Sewing Machine Research
ISMACS International
International Sewing Machine Collectors' Society

Saving a Lion

Kimball & Morton Lion Sewing Machine from 1868

The 'Lion' machine of 1868

TOWARDS THE END of 1991 my wife Rosey and I were invited along with many other ISMACS members to spend a weekend in Holland visiting the IMCA works in Haarlem.

We viewed its fabulous sewing-machine museum and saw machines that it would not be possible to see anywhere else - a trip I would thoroughly recommend to every collector.

Knowing Frans and Erik through our mutual business interests over many years, we had quite a few various conversations, surprisingly enough mainly about .

During one of these "natters" Frans thrust a broken lump of rusty iron into my hands, asking for my comments as to what should be done with it. "Sell it to me", I replied, but Frans was quite serious.

Therefore, I could only suggest that someone should attempt to restore this "lump" into its former glory of a Lion from the Kimball & Morton factory. As you can see from the photograph, this was a pretty tall order.

"Who would attempt such a task?", said Erik. That was the point that I put my foot in it and suggested that the two brothers were always far too busy, but someone like myself, semi-retired, might have a go. After due consideration it was agreed to let me take the machine to see what I could make of it.

So into a cardboard box it went, then onto the plane home with me! There are not many people who walk away with a Lion from IMCA.

I never looked at it for three months, knowing what I'd let myself in for, but in February 1992 I made a start on the project.

The complete base and all working parts were missing and I only had a few photographs to work on, not nearly enough.

So I turned to my good friend Bernard Williams, knowing he had a lion, suggesting that my task would be so much easier if I had a sample to copy.

I pointed out that it would mean completely stripping his machine and using the parts as patterns so that I could case new ones, as 90% of the working parts were cast on the original. Although it would have been easier using other methods, I wanted to make like for like wherever possible.

Bernard was agreeable, and I am deeply indebted to him as this project would not have been completed without his sample to work to.

There cannot be many collectors who would lend someone the pride and joy of their collection knowing full well what I was going to do to it over the next six months.

Bernard's machine duly stripped into individual parts, I went along to our local foundry, explaining in detail what was required and stressing time and again that if they lost any of the parts we would all be in deep trouble, me especially.

I decided to cast three off of everything, knowing full well that we were bound to spoil some of the castings getting them right. The head of the machine would cause major problems to cast so I decided not to attempt it, thinking the broken rump of the lion could be welded satisfactorily.

Three weeks later all the rough castings were to hand, and what a mess they looked. For the umpteenth time I wished I hadn't opened my big mouth!

Now I'm a sewing-machine mechanic with very limited engineering experience, so I approached one of my old colleagues, Dick Aldwinkle, who had also retired, and enlisted his invaluable help.

Together we set about the various parts, Dick doing all the machining and I started on the parts that would have to be hand made, such as the main needle-bar-drive cam and the double  cam for the feed mechanism, and various other bits that were not practical to make on a lathe or milling machine.

The first machine base was spoilt on initial machining, but Dick was successful with the second one, so at least it began to look like a again.

The main pulley which has at the back side a double cam for the feed motion proved the most troublesome. The double cam had to be hand filed to the right contour, fitting into a double box of the feed link.

The first was a write-off, the second I took off too much metal, and knowing I had only one left, we attempted to weld a small piece on but this wasn't successful. So I approached the third and last casting with real trepidation and thoughts of another visit to the foundry looming at me.

This time I was successful and finished with a part that did go through the motions of what it was supposed to. Next was the shuttle carrier and link arm and that didn't present many problems. In the meantime Dick made the shuttle - right first time (but he's getting good at these now).

The pair of gears was quite a problem. I had one original with six teeth missing and as I found a matching gear I thought I would weld the original and file on new teeth.

I think I spent more hours on this operation than any other and I was not happy with the welded result, so I then spent a lot of time finding another suitable gear.

We carried on until every last screw was to hand and I could start assembling. As with most hand-made parts, it's a case of fitting them together, establishing where they are binding, strip down, clean off and re-assemble, which is very time-consuming.

But as all good things come to an end, at last it was finished, and it sews "about as good as a Moldacot", but we can't have everything.

Now I could paint it - but what colour?

A black base is no problem. The gold edging is a little more difficult, but the colour of the heads seem to vary from machine to machine, some being almost black to almost entirely reddish brown.

Graham very kindly sent me a coloured photograph and I think I matched it very well to that.

However, after taking my own photos I realised that the machine appears much brighter on a photo than in real life. So I have at the moment a very bright lion that will have to have more attention to the colour before I am happy.

Frans has told me that when I finish off the head he will send over the treadle, so that this too can be cast and complete the whole project. So it looks as if I will still be busy in 1993.

Although frustrating at times, I have enjoyed every one of the 250-odd hours spent to far and as lions are one of our threatened species, I feel we should all do everything possible to save a lion!