The Warren Collection of Antique Sewing Machines
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Cleaning a Machine in Good Condition       Restoring a Neglected Machine     Dealing with  Heavy Rust  Making Decals
Cleaning & Restoring
 As a long term collector I have always been of the view that less is more. Some wear and tear and patina does not detract from the aesthetic value of a machine. The aim is to clean and preserve as much of the original as possible. Be satisfied with a little improvement and do not expect to get it into original condition.
Cleaning a Machine in good condition.

This means a machine with no rust or areas of thick oil and dirt; one that does not need to be taken apart. The painted parts will have been sprayed with a transparent shiny lacquer that will have changed over time. It will be fragile and very likely absorb moisture to go foggy. Success relies on what you do NOT do.

No water.
No water based cleaners.
No detergent - it will dissolve out the old oil leaving the dirt as a hard crust.
No abrasives.
No hard rubbing.

No emery paper or wire wool. This is used only on bare steel parts that have been removed away from the painted areas.

Keep chanting "Less is more."

Use cotton buds, a dry toothbrush or an unused dry paintbrush to get at awkward corners.

Those little white spots (nobody knows where they come from) can be dissolved off with a damp cloth but do each one individually keeping the surface as dry as possible and do not rub the decals.

WD40 can be used to dissolve dirty patches but do not leave it on the surface because it will effect the lacquer.

You can remove any panels such as the plates at the front, over the shuttle and at the back to brush out any fluff and dust. Put the screws back in place to stop them escaping to a parallel universe. If you have to remove the flywheel assembly to get at the spaces around the handle there is some advice further on about this. (In short, the big screw head at the back does not unscrew the flywheel so don’t force it)

Finally, a light application of thin sewing machine oil is the best advice I have found.

This  Singer 66 from 1922 just needed a light brush and some sewing machine oil..    
How to restore a very badly neglected machine
Like this Challenge by the Royal Sewing Machine Company, Birmingham.
You may need:

A shed.
Newspaper and rags
A large tray to stop liquids from harming your floor.
In very extreme cases, paint remover.
An old paintbrush and a fine wire brush.
Selection of screwdrivers.
Wooden toothpicks.
Fine wire wool
Fine filler paste
Masking Tape and Plasticine.
Sewing machine oil and WD 40
A rechargeable hand drill
Rubber gloves
Washing soda, plastic bucket and a car battery charger.
A digital camera to record where all the parts go is useful.
If there has been long term neglect or old oil has hardened you need to get the machine moving. Apply WD40 or machine oil to all moving parts, including the sliding plates covering the shuttle track and leave it for a few hours to penetrate the cracks. Wipe any WD40 of the painted bits you intend to keep. Most of the machines I have renovated have become free at this point but do not apply any force.  In time you will need to remove all the visible unpainted iron parts so that they can be de-rusted.

The Needle-bar movement.
Remove the needle first as this is easily broken.
There is usually a plate held by two screws at the front of the arm. Without scratching the paintwork remove the screws and pull off the cover plate to reveal the needle bar, presser foot bar and cam. Put the screws back where they came from and note the positions of the bars or take a photograph.
For a Singer 12 design the bars are rectangular and come out easily. Round bars need to be cleaned enough first to slide out of their holes vertically. Remove as many parts as you can . These bits can be cleaned in situ but it is much easier if you can get them away from the casting but do not risk damage because spare bolts and screws are hard to find.
Remove the presser foot and the lever for raising it and replace the screws. If there is thick deposit on the bars a screwdriver is good enough to scrape it off then use the fine wire wool to polish them. If the bars are round they can be rotated in the chuck of the drill with the wire wool pressed around them. The same method is used to polish the screws. There may be a plate with a groove in it. This is a cam to operate the needle-bar. It is often difficult to remove these but they are easy to clean in situ without damaging the paintwork. For any round bars that can be removed the easiest method of removing rust and adding a shine is to spin them in the chuck of an electric drill  whilst squeezing them in a wad of fine wire wool.

Removing the flywheel.
At the other end of the machine is a handle and flywheel which needs to be removed. If there is a large screw head in the centre of the flywheel, generally, this cannot be unscrewed. The axle is retained by a screw behind the cover-plate on the back of the machine. Remove the plate, loosen this screw and the axle should slide out, perhaps with the application of some WD40 and a few small clockwise and anticlockwise twists on the screw head. The large screw head is there to rotate a cam to adjust the the gap between the teeth on the gears. There are marks on the gears indicating their position. Make a note of this if you want the machine to work properly afterwards. However, usually the marks on the big gear are meant to go adjacent to the marks on the two smaller gears when they are at the top and bottom of the large gear - simples.
While the back is off you can give the mechanism inside the machine a brush and oil. There is usually little else that needs doing here. If there are cogs on axles these are nearly always fixed on with a small grub screw. If this can be undone and the axle slid out cleaning and polishing is much easier accomplishes with the electric drill.
The cogs will withstand some rough treatment once away from the casting so it is easy to clamp them in a vice and use a stiff wire brush to get in between the teeth.
This should be enough advice to allow you to remove all the other unpainted metal parts for cleaning.
Under the bed.
If this is out of sight then just brush and oil it. The dirt is probably protecting the ironwork. If you can remove the shuttle plates just shine with wire wool but be sparing if these parts re plated. The area behind the back cover plate needs only to be brushed and oiled.
For some parts that cannot be removed such as the bobbin posts at the top of the head and the  toothed  cloth feed make a template out of card with a hole in it or cover the surrounding area with masking tape  so as not to scratch other areas.

