February 28, 2007

Hemstitch away

This is my Singer 72w-19 Hemstitcher. It was made sometime in the 1940's - the exact date can't be determined because of lost manufacturing information. It was refurbished, complete with a new paint job, before I purchased it. It is in incredibly good condition. The curious thing is this industrial machine originally came as a treadle. I would have expected manufacturers to buy machines outfitted with motors in the 1940's. My machine has been retrofitted with a new, modern motor, but I can switch over to the treadle if the power were to go out.

Speaking of power outages... Have you ever been stitching on an industrial machine when the power DID go out? Usually, there is enough reserve power to allow the operator to get the piece out of the machine. This is good because you don't want to leave pieces in a machine because of oil spotting. If the power stays off for more than a few hours, the operators usually get sent home. BUT, if the machines could be switched over to manual power, no lost productivity! There is a learning curve with manual treadles, and I certainly need more practice.

[back from sidetrack] I need to buy a rug and those plastic mover thingy's to put under the legs. It weighs a ton! The cardboard is meant to protect my carpet until I can get a rug.

Here is a close-up of the needle-assembly. You can see there are two needles and two punches. The pre-punch starts a hole. As the fabric moves through, the two needles move in a zig-zag type motion in tandem with a second punch. BTW, the punches are really called piercers. I prefer the term punches because the pierces do not cut the yarns of the fabric. Rather, they just move the yarns apart.

When I first purchased the machine, I needed to have some minor adjustments made to improve the stitch quality. These types of machine, and especially the age, make it difficult to find mechanics willing to work on it. Even when new, each hemstitcher would have it's own unique "personality". A mechanic would have to adjust each machine until it stitched properly, which could be about a dozen possible minor adjustments. Over time, it's personality becomes more distinct. This translates into a lot of time for mechanics who have to tinker around with moving things as little as 1/16".

I ended up calling every sewing machine mechanic within a 500 mile radius. I finally found a hobbyist mechanic who specialized in old hemstitchers. He took the time to teach me how to make many of the adjustments myself, including proper threading. He was worth every penny! Plus, he has hard to find replacement parts. A true treasure.

The most difficult situation I now face is replacing the needles. The two needles need to be oriented just exactly right or I may end up with skipped stitches or broken threads. It is a task I dread, so I don't push the machine to its limits. It is capable of stitching 1300 SPM!

I need to purchase a proper 3-spool thread stand. Here is my make-do set-up. The hanger stuck into an elastic spool works great for the bobbin winder.

In case you are wondering what a hemstitcher does, here is a stitch sample. A hemstitcher creates holes, held open by the stitching. My stitch sample is done on flannels close to the edge. A crochet edging can then be applied as a decorative treatment. I have seen the hemstitching, itself, used as a decorative element on clothing and linens. There really are a lot of possibilities. I hemstitch baby flannel blankets and burp cloths for local customers.

BTW, modern embroidery machines can reproduce a hemstitch, but the quality can't even compare to the real thing. Also, it takes twice as long to stitch.


  1. I had no idea there was a machine for hemstitching! I've seen a lot of instructions in heirloom hand sewing books for drawn thread hemstitching by hand.

    I wonder if the reason for the treadle is that during the 40's (war time) power outtages were more common.?

    I see the hemstitching done on napkins and table linens.

  2. Where did you find your hemstitcher machine?? I am interested in purchasing one but I can't find one...Any suggestions?

    1. I have one that I have not used in many years. I purchased it around 1985 in Laurel, Ms. I used it when sewing heirloom clothing for my daughter, then when I opened a shop in Gulfport around 1991 Called Sand Dollar Stitchery.

    2. I have one that I have not used in many years. I purchased it around 1985 in Laurel, Ms. I used it when sewing heirloom clothing for my daughter, then when I opened a shop in Gulfport around 1991 Called Sand Dollar Stitchery.

  3. Deanna McDermott5:02 AM

    This looks familiar. I also have this model of machine. I'll have to check the serial number to see when mine was made. Sometime in the '40s. It has sewn miles and miles of holes! Have been looking for a good 3-cone thread stand. Do you know of a good source?

    Deanna in AZ

  4. Deanna McDermott5:06 AM

    Check hemstitchers.com. They often have used machines of this vintage, but they are rare. I recently had a repairman tell me they sell from $1000.-$2000. My Mom get hers in the late '60s for $250.00.

  5. I want a hemsticher. I got to your blog searching in the internet.

  6. Anonymous6:08 PM

    I also have a 72w 19 hemstitcher and I am having a terrible time finding needles for it. Do you have any suggestions on a source for these? Any help would be greatly appreciated.

  7. A good industrial sewing machine supplier should be able to get the needles you need.

  8. What size needles work best for flannel?

  9. Size 14 for a double layer of flannel, though I have used a size 12.

  10. Bteach4:37 PM

    I have found the supplies that I need for my 72W 19 from Daines Industrial Sewing Machine Company in Salt Lake City, UT. Look them up in the Yellowpages.com Their postage is high but their prices are the best. I paid half as much for a piercer from them, then two other places I ordered from on line.

  11. Anonymous9:46 AM

    Yes, it is possible to acquire a hemstitcher through ebay or other online sources. HOWEVER, acquiring one is not the significant problem. Keeping the machine running is! I own 7 hemstitchers, and there are only 3 people in all of Utah who even service them. They can't be repaired by the local sewing machine repairman. It isn't that I don't trust the repairmen, but they just take a look at the machine, and say, "That's beyond my skills", or "That would take much more time to repair than I could give to it", etc. I love hemstitching, and I do a great deal of it, but I just don't want someone to purchase a machine and then not have anyone available to service it when it breaks. Any yes, the machines do break!

  12. Anonymous2:08 PM

    Salve mi chiamo Renato e anche io ( mia moglie )ha una hemsticher 72w12 e ci lavora con passione e bellezza. Per fare un buon ricamo bisogna sfilare 2 o 3 fili dal tessuto delle tovaglie o lenzuola e vedrete che bellezza. Per le riparazioni e le regolazioni ci penso io. Mia moglie è molto gelosa delle sue macchine, e da quando sono riuscito ad aggiustarle nelle piccole riparazioni ne ho acquistate delle altre, lubrificate e rimesse al lavoro. L'ultimo acquisto ha il n° W 19XXX una delle prime nate nel 1911 anno di uscita delle hemsticher singer 72w12, un saluto ciao dall'Italia.

  13. Anonymous3:41 PM

    I just bought a hemstitcher (head only) and would appreciate any helpful info on appropriate motors for the machine. Thanks!

  14. Deanna,

    SewTrue.com has cone stands, but any industrial sewing supply would have one. I still need to buy one but it is not a pressing need right now.... I think the older machines have increased in value some. Last time I checked Hemstitchers was selling their old ones for $2200-$2500.

  15. Heirloom hemstitching is beautiful! These machines were made as early as the 1900s. I looked up the serial number on the singer website and the hemstitchers website. The hemstitchers website has lots of cool info.

    I double checked the date of manufacture for my hemstitcher and it is between 1935-1940.

    Believe it or not Ebay, though you can probably source one through any good industrial sewing machine dealer.

  16. Anonymous1:57 PM

    I searched for month's and finally fohnd mine up north, little man had a bar. Packed full of neat items, I paid $400.00 for mine. Of course it cost $650.00 for shipping.

  17. KathyC10:36 PM

    What size / brand of thread do you use with your hemstitcher? I just got a Singer 72w19, and the antique instruction book says "Nos. 120 to 150 in cotton thread."