The Singer convertible treadle base and motor controller 194386


And before I go any further, let me say that we’ve never been sure of the correct designation for the base shown in the following pictures.  If you happen to know and can point us in the direction of the relevant brochure page or whatever, we’d love to hear from you! 

OK, you can ignore the incomplete 66K which I plonked into this base just for the picture, because it’s only the base with which we’re concerned here.  And yes, I totally agree with you – it would have been nice if whoever covered the top of this one with a coat of varnish had at least tried to quieten down those watermarks first.

But never mind.  We happen to like these particular bases, and not only because of the very neat way in which the larger of those two inset sections of the top lifts off to form the extension.  Mainly we like them because more often than not, they still have the bits on them which you need to make them convertible, in the sense that you can fit an electric head to one and then have the option to treadle it or use the motor as the fancy takes you.

If however the motor controller’s been removed from one of these bases, it’ll be just like any other late-type treadle base underneath.

If all this is new to you, note that that picture’s taken from the back of the base, simply because it’s easier to see how the Pitman rod (note technical term) connects the treadle plate to the crank, so as to make the wheel go round.  What you see in that picture is what all these later domestic treadle bases look like – allowing for the fact that this one hasn’t got a belt on it!

If we look up from that angle and move round to the front of the base then hang a sheet over the back of it while we take some snaps, the underneath looks like this, which I admit is kind of boring.  However …

While that’s fine for treadling your full-size (eg 15K, 66K or 201K) vintage Singer, what to do if you want the option to use an electric machine in this base?  Well, you could just fit the head into the treadle base, plug in your machine plug and use your foot controller like you do with the machine on the kitchen table.  But it will immediately become obvious that you can’t put the foot controller where it needs to be because the treadle plate’s in the way.

What you need is …

That’s Singer Motor Controller 194386, that is, with the correct bracket to fit it to the later-type treadle bases (as opposed to the ornate cast-iron ones, which need a different bracket), together with that curly doohickey at bottom right.

The 194386 is to all intents and purposes a normal foot controller with its button on the top replaced by a metal tongue with a hole in it sticking out of one end, as you might be able to see above. The hole at top left of the cover is the cable entry, and we will very shortly see what the doohickey’s for.

So OK, let’s say you’ve found yourself one of these treadle bases, and you rather fancy putting your 201K electric in it so you have the option of either mains or people power.  What’s involved?  As far as I recall from the last time I did it, this is what’s involved …

1  Check that you have the bits shown above, and also the black metal plate which goes to the right of the machine bed and fills the 45mm gap which would otherwise exist.  You can see that plate in the top picture, but what you can’t see is that there are three holes in it – two for the treadle belt to pass through and one for the lead to the motor controller.  The plate screws to the underside of your machine bed, so you finally get to see what those two threaded holes at the far right of your machine bed are for 😉

2  Screw the plate to the machine bed, put a rubber bush in the hole through which the mains lead will go, and fit your machine head to the base via the pins of the hinges, just the same way as it fits in its wooden base.

3  Make absolutely certain that you tighten the grub screws onto the pins of those hinges.  Then check again that both are secure.  If you don’t, guess what can happen the first time you lower the machine head into the base.

4  With the mains disconnected from the wall socket, open up your existing foot controller and disconnect the two wires of the lead which goes to it.  Put both terminal screws back so you don’t lose them, then put the case back together.

5  With the mains still disconnected, plug your machine plug into the machine, and pass the lead you just disconnected from your foot controller down through the hole in that side plate.

6  Open up your Controller 194386, pass that lead through the hole in the cover, and fit the two wires to the terminals of the controller just like they were on your foot controller.

7  Now fit the 194386 to the treadle base by means of its bracket and the three screws, comme ça …

8  Undo the nut at the top end of your Pitman rod and disconnect the rod by simply twiddling it until it comes away from the crank

9  Hook the hook of the doohickey through the hole in the tongue projecting from the bottom of the controller, from back to front.  Hold the doohickey there, screw the Pitman rod into it as far as it will go, then tighten the nut up against the bottom of the doohickey …

10  Check that when you press on the treadle plate, the tongue is pulled out of the motor controller and that when you release the plate, the tongue retracts.

