Saturday, May 29, 2010

Meet Mabel, She's My Supermatic Sewing Machine

I've sewn on many, many sewing machines.  Many!  I've had top of the line and clunkers.  But this girl, she is an old workhorse and is a dream for quilt piecing.  Meet Mabel.  She is my Supermatic Elna sewing machine. 

She came with my apartment.  The old owner died and her son didn't care for her so left her behind... lucky me!  Lucky Mabel.  Because a sewing machine needs to be loved, you know?  The old owner loved her, I am sure... she even left behind the original receipt (which my husband threw away???!!! - oh you wanted "THAT").  But no matter...  Now, I forget the exact date, but I do have a postcard that says her Elna is due for service and it is dated May 27, 1966. 

Here is a photo of the brochure for this brand new, top of the line sewing machine from back then... it is actually a brochure for 4 different models - a basic, a zig zag (oh, wow!), an automatic (which did have a fair amount of stitch selections) and the Supermatic (mine, oh joy!). 

You can see the price written on the cover for the Supermatic was 7770 Schillings, which for the sake of VERY easy math would be about $770 US$ - in 1966.  And if you run that through a relative value converter - this machine would be just over $5,000 (in 2009 - the on-line calculator doesn't go up to 2010).  I just love the relative value calculator because I can't tell you how many times I hear people say... I remember when X cost YZ or something like that - well run that amount through a relative value calculator and you might find that things cost way more in those "good old days" than today.  SOME things, not all things... I am just saying.  Because I don't know anyone who would plunk down over $5K for this very basic (by today's standard) sewing machine.  OK, so I would never pay $5K for a sewing machine anyway, but don't tell Mabel!  She has lots of good points!

Here you can see that she has cams for the decorative stitches.  But, even more important and exciting for me... do you see those 3 little red dots (they are really holes) on the top and 2 on the bottom?  Those are oiling holes.  Mabel likes oil.  Every day!  And she is easy to oil - just put one drop in each of those top holes before sewing and you are good to go.  The bottom holes don't go through oil as quickly as the top.  And when you open the bobbin case - there are 2 more red dots for oiling. Brilliant, I tell you!  I have sewn on so many machines where you have to unscrew the entire bottom to even think about starting the oiling process.

Now I know you aren't supposed to oil the new, computerized machines, but that does make me wonder exactly how they do work?  Oh - maybe that is why you are supposed to pay $85 per year for an "annual" service - more often if you actually sew on the thing.  Because Mabel - well, if I go away for a year or so (she is my European machine), well - she just won't budge - not even a tiny bit, until she has a good oiling!  To make it easier to get the oil in the exact correct spot - I have this handy, dandy metal oil tip... it cost 5 Euro and so far has been the only "servicing" she has needed.  Plus, Mabel is not picky about thread.  She will sew on ANY thread.  No problems.  Every time I change the bobbin I just run a little brush around the inside of the bobbin casing, add a drop of oil in 2 spots down there and she is good to go!

Here is a sampling of her stitches - I didn't do these - the old owner did.  For the life I me, I can not figure out how to do button holes on this machine, but you can see by the sample that it is possible.  For JUST buttonholes, I have a borrowed machine that I use.  The borrowed machine doesn't sew nearly as smoothly, but it is so much less frustrating for buttonholes, so there you go.

The foot pedal is great - nice and big!  There is a ledge at the heel to keep your foot in place and this thing does not slide around on the floor. 

She came in this cabinet which is very handy.  That is my thread catcher on the left there - I got it from the Dollar Store in Canada and put it in my suitcase!  The machine can drop down into the cabinet if you want to use it as a table top (I don't, but I do put the machine down when I go away for long periods of time.  The knee hole flips down so you do have a bigger area to put the foot pedal away.

A view of my sewing corner.  Even though we live in a multi-level apartment building, yes, we do have a stove in our apartment - it was the law to have alternative sources of heat after WWII when the place was built.  Which is why old European apartment buildings have a ton of chimneys on the roof!   So, that is our coal stove should we ever loose power, which is highly unlikely.  We have basement storage and there is coal down there.  I am allergic to dust so we only have throw rugs and I don't usually keep things under the table.  We have a seperate dining table so I get that table all to myself!  No sewing projects today because my son is borrowing my outlet strip for his train transformer.  Hummm.  Oh - and there is that 2nd borrowed machine - I have to put button holes on a PJ top for my son.

The inside of Mabel's cabinet was full of various odds & ends... and this one is just precious!  Look!  The old owner must have sewn alot to have a bodice pattern piece custom made!  It is very well made too with very small wooden pegs holding the pieces together and everything well smoothed and rounded.  Now, sometimes I will cut favorite patterns from those vinyl tableclothes you can get for a few dollars on clearance (like my son's PJs), but I have never seen a pattern piece custom made from wood!
So, that is a peek into my sewing corner.  I know that making a sewing machine purchase is a big investment.  They weren't cheap in 1966 either.  Actually, I think they were even more expensive.  But the good thing about an older machine (or at least a basic model) is that you don't have to go running to the shop every other month for service.  I have a very fancy Janome (2 actually) and on the big one - tempermental!  And that big Janome - only is happy with expensive thread.  And I never even knew that SOME spools of Gutterman thread was made in Mexico until that Janome totally rejected new thread I had purchased - took me awhile to figure that one out, but every spool made in Mexico - that picky machine spit out!  I'm just saying... if you are willing to pay that much money for a sewing machine... it should work.  And it should work for many, many years.  Like Mabel.  She is a good machine!
After reading this post- I had to come back to add (because I didn't add my point, duh!) ... sometimes the brochures look so enticing for those new, expensive machines.  And that seems to be all that the sales people want to sell too.  But a new, basic machine (but don't skimp on quality - Mabel is certainly basic by todays standards, but she is very well made!) might work better.  And if you can find an older used machine (sometimes, like Mabel - they are even free) you probably will get many years of good use out of it. 


