An introduction to a Grasshopper – part 3

In this, the third and final part of this general introduction to the Elna No.1, we take a look at bobbin winding and threading the machine.

spool pin and thread guide of Elna No.1 Grasshopper

The first step in winding a bobbin on a Grasshopper is to swing the guide arm down from its parked position to where it is in this picture.  Having placed an empty bobbin on the winder shaft, you then run your thread from your spool, along to the wire loop guide at the top of the faceplate, then back round this guide and down to the bobbin …

Elna Grasshopper thread path for bobbin winding

Now at this point on most other domestic machines, your next move would be to declutch the handwheel so that when you press the go pedal or whatever, your bobbin winds but your needle doesn’t move.  Not so on the Grasshopper – putting the bobbin on the shaft magically disconnects the drive to the needle bar.

Bobbin winding on Elna Grasshopper sewing machine

Having looked at this close up, you probably have two questions, which I’ll now answer for you. That shaft with the bobble on the end which is alongside the bobbin winder/motor pulley shaft is what the speed reduction gear fits on to (there’s a post about that coming up before long), and no, vintage Elna bobbins are not the same as Singer 15 ones.  These have a keyway in them, and they’re slightly taller.

Elna Grasshopper threading

Here’s a shot of the rather manky faceplate of this 1945 machine which is still in exactly the same state as when I bought it, but hopefully you can see the thread path for normal sewing.  It also shows a weird red reflection and I can’t for the life of me think what that was, but never mind.

There’s nothing weird about threading a Grasshopper though – you go from spool to wire guide on top of faceplate (it’s just visible top left in that snap) then down, round the top tension and back up, through the take-up lever from back to front, then down through the bottom guide and the guide on the needle clamp.

The needle goes in with the flat to the left, which of course means that you thread it from right to left.

bobbin/shuttle area of Elna Grasshopper

Finally, here’s a shot of the shuttle assembly with a bobbin in place and threaded up ready to rock, which reminds me that with the introduction to this fine machine now done, I mustn’t forget to do a post about the proper lubrication of the shuttle race.  With paraffin …

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An introduction to a Grasshopper – part 2

OK, having started our general look at the Elna No.1 in the last post, we can now move on to the case.

Elna Grasshopper caseIt’s a very neat pressed steel fabrication, and the picture above shows it open as it looks when the machine has just been lifted out together with the mains lead, which wraps round those two thingies with the green felt on them seen at the top of the lower half of the case.

Elna Grasshopper case - detailAbove is the bottom of the case as it is normally, and below we see it with the front half of the bottom hinged up.  That’s the first step in transforming the case into the worktop, worktable or whatever you like to call it.

Elna Grasshopper case - detail with flap foldedElna Grasshopper with mains lead and open caseThis picture also shows the older-style mains plug which is used on the Series 1 machines and was replaced by a different all-Bakelite plug on later models.  Funnily enough, it’s a lot easier to find a replacement of this earlier plug than it is to find one of the later flat-blade ones, but more about the vexed issue of mains plugs another day.

Elna Grasshopper with case opened outAnyhow, having turned that bottom flap up, we can now lay the case down like in the picture above and flick up those two little clippy things which you can just see on the very right-hand side of the top of the case.

Elna Grasshopper with case opened out and flap overThat lets us turn the rigt-hand top over like turning a page in a book, et voilà – a smooth green work surface!

Elna Grasshopper and case/base showing knee leverNow it’s just a matter of sliding the machine itself into place (with or without the accessory box), lowering the knee-lever, and swinging the knee-lever extension down before plugging in the mains lead and away you sew.

Closeup of Elna Grasshopper worktableLooking at that picture, you could be forgiven for thinking that with all that metalwork, and particularly with that hinge where it is, it all looks a bit iffy from the point of view of snagging material.  Yes, it does look a bit that way, but in practice it isn’t iffy at all because everything’s either rounded off or it has a smooth finish to it.

This particular case will benefit from a judicious bit of bending and twisting in places when I get round to it because it doesn’t quite sit as flat round the freearm now as it did when it left the factory 66 years ago, but that’s easy enough to sort out.

OK … that’s the case done, so I guess we just need to take a quick look at bobbin-winding and threading to complete the introduction.  That’ll be coming up next.

An introduction to a Grasshopper – part 1

And here we have the Tavaro Nr.1 sewing machine out of its case.  Or the Elna #1.  Or the Elna Grasshopper.  More about the name of the thing in due course, but for now let’s start with a look at this 1945 example …

Front view of Series One Elna GrasshopperYep, it’s definitely green.  Apparently it’s green for the same reason that the inside of military aircraft and vehicles used to be green (and might still be for all I know), i.e. it’s restful on the eyes. Actually it might just be green because there was a lot of green paint going cheap in Switzerland in the late1930’s or simply because back then everybody was fed up of looking at black sewing machines, but whatever the real reason, the fact remains that the green paint is indeed restful on the eyes.

But enough of the green already!  The other thing that’s immediately apparent is that it’s a small machine.  The base measures just 33cm x 15cm (13in x 6in), and at 6.2kg or 13.6lb it’s not too heavy to move about easily.  It is though heavy enough to not walk round the table when you’re sewing like a cheapo modern plastic machine can.

