Category Archives: Hand-crank sewing machines

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!

A little history


That’s a snap of a 1939 Singer 99K which we bought in Beckenham last year.  When I got that machine home, we found that in the base of it was a receipt made out to a lady who bought it secondhand in Sheffield in 1975.   When we’d finished work on it, we put the receipt inside the original instruction book, and you might just be able to see it sticking out the top in this picture, which is the one I used on the blog when I listed this machine for sale.

Before long we sold it to Linda in East Anglia, who named it Vera, and in due course Linda sent us an email, which I quote here by her kind permission …

Hope this finds you both well. I just wanted to say I am still  walking around with a smile on my face, and still  just love looking at Vera!

In the instruction book was a receipt,  for  a  Mrs Marshall  of Sheffield, well we  googled the address, and would you believe, it was a  Mrs Marshall still living there.  There was a phone no….. So I phoned her, and yes she bought Vera in 1975 in Sheffield. She said she had loved  her Singer, and had handed it on to her Daughter, and this is where I thought I  just might  be in trouble, because she said, she did not know her daughter had got rid of it!  Whoops!  Anyway, she took my phone no…..

She has just phoned me to say, she has spoken to her Daughter, and daughter said,  they  did not have the room for it,  so her Husband took it and  DUMPED IT, in a Tip in  Newcastle 20 years ago!   Amazing, I just hoped I have not caused a Family row!   Lovely to know a little of her history.

Isn’t it just?  Of course the question now is how on earth it found its way from a tip in Newcastle to a house clearance place in Beckenham …


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) 🙂


Singer 201K for sale


Picture of 1949 Singer 201K sewing machine

Rear view of Singer 201K sewing machine made in 1949

This is a rather nice 1949 Singer 201K hand-crank and it’s the latest machine to go on the “Singers for sale” page.  It’s also missing its bottom spool pin in these pictures ‘cos I forgot to replace it before I took them, but there you go …

Anyhow, having got that embarrassment out of the way, let me say that it’s customary for those flogging a 201, particularly on Ebay, to tout it as a “semi-industrial” machine.  It’s also the done thing to point out how many thicknesses of denim, leather, rhinoceros hide, chain mail or whatever a 201 will “sail through”, but it’s a lovely evening here and I don’t want to spoil it by going off on one about that just now.  Suffice it to say that not so very long ago, it seemed to be only 201s that were hyped up like that.  Now 99’s and 185’s are, regularly, so it’s surely only a matter of time before both the Barbie and the Hello Kitty sewing machines are rated “semi-industrial” too.

The reality of the 201 is that it’s a beautifully-engineered machine which is so well made it’s amazing that Singer could ever sell the things at a profit.  It’s also generally held to be the best domestic sewing machine Singer ever made, it’s true that with the right needle and the right thread it’ll sew pretty much anything you can get under the presser foot, and it was certainly designed to take a lot of use.  But not eight hours a day five days a week use.  For that you still need an industrial machine, and they tend to be bigger, heavier, uglier and a great deal more expensive.

Put simply, if the 201 was a carpet, it’d be rated Heavy Domestic.

So, given that it’s “only” a straight-stitch machine like the 15 or the 66, you can be forgiven for wondering what the big deal is.  Well, to anyone with a precision engineering background who works on sewing machines (e.g. me), the big deal is the all-metal, all-gear drive and a rotary hook.  To most people who use one, the big deal is that they run beautifully, they sew a lovely stitch, they have same-stitch-length reverse, and you can drop the feed dogs on them.

I’ll do a separate post sometime about why the rotary hook of a 201 is an improvement on the reciprocating hook of a 66.  However, die-hard fans of the 15 will already be muttering that what matters more is whether your bobbin’s horizontal or vertical, so for now I’ll just say that I do understand their argument about the 90 degree bend in the thread path, but speaking as an engineer, rotary motion beats reciprocating motion any day.  So there.

The all-metal all-gear drive thing’s a no-brainer though.  “All-metal” is good because metal gears don’t shred like horrible plastic ones can and do.  And as to the all-gear drive, the handwheel of a 15, a 66 or a 99 moves your needle, your feed and your bobbin via an ingenious system of levers, cranks and cams.  On a 201 it’s all done by shafts and gears, which is probably more efficient and is certainly far more elegant from the design point of view.

