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Sewing Machine Serendipity

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:

Wizard Brand Sewing Machine

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.

How to hold the zig-zag width knob in “neutral” (L)
in order to turn the stitch pattern dial (R).

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!

This photo of a pale pink Brother 210 was from an old ebay listing that bizarrely posted the same day I first posted about my Wizard sewing machine. It sold 10 days later.

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.

Yay for measurement lines!

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.”

“Knob B” is decorated with a fun mid-century style star. It turns AND pulls out!

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.  =)

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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)

MORE UPDATES:

Mary also has a Wizard 3KC 8842, but her’s is missing the push-reverse button in the middle of the stitch selection dial.

Mary’s Wizard that’s missing the reverse button.

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!

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* 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.

Is It Just Me…

… or do other people also see a dinosaur head when they look at a modern sewing machine?

No, I… I don’t smoke.  Why do you ask?

Anyway, I’ve been looking at sewing machines with a different eye this week, and  I’ve always vaguely thought they look like dinosaurs.  But since I’m usually only looking at the needle area of whatever machine I’m using, I haven’t really “backed up” and consciously studied the overall shape in a while.

Today, I drew this random sketch:

RAWR! I’m a Sewasaurus Rex with a tiny top hat!

Can you tell I’ve spent a few days sewing machine shopping?  I think I need to clean up the sketch (maybe add a bow tie) and put it on a t-shirt, hehe.

Death of a Sewing Machine

So much has been going on since I last posted, I’m not really sure where to begin! I guess I’ll just jump right in with the most unexpected news:

My sewing machine is terminal.

If I were superstitious, I could say that Macbeth killed my machine, but I know that I’ve made my machine work harder in a day or two than most sewing machines ever even come close to working after somebody takes them out of the box.

Honestly, I’m rather surprised that I’ve managed to make a modern, overly-plastic domestic sewing machine last for almost 14 years! I’ve had to sew things I knew would abuse my poor little machine many times. But I’ve seen modern domestic machines bite the dust after only 3 or 4 years of mileage in a costume shop, so I think I was pretty good to mine, considering.

I noticed a little weirdness with it near the very end of the Nike commercial shoot. I thought it was because I was sewing so many sports jerseys. That fabric had a residue to it, which I thought might have built up on my machine, causing it to protest.

Two days later, before I could even unpack my machine from the Nike gig, I got a last minute call to go sew for some promos for the show “Big Rich Texas”. They wanted a pleather cover for a mechanical bull to look like a Chanel purse (yes, I get paid to do the weirdest things!), and my machine didn’t give me any trouble then.

When I came home from that, I cleaned my machine up a little, put in a new needle, and leisurely started sewing some mockups. It seemed to be just fine.

Then I did a 13 hour day, an 11 hour day, and a 12 hour day of Shakespeare sewing at my home shop (it became a rather big build when it wasn’t supposed to be that kind of show), and in my pedal-to-the-floor sewing, my machine started sporadically acting up – for no apparent reason.

I would be sewing a long straight seam (on two layers of cotton bedsheet fabric) and suddenly, halfway through the seam there was bobbin vomit. Now usually bobbin vomit (lots of loopy, loose stitching on the bottom of the seam) is easy to fix if you just unthread and rethread your machine.

So I did. And sew I did.

But it kept happening. On every. Single. Seam. ARG!

I just plain didn’t have the time (or patience) for it, so I put my machine aside with plans to take it to the doctor when I had a day off, and I pulled out my backup machine for the remainder of the build.

I finished the 31 costume pieces that needed to be built at home (it still looks like Scotland barfed in my sewing room), and I did a bunch of alterations at the theatre itself – they have a vintage Kenmore sewing machine for backstage repairs that I rather liked, even if it needs a little tune-up.

Plaid everywhere!

Since the play officially opened on Friday, my job on the show is finished. I have another job coming up in October for a movie shoot that will probably wrap around the first week of December.

So I suppose my machine picked the most convenient time to act up – I have work, which means I have the money to do something about it.

When I dropped my machine off at the “hospital” I was able to pick up one of my other machines that I had taken in for service recently. It is a vintage Singer Featherweight 221 that I inherited a couple of years ago from my grandmother.

My vintage Singer Featherweight 221-1 sewing machine.

When my grandmother died, I told my mom while she and her siblings were going through their mom’s stuff that I would take the sewing machine if no one else wanted it. No one did, and much to my surprise, they handed me two sewing machines – the modern one I remembered my grandmother using (which I used when I went to visit her) when I was a kid AND the little vintage Singer!

I had no idea she had the old Singer (it was probably in her closet for decades) and I *may* have squealed and jumped around for a few days after it was given to me.

The only reason I didn’t start using it immediately after I got it was because the casing on the power cord was brittle & cracked, and I was concerned I would end up shocking myself.

A couple of days after dropping off my workhorse machine, I got a call from one of the repair guys at the place where I took it.

It was sad news: my little modern machine had two “cracks” in the timing mechanism and 3 cracks in some other part I’ve forgotten. Newer Singers are essentially disposable because almost as soon as a machine is built, they stop making parts for it. So it’s not really fixable.

(Now before you start to feel sorry for me, let me just say that I had a plan and solution in motion 24 hours after I was given the grim diagnosis.)

Part of me got a little nostalgic about my machine. It was the first machine I bought for myself and it never gave me any problems until recently.

The original purchase receipt.

I used it for my wedding, my sister’s wedding, Camille’s wedding dress, and for at least 4 other wedding gowns over the years. But the very first things I built with it were two rabbit puppets I designed for a children’s theatre production of The Velveteen Rabbit my sophomore year in college.

There was a knit glove sewn to the back of each puppet’s head
so the girl who played the rabbit could animate the head.

I let some of the other theatre majors at the time do the distressing of the “older” version of the puppet and then I “patched” it up. They literally had to run over the poor thing with someone’s car just to make it look loved enough to be seen from the audience. (I’m glad I wasn’t there to watch!) Ahh, memory lane…

Anyway, back to my dying sewing machine. (Maybe like the velveteen rabbit, a fairy will come save it from the trash heap.)

But another part of me was really excited because this would be the first time I would be looking for a machine after having sewn on countless machines both new & old in a variety of industrial & domestic versions throughout my career.

Now I can confidently say what features I like and what I dislike in a sewing machine. And because I am so sure about what I want, I can almost immediately narrow down my choices by about 80% leaving only a few options to research fully.

My grandmother’s vintage Singer isn’t a good replacement option because it cannot do a zigzag stitch – it’s a straight stitch only machine (unless you use a fancy attachment). And I absolutely MUST have a zigzag stitch.

It’s also really tiny, which would make it difficult to do some of the bulky costume work I’ve been called to do – like, oh, pleather mechanical bull covers.

Sewing machine size comparison.

Who knows what it was that caused me to damage my sewing machine in the first place. I may have been sewing for years with cracked parts – they just weren’t bad enough to cause problems until now. My machine served me well and it worked hard for as long as it could. Even in the end, it kept trying.

I have my plan in motion to replace my workhorse machine – I’m just watching my mailbox for my next paycheck at this point.

Stay tuned for And here’s my solution… Even if you don’t sew, I think you’ll like it. =)

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