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Fri May 19, 2017, 12:53 AM

A blanket apology to the Singer owners and their machines...

Confession: I learned to sew on a Singer, and I hated that machine. It was noisy, skippy and cantankerous, even immediately after a trip to the shop. It's my mother's machine, and she adores it in spite of - or maybe because of - all of its snarling ways. It was the only machine I knew, and she told me it was normal (Mom's definitions of normal are... definitely unique to her experiences. To say she's an unreliable narrator is an understatement, and the machine was a minor example.). If I hadn't loved fabric and fashion, I probably would have never sewed anything ever again.

In high school and college, I sewed on the industrials in the costume labs and Brother/Janome/Babylock, all of which I am fond of. I just didn't understand the Singer lovers who extolled the smoothness and quiet function of their machines. I remembered that cabinet beast, and using a dental floss container to hold the bobbin on the winder, and picking thread out of every cranny after it ate half a bobbin. I've done troubleshooting on other people's inherited late 60s-80s Singers, and briefly had a few 70s-early 90's models. I have never found them worth the time. I love my Japanese robots, that will sew anything and decorate it with three files and four button pushes.

But. For reasons, I want an off-grid sewing machine. Power outages/conservation are part of it, being able to go out on the balcony and sew in the sun is part of it, travel convenience is part of it. (Sewing gatherings often don't have enough outlets.) So I want a hand-crank, and am in the process of building one out of a blown motor 99. Which has led to reading a lot about the old Singers, and finally putting a model number to Mother's beast. It's a 306, an early zig-zag home model that used cams to do everything. It has a lot of negatives -- it wanted special needles (which Mother didn't change often, probably because they were expensive and rare) and bobbins... and both the needles and bobbins were fractionally different from standard, so universals would appear to fit, but make the machine run like hell. I'm pretty sure that was exactly what was happening. That doesn't excuse her bobbin winder -- the bobbin lock nub is just worn down and any replacement parts are equally worn.

I must apologize. I have been unfairly labeling Singers as junk with good marketing for all of my life, because I've been exposed to Singer's attempt to force the Walled Garden model for accessories, and the early plastic Singers at the end of their useful lives. That 306 and those now elderly plastic gear machines are not representative of the legacy Singer built and earned. That 99 is a gorgeous piece of industrial design.

Mea culpa.

But seriously... if you ever encounter a 306, run to a safe distance and throw holy water on it. Stake it with holly and bury it at the crossroads during the full moon. It will lie to you and savage you just because it can.

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Arrow 29 replies Author Time Post
Reply A blanket apology to the Singer owners and their machines... (Original post)
politicat May 2017 OP
gordianot May 2017 #1
politicat May 2017 #9
Warpy May 2017 #2
politicat May 2017 #10
Warpy May 2017 #17
Me. Apr 2018 #26
mitch96 Apr 2018 #27
Staph May 2017 #3
politicat May 2017 #13
Staph May 2017 #15
politicat May 2017 #16
NBachers May 2017 #4
dem in texas May 2017 #5
politicat May 2017 #12
pansypoo53219 May 2017 #6
Baitball Blogger May 2017 #7
politicat May 2017 #11
Baitball Blogger May 2017 #14
northoftheborder May 2017 #8
eleny Mar 2018 #18
Phentex Apr 2018 #19
eleny Apr 2018 #20
Phentex Apr 2018 #21
eleny Apr 2018 #22
Phentex Apr 2018 #23
eleny Apr 2018 #24
Phentex Apr 2018 #25
planetc Apr 2018 #28
Phentex Apr 2018 #29

Response to politicat (Original post)

Fri May 19, 2017, 01:27 AM

1. My wife has started into antique machines.

She found recently a couple 60's era Japanese machines and loves them. I will forward your post to her.She is recently retired and is on the constant look out for old machines. You sound a lot like her. We have a deal I listen to her talk about sewing machine but she has to listen to me talk about antique wood working tools. Her bucket list goal is a hand crank Singer, mine is a treadle table saw. Both are extremely rare.

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Response to gordianot (Reply #1)

Fri May 19, 2017, 10:13 AM

9. You know that there are after market parts to make a blown machine into a hand-crank?

For that matter, one can use the same parts, with a treadle table, to convert a previously electric 66/99 (or almost any machine with an exposed belt and motor) . A lot of the world still has use for non-electrics. It's quite simple, if the rest of the machine is in working order.

That's what I'm doing.

I'd be interested in a treadle saw. I enjoy the machinery and the craft of build/restore as much as the textile work.

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Fri May 19, 2017, 01:36 AM

2. I have an ancient Singer Featherweight

that weighs in at about 40 pounds of feathers that runs on either AC or DC current and sews forwards and backwards and that's it. It's one of the cast iron machines with lots of gold decals. It is also cantankerous and sews only for me and one of my friends and at its age, it's allowed to be cranky.

