Thanks for the suggestion! I found a Singer repair shop that was going out of business and got a mid-60's Singer Touch and Sew loaded with accessories and a brand new walking foot all for $115 and it works like a charm. It's a workhorse, it's like it has no idea how many layers it's sewing through, it just goes about its business of making perfect even stitches without ever flinching. I tested it out last night, and had absolutely no stoppages whatsoever except when the bobbin ran out and when I broke a needle. The coolest feature of this machine is that the bobbin winds right in the bobbin holder, so you never have to unthread your machine to wind a bobbin. You just push a button and sew and it winds it right in there. I have finally found the affordable but thrustworthy sweat-shop sewing machine I've been longing for all these years, and for way less than I would've paid for taking a chance on even a low-end new machine. My last machine was supposedly "heavy duty" but it never sewed like this vintage Singer. Not even close. Now I'm on a mission. I've got to keep an eye out for these at thrift stores and yard sales to hopefully score a second one for cheap to squirrel away for my daughter. Or I may just go back to the same place I got this one before his store closes for good and buy another one if he's got more. I totally have a new respect for old machines. I will never buy a brand new machine again. These are in a class all their own and worthy of respect!
I just bought a vintage Singer machine circa mid 1960's called a Touch and Sew. It is totally a heavy duty machine. It doesn't even flinch coming up to seams, whereas my so-called heavy duty White machine circa 2000 would struggle endlessly with jumping the bumps.
Singer apparrently started intentionally lowering their quality after the mid-60's, when the realized it was bad business for them to make their products so good that they were getting handed down for generations instead of people buying new ones. That's big business for ya.
They made a lot of these Touch and Sew machines in the 1960's, and from what I've heard they're still highly sought-after today. It's definitely a workhorse and I got it for a steal for $100 with all the accessories he could gather up from a Singer shop that's going out of business, plus a brand spanking new walking foot (I make cloth diapers for low-income moms using thrift store sheets and old towels, so I sew through mega layers).
He said they would normally sell these machines for $300-$400 depending on the model and accessories. I have a feeling I could've gotten one for less on ebay, but I'm glad I bought one from a shop because it was reconditioned/tuned-up and I know it's working right. Plus I had somebody to show me how to use it. The threading seems kind of complicated, but it's not that bad, and really worth it when you learn how. I'm used to modern machines where most of the components you're winding around are hidden behind the plastic, whereas on my older machine, you see exactly where the thread is, it's all front and center. And it's the most securely-threaded machine I've ever used. Except for when I broke a needle, it has not stalled one me once so far. I've had to intently break my habit of pulling at the piece from the back end to try to keep it moving as my old machine struggled with the layers. I was used to having to stop frequently to get my needle unstuck too. I don't miss having to fight to get something sewn.
The neatest feature on the Touch and Sew's is that they use a special bobbin system where you just press a button in the drop-in bobbin area and sew and the sewing needle winds the bobbin with the thread that's on the spool. Think about what I'm saying here - you don't take the bobbin out, you just push a button and the sewing needle rewinds it right in there. You don't even have to cut it apart from the spool thread, you just start sewing, and that first seam has to thread tails because they're really just one thread coming in from two directions. It's so awesome! It always pissed me off when I'd run out of bobbin thread and have to unthread my needle to wind more bobbins with the thread I was using. I'll never have to do that again! Also, the bobbims can be unscrewed so if there's some thread left on it you don't need you can ditch it and use the bobbin for whatever color you're using. So you don't have to keep a bobbin box with all the misc. leftover bobbins.
