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Barbara, sans motor

Barbara, sans motor

I quilt in a teeny, tiny space.

And because of this, I have to move my machine from the table to the floor when I want to press or cut fabric.

With the Singer Merritt, this is not a problem since it has a handle on the top, but when that one is being used as for quilting (which I set up in another room), I press one of the other machines into service.

I like the 99 (which I have named “Barbara” after Barbara Feldon from “Get Smart.”) She has a nice hum and a nice “action.”  I was heartbroken when she slipped from my grip while I was moving her from the table to the floor.  I pressed the foot pedal and she didn’t work. I thought it was her motor, so I put her away.

New and Old motor (notice the bottom of the old motor (right) has been broken on the bottom.

New and Old motor (notice the bottom of the old motor (right) has been broken on the bottom.

When I took a class from Harriet Hargrave on machine quilting, she mentioned that some sewing machines appeal to some people because of the tone of their motor.

I immediately thought of Barbara.  I figured, “she’s a mechanical machine, how hard can she be to fix?” So, I decided to save up my pennies and get her fixed at the repair place near me.

To brace myself for the cost, I cruised the Internet looking the price of a motor for Barbara. A new one went for about $35, which started me thinking that I know enough basic wiring that I could fix her myself.  The problem was that if the reason I liked Barbara as a machine was the tone of her motor, buying a new motor might change that.

So, I bought a used 99 motor on eBay for $10.

This wire leads from the motor to the foot pedal. It was damaged when I dropped my machine a while ago.

This is the wire that leads from the motor to the foot pedal. Obviously, the source of the problem, once I found it.

I took of the bracket off the machine, and removed the motor from the bracket, and then had a thought: what if the motor still works?  Do I throw the old motor away?

That was when I discovered that it was NOT Barbara’s motor that was the problem. It was the motor housing…AND the wire between the motor and the foot pedal.

So, off to the hardware store to buy some new wire.

New vs. old wire.

New vs. old wire.

The problem, of course, is that the new wire available does NOT look like the old wire.  The new stuff is thinner because the insulation is actually more efficient than the old. It took me two hardware stores and four or five employees before I found one that could honestly say that the new wire would work the same as the old.

I had already taken the wire off the motor to test both of them (they both worked!), so it was simply a matter of figuring out how to take the bottom off the foot pedal and replace the wire there…without wire strippers or a soldering iron. I had a Leatherman multi-tool (well, I also had a bunch of jewelry tools.)

The underside of the foot pedal was easy to access.

The underside of the foot pedal was easy to access. I split the wire with the knife part of my tool and used the pliers for most of the rest of the work.

That turned out to be very easy.  Just two bolts on the bottom of the foot pedal and it popped right off. The wires were not soldered on, but twisted into a hook and screwed into place (although the person who originally wired the foot pedal had coated the raw part of the wire with solder to keep the multiple copper threads of the wire together.)

The wiring itself was easy, but I am still not satisfied that I had to use what was essentially a “wad” of duct tape to keep the thinner wire from slipping back and forth through the hole.  I will probably revisit the pedal some day after I figure out a better solution.

The new wire was thinner than the old, so I needed to add a wad of duct tape.

The new wire was thinner than the old, so I needed to add a wad of duct tape.

In the end, it turned out easy to attach the new motor.  It doesn’t matter which wire you connect to which side of the motor, just so long as one goes to the power cord and one goes to the foot pedal (and, in turn, one side of the foot pedal cord connects the motor, and the other attaches to the power cord.)

So, now I am almost finished repairing Barbara.  The motor works, the foot pedal works, and the only thing I need to do is clean her, since, when I tested her, I had trouble with her tension.


New motor and foot pedal wire, all ready to reconnect to Barbara.

There are lots of videos on YouTube which deal with sewing machine repair and cleaning, especially of vintage machines, like Barbara.

It turns out that you don’t need a lot of fancy tools to fix vintage mechanical sewing machines (although a wire-stripper would have made my life much easier.)

They are also very easy to understand, and repairing Barbara myself gave me good insight into how sewing machines work. This, in turn, has me itching to return to the long arm, which cannot help but work similarly (except for the computer parts…)