11  Now try it with power on, and with any luck you’re in business.  Note that you can to some extent adjust the slope of the treadle plate when it’s at rest by screwing the Pitman rod in or out of the doohickey.

12  If you’re sure that everything’s to your liking, tidy the excess mains lead out of the way for now, then power up and see how it goes.

13  When you have the electrical operation sorted, get yourself a nice new treadle belt and fit it.

14  Turn off the power.  Disconnect the Pitman rod from the doohickey, re-fit it to the crank on the treadle wheel (screwing it in as far as it’ll go), pop the belt into the groove behind your balance wheel, ease the belt onto the treadle wheel, and savour the joy of sewing with a treadle machine.

And that’s about it.  Unless you’re used to sewing by both mains and people power, it’s probably best to live with the electrics like this for long enough for you to know for sure that you’re going to keep the machine in this base.  Then you can get rid of the excess length of mains lead and tidy things up – and that’ll be another blog post sometime!

Vintage Singer Treadle for sale – plus losing your good looks due to the ironing


Sorry about this rather naff snap of it, but here you see the 1930/31 Singer 66K in a three-drawer Cabinet Base which was up for grabs on our “Machines” page at a bargain price, provided you can collect it.

But why, pray, is it such a bargain?  Because somebody has at some point stripped the top and re-finished it, so that’s now paler than it was originally, and there’s an area of the top above the left-hand drawer which needs some magic doing to it – unless of course you cheerfully accept that as part of the machine’s character, and you’re not bothered much anyhow because it’s covered up when the machine’s in use.

OK, and if the truth be known we need the space rather urgently too, because the house keeps getting smaller, seemingly irrespective of how much stuff we chuck out.  If we can find a new home for this 66 treadle, we can move stuff about in the kitchen so we can then move into it the stuff which should be in there anyway but is currently in the bathroom because there’s nowhere else for it.

The space problem’s been exacerbated this week by the arrival of Elsie’s new 60-year old Acme wringer, for which I spent a happy hour or so this afternoon fashioning a new grip for the handle out of a piece of the blue plastic water pipe which I scrounged from a building site a couple of years ago to make hoops from for the bird netting on the allotments.

I was suddenly struck with a thought about this wringer, so I checked with Wikipedia to see if a wringer is still a wringer if you’re American, and apparently it is.  However, as most Brits over 50 will know, in this country a wringer is also a mangle, as opposed to a mangel, which is of course simply the short form of mangelwurzel, a bulbous root vegetable which all cows are apparently programmed to like when it’s chopped up with a root-cutter or a spade, even if they’ve never seen one before.

Now, I seem to remember reading somewhere once that in America, a mangel is a field beet, but what I didn’t know until today is that a mangle is what we over here call a rotary iron!  And thanks to the miracle of the internets, I now know that in 1946, the ladies of America were in danger of losing their good looks due to the ironing they were doing.  Fortunately though, their salvation was at hand … thanks to the folks at Ironrite 

Incidentally, Elsie wasn’t impressed by that commercial.  She says that if the ironing was making the women of America lose their looks and spoiling their disposition, all they needed to do was get their husbands to do it in future.  And in case you were wondering, the Singer in that film is a 201 …

So, the Olympics are in England. That’s the UK, right?


I’ve been trying to think of some ingenious way in which I could weave the Olympics into a thread about, say, how to set up the check spring on your 66K, but try as I might, I couldn’t do it.  And believe me I tried.

But even though nowadays Elsie and I have no interest in sport, it would be churlish of me to ignore completely this whole Olympics thing.  So bear with me while I subject you to a post which has no relevance whatsoever to vintage Singers – unless of course you count the inspiration for what follows, which was an email exchange I had earlier this year with a guy in Canada from whom I was considering buying a rather rare attachment.

