Friday, December 15, 2017

Singer Toy Lockstitch Sewing Machine

So back in the day, Singer even made a half-way decent toy sewing machine, a real LOCKSTITCH sewing machine:

This one has an actual bobbin
That is a shuttle type bobbin

And even a bobbin winder

It has a foot pedal and comes in a carrying case

Of course this a 100% toy, and not meant to actually sew much more than two pieces of cloth together.  But I would have LOVED to have had this when I was ten years old.  I used to sew clothes for my Barbies back then - by hand - and I was so proud of them.  I would have been beside myself to have a little machine that could do very basic stitching.

And here is how it works

It makes a perfectly nice, even stitch which is a full lockstitch and will actually hold the fabric together.

You can buy pretty cute toy sewing machines nowadays like this:
Super cute, yes, but it makes a chain stitch which is less than worthless.  Most toy sewing machines you can buy now, no matter how fancy they seem with all the gadgets and accessories, make a chain stitch.  It makes me mad whenever I see those chainstitch machines advertised as being something you can "make" things with.  The only thing you will ever make with one of those is a mess!

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

A Word You'll Never Hear Me Say (About Sewing Machines)

Very short and quick post here.

From 1960:

I like to read sewing machine reviews - of all kinds of machines, not just vintage - and it has become a game where I am waiting for the inevitable description of any given machine as a "workhorse."  I'm getting tired of this same old/same old description.  Every machine is described a "workhorse," so it doesn't even mean anything.

THIS is a workhorse

THIS is a sewing machine
I'm ready to hear some lively new words to describe sewing machines because this one's been done to death.

I assure anyone who reads this blog that I will never refer to a machine by that term.  I'll come up with other descriptive words for sturdy, heavy-duty sewing machines but that is one you will never hear me say.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Singer 328k Style-o-Matic

Here's something a little different from the usual parade of Slant-o-Matics I've reviewed lately, and it goes to show that looks can be deceiving.  At first glance, this doesn't look a whole lot different than one of the 400 machines, and you even might be tempted to think that it is somehow related to a 301 because of the number.  But this is a different machine entirely. (Although they riffed off the name, calling this a "Style-o-Matic.")

 This is from the early-mid 1960s, and I'm assuming was a budget model.  It actually weighs more than the Slant-o-Matics of the same era, but is not the same quality.  That is not to say this isn't a good machine - it is - but once you've sewn with one of Singer's contemporary TOL models you can really tell the difference.

Singer 328k takes flat cams 

 Rather than built in stitches, zigzag and other decorative stitches are made with cams.  These are flat discs instead of the top hat cams that go in the 403 and 503.

A low-budget feature is the power cord that is hard-wired into the machine rather than plugged into a terminal.  There is also no on/off switch for the light.  So there is no way around it, you must crawl down on the floor to plug/unplug this machine every time you use it.

feed dog disengagement system
*The strangest thing I found was that flat black plate shown above. When I first tried to sew with this machine, the feed dogs weren't engaged.  I couldn't figure it out, because I couldn't see where they could be lowered manually, and there isn't an elevated throat plate system either.

Well I removed the throat plate and saw this black piece situated beneath it.  This raises up the throat plate just enough to bypass the feed dogs.  Interesting...

The typical accessories

This machine has an oscillating hook, and also has a belt (running off an enclosed motor) rather than a direct gear drive.  But while that means the 328k doesn't run quite as smoothly as its TOL cousins, the stitch quality is good.

This isn't going to be your "fun" machine - it won't make your vintage loving heart sing. It's not a collector's item.  But it is utilitarian, it is solid, and it works perfectly.

And of course, I always supply my little clip of the machine in action.  It sews nicely, and it is in great condition - ready to give a new owner years of good, reliable service.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Who Buys My Machines?

Yesterday I both bought and sold a vintage Singer. It's just a hobby for me, not really much profit to be had (the profits roll right back into the hobby fund.)  In the last five or six years I've sold a couple dozen of them, I guess, and I always sew at least one project on each machine before it goes to its new home.  That is the fun part to me - discovering machines that haven't been used for years, and putting them back into circulation.

I started thinking about who buys these old Singers from me, and why.

I'll start with the obvious: the Featherweights.  I've lost track of how many of these I've sold, but it's not hard to see why.  They are both useful AND collectible.

I've sold beautiful ones,and shabby ones,

and many more in between.  Some are for Show and some are for Sew.  I'll say this, Featherweights sell themselves.  I list, they buy.  With one exception, I've sold all these on eBay.  They are the only machines that are light and compact enough to ship easily.

I've sold most of my Singers through word of mouth or on Craigslist.  I've lost track of them all, but here are some examples:

I've sold a number of 15-91s, including this one.  One of these was bought by a local clothing designer who wanted a sturdy, reliable machine for his studio.  

