Which way round does the needle go in a vintage Singer sewing machine?

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This is easy.  Honest.  Stick with me to the end of this post, and you’ll be able to saunter up to any vintage Singer machine, take but the quickest of glances at it, and gain the respect and admiration of astonished bystanders by immediately saying whether or not the needle’s in the right way round.  And as I’m sure you realise, that’s a very handy skill to have.

First off though, let’s get the terminology right.  The rod thingy which goes up and down when you sew, and into the end of which you insert your needle, is called the needle bar.  Your needle’s held in the needle bar by the needle clamp, which is what you tighten by means of the clamp screw.  And just in case you’re now wondering what the other rod thingy which doesn’t go up and down but has the presser foot on the end of it is called, it’s the presser bar.

Next we need to consider exactly how the needle fits in the end of the needle bar …

Picture of Singer 99 needle bar and clamp

That’s the needle bar and clamp of a Singer 99K, about which we need to note two things.  One is that the needle bar has a slot in it, here visible above the clamp.  And the other is that just above that clamp, there’s what at first glance seems to be the top of the needle.  Except it isn’t. That little shiny blob is actually the needle stop, up against which you push the needle when you slide it up through the clamp.  That’s what ensures that your needle is set at exactly the right height – as long as you slide it up as far as it’ll go.

Here’s what it looks like if we take away the needle clamp …

Picture of needlebar on Singer 99 without clamp

See how the needle actually fits in?  The flat face of the fat end sits against the flat bottom of that slot, so in cross-section it looks like this …

And now you know what determines which way round the needle goes!  It always goes in with the flat on it facing the bottom of the slot in the needlebar.

Going back to that picture at the top, you’ll see that as you’re sitting at that 99, with the screw of the needle clamp pointing to your right, the slot in the needlebar faces left.  Therefore the needle goes in with the flat side to your right, which is actually the most common way round.

Now check out this picture of a rather mucky beige 201 Mk2 without a presser foot …

Picture of Singer 201K Mk2 needle bar and clamp

This time we’re looking towards the left-hand end of the machine.  The clamp screw still faces the right-hand end just like on the 99, but golly gosh – the slot in this needlebar faces right too!  Yep, the needlebar on a 201 is indeed the other way round, which of course means that on a 201, the needle goes in the other way round i.e. flat to the left.

We could actually complicate matters by considering that some needlebars have slots in them which face forward (towards you as you’re sewing), but those didn’t appear until after the rot set in and Singer started making the newer machines, so I’ll keep things simple and not mention them.

So, you now know that it really is easy to tell which way round the needle goes in a vintage Singer.  All you have to do is check which side the needlebar slot faces, then fit the needle so that the flat on it sits against the bottom of the slot.

Next week’s thrilling instalment is tentatively entitled “Now You Know Which Way Round The Needle Goes, How Do You Tell Which Way To Thread It?” …

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