Sunday, February 14, 2010

13 February 1956 “My ‘New’ Best Friend, Dress Planning and Some Recipes”

I would like to introduce you all to my new best friend:singer5001 singer500 Isn’t she a beauty? Since my sewing machine breakdown in January (which resulted in my borrowing a friend’s machine so I could do my January Dress Challenge.) I began researching the ultimate Vintage Machine.
In my research I found that the Singers up until the mid 1960’s were all steel work horses made in the USA.
I had at first thought to get the coveted Singer 401.singer401 These were from the mid 1950’s and are a coveted work horses. It’s abilities to sew through layers of leather and heavy sailcloth, the strong steel construction and the amount of various feet for different jobs keep that at around $300.00 or so in good condition on eBay ( or cheaper if you are lucky to find one locally at a yard sale!) I began to see the 500, which was called the “ROCKETEER”. I found, for some reason, that these tended to sell for less, despite the fact that they are the same machine inside and out (though I actually like the exterior Design of the Racketeer) and that it has a few more stitch abilities than the 401.
I had been squirreling away money here and there from grocery shopping and my ‘weekly allowance’ (I do the books for our marriage and give, based on my budget, a weekly ‘allowance’ of cash to hubby and I to spend or save for ‘niceties’ as we like). I finally came across a 500 at an incredible price (they are usually around the $200 range on eBay) with all the feet, the cams(that let you do different stitches etc) and original instruction booklet. So, I ordered it and have been waiting patiently for a week. I have even kept my mouth shut here on the blog and the forums, as I did not want to talk about it until it was in my hands!
I have to say, so far, I am not disappointed. It is a beautiful machine. I read an article that said to get a modern machine of this quality and abilities today would be around $2000.00. And to think my machine was made around 1950/60 and it still works wonderfully is a lot to say about its construction. There is not ONE plastic part. IT is all steel built in the USA. Even the feet are of such quality metal it feels as if they may have used silver in their makeup (they have the feel of an old quarter compared to a modern quarter).
You can really see why a homemaker of yesterday really appreciated her sewing machine. This machine was the top of the line in its day and would have been close to 1400 dollars, so would have been a major investment like a car. But, when you consider what you could do with it. There was no Old Navy to go to, so clothes handmade were a savings as were house goods, as curtains, tablecloths, you name it. We are lucky today to have at our disposal the well made wonderful machines of yore to be had at affordable prices. The sewing machine was really a tool that gave a woman endless creative outlet as well as the power to clothe her family and dress her home and anything her little heart could desire. An entire art school/studio space all rolled into a few pounds of steel!
Besides basic stitching, there are endless ‘specialty’ stitches for decorative as well as bindings etc. I was also lucky to get all the feet it came with as well as a specialty foot for embroidery, that I am very excited about. Though I have only tried it a bit, I think it will really be a great way to do pockets and decorations on aprons, skirts pillows etc. I also can envision some fabric art happening. Here it is, you can see it has a little spring and a guide to help hold things in place. embroideryfoot I really just  did a little filling in for practice, but it works wonderfully. The little foot bed under the needle raises up for embroidery work and for darning of socks/sweaters any thing that needs mending (there is even a mending setting which shows how much this type of machine would mean to a homemaker).
Here are two feet that I am excited to try: First is the Binder Foot.binderfoot (click to enlarge) this is a wonderful attachement, as it not only makes a folded roll hem, but you can feed bias tape over the edge as well. This allows for there to be a finished hem edge of bias tape with a decorative stitch if you wish. Wonderful possibilities for this.
The second foot is the Ruffler foot: rufflerfoot This contraption looks like something out of science fiction. Here are the wonders it can make: Ruffles (obviously, hence the name)rufflerfoot2 And these lovely pleats:rufflerfoot3 I have made a few skirts with simple pleats, but I had to hand pin all of them. I also think the second picture with the ‘group pleating’ would make a lovely Valence/Pelmet for a curtain topper, don’t you think?
I promise myself to slowly learn the intricacies of this machine. Right now my sewing skills involve, sewing a straight stitch back and forth. I have never even used a zipper foot (just the standard foot, but looking at the zipper foot, I can see how much easier it shall be). This also came with a wonderful Buttonholer, which seems an interesting machine. But, I want any of you out there who have not sewn before to realize, you can do it. I have had NO ONE teach me to use the machine. I have taught myself the simple things I can now do with it, yet have made dresses and skirts and aprons for myself. I want, know with my wonderful Singer ROCKETEER, to be able to make curtains and slipcovers and better tailored clothes with details etc.
In fact the first ‘challenge’ with my machine is to use the Ruffler foot to so pleats in my February Dress Challenge and to also make ruffles and make myself a new bathroom curtain. I shall share, of course, the success or failures and the ‘how to’ with you.
For my February Dress Challegne (as I want to keep them somewhat simple how-to’s for beginners, as that is what I am) will be taking a men’s shirt, here I bought this lovely chocolate brown one for 5 dollars at a local shop.brownshirt and these few yards of this lovely pink and brown cotton.pinkbrownfabric Here, for scale, you can see the print and the shirt cuff together.pinkbrownfabric2 So, my plan is to take the shirt and the fabric and make a dress. I will add darts to the shirt as need be to make it ‘fitted’ and the skirt will be hemmed and attached to the shirt. And to tie the dress together I will take excess pink fabric and either add to the shirts cuffs or collar and possibly a pocket square. IF it turns out is should be similar to this.shirtwaist1 I could even shorten the sleeves, as they have them here  and add the skirt trim as the shirt cuffs.shirtwaist3 Here you can see a darling belt. I might make one with the pink fabric and can use one of the buckles I got in my goodies from Ann’s Estate Sale.  So, I am hoping this turns out. I think if it does, I will be scouring resale shops for nice men’s shirts and can have an arsenal of easy to wear clothes for ‘daywear’ or even good ‘housedresses’.
Now, onto some cooking.
fannie farmer
I have often referred to  and used my Boston Cooking School Cookbook in 1955 and this year as well. My copy is from early 50’s but I just found online HERE that this original book is free to read online! You should check it out.
Last night I made my own soup invention. “What Came First Soup” Hubby named it, as it is egg drop soup with chicken in it, so both the chicken and the egg.
“what came first soup” (named by hubby)whatcamefirstsoup
4 cups chicken broth, divided (so easy to make your own broth by boiling chicken-even better with bone in-in water, add spices, then you have the chicken and broth to make the soup.
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
chopped and cooked in butter garlic ( a few cloves)
(This is REALLY good with chives, but I had none in the house)
Dash of cayenne pepper
Salt and Pepper to taste (about 1/4 –1 tsp each)
1 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
3 eggs
cooked chicken