I know none of the early zigazg machines were very good. Time has improved them a great deal and I know have a Brother zigzag for the things my old Singer can't do. I've still made most of my clothing over the years on the Singer.

Just don't dis pre WWII Singer machines in my hearing if you don't want a protracted lecture on the relative indestructibility of ancient Singer sewing machines. Nothing is better than one that has been kept oiled up and in tune.

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Response to Warpy (Reply #2)

Fri May 19, 2017, 10:19 AM

10. That's what I've discovered.

You sure you have a featherweight? At 40, that sounds like a 66 or a 99 - does yours have the flip-up table extension?

That indestructible quality is what I'm coming to appreciate. My Babylock can also be cantankerous, but it's a combination of software and wear parts and sheer complexity. This 99 I'm working on isn't complex. Any irritability on its part is solely my fault.

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Response to politicat (Reply #10)

Fri May 19, 2017, 03:11 PM

17. It says "Featherweight" right on it.

It's made of cast iron. That's why there are so many feathers.

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Response to Warpy (Reply #2)

Wed Apr 11, 2018, 11:32 AM

26. Yep

Perfect little machine made in Kilbowie Scotland in the 50ies

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Response to Warpy (Reply #2)

Wed Apr 11, 2018, 11:32 AM

27. ME Too!!

I inherited it from my Aunt who was born in 1905.. I thought it was neat that it was AC/DC.. Little jem that weighs a ton..
m

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Fri May 19, 2017, 02:26 AM

3. I inherited my my grandmother's treadle Singer.

Their home burned down in 1912 or 1914, so I would guess that the machine dates from about 1913 to 1915.

It is indestructible. Her ten granddaughters all learned to see on that machine, first by "sewing" down the lines of notebook paper without any thread. Then you graduated to seams in old scraps of fabric.

I inherited it after her death. The wife of one of my cousins wanted to throw away the guts of the machine and turn the cabinet into a planter. She was immediately overruled by all ten granddaughters.

I still use the machine, primarily for theatrical costumes and Civil War reenacting clothes. Treadling is great exercise for the ankles! And you can still buy the long bobbins and the leather belt that connects the treadle to the rest of the machine.



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Response to Staph (Reply #3)

Fri May 19, 2017, 10:44 AM

13. I'm glad your family over-ruled that planter idea.

It horrifies me.

I admit I have no space for a treadle, even though they're small-ish, but I'm still going to look at a pair of cabs for them this weekend. I may end up buying both cabinets and storing them just to keep them from being turned into some painted, unusable atrocity. Cheap insurance against the zombie invasion, maybe.

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Response to politicat (Reply #13)

Fri May 19, 2017, 12:01 PM

15. I always figured

that after the apocalypse, I could justify my existence and my food consumption with my treadle sewing machine and the gobs of fabric and thread that I have stashed all over the house. "You need me -- I can make clothing!!!"



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Response to Staph (Reply #15)

Fri May 19, 2017, 12:05 PM

16. This is exactly my survival plan.

I also have knitting machines and know how to garden, keep seeds, and maintain a water supply in a suburban tract. And I know how to teach those skills.

I try to keep my Mormon childhood-inspired Prepper instincts to a minimum, but they're a form of self-soothing when I can't control larger aspects of the world.

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Fri May 19, 2017, 02:34 AM

4. My mom had a vintage Singer that folded down into the cabinet. Many nights I fell asleep with the

Singer running in the room down the hall.

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Fri May 19, 2017, 03:27 AM

5. Not All Singers are Bad

I am sewing on a Singer 503 - the tan color Rocketeer. I purchased my first 503 in 1963. This was Singer's top-of-the-line home machine at that time. I don't remember how much it cost, but I paid for it at the rate of $15 a month for a long time. I have sewed everything on that machine: dresses, evening gowns, parkas. bathing suits, costumes, even made my husband a pair of trousers and repaired pull straps on cowboy boots. Never had to have it worked on, I kept it clean and applied oil and lubricant when needed. A few years back my daughter gave me a Viking machine which she paid about a thousand dollars for. It is sews fine, but it cannot sew heavy seams and it sews way too slow.

In 2015, the old Singer had some parts that were wearing out, so I watched the estate sales and found one just like my old one. I had to pay $125 for it. I am now sewing on this one, my "new" 50 year old machine.

Since I got the second 503, I have made 12 quilt tops. PJ's and dresses for great-grands, a teddy bear, market samples and curtains. I altered blue jeans for my granddaughter and repaired a pull strap on a pair of boots.

Yes, there are Singers that don't sew well, but ask anyone who has ever had a Singer 500, 501 and 503 and I don't think you'll get any complaints.

