Category Archives: Singer 27, 28, 127, 128

Another vintage Singer for sale – and musing on modern life …


As regular readers will know, we very rarely have machines for sale nowadays.  However, there’s one of Elsie’s on the “Machines” page now because (a) she’s finally had to thin out her collection to gain some space in The Sewing Room and (b) the lady who took the other two which have just gone was convinced that her husband would divorce her if she went home with three more sewing machines.

This one’s a very nice and very late (1954) Singer 128K and it comes in an equally nice bentwood (“domed”) case, complete with what we think are its original attachments.  But there is, alas, a downside.  Some muppet has vandalised it a bit whilst taking the lid off without a key, as you can see in the above picture.  Now … I’ve replaced the lock and found a key for it and I could touch up that paintwork on the end of the bed, but although the repair to the woodwork’s a DIY job, frankly it needs better eyesight than I have.  And as Elsie says, there’s also the fact that some folk won’t be bothered about the damage, so all things considered, we’re selling it “as is”.

Anyhow.  Seeing as how Elsie was busy playing in the mud with her new raspberry canes this morning, I was persuaded to take a couple of cheques to the bank and pay them in, which is something I’ve been loathe to do ever since the counter staff decided to funk up their spiel and start greeting customers as if we’re even younger than they are and we’re all in America.

Gosh.  The place has long since ceased to be a proper bank branch, at least to my way of thinking.  I mean, I don’t still expect cheque books to have a couple of leaves of blotting paper in them for the convenience of those who still write their cheques with a fountain pen.  And I don’t still expect to be asked if I would mind accepting used notes if they happen to be short of new ones when I want to cash a cheque, as was once the norm.

But honestly, what am I supposed to say when the young woman behind the counter enquires whilst hitting our cheques with her stamp thingy “Got much planned for the rest of the day?” I do realise that “How about you mind your own business?” might perhaps seem a bit churlish and that maybe “Well, I was thinking of calling at the timber yard to get some prices, then I have a prescription to collect from the pharmacy, and then it’ll be time for lunch and it’s my turn to do the washing up.  I might go up to the allotment after I’ve done that, but a lot depends on what my wife fancies doing this afternoon” might be overkill, so I fall back on “No”, with a rising inflection intended to convey my surprise at the question.

And while I’m at it, why do they ask “Is there anything else I can help you with today?”  Why the “today”?  Why on earth do they say that?  I always want to ask but never do …

I did though ask in the supermarket yesterday what the difference was between “pre-order” and “order”, my question being prompted by the A-board outside inviting shoppers to “Pre-order your Christmas food now”.  The woman who sorts out the self-service checkouts when they go wrong confessed that she too was puzzled by that, so she asked her supervisor, who didn’t know either.  Before long, the question was exercising five employees, and in the end the best that one of them could do was suggest that “pre-order is what you do when you order stuff before you need it”, which I thought showed initiative if nothing else.

It’s been one of those days, though.  I just walked back the mile or so from the timber yard with a 4.2 metre (14ft, give or take) length of timber handrail on my shoulder, and I wouldn’t mind a crisp tenner for every strange look I got on the way.  Elsie says that they stare because people just don’t do things like that any more.  Normals don’t walk along the lane carrying timber.  Either they get it delivered or they poke it out of the tailgate or the roof of their car, which of course is fine by me.

But I can’t help feeling smug.  I got myself a bit of exercise in the sunshine, and on the walk home with my 4.2 metres of timber, I saw two robins and heard a third one, saw two wrens and a blackbird, and I heard a green woodpecker do that really loud laughing call that they do.  Whether he was laughing at me or at modern life, I have no idea …


Singer 1933 Catalogue and Price List (UK)


Thanks to Syd McDonald who kindly allowed me to scan his copies of them, I can now present for your delight both the Singer Illustrated Catalogue for 1933 and its accompanying Price List.  There’s links to PDFs of the scans at the bottom of this post, but while you’re here, let’s just take a quick look at some of the contents.

Before we do though, here’s a few comparisons between then and now to help put prices into perspective.  In 1933, the UK average wage was £3 12s 0d (£3.60) a week and a pint of beer cost 6d (2.5p).  Today, the corresponding figures are £504 a week and around £2.90, so wages have risen faster over the last 79 years than the price of beer has. What I find quite remarkable though is that in 1933, a typical 3-bedroom house sold for £360, which was just less than two years’ average earnings.  Now the average 3-bedroom house costs £243,000, which is over nine years’ average earnings.  How come?

