Sewing that's Retro, Geek, and Chic
Sewing Machine Serendipity
January 7, 2013Posted by on
I don’t know if anyone else has this tendency, but I have a habit of being generally curious and needing to know about random things. Because of this, I often find myself first asking my husband (because sometimes he knows) and then often turning to the universe (aka “Google search”) for answers.
There have been countless times that I have gone on casual internet searches about one topic, and then ended up following random link trails to learn all kinds of seemingly useless trivia (and yes, I do retain a lot of it – it’s just how my inquisitive mind works). Sometimes, my husband and I will waste hours randomly searching together and learning about new things.
And the harder it is to find information about something, the more I need to know. Periodically, some of those tiny bits of trivia will serendipitously* fit together to solve a mystery.
Well, just call me “Sherlock” because I think I’ve managed to piece together some really useful details in my search for information about my recently acquired vintage Wizard brand sewing machine!
So if you have a Wizard yourself or you’re just generally curious (like I am) about the history of old things and how things work, I’ve decided today’s post will share with you what I’ve learned, in hopes that others searching the web for the same information will not have to search quite as hard as I did.
(And if you have any further information to add about Wizard sewing machines, please leave a comment!)
You’ve met him before – this is my Wizard, Gandalf the Green:
He is an “Automatic Zigzag” sewing machine in teal & cream with shiny chrome accents, model number 3KC 8842 made in Japan (probably in the late ’50s or early ’60s). And he weighs a whoppin’ 37 lbs!
I managed to find the lady I believe owned Gandalf before me because my sewing machine came with an old maintenance receipt. The owner’s name was listed at the top, and I was aware that she had died right around the time I bought the machine. So a search for an obituary online produced one that seemed to line up with name, location, and date of death. I believe Gandalf the Green was previously owned by Linda Kay (Plant) Garrett of Abilene, TX. Thank you, Linda, for taking good care of your machine!
Wizard brand was a line of tools made by Western Auto which included sewing machines.
Apparently, lots of Western Auto files were shredded and disposed of at some point in history (mentioned in this old thread), so there isn’t much documentation left about Wizard Tools. But in my message board searching, I got the impression that the sewing machines made under the label “Wizard” were sold to Brother, a company that still makes sewing machines today. (Too bad Brother doesn’t provide good online records about their vintage machines like Singer and some other brands do!)
When I brought Gandalf home, I knew I wanted to find a manual so I could learn his wonderful vintage tricks. (Old sewing machines were not overly labeled like modern machines are, even though most operate with similar knobs and dials. I could probably make do without a manual, but I had a feeling I would miss out on some amazing & hidden features.) I also knew I wanted to replace the unmarked needle plate that did not appear to be original.
Eventually, I somehow coaxed the internet to give me the link to a website that sells old sewing machine manuals in both hard copy and instant download file form. On the site, I still had to convince a search to give me the actual results I wanted for anything Wizard brand. I finally achieved my goal of a being able to buy a manual with this pdf download for a Wizard 3KC 8841, which seemed to be nearly the same as my 8842 model (the “zig-zag width knob” is slightly different because it’s probably for the model just before mine).
Once I had the manual for the 8841, I learned there was a trick to turning the stitch selector (or “Automatic Pattern Selecting Knob”.) At first, I thought my machine’s knob was just stiff and difficult to turn from years of storage, but it turned very easily once I knew to hold the zig-zag width knob in the neutral position at the same time. This releases the tension on the cams, and it requires both hands – see photo example below.
With the 8841 manual in hand, I took Gandalf to my local service shop for a good cleaning and basic tune-up. Even the repair guy was unfamiliar with the unusual feature for turning the stitch dial, and after a little convincing, decided he would keep the manual with the machine just in case.
My next step in learning about my Wizard machine was a serious hunt for a new needle plate with measurement marks.
Part numbers and copyright dates seem to be impossible to find in old manuals, which are only about how to use a machine. So I just started looking at photos of any plates that websites bothered to post.
