In Stitches

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Singer 201-3 – 1948

In the span of a couple of weeks I happened upon not one, but two Singer 201 machines which are undoubtedly, the finest straight stitch machine ever produced.

One of them replaced my model 15 in the treadle and where the model 15 was and is smooth, the 201 takes things to a whole new level as where other machines have connecting rods and linkages, ther 201 uses a precisely machined geared drive.

The 1952 Singer 201 got a new higher power motor and light and got fitted into my small Singer base, as it is going to see a good amount of work it won’t need to be covered up as it will not collect dust.

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Husqvarna Rotary – Early 1950’s

I picked this machine up this morning as part of a larger group of machines and this brings the number of Husqvarnas here up to three, I also have a Nordic (1938) and a Model 21 from 1951.

I installed a new belt since the original had pretty much turned to dust, cleaned and lubed the machine, and then went to test it and the bottom thread just formed massive nests of thread. Some close investigation revealed the the hook assembly, which carries the lower thread was badly damaged.

Husqvarna machines are not that common but as fortune would have it, I had purchased another model 21 for parts about a month ago and the hook assemblies were interchangeable and in a few  minutes I had this beautiful Rotary sewing up some perfect stitches.

Now I have to clean up all that grime…

 


 

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Singer 306k (1954 – 1961)

Produced between 1954 and 1961 the Singer 306k is one of those lesser known machines that are beloved by many and despised by a few, I think that it is because the machine takes a non standard 206 by 13 needle which is still available, but only in a few limited sizes.

There are several ways to get around the needle issue and it seems that replacing the Singer bobbin case with other industrial cases is the simplest way to use standard needles.

By mid 50’s standards it is a little under-powered with a .53 amp motor but it does not seem to have any trouble sewing whatever you put under the foot, it is reasonably fast and quiet, and the stitching is very accurate as the zig-zag and pattern stitches are controlled by a rigid armature instead of a cam follower and return spring.

Singer called these “Swing Needle” machines and were touted as the most advanced sewing machine made when they were introduced, but before their production wrapped up Singer brought out the 4 series machines like the 401A and 403A which were revolutionary and still are incredible machines to use.

Despite that it holds an interesting place in the development of Singer’s machines and actually reminds me of German machines that also used an externally mounted cam to make patterned stitches and perhaps this was the market Singer was going after. It would not look out of place if the machine said Pfaff instead of Singer.

It lives in a special base that allows the machine to be propped open so you can access the bobbin case and this also makes oiling and servicing the machine fairly easy… and it really was this clean when I acquired it for the princely sum of $50.00.

After more cleaning, oiling, and making some small adjustments the machine is working extremely well and I think it is pretty damn cool.

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Singer Model 28 (1912)

At 104 years old she’s probably the oldest machine here although I have a National machine that might be the same age, collecting machines is part archeology when it comes to finding out when some models were made. Singer was very good at keeping records so dating their production is usually quite simple in this internet age.

The 28 was the 3/4 sized version of the Singer 27 although it isn’t much smaller than my Singer 15 and is a long bobbin / shuttle machine. like the rest of the Singers here it lays down a beautiful balanced stitch.

When this one arrived it was seized up completely so it required generous oiling and heat but once it started moving it was smooth stitching. This machine saw a lot of use as evidenced by the bed wear and the wear to the main decal is probably because it had a pin wrap or was picked up a few thousand times.

Still gorgeous though.

 


 

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Husqvarna 21 Automatic (1951)

Widely considered to be one of the finest sewing machines ever made, the 21 Automatic debuted in 1951 in a period when Husqvarna / Viking put the industry on notice that they were a serious contender for being able to make extremely fine and original machines.

In the early 1950’s a free arm machine was not a common thing to see and the 21 has a delightful free arm for sewing things like cuffs, has a really powerful motor, is quiet, and man she’s fast. My official sewing machine inspector was well pleased with the new machine.

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A little stitch test…

 


 

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Singer 128 (1940’s)

I woke up on a Sunday morning and found a blurry advert for an “Old Singer Sewing Machine” and took a short drive to find this machine, and after a little haggling I brought it home for $45.00

The case had been damaged but the machine was spotless and when I turned the hand crank over it just kept spinning and this was before I gave it a drop of oil.

It uses a vibrating shuttle and long bobbin and while this design was popularized in the 1800’s it carried on well into the 1940’s and was still being copied into the 1950’s by other manufacturers.

Each turn of the hand crank produces three exceptionally fine stitches and with this one you won’t even break a sweat turning the machine over .

 


 

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Singer 15-88 (1936-1948 model)

If one thinks about a classic sewing machine this is probably it, Singer produced variants of the model 15 from 1879 until the 1960’s and although the later machines look different on the outside they are mechanically the same since that did not need to be changed.

This machine introduced the oscillating class 15 bobbin and standard 15 by 1 needle which most modern machines are based on, and the classic Singer 15 is still being produced in Asia and India to this day.

This machine was also widely copied in the 1950’s by countless Japanese makers who made badged versions for what is thought to be over one thousand distributors.

These machines are nearly indestructible and can sew through a tin can and heavier materials, with a treadle you never have to worry about burning up a motor (although these were available) although your legs might get a good workout.

 


 

 

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Husqvarna Nordic (1938)

Most people associate the Husqvarna name with chainsaws in these parts but they are also one of the oldest and most successful sewing machine companies in the world, and like many European makers they started by making copies of the Singer models of the day. In the case of the Nordic it was based on the immensely popular Singer 28 and those Swedes built a really fine machine that has excellent power, speed, and lays down an amazing stitch.

