Essential sewing keeping me clothed and sane

The Right Tools


I’ve never really understood the joy and enthusiasm some of you have for old sewing machines – you take pics and write posts extolling the virtues of dusty, creaky, black and gold machines and think they’re brilliant. You add them to your armoury and I’ve really no idea if you ever actually use them or why on earth you would buy another machine when you have a fully functioning one already.

I’ll be honest, at best I merely scan such posts and mostly I just skip them: until now…..

My mother LOVES auctions; real live auctions not sterilised eBay, but the type held in wood-clad, stale-cigarette smoke and furniture polish aromatic warehouses with real live characters and stuff you can touch and smell and see before you bid. We’re not talking Sotherby’s or Christie’s  here but mainly local house clearances and bankruptcy sales. There’s not a week goes by that she’s not on the phone asking if there’s anything I need. Actually, there’s nothing I need, I really and truly have everything and very much more but I try to keep my Mother happy so I say something like a “Ming dynasty blue and white serving dish”, or “Clarice Clef tea pot” or “Louis XIV footstool”, knowing fine well that these items will never appear in a local auction house but at least it gives her something to look for.

This week’s phone call asked if I wanted another sewing machine as there was one was listed in the local auction house catalogue. It’s lovely that she supports my hobby and wants to help but I don’t have the space nor the inclination for more stuff.

“Thanks, Mummy but no thanks. I have a machine and it works perfectly well. Why would I want another?”

“Well, you just might.”

“What kind is it?”

“Don’t know, it’s just listed as a Frister and Rossman.”


I left the option open……

Long story short I am now the very proud owner of a vintage Frister and Rossman 45 model II. A bit Internet research places said machine circa 1970. The best bit is that it’s heavy duty, manually operated and I’m guessing will sew through at least three layers of sheet metal if I want it to. And I now completely understand the desire for vintage machines.

It has that lovely ‘beat up’ look; a bit of paint chipped off, a few knocks and dents but in my eyes that only adds to its ugly beauty. Made of real wood and metal, it weighs about seven tonnes and I either need to do more arm exercises at the gym or enlist assistance to lift it onto the table.


My Father bought a new bulb – thank you dad! It has the grand stitching repertoire of forwards, backwards and zigzag. It also came with a little bundle of bobbins, tools, oil, brush and feet.


Isn’t wood lovely? I’ve found an instruction manual online – thank you whoever put that up.

A bit of online research discovered that Frister and Rossman are (were) a German company and with a bit of guessing, this machine heralds from around 1970. Nothing like  German engineering – best in the world and will last forever.

There are  Flash Gordon knobs and levers so that alone makes it brilliant – no computer beeps and bloops just clunky operator choices and no Error messages if you forget to lower the presser foot – it lets you make mistakes!


So what’s the point in having such a basic workhorse of a machine?

Well, a few years ago (exactly four) I started a pair of leather trousers. I had to abandon them because my perfectly functioning Janome TXL607 would not sew through the layers – skipped stitches and no stitching at all in some places.  In sheer frustration I started glueing the pieces together which is never a good idea for clothes. The half completed legs were rolled up (never fold leather), stuffed in a plastic bag and have lain at the bottom of the fabric box for four years. However, with that external motor, no computer telling me that I can’t do it and a new leather needle inserted I might just get to finish them.


Would you believe it?                  An actual  pair of leather trousers!

As a pair of leather jeans they’re really really bad: as my first pair of leather jeans they’re brilliant!

The pattern used was my Jeanius draft of a pair of Armani Jeans, next time I’ll be using Bootstrap skinny jeans as there is absolutely no alterations needed for fit.

What’s wrong? A lot.

Back pockets were glued in place years ago and are now double stitched to compensate for crappy modern sewing machine efforts.They’re also positioned too low.

Mismatched back yokes (there’s six layers of leather at that join).

Twist in left leg inside seam???? And the inside finish is shameful.

What’s good?

A completed pair of five pocket jeans, a working fly zip…



…..and I can get into them.


I’m tempted to call these ‘a muslin’ but as they’re made from leather it is hardly an appropriate term – let’s call them a ‘learning’ experience – both material and machine.


Best way to press leather is to wear it; any wrinkles or creases tend to work themselves out with body heat and natural stretching. I’m also assured that with enough wear, the leather trousers will take on your shape for good or ill.

You only get once chance to sew leather as those needle / pin holes are there forever.


And …. my mother is now on the look out at the auctions for a sturdy table on which to place my new vintage sewing machine and I’m on the look out for more hides!





56 thoughts on “The Right Tools

  1. Very cool jeans! I always wanted leather jeans when I was lean enough…but now I’m a barrel on legs I don’t think it would play! That machine is the spit of my mum’s old one that I learned on, HUGELY heavy, but does the job. We’ll get you an old Singer next, think of the buttonholes!

  2. Wow, simply wonderful pants. I have never heard of that machine manufacture, love the wooden case!

  3. Lovely machine, especially the wood work! My sister made a jacket for her boyfriend. She should have taken it back when they broke up. I remember the special needles and thread and gluing the seam allowances down after she sewing them up. Like your jeans, it was fabulous! I also remember how easy the layers of leather were sewn up on mom’s old machine. My new Janome, although it has bells and whistles, wouldn’t have gotten through one layer. The other thing I like about the old ones is most the time you can fix and service them yourself. Enjoy!

  4. Congratulations on your latest addition! And on completing those leather pants. May you wear them forever, and await your next addition with anticipation! 😉

  5. Whoop whoop! Isn’t it great to have a machine that’s built like a tank?! My Husqvarna is as old as I am and indestructible!
    I am soooooo inspired by your leather jeans – I might have to do that myself… hmmmm… juices flowing!

