Ilona’s Future’s so Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades!

I have certainly learned a lot cleaning up Ilona – my Singer 15-88.  As you know from this post my Mom has given me her and her sister’s Vintage Sewing Machines.  I even bought myself a small hammer and a screwdriver…  you know, one of those ones with a bunch of different attachments?  I took off all the parts that I dared, carefully photographing every step so that I would know how to put them all back together again.  I wiped down all the japanning (black paint) with Sewing Machine Oil (SMO).  Some areas I had to use diluted dish soap – the brown staining just wouldn’t come off.  Of course, I was also wearing gloves throughout as my hands get dry quickly.

For the chrome pieces I used Brasso.  As you can see, some of the pieces were dirtier than others.  I was warned to not let anything harsh, like Brasso, touch the decals (gold painted designs on the machine) – so it was much safer to completely remove the parts I wanted to clean with Brasso!


The Brasso cleaned every chrome part quickly.  


The difference was amazing!


Ta Da!  Face Plate, Throat Plate, Round Cover Plate and Bobbin Cover Plate.


This is the Bobbin Winder Tension Discs – ick!


Chrome cleaner to the rescue!


Nasty.  I wonder if this is all tarnish and/or dried up oil?  I found thick brown stains everywhere – on the japanning and the chrome.  I do know that my Aunt smoked most of her life.  Is this normal staining or does nicotine make a mess of these VSMs too?


I got the Tension Assembly apart, cleaned and back together again, BUT I am going to do it again step by step with the manual in preparation for taking Ilona for a test drive!  That way I will be sure I’ve done it correctly.  There will probably be some adjusting here and there anyway to get Ilona sewing correctly! 


Now the Stop Motion Screw is so shiny, I can see the reflection of my camera and fingers in it!


Some final shiny shots of the Bobbin Cover Plate, Throat Plate, and foot.  This VSM actually had the original needle in it (stained, of course), but there was a package of Vintage Sewing Needles in the treadle desk drawer so I will start Ilona working with one of those!


Ilona cleaned and polished!

10 copy 2


Ilona’s original badge brought back to life!

3 copy 2

I’ve prepared some “BEFORE” and “AFTER” shots, or should I say “ICK” and “WOW”? I’m going to have to take apart and put back together the Bobbin Shuttle Assembly again, following the manual this time, as I can see already that it isn’t lining up properly.  Lots of work to do yet, to get Ilona running smoothly again!


The Bobbin Winder beside the Balance Wheel.


Ilona’s Future’s so Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades!




Cosmetically I have finished this VSM, now I have to clean and repair the broken treadle desk, clean the Irons, attach the Treadle Belt that I have ordered, check the Thread Tension Assembly and the Bobbin Shuttle Assembly and I should check the Bobbin Winder Assembly too … and that’s it!

In the meantime, I have cut out some projects…

To continue my “Sister’s Sewing Projects“, McCall’s M7169.  She has chosen two fabrics, a flowered print and a black to make this two toned dress.

For myself, Simplicity 8740, a 1999 pattern for a pair of pants.  I just want to make a simple pair of elastic waisted pants with this light fabric I recently purchased in Vancouver.


Lastly, for myself, the “Polly Top” a FREE PDF sewing pattern from By Hand London. I have wanted to do this one for for a long time. I certainly have enough small pieces saved up to get a few of these done! I was thinking a denim version first, with red top stitching, to match my denim skirt.


What pattern are you working on next… a dress? a skirt? what’s happening out there?

Before I go, it’s time for me to take a couple of weeks off for summer – hopefully we’ll get some nice weather, not too hot, not too cold, but just right! Keep posting so I can keep reading and I’ll see you in about two weeks.

Happy Sewing!

47 thoughts on “Ilona’s Future’s so Bright, I Gotta Wear Shades!

  1. BEautiful.. what an amazing. Job.. i need to get to work on mine. it will be my side project!!! 🙂 I love what you did… it look so reformed!!! Good one Linda… 🙂 Sew away now…

    1. Thank you! Yes it is time to sew now. For awhile. Until my replacement treadle belt comes!

  2. That sewing machine is so fabulous….Double envy over here :). Can’t wait to see your version of M7169. I’m in the process of organizing my pattern stash (a huge mess) and uncovered that pattern! It’s on my list of patterns to try. Right now, I’m trying to decide what my fall sewing priorities are. Enjoy your gorgeous and very clean machine!