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Response to dem in texas (Reply #5)

Fri May 19, 2017, 10:39 AM

12. I've heard great things about that Rocketeer, and it's beautiful.

It's a little beyond what I wanted, but that's me. Glad you found a second one.

I won't go convert - and I realize the Singer religious wars are as bad as the EMACS/VI heresy* - because I am still quite fond of my big Elegante, but I'm realizing that there was a lot of iffy design in the latter half of the mid-20th century that really turned people off sewing. I'm one of them -- I'm 41. When we were young, we were working on older - then 20-25 year old machines - that were just badly made.

*an infamous religious war within Linux.

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Fri May 19, 2017, 04:45 AM

6. not sure if it was a singer, but i used my grandma's old hmm, hard to say.

it WAS electric. painting looked victorian, but it was maybe 1920's or so. my other grandma had a plainer 30's version. simple, but ok, but i am NOT a sewer. i am a knitter. the OLD ones not noisy. well, hummed.

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Fri May 19, 2017, 06:40 AM

7. Very timely post.

I am thinking of resurrecting my old Singer and was wondering if it was worth it because the project involves burlap material. It's a seventies model and I did get it to work once before, but eventually was incapacitated for the reasons you described. I thought it was my fault for not using it enough.

So, what do you recommend for an accidental sewer who wants to sew up burlap?

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Response to Baitball Blogger (Reply #7)

Fri May 19, 2017, 10:30 AM

11. Honestly? Find a maker space, if there's one near you.

A lot of make spaces have sewing machines on a borrow per use basis.

Burlap is not a difficult material - it doesn't mess with feeds and you can use standard thread - it's just itchy and if you don't have a regular machine, it may not be worth finding or restoring one for one small project.

Otherwise -- take the one you have to the closest shop, have them assess it, and tell them what you're planning on doing. A good shop should charge $50-75 to clean and tune an old machine, or they will tell you the machine is not worth repairing (which is true for a lot of late 20th century machines). If it's not worth repairing, they'll probably have a few oldies for sale. Grab one that has a good straight stitch.

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Response to politicat (Reply #11)

Fri May 19, 2017, 10:48 AM

14. Thank you!

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Fri May 19, 2017, 10:00 AM

8. I have an old Singer, (electric) my grandmother's, probably from pre-WWII.

It sews excellently - perfect stitching - has all the attachments. Of course, it does not sew backwards, or zig-zag, but never has temperamental problems with breaking thread, etc.. It has been oiled and cleaned a couple of times since I acquired it. Perfect for sewing household items like table covers, curtains.

It is in a cabinet, not very pretty, sort of modern in style, probably not as old as the machine. It is in my storage unit, because I wanted a modern machine which can do more stitches etc.. I would like for it to have a new home, someone who is beginning sewing. It is too good to throw away. But so far I haven't found anyone who wants it. So few people sew these days, and they want something lighter and fancier.

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Tue Mar 13, 2018, 07:08 PM

18. This is an old thread but I can't help but jump in

I've got a 1950s refurbished Singer purchased about two years ago a 15-125. How I love the sound of this machine. It's one of the green ones from the era when Singer felt it needed to compete with Japanese sewing machines coming out in pretty colors. It sews heavy duty very well. Maybe even better than my Kenmore 1660 which we purchased new back in 1977.

Five years ago this coming June I purchased a Singer 9960 for cheap. It was an Amazon special and I had some points, too. I never expected it to last this long but it's steady & sturdy. And it cuts the thread for you. I never thought I cared about that feature until the first time I used it. It feels like Singer can make a comeback if it wants to. Anyhow, when this machine conks out I'll just go back to my old Kenny and the new-old Singer 15-125.

Years ago I inherited my dad's 96-10 industrial. He was a master pocket maker back in the days when you could find a job in an afternoon sewing in Brooklyn or Manhattan. When he retired he bought this old machine from the shop since he was so used to an industrial's speed and strength. This Spring I'm having it worked on. A local friend found a great guy who worked on this model when he first started repairing sewing machines decades ago. I'm excited to get it going again.

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Response to eleny (Reply #18)

Wed Apr 4, 2018, 03:22 PM

19. I bought a Singer 4411 back in February...

I am brand new to sewing. I looked around and realized I didn't want to spend a fortune. Some people offered me their old machines but I had points to use too and wanted something easy to learn. I checked out sewing classes and this is a machine that one of the store sells and uses in their classes. Made sense to me! I don't plan on using this every day or anything and so far, it's been great. And there are a ton of You Tube videos so that's a plus. I've had some bobbin issues from time to time but I think it was user error.

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Response to Phentex (Reply #19)

Mon Apr 9, 2018, 10:51 AM

20. That line get very high marks

You'll be able to sew heavy duty things like jeans hems which makes it a nice all around machine.