One service shop in Illinois posted a huge number of random needle plate photos. I was able to select about 3 by sight from the collage of photos that looked similar to the one on my machine. Then I discovered that selecting a photo for enlarging also gave me a unique file name. The picture labeled “B4139.jpg” appeared to be the best match.
I then did a search on ebay including “B4139” hoping it was a part number because I suspected the “B” stood for “Brother”.
Eureka! I got a handful of exact hits!
I chose to pay a dollar more for the needle plate from a seller who took very clear photos and included one of the underside of the plate – which made it unmistakable that it matched the unmarked plate currently on my Wizard. (I also discovered that part B4139 is the same as part number NZ3LG.)
Evidently, there are at least four Brother sewing machine models that use the same needle plate because the ebay listing titles included 4 different model numbers. Out of curiosity, I did a search to find out what the various models looked like.
Three were pretty generic looking vintage machines.
But then I saw the Brother 210 and *may* have squealed with joy. It was exactly like Gandalf down to every last knob and dial – only in pale pink!
And I now had another lead!
I began to wonder if my Wizard 3KC 8842 was the very last model to be called a “Wizard” before being sold to Brother and renamed the Brother 210 – even the brand’s name-plaque was the same shape on both machines despite a different inscription.
I decided to purchase a CD copy of the Brother 210 user manual (another “buy it now” on ebay) to continue my quest for more information. (I have since found a Brother 210 manual available for purchase in both physical and digital form on this webpage – scroll down to number 9 on the list.)
I received my two ebay items a day apart.
The needle plate was perfect. The B4139 (or NZ3LG) plate fits the Wizard 3KC 8842.
And the Brother model 210 manual revealed yet another surprise – “Knob B”. Knob B (aka “The Switch-Over Knob”) is what the Brother manual calls the zig-zag width knob that you have to hold in neutral to turn the stitch selector.
Knob B has a magical secret befitting a Wizard – it pulls out! According to page 15 of the Brother manual:
“This is the knob which allows you to switch the operation of your machine from straight to fully automatic zigzag sewing and vice versa. It also allows you to set you machine for semi-automatic operation. For fully automatic zigzag sewing or semi-automatic sewing – pull out Knob B. For manual sewing – push Knob B in.”
And I had to chuckle to myself when I first read the “Introduction” in the Brother 210 manual because they just don’t write manuals like this anymore (nowadays the first page of a manual is usually called “Safety Information”):
“You are about to make an exciting discovery! Sewing machines need not be out-of-date, but can be as modern, as efficient and well-designed as the cars we drive and the homes we live in.
“With experienced know-how and world-famous precision engineering, the Automatic Zigzag Sewing Machine has been created for you – today’s fashion-wise woman…
“…As you become acquainted with your new Automatic Zigzag machine, you will find the expert’s touch in its many exclusive features. It will often seem to do your thinking for you. Even the beginner enjoys the AUTOMATIC ZIGZAG sewing, and even the expert is amazed at its ease.”
I am going to have a blast experimenting with stitches on this machine! My first impression was correct – it truly is a Cadillac of a sewing machine! And all without a computer brain! I love vintage machines. =)
Please let me know if you have a similar Wizard or Brother sewing machine and have anything to add or would like more information about a specific feature. And if you have the Wizard 3KC 8842 model and are searching for a manual of your own, I would recommend the manual for the Brother 210 over the Wizard 8841, although both manuals are helpful.
UPDATE: Ryan sent me some photos to share of his recently inherited green Brother 210, complete with original sewing cabinet! He said the previous owner married a WWII vet after the war, and he’s pretty sure the machine was purchased in Japan and shipped over to the states shortly after. His wife is looking forward to using it. =)
(click to enlarge and view as slide-show)
Mary also has a Wizard 3KC 8842, but her’s is missing the push-reverse button in the middle of the stitch selection dial.
If you have the part or know where she can get a replacement, please email me so I can pass any information on to her. Thanks!
* Upon hearing about my discovery of sewing machine information, my husband said my middle name should be “serendipity”, which in turn, spawned another of my searches – this time for the origins of the word serendipity. It’s actually really interesting – check it out here and here.