Singer 15-91

He was a repeat customer, having previously bought this 201 from me.  He loved it so much he wanted another one like it.
Singer 201

These machines have different configurations (vertical/oscillating hook versus horizontal/rotary hook) but they are both fine machines, well suited to garment construction.

One machine that was a little different from my usual line up was a Singer Stylist free-arm machine like this:
Singer Stylist (not the actual one I sold)
I remember this one, especially, because I paid only $5 for it and then I replaced the worn-out nylon gears and reset the hook timing - yes, I did it myself!  Unbelievably, I was not only able to purchase the gear set online for $25, but I found a DIY video showing the exact same model, step-by-step how to do it. (I mainly did this for the experience - just to see if I could.)  It ran perfectly after that and I sold it for a whopping $75. The young man who bought it wanted it specifically to sew a sail. I never heard how it turned out, but I do know that he got a good value compared to the "Bucket-o-Plastic" machine he could afford to buy at WalMart.

Of course I've sold several Slant-o-Matics.  They are in big demand, and many buyers mention that their grandmother sewed on such a machine and now they want one.  One customer does custom home dec sewing like drapery and upholstery, and she specifically wants these machines because they can meet the demand for heavier sewing.  (I'm not implying these are industrial strength machines, by any means, but compared to modern domestic sewing machines they are beasts.)

Singer 503
Singer 403

Along the way, I've also sold scores of accessories and attachments like zigzaggers, buttonholers, hemstitchers, presser feet, bobbins, manuals, and even cabinets.  These are items that usually "come along for the ride" when I buy a machine.  Believe me, there is nothing I love more than opening the drawers of an old sewing cabinet or lifting the lid of a sewing stool.  Treasures to be found!  

Singer Automatic Zigzagger

Singer Automatic Buttonholer

This is all in fun, and as long as I break even it's a sustainable hobby that also helps provide new homes to these great machines that have many more years of good service to give.

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Coveted 301 Longbed with Carrying Case

And it didn't cost me a cent!

Singer 301a long bed

So, here's how I got it:  I bought the 403 shown in this post for $50, I sold it for $100, then I bought this 301 for $50.  In fact, if you look at the blog photo of all my machines, that entire collection (including all the accessories) hasn't set me back one cent.  For every machine or gadget I own, I've sold at least four others which replenishes my hobby fund.

If you're so inclined, you can do this with almost anything you collect.  It simply takes time and patience, and you have to enjoy the process of hunting for the next great find, dragging it home, fixing it up, and selling it.  I do enjoy that since there is always another model I want to acquire, even if it is only passing through.

Of course I already have the 301 black short bed in a cabinet
Singer 301 short bed
These are two variations of the exact same machine.  The "bed" is the extension leaf that folds up and down so you can access the vertical bobbin case under the machine (the Featherweight has this, too.)  The long bed, like this beige one, won't fit into a standard cabinet and usually comes with the carrying case.  The short bed, like this black one, fits into certain Singer cabinets with a cradle adaptor.  This means it can be easily removed from the cabinet - you don't have to unscrew anything - and used as a portable. (This post shows how the cradle adaptor fits into the cabinet.)

Keep in mind that you can also get the short bed in beige or the long bed in black.  The black is usually considered more "collectible" mainly because it is the last of the beautiful black Singers with the glossy gold decals.  The beige 301 ushered in the color scheme that would be seen in the 400 and 500 Slant-o-Matics.  Apparently this was supposed to be a more "modern" style, but they just didn't have the same glamour as the classic black and gold models.

Not that Singer didn't try to cash in on vintage appeal with their anniversary edition 160 a couple of years ago (the less said about this cheap, plastic imitation, the better.)

        So, back to the 301.  

I've raved about them before, and I have to say that this is the hands down best machine of ALL the many vintage Singers I've owned.  The other Slant-o-Matics are good, don't get me wrong, but the 301 is not only the original Slant-o-Matic, it is the only one with the vertical bobbin.  And this machine runs like greased lightning - 1500+ stitches per minute.  I'm pretty sure that beats any but the most expensive home machine you can buy today, and you can cop one of these for $100 or less.

The carrying case is also exceptionally cool and this one is in very nice condition.

And it came with SIX original Class 221 bobbins.

Hey, those original bobbins are worth $2-$3 apiece, maybe more.  They are hard to find, and I never use reproduction bobbins in my vintage Singers.

I don't know how long this machine will be around, but since I broke even, I'm not in any hurry to sell it.  I think I'll just enjoy it for awhile before I decide.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Singer 401 versus 403 (and 404)

This was something I used to wonder about - the differences between Singer 401, 403, and 404
Slant-o-Matics.  In the past year, I have acquired each of these machines and can now explain it to anyone else who is wondering.

