Monday, August 11, 2014

Vintage Sewing Machine Repair Shop in Oneida Continues On

Since I was so busy due to other employment, a year flew by before I could take my old Singer 9117 to Williams Sewing Center for a tune up. When I walked into the shop I was delightfully greeted by the sunny smile of Don's daughter-in-law Kim. When I told her that my story about Don had been viewed by more than 500 people from all over the world, her smile grew even brighter and she was excited to show the post to Don. I was very happy to hear that Kim's husband (and Don's son) Jeff Williams would be taking over the business after all! So the legacy will continue and the owners of vintage sewing machines in Central New York and beyond will continue to have a repair shop they can trust.

Here's Jeff, Kim and Don Williams of Williams Oneida Sewing Center.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

The Best Sewing Machine Ever Made and Other Treasures

"You're looking at the best sewing machine ever made right here," proclaimed Don Williams, the proprietor of Williams Oneida Sewing Center in Oneida, NY. I stopped in to his shop today to drop off a recent yard sale find of mine for a cleaning and tune up.

Don has been restoring ailing sewing machines to good health for the past 55 years, and he knows his stuff. He takes in a dozen or so machines every week at his quaint shop in a century-old building on Main Street. Customers from all over the country bring their vintage machines for his expert care. One woman transports her '60s era Singer from California every summer when she visits her relatives in Rochester, NY, then takes the two hour drive to Oneida to have her machine serviced. Others come regularly from New York City, Albany, and Florida. How fortunate I feel living only a few minutes drive away!

Don says the machine pictured above, the Singer 401, has no plastic parts and is made with steel gears. "Replacing plastic gears is what keeps me busy," he explained. It was originally manufactured in the 1960s, before the advent of polyester thread. He said if you find one at a yard sale, snap it up. But be sure to bring it to a qualified professional like himself to have it modified to handle new threads. 

Gazing about the shop, I marveled at Don's collection of antique sewing machines. The place is like a museum. The model above is one of the first sewing machines ever made. The original instruction book is still with it and says this machine sold for $58 when it was new in the 1860s.

This Singer 201 (above) is the best straight stitch machine ever made according to Don. It was manufactured in the 1930s to 1950s and was popular in school home economics classes.

Gadgets are nothing new to sewing enthusiasts, as I found out when Don showed me this hand-cranked pinking device. Just turn the handle and pass the fabric through. After decades of use it still cuts right through this fabric like a hot knife through butter, leaving this wavy edge.

Plastic may be lightweight and bring the prices of things down to more affordable levels, but when I see what used to be made before that unbiodegradable stuff was invented I begin to wish it wasn't. These beautiful bentwood cases (above) used to cover sewing machines in the 1930s, and this cute accessory case (below) came with some machines in the 1950s.

We often think of technology as progress, but that may not always be the case. Don has seen the progression of sewing machines and sewing in general for more than half a century. At one time he had a fabric shop in the storefront on one side of his shop, a sewing machine dealership and repair shop in the middle and a notions store on the other side. In the 1980s and 90s as big box stores began to encroach upon the small towns, his business dwindled to just the Singer dealership and repair shop. And when Singer came out with lower quality models made in China in the 1990s, Don told them to "take a hike". After years of working with sewing machines made of steel that would last for generations, he was disgusted by the cheap plastic machines that would last only a few years. He decided to stop selling new machines and continue his business as a repair shop only.

On the other hand the vintage Kenmore 158 I picked up for $15 at a yard sale a couple of weeks ago was worth fixing. Don says it has steel gears! For $110 of Don's hard work and expertise, I now have an excellent teaching machine which I'll use for the informal sewing lessons I'm going to offer at my girls' school.

I asked Don whether he had an apprentice or someone he could pass his knowledge along to. Yes, he said, his son knows the trade, but he now makes much better money working for an international company, and isn't interested in taking over his dad's business. It will really be a loss to the sewing community when Don finally decides to retire.

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But one year later, I found out that Don's trade will indeed continue on. Read the update here.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Shamrock Bag for my Ghillies

With the local Irish festival coming up I decided I needed a bag for my ghillies. Last year I didn't have them with me when I happened upon the ceili dance workshop and I ended up with blisters on my toes. So this year I'll be prepared to kick up my heels in comfort.

I dipped into my scrap stash and found this light green linen and some bits of bright green quilting cotton. I cut the template for the shamrock leaves by drawing the shape of the leaves of my real shamrock.

Mom gave me this shamrock for St. Patrick's Day and it's still going strong in July!

I'm really looking forward to the festival. It's so much fun every year with a great line up of traditional Irish musicians. This year our school choir is singing at the Mass too which will make it really special.

Update: There's a penny whistle workshop scheduled for the festival, so I needed this pouch for my whistle too. It's just a simple rectangle sewn together, but I put some decorative stitching with Madeira thread on it before I sewed the side seam and bottom. It's got a snap at the top to keep my whistle from escaping. OK, now I'm ready for a great Irish weekend!

Do you use your sewing skills to make things for your other interests?