If This Machine Could Talk…

As collectors we are usually looking for the best examples of a given machine and in the case of the massively successful Singer 99, there are so many out there, that finding a near perfect example is not that hard to do.

People also comment on how these machines can be 100 years old or more and still work perfectly, but if a machine looks perfect then it stands to reason that just perhaps, it was not used very often, if at all.

We know this 1955 Pfaff 130 was never used because it’s original owner purchased it, and never used it because she hated sewing… I believe that as there was not a mark on the machine and the accessories were still wrapped in their original papers.

This Singer 99 was made on August 1st, 1927 and based on how smoothly the bed has been worn down to a glassy smoothness, I’d estimate it made at least 1000 quilts, because I have seen and own machines that have that kind of history.

The true testament to how well made these machines were is right here, thousands upon thousands of hours of good honest work, a million miles of thread, and thousands of yards of fabric have crossed this bed and polished it to a glossy sheen. The clearcoat is gone, the base paint is what is glowing…

And this nearly 95 year old machine still turns over as smoothly as buttered kitten on glass and makes an absolutely perfect stitch.

If this machine could talk…

Wheeler and Wilson D9 Treadle

My wife and daughters always say they never know what to get me for birthdays or Christmas, so sometimes I just go out and pick my own gifts.

From the moment I first laid eyes on a Wheeler and Wilson D9 treadle, and went about servicing it, I knew that someday, somewhere, I would add one of these to our collection.

I have a 1904 D9 hand crank already, so am well aware at how incredible these machines are and last week one popped up for sale… the machine will need a fair amount of cosmetic work but runs brilliantly.

The 108w20 was last years birthday gift…
Treadle Heaven

A Little Mending – Singer 108w20

My old shop jacket has seen a lot of work and over time the cuffs were pretty shredded so I fired up my Singer 108w20 cylinder arm, cut new binding to make cuffs and let his little beauty do what she does best. The 108w20 is a medium duty industrial cylinder arm, with a compound walking foot and needle feed.

This machine was not made for heavy work or leather… the needle maximum is an 18 and thread is T69 bonded nylon.

The Singer 201 – a Masterpiece.

Considered to be the finest straight stitch machine ever made, the Singer 201 was a absolute masterpiece of engineering.

In it’s day it was the most expensive domestic machine Singer sold, one was gifted to Queen Elizabeth when she married, and in today’s dollars this machine sold for $ 1500.00 without a cabinet.

Hand lapped beveled drive gears, a rotary hook, and the finest balance and precision and finish throughout makes this one of the smoothest running machines ever made.

A demonstration of how smooth, quiet, and fast these machines are.

Elna Model #1 Grasshopper, A Design Marvel.

Elna Model 1 “Grasshopper”

A great deal has been written on the Elna Model 1, which is affectionately called the “Grasshopper”, so instead of repeating a lot, I’ll just add a link to a very well written article:


When the Grasshopper was finally released in 1940, it was the first mass produced portable free arm machine, predating the excellent Bernina 121 by some years… and in my opinion was the superior machine in design. The exemplary rotary hook design of the Grasshopper would be carried forward and further improved in subsequent Elna models which were also ground breaking in their design.

There were quite a few European companies that also made similar machines in the 1940’s like Helvetia and Fridor, Phoenix, as well as Portman in The United States. None of these machines have stood the test of time nearly as well as the Grasshopper, worked as well, or were as successful. Much of that also stems from good company management, distribution, and support which Elna developed.

The Elna Grasshopper stands the test of time and is as beautiful a machine now as it was when it first appeared 80 years ago, most of the machines we see on this side of the pond are post war when Elna distribution expanded beyond their local and European market.

A few of those other machines…

The Fridor 77 was based on a similar Helvetia portable (used the same parts) and is a beautiful machine to look at but from all accounts, not as well made a machine.

Portman Viking (Eaton’s)

The Portman Company in The United States produced just one model of machine and it saw some success, being badged and sold for a number of large chains like the Viking example shown. It has a lot of similarities to a Grasshopper and can’t believe that Portman had not seen one, and been inspired to build a similar machine in the U.S. They do have a rotary hook and a massive 1.5 amp motor and work rather well.

At the end of the day, if you ever get a chance to take the Elna Grasshopper for a test drive you will see rather quickly how well made a machine it is, and understand why they are popular among collectors as well as people who appreciate and like to use a finely built sewing machine. I don’t think many end up as shelf queens but rather, get to travel and get used a good deal.

Bernina – The 530 Record.

Bernina 530 Record – 1957

In 1954 Bernina introduced the Record series with the 530, and prior to this their sales were respectable but even then, Singer made more machines in a day than Bernina made in a year, and Singer still held 95% of the global market. Other European companies were starting to put a dent in Singer’s hegemony though,

Elna had released the Supermatic in 1951, and was seeing some massive success in the North American market, and demonstrated that people wanted to buy and own convertible, free arm machines. By comparison, the Elna used external cams, required cover plates for free motion, and by the second generation could do stretch stitches, a feature Bernina did not have until the early 1980’s.

By 1963 Bernina would sell 2 million machines and I believe that the 530 Record was most responsible for their entry into the global market, increased sales success, and establishment of their own dealer networks in North America.

The success of the 530 was such that Singer even approached Bernina, and wanted to strike a deal whereby they would distribute Bernina machines through their vast network of Singer stores. Bernina declined and for a time opted for shared North American distribution with Necchi.

The 530 Record was compact, (but a wee bit heavy) and featured 12 built in stitches, had a powerful motor and reduction drive like the 125, a drop feed, introduced Bernina’s proprietary clip on foot system, and had a semi automatic button hole feature. There were no external accessories required and all the extra feet, bobbins, and thread stored nicely in the rear mounted tray.

It was also built like a Swiss watch, and sews beautifully and quietly… a hallmark of the Bernina machines that followed.

It must have been a wonder for people to come into a shop and test drive this phenomenal machine.

Our Friend Alex Askaroff has written a wonderful article on Bernina’s History and we offered to contribute a little on the 530 Record.

The article can be found at: https://sewalot.com/bernina_sewing_machines.htm