Monday 25 May 2020

Joyce & Frances

Joyce & Frances' glamorous grannies, perhaps?

Today, Dear Reader, I'm going to show off my Scottish, octogenarian girlfriends, Joyce & Frances - a couple of old girls who taught me everything I know about sewing machine anatomy & refurbishment and French polishing, to boot. Not to mention the boundless usefulness of Sewing Machine Oil and the value of Elbow Grease! (Nota bene: This is an image-heavy post and somewhat lacking in action, but Goats will be your reward if you make it to the end).

Do heed the straight talking advice of earlier eras
 That neglect to oil your machine will shorten its life
& "
cause you trouble and annoyance"

I've been meaning to introduce you to this couple of friends in my little circle for ages, and after last week's post on the faithful and beloved Belgian RTT56 telephone, now seems as good time as any to meet some more olde worlde engineering which is to be found at home here.

Clydebank, the birthplace of Joyce & Frances

As ever, things are done a little differently in the Pipistrello household, so when I was in the market for a new sewing machine last year, I decided to buy a solid workhorse from the past. My researching ultimately led to the Singer 99K, the first "portable" domestic sewing machine offered by them, designed for the Thrifty Housewife, and I found "Joyce" for $80 on Gumtree and brought her home.

Always a Major Investment, even by the late 50s
The "Thrifty" Singer 99, at 53 Guineas, would cost
Several thousand dollars today!

She was already in good working order and had evidently been well regarded and serviced over the years, so it was not a hard task to spruce her up and after her electrical workings were checked by the brilliant, sewing machine mechanic I managed to find, she does run a straight-stitching dream.

Joyce seen recently sewing up some
 Masks for these Strange Times

"Frances"* was found rather closer to home. In fact, she'd been living on the floor of a cupboard in our next-door neighbour's apartment for decades and was in rather a sorrier state when she was gifted to Your Correspondent and her resurrection became a bit of a Project, for which much trawling through the interwebs furnished me with more than enough DIY tips & tricks. Indeed, this path is very well-worn as millions of Singer sewing machines of all shapes and sizes were manufactured and similar eye-watering numbers are still happily sewing around the globe, many of which have been restored by hobbyists and sewers of all stripes**.

Shall we have a look at some before & after pics of Frances?

Mostly dust and rust,
But some dodgy wiring to make me 

Hesitate taking her for a spin

Not sewn a stitch in decades.
What's underneath the throat plate?

Phew! Just some dust bunnies

The bobbin housing looks so much better!
Metal polish is a faithful friend!

Removing the face plate reveals
Another section to tackle ...

... Ticked off the list!

All the innards back in place
& rather pretty now she's shiny

Joyce & Frances are cousins***, as both are Singer 99K with the knee-lever motor and identical Filigree decorative touches. But what sane person needs twin machines? (obv. question), so I hummed and hawed about the fate of Frances. The wiring looked positively lethal, so I first anticipated converting her to a hand-crank, then when I took out and cleaned the knee-lever controller to polish the base, it looked so, well, safe! but I've since switched back to my original idea.

Oh, dear, Frances!

Now looking as good as new,
But the electrical bits will be coming out again
 To be replaced with a hand crank.

So, while she works beautifully, she's still officially a work-in-progress until I buy the necessary bits to "downgrade" her to a manual machine. And I'm yet to finish restoring the plywood lid by filling the, ahem, hole and French polishing to match the base and I'm confident she'll be just dandy, and the perfect option in case the End-of-Days comes and the electricity is switched off forever!

A flesh wound to be getting on with ...

* While owning two sewing machines may seem a little excessive for many reasons, not the least of which is I live in a 100 sqm apartment, I'm embarrassed to admit I do, in fact, own three machines. "Bernadette" is my rather flimsy and C21st offering, a cheap Bernette purchased nearly twenty years ago to sew some curtains, and did not get used for that purpose in the end, and when I finally pulled her out of her unopened box last year as I had a couple of projects in mind, she was a sorry disappointment once she got sewing, so she shan't get a photo to share with you. Plastic is consigned to a cupboard around these parts. Harsh but fair.

** And some ladies much more zealous than I who even pulled out cranks and driveshafts! But when your workshop is your tiny kitchen and your tools came from your bottom drawer and bathroom cabinet, neither of these girls were in a desperate enough state to warrant taking that more strenuous step.

*** Genealogical details are among the endless resources which can be investigated about the World of Singer Sewing Machines, and their serial numbers revealed 87-year old Joyce to be an Aquarius with 15,000 siblings and Frances a slightly younger Scorpio with 5,000 siblings.

