4, 2013 at 2:50 PM

      The lightbulb mounted to the Singer 99 screws out of the socket.

      And that’s the serial number, not the model number.

  30. cathy said,

    October 9, 2013 at 10:08 AM

    ok thank you scheong but how do you get the cover off the singer sewing machine casing that holds the light bulb inside it,does the outer bulb case thats metal and has a glass on it come off, how to get bulb in side,thank you cathy

    • scheong said,

      October 9, 2013 at 5:25 PM

      To remove the light-shade and socket which the bulb screws into, you need to unscrew the bolt/screw which holds it to the side of the machine. There’s just one big screw there. It can be removed with a flat-head screwdriver.

  31. J Robinson said,

    November 19, 2013 at 4:13 PM

    Hi there, I happened upon your site while searching for information/identification of my Nanna’s machine that was given to me recently. It had been collecting dust in a relatives garage since my Nanna’s passing years ago. Being the keen crafter, sewer & lover of history that I am that kind relative thought I would make the best home for such a priceless treasure. Thanks for such a detailed renovation account, I do believe now that my machine is indeed the same as yours. It has the same wooden case (without a key), the knee arm, same end plate, light fitting, motor etc I can’t find a serial number on it anywhere though. There is however a motor number? The reason I was searching is I’m trying to work out what size & where I can purchase a drive belt for the machine. The relative told me it worked just fine before the belt perished. Any ideas on what size I need? Where I can get one from. I live in Australia. Any advice is most appreciated :-)

    • scheong said,

      November 20, 2013 at 1:10 AM

      I also live in Australia.

      To unlock case, you may use a 3mm-wide FLAT HEAD SCREWDRIVER. It has the same profile as the missing key, and will not damage the lock.

      To replace the drive-belt, you can just use large-diameter elastic rubber bands. Or leather strapping, stapled together at the seam, so as not to create an overlap (which would catch on the wheel).

      SERIAL NUMBERS may be found on the machine-bed, next to the arm (on the right hand side), below the bobbin-winder.

  32. Sue said,

    December 16, 2013 at 6:38 AM

    Wow! Just discovered this blog a few minutes ago. This morning someone gave me a 99K in a cabinet. It looks amazing, very shiny and the handle turns smoothly by hand. It is electric and I have not turned it on because I read in your blog about the felt, which is missing. I am anxious to try it, but now fear damaging something if I do not thoroughly clean and oil it first. Should I be patient until I can get it all done, or is it Ok to go ahead and run it a bit? Also, how can I date the machine?
    Thanks,
    Sue

    • scheong said,

      December 16, 2013 at 8:35 AM

      Hi Sue.

      You can run it to see if it works, but if you’re going to start using it regularly, I would clean it and oil it before you commence your first project. The machine will run smoother and much quieter. Running the machine WHILE you clean it is a good idea, because it will help distribute the oil. And that will lubricate the machine a lot faster.

      But be sure to CLEAN FIRST, and THEN lubricate. Otherwise all you’ll do is use oil to wash the gunk around the machine, and that won’t do it any good at all.

      Singer sewing machines may be dated by looking up the SERIAL NUMBER. You may find this on the right side of the machine-base. It’ll be a combination of numbers, or numbers and letters, depending on how old it is. Then just go to the Singer website and run the serial-number through the database.

  33. Bridgett said,

    January 30, 2014 at 12:56 PM

    Thanks so much for so many details. The red felt, the fly wheel, etc. Very helpful as I cleaned up my grandmother’s 99K!!

  34. Kirk said,

    February 1, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    I stays in Singapore too and I own a singer 15-91. Unfortunately my wooden base without e bentwood top is falling apart or likely to, I had to keep it in the paid storage after struggling attempts thinking to throw it or not. Anyway I am looking for a table similar to yours in the pic to sit the whole machine, mine is a foot peddled motor. May I know where do u buy that dome shape table? Thanks

    • scheong said,

      February 1, 2014 at 3:48 PM

      The bentwood lids aren’t made anymore. Nobody sells them. The only way to get one is to buy an orphaned one, second-hand. And use that.

      • Kirk said,

        February 1, 2014 at 5:07 PM

        Hi I.m not referring to the bentwood lid, sorry maybe u got me wrong. I.m referring to the table u let your 99k sits on the last few pics where u caption “the machine in its entirety”…that modern table?

      • scheong said,

        February 1, 2014 at 5:20 PM

        Oh you mean the little trolley-table. You can probably buy that at someplace like IKEA or some other storage and furniture store. They’re pretty common.

  35. Deborah said,

    March 27, 2014 at 10:54 PM

    Your post is very interesting! You did a wonderful job of restoring the machine. I bought a 99K hand crank machine just last night from Craigslist and it’s in very good shape. I will be cleaning and oiling it, and it is missing the key. I will order a key and a hinged foot since the foot it has doesn’t move. I am anxious to sew with it!

  36. Fiona M said,

    April 21, 2014 at 6:04 AM

    Fantastic article! I hope Gran is smiling down on you. Such a shame all your photos have disappeared, I would have loved to have seen them.

    • scheong said,

      April 21, 2014 at 2:18 PM

      Photos will be back at the end of the month.

      • Fiona M said,

        April 21, 2014 at 6:23 PM

        Oh, I see. Thank you – I can’t wait to see them!

  37. Brendi said,

    July 18, 2014 at 7:06 AM

    Thanks so much for the pictures and story behind your beloved heirloom. I have a 99K that was given to me in 1971 and I still use and love it dearly. With your help I am now able to clean and service George and will be able to buy even more fabric with the money I’m saving on servicing. He is called George since anything that old that works this well deserves a name. Do learn to sew with yours and you’ll be so delighted at your newly acquired skill and the joy it will bring.

  38. July 28, 2014 at 2:19 AM

    Hi, I am from Innisfil Canada Ontario and I have my husbands mom’s singer sewing machine of 1920 and a 99 group with the case and key and it works. I would like to know the value of this kind. I do a lot of quilting for years and have enjoyed it. Love your comumn. No. on the machine is 8353834. and it has the foot peddle like the new ones.

    • scheong said,

      July 28, 2014 at 8:24 AM

      Hi Carolyn,

      Old sewing machines are NOT worth a great deal of money. Your bog-standard domestic Singer is probably worth $250-$300, maybe $400, in ABSOLUTELY PERFECT condition. That means that it looks now, exactly as it did when it came out of the factory, with EVERYTHING included.

      If it isn’t like that, then the price drops to about $100-$150. They’re extremely common and they last forever. There are sewing machines made in the 1870s which still work perfectly today. If it’s an electric machine, it’s worth even less. The ones which are worth ‘a lot’ of money are the old hand-crank ones, but even that’s subjective.

  39. Ria van Daalen Wetters said,

    July 31, 2014 at 4:42 PM

    I bought my Singer second hand in 1948 for $55.00 and have made hundreds of items on it. I would not trade it for a new one. Through the serial number (AB 916490) I know it is from 1927. My daughter is also Singer sewing addicted and hers is from 1926. Thank you so very much for your great article; yours is one of a kind ! Best regards from Burbank, California.

    • scheong said,

      July 31, 2014 at 4:55 PM

      Hi Ria, you’re welcome :) Glad you like your machine.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 183 other followers

%d bloggers like this: