I’ve written about the Bionic Gear Bag (BGB) pattern by Sally Thompson before. It is a transformative pattern that will teach beginners the basics of sewing. It is challenging enough to keep the more experienced among us interested through to the last stitch. The resulting bag will transform the way you organize your essentials. It also serves as an important test project for my vintage sewing machines.
I have a BGB for my makeup and toiletries. I have one for my sewing tools and notions. I have made BGBs for gifts. I plan to make more to house my electronics’ cords, chargers, and other bits and bobs. I would like to fill one with office supplies to add to my mobile office set up. I will stitch one to help keep my knitting notions organized and accessible. The BGB is versatile and perfectly sized to easy to grab and go no matter what you fill it with.
The BGB is my go-to pattern when I add a new vintage sewing machine to my family (meet my sewing family here). Once a new machine is cleaned, serviced and polished, I use it to stitch a BGB.
- The BGB creation process puts each machine through a rigorous process that shows me what the machine is capable of.
- There are lots of bumps and bulk to test the machine’s ability to sew through layers.
- The installation of five zippers helps me determine tension and stitch quality.
- The BGB helps me decide if the machine will stay or go and whether that machine is in need further need of more servicing by someone more experienced than I.
My most recent machine is a 1956 Singer 401a, Cinnamon. She made it through the BGB without a skipped stitch or broken needle. This is a very powerful machine with lots of fancy stitch options. She sews a quality stitch that is straight and true. Cinnamon is now my “forever” machine. She passed this important test with flying colours!
- Find out more about the Bionic Gear Bag
- Sign up for a class with me and create your very own Bionic Gear Bag (both virtual and in-person options are available)
The BGB featured in the photo is for sale in my Etsy shop.(This item has sold.)
What are you sewing on?
I love my vintage machines. I now own eight vintage machines – meet the entire family. They are beautiful, yet functional and each one has a unique personality. A couple of them, Liz Tailor and Thyme, have the vibrating shuttle bobbin mechanism. I’ve come to prefer it and believe I get a much better tension with these machines.
Both Liz Tailor and Thyme, are Singer 128s. Liz Tailor sits in a lovely solid wood cabinet and Thyme lives in a bent wood case, in perfect condition, and is operated by a knee drive. I prefer knee drive operation to the pedal versions. I feel as though I have better control over the stitching.
The bobbins are long and thin and winding them is fun. I can watch them go for hours! Check it out for yourself!
Sewing has been part of my life since I was very small (that is me on the left playing with my grandmother’s sewing machine when I was a toddler). My Mother knew how to fashion home decor items and clothing for kids and adults. My Grandmother spent many years working in Silk-o-Lina, a sewing and alterations store, and was well trained and practice with machine and thread. My favourite aunt knew how to turn fabric into dolls and toys that I still cherish today. These talented ladies made sure that I knew how to stitch. These skills continue to serve me well for over 40 years and counting!
Stitching helps me make my home comfortable. Stitching helps me keep my children warm and clothed. Stitching helps me capture memories. Stitching helps me bring generate income. Stitching teaches me patience through dedication. Stitching teaches me to pay close attention to detail. Stitching helps me see that rules provide structure, but must be broken often. Stitching helps me retain personal peace and balance. When things get crazy, I pull out yarn and needles or dig into my fabric stash for something that inspires me to stitch up a skirt, a pillow, or a nifty new bag. Stitching helps me navigate life.
New is not necessarily better!
Only once in my stitching career have I owned a brand new machine. It was an entry level Pfaff that served me well for ten years. Sadly, the transmission blew and it was quickly shipped off to the sewing machine graveyard. My Mom, an expert bargain hunter, found an old Baycrest branded Riccar (circa early 1960s) sewing machine to replace the Pfaff. Little did I know that this solution would lead to a lifelong love of vintage sewing machines.
Today, I’d be hard pressed to spend dollars on a modern machine. The offerings are shiny and new, but complicated and difficult to work with. They are built with plastic and thin metal-like substances. They are frustrating to troubleshoot when things go wrong. They are light and prone to jumping when stitching at high speeds. They do not like bulky layers and complain by skipping stitches and breaking needles. They are soulless tools that lack character and soul.
Modern machines are not of the same quality as the machines created in the early 1900s through to the 1970s or so. They might have loads of features and options that allow the stitcher to add beauty and interest to their work, but we don’t really need all those complicated computerized features. All we really need to create quality items is a machine, which stitches straight and true, that is reliable.
Vintage machines have everything we need. Their stitching remains strong and true and has stood the test of time. Manufacturer’s concentrated on creating quality tools that brought both function and beauty to many homes throughout the world. Many of them have outlasted generations of stitchers and continue to help us create beautiful items help us add beauty to our homes, keep our families warm and comforted, and enable us to produce income.
Vintage machines are like time portals. They help us connect to stitchers past. They keep us grounded to our stitching roots. They have the ability to transport us into the hearts and minds of the stitchers of yesterday. Each one has a story to tell. This is why I love vintage machines.
