The Sewing Place

Resources for Identifying a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine

Roger

Hi All,

A little around identifying vintage machines, I hope this helps: Thanks to Leila May and Acorn and Arrow.

But why do I want one?
All metal construction: these machines could last forever and have very little to go wrong with them that cant be fixed... later models sometimes have belts, and these can be niche and hard to replace without a donor machine.
I inherited one and would love to use it: a machine with a personal history, vintage machines are tough and cross multiple generations with a little love occasionally.
I like having a little history: these machines are quite historical and often embody a Zeitgeist the 66 and 99 with their Egyptian patterns, the 201 internals being the product of war technolgies, the styling of the aluminium machines 50s-60s the atomic styling of the 500s.
I want to tinker: these machines are great for cleaning and getting working again, being heavily mechanical oiling, warming, cleaning (see my article on cleaning a vintage machine) is very satisfying.

We all love a shiny black sewing machine and some of the later beige ones but how do you know which is which and which are classics....

There are a fair few give away features to tell them apart and with a little practice you can identify the common ones, at least enough to identify one thats an oddity like a 48k...

The most common give away to a model is the small brass plate next to the singer logo. (see the first pic below)

But thats not always possible:

1) http://vssmb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/07/visual-guide-to-identifying-singers.html
Fab article and very practical, aimed at pulling out key identifiers in the models shape in common models.

2) http://ismacs.net/singer_sewing_machine_company/serial-numbers/singer-sewing-machine-serial-number-database.html you can also identify a machine by its serial but this can be a little more time consuming.

3) http://www.singersewinginfo.co.uk/gallery_machines/ this I like a lot... its really handy for a machine you just dont have a clue about...

(Thank you Leila May)

Domestic Models that are considered good/safe bets (not exhaustive) and some what subject to internet research and popular thinking:

The Classics:
The 201 both the aluminium and the iron models are exceptional if heavy, full sized machines. these can be found lurking in poor photography on Gumtree... straight stitch only, but a well oiled one is probably the smoothest sewing machine experience you can have. (oh er)

Featherweights (221/222) very well thought of and very portable. the 221 is straight stitch and flat bed and well loved for free motion quilting (FMQ) and the 222 is a straight stitch and a free arm very sought after for kids clothing because the free arm is possibly the narrowest/tiniest. (thank you SewSuzie for correcting me here)

The 15K cheaper than the 201 but well considered non the less, straight stitch and full sized, often had beautiful decals.

The 99 (later 185 aluminium looks like a mini 201 aluminium) these are cute 2/3rds machines pretty common and can be bought cheaply locally.

The 66... I would love one of these the decals are glorious, Egyptian and Lotus patterns are stunning, again a very good stitch.

Slant-o-matics:
The shank on these is at a pronounced angle, sometimes mistaken for 'bent or broken' the stitch on these is good and they're reliable machines with a good range of stitches
301: popular for FMQ and somewhat underrated cute tho and supposed be tough and portable.. rare in the UK... I'd love to get one.
401: 1950s lots of multi stitches, tough, mad stylish machines and take black top hat cams to provide more stitches. Cam stack can get sticky.
403: 1950s less stitches mad styling, takes cams as per the 401, some people prefer these to the 401 because they're simpler and have less to go wrong.
500 1960s more or less the same internals as the 401, but even madder styling... chance of stumbling on one of these in the UK very slim...

306, 319 320: beautiful machines, but they use a rare type of needle that is barely produced any more, if you get one... makes sure you buy a life times supply of needles and prepare to not use it very often... these are more collectors items rather than a practical purchase.

The Seller has described the machine as industrial or semi industrial...
 Take that with a pinch of salt... below is a picture of one of the smallest industrials the Singer 95 (7" shorter than the 96 and practically a home model. and the second pic is the motor... yep that thing that looks like a keg! check out the brutal lines and sturdiness of the machine and that motor, vintage machines aren't really anywhere near industrial.

The reason for vintage machines having this reputation is that a house hold machine was expected to do a bit of everything. Houses and the climate were far cooler so fabrics where natural materials and far heavier/thicker, so they were designed for a tougher environment they were also designed not to go wrong or break so they were built to last. they weren't built t sew canvas or webbing or leather day in day out... for that you need a industrial. but they will do remarkable things compared to many of todays computerised machines and last more than 4-10 years.

Check the advice in 'Choosing a vintage machine' for some easy things to watch for.

Are Singers the best?
nooo, there are excellent other makes too: Jones/Brother New home/Janome, Pfaff (30, 31, 260, 90s theres a lot of good machines here), Frister Rossman, and of course Bernina (look for the stitch gauge on the top (530, 730, 800s and 900s all have excellent reputations) Elna/Tavaro, Necchi, Husquvarna and Cresta. a general guide is that machines that are made in the UK, US or the in the European countries tend to be very built and very solid.

Really hope that helps, if anyone would like any tweaks or notices I've missed an important tip or detail or has another article to add please add in the discussion or ask me to amend it :)

Thanks for reading

Roger
« Last Edit: July 06, 2017, 15:00:55 PM by Roger »
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132

Tamnymore

Re: Resources for Identifying a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine
« Reply #1 on: July 04, 2017, 21:47:28 PM »
Thanks, Roger. Great tutorial!
'One should either be a work of art, or wear a work of art.' Oscar Wilde

Roger

Re: Resources for Identifying a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2017, 14:36:52 PM »
Thanks Tamnymore!
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132

Acorn

Re: Resources for Identifying a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2017, 18:24:00 PM »
Thanks Roger - I've already used this to identify a Singer 99K that I saw this afternoon.
I might look as though I'm talking to you, but inside my head I'm sewing.

Roger

Re: Resources for Identifying a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2017, 21:19:57 PM »
Really glad its helping!

http://thesewingplace.org.uk/index.php/topic,134.msg713.html#msg713

This might help too, not to blow my own trumpet...
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132

Holly Berry

Re: Resources for Identifying a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine
« Reply #5 on: July 06, 2017, 08:46:47 AM »
Excellent thread, Roger. However I do think it should come with a warning that " Collecting Vintage Sewing machines is ADDICTIVE "  ;)
Procrastination get behind me

Sewsuzie

Re: Resources for Identifying a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine
« Reply #6 on: July 06, 2017, 10:04:47 AM »
Great introduction to vintage machines, Roger. Hope it inspires lots more to give them a go. I've got most models of the oldies, up to the 201k, but not enough time to use them all. Will post some more pics in the Show us your Oldies thread soon.
I do use my 1896 27k treadle when I do buttonholes, and the 222k comes out to play occasionally when there's something fiddly to do. It's free arm is really tiny, and invaluable for small items like hems on tight sleeve bottoms, that won't fit over a modern machines free arm. Also in regular use is my 1934 99k electric, which I have set up for sewing jeans hems. Nice neat stitching and tension with top stitch thread. Better than my modern machines can do.
Thumbs up for vintage!!

Suzie  :vintage:
Never let your sewing machine know you're in a hurry 😉

Roger

Re: Resources for Identifying a Vintage Singer Sewing Machine
« Reply #7 on: July 06, 2017, 20:49:48 PM »
Thank you SewSuzie for correcting my misconceptions about the 222
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132