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 …


14 responses

  1. There is a motor for the type 27. The oil plate is removed on the back of the machine and that hole is used. The oil plate screw is used and the bottom of the motor mounting plate has a clamp that holds the motor. Tricky to install, but does not alter the machine in any way. I have one.

  2. Michael, it’s very hard for me to work that out without a 27/28 in front of me, which I don’t have right now, but if you take the faceplate off, clean out the grot of ages if you haven’t already done so, then watch what goes on when you slowly turn the crank, I’ll be surprised if it isn’t eventually be obvious what’s happening and why. I can’t help thinking though that I’ve seen the same thing on other 27/28’s which were sewing perfectly well, so I’m not sure just how significant it might be …

  3. Greetings Sid!
    Thanks for the excellent blog – great fun and I have learned a lot.
    I have a Singer 28k and it has a strange vice. Although it sews adequately ( in fact I have made myself a lined waistcoat with it ) it does this: the needle bar goes down, reaches the bottom, starts to come up a tiny distance, then goes down again, reaches bottom again, rises and then completes its cycle, going right up and starts again. Putting it another way – it goes up and down but, when down, it does a little bob before coming up properly. I think this is something behind the shiny plate which faces left – behind it, the needle bar fixes on a rotating disc. Should I adjust there please? Your advice would be very much appreciated.
    I bought the 28 on ebay for ten pounds ( scruffy and not working ) and now I have got it working and it is really satisfying to have a piece of seriously good mechanical engineering.
    Best wishes to you both. Michael

  4. Hi
    I’m just going to say that you’ve been a goldmine of information already. I’ve just picked up a machine- serial no F5657681- which so far I’ve tracked down to being made in clydebank in 1914. I think she’s a 28- the flatbed is about 12inches long but the bobbin winder is low like on the pictures of the 27. Anyway she’s gorgeous, in full working order and now i’ve found you’re blog i’ve got the info I need to cherish it and keep her running- I’m looking forward to many years of togetherness.

  5. I don’t have an Old Sewing Machine Guy! The last I knew of was fabulous and he has passed. I’ve known that it was only a matter of time before I’d have to find someone and I guess this is it. I’m glad to at least know what needle is supposed to go in this machine, that is a way forward.
    Soon, I’ll be trying to find info on my grandmother’s treadle, which is a Montgomery Ward’s and I have a feeling that I’ll be getting into the hen’s teeth category.
    Thank you so much for your help!

  6. Gosh. The correct needle for a 27 (i.e. 130/705 or 15×1) is 38mm overall, so it seems to me that your needlebar is about 4mm higher than standard. If the machine sews OK like that, somebody’s re-timed it to suit, so your best way forward is to first off reset the needlebar height to standard and then re-time the machine, but that’s quite an undertaking.

    To explain how to do that, I’d have to be sitting there right alongside you, so this is definitely one for your friendly local Old Sewing Machine Guy!

  7. Now you have me wondering; perhaps it has been altered. I can not tell you what needles I have been using. I swiped some old needles out of the drawer of my grandmother’s treadle and they work great. The one I measured is 38mm to the top of the eye and 42mm overall. The stitch will not pickup when I use the standardly available needles, I have to drop the needle down and clamp it in position lower on the bar to get it to pick up properly, which leaves little support.
    I spent some time on the phone with Sharp Sewing in L.A. (I’m in the U.S.A.) and was told that I needed a 126×3 (don’t know the manufacturer) but, they shipped me Organ needles that are identified as: 126×9 FOx9 110/18. The length on these are perfect. But, these are a round shank and I can not use them. I have to have a flat shank and they told me I can not get a flat shank in that length.
    So, I have been trying to do some research, to find out what these numbers all really mean and where I can find what I need. I want to continue using this machine and want to find a solution.
    Thank you for your response!

  8. Unless your 27’s been altered in some really weird way, it takes the same needles as 95% of domestic machines ancient and modern do – 130/705H which are also known as 15x1H. They are THE most readily available needle on the planet, so I have no idea why you’re having a hard time getting them! Lowering the needlebar won’t alter the travel but it would alter the timing.

    What needles are you using?


  9. Hi!
    I run a 1905 27 electric conversion and I just love it. I am however, having a hard time finding needles to fit this machine. Do you have any information on available needles? I’ve actually been advised to move to needle bar down. But, I run attachments and I am concerned that doing so will mess with the amount of travel necessary to make them work properly. I’d appreciate any advice or information that you could share.
    Thank you!

  10. You’re most welcome Kate. They really are very difficult indeed to do serious harm to, so have fun learning (I know that getting to grips with those shuttles does strain the patience at first). And don’t forget – never use 3-in-1 oil on it. Only proper sewing machine oil!

    If you get stuck again, you know where we are 🙂

  11. Thanks so much for giving me the confidence to think I can tinker without breaking it – logically I knew it was a 106 year old machine so little me probably wouldn’t break it, but still..

    Anyway, have worked out that the shuttle wasn’t loaded correctly so it was getting jammed under the needle plate, and so just had to unscrew plate slightly, and out it popped. Now I’m having fun (!) trying to load the bobbin into the shuttle and the thread really doesn’t seem to want to engage under the pointy bit at the bottom but never mind… I am watching some videos and trying to work it out that way. Once I have the knack there’ll be no stopping me!

    Thanks again, your fast reply was just what I needed. xxx

  12. Don’t worry Kate, you’re very unlikely to have broken it! The fact that the take-up lever isn’t moving isn’t a problem in itself – everything’s rigidly connected to everything else, so if the shuttle isn’t moving, nothing else will be.

    By the sound of it, this is something simple. A pound to a penny says something which shouldn’t be where it is is jamming the works. Tilt the head back in the base, grab a torch, and have a really good look in the area of the shuttle for bits of thread or even broken needle. The carrier needs to move freely backwards and forwards along that curve, and it doesn’t take much to jam it. If you try jiggling the balance wheel to and fro, can you feel any movement at all, or see the shuttle carrier trying to move even a little bit? If you can’t, do matters improve if you take off the needle plate?

    If you’re getting nowhere, we need more information, so by all means get back to us by email to sidandelsie @ and we’ll delve deeper.

  13. I’ve just been given a lovely 1905 Singer 28 (Clydebank) – but the carrier for the vibrating shuttle won’t move forward when I use the balance wheel – it stops under the throat plate. And now the thread take up lever isn’t moving at all (I removed the needle to see if that was somehow locked too far down and blocking the movement of the shuttle carrier. Have oiled everything overnight but mm wondering if I’ve broken the mechanism by trying to make the carrier move fully forward so I can remove the shuttle.

    If you have any ideas, I’d be VERY grateful.