Meet my sewing family…
I now own eight vintage machines. Each one is unique and has its own story to tell. Let me introduce you to my stitcherly family:
Betsy, the Baycrest (Riccar, circa early 1960s): Betsy was gifted to me by my Mom. I had blown the transmission in my entry level Pfaff sewing machine and needed a replacement ASAP. She was rescued for a local garage sale and quickly became my go-to machine. She features a reliable zigzag stitch, has a built-in buttonhole function, and offers a few decorative and functional stitches. She is a sturdy stitcher and can handle anything from delicate lingerie fabrics to sturdy denim. She does okay with bulky layers, but would prefer to stitch more reasonable thicknesses. She lives in a wood-like cabinet that offers loads of storage and creates a stable base for her. Betsy is operated by a knee drive.
- Sadly, I am running out of room and looking for a new home for Betsy. She was last serviced in March 2015 and ready to meet her new sewist. She will accomplish everything a home sewist needs. She has a great straight stitch, a few embroidery stitches, built in buttonhole, and zigs and zags like a pro. Email me if you are interested in bringing her into your sewing family.
Basil, the White 77 (rotary): Basil was another garage sale find. He is strong and doesn’t shy away from projects that have thick layers of fabric. He was branded by the Eaton’s department store with the Viking name. He has a complete compliment of rotary style attachments – from blind hemmers to binders to ruffle and shearing attachments. Basil’s exact year of creation is still a mystery. He is currently experiencing a few tension issues, but I’m learning how to help him become a functional and productive member of my sewing family. His electrics and hardware are in great condition.
Rosemary, the 1948 Singer 15-89 treadle: Rosemary is in perfect condition. She sews in reverse and provides the added feature of locking the stitches at the beginning and end of each seam. She has a complete compliment of attachments, including Singer’s buttonhole attachment, which creates perfect key-hole style buttonholes each and every time. Rosemary belonged to my husband’s grandmother and helped his mother learn to stitch. She lives in a beautiful five drawer solid wood cabinet that is a beautiful addition to my living room. She is now my main machine and a joy to work with.
Thyme, the 1936 Singer 128: Most of my machines are stationary. When I discovered the need to be more mobile, I began a search for a vintage travel machine. My search ended with Thyme. She is operated by a knee drive and housed in a lovely, nearly perfect, bent wood case. Her value is beyond measure. Even though she lacks reverse or lockstitching, she is quiet and powerful. Thyme uses a vibrating shuttle bobbin mechanism that, in my opinion, provides a better tension than other types of bobbin mechanisms.
Sage, the Singer 185K (1960): Sage is the cutest machine in my sewing family. She and her sisters were known as Singer’s little green machine. They were produced between 1958 and 1964. Don’t let her size and cuteness fool you, though. She is powerful and stitches through almost anything a stitcher can throw at her. She features reverse and a horizontal oscillating hook drop-in style bobbin. The 185K was Singer’s answer to updating the popular 99K. She is heavy but a very fast stitcher. My daughter loves this machine and has claimed ownership of her.
Liz Tailor, the Singer 128-13: Liz is the most glamourous member of my sewing family. She has been well maintained over the years and simply sparkles. This electric sewing machine, manufactured in St. John’s, Quebec, between 1945 and 1948, features the vibrating shuttle bobbin mechanism. Liz’s cabinet shines as brightly as her metallic black finish. It has inlaid parquet work that makes her even more of a star on any stage. She is one of my favourite machines to work on.
Ginger, the Singer 191B: Ginger is a lovely light beige (with a pink undertone) machine that I rescued from a local thrift store. She is in a beautiful solid wood cabinet that has a bench with a removeable seat. She came with a full compliment of attachments and features both reverse and lockstitch functions. Ginger has perfected the ultimate straight stitch, is easy to use, and compliments any decor. She currently lives in my dining room along with Agave, Thyme, and Liz Tailor.
Agave, the Singer 328 Stylemate (1968): Agave is a beautiful machine that allows for a bit more creativity. His stitches are straight and even, but it is the fashion discs that appeal to me. Nine discs allow Agave to perform a range of stitches from zigzags and satin stitches to more decorative accent stitches. He is a decorative demon that adds beauty and fun to most projects. I am still getting to know him and all that he can do, but he is fast rising to top of my favourites list. Agave needs a new cabinet, but otherwise works to perfection.
- As of July 2015, Agave will live with a good friend. Since Cinnamon, 1958 Singer 401a, came to live with me, he is no longer needed. Rest assured that his seamstress will love and care for him as I have. I will pop in on him now and again to make sure he is oiled and running well.
Cinnamon, is a 1958 Singer 401a. She is a strong stitcher with the ability to get a little fancy. She uses four top hat cams to accomplish some of stitches, but most of the fancy stitches, zig zags, and scallops are accomplished by adjusting the two stitch dials on the front. She does a great satin stitch that allows me to experiment with a bit of machine embroidery and custom embellishments, like monogramming. Cinnamon is a slant machine, which means that there is more of the needle exposed. She has risen through the ranks to become my main machine.
I rescued this 1922 Singer treadle from my husband’s aunt, who was going to abandon her at the dump. Yes, there are people in this world that abandon these beauties to the elements. They are unloved. They are many. Hibiscus now lives in my dining room and is the first machine that greets visitors as they enter my home. She is embellished with nearly perfect Sphinx decals that shine is morning sun. She has a bit of “pin rash” around her neck where former seamstresses would attach a piece of cloth to hold pins. I am in the process of cleaning her up, but she works well. She has a vibrating shuttle bobbin mechanism and doesn’t skip a stitch.
Rosemary, my 1948 Singer treadle, and I finished stitching another Bionic Gear Bag. Find out more about this powerful organisation tool.