Whatever, it seems that life expectancy for women in this country has gone up from 60 in 1933 to 81 now and for men from 53 to 78, so it’s not all bad …

We start with the New Enclosed Cabinet No.46, which should be of particular interest to those who can never remember which cabinet is the 46 and which is the 51.  As you can see here, the 46 is the one with the one-piece door with the rectangular drawer on the back of it.  The later cabinet which is the same size and shape but has the two doors and the D-shaped swing-out drawer thingies on the back of the left-hand one is the 51, which Elsie and I much prefer.  In our opinion, a nice 51 cabinet with modern castors under it and a properly set-up treadle mechanism driving a 201 on top of is a very fine thing to have in the house.

In 1933 you couldn’t yet buy a 201, but a shiny new 66K in a No.46 cabinet could be delivered to your door for a list price of £23 10s 0d (£23.50), which was more than 6 weeks’ average wages before tax.

On page 4, we see that by now the old cast-iron legs of the Cabinet Tables have given way to the new wooden sides.  A 66K in a 5-drawer base like the one on page 4 was £18 5s 9d (£18.29) if paid for at the rate of 10/- (50p) per month, but could be had for just £15 8s 0d (£15.40) cash if you’d come into money.

Those Cabinet Tables are still quite common in England, but the One-Drawer Drop-Leaf Table on page 5 certainly isn’t.  Does anybody know for sure if that’s the one in which the machine sat in the table in the wooden base which has the slot between the two belt holes so you could just lift the whole thing out and use it as a portable?

There’s no mention of either of these Cabinet Tables (or indeed of the 46 Cabinet) being convertible for use with an electric machine by means of the motor controller 194386 on its associated bracket, so I’m still no wiser as to when that was introduced in the UK.

I do love these illustrations of the portables.  It seems that Singer could never come up with a convincing way of including the lid in a picture, so here we have it on a footstool of just the right size and shape on page 6, and on what I’m convinced is a pair of wheelbarrow tyres on page 7.

A nice hand-cranked 128 portable would have set you back £9 17s 6d (£9.87) in 1933, although for just thirty bob (£1.50) more you could have had its full-size sister the 127.  A knee-lever 99K electric, on the other hand, was £14 if paying cash.  That price included a Singerlight, but not a footstool or the tyres to put the lid on.

And now we have a knee-lever 66K electric in The New Model 40 Table which, it says here, is an “elegant article of furniture”.  Be that as it may, have you noticed how the word “article” in this sense seems to be obsolescent nowadays in much the same way that “apparatus” does?  It’s a shame.  They’re both fine words.

Model 40 tables are decidedly uncommon nowadays, and I have to admit that as far as I’m concerned that’s not a bad thing.  £31 12s 6d (£31.62) on Easy Terms, or £25 6s 0d (£25.30) cash to you, Madam.  That was getting on for two months’ average wages …

The all-steel foot controller shown here on page 10 is a rare bird now too, which if you ask me is just as well because they’re a bit on the primitive side – and they do tend to stink when they start getting warm.  Note how the mains lead is supplied with a bayonet connector on the end so that when you’d fitted the motor to your machine, you could plug it into any convenient light fitting once you’d taken the bulb out of it.

Any reader raising an eyebrow at that last observation might care to note that plugging a sewing machine (or a hairdryer come to that) into a table lamp or other light fitting was common practice at one time.  When many rooms had only one mains socket in them (or at best a pair of them side-by-side on the skirting board), table and standard lamps often served as extension leads, and most households were possessed of an assortment of plug adaptors by means of which many light and power problems could be solved.

On page 11 we note that in 1933 the 15K was the “Dressmaker’s Machine”, and that the base shown is the “artisan” one with the bigger-diameter treadle wheel to facilitate higher stitching speeds.

And finally a couple of industrials.  Note the cast-iron legs, which were by now obsolete as far as domestic customers were concerned.  Note also the convention whereby women sew at home on domestic machines and men sew at work on industrials.

I don’t know anything about the 31K15 apart from the fact it’s got a knee-lifter, but that back leaf of the table certainly does look handy!  The 29K53 is a fascinating machine that’s often referred to as The Patcher, and its variants always seem to sell for a decent price on Ebay nowadays.  I love the way you can sew in any direction with it, and alternate between treadle and hand drive.  It’s a very clever bit of engineering.

For scans of both publications as PDFs, click on the links below.  I did them as two separate files so you can, should you wish, have the catalogue and the price list open at the same time for ease of cross-reference …

1933 Singer UK Illustrated Catalogue

1933 Singer UK pricelist

By the way, lest any of our overseas readers be confused by the bayonet connector, I should perhaps point out that not only are we on 220 volt here, but our light bulbs don’t screw into light fittings like yours probably do.  Ours have a bayonet cap, about which everything you could ever wish to know is, as usual, on Wikipedia – see here

You can’t buy those bayonet connectors nowadays, unless of course you turn to this guy on Ebay.  Those things were often used in conjunction with the Y-shaped two-way adaptor (a picture of which I couldn’t find), which plugged into a lampholder so that two bayonet connectors could be plugged into it.  I suppose the theory was that they allowed you to use two light bulbs in one lampholder, but I never saw one used like that.

