How to repair a vintage sewing machine

Plus, a reader with birds that leave hard-to-clean marks on their outdoor space


Thread for sewing. Luckily, most companies that repair sewing machines work on models from the ’50s and ’60s, Jeanne Huber writes.Jeanne Huber Jeanne Huber (Dayna Smith/For The Washington Post)
July 16

Question: I have two Singer sewing machines, a 301A and a 401A. These machines were made in the ’50s and ’60s, are all metal and driven by gear, not belt. In my opinion, they are worth their weight in gold (or at least silver) as opposed to the newer, lightweight plastic machines being made today. The 301A has not been used for several years and has frozen. Perhaps it needs only a good cleaning? The 401A recently developed a problem with the gears under the needle plate; they seem to stick and ride roughly in one part of their rotation. Is there a maestro of sewing-machine repair who has an appreciation and respect for these vintage machines and is experienced in working on them?

— Alexandria

Answer: Luckily, most companies that repair sewing machines work on models from the ’50s and ’60s. Closest to your home is Sun Sew Vac in Alexandria (703-780-0400; www.sunsewvac.com). If you bring the machines to the shop, for $30 per machine, owner Robert Hines or another in-house repair person will do an evaluation and estimate the cost of a repair. Hines has owned the store for 38 years and worked on virtually every model of sewing machine during that time, so he may qualify as the “maestro” you’re seeking.

The evaluation fee can be applied to the repair cost. Or if you decide not to get the machines repaired, you can apply the money to the purchase of a new machine. From the company’s Web site you can print a $10-off coupon on repair work, but that can’t be applied to the evaluation fee, only to actual repairs.

Another option is Berger’s Sewing Machine & Vacuum Center in Manassas (703-368-7169; www.bergersewing.com). Raymond Berger, the son of the owner, has been repairing machines for 30 years and laughs that “maestro” is as good as all the other names he’s been called over the years. He offers free evaluations and repair estimates and says the typical bill comes to around $85.

And the Jo-Ann Fabrics in Sterling leases space within the store to Viking Sewing Gallery, which in turn contracts with a repair person who picks up machines left at the store each Thursday and generally returns them tuned up two weeks later. The evaluation fee is $20, which can be applied to the $99.95 fee for a basic tuneup. If you authorize that but the repair turns out to involve things that will bring the cost over $130, you’ll be called and asked whether you still want the work done.

Question: This is an indelicate question. How does one get rid of purple bird droppings on outdoor paving stones, flagstone, cement column toppings, etc.? Power-washing doesn’t faze them!

— McLean

Answer: Patrick Johnson, owner of Feather Free Zone, a company in Leesburg that tries to persuade wild birds to stay away from clients’ property, guesses that starlings are feasting on berries or tree fruit near your home. Since the fruiting season for most plants is short, the problem should subside in a few weeks.

There are ways to keep birds away from outdoor spaces — netting, noise systems, visual tricks such as strips of reflective Mylar and even trained border collies, which Johnson uses to annoy Canada geese and persuade them to move on. But the deterrents don’t work very well against starlings, he said.

So your best strategy is just to focus on cleaning up after them during this stage of their diet. When Johnson faces that task, he uses a spray bottle of Simple Green. He squirts each spot, waits five or 10 minutes (the critical thing is not to let the solution dry), then scrubs with a bristle brush. Using a hose, not a power-washer, he then rinses the area.

Even then, some stains are likely to remain. Cleaning frequently minimizes them. And over time, the sun may bleach the spots and make them less noticeable.

Have a problem in your home? Send questions tolocalliving@washpost.com . Put “How To” in the subject line, tell us where you live and try to include a photo.

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