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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Monday, August 14, 2017

Another detour (updated so I believe it is possible to see the videos)

A while ago I bought a Singer Rocketeer because I wanted to dedicated machine for a Singer buttonhole attachment which, in my opinion, make the most beautiful buttonholes.

I found the machine listed on Kijii (Canadian Craigslist) and found it set up on a table in a random backyard. Not sure what the story was but this machine was about as dirty as a machine could be. Like it had been buried alive years ago down a mineshaft of lint and black oil.

Folks who don't know any better often use any old oil on machines, not the fine clear proper sewing machine oil, and it gums up and thickens up and gathers fabric lint and turns it to concrete.

However I figured, well why not, I paid $50 for it and the light did turn on.

Since then the little girls have been attacking it with Q tips for me and I have been working with a degreaser (if you are in the US and can order it the best stuff is called Bluecreeper).

Yesterday with my first day off from family obligations in a while I had a to-do list as long as your arm and a pile of UFO's about that high too.

So of course I took the Rocketeer out to the picnic table in my own backyard and finished cleaning her off instead.

This machine was made in St. Jean Quebec (that makes it a 500J) in a time that the factory was a real going concern:

Hard to believe now that the manufacture of sewing machines was once a huge industrial endeavour.

The Rocketeer was of the last generation of sewing machines Singer produced before it started to introduce cheaper plastic parts. It is all metal and gear driven (no belts) and meant to look new age and spacey like a rocket.

The decorative and utility stitches are made by bumpy cams that are read by little arms called followers that trace the cam shape to move the needle.

An old sewing machine guy once told me that cam stitches are the most regular and beautiful of all speciality stitches.

I find the way this works fascinating.

We all spend all our lives now using devices about which we have no knowledge of operations. We have passed all that over to mysterious strangers. 

We depend on things we can never understand.

That's a new gap or gulf in our lives we never think about.

Some folks had trouble with that divide.

I remember my late father-in-law used to call my husband with software problems with this computer (like he couldn't get email to work).

"I have my screw driver right here," he would say. "Now what do I do?"

It seemed to me as I happily worked cleaning and oiling the Rocketeer, and applying grease to the gears, that sewing people still occupy that divided place in modern society and that we thrive there.

Think of all the people who dress everyday in clothes made by people they will never meet with methods they have no knowledge of.

The Rocketeer it seems to me is a point of connection to some part of me that really is and to some part of sewing that really matters.

So here are is a video of the Rocketeer rocketing along and with the cams in operation:


Anonymous said...

Ah, my mom had one like this, I remember the magical little cams, very heavy! Sadly the machine was given away without consulting ME because I had a "fine new machine" - not nearly as nice as this one. Oh well, its just stuff, right? But I am looking in backyards now for a salvage job old one!


Vancouver Barbara said...

I can't see the videos. The message says "This video is unavailable." I'm very happy yo know abut this machine because I would also like one dedicated to making perfect buttonholes. Thanks for this post. Hope you get the machine going.

lsaspacey said...

I also can't see the videos.

crgalvin said...

I get the message " This video is private"

Moosiemoose said...

Your father in law's comment made me laugh out loud. Thank you for that. I appreciate the days you could repair something starting with a screwdriver. I could open the video and now want my own Rocketeer. So no thank you for that!! I sew on a Pfaff 7550 I bought in 1994 that I have always felt made very good button holes. But now I want to see those by a Rocketeer. Jean

theresemichelle said...

I have a WONDERFUL Singer Slant-o-Matic and the Singer buttonhole attachment as well. Beautiful stuff!

BarbaraShowell said...

I can see the videos! Sounds like it still needs some more grease and oil, it takes a while for all the nooks and crannies when it's sat in dirt that long. I have this and 6 other vintage singers, all but one arrived in sad shape and have been restored, such a joy to go in with screw drivers (and occasionally with a hammer!) I REWIRED one, for God's sake! Step by step tutorials out there.

Funny thing is, I successfully used a screw driver on a computer or two. Added storage and replaced a fan. I did, completely and definitely, kill a computerized sewing machine though, just by prying off the face that was wired to blow the motherboard if an "unauthorized person" (me) attempted repair.

EH said...

So appreciate your understanding of the unique position we sewing types occupy as a bridge between the old and new. So much of the heart of wearing a garment made by someone you know is missing now. When I talk about fabric quality or fit with non-sewing folks, I can see their eyes glazing over because they have no appreciation for the conditions under which their clothes are made, let alone the skill needed to do so. But we must keep trying to educate people if we want conditions for those workers to change. I don't expect everyone to sew (I certainly don't grow my own food, for example), but I want people to respect the process.

Leigh said...

It would be so much better if people had an inkling of the knowledge and skill it took to make well-fitting clothes. Of course that would require a knowledge of what well-fitting clothes actually look like. Few do. They buy it cheap at big box where it only lasts three washings, so it doesn't matter what it looks like. Then you make something nice, and they don't know why you look good. (because it fits properly).

I love the Rocketeer! I need to get mine out and see how those cams work and what the buttonhole looks like. I got two (!) at an estate sale (one for parts) and had the sewing machine guy give one a tune up. Now I need to get her back out to see how she goes. I LOVE the rocket ship look and the oval lid that opens for the cams. Reminds me of the big fins on my mom's Comet (car) when I was little. That looked SO COOL to me when I was 5.

Marion said...

Earlier this summer Time magazine had a very interesting article on the "right to fix-it" movement. There are so many proprietary products, it's almost impossible to open up a gadget or machine to repair, say, a broken screen, or faulty connection. What a mess to have to go back to an "expert" to have something fixed. (I suppose it's a great revenue stream if you happen to be that expert.) A wise colleague of mine once said that none of us really own something until we know how it works and what to do when it doesn't. Kudos on reviving your Rocketeer!

Beth Kauffman said...

I bought a brand new Singer Touch 'n Sew in 1975;it was my first big purchase as a working girl ($500!for the machine and $300 for the solid wood cabinet!) Those buttonholes could be sewn over and over and never miss a stitch. The needle always tracked the exact same spot on the fabric no matter how many times I went over the stiches. Consequently, not one of those buttonholes ever unraveled or frayed. Yes, it was a Cam Machine, and yes, I am holding on to it. Just for buttonholes. Beth in Philly

Wendy Rader said...

Oh my gosh. Thank you for this wonderful post! I have been thinking a lot about sewing, and other ways we can still get our hands in there and not " turn things over to strangers" as you say. Right on. I think I'll get my kids into the sewing room soon so they can take back some of that knowledge!