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Cleaning and Restoring Charlotte “the Free”
I wish I had gotten “before” pictures of Charlotte, the “Free Sewing Machine Co” treadle powered machine I picked up a couple weeks ago. This is about the best I have:
Her lines are lovely and the stencils are very pretty, but hidden beneath a century of grime and corrosion. Her Japanned finish was matte, and her brightwork was so corroded I couldn’t tell if it had been brass or chrome.
I thought to get pics of the back side before cleaning it, and took photos of the whole process. So here are the before shots of the back:
Closer, look at the grime around the screws and oil ports:
I started with the recommended method of rubbing with lubricating oil, but that wasn’t really getting very far. It removed some of the dirt, but was doing nothing to get through the grime or oxidization.
I decided I could find a polish for the brightwork at least, and after consulting with my favorite local hardware store guy I took home a product called “Flitz:”
It did a spectacular job on the brightwork. It is odorless, doesn’t seem to irritate my persnickety princess skin, left no scratches, and removed the corrosion admirably.
I kept reading on the bottle: “Restores paint too.” and thinking hmm. hmm.
I had noticed on ebay someone was selling a drive band cover identical to the one on my machine with better paint for $12. I felt like this left me very little to lose. I took it off, and tested on the underside first. One gentle rub and the Japanning brightened right up. I very carefully worked over the stencils, and they gleamed with no sign of damage.
I cleaned up carefully and did some research. It seems there are a number of products folks successfully use to do this job, including TR-3. I haven’t tried it and don’t much care for the materials data sheet, but the existence of polishes that would safely clean up sewing machines without damage bolstered my confidence. I worked over the machine, and was thrilled with the result.
This was my set-up:
I started with tri-flow and a rag to get as much loose as I could:
then switched to the Flitz polish with an extra soft natural bristle toothbrush:
Working an area small enough to let me remove it before it dried, as per the instructions:
Then wiped off:
Buffed and stropped:
Carefully cleaned out the polish left behind in crevices:
Then went back to touch-up stubborn areas with more Flitz on a cloth with my finger:
I rubbed carefully, wiping away occasionally to see progress:
The result was amazing. Here are the dirty rags and shiny machine:
… and the corroded faceplate. That’s next! First Flitz:
It found some shiny parts, but just wasn’t getting through the worst. When I was visiting The Captain he recommended polishing paper or fine 0000 steel wool for cleaning tension disks, and I decided to try something similar. I had some “Norton Soft Touch Mico-Fine Sanding Sponges,” so I decided to try them:
Note these were 1200 – 1500 grit. The result was spectacular:
That’s the same plate, and the corrosion from it on the sanding sheet. Which is thankfully washable, so that sheet is the one I used on the whole machine, with some cleanings.
The sanding sponge left a bit of a haze, so I used another round of Flitz?
And, wow. What a difference:
It’s hard to capture shininess, but notice the table is now casting a reflection from the column and the needle bar. And that filthy spot from the beginning of the post is now clean:
Cleaner than the picture, actually. I hadn’t seen the splotch of goop between the leaf and stem on the head until I post-processed the images. That’s gone now, too, as is the little bit of remaining oil stain under the oil port.
Next up: waxing. I want to add some protection to the stencils, and I’m hoping to get a little bit of fill into the scrapes on the table.
I’m thrilled with the progress, and have been sewing with her. VS machines do NOT like free motion work. At all. but she makes beautiful stitches quietly and smoothly.