I already covered the 404 in another post:  it is a basic, but excellent straight stitcher.  It is easy to use, practically indestructible, and fool proof.  There is nothing fancy here, just great stitching.

Singer 404 (straight stitch)

Here I will explain the difference between the 401 and 403

Singer 403 "Semi-Automatic" 

Singer 401 "Automatic"

The difference basically comes down to this.  The 403 is "semi-automatic" because it zigzags only with a cam in place (it is shown here with the "0" cam that makes the zz stitch.)  Other decorative stitches can be made by popping this cam out and substituting one of the other 22 top hat cams that are available.  This is pretty simple, and straightforward - choose your stitch pattern and pop it in.  You choose your stitch width and needle position as usual.
Singer 403 takes one cam at a time

Then you have the 401.  It is considered "automatic" because the zigzag stitch is built-in via a camstack.  This also includes a number of other fashion stitches which you arrive at by a somewhat complicated system of turning two lettered dials to get your stitch pattern.  To add to the confusion,  it also takes top hat cams to make different "combination" stitches.  (I explain that in a little more detail here.)

Singer 401 with camstack, plus takes extra cam for "combination" stitches

In all other respects, these machines are identical.  They both have horizontal (drop-in) bobbin with rotary hook, dual spool pins and dual upper tension for twin needle stitching, three needle positions, the elevated throat plate system, bobbin winder on the side, and a flip top for cam placement.

Here is a handy chart showing the 401 vs 403 stitch patterns

Now the 401 is known as the TOL (top of the line) machine for this series.  Supposedly because you had built-in stitches, this was the better machine.   


If you mostly just straight stitch and zigzag - and only occasionally use any kind of decorative stitch  - then I think the 403 is actually better because it is easier to use.  With the 401 you have to dial in the combination AK3 to straight-stitch, and to zigzag you have to dial in BL + stitch width.  With the 403 you just move your stitch width lever to "S" to straight stitch, and to whatever stitch width you want for zigzag.  Easier!  And honestly, by the time you figure out which combination of dials gives you a certain decorative stitch on the 401, you could have just popped a cam into the 403 and been on your way.

While the 401 is considered by many to be the gold standard among Slant-o-Matics, just know that the stitch quality and speed are identical to the 403.  (The camstack is literally the only difference between the two.)

I love to make little videos of my machines stitching so here is a side-by-side comparison. (The 403 sounds a tad louder because it is sitting on a table while the 401 is installed in a cabinet which absorbs some of the sound.)

Singer 403

Singer 401

The stitch quality is also exactly the same, the two are indistinguishable (403 = blue/401 = red)

(NOTE:  the difference between the 500 and 503 Rocketeers is basically the same as the 401 and 403 - one has a built-in camstack and the other requires a cam to zigzag .)

Saturday, November 11, 2017

I'll Never Do This Again!

Generally I like almost all kinds of sewing - some better than others, of course.  My favorite things to make are accessories, costumes, baby clothing, and doll clothes.  These types of projects are fun, and not too demanding.  You can use a lot of creativity, but serious fitting skills aren't required.

Simplicity 1033
For example, I recently made this costume for a Day of the Dead event from Simplicity 1033.  It was fun, and I did sugar skull make-up and I even found skull-patterned fishnet stockings to wear with it.  (And no, I won't post a photo of me wearing it!)

Then I was asked to donate a square to a local project that is assembling a quilt for some kind of folklore event.  I said, "Sure, I've never quilted before, but one block sounds simple enough."  I had several basic patterns to choose from and this star looked pretty simple.  

(If you look back here, you can see where I originally used this fabric in another volunteer project.)

I guess it was a simple enough pattern, but I soon found out how excruciatingly exacting quilting can be.  It's not that other kinds of sewing aren't exact, but with quilting you are putting lots of little pieces together like a puzzle, using 1/4" seam allowances, and there is no room for error.  In this case the finished size was to be a 12-1/2" square block which took me three tries to get it right!  I drew the pattern myself, just looking at a picture, and figured it out as I went along. I ended up with two messy 12-1/4" squares I couldn't use.  Somehow it shrunk up in the sewing.  

Well who knew that the 1/4" seam in quilting really means a scant 1/4" seam?  Naturally, any quilter knows that, but I didn't.  (I do now!)  I also decided to stitch those diagonal seams from center to point/center to point.  That took more time, but it kept the bias from stretching and kept the points from getting chewed up at the beginning of the seam.  It seemed to square up better when I did it that way.

Anyway, the third time was a charm and I finally got the exact measurement on the finished square and can't imagine EVER making enough of those to make a quilt.  One was enough.

PS...yes, one of the star points is cut off-grain, but I'm NOT going to do this again!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Singer 401 - My First Impressions

The Sewing Gods have smiled on me once again.  (I don't have this kind of good fortune in every area of my life - I've been looking for a job for a year now - so this is like the consolation prize.)