I needed to know what the shipping cost would be, and he quoted me a price which seemed excessive.   Fortunately I knew what the packed weight was likely to be, so I checked on the Canada Post website and came up with a figure about 50% cheaper.  Thanks to our subsequent email exchange, I now know that if you are in Canada and you wish to send a parcel to London, the cost of so doing, as calculated by the Canada Post website, depends on whether you enter the destination country as “England” or “UK”.  Which, if you are a Brit, is bizarre.

If, however, you’re the average American (or maybe even the average Canadian), it’s actually this whole England / Britain / UK thing which is bizarre.  So now, when we are led to believe that the eyes of the whole world are or will shortly be on the London Olympics, here’s a simple explanation of the whole thing.  It’s based on an article on the BBC news website written by Jon Kelly and Hussain Hussaini, edited and amended for clarification.  OK, here we go …

The English are British.  Lots of people think that the British are the English, but that annoys the Scots and the Welsh, because although most Scots and most Welsh know that they’re British, even if they don’t speak English, some of them think they aren’t, and some think they are but they wish they weren’t.  Scottish and Welsh people alike can though be relied upon to tell you emphatically that they are not English.

So can the Irish.  Ireland is an island, five-sixths of which is The Republic Of Ireland, which is nothing to do with the UK.  The other one-sixth is Northern Ireland, which is.

Most Irish people consider themselves to be Irish, apart from the Northern Irish, some of whom say that they are both British and Irish.  Others disagree and say they’re not exactly Irish, but they aren’t British either because although Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom, it’s not part of Great Britain.

Great Britain is a political term, by which is meant England, Wales and Scotland.  Add Northern Ireland to those three and you get the United Kingdom, which is just the short form of The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

People from England, Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland may all play cricket for England, because they are British. People from Ireland may play cricket for England, even though they aren’t British.  The English play football for England, unless they aren’t very good at it, in which case they might try to play for Ireland.

The Isle of Wight, Anglesey, the Orkneys and the Isle of Man are, like Scotland and Wales, all part of the British Isles.  People from the Isle of Wight are English, those from Anglesey are Welsh, and those from the Orkneys are Scottish, and they are all British.  However, people from the Isle of Man are not, because even though it lies half-way between the island of Ireland and England, which is of course itself also part of an island, the Isle of Man is not part of the United Kingdom.

So there you go.  A quick and simple guide to help the easily confused.  Maybe somebody from Canada Post will read this one day …

How To Sew Successfully


I was reminded the other day of some great advice contained in The Singer Sewing Book of the early 1950’s.  So, for those of you who haven’t quite got it together yet, pay attention now as Mary Brooks Picken explains, in her characteristic style, how to sew successfully …

Prepare yourself mentally for sewing … Approach the job with enthusiasm.  You must want to make something lovely, to have the fun of putting pieces of fabric together, to make a garment, to handle the fabric with appreciation, to watch the beauty of the article grow as a result of your planning and effort.

Never approach sewing with a sigh or lackadaisically.  Good results are difficult when indifference predominates.  Never try to sew with the sink full of dishes or beds unmade.  When there are urgent housekeeping chores, do these first so that your mind is free to enjoy your sewing.

When you sew, make yourself as attractive as possible.  Go through a beauty ritual of orderliness.  Have on a clean dress … Have your hair in order, powder and lipstick put on with care.  Looking attractive is a very important part of sewing, because if you are making something for yourself, you will try it on at intervals in front of your mirror, and you can hope for better results when you look your best.

Keep a little bag full of French chalk near your sewing machine where you can pick it up and dust your fingers at intervals.  This not only absorbs the moisture on your fingers. but helps keep your work clean.

Again, sewing must be approached with the idea that you are going to enjoy it, and if you are constantly fearful that a visitor will drop in or your husband come home and you will not look neatly put together, you will not enjoy your sewing as you should.

Make an appointment with yourself to sew, just as you would with your hairdresser, or with a neighbour to go shopping.  If your intimates enjoy sewing, invite them to come and sew with you from 2 to 5 on a Wednesday, or perhaps for an evening each week.  Do not spend your time planning refreshments, but insist that each bring sewing to do.