While I’m on this subject, I should perhaps explain that in England nowadays, you can’t even walk into a shop and buy an ordinary 100 watt incandescent light bulb, the manufacture of which has been banned by the EU in order to save the planet.  We’re therefore hoping the 20 that I bought online last week will see us out, as we only need them for 3 lights in the house which are used intermittently and for which energy-saving fluorescents are neither use nor ornament.

And if making incandescent light bulbs obsolete as a token gesture in the direction of planet-saving seems daft to you, how about the singularly crazy legislation requiring a proportion of the light fittings in all new homes to be 3-pin bayonet lampholders into which neither traditional bulbs nor energy-saving fluorescents can be fitted?  See here

Have a good weekend, folks!

How to fit a handcrank to an early Singer 27K treadle


Here’s a picture of the drive end of Elsie’s old faithful 27K, which was made in 1900 and still resides in the ornate drawing room cabinet* in which it left the shop 112 years ago.

Now, if you’re really into the old Singer stuff, I bet you got as far as “made in 1900″ in that sentence and immediately said to yourself “Ahah!  So it hasn’t got a boss for a handcrank!”.  And if you did, I bow down before your awesome knowledge of such arcane stuff.

If you didn’t, and you’re not entirely sure what a “boss” is in this context anyhow, look closely at the right-hand side of the column of this particular 27K, and hopefully you’ll be able to see that there isn’t the usual sticky-outy bit to which a hand crank or indeed a motor can be fitted.  That’s the “boss”, or rather it would be if this machine had one.  Later 27K’s do have one, but only a real vintage Singer geek could tell you when they changed from bossless to bossed.  The best I can do is say that in 1900 at least some 27K’s didn’t have a boss but by 1903 they all did.

So, should you wish to fit a hand-crank to one of these fine old treadle machines, how might that be done when there is no apprarent means of attaching one?  In theory it’s easy – all you need is Hand Attachment 81712, as shown below together with a bobbin winder assembly which wanted to be in the picture too …

Once you have your Hand Attachment 81712 to hand, as it were, it’s simply a case of undoing one screw and removing the belt guard from your early 27K, then fitting the handcrank by clamping its mounting bracket round the collar onto which the belt guard was originally fixed.  It’s a job which requires nothing more than one ordinary screwdriver and five minutes of your time.

The problem is of course that you first need to acquire your Part No. 81712.   Which was only made for the very early 27K.  And then apparently not in any great quantity.  So they’re a bit thin on the ground.   I’ve no idea how many of them Singer actually made, but I do know that the Hand Attachment had been officially declared obsolete by 1906, so it’s perhaps not surprising that 105 years later, most folk have never heard of it.  Certainly this is the only one that Elsie and I have ever actually laid hands on.

Given its rarity, it’s got to be a symptom of something or other that having completely forgotten we had this one, I found it yesterday under a pile of stuff alongside the dead printer which I’d finally decided to take down to the dump recycling centre.  Be that as it may, given that Elsie’s 27K in the drawing room cabinet is in its original state and it’s such a delight to treadle, there’s actually more chance of me mastering the art of knitting than there is of us ever needing to use this particular bit of kit, therefore one complete Hand Attachment 81712 is now listed on our Bits ‘n’ Bobs page!

So now somebody, somewhere is wondering “OK, that takes care of a handcrank, but how do you fit a motor?”.  The answer to that is “with great difficulty”, which as far as I’m concerned is just as well because I really can’t imagine why anybody might want to vandalise a very early 27K by motorising it …

And … just as I was about to publish this post, an email came in from Lulu alerting me to a listing on Ebay UK of a rather unusual treadle machine …

I was interested to see that the drawer pulls on this one are different to those on Elsie’s early drawing room cabinet, and that the mat on the treadle plate is a different design too.  The real surprise though is the 28K.  I’ve never seen a 3/4-size machine of any flavour in a drawing-room cabinet before.   It’s obvious from the other pictures in the listing for this one that it’s a DIY job and an old one at that, but I can’t see why it wouldn’t work just fine.  And I love the way the handcrank’s still on it …

* If you’re in the US of A,  for “drawing room cabinet” read “parlor cabinet”.
Edited 2nd October to add – thanks to Linda and Heather, I now know that Singer did indeed supply the 28K in a Drawing Room Cabinet!

