I don’t know what ignited the spark, but about two weeks ago I awoke one morning with a burning desire to get a vintage sewing machine. I knew nothing about them so spent the next few days scouring the internet to find out everything there is to know. Insert my spiel about how much I love the internet here! But I don’t need to tell you how good the internet is! I pretty quickly figured out how to tell between most Singer models by looking at them and also narrowed down which model I would ideally like, the Singer 201. I had trouble sleeping for the next week because my brain was just running hot thinking about vintage Singers. I even re-watched the episode of The Great British Sewing Bee where they use vintage machines.
Ok, so onto the history of my new lovely…
The machine was purchased in 1947 by a lady named Linda. She later passed it on to her daughter Patricia. Patricia had seven sons and stitched all their clothes on the machine. I purchased it from her son John, the eldest of the 7 brothers. John was very kind to fill me in on its history when I went to pick it up. John and his son were also kind enough to put it into the boot of the car for me. I am looking forward to making many things on it for me and the boys and it will continue to be loved for another generation. It really is a ‘things for boys’ sewing machine!
I’m in the process of giving it a clean all over and an oil and a polish where needed. All of these pictures are before cleaning. I pulled a fair bit of it apart, only because I thought it would be fun. It’s in really great condition and you can definitely tell it was very well loved. It came with the manual for the machine and the one for the motor, though they are a bit cut up. John told me that one of this brothers must have used them as a cutting board once.
To be on the safe side it’s going to need re-wiring, because I’m not brave enough to work on a cast iron sewing machine with 70 year old wiring. I think it will be fun to have a go at using the treadle anyway. The cabinet is really clever and you can connect the big pedal to a controller to use the motor, or you can connect it to the treadle wheel and use good, old-fashioned foot power! I’ve never used a treadle before so I’ve been watching videos on youtube to figure it out. It needs a new belt, so I’ve ordered one online. Same with a new tyre for the bobbin winder.
One of the great things about the Singer 201 (and most vintage singers) is that it uses modern standard needles, so I don’t need to have a second set of needles just for this machine. The bobbins and most parts for it are also easy to get online. The machine came with 10 bobbins and I’ve been picking the old and rotten thread off them. They are a bit rusty, so they’re on the list to clean too.
Here’s some of the more technical details for you. Keep reading if you’re interested.
My new-to-me machine is a Singer 201, or more specifically the 201K. The K means it was made it Scotland. You can read a bit about their history here. It was allotted on October 14 1947 in a batch of 25,000 machines and built soon after. At the time, they cost up to 6 months wages!!
They are made from cast iron and weigh about 14kg (30lbs) so I won’t be taking it to any sewing parties in a hurry! I think the cabinet weighs a little more than that too. It has a drop in bobbin, is straight stitch only, but has reverse and comes with quite a few scary looking attachments. They look more to me like Victorian era dentist’s tools. It’s a full size machine with a lot of space to the right of the needle…one day I might try some quilting on it. The feed dogs also drop (there is a screw underneath to set them in two positions, up or down) so you can do free motion quilting and darning. It is geared internally so there’s not a lot that can go wrong, and it also makes it pretty tough. You can wind a bobbin without having to unthread the machine, though you do need a second spool of thread.
Most of the Singer 201 models from the 1940’s had the beautiful detailing on the chromed plates as you can see in the photos at the top. Later models from the 1950’s have a more streamlined pin-striped pattern. My modern machine is certainly lacking any beautiful detailing. It’s easy to see why I’ve fallen in love with it and I haven’t even sewn on it yet!
Since I bought the machine and posted a few pics on Instagram, I have found quite a few other people also sewing with them. I think it’s great that they are still in use. Do you have a vintage sewing machine? Have you ever thought about buying one? Leave a message if you need any encouragement…haha!