The Elna Grasshopper was Switzerland’s answer to America’s Singer Featherweight. They are similar in weight and portability, but there are many differences as well.
The Elna Grasshopper is the very first sewing machine produced by Elna. For this reason, it didn’t have a model number or name.
The color and the styling resembled an insect. Thus, the first sewing machine made by Elna became known as the Grasshopper.
The Elna Grasshopper was in production from 1940 until 1952, and was one of the best selling sewing machines of the time.
It was the first mass produced portable free arm sewing machine, and gave the Singer Featherweight a run for its money.
The Grasshopper was invented by a Spanish Civil War refugee named Ramon Casas, and mass produced in Geneva, Switzerland by the firm, Tavaro S. A.
While the Grasshopper was not released for public distribution until 1940, it has actually been around since 1936. At the time, Europe was embroiled in World War II, and Tavaro was involved in manufacturing munitions.
However, due to the Swiss policy of neutrality, the war related product line was eliminated. With the factory quiet, Tavaro shifted to making sewing machines and the world was introduced to the Elna Grasshopper.
The Grasshopper’s efficient and functional metal carrying case was ideal for wartime.
Whenever bombs were dropping, bullets whizzing through the streets and soldiers were marching through small towns, the Elna sewing machine was easy to pack up and compact, making it possible for refugees escaping the horrors of war to carry it as they fled to safe havens on trains and buses.
At A Glance
When you first see the case, you aren’t sure what’s inside. Then after opening it up you are first struck by how cute the whole thing is… a little green sewing machine tucked inside with a metal accessories box, operating manuals [this one had two] and an electrical cord.
The machine itself looks kind of funny. There’s this metal thing hanging from it. At first glance, we weren’t sure if it was a hanging rod or some weird attachment.
Upon further inspection, we realized it was a knee controlled replacement for the traditional foot pedal.
The next thing that caught our attention was the fact that the fly wheel is at the bottom of the machine, not the top.
At least it’s still on the right hand side. The motor is located directly behind the fly wheel. It really looks a little funny, but very innovative for when it was made.
The power switch is located on the very top of the machine. The light housed above the needle, giving the user the best possible illumination while sewing, a definite improvement over the Featherweight.
This odd looking all metal portable sewing machine is equipped with the following standard features:
- Straight stitch only
- Knee lift
- Two owner’s manuals
- Carrying case doubles as work table
- Free arm
Working on the Elna Grasshopper
The carrying case is functional in more ways than just providing a neat means of transport for the Grasshopper. It converts into a sewing table.
I’m not sure how many other portable sewing machine carrying cases have as many unique features, but this one has certainly got to be at or near the top of the list.
Unpacking the case is reminiscent of opening one of those surprise gift boxes. As we opened it up, we found not one but two owner’s manuals, the accessories box, an electrical cord … of course the sewing machine itself… and once it’s empty, it lies flat to form a sewing table.
NOTE: in doing research, we learned that the Elna Grasshopper also came with two oil cans, but they apparently did not make it with this particular unit.
With a case like this, you only need access to electricity to whip up a great outfit. You can literally open up an Elna Grasshopper and sew almost anywhere.
Just imagine riding on a train, waiting in an airport terminal or sitting in a coffee shop and sewing away while sipping on your favorite cappuccino, zooming along the rails to your next destination or waiting for your flight to start boarding.
The only drawback is that when you use the carrying case as a sewing table, you do not have access to the free arm or bobbin case.
Threading the Elna Grasshopper is a simple process, but different from anything we had seen on other sewing machines.
There are no onboard guides, like those found on today’s sewing machines, but if you are familiar with operating sewing machines at all, you can figure it out easily.
If, like a lot of people you are new on the sewing scene, the owner’s manual does a very good job of explaining the threading process step by step.
Winding the bobbin is a little different from winding bobbins on other machines. The bobbin winding pin is located behind the balance wheel, attached to the motor axle.
Unlike most machines, it is not necessary to turn the balance wheel before winding the bobbin. The trick to remember, though, is the machine will NOT sew if you leave a spare bobbin on the bobbin pin.
If, like most sewers, you wind several bobbins at once to complete a project, you must stash your next bobbin someplace other than the bobbin winding pin.
When it comes to adjusting the tension, you have to use a thumb nut to adjust the tension. For some reason, getting the right tension setting was a little challenging for me.
I’m not sure what the drawback was. We are certainly accustomed to manually adjusting tension, but getting this one right took much longer than usual. Once we found the correct tension setting, however, things went smoothly.
Working with the knee control on a portable machine was interesting. Although we are accustomed to working with knee controls on cabinet mounted sewing machines, it took a minute for me to position our self so that sewing on the Elna Grasshopper was comfortable, but just one minute.
Finding a comfortable position and level only required a little shifting of our chair and we were ready for action.