    1. Ugh! I’m all over the place with my sewing projects right now. I’m surprised I even wrote those three things down. Maybe now I will be forced to stay on track. Thank you for the compliments about my VSM!

  3. C-O-N-G-R-A-T-U-L-A-T-I-O-N-SSSS!!!
    Such gorgeousness underneath all that ick!* You did yeoman’s work on this and will be repaid with a beautifully working machine.
    How clever of you to do these photos for us, so we can see it is possible to restore such an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan. (Will remember the Brasso-chrome & toothbrush for likely projects around here!)

    *(Yes, it was all that nicotine smoke plus the cobwebs.)

    1. Thank you! I was thinking it was nicotine. After all it stains walls and curtains after years. I just assumed it was grease/oil gunk until I started seeing a light layer of it everywhere, even places where you don’t put oil. I’m going to still be snooping around the blogs to keep myself entertained, so keep writing!

      1. Sure will, unless a sudden vacation opportunity arises. 😉

        1. Well if that happens… by all means jump on it!

  4. you are brave, I won’t dare touch my vintage machines I love them so much, but maybe now I will. you have inspired me!! hope you have a great vacation. I myself will be working on an upgrade to my blog, some needle tatting and looking for a cheaper backup sewing machine since my brother is having threading issues.

    1. Stay away from the decals and you will be fine. I’ll be watching for your blog posts and changes and good luck hunting for a sewing machine. There are a ton of second hand ones advertised on the Internet in our neighbourhood!

  5. Great job. She’s looking pretty!

  6. it sure is pretty.

  7. I think smoking can add to the discoloration of things- my mom’s old Singer had similar stains on it before I cleaned it up, and she was a smoker.

    One time I sent out squares of white fabric for friends of my in-laws to sign, which I then sewed together into a quilt. A few squares came back a different color, after being in people’s homes only a short time! I don’t know if the people might have had a wood stove or if they were smokers or what, but the white fabric came back tan!

    1. I guess with fabric and equipment it can usually be cleaned, but I was horrified to think what it does to a person’s lungs/body!

  8. Holy smokes! Those parts are the same? I mean they’re not from different machines. Impressive. I kept scrolling up and down looking at the “Ick” and “Wow” photos. I have heard horror stories of people living in old houses and after they painted over the walls, and then had a humidifier in the room, the wall leaking nicotin streaks. Anyways, great job on Ilona. 👌

    1. Yes it’s amazing what smoking can do. I took the photos partly because I was taking step by step how to take it apart and put it back together. Then I wondered how clean I could get it and the only way to be sure was before and after photos (or the “ick” and the “wow”). I’m sure glad I got it clean!

  9. I need some tips from you, I’ve got a 15-90 or 91 to clean up…not much though. Is the Brasso safe for the VSMs, I’ve not researched much yet but have read that using SMO is best for cleaning the decals and japanning. You are inspiring me!!!

    1. I have read that you only use the Brasso, or a similar product, on the chrome pieces of VSMs. Do not let it touch your painted surfaces. I made sure to take off as many of the chrome pieces as I could before I used the Brasso on them. I also learned that the other surfaces, the japanning and the decals, should be cleaned with SMO, or if heavily stained you could use a diluted dish detergent (like Dawn). I was very gentle with my decals, hardly touched them, as they are fading off in some places already. It took a few afternoons but I was so happy to see the improvement! I found some helpful websites and Facebook groups. I didn’t list them this time but they were listed in a post a couple of weeks previous. I plan on listing them on my “1000 things to do with a sewing machine” page too, to make them easier to find!

      1. Thank you Linda 😃

  10. Wow! What a difference! I wouldn’t have believed it was possible to clean a machine up to this degree, plus it will be so lovely for you to know her inside out ☺️

    1. I am ashamed to admit that most of my life if my sewing machine didn’t work or cost too much to repair I just gave it away to charity. After seeing the machines I have recently acquired, I am dying to know how they work. Recently, when I was sewing on my Janome 3160 QDC, my husband asked me if I was going to take that one apart too… I replied … only if it breaks! 🙂

  11. There is something beautiful about the older machines. They have a solid feel to them when you sew with them. They don’t have all the bells and whistles the new ones have so there is good and bad. You have done a wonderful job bringing it back to life and that sewing project, for your sister, looks like it will be a beautiful dress…….says the sister.

