Sew Out of Control

 Meet my German friend.

Yeah she's new.  But haven't you got a vintage hand crank sewing machine already?  Yup.  But I'm addicted you see.  I can't stop looking at them on ebay... what I really want is a treadle machine, but they always either sell for just a bit more than I am prepared to pay or they are too far away for me to collect, so I have been consoling myself with little hand-cranks that go for quite a bit less than a treadle.

I got this one for £21 and it was just five miles from my house.  The lady who sold it to me said it belonged to her husband's grandmother and that she got it in 1910 - they thought it was new when she bought it. 

 This is the case before cleaning.

It's has a vibrating shuttle just like my Singer and I thought 1910 seemed about right.  She looked in good condition and so I was really happy until I got her home and started to try and clean her up.  The hand crank was just about seized up so that it would not move.  The foot lever was stuck in the up position and the black bits that should be shiny were a very very dull matt colour.  I began to think that perhaps I had been very silly to buy her after all.

This is the case after cleaning - you can see the lovely walnut wood inlay on the top of the box.

Well I slowly took her apart, cleaning each piece as I went along.  I wasn't able to get her as clean or rust free as the Singer - well I should think I could but it would take a lot more time and effort.  I was quite liberal with the WD40 and some of the black parts started to shine up, I was delighted, until I realised that I had been rubbing off the original shelac which had become brown and discoloured with age.  The decals were a little rubbed already as you would expect but I didn't want to lose any more so I stopped trying to make it shine.

Finally, after three hours solid graft, I oiled her, threaded her up and hey presto........ she sews! She sews!  And she is eerily silent while she does it too.

This lever foxed me for a bit until I sewed a few stitches with it positioned up and then down - it's the stitch length guage.  On my old singer all you get is a little knob that is tightened in one direction or the other.

During the cleaning I began to doubt the date that I had been given of 1910.  A quick check on the internet for Pfaff sewing machine serial numbers and boy did I get a suprise. 

Her date of manufacture is 1888/89 in Kaiserslautern in Germany.  She was then shipped to London for sale - she probably never had a German owner.  At first I couldn't believe it.  In our modern throwaway world full of shody workmanship and technologie that is out of date in a year, it is so hard to believe that this machine, which works as perfectly as the day it left the factory (even though it doesn't look as perfect as the day it left the factory), was someone's brand new prized possession while Jack the Ripper stalked the London streets

and lady owner was probably dressed like this:

For those who love vintage sewing machines or would like advice on cleaning and restoring or even just to look at the amazing gallery of beautiful vintage machines, try here.


  1. It's no accident that the phrase, "Running like a well-oiled sewing machine", conveys all that is splendid about mechanical excellence.

  2. She is gorgeous. My oldest machine is an 1898 hand crank Singer. I love her so. This one is a beauty, the decals are gorgeous.

  3. Oooooh! she is beautiful!!!! I would say (cover her ears) a little prettier than Myrtle ... Baby oil, sewing machine oil, t-cut or turtle wax will get her shining again. xxx


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