Mention of nasty plastic reminds me to point out that the Grasshopper is plasticless.  Every bit of it is either steel or aluminium, except for the accessory box which is genuine Bakelite, and even the lid of that is steel.  You can see the lift-off accessory box better in this back view …

Rear view of Elna Grasshopper Series One sewing machine So what else is immediately apparent?  Yep, it’s a free-arm, and in fact it was the world’s first free-arm domestic machine.  It’s also a knee-lever machine, and if that puts you right off, can I just say that until I tried this one, I was seriously allergic to knee-levers.  Elsie wasn’t a big fan either, but now we’re both totally sold – at least on knee-lever Elnas.  It really is a delight to sew with, although if you’re used to industrials and the knee-lever lifting the presser foot, you’re going to have to re-program your right knee somewhat urgently.

The Grasshopper’s straight stitch only, and whilst it doesn’t have drop feed, it does have reverse.  It’s also a rotary hook machine with a horizontal drop-in bobbin …

Picture of bobbin area of Elna Grasshopper sewing machineNote the really handy flip-up cover plate, as opposed to the nail-breaker sliding one on nearly all this machine’s contemporaries.

It has a built-in sewing light too which gives a really good spread of light exactly where you need it, and the light switch is right there on top of the machine on a chromed plate which has ventilation slots round the edges of it to stop the bulb overheating.  Changing the bulb is an absolute doddle.  All you do is reach under the arm and push the lamp cover back a bit, and it swings down, comme ci …

Picture of Elna Grasshopper with lamp housing partially loweredIt actually drops down to the vertical, but this makes a clearer picture.  That shiny bit bottom right is a knurled screw which you use to limit your stitch length setting in much  the same way as you can on Singer 201’s, later 99’s and some variants of the 15, and above it in that slot is the stitch length lever.  It has a scale marked 0-4, which is the approximate stitch length in millimeters.

Finally for now, let’s take a quick look at the drive end …

Picture of drive end of Elna Grasshopper As you’ll notice, there’s no clutch knob on the handwheel like there is on practically every other domestic machine.  That’s because the only purpose of the clutch knob is to disconnect the drive from the needlebar when you want to wind a bobbin, and the Grasshopper does that all by itself when you put a bobbin on the winder.

More about bobbin-winding later, and about the low-speed reduction gear too, but for now, the chromed disc above the handwheel covers an access point for oiling, and so too does that flap over the bend in the arm (to the left of the spool pin).  That upright chromed doo-hickey also left of the spool pin is the thread guide arm used when winding a bobbin.

And that’s it for this time except to say that the amount of paint that has rubbed off this particular machine is probably par for the course.  Most of that seems to me to have happened in the case rather than in use, so my feeling is that to get a pristine one, or as good as you’re going to get nowadays, you’d need one which has not only been used with care, but has also not travelled much, if at all.

Be that as it may, next time we’ll look at the idiosyncratic but really cool bobbin winding, and at how the case turns into your sewing table … sort of.

It’s all her fault

The lady in Georgia, that is.  Shortly after I became disenchanted with the Singer 221/222 Featherweight, I stumbled upon her blog and her write-up on a strange-looking machine called the Elna Grasshopper, about which I knew nothing.

All I really knew about was vintage Singers, which were pretty much wall to wall here and still are.  But apparently this little green thing was the world’s first free-arm sewing machine.  Add to that a quirky design, Swiss precision engineering and the machine’s reputation for sewing a perfect straight stitch, and inevitably I had to have my first non-Singer machine.  So the search began, and before long I was opening a carton and pulling this out of it …

Picture of Elna #1 Grasshopper sewing machine in caseWhat we see here is a steel case measuring 14 x 12 x 6.5 inches which weighs 22lb, or if you prefer, one measuring 36 x 30 x17cm which weighs 10kg.  In other words, it’s much the same size and weight as the Singer Featherweight, and literally half the weight of a Singer 201K electric portable.

When you first see one of these in the flesh, so to speak, it starts sinking in just how different to any other sewing machine the Grasshopper really is – and that’s before you’ve worked out how to open the case.  You do that by pressing in on a couple of shiny buttons, one of which you can see on the left of that picture.  The lid then hinges up towards you, and there she is …

Picture of Elna Grasshopper sewing machine in opened case The machine itself simply lifts out of the case, which you can then do tricks with, but before we get to that, you need to know where I’m coming from, as people say nowadays.

When I first developed an interest in these machines, I was surprised how little there was about them on the internets.  Then I realised that’s not really surprising, given that only 60,000 or so of them seem to have been made.  To put that into perspective, in the years between the World Wars, Singer made far more of each model in their domestic range every 12 months than Tavaro made of this machine in 12 years.  Everybody’s granny did not have one of these.

I’ve still got things to learn about the Grasshopper, but up to a point, a rotary hook sewing machine is a rotary hook sewing machine.  What’s different with this one is mainly the detail engineering, which, being classic Swiss, is in a class of its own.

If you’re more up to speed with Elnas than I am at present, do please let me know if I get anything wrong – and if you’re more in the dark than I am, by all means ask questions.  You can email me or just add a comment by clicking on the speech bubble to the right of any post title, whatever makes you happy.

We’ll continue with this introduction to the Tavaro Nr.1 next time …