Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Julia's Cabinet

The machine has been renamed "Julia" after it's original owner. This is the sort of thing you can do when you have people at the estate sale that can give further provenance when you go back and pester them.

A lot of folks online at various treadle collector sites recommend using Howard's Restor-A-Finish to give an old wood cabinet a boost. The claim is that the stuff is a mild solvent and it softens the finish so it will spread around and fill in cracks, take out water rings, dullness, etc , and maybe on something less damaged, it does that. I got some at the hardware store and gave it a try, but the results were disappointing. Actually, I didn't see any difference at all. I'm sure I'll find a use for it eventually so it's going into my paint stash for now. Then it was back to the shop for some stripper specially made for antique finishes.

Gloves and fine steel wool and scrubbing away over a century of dirty, discolored, cracked and crazed shellac-- this is what I call a good time! I love doing a project where the improvement is so quick and obvious, with a great result.

So, just as a reminder: here's the sewing cabinet top before...

And here it is after stripping.

It's so light!  Along the left edge of the top piece, the veneer has been damaged and chunks are missing, so it looks a kind of rough. I've read that filling it in with Plastic Wood or a similar product works, but I can't believe it would look nice. I'm thinking I'll just sand down the rough patch and leave it at that. At 144 years of age, she's going to have some scars and around here we call that authenticity.  And see in the lower right hand corner there, there's a dotty discolored ring? It won't come up with stripper. I'm not sure what it's from, but all I know is, that's where I'd set a cup of coffee while sewing. Heat damage? Perhaps.

I'm itching to rub some oil into the clean wood, but I'm holding off until I get the whole thing stripped. One thing at a time! Originally, I planned to just do the top and sewing surface, but the results are so dramatically lighter that it would look very strange, so it looks like I'm going forward with the whole piece.

Light top, dark body. See? It would be weird. But I'm excited to see the beauty emerge, so it will be worth the extra work.

Side of one of the drawers. This is what I mean by a "cracked and crazed" finish. Some restorers call this "alligator skin". After years of the wood expanding and contracting in heat and cold and damp conditions, the shellac breaks up. In some places, it flakes off if you rub it. Yeah,  I couldn't leave her like this. 

That carving is beautiful! It's hard to get in all the nooks and crannies to get all the old finish off, so I'm just doing the best I can with a toothbrush and my steel wool and leaving whatever is stubbornly resistant. The shellac comes up, but the darker color stays, and I"m okay with that. It adds dimension, and also 144 years, authenticity, etc. 

Okay, I gotta head to work. Stay tuned in the following weeks to see more of Julia and her cabinet. Then the sewing projects start!

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Treadle Machine Magic!

I love a good estate sale, and I'm even happier when it takes place in a house that I've always been curious to see the inside of. Our next door neighbor has been living in her home since the 1930s, and recently she decided to live with her daughter, so they held a huge estate sale and I got to go into the house and snoop around. It was a cute place, and nothing had been updated since forever, unfortunate decorating decisions and all. Coved doorways. Tall baseboards. Flocked wallpaper in pale blue. And the tiniest rooms ever. It was like a little playhouse, but for living in. I wanted to buy it and make it my new fort. As it's right next door, it couldn't be handier, and then all my sewing stuff and horse things would be out of Dave's way. I told Dave we should buy it and join the two houses with a breezeway, but he said no. So much for my architectural plans. Alas! 

But there was one thing I wanted for my own, so I did a little bargaining and came away with this little beauty. I call her Julia after her original owner. Julia is a New Home treadle sewing machine, and according to her serial number plate, she was built in 1882. She's seen some serious use, but she has been reasonably maintained and still runs very nicely. 

She needs a serious clean. There is a grimy layer of oil, dust, and dirt on her that has built up over the years. Some things get dirty from being handled and used, and some get dirty from sitting and attracting dust. Julia has both in spades. Today is her spa day.

I've removed her from her cabinet. She's resting on an old bathroom rug with a shower curtain over it to catch drips. I'm using a cleaner that gently melts away grime and oil but won't harm the decal decorations or finish. What is this amazing substance? Gojo. It's a hand cleaner used by mechanics, but after seeing how well it works here, I'm going to be using it a lot more on parts and stuff. (If you buy some, be sure you get the kind without pumice.)  EDIT: I've since learned that Gojo sometimes will damage the gold parts of the decals, leaving them silver-ish. A better cleaning recommendation is to use sewing machine oil to soften and lift grime. It won't damage anything.)