As for sewing, this thing goes from thin to thick layers (I sometimes do patchwork/applique and that sort of thing) like it doesn't even realize there's any difference. I feel like I have the industrial-quality sweatshop machine of my dreams! The drop-in bobbin and horizontal spool thread make it so easy for the machine to pull thread, it just does not jam up ever. And you can totally just take your finger and turn your fabric in a circle and it turns on a dime. It has lots of built in stitches and additional decorative cams but I think I just got these because he was nice enough to stock me up with the motherload of accessories. The foot petal is cool too. It's a flat pedal with a bump and a button so you rest your big toe on the bump when you're not sewing, then just roll your foot over and sew with the ball of your foot, so you don't have to hold your foot in that awkward outstretched position like when you're driving a car and you hold it with your toes pointed up near the brake. Actually I usually turn it around and just sew with my heel. But either way it's comfortable, because I don't have to overstretch my ankle, my foot is always flat. The model I got, a 600E which is an earlier model, is all metal construction inside and out i.e. no belts, but older 60's - 70's models have belts, which would wear out in theory vs. the metal gear type. It's a heavy machine, but that's the price you pay for having something so sturdy I suppose. Some other models have buttonholers, mine doesn't but this wasn't important to me. Mine uses a combination of levers that you set to certain letters to get the stitches you want, with the stitch guide under the thread spool so you open it up to see the code. Older models just have dials on the front. I like the letter code thing. I'm sorry to be so juvenile, but it's funny to think I'm sewing with "BO", or the special cam stitch setting, which ironically is "BS".
I also think Singer is a good choice for a vintage machine because there's a very good chance that any parts or accessories you might need would be still available, like how the brand new walking foot I got fit the old machine perfectly. I don't even know if I could've ordered a walking foot for my newer White machine that died after only 3 1/2 years of taking my abuse.
The only thing I didn't like about my vintage machine is that there's no built-in thread cutter. In a pinch, Being a creature of habit, I came up with a fix for this by putting some sticky-back velcro onto my seam ripper and attaching it to the side where my built-in thread cutter had been on my last machine. Voila!
To find a vintage machine, see if there's any repair shops that take trade-ins near you, especially if there's one that specializes in the brand of machine you're in the market for. If they take trade-ins, they probably sell what they can of the usable machines they get.
My White Millennium that I loved (it's the black White machine) just took a crap and rather than spend $80 to get it fixed, I'd like to put that towards a new machine that can take the abuse I'd put it throgh. I sew a lot of heavy-duty projects, including purses, cloth diapers (many layers of flannel and terry) and moccasins (the leather isn't really that hard to sew with the right needle but it does get thick when sewing multi layers) and denim/patchwork stuff.
It was especially handy that this machine has a special little lever for lifting the presser foot up so you can shove massive layers under it. The lady at the sewing machine shop recommended I use a machine with a better bobbin system - drop-in vs. oscillating - but I do't know if this would really make much difference or not? Also, what's the difference between regular sewing machines and those that are called "quilting" machines? Or "mechanical" sewing machines? I'm so confused!
I'd bought my last machine from Allbrands.com and was really pleased with the selection, price, and condition of the machine I got, and I managed to push it to the limits for 4 years before it started giving out. I'd buy from them again but I don't know which to get! They have so many to choose from it makes my head spin! I could spend $150-$250 or so.
Hi, I know you posted these instructions over a year ago, but I just wanted to say thank you, I used your instructions with some minor variations of my own and it turned out fantastic! My daughter and I are huge They Might Be Giants fans, and they have a kids' book called Bed Bed Bed where in one of the stories/songs a little girl wants to be an "octofish" (basically an octopus) and my daughter asked me to make her an octofish which is how I ended up coming across your instructions for Ocho, I did a yahoo search for an octopus sewing pattern. I hadn't even heard of craftster before this, I actually registered here just so I could thank you!
I made one out of flowery retro 70's fabric I had a ton of in the basement, and another out of everything else - a patchwork octofish. That one is mine even though my daughter is begging me to give it to her.
The main thing I did different is that I sewed all the legs together across the tops on the raw ends, overlapping them half way lengthwise onto the next one, then I folded the string of legs together and sewed them together across the top, and just cinched the whole clump of legs in place as I pulled the head hole closed around them with the basting stitch, then hand sewed them more securely in place. That way I didn't have to pin and stich each one. There's a lot of legs to deal with, and since I have a small child I prefer to sew without using pins.
I also wanted to suggest an easy way of turning the legs. If you push just the very little nub of the sewed end into the tube and shove a chopstick or a thin dowel up it, you can pinch the rest and gently pull it down over the end of the chopstick or dowel, and it will all turn inside out just like that.
Thank you again for posting these instructions. I am very appreciative. It is such a smart no-nonsense design, and your instructions were very easy to follow. I am so thrilled to have been able to make these for us. I will also be making one to give to John Linnell from TMBG for his son Henry when we see them at an instore performance in Minneapolis in a couple weeks.