Last week’s episode of The Great British Sewing Bee saw the contestants presented with old-fashioned Singer sewing machines and asked to complete a series of tasks based on old patterns, techniques and styles. As most of you know, I am the very proud owner of a 1950s Singer 99k machine, kindly gifted to me by my Granny a few years ago.
This was the machine I cut my sewing teeth on; I found its original user manual online, printed off all 56 pages, and used the grainy illustrations to guide me through the basics of using a sewing machine, such as how to wind the bobbin, thread the upper needle and raise the bobbin thread.
I had actually been thinking recently that it would be nice to get the 99k out of her case, do some sewing, take a few pictures and write a post, and this episode spurred me into action.
I just love the stitch selector on this machine. You loosen the screw, move the lever to select how many stitches per inch you need, then tighten again. Push the lever all the way to the top to select a backward stitch.
There are some features which haven’t changed much as the sewing machine has evolved. The top-loading drop-in bobbin (left) is virtually identical to the one on my modern Singer Talent. For most machines, the bobbin is still wound by popping it on to a spindle at the top right and clicking it in to place.
There is a little ‘secret compartment’ for bobbins, feet and accessories in my modern Singer too, but pulling out its white plastic drawer isn’t quite as thrilling as turning the key in the black metal top-plate to reveal the 99k’s treasures.
I forgot just how noisy this machine is to use, but unless you’re trying to do a bit of sneaky sewing late at night, it’s strangely satisfying to hear the clackety whirr as your fabric whizzes through this machine.
Because there is so much metal in the 99k compared to modern plastic based machines, this is a heavy piece of equipment, tipping the scales at just over two stone or 12.7 kilos. While it’s therefore not practical as a portable machine, what it does benefit from is a real strength and sturdiness. It gives a perfect straight stitch with ease and the presser foot doesn’t bounce around, moving your fabric off-line.
I vow to use my Singer 99k regularly from now on. It’s been on this earth twice as long as I have and it is still an elegant and effective sewing machine. It deserves to be appreciated. Here are some things I made for my mum today using my Granny’s old sewing machine, and some photos of the machine in use.