Monday, August 6, 2012

A Cheap Imposter

Decades ago, Singer made sewing machines to literally last a lifetime.  There are hundreds of thousands of Singer machines (maybe even millions) made 50-100 years ago that are still going strong.  But from the manufacturer's point of view, if you want to sell more sewing machines then a little built in obsolescence is in order.  If Grandma hands down the machine to her daughter and granddaughter, and if these machines need few parts or minimal service as the years go by, then how is this company going to continue to make sales?   

Well first of all they add more features.  You started out with a basic straight stitch machine.  Here's what it will do - it will SEW.  Perfectly, beautifully, and without hesitation day in and day out for years and years.  It was also a treasured showpiece in the home.  I imagine that generations ago a beautifully appointed Singer with its gorgeous gilt decals was a woman's pride and joy.  

This isn't even one of the more stunning examples of a vintage Singer (like the Lotus or Red-Eye models) but it is simple, elegant and beautiful.
Singer 201

In the 1940's and 1950's this was a TOL Singer.  But other companies had machines on the market in the '50's with dazzling features and a more modern appearance.  

Here is an illustration of an alternative a seamstress would have to a basic straight stitch Singer.

So the ladies started trading up and who could blame them? Hey, if I saw an ad like that in 1952 and I could afford it, I'd hustle on down to the dealer and buy it. Maybe I'd even trade in my older Singer for the downpayment.  

No doubt by the 1960's an old black and gold Singer would be regarded as nothing more than "old fashioned."   ("Vintage" being a word usually associated with wine.)

The Singer Featherweight got an updated look in it's last few years. 

As did the 15-91, whose modernized version was the 15-125

And the 201K

The changes were mostly cosmetic as these were still basic straight stitch machines.   All the newest features were on the Slant-O-Matics which came out in the early '60's.  Not only space age styling but now we were doing zig zag, decorative stitches, twin needle stitching, buttonholes and all the other bells and whistles.  However, these were still solid, mechanical, all metal machines made for a lifetime of service.

I'm going to skip ahead now...past the era of the Touch & Sew, the Fashion Mate, the Genie, the Stylist...past the Athena and all the early electronic models... right up to the computerized models of today.  Somewhere along the way gears were no longer made of metal, but nylon.  I don't know exactly when the plastic began to creep in (I think about the late 1960s) but over the last 40 years the domestic sewing machine has morphed into the blob of plastic as we know it today.   A mid-range sewing machine today costs anywhere from $200-$1000 and looks like this

The machine housing and the knobs are all plastic.  Unbelievably even the presser bar lever is plastic.  That is a lever that gets constant use, how long before it snaps off?  The cheap plastic construction almost makes it seem like a toy.   

When I read the list of features these machines have I'm not impressed.  Needle up/down feature?  I've got that, it's called a hand wheel.  Never fails to work after all these years.  

88 built in stitches?  My Rocketeer has 22 stitches and I have yet to use more than 6-8 of them.  But I do know that they will work perfectly every single time - and have been for 50 years - because they are made with cams. It takes an extra 15 seconds of my time to switch them out, but they are absolutely reliable and fool proof.  I  move levers to change stitch width and length.  I turn knobs to adjust presser foot pressure and tension.  No "automatic" tension or pressure adjustments here, I fine tune it exactly the way I want it.  (And my knobs and levers will NEVER break off.  That's a fact.)

One model boasted that it had "centered zig zag tapering".  What's the big deal about that?  My 503 can do that.

So this is all leading back to here.  Singer is commemorating it's 160th year with this model reminiscent of the classic, vintage machines they built their reputation on.   But sadly it is only a cheap, flimsy imposter of the real thing.  That shiny hand wheel?  That's not chrome, that's plastic.  YUCK!!!  I think these sell for around $500.  These will be in landfills while a 201 from 1950 is still sewing strong.  


  1. You'll hear no argument from me -- great post.

    Do you find those slant foot Singers easier to use? I've never sewn with one.

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  3. You took all the words right outta my mouth :) Well said!

  4. The computer display on the new Singer is particularly disturbing. I completely agree with everything you've said!

  5. I actually saw one of these 160 year anniversary machines today. Soooooo NOT impressed! The least they could have done was made it out of metal, ya know....for the anniversary. Lol