All jolly good stuff for sure, and there’s plenty more where that came from.  Strange though that with this being the 1950’s, Mrs Pickens mentions the bag of French chalk but omits to caution against dropping ones fag cigarette ash on the work.  But doesn’t it all conjure up a wonderful picture of times gone by, when women (or at least middle-class American women) might find themselves invited round to a neighbour’s for three hours of sewing – with no coffee or cake provided?

Maybe they took their own.  Whatever, lest our militant feminist reader be all of a froth at the idea that one might be fearful of ones husband coming home and finding one not neatly put together, here’s a little reminder that things were a bit different in the 1950’s …

And for what it’s worth, there’s another one here!

Ebay and vintage Singer sewing machines


We got an email today from a lady who’s after a 201K, and in it she said “I just lost a bidding war on eBay for a lovely singer 201k, it sold for £300!  I think that’s a bit much, and I have seen on your website that you sell them for a much better price.”

We thought that £300 was a bit much too, so we took a look at the relevant listing and were immediately impressed by the presentation of it.  The seller had obviously spent a lot of time and effort cleaning and polishing the machine, then more time and effort taking some very good pictures of it, then still more time crafting the listing.  There was even a video of the machine in action.  All things considered, it was a wonderful example of how to sell a sewing machine on Ebay – although I can’t help feeling that I’ve seen that very same listing before.  Maybe a previous sale fell through?  But whatever, it looked like a nice machine and it seemed to run well enough.

Now, if you go to the “Machines” page of our blog and scroll down to the 201 at the bottom that we we sold earlier this year and which was actually in even better cosmetic condition than this £300 Ebay one, you’ll see that ours cost half as much.  And for her £145 spent with us, the buyer also got all those original bits and bobs.

So where is this leading?  To some thoughts about buying vintage Singers on Ebay, that’s where, because we keep getting asked about it.  But before we go any further, let me just make it clear that I have no problem at all with people selling vintage machines on Ebay at silly prices if people are daft enough to pay those prices.   The fact that that particular 201 went for £300 shows only that when two people enter into a bidding war for an item that’s been made to look as appealing as possible, the end result is often a very expensive purchase indeed.  (The end result is often the buyer backing out of the sale too, but that’s another matter – as is the fact that there might have been more than two people bidding against each other for the £300 one, but you can’t tell because the seller set the auction up to keep bidders’ identities private.)

Be that all as it may, if you’re careful and if you’re lucky, it is still possible to pick up a nice enough vintage Singer at a realistic price on Ebay.  The trick is to be very careful and not to get carried away.   Here’s a few pointers based on our admittedly limited experience …

1.  Beware of anybody describing an ordinary vintage Singer (eg a 15, 66, 99 or 201) as a “semi-industrial” and/or “heavy duty” machine.  Either they don’t know what they’re talking about or they’re assuming that you don’t.

2.  Do your homework.  The ideal situation is for you to know more about the particular model that’s on offer than the person selling it does.  Hopefully this blog will help you with that.

3.  Ask specific questions about the machine you’re thinking of bidding on and beware of vague answers.

4.  Beware of anybody selling an electric without the mains lead and/or foot controller.  That’s the standard way of getting rid of a machine with a dodgy motor (“I don’t have the foot pedal so I can’t try it, but the needle goes up and down when you turn the wheel”).

5.  If the machine’s obviously missing a part but the seller says that’s not a problem because it’s readily available at little cost, ask yourself why they haven’t bought one and fitted it themselves in order to get a better price.  The classic example of this is the 27/28/127/128 with the missing slide plate.  Nice ones are hard to come by and they are not cheap.

6.  If you’re considering bidding on an electric, what are you going to do if you win it and then discover that it needs completely rewiring before it’s safe to use?  A PAT label on an electric sewing machine offered by a private seller is, in itself, no guarantee of anything.

7.  Realise that nearly every sewing machine sold on Ebay will need work to get it sewing at its best.

8.  Be aware that vintage sewing machines are not easy things to clean if they’re really filthy, and that many of them stink.  So do some of the cases.

