but she's a girl...

[Femina geekoides]

Old And New But Both Classics


I’ve had fun recently spending some Christmas money by buying some classic items. One was old, the other was new, but both are classics.

The first item is a Singer 99 hand cranked sewing machine that I got on Ebay very cheaply. Singer has an amazing web page which enables you to look up the serial number of their vintage machines and find out the year and place of manufacture, so I know that my machine was made in 1951 in Clydebank. It’s in really good condition considering its age, and still has the original manual. I’ve had a bit of a play with it and it seems to be working well. It needs a clean and oil (the presser foot lever is a bit sticky) and I need to fiddle with the upper thread tension, but otherwise, it makes nice neat stitches.

I used to sew a bit when I was younger, but I haven’t had a machine for a while. I’ve got a number of sewing projects that I want to start, and they are too big to do by hand. I like hand cranked machines, because while you don’t have two hands to feed the material under the foot, you can go at a slow and careful pace, and they make a lovely sound. These Singer models are 3/4 full size and were incredibly popular in their day. That means that they are fairly easy to store, and lighter than a full sized cast iron machine would be (I seem to have a bit of a thing about cast iron items at the moment).

It is a delightfully simple machine. It makes one kind of stitch — a straight stitch — and that’s it. There are holes in the top to oil the mechanism, and most of the moving parts can be observed or accessed by unlatching the machine from its base and tipping it up. Amazingly, Singer still makes bobbins and needles which fit the machine, and you can even get hold of the original specialist presser feet (for sewing on binding, hemming or even making ruffles) fairly easily online. If I ever wanted to go electric (insert obligatory “Judas!” heckle here), you can get external motor kits which just attach to the wheel by a drive belt.

I can’t wait to start sewing in earnest with it.

The other item is a Gfeller leather notebook case. I was looking for one for a while, so that I could use cheap notebooks but protect them, but I couldn’t find quite what I wanted. Then Helge posted some pictures of his collection of Gfeller products, including a notebook cover, and I was smitten. They have a video showing how the notebook cases are made, which shows the attention to detail and craftsmanship put into them, and this is really evident in the end product. I got the cover made for the Rhodia A5 Webbie Webnotebook, when I remembered just in time that the cheap Moleskine knockoffs I use are A5 size and not the slightly narrower, almost A5 size of the large Moleskine notebooks. It fits perfectly and is a joy to handle.

There’s a slit in the back cover so that you can still use the elastic to hold the book closed, and the leather extends over the whole width of the front and back covers so that you don’t get a ledge half way across the page when you are writing on pages near the beginning or end of the notebook. This model also has cleverly designed pen loops, so that that when you insert a pen, the notebook is held closed: the upper and lower loops are fixed to the front cover and the middle loop is fixed to the back. It opens completely flat, and the little bit of extra padding that the leather provides makes writing in the notebook even more enjoyable.

The quality of the stitching and finishing is really top class, and the undyed leather is made to age gracefully and take on a warm patina as you handle it and it is exposed to UV light. I’m really looking forward to enjoying using this notebook cover for the rest of my life.


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