First, the completed project. I give you, the most perfect (in both sheer beauty and utility) sewing cabinet ever designed, created, manufactured, and/or built: The Singer Sewing Cabinet.
I needed a sewing table or cabinet. I was sewing on the small kitchen table I’m now using as my cutting table. Cut a pattern out, take the sewing machine off the table. Get ready to sew, put the machine back on the table. Serge a seam? Swap out the sewing machine for the serger. I started looking online for a good cabinet. And this was one of those things where I would “cry once when I buy it”. I wanted quality and I wanted it to last. I also knew, it would not come cheap. And it didn’t, as it turned out. But this time, it would cost me elbow grease vs cash. Not that it was free, but in this context, it’s all relative.
I didn’t like what I was seeing online or in my local sewing stores. The materials were pressed wood or particleboard with laminate covering. Think the U-Assemble-At-Home cabinetry one buys at Target or Walmart…or IKEA. Convenient, yes. Does not hold up well and quite frankly…ugly. Also, does not hold up well at all. (Not a typo. I’m aware I’ve repeated that particular point.) I looked at other cabinetry but for one reason or the other rejected them. I spent almost a year looking at or thinking about what I needed, and this was my number one requirement:
The drawers had to be small. Sewing tools are on the average, the size of large pencils. In regular sized drawers, you can bid those tools goodbye as they will be lost and you’ll never, ever see them again. I kept thinking to myself “I need small-ish drawers…like the ones on the old type treadle sewing machines.”
And then one night, one magical night of clarity in my otherwise white-noise-static-charged brain, it came to me.
Refinish an old treadle sewing machine. Make it new. Make it mine. Go now and do this!
Another year would come and go before I had my sewing tables, but it was well worth it because it wasn’t a wham bam thank you ma’am project. It was fluid and changed and took on a life of it’s own. It told me what it wanted to become!! (I live for those projects!)
I found some nice old intact treadle machines online, but the shipping to get them here made them cost prohibitive and thank God for that! So I had to piece-meal the project. I found the frames…I found the drawers…I bought the cast iron Singer leg stands locally…I had a new top made, out of red oak ($$$)…and I put them all together.
These two 100+ year old set of frames & drawers had been in someone’s garage for storing nails, screws, washers and God knows what else for decades. They were covered in 100+ years of grime and dirt. But they’re oak. They took the stripping and sanding like new wood.
This is an unrelated center drawer found on EBay.
The second set of frames/drawers I found via EBay. Again, over 100 years of dirt and grime covering them. Below, I was testing some stripper and different techniques to try cleaning off the dirt, grime and old varnish.
When you commit to the stripping and then just git r done:
Clearly, this is a shot of one set done and time to do the second set. If I recall, I think I did do one set to see how it would handle the stripping. Handled it just fine. Oak is one hardy wood. And the reason why Stickley furniture is still around and expensive as ever as prized heirlooms. Quality.
So…much…sanding…. Sanding took the longest. There are so many small cracks and crevices and nooks and crannies that required finesse and small movements. Very tedious. But worth it.
Everything stripped, cleaned and sanded ready for staining. We’re talking months of work here. This did not happen over a weekend. Especially the sanding. The design areas were so much work that I could only do so much in one go.
So worth it. I know I keep saying that, but it really was worth all the effort. Look how clean!!
The black iron frame legs get the works. Sanded, scrubbed with a wire brush, repainted, etc.
Old and wants to be restored back to life~
One done (left). One waiting.
Both repainted with Rust-Oleum black enamel.
Gold leaf~Harder than it looks. It is too easy to apply too much. I spent a couple of hours removing the gold leaf from where it was not supposed to be. Knowing how much gold leaf paint to put on the brush was a learning curve. For me, the sponge brushes worked better than a traditional small brush. I could control the saturation better.
Just the right amount of gold leaf on the side trademark logo. Perfect!!!
Both cast iron leg stands done. Yes. One of the leg stands still has the treadle mechanism attached. And it’s fun to rock it up and down in between sewing actual seams, while I’m fiddling with the fabric and whatnot. It’s comforting in a way! Can’t explain, won’t apologize.
Time to assemble…FINALLY! I think the project took well over a year, maybe even 18 months?, from the decision to hunting down the assorted components on EBay to stripping, cleaning, sanding, staining, & painting. But here we are, finally putting them all together. I say we because my neighbor was getting into wood working and he offered to make the new red oak tops for the tables. I bought the wood, of course. And replaced some sanding belts and a saw blade or two for him as oak is an exceptionally hard material and he went thru many sanding belts and a saw blade or two. But if it lasts for over a century…I say, “Here’s more sanding belts and saw blades!” My neighbor helped put them together.
Since I had new tops made, I wanted them to be somewhat larger than the original. The original is up against the wall in between the two cast iron leg stands. The new, larger ones are on the cardboard. Big difference in size. Now that I’ve been using these sewing tables for 3-4 years now, I can say the new size is the Goldilocks size. Not too big, none too small…absolutely perfect.
Placing the frames and the center drawer. By the way…that center drawer? A small consideration here all told and it’s there mainly because one of the center drawers came with the frames and side drawers so I included it because, why not?…and then because one table would have it, I searched for another so they would be a matched set…but that center drawer is KING. Could not get along without it. You’ll see in a second.
AND THERE IT IS!
Now for some glamour shots~
Center drawers perfect..PERFECT, I tell ya…for tools you routinely use, snips, seam rippers, seam gauge, tweezers. Always there, always available at hand. Whichever genius originally designed the Singer sewing cabinet deserves a special place in sewing heaven. God bless you good sir and madam! Its beyond obvious this genius strongly collaborated with a seamstress and tailor.
One last glamour shot before taking them into my sewing room. I was (mmmmm….still am, matter of fact) so very, very proud of these sewing tables.