  1. Reserve 3/4 cup of chicken broth, and pour the rest into a large saucepan. Stir the salt, ginger, garlic, broccoli  into the saucepan, and bring to a rolling boil. In a cup or small bowl, stir together the remaining broth and cornstarch until smooth. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs together using a fork. Drizzle egg a little at a time from the fork into the boiling broth mixture. Egg should cook immediately. Once the eggs have been dropped, stir in the cornstarch mixture gradually until the soup is the desired consistency. Pouring the egg through the fork gives it the long strands you see in restaurant egg drop soup. I usually give a good stir to the pot to get it going in a circular motion and then pour the eggs through the fork.
I served this with these lovely biscuits. They rise so wonderfully. I can’t even remember where I got the recipe, but it is a great one, so give it a try. I take the extra dough when I make these and roll sugar into them and shape scones and brush them with cream and sprinkle sugar and they make a great breakfast scone as well. biscuits2
Best Biscuits
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon white sugar
  • 1/3 cup Butter (5 1/3 TBS)
  • 1 cup milk
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).
  2. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Gradually stir in milk until dough pulls away from the side of the bowl.
  3. Turn out onto a floured surface, and knead 15 to 20 times. Pat or roll dough out to 1 inch thick. Cut biscuits with a large cutter or juice glass dipped in flour. Repeat until all dough is used. Bake on a paper lined baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 13 to 15 minutes in the preheated oven, or until edges begin to brown.
So, I hope you are ready for some new sewing challenges ladies! Until next time, keep those aprons on and march into ACTION!


  1. I can't wait to try the soup! Egg Drop is my favorite.

  2. wow! a machine that spaces your pleats for you!? prit-ty clever!

  3. Congratulations on your new machine! I've never gotten the ruffler for my machine. I'll wait with bated breath to see how it works on your dress. Think of the time you'll save!


  4. I cannot believe I have never seen the Rocketeer sewing machine. It is so cool looking. Well, maybe because it was soooo expensive not many people bought them. Love these old metal machines. They weigh a ton compared to the new ones, but boy can they sew.

    I think I have 10 sewing machines one of which is a Singer ca 1969. Luckily, I only paid about $35.00 for it. It is a piece of junk. I actually bought it for the wood cabinet. (Why so many machines? I've picked them up really cheap at yard and estate sales, and people who know I sew have just given me sewing machines.)

    Please, Dear People, do not waste your money on a "newer" Singer. This one has plastic bobbins which break easily and the tension won't hold. It also probably has plastic gears. Please don't get lured in because of all of the great attachments. If you buy vintage, please get an all metal machine.

