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Any expert in vintage Singer sewing machines?

Discussion in 'Skills and Smarts' started by shadowrider, Jan 14, 2017.

  1. shadowrider

    shadowrider One of the Regulars

    Hey folks,
    I have always liked old cast-iron sewing machines, and now that I will soon be moving into a new apartment I decided I'll to get myself one, both for display and the occasional sewing job.
    I am drawn towards the Singer "hand crank" ones, as the totally manual mechanism appeals to me, and also I heard they can handle thick material better than the ones with a motor. My only concern is that moving the fabric around the needle with one hand only might be a bit difficult, if not dangerous.
    Has anyone handled one of those hand crank machines, and has any tips to share?
    Thanks in advance!
  2. GHT

    GHT My Mail is Forwarded Here

    Those old Singer sewing machines are something of a collectors item these days. Just so you know, the difference between a Singer 66 and a Singer 66K is the same as the difference between a 99 and a 99K, or indeed a 201 and a 201K i.e. nothing.
    There is no difference at all. All that “K” suffix does is tell you that the machine was made in Singer’s Kilbowie factory at Clydebank, Scotland.
    At one time, Singer had factories all over the planet making basically the same models, so depending on where it was made, your Singer Model 15, for example, could be a 15K (Kilbowie), or a 15E (New Jersey), a 15A (South Carolina), a 15SJ (Quebec) or perhaps even a 15P (Podolsk, Russia). And even if you had one of each of those, you still wouldn’t have a full set.
    What there is, is a difference between machines with different numbers after that suffix. Those numbers tell you what the variant is, for example a 201K1 is a natural-born treadle machine, whereas a 201K3 is a portable (or more accurately where the 201 is concerned “portable” electric.
    So there you go. The “K” just means it’s a Scottish built Singer.

    The real collectables are those machines with a shuttle that oscillate back and forth, later models had what is known as a race. The race housed the bobbin. Initially the bobbin also oscillated but Singer soon made machines where the bobbin rotated. It's easy to tell the difference just by listening. Oscillation, being stop start, makes a noise, I mean, a real racket.

    Old Singer's are indestructable, whatever you choose, it will give you good service. Talking of service, about the only thing to go wrong is the timing. Timing is the moment that the point of the needle enters the fabric. There's a hook mechanism on the bobbin race, or the shuttle in older models, that hook must be in perfect time to collect the thread that the needle delivers. Get it wrong and your stitches go awry. You also have thread tensions, one somewhere on the machine facing you, one somewhere on the bobbin case. I know all that sounds a tad complex but it's not that difficult, and knowing what's what, you won't let some so called expert bamboozle you with a lot of nonsensical gibberish in an attempt to charge you a lot more.

    Good models to look for? Well the 15K was made in the tens of thousands it's probably the ubiquitous machine that's instantly recognisable as a Singer. If you get a hand crank and find it difficult sewing one handed, it's easy to convert it to electric. The bracket and screw holes are all in place, you just need to buy a motor and drive belt. I would show you my wife's collection, but it would be a tad boastful to do so.
    shadowrider likes this.
  3. rocketeer

    rocketeer Call Me a Cab

    I have a 29k, an industrial boot patcher. Are the needle shanks the same as an ordinary household machine. Got the machine but no needles and my dealer won't get me less than 50. Booooooo! Be good if ordinary needles fit :)
  4. My regular sewing machine is a 1936 hand-crank Singer 128 vibrating-shuttle model. I've used it for years and it works great. Those old Singers are indestructible. I promise you, it'll last a lot longer than you ever will!!
  5. robrinay