Singer 28 for sale


Singer 28K with 128-style high-level bobbin winder

Singer 28K with 128-style bobbin winder

We don’t often have a vibrating shuttle machine in need of a good home, but I’ve just put this really pretty Singer 28K on the “Singers for Sale” page.

What’s interesting about it apart from anything else is its bobbin winder.  As you can see, that’s a high-level one, so you could be excused for thinking that this machine is obviously a 128 so Sid’s had a brainfart again.

But it’s not.   It might have the high-level 128-style bobbin winder, but it doesn’t have the magic button on the shuttle carrier which ejects the shuttle, therefore it’s a 28.  It could of course be a 128 which has had its shuttle carrier swopped for one off a 27 or 28, but it hasn’t.  So it isn’t.  A 128 that is.

It’s a 28.  For sure.  The serial number says so.  It’s a 1935 machine, from the last but one batch of 28K’s, which were almost but not quite 128K’s.

Whatever, it’s got a nice bentwood case, it works a treat, and it’s got a very pretty faceplate …

picture of faceplate of 1935 Singer 28K

A happy, healthy and peaceful New Year to one and all (more or less) :)


Vintage Singer cabinets, treadle bases – and 1929 UK prices


Hurrah!  I finally got the scanner working properly again and Elsie’s just found the 1929 Singer Illustrated Price List after I put it back in the wrong place in The Sewing Room, so here we go with a look at some of it.  By the way, when Singer said “List Price” they meant the total price when bought on “Singer Easy Terms”, and “Net Cash Price” is what it cost when paying with folding money.

That’s the later and final version of the 1900 Drawing Room Cabinet (the one that Elsie got for her birthday which I posted a snap of the other week).  We’ve also just got one of these from 1920, but more of that anon.  All we need now is some artistic furniture for it to harmonise with.

Just to give you some idea of how expensive these things were in 1929, if we take for example the 66K in a 5-drawer priced at £18/10/0 on HP or £14/16/0 for cash and base the calculation on average earnings, according to the equivalent cost today is £3530 on HP and £2820 for cash!  In other words, something like twice the cost of a really good bicycle, which actually sounds about right to us.

Picture of Singer 201K in 7-drawer cabinet table (treadle base)

While we’re on the subject of cabinet tables, here’s a snap of Elsie’s 7-drawer, which currently lives in a corner of the front room with her 1940 201K in it.  I’m not sure what the original machine was, on account of the lady who sold us the treadle base had sold the head for a fiver to “a woman who advertised a couple of years back wanting old sewing machines to go in shop window displays”.  A pox on All Saints!

In case you’re wondering, the wire that’s plugged into that socket goes to a Singerlight which you can’t see on the back of the machine, that recess is exactly 48 inches wide, and yes the belt is a bit loud but that’s ‘cos it’s a brand new one I put on last week.  It’ll soon quieten down.

That’s the 1929 incarnation of the Victorian treadle machine i.e. the coffin-top one.  Until we acquired this price list, I always thought that when they introduced the fold-down treadle machines they discontinued the “put the lid on it” ones, but obviously not.  OK, it was a cheaper alternative to a 3-drawer cabinet table, but surely it must have seemed a bit old-fashioned?

Love the way you could get a free home trial or rent one by the week, but most of all I just love that footstool carefully placed to show off the lid …

Ahah!  So if you’ve got an electric portable, you put the lid on a pouffé!  Either that or it’s a couple of spare wheelbarrow tyres.  Whatever, note that these are electrics with knee-lever control (as opposed to foot pedal).

I don’t know if these tables were popular at the time, but I do know that you don’t see many of them nowadays.

This is a new one on me, and I wonder why there’s no model number?  Anyhow, as I understand it, you drop your portable electric still in its base into a big recess on the top of the table, and presumably the knee-lever attaches via a hole in the front of the table.  Seems a bit pointless to me, because surely the only advantage over just plonking your portable on the kitchen table is that the bed of the machine is now flush with the table top?  And against that you’ve got a table which can’t be used for anything else because when you’re not using the machine, you put the lid over it.

It seems a poor thing compared to that cabinet table which used to be available with the recess into which you dropped your hand-crank portable (still in its base) to turn it into a treadle machine.  And if you’re wondering how on earth that worked, the answer is that at the time, some of the portable bases had two big holes in them under the handwheel, with a slot between.  Drop your machine into the cabinet table, run a treadle belt down through one hole, round the treadle wheel, back up through the other hole and over the pulley, trim and join belt in the usual way and flick the “finger” of the hand crank out from between the handwheel spokes.  Bingo – your hand crank portable is now a treadle machine. (And having faffed with the belt like that to get it in place and the right length , it’s all set up so you don’t need to repeat the performance.)