Pulling out all stops for his Sales Pitch.
A Singer promotion in 1910.
Only in Queensland!

Image credits: 1, 2: via Pinterest; 3: WorthPoint; 4: Trove; 5-14: Flying With Hands; 15: Wikimedia Commons


  1. I grew up learning to sew (and sewing many, many clothes and projects) on an old Singer, very similar to the first one who showed, housed in a wonderful wooden stand with the extension. I can even conjure up the smell of it heating up and the dust and fluff. I learned by turning the hand crank, and then graduated on to the foot pedal. Thanks for the memories! -Jenn

  2. I did not know Singer sewing machines have a genealogy. My Nanna had a manual one as did my great aunt. Not sure what happened to them but I think they were given away. I can't sew a stitch to save my life.

  3. The 'before' and 'after' pictures show a great difference! Your hard work at restoration has paid off.

    Joyce and Frances are beautiful machines. It is wonderful to think that there are so many Singers around the globe sewing clothes yet!

    -goats are nice, too. :)

  4. Interesting as my mother from my earliest memory made her own clothes, drapes etc. and even a nice kilt for me of her fam's Douglas Clan (rather than my Paternal McClaren) which was ravaged by moths when I was overseas for a few years.
    Love everything my Mum makes nowadays including accessories for her cocker spaniel.

  5. Jenn: Joyce is indeed named for my Nanna, who was seamstress to my tailor Grandfather, but she didn't teach me to sew, it was school and the teenage-proof Bernina where I learnt, but I didn't really get into it for a long time. Hand sewing was a bit more my thing. If I'd had the chance to get my paws on an old Singer as a kid, I expect it would have been a different story! They are so beautiful.I know what you mean about the smell of lint and whatnot. The smell of my grandparents' tailor shoppe is so easy to conjure!

    Loree: The Singer story is far-ranging and very well covered on the interwebs - it's the perfect subject for both boffins and stitchers - I discovered today the one of the three wives of the bigamist Isaac Singer was a French model who is the face of the Statue of Liberty! Proof there's something for everyone on this topic ... Most Singers were probably given away, it's true, or sent to the scrapheap when tastes changed. But thousands have been resurrected and sent to Africa, which is nice to know.

    Bea: The goats were too good to leave out! It's pretty amazing what magic can be worked in the restoration department with mostly household bits and pieces. Apart from getting an electrician to check over the wiring, I didn't need to procure anything else (save for a piece of craft balsa which came in the shape of a ladybug from a $2 shoppe to patch the hole in the lid, haha). The sewing machine technician had nought else to do - he was rather impressed, as was I!

    GSL: Your Mum sounds terrific! And rather talented. There's always call for accessorising a cocker spaniel. But a shame about your ravaged kilt. Unless, of course, you've entered the stage of not wishing your knees on display any more.

    MAYBE NOT I think I'm thinking of the TYPEWRITER...............I WILL GO HAVE A LOOK!


  7. Contessa: Fingers crossed you find the machine! Even if a little bit of TLC is required, I'm sure the clever Italian would be most obliging in that department, and spare parts are very easy to come by now that online shopping has been invented. You may say you don't sew but I hasten to opine that caftans are mostly straight lines and they're terribly easy for even a beginner. Voila! you'll be running up your own in no time! xx

  8. I think the Singer Sewing machine is a very beautiful thing. We did have one and I loved the marble top and fancy ironwork. I am sure you are aware of the clothes shop All Saints ? I love their clothes and, in their flagship store and others, the complete window is filled with vintage sewing machines ... it looks amazing. XXXX

  9. Jackie: They're so gorgeous, I agree! I've not seen a mother-of-pearl inlayed machine in the flesh nor the variant with the Egyptian decals but I'm still looking ... No, All Saints is new to me! Thanks for the tip! Hopefully the window display stays until I get to see it, too. It would have been this week that we were going to be in London after many years absence! xx

    1. Oh no .... that’s such a shame you have missed your London trip...... and, we are enjoying the most amazing weather too !!!! Hopefully it will get back to normal soon and you will be able to come. This pandemic is a pain in the bum ­čĄú­čśé­čĄú XXXX

  10. The Singer sewing machines are so beautifully detailed for something that is a work horse. ARilx

  11. Aril: I guess we can thank the Victorians for deciding that if a woman was to be tempted to bring Machinery into the home as a piece of furniture, it was essential that it needed to look attractive! I wonder when Industrial Designers coldly decided that sensibility could fall by the wayside and leave us with offerings best suited to a factory floor? xx


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