Dealing With Heavy Rust

Sometimes a part is very badly rusted with pitting which cannot be removed with wire wool. This is where you need the sodium carbonate and plastic bucket to electrolytically remove the rust. The circuit is shown on the diagram below. This method should not be used with plated metal as the plating is likely to be removed.
A sodium carbonate  solution (ordinary washing soda)  in a plastic container is used to electrolyse the rust. An old piece of iron goes on the positive with your rusty item on the negative attached with croc clips.
Use a DC 12v car battery charger or an old car battery or both together to provide the current.
A large item can be left connected for a few hours, removed, dried and the black deposit rubbed off with the wire brush or wire wool. Heavy rusting may need this process repeating several times. I often have a second part ready to treat while I am cleaning the first. Dry your item immediately and remove the residue or rust will quickly re-form. I would advise that you experiment with the process first using a rusty item of no value.

Finally store your machine in a dry place, preferably in the main part of the house with the central heating. Put it with all the other machines you are going to collect. Take no notice of what people say. You are not sick or obsessed. It is perfectly reasonable to display bits of over engineered Victorian junk in your house.       Top
Painting - this is still to be done.......
Making your own Decals
The method explained here gives good, but not perfect results. You will be able to detect a slight ridge around each decal.
All the best advice is not to replace paintwork or decals on an old or rare machine unless none of the original is left. From the photographs below I think you will agree that this machine lay well within those parameters.

You will need:
1.White backed waterslide paper transfer paper. You can get them here.:
2. Clear lacquer in a spray can. I use ordinary clear lacquer from an auto-shop.
3. A bubble jet printer.

Don’t try to use the transparent version of the waterslide transfers because this will only show up the design on a white background and presumably your sewing machine will be painted black which will cause the design to disappear.

Next, you need a picture of the decals you want to reproduce on a black background. You are unlikely to be able to change a white background to black using software because it will leave a thin white line around the design. Search the Internet for a machine like the one you are refurbishing but with good decals. You could also photograph good areas of the machine you are working on. You do not need a perfect picture. If the photograph you choose distorts the design because it was taken at an angle it does not matter because you can rectify this by stretching or squashing the picture with a graphics program.
If the colour is faded, it should not be a problem. The original decals came out with different tints anyway and your end product will look better if it shows some aging.

Most pictures look slightly fuzzy from an Internet image but I found that this does not seem to matter much to the overall result. In fact, when I tried a really good quality reproduction on a machine it it not look at all authentic.
You may also need to deal with any blemishes, fill any missing parts, sharpen, lighten or change the contrast of your picture. I used Microsoft’s 2002 version of Picture It for this but most graphics packages will easily handle everything you need to do.
Next, you need to isolate the various parts of your decal by cropping and pasting them onto one A4 canvas on your computer. By referring to the actual machine, measure the width and height you will need for each element and resize them. If you resize them before pasting to the final canvas you may find they may be altered by the program.  Top   
Decal set, re-sized and ready for printing to the transfer paper.
If you are not yet confident that the decals will fit do a fast print on ordinary paper, in very light gray to save ink, cut them out and place them in position to check.

Print out the designs on your transfer paper and follow the instructions that come with the paper. There is plenty of advice about this on the Internet.
In short:
1. Give the sheet plenty of time to dry.
2. Spray the whole sheet at least twice with lacquer, on the printed side only, to make it waterproof. There are several You-tube clips to demonstrate this. I use ordinary car lacquer from an auto shop.
3. Cut out your decals leaving a black border of a few mm around each element.
4. Dip them for a few seconds in clean water, place the piece into position and slide off the design, adjusting while it is still wet.
5. Leave for a few hours to dry.
You may notice a thin white line where you have cut the decal. These need to be painted over. If you have sprayed the surface yourself then you can spray some of the identical colour into a small jar with a sealed top and use this to carefully go around the edges with a fine brush. Otherwise, you will need to find a black close to the original by experiment. Felt tips are not very good in my opinion.
You will still be left with a little ridge around the edges. I have not tried this myself but I did read that repeated layers of lacquer with careful sanding in-between will do it.     Top
Condition as first acquired. Dismantled with all rust removed
With three undercoats and several top coats. With decals and a new base.