Anyone familiar with vintage sewing machines likely knows the look (and smell) of the old carrying cases.
These old cases were covered with a contact paper with fibers, sometimes intended to resemble leather. Hiding underneath that often-worn exterior can be some gorgeous wood grain.
It can be time-consuming to remove the original covering. Some cases respond well to a little bit of water to soften the paper, but many do not - plus you may agree with us that introducing water to these cases is less than desirable. It can warp the wood.
I've offered a tutorial in the past that included reconditioning the handle, removing the fabric/paper, sanding and wood repair, and finishing - for that tutorial I used a vintage Singer 99 case. This video demonstrates removing the old covering. If you try this yourself, please be careful when using a blade.
When the old exterior covering is removed, we're left with this ugly surface and a lot of debris:
The dimpled surface is the old hardened glue. This must be sanded away. If you attempt this yourself, please use a respirator or quality mask to avoid breathing in the dust from the glue.
A well sanded case is ready for stain and a polyurethane top coat. Patience and care are needed to obtain a nice finish. I sometimes combine stains to create multi-tone finishes. Using other techniques varying light and dark, I sometimes emphasize the grain for an exotic appearance.
It is important to keep in mind that the original fiber/paper covering provided strength for the case. A stripped and refinished case has now lost that original reinforcement. This is fine as long as don't actually carry the case by the handle - most collectors will tell you to never do that anyway because the construction of these cases typically exceeds 50 years old. With that in mind, I sometimes reinforce cases with oak ribbing.
It isn't always necessary, depending on the original condition of the case, but I often replace the hardware.
When I replace the hardware, I also reinforce the latch area. This is a bit tricky because I have to allow the proper clearances so that the machine rests properly in the newly refurbished case.
Occasionally - not often - I come upon a case that has panels that are not wood with a nice grain; they are a cheap pressed composite board. Without a nice wood grain to finish, I've used paint but applied techniques to make the painted area appear more "wood-like" or distressed. On this case, I also applied a water-slide image of a Luna Moth:
I've used other methods, such as creating a distressed design to suggest a case has been left outdoors with a summer theme.
With this next case, I allowed a watery turquoise acrylic to stain the deep portion of the grain before applying a polyurethane.
A Necchi case, before and after, for a client:
There is only one feature-length documentary on the subject of vintage sewing machines. Have you seen Still Stitching?
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