My Singer 9960 seems to be having some intermittent issues. I've had it since 2013 and it wasn't very expensive. I'll miss it if it bites the dust but won't replace it. My Singer from the 1950s is gong strong and sews heavier fabrics. I'm sure that I'll miss the thread cutter. But that's not a good enough reason to spring for a new machine. The old machine is so quiet and reliable.

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Response to eleny (Reply #20)

Tue Apr 10, 2018, 08:14 AM

21. The only trouble I'm having is with the bobbin

I am sewing straight lines. I wind a perfect bobbin and for the longest time, I have no issues. Then all of a sudden the thing goes haywire and the fabric is caught and when I get everything loose, the bobbin looks like I had a first grader wind it by hand. And it seems I've wasted all that thread. Now, the last time I sat down, I had zero issues with it so I wonder if it's some sort of human error? I am making a few reverse stitches here and there and wondered how that affected the bobbin if at all.

Also, I did not know what a thread cutter was until I took the class.

Luckily, I was in a class with other complete newbies.

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Response to Phentex (Reply #21)

Tue Apr 10, 2018, 11:57 AM

22. So the thread loosens as the bobbin becomes more empty?

Last edited Tue Apr 10, 2018, 12:39 PM - Edit history (1)

You mentioned sewing for the longest time before the thread loosens on the bobbin. So it would be good to know about how full the bobbin is when the problem starts happening.

Edited to add:
It sounds to me like your bobbin is looser at times when it starts winding. So, naturally, it's very loose after you've sewn for a long time.

When you first insert the thread through a hole in the top of the bobbin leave a few inches of thread tail sticking up. Hold onto it with a little bit of tension as it begins to wind so that the thread secures itself well enough around the bobbin at the start of the process. After it's wound around enough to cover the post pretty good let go of the thread, clip it off and wind the rest. Be sure not to hold the pedal down completely. You want to let it wind at a decent clip but not at full speed.

Just to be sure you're setting it up correctly here's a great video that covers winding the bobbin in the first few minutes. The tension disc holds the thread different from any machine I've sewn with. So check out how she puts the thread around it before it goes over to the winding post.


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Response to eleny (Reply #22)

Tue Apr 10, 2018, 03:26 PM

23. The worst was with a pretty full bobbin...

It seems I do better when I don't put too much on one bobbin. The one that got royally messed up looked beautiful when I took it off the winder and put it in the machine. But something went wonky while sewing and it turned into a complete mess.

I watched that video numerous times when I started. I'm getting better at threading but I did wind the thread around the tension rod a few times.

I'm going to spend time sewing tomorrow. I'll probably watch the video again while I'm threading. Thanks!

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Response to Phentex (Reply #23)

Tue Apr 10, 2018, 10:05 PM

24. Hey, don't feel bad

I've been sewing since I was a kid. Now I'm old and I still find things I'm doing sideways! And if there's a mistake that can be made I'll do it. For sure.

Tension is so important and has often been my problem. So getting the thread along the right path for bobbin winding or sewing is key. And then sometimes it's just the machine that goes funny on you.

One thing that could help determine some things is to buy a small set of bobbins already filled. If you have a Joann store near you a small box of them would be inexpensive with a coupon. Then you'd know better if it's you or the machine.

And keep your machine oiled as suggested so it keeps sewing smoothly.

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Response to eleny (Reply #24)

Wed Apr 11, 2018, 11:12 AM

25. that's a great idea...

I know I saw some of the pre-filled bobbins when I was shopping for accessories. That makes sense to see if it's them or me, ha!

Thank you!

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Response to politicat (Original post)

Wed Apr 11, 2018, 01:06 PM

28. Singer Featherweight 221K

I have never used any other machine or model Singer. Its sticker says it's the 1917 model. And I am SHOCKED to learn that there are other model Singers that people aren't happy with. My favorite things about it are the extraordinary range of speeds it will run at, its simplicity, and its reliability. It will sew forward, and back, install a zipper, and would make a ruffle if I ever used that attachment. Straight sewing, no fancy frills, but I have used it for about forty years with utter satisfaction. I just finished a new shirt the other day, and it delivers a tight uniform seam without complaint or temperament.

I think that these machines were built for women like my grandmother, who kept her four daughters clothed in the middle of the depression with her treadle Singer. I rather think that's the first machine I ever sewed on. The users' manual tells you how to maintain it yourself, which would have been a godsend to a farmer's wife in hard times.

And once, in the 1970s, I had taken it in to a shop for cleaning, and when I came to pick it up, had to withstand four offers from the sales clerks to buy it. I thrust money at them, grabbed my machine, and fled, having concluded that many others liked this model too.

I do recommend this model if you can find one. It is one of the oldest friends I have.

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Response to planetc (Reply #28)

Thu Apr 12, 2018, 08:28 AM

29. That's really cool!

I know people who have kept their machines for years and feel the same. Maybe not as old as yours!

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