To revert to hand-crank portable, you just slip the belt off treadle wheel then lift it clear of handwheel.  Lift the machine out of the recess, the belt slips through the slot between the two holes, and off you go, pausing only to grab the lid from off that matching footstool,  When it’s treadle time again, you just reverse the process.

Anyhow, that’s the main part of the 1929 price list, and I’ll do the 1940’s one before much longer, courtesy of Colette …

The identification of vintage Singer sewing machines


Or how to tell t’other from which, as they used to say in Lancashire.  They might still do, actually, but I digress …

If you’re on the phone to somebody who’s put a for sale ad in the local rag which just says “Old Singer sewing machine for sale” or something equally informative, you obviously need to know a bit more about what exactly it is that they found in the attic when they moved in and now think might be Worth A Few Quid.  If you’re lucky, they might have put a picture in the advert.  And if you’re really lucky, it might not be a lot worse than this specially-taken rubbish snap.

Rubbish snap of old Singer sewing machine

Before we go any further, though,  A Word Of Warning.  On a very hot and incredibly humid summer afternoon, I once drove for well over two hours through horrendous traffic to buy a Red Head.  That’s a rare-in-the-UK Singer with distinctive decals which I think are OTT but Elsie thinks are lovely.  I’d talked about it on the phone to the person selling it, and I was fairly sure of its condition.  We’d agreed a price.  When I got there, I was ushered into the kitchen and shown the machine.  It was a clapped out and very ordinary early 66 with the most boring decals Singer ever used, and those in a very poor state.

“Hang on” says I.  “This isn’t the machine in the photo in the advert.”

“No, but does that matter?  They’re all much the same.”

“Are you serious?” says I. “You don’t have the machine you advertised?”

“Well I couldn’t find my camera so I used a picture I found on the internet.  I can’t see it makes that much difference.”

There’s not a lot you can say to that, so I just bid her a cheery “Die soon” and drove over two hours home to Elsie and a large glass of Merlot.  The moral of this story is

ALWAYS ask the advertiser if the picture in the advert is a picture of the actual machine for sale

So, getting at last to the point of today’s epistle, I’ve evolved a standard way of extracting the information necessary to identify a machine on the phone, and it seems to work.  Believe me though the process can be a bit like pushing jelly uphill with a fork at times, particularly if the advertiser’s getting on a bit and doesn’t hear so well, or their attention is split between me, their sewing machine, the television and what sounds like a shedful of kids running amok.

But whatever.  What follows only works for the common domestic Singer machines produced in the UK between around 1900 and the mid-1960’s, and it only enables you to identify the basic type.  If you need to know whether the article in question is a 15-88 or a 15-91, for example, this is not going to help you one bit.  But if you want to know if what they’re selling is a 127 or a 201, or even if you just want to know what Grandmother’s old Singer is, stick with this and with any luck you’ll soon be able to tell.

The person on the other end of the phone needs to be looking at the machine in question as if they’re using it, that is to say with the big wheel end to their right and the end with the needle to their left and no, that’s not patronising.  Always remember that whoever’s looking at it might be completely clueless!  Besides, check out a few snaps of sewing machines for sale and be amazed by how many have been photographed just like that picture above.  So, here we go – but first Another Warning …

You cannot identify a machine by what it says on the cover of its instruction book

Even when the owner swears blind it’s the original one which came with the machine when Mum bought it off Auntie Marjorie in 1953.  I don’t know how anybody’s supposed to actually know stuff like that, but I do know that you quite often find that the owner of a 27 or whatever is totally convinced it’s a 99 simply because there’s a 99 instruction book in the compartment in the base.  Anyhow, here we go …

1.  If you look at the vertical column of the machine, just above the bed (the flat metal base), there’s a round-ish metal Singer badge.   Is there a small rectangular metal plate with two or three numbers and one letter on it just below that badge?  If there is, the number on that plate is the model number and your problem is solved.  If there isn’t, read on.

2.  If the tension adjustment knob (the one with those discs and the springy thing behind it) is on the metal plate on the very end of the machine and it faces left, the machine is a Model 15.  If however the tension adjustment knob is mounted straight onto the black metal of the machine and faces the user, it isn’t a 15 so we need to dig a bit deeper.

3.  It will either be an early machine of the “vibrating shuttle” type which takes a long thin bobbin, or a later machine which takes a round bobbin, so look at the left-hand side of the machine bed.  If it has a small round plate under the needle and two rectangular plates which run from front to back and meet up in the middle, it’s a vibrating shuttle machine.  If instead it has a D-shaped plate under where the needle is and a more-or-less square chromed plate at the left-hand end of the bed, it’s a round-bobbin machine.