  5. wow!! very spiffy indeed!! have fun with it!!

  6. I love your sewing machine, it's so beautiful! After all that I've learned from you, when my current machine dies, I plan on searching for one of the sturdy machines that you've mentioned. I look forward to seeing some of your creations that come from your new sewing machine.

  7. OH Honey!! You got a Rocketeer!! I knew you'd fall for it's handsome looks. And look at all you've learned about it already. I'm embarrassed to admit I've had mine for almost 2 years and have yet to plug mine in and try it. Soon, very soon. I've been having too much fun playing/using my Singer 99 lately.
    I'll get dh to move my Rocketeer and we'll have to encourage one another and share our creations.

    Now, I know you are limiting yourself on computer/internet time, but you really should join the Vintage Singer Yahoo group. There are many helpful files about caring for your new helper (and other models).

    Here is the address:

  8. Lucky you! :) Back then things were built to last, today things are built to break. I have just “inherited” a vintage Singer from great-granny, that is we moved her to the nursery home this weekend, and since she is almost blind, she wanted me to have it. I don’t know exactly how old it is, supposedly from the seventies, but since she was a pro-tailor it is one of the best models, and she told me it was very expensive back then (about 2,000 dollars). I look forward to receiving it. There are also a lot of equipments, the original manual, and whatever extras you could wish for. I will send it to a pro and have it cleaned, adjusted and oiled, it costs a bit, but I think it is worth it. I don’t have time to sew nowadays, but I do hope to do it again in near future.

    Btw: I wanted to tell you about my crocheting success! :) I have a hard time reading “recipes” in Danish, so don’t expect me to understand one in English. But I thought “how hard can it be?” and made my own recipe for the double disc. I had a recipe for round potholders and used it and then, instead of making more masks I continued and made fewer masks, and tadaaa, I made a double disc for cleaning my face in one flow of work. Now I just have to make the handle and I’m done. I have written down what I’ve done, and will make more a.s.ap. Just wanted to let you know about my success. :)

  9. 50's Gal-have you been hiding in my house? LOL! That is the machine I got several months ago at the thrift! Sad to say I have yet to see if it works. The Husband has yet to bring it upstairs to be plugged in!

    Also, a friend let me borrow their copy of Fannie Farmer's Boston Cooking School!

  10. First off, my biscuit recipe above says shortening, but I use the same amount of butter instead of shortening. I will fix that today, so if you copied the recipe and you want them to turn out as mine did, use butter instead of shortening. I used shortening in the beginning of 1955 as it was des riguer of the time, but now prefer butter and sometimes lard for my baking. I just feel it is more natural and I like the taste better, not really sure what is IN shortening.
    Sanne-I am SO excited about my machine! I actually stumbled upon it by accident when I began reseraching old sewing machines. I decided I wanted a Singer (I had been sewing on an old 1950 Husqvarna which is beautiful and sews rather well but I have not feet or extras for it and could find none on ebay and then she stopped. It turned out just needed oiling but it got me to thinking about the importance of the sewing machine to my life and to that of a 50's homemaker)Anyway, I LOVE the machine so far and because I'm me, I will try out all the feet and prbobably get any extra feet they made for it.
    Congratulations on your sewing machine inheritence, it will be lovlier becuase it was 'grannie's.
    Good job on the crochet! You should let us knoe the 'recipe' that you came up with. Maybe you can make it part of your 'topics' next month as our Apronite of the month. You will be a good example for all those full time working women who also want and yearn for the 'homemaker' in their heart!
    Jenn-That is great. I think I remember reading about yours on the forums, is that right. After I researched and decided on the 500 I found your original post and thought, 'OH, we can share tips'. I was not as lucky as you, as didn't you pay only 20 dollars or so? Did you get all the accesories? When you get the chance, bring it upstairs and start playing, it can do EVERYTHING!Mine did not come with its carrying case, but so much of everything else and such a good price, I had to get it.
    I love my 50s fannie Farmer. The free online version actually has some really good recipes and its free and printable, I belive!

  11. addendum:I changed the post so the recipe reads Butter, which is what I use and it works beautifully, enjoy!

  12. I'm sorry but I don't think I can make a recipe any of you will understand, since I have a hard time understanding Danish recipes. But I will shoot a photo of it and include a note about it in my March story, it has already become quite "wordy" as you say it. I just hope it is worth reading, but it will be up to you to judge. I think you will receive it this week. :)

  13. Your dress idea sounds super cute! Can't wait to see how it turns out!

  14. Sanne, if you can attempt to write down what you did to make the scrubber I may be able to translate it into crochet-speak. And if I can't my brother's MIL definitely could.