So here are Julia's before pictures.

I thought the floral scrollwork had mostly worn off, and that's why it was only dimly visible. 

I applied the Gojo with a one-inch paintbrush and let it sit for about twenty minutes. The stuff starts out as kind of a wobbly, custard-like cream but after it's applied, it melts like butter. In the areas where the grime was thickest, it would turn brown and puddle up. I'd wipe the goo away with a towel and reapply fresh Gojo. If a spot was particularly grungy, I'd gently scrub at it with a soft toothbrush. Here's Julia all gooped up with Gojo.

Turns out the decal decorations weren't that worn at all (except in the stitching area, where they'd seen the most wear during sewing), and the Gojo melted away the grim to reveal beautiful colors and swirls I had no idea were there! 

Look at her! Isn't she pretty? In some spots, especially near the little holes where you oil the works, there was a darker patina, and I decided to leave that rather than try to scrub it away with anything stronger and possibly damage the decals. After all, we can't expect her to look brand new at 144 years old. 

Now that the machine itself is all clean, I'll re-oil it and set it aside while I work on the cabinet. That's going to be another post, so you can look forward to that, but here's a picture of what we're starting off with. Yup, it's pretty rough. But I'm hoping there's going to be a dandy "after" picture when I'm done!

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Buckaroo Stuff

My riding has taken a classic turn lately. I am working to train my horse (with the help of a very experienced teacher) to be a finished bridle horse. This takes careful handling, lots of work, a good amount of time, and also rekindles long-ago ten-year-old me's fantasies of becoming a cowboy.

And if you're going to take the ride, you gotta have the look, right?

First stop, the shirt. I got a pattern on sale a while back, and I was delighted to find it in my stash. Buckaroo Bobbins, by Simplicity, with a pattern for a shirt, vest, and coat. Don't care about the coat, but the shirt and vest were just what I wanted. Plus I'd found three yards of natural-tone shirt weight linen at the thrift shop for three bucks that would be perfect to make it.

It's an easy pattern: front, back, two sleeves, cuffs, yoke, and collar. I hand stitched it, of course, so it took a few nights with the buttonholes being a cussing struggle as always. I really should practice those more often so I get good at them. As it is, I'm glad they're mostly hidden by the buttons. Hand sewing a project when the instructions are written for machine sewing is always a bit of a trick. The plan for attaching the neck and collar was very convoluted. I was able to do it, but the whole time I was thinking how I'd do it differently next time and it would be much easier.  I got a small jar of buttons at thrift for two bucks that was a real bargain because they were old and made from natural shell, not plastic. So my shirt has beautiful carved shell buttons that have that warm pearly glow.

The collar points are a little damp because I had made some sewing marks there that had to be dabbed away. I've got some red-brown wool that's going to be the vest, but I haven't started that yet.

While digging through the patterns, I found one for gloves and thought I'd give that a shot. I had some scraps of pigskin I could use, so I cut out the pieces and set to work with a special leather gloving needle and some sinew. I used a fancy stitch to make it especially cool, and while it turned out, it was so much work that I decided I'd not make the other one. I may try again sometimes with a thinner leather to make a dress glove instead of a heavy work one, but dang, that's just a lot of hard pushing with the needle, and store-bought gloves are not that expensive.

I bought some new spurs for myself and decided that some fancy straps were in order. I chose a style called "dovewing" that looked attractive, and designed a stamping pattern similar to a pair of straps made in Miles City back in the 1800s. Here's my trial one after being cut and stamped, but not dyed yet. The size was fine, but after trying it on, I decided I didn't like the shape as much as I thought I would.

So I made some more traditional buckle straps that were narrower, and still managed to incorporate the flower design in the center. Here they are, all done. I wore them riding that night and felt pretty sharp.

So you can see I'm still busy as ever, making stuff. I'm just not so likely to be at the computer writing about it! And now I gotta head to work, and there's two horses waiting for me to ride them tonight, so I'll see y'all later. Happy Trails!