While I haven't been actively searching for new machines or cabinets for a while now, I always hoped for a 401 Slant-O-Matic to complete my collection.  I love my 503 Rocketeer with the two dozen cams for different stitches.  I love my 301 for fast, perfect straight stitching.  I loved my 404 for the same reason (I gifted it to my mom.)  Somewhere in there, I've always wanted to try a 401, which was supposed to be Singer's TOL machine of it's day.

My husband happened upon this machine at an Estate Sale. A beauty of a 401 (it was clean and well maintained) in the cabinet, with the stool, original manual, and complete set of attachments for $50 - What a deal!

Singer 401a

Among my stable of Slant-O-Matics, there are similarities and overlaps which can get confusing so I've made a chart to contrast and compare:

I got the new machine all set up, and ready to go.  I noticed right away that it is a little louder than my other machines, but could be because it has a lot more mechanisms, like the cam stack, inside.  It has a somewhat complicated system for choosing stitch patterns which requires referring to a chart inside the lid.  (It is annoying that the thread spools are on top of this lid so need to be secured before flipping up the lid to see the chart.)

The double letters for each stitch pattern refer to the two knobs: one labeled A-J, and the other K-S. You turn one knob to the first letter and the other knob to the second letter to get the pattern.  Different letter combinations also change your needle position, but only on "primary" patterns. However, if you're straight stitching, then the stitch-width lever changes your needle position.  On "combination" patterns, you apparently can't adjust width or needle position. If this seems a little convoluted, it is!  To me, popping in a top-hat cam for the stitch I want - on my 503 - is just as easy AND you can easily adjust width/needle position on any stitch.  I'm not convinced this is a better system.

I'm also not convinced I will choose this machine for general sewing since it doesn't straight stitch as fast and smoothly as the 301 and 404 straight stitchers.  I need to play with it a little to find out what advantages it offers over the other Slant-O-Matics.  It's supposed to be the Holy Grail of Slant-O-Matics so let's see what it can do...

Sunday, June 25, 2017

A Train Case for Train Trip

In August, I am off on a new adventure which is a cross country train trip on Amtrak.  This will be a round trip from Atlanta to Washington DC to Chicago to Denver.   That is three nights going and three nights coming back - six nights on a train!  We got the Roomette, which is a small compartment with two large seats during the day, and an upper and lower berth at night.

Can't wait!

So in this month's issue of Sew News  (June/July 2017) I saw a Sew-Along for train cases, and of course what could be more perfect for my trip?  

I was a little disappointed that in addition to buying the magazine, I also had to pay $9 for the pattern online. Then I spent another $21 on fabric, zipper, interfacings, fleece batting, and Fuse-N-Shape. Therefore this HOMEMADE bag cost me $30.  So I'm not saying its a bargain because I could have bought a nice case for much less than that.

Oh well...

Here is where the pattern is available:  Crimson and Clover Train Case Pattern

And here is my finished (medium size) case

And yes, I failed to think it through when cutting it out and cut the print SIDEWAYS.  (I was intent on making sure I cut the top piece and handle just-so, so that I could highlight the "Paris"on the print, and never paid attention to the rest of it.)

Although I've made lots of bags of different types, I wouldn't say this was the easiest one I ever put together.  By the last few steps, you are sewing together so many layers that you can barely fit it under your presser foot.  Fortunately I have my heavy-duty mechanical Singers to do the job, but I imagine some lower end new machines couldn't hope to sew those thick seams.

I thought it was cool to find this pattern for a train case right before embarking on a real train trip.  Yeah, I could have bought a similar cosmetic case for $10 less, but then I wouldn't have had the fun of messing up my sewing room to make this!

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Video: Rural Family in the 1950s Buys Mom a Singer Sewing Machine

You never know where a vintage Singer sewing machine might show up!  In this video, a family living in rural Georgia makes their living by cutting wood.  The two sons work with their father every day cutting trees and they decide that if they get a power saw they can cut three times faster.  The whole family decides to sacrifice and save the $350 to buy the saw.

On a trip into town one day, the family drives by a house where a neighbor is on the front porch sewing with her Singer sewing machine that was the "envy of all the womenfolk."


Later, in town, the mother looks longingly at a Singer in a store window that costs $95.


As the story continues, the family works hard all summer and saves every cent to buy the saw.  When they finally get it, they are able to make three times as much money and can now paint their house and buy other luxuries.  The film ends with dad and the sons presenting mom with her coveted Singer, and they had "never seen her happier."


She is shown excitedly setting up her machine, opening the box of attachments, and reading the instruction book.


This video wasn't about Singer sewing machines, it was a film about a rural family working together and sacrificing for the things they wanted.  But at the end, it was so cool to see the mom finally get the machine she'd had her heart set on.