    1. It is nice seeing it all shiny and new isn’t it! And my sister, you, the Enabler, has good taste in fabric!

  12. You lucky girl to have such a lovely old machine to bring back to life and you have done a splendid job of restoring her beauty. I wish I had kept my old machine. It wasn’t a Singer Vintage but it dated back to the early sixties. Weighed a ton but sewed beautifully. I gave it to my step-daughter because I’d bought a shiny new computerised Janome and I didn’t sew very much at that stage anyway. (Heaves a big sigh) At least it went to a good home. 🙂

    1. Thank you, these two VSMs that I have received from my mother (this one was my aunt’s originally) are very special to me. I’m sure the one that you gave away to you step-daughter is now very special to her!

  13. A true labor of love! Who’d have known a little elbow grease (and a lot of patience) could produce such a remarkable transformation? Impressive indeed. Keep those shades handy, Maria is waiting in the wings. 🙂

    1. Thank you! Exactly… There is a lot more work to be done. I’m going to have to do some research for chip repair on Maria. One suggestion is nail polish, another is automotive paint! We shall see!

  14. It is so gratifying to see this beauty come back to life! You have done an amazing job, well done.

    1. Thank you! I think you have one or two of these lovelies yourself! If I’m missing anything please feel free to jump in! 😀👍

  15. That looks really satisfying!

    1. It was – I never realized how precise such a simple mechanism actually is! I got a good look though when I was poking around cleaning it!

  16. Wow! She looks great already! I’m kind of in awe of your work here and especially your patience, I would’ve found the task of bringing the machine back to life much too daunting … It’s super fascinating to see all those little parts that belong to the machine, though, I just realized I’m really ignorant when it comes to the mechanical aspects of sewing!

    1. Thank you! I’m just learning as I go along. Reading “how to” a lot. I am extremely motivated because they are family heirlooms. I am also very stubborn!!!

  17. I’ll bet Ilona looks as good today as she did the day she rolled off the assembly line. Nicely done kiddo!

  18. What a difference! It’s great that you have those before photos so you can truly appreciate the glory of the shiny, clean sewing machine (as well as being practical, of course). Best of luck with the remainder of the restoration.

    1. Thank you! I can’t wait until I’m actually sewing on it!

  19. She looks beautiful now. I confess to just getting my old ladies running again without too much attention to the cosmetics. I feel they deserve better now I have been shown your efforts. Well done.

    1. Well… I must confess… I just couldn’t get past the spider webs and dust! Yuck!

  20. Oh Linda, she looks so beautiful!! What a difference a little “spa day” can make! Although I do love how you list all the things you still want/need to do, and then say “…and that’s it!” like it’s no big deal, hehe!

    1. I’m always the optimist “I’m almost done!” Thanks for the compliments.

  21. Awesome, impressive job – truly a labor of love that so many VSM need! I must admit there have been a few 1920’s Singers I have passed up because this kind of work is daunting – congrats for conquering it so stunningly! Now, I suppose it’s a good thing I see gunked up machines because otherwise hubby would make me hear how we don’t have room for any more…I’m up to 7 now…

    1. Thank you! I hear it is addictive all the time. I just told my son the other day that I only had two machines (that I actually use), plus another 3 that I am still working on… Ok, what can I say, it’s addictive!

      1. Yes, you are so right! I do use most all of my machines so hubby can’t really complain! Two are for everyday use, the rest are for special use…but my prize is a pink 1960 Necchi Supernova!
        It aggravates me to no end that more sewers don’t use these old machines and give them TLC like you!

        1. I have seen Necchi sewing machines on line. Very nice! I have been sewing for probably 30 or 40 years and only in the last few months discovered my Mom’s and Aunt’s (now vintage) machines. They are special to me and I can see they are the start of a new path in my sewing. Speaking of 30 – 40 years of sewing, I saw the machine I learned on for sale on line as “vintage”. So that’s what I am!!!

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