    robrinay One Too Many

    I've had several but have continuously upgraded after research until I finally managed to buy a 201k electric (outside motor) portable cheaply. This model was the pinnacle of Singer domestics and is often referred to on sale sites as a semi-industrial because it will sew practically any material from silk up to quite thick leather. They were the most expensive Singer domestic and when production ceased cost a significant amount of cash so they were often bought on hire purchase It takes modern flat sided needles and standard circular spools so these spares are easy to buy. From eBay I bought a new modern replacement motor and foot pedal to replace the old one with dubious wiring a very simple conversion, (one bolt). I would recommend that you seek out a 201, they came in four versions, with either treadle, hand crank, potted motor or external motor. Treadles are big heavy and bulky, potted motors are hard to fix if the motor breaks and so hand cranks and external motor versions are the best in my opinion. You can also convert a hand crank to an external motor version relatively easily and cheaply. Later models are beige with aluminium bodies so are a bit lighter in weight. Whichever Singer model you choose make sure it's a model with reverse so you can start and finish seams securely and neatly without having to hand finish or turn your project through 180 degrees to secure the seam. There are plenty of websites with good information but check out
    for a database of Singer serial numbers - it will enable you to identify the model and it's main features.
    This site and others offer free downloads of the instruction manuals so don't get suckered into paying for one.
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2017
    shadowrider likes this.
  6. Rodney

    Rodney Familiar Face

    The 201 was one of Singer's best machines. The ones with the potted (built in) motors are most common here in the US from what I've seen. The Singer 15 is another great machine. The 15-91 has a potted motor as well and tends to be more common than ones that had outside power sources. The Singer 66 is a good solid performer as is it's smaller sibling the 99. A Singer 99 with a hand crank is a great machine for kids to sew with.

    I like hand crank machines. They're a little slower than electric but you have fantastic control with them. Guiding the fabric with one hand is actually pretty easy once you've done it a little bit, certainly nothing to be intimidated by.
    Original Singer hand cranks tend to be a bit expensive these days. There are Chinese made reproductions available, you will also need a spoked hand wheel or will need to notch the existing wheel if it's solid. It's better to find a machine that already has an original spoked wheel. Sometimes the bobbin winder won't work on machines with the wrong hand wheel. Any of these machines with a motor boss under the wheel can be set up with a hand crank easily.
    These are all straight stitch machines. They also all use standard needles and bobbins are easily available new for them. They're also all pretty common. Singer made literally millions of them. Other than a few select variations (commemorative machines, etc) none of them are rare. The Japanese made millions of Singer 15 clones after WWII. They also tend to be solid machines and can be set up with hand cranks easily as well.

    If you're sewing knits you will seriously want to consider a zigzag capable machine.
    The Singer 401 is a great zigzag machine with a lot of stitch options and was built pretty much at Singer's peak. Not an easy machine to set up with a hand crank though.
  7. 59Lark

    59Lark A-List Customer

    Seems I found this thread kinda of late, this is 59 Lark and this is my trade, I am a singer mechanic for the last 35 plus years and I have 300 machines in my cellar going back to the 1890s for parts. I rebuild 201k for customers and 221k featherweights and 301a slant needle , I have a set of silver 301 cufflinks from singer for selling 20 301 a month, no I am not that old my late master gave them to me. if you like 401 slant matic but want them in a treadle the german version the 411g , made in wittenberg can convert to treadle easily and has extra counter balance weights so to treadle easily, am the only new treadle dealer in Canada sell JANOME 712t treadle to the amish families all over Canada doing mail order .
  8. 59Lark

    59Lark A-List Customer

    this new computer is driving me crazy , I am always touching something and sending the letter before I am done, unlike computers which I do not play well with others , sewing machines especially old ones are my forte. I live breath and exhale sewing machines usually putting in a 10 hour day fixing them during the week. Bullet shuttles 27 to the later version 127 the model T ford of sewing machines, they made millions of them, the 128 was the 3/4 size of the 127 vs,
    the egyh decals on the 127vs of the sphinx , was called memphasis decals cause the capital city in E. was memphasis no Elvis.

    Even the different decals they used before ww1 were cool, peacocks and pheasants, tiffany , gingerbread, bear, horntail owl, scotch thistle, red eye. The early red eye 66 some had back lash attachments which are hard as hens teeth to get today. The 101 the first singer to use a potted motor and alum. metal precedsor to the 201 but brought out in time for the dirty 30s so didn't sell well. THE 115 Which was the top treadle pre war 1 with its rotary hook, I have downstairs a 16 which is like a 15-30 on steroids, double the size of a 15 and the treadle wheel is about double a normal one, the pure power that baby can roll. anyone has a question fire away, I will put artie shaw grab a cuppa and sit down and type the answer . yours 59lark. ps its not a dying trade I am teaching my 24 yr old daughter the trade,
    robrinay likes this.

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