9.  Remember that a seller’s feedback score of 100% does not necessarily mean that every customer of theirs has been happy with their purchase.

10.  If you bid on a sewing machine which you can’t collect in person, you need to be lucky.  That’s because most people haven’t a clue how to pack to sewing machine for delivery by courier or Parcelfarce.

And that explains the picture at the top of this post, which shows one of our 201’s being packed for delivery by UPS last year.  The next stage after that was to pad it out with more bubble wrap so that when the lid’s on, nothing can possibly move about inside the case.  Once the lid’s on, the whole thing’s plastic bagged, then taped all round in two or three places, then it goes into a tailor-made twin-wall carton with about 2″ of packing on all 6 sides.  The carton’s then taped and tied up with polypropylene twine, and roughly two hours after we started packing it, it’s finally ready for the dude in the brown van.

You can’t reasonably expect your run-of-the-mill Ebay seller to do something similar, and believe me some of them have no idea at all.  No sensible person would put the machine in its case, wrap a bin liner round that and tie a parcel label on the handle before consigning it to Parcelfarce but unfortunately not every person is sensible …

The Needle-Art Embroidery Guide – continued again!


Heather who does the “Edsmum” blog has kindly pointed out that there’s a rather nice Featherweight attachment box (the little-suitcase-type one) up on Ebay now which among other things has in it a Needle-Art Embroidery Guide.  Not only that, but it’s a “blackside” one!  And you can read the first digit of the number on it, so I’ve corrected my original post accordingly.

So, if you’re a Pheatherweight Phan, you don’t have the case, and you don’t have a Needle-Art Embroidery Guide, good luck with listing number 160831922516.  Note that it finishes on 1st July, it’s in the US, and the seller states “no international bids”.

(Come to think of it, if you are a Pheatherweight Phan, can you solve a little mystery for me?  Why on earth are the black attachments always called “blackside” rather than just plain “black”?)

How to make a Carrot Cake – by Sid


1.  Wander off down garden and dig up a few carrots.  While you’re there, see if Phyllis and Clarice have done their eggs and if they have, say “thank you very much” and bring eggs back to kitchen.

2.  Put eggs in tray in kitchen.

3.  Go back down garden and retrieve carrots from roof of chicken house.

4.  Wash carrots.

3.  Furtle about under stairs and find stone jar in which are stored last of walnuts gathered from tree by roadside on way to Farm Shop last year.  Crack one open to check if still OK, then open some more to go in cake.  Eat remainder and be amazed by how well they stored.

4.  Go to freezer and take out frozen grated outer skin (zest?) of one organic orange.  (We always grate the outside of an orange before we eat it, so we can make lots of carrot cakes.)

5.  Go to grain bin and take out 4 ounces or thereabouts of organic spelt grain.  Remind Elsie that we need to order some more soon.

6.  Grind flour

7.  Chop walnuts, and grate a couple of the bigger carrots.  Save the others to accompany next meal.

8.  Put oven on to warm up to 180°C.

9.  Empty fruit, cycling gloves and piece of string from medium-size Mason Cash mixing bowl which doubles as fruit bowl, blow dust out of bowl, and put 4oz organic butter plus 4oz unrefined sugar in it.  Stir together until creamy, add the eggs and stir lots more.

10.  Add the flour, 1 tbsp baking powder and 1 tsp ground cinnamon.  Give it all a jolly good mixing, then add an ounce or so of raisins, your chopped walnuts (an ounce or so), your grated carrots and the orange rind/zest or whatever it’s called and mix them in.

11.  Add a little splosh of 100% orange juice if it looks a bit dry, and mix until you’re fed up of doing it.

12.  Tip into greased cake tin and bung in oven for maybe half an hour or until you can push a knife into it and take it out without anything sticking to the blade.

13.  Remove from cake tin and leave on wire rack to cool.

14.  Mix some softened butter with icing sugar to make idiot icing for top of cake, and try to spread it on top without buggering up the cake, which is still quite hot and tends to fall apart if you’re not careful.