The Elna Grasshopper is a straight stitch only sewing machine. The two step adjustable stitch length regulator is not the easiest to operate, but it works fine.
Like many other straight stitch only machines, the stitches produced by the Grasshopper are neat and have that distinctive look about them.
However, in our opinion, these stitches are not as neat as the stitches produced by the Singer Featherweight.
We found that even though it is equipped with a speed reducer, the Elna Grasshopper was not as fast as the Featherweight either.
The Featherweight we had reviewed a little while ago sews approximately 1,000 stitches per minute. We just didn’t get that feeling with this machine.
If you ask me, it stitches at the rate of about 500-700 stitches per minute. Don’t get us wrong. This is very good when you think of how small this machine is.
It is also relatively quiet… which bodes well if you actually do decide to break out your Grasshopper and start sewing in a coffee shop or airport terminal.
- Natural fibers/cotton-linen-wool
- Fine fabrics/silk-satin-taffeta/velvet
- Synthetic fabrics/blends-rayon-polyester
- Extra thick fabrics or multiple layers
The green and black metal accessories box that came with this machine looks exactly like it did when it was first purchased.
In fact, the carrying case and sewing machine are both in remarkably good condition – especially when you consider how old they are.
Inside the accessory box, we found a zipper foot, ruffling foot, darning foot, cording foot, a binding foot, and a spare screw with accompanying nut.
A small screwdriver and lint brush were also included in the accessories box. The brush is used to help get rid of lint, dust and thread snips while cleaning the machine.
The screwdriver was included to help with opening the light housing, making bobbin tension adjustments when necessary and changing presser feet.
This particular machine comes with two manuals… the main owner’s manual and a supplemental manual that gives more detailed instructions for using the accessories.
We suspect that the supplemental manual may have been acquired after the machine was first purchased, but there is no way of verifying this theory.
|After each use||Monthly*||Once Each Year**||As Needed|
|Clean race hook and feed dogs|
|Wipe head with soft dry cloth|
|Wipe head with soft damp cloth|
|Service by sewing machine repair professional|
The instruction manual is an excellent resource for oiling the Elna Grasshopper. The metal construction means that oil points are everywhere on this little green dynamo.
One thing that really caused us to stop and take a second look is that the manufacturer not only recommends that a little bit of oil be put at several points all over the machine, users are also advised to add a little bit of kerosene near the bobbin shuttle.
Kerosene is a highly combustible fluid and we are not so sure we would recommend its use, but the owner’s manual specifically states oil at some points and kerosene at others.
Tying Off The Loose Ends
When you consider when the Elna Grasshopper was introduced on the market and the conditions of the time, it is easy to understand why it was a top seller.
The sturdy metal carrying case and the fact that it converts into a compact workspace was clearly a strong selling point in those uncertain times.
Taking a sewing machine into a warzone is not something that anyone would consider, but the Elna Grasshopper was conceived during war times.
No doubt, Casas had that in mind when he included all of those fantastic functional and portable features in his invention.
When it comes to using it today, however, the Elna Grasshopper leaves something to be desired.
First of all, the fact that it produces only straight stitches is a major drawback when you put it up against machines that can do practically everything except drive itself home.
Threading, bobbin winding and tension adjustments on the Elna Grasshopper are difficult for the beginning home sewer.
Even some seasoned home sewers might be skittish when faced with this vintage workhorse. Let’s face it.
We have been spoiled by machines with features like self threading, automatic bobbin winding and automatic tension adjustment.
Then there’s the maintenance. Oiling the Elna Grasshopper is no cake walk. There are lots of moving parts that require attention, and lots of steps to getting the machine oiled properly.
And when you think about it … if you had this machine at home, you would need to keep kerosene in your house! Even the smallest amount of kerosene could spark a fire.
We must admit that we are honestly not certain we would want this machine in our collection, except as a showpiece.
If you decide that you want to use it as well, make sure you clean and service it in a well ventilated place to reduce the possibility of an accidental fire.
If, on the other hand, you have the space and have a passion for displaying vintage sewing machines, the Elna Grasshopper should definitely be in your collection.
It is after all the very first sewing machine produced by Elna. That alone makes the Grasshopper worthy of a place of honor in your collection.
When you consider the utility of the carrying case and the fact that this is the first portable free arm sewing machine, you have even more reasons for including the Grasshopper in your display.
- Needs lots of help – able to sew a straight seam but unfamiliar with most sewing techniques; needs assistance and instruction on basic sewing techniques.
- Competent – can make different clothing items without assistance or guidance, but not good enough to sew intricate projects or to sew without a pattern.
- Expert – can sew anything without instruction or assistance; possesses an expansive knowledge of sewing techniques and terminology.
- Easily transported
- Compact construction
- Metal construction
- Straight stitch only
- Slow speed
- Challenging threading process