So it’s all good as far as I’m concerned, whether your 201 be the original Mk1 cast iron one or the later more modern-looking aluminium-bodied Mk2.  Elsie likes ’em too, which explains the presence of the Mk1 in the 7-drawer treadle base in the front room and the Mk2 in the No46 treadle cabinet in The Sewing Room, which in fact she’s using as I type this.  Doing something with a Swiss zigzagger, since you asked.  Which might shortly be for sale …

How we pack a sewing machine for courier delivery


It’s a shame I didn’t think to take a few snaps of a machine we bought off Ebay last year from a bloke in Scotland.  The seller assured me that he knew how to pack it, and what’s more had loads of bubble wrap, so it should get here safely and I needn’t worry.  But of course it didn’t.  The short story is that he’d wrapped a few bits of bubble wrap round the column and the arm, popped it into the suitcase-type case, wrapped that with one thickness of bubbles then basically just wrapped a carton round it.  And he was a bit mean with the parcel tape too.

The nett result was a split wooden base and some nasty dinks in the finish of the machine itself.  The split base was down to the parcel having ended up on its back in transit, which caused the head to pull the retaining catch out and try parting itself from the base on the side away from the hinges.  And the dinks were caused by the metal tray which held the tin of attachments against the top of the case being pulled out on impact, leaving a heavy metal box free to rattle about against the machine.  Writing “fragile” in small lower case letters with a blue biro in a couple of places on the brown cardboard outer had obviously not helped at all …

Here’s how we do it, but first off a statement of the obvious.  Old sewing machines are heavy.  They are in fact very heavy indeed.  A 28 or a 99 in a suitcase-case type weighs 15kg.  A MkI 201 in the same type of case weighs 21kg.  And if you’ve never picked one up so you’re struggling to imagine how heavy 21kg might be, think bag of cement.  Or bag of coal.  Anyhow, they’re heavy.  But alas, heavy doesn’t mean they can’t be damaged in transit …

Picture of sewing machine being packed for sending by courier

Here we see the start of the process.  That’s a 201K MkI in that case and as you can see, Elsie’s started wrapping everything above the machine bed in bubble wrap and recycled plastic foam packing sheet.  The bed is tied down to the wooden base with those heavy-duty black nylon cable ties, tightened down onto thick card packing so they don’t dig into and mark the woodwork.

Picture of a vintage sewing machine being packed for parcel carrier

At the stage shown above, all the space behind the upper part of the machine is packed out tight with whatever we have available, be it secondhand bubblewrap, plastic foam, bits of expanded polystyrene sheet or even crumpled up brown paper.  Anything, in fact, except polystyrene packing beans, which are no use whatsoever for this application.

That orange on the right is the foot pedal and wiring, padded out then wrapped in several layers of packing tissue until it fits snugly between the column and the side of the case.  Having got that in, we then lay the case on its back and check carefully that the machine doesn’t try to settle down if we push on it. If it does, we stuff more packing behind it until it doesn’t.

Picture of vintage sewing machine being packed

And that’s about as much packing as we could get in before the bit which is a real faff.  Once we get to this stage, Elsie spends ages trying the lid on, taking it off, putting a bit more packing in, trying the lid again and so on, until we’re as sure as we can be that nothing’s likely to move inside the case unless it hits the ground at a bad angle when dropped from a considerable height.

Once the lid’s on, we can’t rely on the catches to keep it shut, so the case is tied shut with polypropylene binder twine going both ways round it.  We then wrap the whole thing up with several layers of bubble wrap, a process which involves an enormous roll of bubble wrap and both of us on hands and knees on the kitchen floor.  It must be quite entertaining to watch.

After that comes a carton, and this is where the expanded polystyrene beans come into their own.  The case sits in the carton on a couple of inches of beans, then the space all round and on top of the case is packed tight with beans before I get to play with the parcel tape gun.  After that comes the addressing, and, for what little good it does, the ritual “FRAGILE” and “THIS WAY UP” marking in upper case with a fat felt tip marker.

We’re not done yet, though.  The last step is to get more binder twine and tie up the outer carton both ways, before crafting two thick twine hand holds on top of it.  And before you start thinking how considerate it is of us to do that for the greater comfort of the poor blokes who will be handling this great weight, let me tell you it’s no such thing.  It’s just another thing we can do to increase the odds on the carton remaining right way up for at least most of its time in transit.

So that’s how we do it.  And having just written this post, we’ve now sold a machine which is going down to Cornwall by courier on Monday, so I’ll try and remember to take some snaps of that one being packed from start to finish …

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?

Vintage Singer sewing machines for sale


Just by way of an update for you, I’ve added another Model 99 portable to the “Singers for sale” page today.  This one’s a late type electric portable, so if you’re after a Singer 99 we can now offer you a choice of hand-crank or electric!  Also on the same page is a gorgeous hand-crank Singer 66 portable, complete with original bentwood case in very nice condition indeed.

There’s at least one more Singer Model 99 in the pipeline to add to our stock of vintage hand-crank sewing machines for sale, and in case you’re wondering, the rather laboured wording of this post is intended to appeal to the great god Google …