15.  Wait until it’s cooled down a bit, then pig out on seriously scrummy carrot cake!

Here’s a rotten snap of the finished product being checked out by a couple of passing sheep …

The Singer 66K and the Singer 99K – how to tell them apart


The Singer 99K is the baby sister of the Singer 66K.  Or to put it another way, the 66K is the full-size machine, and as such it fits into any vintage Singer domestic treadle base.  A 99K doesn’t, and that’s why if you ever see a treadle 99, it’s a DIY job.

The bed of a 66K is just over 14.5 inches long.  The bed of a 99K is a couple of inches shorter, and getting on for half and inch less front -to-back.  So a 66 will fit into any ordinary “full-size” base and case, even those horrible all plastic ones sold in the late 70’s/early 80’s to “up-date” the classic portables.  A 99 will only fit in either the base it was sold in, or that 99-specific Singer table called the Cadet Cabinet.

Most of the mechanicals are the same on both machines, and in practice when you switch from a 66 to a 99 there’s only two differences.  You lose maybe 2 inches throat space (or what some Americans bizarrely call “harp”), and you save about 6lb in weight, which is definitely noticeable when you cart one about.

Pictured there is a 99K in front of a 66K less its needle plate and slide plate, and as you can see, the difference isn’t exactly obvious.  This of course makes it interesting when a machine’s listed on Ebay, say, by somebody who doesn’t know, or professes not to know, what model it is, and all you have to go on is the usual side-on view of the machine.

OK then, can you tell which is which?

The answer is that the top one’s the 66K, and if you don’t have a picture to compare it with, the easiest way to tell is to look at the gold Singer badge.  On a 66K, the top of the badge is level with what is properly called the stitch regulating thumb screw.  On a 99K, the badge is well below it.

And you’d be surprised how many people don’t know that …

The Needle-Art Embroidery Guide – cont’d!


OK … my post about this little gizmo has got quite a few people wanting one.

A couple of readers have also realised that they actually have one (they didn’t have the instructions for it, so had no idea what it was), but unusually, nobody’s yet come up with any more information about Jeanne Sherman of PO Box 1, Tahoma CA and whether she made any other useful things.

So … if any of you good people are on any sewing forums or suchlike, could you perhaps do us a favour and post a link there to my previous post, and ask if anybody knows anything?  If you manage to find out anything, do please let us all know via a comment under this post.


The Needle-Art Embroidery Guide


No, we’d never heard of it either.  But then Elsie found a pristine Needle-Art Embroidery Guide tucked away with some other stuff we bought in a while ago, which made last Tuesday far more exciting than it would otherwise have been.  Fortunately the instructions were still with it …

Alas, neither mercerised crotcheting soutache nor baby rick-rack are things we keep conveniently to hand around here (and now that thanks to Google we know what they are, that’s the way it’s likely to stay), so were were really scratching to find something to try out this little doohickey with.  In the end, the best we could manage was the remains of a ball of secondhand black wool left over from Elsie’s last rugmaking spree.

And lo – the thing works!  It really does.  Stays in place on the standard presser foot no problem, and you get a lovely line of stitching straight down the middle of your braid or whatever.  In the picture below, Elsie’s slid it off the presser foot while still threaded so you get a better idea of how ingenious it is ..

The only other thing I can tell you about the Needle-Art Embroidery Guide is that stamped on it is 93742 USA.  And for what it’s worth, here’s a glimpse of it in action with the black wool on Elsie’s treadle 201K earlier on this cold, dull and wet English summer’s morn …

Don’t bother getting the popcorn ready for that – the run time’s only 10 seconds, mainly because the demonstrator needed to get back to her multi-tasking in the kitchen, which this morning involved bottling the second lot of elderflower champagne whilst making yet another batch of rhubarb and elderflower jam.

Now, given that we’d never heard of the Needle-Art Embroidery Guide before and Google still hasn’t, can anybody date its introduction for us?  And who is or was Jeanne Sherman of PO Box 1, Tahoma CA?  Did she make anything else?  Enquiring minds need to know …