4.  If you’ve established that it’s a vibrating shuttle machine, measure how long the bed is.  If it’s getting on for 15 inches, you have either a 27 or a 127.  If it’s nearer to 12 inches, you have a 28 or a 128.

5.  If the bobbin winder thingy on the right is about 2 inches above the bed, it’s either a 27 or a 28.  If the bobbin winder’s higher up, roughly in line with the middle of the handwheel, it’s probably a 127 or a 128.  So for example a long bed machine with a low bobbin winder is a 27, and a short bed machine with a high bobbin winder is a 128.  OK?

(The bobbin winder position isn’t conclusive, simply because there were some transitional models made and some 27’s and 28’s have had their low-level winders replaced by a “high-level” one at some point in their life.  However, if the machine’s got the higher-up bobbin winder and there’s a round metal button on the shuttle carrier which ejects the shuttle when you press it, you almost certainly have either a 127 or a 128.)

6.  That takes care of the vibrating-shuttle machines.  Moving on now to the later round-bobbin machines, if it looks “old fashioned”, it’s all metal, it’s black and it’s not a 15, it’s almost certainly going to be a 66, a 99 or a 201.  Does the spool pin on top of the machine upon which you plonk your reel of thread go into a chromed steel plate about 2 inches long with rounded ends?  If so, it’s a 201.  Specifically, it’s what’s referred to as either a 201 Mk1 or an “early type” 201.

7.  If the machine is black and there’s no chromed plate under the spool pin, is the bed of the machine about 12 inches long?  If so, it’s a 99, which is perhaps the vintage machine most commonly seen nowadays still in reasonable condition.

8.  If the bed’s about 12 inches long but the machine is beige/brown and the oval Singer badge is on the same rectangular metal plate as the stitch length adjustment lever, it’s either a 185 which is OK because that’s basically a tarted-up 99, or it’s a later 275/285 which is basically naff.  The quick way to tell them apart is that if both the stitch length adjuster knob and the lever which raises the presser foot are plastic, it’s a horrible 275/285.

9.  If the bed’s about 15 inches long, there’s no chromed plate under the spool pin on top of the machine and there’s no small plate with a model number on below the metal Singer badge, you have a 66.  That’s the big sister of the 99.

10.  If the machine looks fairly modern, the top of it’s more or less flat, there’s no chromed metal plate with rounded ends under the spool pin but it still says “201K” under the Singer badge, it’s the later type 201 which is usually referred to as the Mk2.

If you’re still scratching your head, odds on it’s a later machine or an industrial, or possibly a 19th Century one.  Most of those will be outside our territory, but by all means send us an email at sidandelsie @ without those spaces if you’re stuck and we’ll see if we can help you solve the mystery.

Cabinets and treadle bases for vintage Singer sewing machines


I really do need to do a whole heap of stuff about cabinets and treadle bases for vintage Singers, but apart from not having the time right now to do it in depth, the big problem I have is making space to take pictures of the ones we have here.  Cleo, Elsie’s 1900 27K treadle, lives right under the window which makes photographing it a bit tricky, and we’d have to move her 1909 66K treadle and rearrange half The Sewing Room to get a halfway-decent shot or two of that.  There’s also the nice Number 46 cabinet in there with Elsie’s 201K/2 in it waiting for me to reassemble the treadle mechanism in it, and come to think of it, that’s actually going to be photographable once I’ve done that.  So there is hope.

Then there’s the convertible treadle base which has moved in behind the kitchen door and is quietly waiting for us to work out what to do about the polyurethane varnish some muppet coated the top of it with.  It’s a shame they did that, and it’s even more of a shame they didn’t clean the top up before they slapped the horrible stuff on.  But the base is a bit special, so it’ll be worth it.

The Number 46 cabinet which is currently serving as a kind of extension to the kitchen table has been there so long now that Elsie will have to remind me what we decided we were going to do with it, and I won’t even mention the 1950’s Singer worktable which followed me home from Essex with a 99 in it and lives in the bathroom now because (a) Elsie doesn’t really like it and (b) there’s nowhere else for it to go even if she did.

Anyhow … here, courtesy of a 1930 Singer catalogue is your common or garden Granny’s treadle base, which is properly called a Cabinet Table,  into which you can fit any full size Singer made before the free-arms that came in around 1965.  As far as we’re concerned here, that means a 27, a 127, a 66 or a 201.  Or a 15 if that’s what you’re into.

Catalogue picture of vintage Singer treadle machine

In case you’re wondering where the fifth drawer is, it’s a long wide one which tilts down across the front.  It’s that plain section of front without a knob in the picture above, below where the machine sits.  There were several variations on this theme, all with the wide centre drawer, but with either one, two or three drawers each side, the latter being the least common nowadays.