  15. Lovely Rachel-now that is Apronite ingenuity!

  16. Hi Rachel, I'll give it a try and write it for you. You'll hear from me. Thank you for your service. :)

  17. Once I have my hooks unpacked I'm making one for myself!

  18. Congratulations! It sounds like you're quite happy with your machine! Thanks for the recipes and free cookbook link as well!!

    Oh and I love the new picture on top of the blog!

  19. 50's Gal-yes, $20 at the thrift! And it came with the accessories (cams and feet) and a buttonholer! I'm hoping it can come upstairs next month. We shall see.

    The little scrubbie works up very quickly! It's cute, too!

  20. I really enjoyed this post. I have two machines ( a very old singer) the booklet says be sure your house is connect to the eletric company. And a newer plastic model (not a singer) . I have also collected Fanny Farmer cook books for years . My first and best came from my loving mother.( happy thoughts) I have one fanny 1919 i think . MY biscut recipe came from "good eats" Marmee's recipe I use some shorting and also butter. I use good bread flour to get a beautiful golden top. real butter is best in baking

  21. p.s. I always use buttermilk for my biscuits.

  22. I have the 1946 Singer that my aunt made my mother's wedding dress on. She's black, all metal and in a cherrywood cabinet. It's the machine I learned to sew on and still works beautifully. There was a shop in town that dealt in sewing machines and carried the accessories for the older models where I bought a buttonhole attachement for it. I look at my mother's wedding dress out of slipper satin with handmade buttons and fine pleating and think about how lovingly it was made....and then all the baby and kids clothes for two generations that came off it. I could never part with it.

  23. 50s gal,
    thank you for "The Sewing Machine Song" post. My daughters and I have watched it several times already. Can anyone help me? What movie is it from? It looks like one we need to watch!
    Amy F.
    p.s I love your new sewing machine. I have and old Elna. Have you ever read how the older Elnas compare to the older Singers? I am just curious.

  24. This is from a wonderful movie called 'The Perils Of Pauline" starring the wonderful Betty Hutton. I love her and when I was young I used to watch this movie all the time. I had it on VHS and we would all sing the songs from the movie. Even now, when I sew, this songs often wafts through my brain and I will hum and even, yes along in the house, sing it out loud to the house and dogs annoyance.
    You should watch the movie, it is wondrful. I am going to see if I can find it and put it in the "Corner Store" on my website.

  25. I just added the dvd to the "corner store" on my website. Just click on the link on here to go to the website. then on the left go to the Corner Store and under movies you will find there are some dvds for only 2.80 or so! ANd that DVD also had the Stork Club, another wonderful Betty Hutton movie! Good Luck.

  26. Nice machine! I discovered, much to my chagrin, that my Singer needs some pro work before I can make my skirt. I may see if the shop has other feet for sale since they repair and sell vintage Singers

  27. Also, as your machine is just a 'straight stitch' in 56 Singer came out with this attachement you can buy that lets you 'add' zig zag and other stitching to your straight stitch machine and I have seen these for sale sometimes on ebay. IT is called the Singer Automatic Zigzagger and they usually sell around 5-10 dollars on ebay, here is one now almost over at 4.99 Good luck. This handy attachement made it possible for the singer owners of the straight stitch (such as your machine) to not have to shell out money to get the new 'automatic' machines. Have fun!

  28. I have an old Singer coming my way when my MIL either gets too old to use it or dies. Never mind those new fangled '50s machines, this beast is about 100 years old! Her college roommate inherited it from her grandmother and gave it to my MIL because she got a new one. I'm sure that new replacement is long gone but the antique is still going strong. That's the machine we used to make my wedding dress. I'd love to find some accesories for it when I do inherit it, a table with a foot pedal would be great because I prefer to have two hands for sewing and this machine has a hand wheel only. For now I have a modern Kenmore which is actually quite sturdy, it's a plastic case but I believe all the innards are metal for the most part.

  29. Rhonda-I know, I do really feel I have a Modern machine, but really I do since my other machine was a 1950 straight stitch husvarna. Some day, when I am a better seamstress, I would love to get and use an old treadle no electricity machine. But, I think my ROCKETEER shall be my main machine, I see a long future for the two of us!

  30. Rhonda, mine is a mid-70's Kenmore. Plastic case, all metal innards. The thing weighs a ton!

  31. Congratulations on your Rocketeer. I cleaned up the one I inherited from my Mum and tried out the ruffler. Alas, I do not do my main sewing with it as I really enjoy sewing with my Husqvarna-Viking. I look forward to your projects.

  32. Oh! Lucky you found that sewing machin!! and with all the feet and instruction book!!
    The idea of the dress is great, I would like to see the result!
    I'm gonna try to make the biscuits!!


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