  6. Hey, I remember those jeans!! Leather is so wearable; it’d be a shame not to give these air play.

    Congratulations on your new machine (and I’m glad the beauty has been nicely rehomed). Look forward to further adventures in sewing.

  7. As a teenager I was given a model 45 for Christmas in 1970 something, I was told that it was the last one in the shop on Christmas Eve!
    I made my school uniform on it as well as numerous dresses, tops, boyfriend shirts etc. It lasted me into my 30’s until I burnt out the motor doing free machining. Good solid HEAVY machine….don’t trust the handle!

    • It’s not faultless Fiona but certainly good enough. There are some lovely punch holes in the case (both sides) where the spool holders stick up – someone must have sat on it! I hope you still have it.

  8. I’m with you on the lack of appeal of old machines ( or at least your previous lack of love for them!). You do have a very good point about sewing through lots of layers though.
    How great to have finished those jeans. They look good in your photos: their imperfections, that only you will probably ever notice, are far outweighed by their coolness.

  9. Wow! How neat! great jeans and wonderful machine!

  10. Nothing like German engineering…unless you’re VW! That said, I suppose that wasn’t really an engineering problem…

    Lovely jeans!

    I always see really old Singers in Italian tailoring shops, still in use…as in the black and gold ones. I still miss my mom’s old Singer although it was probably a 60s version. I’d love to own another.

  11. Your machine is very similar to the first machine I bought in 1966. Mine was a pale blue Lemair Helvetia (made in Japan) with controls matching yours. It also weighed a tonne and I was always terrified the handle would give way as I heaved it onto the table. In a mad moment I gave it away after buying my Janome. Sorry now!
    Your jeans look great. Here’s to many more heavy duty sewing projects. Maybe a jacket next?

  12. You’ve made an orphan. Where’s the matching leather jacket?

  13. My overlocker is a very old Bernina, my sewing machine a new bernina (well 2 years old). I had them both serviced recently by a very knowledgeable man. He said that the old bernina was a fantastic machine and to hold onto it. Shame he couldn’t say that about my new machine! Now wish I had held onto the old Bernina sewing machine instead of rushing to part exchange it.

  14. I have my Mother’s 1950 Singer and it is worth it’s weight in gold. There are certain fabrics, such as leather that only these old beauties like to handle. I am so glad to hear of your new acquisition and I know that you are going to hear great fun with it. The leather jeans look great, you did a super job. Happy sewing!

    • I was begging my mother to give me her Singer treadle in case of a power failure – I could still sew – but it went to a better home in Africa to help teach girls to sew and clothe their families.
      Thank you.

  15. My old Berninas will sew anythig I throw at them. In fact, I’ve often taken one into sewing class because someone’s flashy Janome has a hissy fit at sewing buttonholes on a coat, or topstitching through thick layers. Your jeans look fab, have fun with your new toy!

  16. Your leather pants are fantastic!!!! I love an old machine as well and have two. My “young” machine can’t sew heavy stuff without having a fit so I drag the heavy old monster out and don’t have any trouble at all. There is something to be said for those old machines! Solid workhorses! Enjoy yours- it’s a beauty!

  17. Your jeans are the best and that machine is fabulous. I must get my vintage machines into the regular rotation and your great project is the perfect inspiration.

  18. Old machines rock!

    Enjoy, enjoy, enjoy!!!

  19. The jeans are fabulous!

  20. Your jeans look amazing!

  21. Welcome to the world of vintage sewing machines, I love mine dearly. My main machine is a 68-year old Singer 201, I travel with a Singer Featherweight that was made in 1955 and just acquired a Singer 337K from 1964 (with zizag) to complete my flock.
    Congrats on finishing the leather trousers, I’m sure you’ll be 100% happy with the next ones you make.

  22. I nearly gave up trying to sew a duffle coat, it would be great to have such a workhorse. Your jeans! Fabulous, what a fit. I suddenly remembered an episode of Friends where Ross (hitting 30!) decides to do all the things he has wanted and gets leather jeans. Needless to say on a new date he gets sweaty, goes to the logo and can’t get them back on despite loads of talc! Just saying beware wearing in too much heat! Love them. X

    • Thanks Mags. Your advice unfortunately came too late…..yes wore them to work one day and the temperature hit 25. However, they have now taken on my shape a bit better so I can at least bend down in them now.

  23. Welcome to the club! Yes, those old girls will reliably sew just about anything – it makes you wonder why the modern (expensive) machines aren’t better. I regret (not really) to having another confession to blog.
    Great trousers too, and a UFO out of the to do list!

  24. I think your trousers look great, and that machine is a beauty. Haven’t heard of that make before. I have three old machines, which I love, but that’s mainly because they came from my Grannies. Fabrics For Sale sell leather – I spotted it when I was making some other purchases last week. Here’s a link:

  25. JUST IN TIME. I have been considering a new Bernina, trading in the “thirty year old”. I LOVE my 30 year old but guess I thought updating was the thing to do. Not any more. There is absolutely nothing wrong with it. Sometimes progress just “isn’t”.

  26. My Bernina is 2 years old. I love it, but….what I wouldn’t give to have my mom’s old 1970 Bernina to go along with it. All metal, heavy as boulders, and yes, it would sew through anything. Never tried leather though, but wow your leather trousers look terrific! Will the next pair be red? Turquoise?

  27. If your Mum finds another one let me know. She could work for me. I’ve been looking for one for ages for sewing heavy duty stuff. Only problem with auctions is you usually can’t try them first.

  28. Aren’t you lucky! What a glorious find! I’m betting it has at least a 1 amp or maybe even 1.5 amp motor and that will have serious punching power! How awesome it will be when you make jeans to set that machine up with your topstitching thread. Great find and I hope you love and enjoy it for years to come!

  29. Pingback: Mystery Blogger | corecouture

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