The Victorian and early Edwardian bases shared the same cast ironwork, but instead of folding the machine down into the table top and swinging the flap over the hole like in the one above, you disappear the machine on an early treadle by hiding it under a wooden box-type lid which locks down into place (or more usually doesn’t nowadays because nobody’s seen the key since that big party on Armistice Day 1918).  That type’s referred to as a Coffin Top unless you’re in the US of A, in which case it’s a Casket Top.

I’m not exactly sure when the cast-iron legs were finally dropped, but the replacement used exactly the same top and similar treadle ironwork, with the iron legs replaced by relatively plain wooden ones which don’t look as “Granny” but are a heck of a sight easier to keep free of cobwebs.

Elsie’s got one iron-legs and one wooden-legs treadle table in The Sewing Room, and we’ll come back to those once I’ve taken some snaps of them.  We’ll also look at the usual vintage enclosed cabinets.  Judging by the number of them that keep cropping up on Ebay in a terrible state, every house in the north-west must have had one in the front room between the wars with a 201 in it.

Talking of front rooms, the one Singer cabinet we don’t have but really want is the Drawing Room Cabinet Number 21.  They’re not quite as rare as hens’ teeth, but one in very condition is, and to complicate matters, most of the nice-looking ones seem to be in either Cheshire or Welsh Wales.  But we’re determined to track one down.  Many folk think they’re hideous, but we think they’re wonderful, and if you also think that the frontage of St Pancras Station is lovely, you will too.

Here’s an awful video of a lovely example of a what we call a Drawing Room Cabinet but some folks call a Parlor Cabinet, which I thought was a different one, but either way it’s a #21.  Whatever,  if you’re prone to vertigo or to motion sickness, grab a couple of Kwells now.  There’s no commentary on it, and in case you’re wondering, the machine’s a 66K with Lotus decals.

Basic sewing machine maintenance – Singer 27K and 28K


Diane asked this morning what she ought to do about tickling the tappets of her late granny’s Singer 27K which she’s just rediscovered.  The machine still works, so there’s obviously nothing drastically wrong with it, and Diane’s done the sensible thing and downloaded a copy of the book of words, so the question is – should she be doing anything by way of essential maintenance before she starts doing some serious sewing with it for the first time in 40 years?

Well, in my opinion the short answer is “not a lot really”.  I’d start by tilting it back in its base and seeing what the underneath’s like.  If it’s covered in oil and fluff, an old paintbrush will get rid of a lot of that, but if you really want to go to town, a bit of paraffin or a squirt of WD40 on a rag should shift anything you don’t like the look of.  One thing to watch though when you tilt it back on its hinges is that the whole lot doesn’t tend to roll over onto its back, which can lead to fun times if it does – especially if it’s come loose on the hinges.  And beware of old rusty pins and bits of broken needles whilst furtling about under there.  Once you’ve got rid of anything really oily or a bit yukky underneath, get the Hoover out, but before you attack it here’s a couple of tips.

First off, if you open the bobbin plate, you will see the hole shown in this snap …

Picture of area under bobbin plate of Singer 27K

Either that hole will have nothing in it except general grot, or it will have a plug of felt which may or may not be oily.  Odds on it isn’t oily.  If it does have  a plug of felt, that will probably be a very nondescript colour and may not even be recognisable as felt, but if it’s level with the top of the hole it usually is.  That’s an oil wick, and it’s referred to in the manual.  The picture above is the bobbin area of Cleo, Elsie’s 27K treadle machine from 1900, and Cleo is feltless on account of I haven’t got round to putting a new one in.  It’s been on my list for ages and it will happen one day, but Elsie is wisely not holding her breath.

My point is (hey, we got there) that if there’s something in that hole and you reckon it looks like a felt plug, be sure to put your finger over it before applying the nozzle of your vacuum cleaner.  If you don’t, you will soon feel a bit of a silly and wish you had.  And don’t ask how I know that.

The second tip concerns the needle plate, under which live the feed dogs, which tend to accumulate fluff.  If you have a screwdriver which fits the needle plate screw (labelled above) properly, have a go at unscrewing it while pushing down fairly hard on the screwdriver so it doesn’t chew up the slot in the screw.  If it doesn’t want to turn fairly easily, either you’re turning the screwdriver clockwise when you should be turning anti-clock or it’s being awkward.  If it does start unscrewing, take it out, take the plate off and do your thing with the Hoover (but don’t suck the screw up it) before replacing it.  If the screw doesn’t want to play, stick your tongue out at it and don’t worry about the fluff for now.

