Category Archives: Vintage Singer cabinets and treadle bases

The Singer Enclosed Cabinet No.51

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Before we get to the nitty-gritty about this cabinet, I must apologise for these less than wonderful snaps of it and get the excuses out the way.  The Sewing Room measures 7ft x 9ft, it has a small window in the narrow end opposite the door, and right now there is this cabinet plus two treadle machines in it.  There’s also baskets of fabric, a large bean bag (I have no idea why), Stoner’s bean bag (awaiting repair) and six other sewing machines in their cases.  So there is not a lot of room.  Hence these very wide angle shots …

Picture of Vintage Singer cabinet no.46

Picture of Singer Cabinet no.46 with Singer 201K Mk2

So OK, that is Elsie’s 201K21 (that is to say, 201K Mk2, treadle version) in her fairly dark Cabinet No.51, and yes Hawkeye I do know there isn’t a drive belt on it.  There will be when I get round to it.  It’s on The List.

This thing measures 21 inches wide by 17 inches front to back, and it’s the Singer standard 31 inches tall.  To go from closed to ready to rock, you open the front doors first because the left-hand one supports that flap, which you then simply swing over from its closed position.  And as I’m sure you’ve already worked out, that adds 21 inches to the left of the base, so if you’re going to put one of these in an alcove, you need a minimum width of 42 inches.

Having opened the doors and turned the flap over, you’re left looking at this …

Picture of top of Singer Cabinet #46 with machine down

except of course there will be a drive belt in place on yours.  All that’s left to do then is lift up that hinged flap in the foreground, grasp the arm of the machine, swing it upwards away from you on those hinges you can see at the back, drop the front flap back down, and lower the machine into position.  C’est un doddle, as the French say.  There’s even a big spring thing lurking under the cabinet top which takes some of the weight as you raise and lower the machine.

Picture of drawer of Singer Cabinet no.46
That really neat tray with the swing-out drawer (for want of the proper word) under it lives inside the left-hand door, and is well handy.  It’s also a headscratcher if you’ve never seen a picture like this before, because the spring catch which holds it closed is quite strong and it’s not at all obvious how it opens up.

And now to the treadle mechanism, as seen below …

Picture of interior of Singer cabinet #46

What we see here is the treadle plate at the bottom with the horrible brown rubber mat on it which is always rock hard from age, and at the top is a nicely varnished bit of curved plywood with a metal edge.  That’s a typical Singer touch, that is – it’s to stop any oil dripping down inside the cabinet (or worse still onto your legs).  It’s even hinged at the front and suspended from the machine base at the back by a bit of chain, so it rises and falls as you raise and lower the machine head.  Neat or what?

The thingy with the small wheel in the top right is the bobbin winder on the folded-down 201, and that rod is what is properly called the pitman rod, the bottom end of which is fixed to the back of the treadle plate by a ball joint.  The top end of the pitman rod is normally connected to the crank of the treadle wheel, which hopefully you can just make out behind all that other ironwork (most of which is the skirt guard).  That’s how the up-and-down motion of the treadle plate is converted into circular motion of the treadle wheel, around the circumference of which the drive belts passes to drive the machine head.  Or would if I’d got round to re-fitting the one on this machine.

However, as you can see, the top of this particular pitman rod is not connected to the treadle wheel.  It’s connected instead to that brown metal box, which is seen more clearly in this snap …

Detail of speed controller in Singer cabinet #46

The brown metal box is the Singer Sewing Motor Controller, and the pitman rod actually connects to the slidy-in-and-outy bit at the bottom of it, by means of which the controller does the controlling of the motor, assuming of course that one is fitted to the machine in the cabinet.  Now, if you’re one step ahead of me here, you’ve already realised that this is very cool indeed.  Yep, the treadle plate either drives the machine, or it acts as a foot pedal to control the speed of a motor attached to it, depending on what you connect the top of that rod to.  And changing it over is no big deal at all.

So that’s the Cabinet No.51.  I’m not sure what the colour choice was in the local Singer shop, but nowadays you see them in anything from a light oak to a very dark oak, and they are certainly very sturdy, well made bits of furniture.  They’re also heavy.  Elsie and I can cart one up the stairs between us if we take our time, but they’re a bit awkward to get in and out of the back of the car.  If you do ever move one by car, don’t forget to take the head out of the cabinet first! And at the risk of stating the obvious, it’s a good idea to fit castors to a No.51 once you’ve got it home and sorted to your liking!

Although they’re at least 50 years old, these cabinets are more common than you might think, and indeed it often seems to me that every second household in south Wales and in the north-west must had one with a 201 in it in the 1940’s.  They do tend to have their share of scratches and scrapes, as well as the almost-inevitable water rings on the top where the plant pot with the aspidistra stood on it, but you’d be surprised what you can do with those wood restorers they sell in B&Q.

Points to watch if buying at auction or particularly on Ebay include check whether all the treadle mechanism is still there and avoid one if it is but it’s rusty.  If a cabinet’s got that damp at some point in its life, odds on there’ll be some veneer lifted somewhere or maybe even rotted.  Also watch for strained hinges on the top flap caused by repeatedly lowering it without the left-hand door open under it, and doors that don’t close properly because one or both of the (very long) hinges is stuffed.  One other thing – when checking out any enclosed cabinet with a view to purchasing it, be prepared for it being really grotty inside and having a strong pong when you open it up …

Singer Cabinet No.51 will take a 15, a 66 or a 201 of either flavour, and we usually have one available at a sensible price which is clean and tidy but perhaps still has scope for improving the surface finish.

Cabinets and treadle bases for vintage Singer sewing machines

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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.