Antique Sewing-Machines – Cleaning the Decals


One of the BIG draw-cards for antique sewing machines are decals.

Decals are the decorative stencils and patterns which were transferred and printed onto the cast-iron bodies of these antique beauties back in the factory, when they were being made. Although most of these patterns were never given names, sewing machine collectors, restorers and users have given them names in modern times, to help us differentiate between them. Such as “Victorian“, “Egyptian Sphinx“, “Filigree“, “Indian Star“, “Lotus” and “Red Eye“, to name a few.

Antique sewing machines which have spent years and decades in rough storage can often have their decals dulled, gritted up and darkened by years of dust, grime and gunk which have gathered on the machine, and then dried and crusted over.

Some people leave the machines as they are. While others wish to buff them up and restore them. Understandably, some people are scared of doing this, for fear of simply scraping the paintwork off and losing the patterns altogether!

On a whim, I conducted a small experiment today.

My Singer 128k is my ongoing restoration-project. And for a while, the gunky, grimed up decals have been an eyesore to me. Pondering how to clean them, I discovered a very simple and easy method:

Steel Wool. 

To buff the decals and polish and scrape off all the accumulated grime, dust, grease, cigarette smoke, nicotine and other gunk that has built up on the surface of my Singer, I used extremely fine-grit steel wool.

You can buy this stuff at your hardware shop. It comes in lumps in cardboard boxes like cotton wool. Buy the FINEST GRADE steel-wool – nothing else. Finest-grade steel-wool is specifically for polishing and buffing and removing gunk and rust.

Tear off a small lump, about the size of your thumb. Roll it into a ball or mash it into a pad, and then simply buff and polish away on the decals to remove the grime.

Here are the results:

Before (on the left), and After (on the right)

Here’s the decal at the base of the head:

Before: Dull, dark and covered in grime

After: Bright, clear and shiny! Don’t worry about the white specks you see everywhere. That’s the dust and lint from the steel-wool. You can just wipe it off later with a piece of tissue-paper

Here’s the main “SINGER” decal:

Look at how dark and brown the decal around the screw-head is

After a buffing with steel-wool, it looks like this:

Oooooh…!!!

This is the decal on the other side of the pillar:

Oh yuuuuck! Eww…

Clean and pretty!

The set of decals on this machine are called the Victorian.

Gosh this is satisfying :) How’s that old Brylcreem ad go?

Steel wool,
A little clump’ll do yah,
Use more, only if you dare,
Watch out, the re-sults may surprise you,
You’ll want to try and use it everywhere… 

…it’s also great for polishing your knob…

Reflecty! Ooh…

…on the end of your sewing machine, that is!

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2 Comments

  1. Jade said,

    June 29, 2014 at 10:09 PM

    Rubbing alcohol and a cotton ball worked well for me.

    • scheong said,

      June 30, 2014 at 9:42 AM

      I tried that, but was unsuccessful. That’s why I moved to something a bit stronger. It was really stuck on there!!


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