After that, all I would do is follow to the letter what it says in the book about routine oiling, then make yourself a nice cup of tea before knocking up a quick copy of Kate Middleton’s wedding dress for next door’s eldest.

I’m assuming, by the way, that Diane’s Singer 27 is a hand-crank.  If it’s a treadle, there’s a bit more to think about which I can cover in another post.  If it’s been motorised, there’s not a lot you can actually do yourself to improve whatever state the motor’s in, especially when poking round wiring which is bound to be fairly brittle with age is never a good idea.  It is a good idea to check the drive belt though, and to think about getting another before it goes the way of all drive belts.  You can get the belts pretty much anywhere.

Finally, a warning.  If you’re not familiar with proper sewing machine oil, be aware that it’s very “thin” and runny stuff.  Newspapers under the machine and some kitchen towel in the bottom of the base is the rule here before we even get the oilcan out!

PS If you have an early 27 or 28 and you’re wondering why yours doesn’t have that round criss-crossed button thingy seen in the picture above at 2 o’clock to the shuttle, that’s because yours hasn’t been modified with the later shuttle lifter-upper like this one has …

The Singer 28 that Mrs Fallshaw got for Christmas 1938


Picture of 1938 Singer 28K in caseThis is a machine I found earlier this year which now forms part of our little collection.  Elsie’s particularly fond of this one because not only is it really pretty and it sews beautifully now I’ve tickled its tappets, but it also came with the original sales receipts still in the Singer envelope.  The lovely old tin full of attachments is original, as is everything else except for the can of oil, which is the right age and type but is actually Singer household oil rather than sewing machine oil.  Check out the “Our own machines” page for more pictures of it.

So, Mrs Fallshaw left the Singer shop in Barking with this on Christmas Eve 1938, and hopefully she didn’t have to carry it too far to the bus stop.  She paid £5 15s 0d for her shiny new machine, which if the currency was decimal then would have been £5.75.  What that equates to at today’s prices depends on which website you refer to, but as far as I can tell it’s something over £600.  Definitely at least two weeks’ wages for Mr Fallshaw if he was getting the 1938 national average wage.

That was the last Christmas Eve before the start of World War 2, and although the Singer shop didn’t survive the bombing, the Fallshaw’s house did.  Here’s the Google picture of it nowadays, which leaves me wondering what they’d make of the replacement of the bay window and the disappearance of their front garden  …

I suppose that before long our Mrs Fallshaw would have been running up the blackout curtains or blinds on this machine, and no doubt during the war years it would have done her proud for repairs and alterations.  Maybe even dressmaking too, if she could get some material.  Wouldn’t it be fascinating to see what’s been sewn on this machine over the years?

The Singer “Vibrating Shuttle” sewing machine


We actually have two Singer sewing machines of the Vibrating Shuttle type in our little collection, and one of them’s the 1938 Model 28 hand-crank portable I got for Elsie earlier this year.  The other’s a 1900 Model 27 treadle called Cleo, of which more when I work out a way of photographing her which doesn’t involve rearranging the sewing room.

Incidentally, in case you’re not up to speed on this stuff, a 28 is to a 27 as a 99 is to a 66, that is to say it’s a three-quarter sized version intended to make it more portable for ladies who are not built like Ukrainian shot-putters, and the easy way to remember that priceless information is that the bigger number is the smaller machine.   As to the Vibrating Shuttle, I have no idea why they called it that because it doesn’t.  It swings, baby!  Here’s a snap of what we’re on about …

Picture of Vibrating Shuttle of Singer 28K sewing machine

The shiny thing with the pointy end is the shuttle carrier, which contains the “long” bobbin, from which you might be able to see a red thread emerging.  You take the carrier out to change the bobbin, and yes, it is a bit of a fiddle, but once you get the knack it’s easy and you can then allow yourself to feel rather smug about your bobbin-changing.  Actually, you can feel even more chuffed with yourself once you’ve mastered the art of getting the bobbin tension right on one of these, but I won’t go into that now.

The curly metalwork to the right of the carrier in that picture forms the business end of the carrier arm, the other end of which is attached to a pivot under the bed capped by that chromed plug, so once you start sewing, the shuttle swings backwards and forwards in an arc from around 10 o’clock to 7 o’clock and back again, and it does what shuttles do.

Vibrating Shuttle machines certainly work well enough, and incredible though it seems you can still get bobbins and even the boat-shaped shuttle carrier brand new, direct from the Singer UK online store.  So why aren’t we big on them?  No particular reason apart from the fact that the long bobbin doesn’t hold as much thread as the round ones.  Having said that, I guess we should be big fans of the 15-series machines as well as the 66/99’s and 201’s because they also use round bobbins, but we’re not, and for no good reason really …