This Nordic came to be in really shabby condition, but what looked like rust was really old oil that has reduced itself to a shellac like finish, after many hours of cleaning it revealed itself for the little jewel that is is.

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Singer 31k15 Industrial (1916)

We found this selling locally for the whopping price of $20.00 and it came with it’s table and motor while the legs had been cannibalized to make a sofa table.

The 31k15 had a very long production life and was sold as a tailor’s machine and not offered to the public, it has a motor that is rated at 1/3 hp and while the fastest domestic machine spins at 1500 stitches per minute this old lady will run at 2200 stitches a minute. It will also do that all day while sewing everything from light materials to multiple layers of denim and light leather.

They have become popular among quilters for free motion work because of their speed and accurate stitching qualities but they can also handle much heavier work without flinching.

Here is a glimpse of how fast this machine is… buckle up.

 


 

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Singer 99k (1957)

The Singer 99 was introduced in 1911 as the 3/4 version of the Singer 66 which was considered to be the finest sewing machine of it’s day, all the smaller sister gives up a little harp space and yet, still has nearly as much room as standard Singer domestic.

The Singer 99k was made into the early 1960’s and the later versions have a larger .8 amp motor which I believe was needed to compete with the flood of imports that came with motors that had a lot more power. The .9 amp motor on my Necchi BF is a good example as these machines would have competed against each other.

The 99k is lighter than the full sized 66 but by modern standards would still be considered a trifle heavy but the sewing performance is still on par with the best machines. They are so solidly made that they will probably never need to see the inside of a shop.

 


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Necchi BF (1951)

Vittorio Necchi came home one day and his wife asked him if he could get her a better sewing machine, this was just after WW1 and Vittorio just happened to own a foundry… so he set off to build his beloved wife a better machine and became Italy’s premier manufacturer of sewing machines.

Like many others he started by copying Singer designs and by the 1940’s Necchi became an innovator and manufacturer of some of the finest and most beautiful looking machines on the planet. My BF is a simple straight stitch machine but it is considered to be just as good as a Singer 201, said to be the best straight stitch machine ever made.

Here is a little video… and one might argue about who made a better machine.

 


 

 

 

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Kenmore 158.1931 (1976)

Sears has probably sold more sewing machines in North America than anyone else save for Singer, since their inception they sold sewing machines by mail order and then through their stores, contracting production to companies like National, White, Gritzner, Chrysler, Toyota, Soryu, and Maruzen. White Sewing Machine actually  sold more machines that were branded as Kenmore than they did under their own name, while companies like Maruzen and Soryu are virtually unknown by most.

I feel that Kenmore machines reached their zenith in the mid 1970’s when their machines were being produced by Maruzen (Japan) and our model 1931 stands as one of the last and best Maruzen produced machines. These are all metal machines with no plastic components and when Singer quality started to decline in the 1970’s, Sears’ machines just got better and better.

There really isn’t anything that the 1931 cannot do exceptionally well and like most Kenmores of this era, it is so well made that it should never have to see the inside of a shop. It is a convertible (freearm) machine with a nice selection of built in stitches and it will also take cams to greatly expand that range. Like other top of the line Kenmore models uses proprietary (but easy to find) super high shank feet and has an extra high presser lift.

I have never found a reason for complaint using this machine and I often find myself comparing it to other machines that cost three times as much and don’t find it wanting for anything.

 


 

 

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The Singer 403A, (1958)

It all started many years ago when I answered a sales advertisement for a vintage sewing machine and after riding across the city I met a lovely couple and it was the gentleman (who shared my first name), who was selling his machine.

He told me he had purchased the Singer 403A in 1959 from the first owner who had found it to be too expensive to keep and that he had paid $275.00 for it, and it would seem he valued this investment as the machine looked as good in 2010 as it did in 1958.

The Singer 403A “Slant-o-matic” was the second only to the 401A in the model lineup and whereas the 401A has most of it’s stitches built in, the 403 utilizes cams for it’s extra stitches. The .72 amp geared motor is a direct geared drive and these machines can sew through nearly anything you can put under the foot and the stitch quality is unsurpassed.

This was quite an impressive load to haul by bicycle…

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It came with nearly every attachment and accessory and in the years following we have acquired the few bits we did not have, my wife is amazing when it comes to finding those small parts. You would have a hard time finding this machine, the excellent cabinet, and all these accessories for $100.00 now and even then, it was an incredible deal.

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I doubt that I will ever part with this machine.

 


 

 

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Bernina 717, (1969)

When I was growing up my mom worked at the dry cleaners as a seamstress and when she wasn’t doing mending and alterations there, she was sewing at home to make sure we stayed clothed.

Even after she became a nursing aide at the age of 50, she continued to sew and do crochet work until she couldn’t see the work anymore.

This Swiss made Bernina was her last machine that she bought used and even then, it was probably more than she ever spent on a sewing machine, and it was probably the nicest machine she ever owned.

My sister had it stashed away in her basement and asked if I wanted it, I had thought that the machine had been given away or sold but there is was… all it needed was a new belt, a proper bobbin case, and some lubrication. It lays down one of the finest stitches I have ever seen and is so incredibly smooth… but that is why some say Berninas are the nest sewing machines made.

I will probably pass this down to one of my daughters, my mom would have liked that.