Category Archives: Singer 15

Which way round does the bobbin go in a vintage Singer?

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If it’s a long bobbin for a Vibrating Shuttle machine, it’s easy – you hold the shuttle with the pointed end down, and the bobbin drops into the top of it with the thread coming off from left to right across the front.   If the thread’s coming off from the back of the bobbin, that’s wrong.  It needs to be left to right, on your side.

Yes, I know a picture would have been a great help there, but I forgot to take one.  At this time of year I have to wait for a bit of sunshine in which to take a halfway-decent snap, and more often than not as soon as we get the slightest hint of a blue sky, Elsie drags me into the garden to be her assistant/labourer and by the time I get back inside, put the kettle on and remember there’s a picture I need to take, the sun’s gone in.

Anyhow …

If it’s a round bobbin machine, it depends on what model it is, and if you’re thinking to yourself “does it matter which way round I put the bobbin in?”, the answer is oh yes it does.

Now obviously this isn’t a problem if you only ever use one type of vintage Singer, because you’ll have read the book of words for it and know perfectly well which way round the bobbin goes in it.  But what if you’ve just scrounged the lovely old 66K that Mrs Thing next door but one was about to take to the dump along with her weekly accumulation of empty gin bottles and copies of the Daily Mail and you can’t wait to see if it works?  Or your friend Sally of the School Gate Gang’s got an old Singer which won’t sew properly and she’s asked if you’ll have a look at it for her if there’s coffee and cupcakes involved?  Maybe you have a 99 and a 201 and every now and then you have a brainfart about the bobbins?  Whatever, here’s how you tell which way round the bobbin goes in a pre-mid-1960’s Singer (and for all I know about the later machines, in one of them too).

Check out the bobbin case, which is the proper name for that bit of your machine into which you drop your bobbin.  If you look round the sides of the hole into which your bobbin goes, you will see a diagonal slot in it, like this …

Detail photo of Singer 99 bobbin case

That’s a 66/99 bobbin case (they’re identical), and as you can see, the slot exits the case to the left, or to put it another way, anti-clockwise.

Picture of bobbin in Singer 99 bobbin carrier

And there’s that same bobbin case photographed from the same angle, now with a bobbin in it the right way round i.e. with the thread coming off it anti-clockwise.  Yep, the thread comes off the bobbin the same way that the slot exits the case.

Having got the bobbin in, your next step of course is to pull the thread to the right so it runs under the tension spring and into the notch, then pull it across the top of the bobbin and close your slide plate.

When you do that, you’re actually making sure that the thread leaves the bobbin through the hole at the bottom of the slot, then under the tension spring in exactly the right way for the spring to apply constant tension.  Pulling on the thread pulls it down the slope of the slot, and ensures that it stays in the hole as it feeds off the bobbin.

If your bobbin is in the wrong way round, pulling on the thread doesn’t necessarily slide it down the slot into the hole, so you may well get inconsistent bottom tension.

Detail of Singer 201 bobbin carrier

Now here we have the bobbin case out of a 201, and as you can see, the slot faces the other way i.e. it exits the case to the right, or clockwise.  So which way does the thread need to leave the bobbin on a 201?

Detail photo of thread leaving Singer 201 bobbin

Yep, that’s right.   Clockwise.  OK, I completely forgot to photograph a 15 bobbin case, but you can take it from me that it has a slot in it which provides exactly the same clue as to which way round the bobbin goes.

And that’s it.  All you need to do is take a look at the slot in the side wall of the bobbin case, and that tells you which way your thread needs to leave the bobbin …

Picture of Singer 66/99 and 201 bobbin carriers

66/99 on the left, slot exits anti-clockwise therefore thread comes off the bobbin anti-clock.  201 on the right, slot exits clockwise, so your thread comes off clockwise too, like this …

Picture of Singer 66/99 and 201 bobbin carriers and bobbins

Finally, just in case it hasn’t occurred to you, if you take this information together with what I’ve rabbitted on about in earlier posts, you now know how to put both the needle and the bobbin in any vintage Singer the right way round, as well as which way to thread the needle – and all this without an instruction book.

And by the way, if you’re still tut-tutting about these grotty old bobbin carriers, you should have seen the state of them before Elsie insisted on getting the thick of the muck off …

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Vintage Singer cabinets, treadle bases – and 1929 UK prices

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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 measuringworth.com 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

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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 @ btinternet.com without those spaces if you’re stuck and we’ll see if we can help you solve the mystery.


That “K” suffix

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Just so you know, the difference between a Singer 66 and a Singer 66K is the same as the difference between a 99 and a 99K, or indeed a 201 and a 201K i.e. nothing.  Zilch.  Nada.

There is no difference at all.  All that “K” suffix does is tell you that the machine was made in Singer’s Kilbowie factory in Clydebank, Scotland.

At one time, Singer had factories all over the planet making basically the same models, so depending on where it was made, your Singer Model 15, for example, could be a 15K (Kilbowie), or a 15E (New Jersey), a 15A (South Carolina), a 15SJ (Quebec) or perhaps even a 15P (Podolsk, Russia).  And even if you had one of each of those, you still wouldn’t have a full set.

What there is a difference between is machines with different numbers after that suffix.  Those numbers tell you what the variant is, for example a 201K1 is a natural-born treadle machine, whereas a 201K3 is a portable (or more accurately where the 201 is concerned “portable”) electric.

So there you go.  The “K” just means it’s a home-grown Singer.

Get into model numbers any deeper than that and you’re entering anorak territory …