Lori said...

There is NOTHING better than an older sewing machine! They only require a bit of oil, a new needle once in a while, and they just whiz along and never complain. Yeah, I got a "new" machine too, and is she whiney and sniveley, complains and takes LONG BREAKS that are expensive. I only use her once a year or so, and now have a different old Singer than can replace her! HAH! Picking up an old machine for $20, sure beats those +$70 repair bills!

Joyce said...

An old machine is soooo much better than a cheap new one. My DIL bought a very cheap one at Walmart and they can never get the tension to stay put. I told them to go to the local thrift shop and pay $65 for an old one and at that price there is usually even a cabinet. Our thrift shop even services them before setting them out in the shopping area.

Henrietta said...

I couldn't agree with you more. My machine of choice is a 1933 Singer 15-88 which cost me $20. I am its second owner.

I have a buttonhole attachment set up on another old Singer.

For Mabel the buttonhole is likely made thus:
1. set zig-zag to wide and zero length, stitch 3 or 4 stitches
2. set zig-zag to a tad less than half width and stitch length fairly short so stiches are close together. Stitch up one side. Stop with needle down on outside.
3. set zig-zag to wide and zero length, stitch 5 or 6 stitches
4. turn the work and repeat step number 2
5. set zig-zag to wide and zero length, stitch 2 or 3 stitches. Knot off by hand or set all to zero and stitch in place to knot off.

Darcie said...

What a fabulous hand-me-down. I bet the previous owner is smiling down with appreciation.

Love that bodice piece! Very cool.

Elaine Adair said...

How nice to know that the 'old things' are still appreciated and loved, again. Thanks for taking care of Mabel. 8-))

Anne said...

I was net looking for new cord for my Supermatic Elna Sewing machine, same as yours, and your pic showed up so thought I would read what you wrote. Yes, I agree, except for the cord problem, I have been sewing on my Elna since 10th grade when my Mom purchased it in 1968. It is terrific and only oiling too. Yay! Happy sewing, and me too, once I find how to fix the cord! :)

Anne said...

Well, I wrote a comment and it said it was anonymous and wouldn't allow, but here I am trying again. I have been sewing on my Supermatic Elna since 1968 and yes, it has only needed oiling! Yay! I just have to get the cord fixed now as that does not seem to be working properly. Bye for now.

Joan said...

You are SO lucky to have Mabel! I have a "Mabel", too. Just like yours. I inherited it from my mom and I remember when she bought it. I even have her receipt! It was April 1969 and she paid $300 for it. I haven't used the cams yet but I remember how much Mom "played with it" when she first bought it. My wedding was sewn on my "Mabel" by my mom...

Joan said...

I have a "Mabel" just like yours. I inherited from my mom, who incidentally sewed my wedding gown on her Elna. She bought the sewing maching in April 1969 and paid $300 for it. I haven't used the cams yet, but I remember her "playing" with them!

Ninotchka McKay said...

I have a supermatic and I love her. I sew on an industrial machine for a living, but my super lives at home. I hope you persevere with the automatic buttonhole - it is a complicated process, but I nearly have it down without having to open the manual.

Bezz said...

Wow, your machine looks much less used than mine. Like others i have to get a new cord and its proving very hard to do in England. Do you know the model number of your supermatic so i can be more precise in my search?
Have you cracked the instructions for automatic buttonholes - dead easy. I canpost them if you like.

Anonymous said...

I have the same sowing machine :-)and was looking for the instruction guide. (I'm from the Netherlands so sorry for my Englisch? ) A Dutch friend of mine lives in Norway (I got my Mabel from his mother) and he has a Dutch neighbor who has also the same Elna. He recognized the somwing machine. She had the guide, in Norwegian… so if you are interested? I can send you a Zip file. It contains a lot of images, and with google translate …..


susan öhrström said...

Thanks so much for the article on the Elna. I also have a very old one. I bought it in England early 70's (ST). It wasn't too too expensive, but I couldn't afford the next up from this. The zigzag just died on it. Will of course get it fixed, but right now my newer, but much older in age, Pfaff has broken its fanbelt which is seeming to be very difficult to replace. I think I will buy a new (old) Elna in the meantime. Thanks again.

Natasha Walton said...

Hello there,
I also have this Elna machine, and have been trying to find the user manual online with no you have the manual to go with your machine?
Best wishes :-)

Gracie said...

Hi there,
I just got this same Elna machine from my employer's sister-in-law. Is there any way I could have a manual for it? I am new to everything in sewing. Thank you.

Nadine H. said...

My mom bought this machine in 1967 with her first paycheque from her first full time job. I grew up sewing on it. Luckily after I moved out, my mom found the same machine at a garage sale for $30 CDN and scooped it up for me. I can't count the number of hours I've put on that machine, but I know it's been lots! I used to have an Etsy shop, so it was well used. So glad to find another Supermatic fan. You lucked out. I hope she is still treating you well!