My Singer 201 Journey & Spiral Into Lunacy
Hi there and welcome to my Sewing Machine Blog!...I originally wrote this December 2014 on Blogspot...enjoy!
It all started with this...a Mark II Aluminium Bodied version from 1954:
My wife (Angela) had mentioned she'd like a sewing machine to do 'arts-and-crafty' type things for us to sell at Xmas shows and general fairs. I, being a leathersmith who stitches everything by hand, knew nothing about this subject and like many people in the market for a sewing machine was loathe to spend a significant amount of money on a modern plastic-constructed electronic thing, but despite being a 'bushcrafter' and lover of all-things old and traditional, was also wary of buying an antique model for fear of necessary repair and maintenance and lack of knowlege.
Now luckily for me I'm a member of www.bushcraftUK.com and I'd seen threads on the forum concerning old machines and knew a few of the guys & girls who make stuff with canvas and so on...though I'd never paid much heed to the article content as this stuff seemed something 'other people did'. After camping with a dude named Southey who showed off his new tarp made by a fellow BCUK'er bilmo-p5 (http://www.bilmo.co.uk/) I began to pay more attention and decided to drop him a line asking for advice. If I remember correctly bilmo uses New Home sewing machines and he told me to contact two members that I was familiar with but hadn't spoken to directly before...Macaroon and Turbogirl. Now I'm someone that likes to do as much as I can by myself and I don't like hounding people un-necessarily so instead I decided to post a thread up asking for help. Sure enough both Mac and Turbo had jumped in immediately to help and around about then I started on the slippery slope of 201 Addiction.
Mac told me in no uncertain terms to not mess about and to buy a 201...'best sewing machine ever made'...'they don't break'...'and even if they did, parts are easily obtained'...and so on. I took this with a pinch of salt...after all, people who can ride bikes say its easy but to a beginner it's terrifying. So I did a bit of googling and it became apparent veeeery quickly that everything he said was indeed true. Every website I came across said the same...''THE ROLLS ROYCE OF SEWING MACHINES''...indeed!...(and don't tell him this 'cos he'll get a big head, but everything he's told me since has been correct too).
Next step was to look on ebay...I did a search for the most expensive ones first as I wanted to make sure I got a good one. There were a few on there at £200 or more and I grabbed the link of the one pictured above and fired it across to Mac for his approval...within minutes a reply came back...''If you've got the money...BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT BUY IT!'' So I did....thinking, 'OMG what have I done?'
A few days later, off I go with Survival Instructor Chris Caine (http://chriscainesurvival.com/) to Chinnor to collect it from a very pleasant lady with a nice house in a good area etc etc and was feeling better about it by the minute. After getting it home all I did was look at it admiringly for a couple of weeks...every so often I'd plug it in and give the motor a whirl...caress it with a soft cloth...croon to it...but I didn't know what the hell else to do with it...but I was already feelin' the luv lol! This machine was meant to be for my wife but....
So shortly after I bought a Mark I from 1947 for Angela (with a Sew-Tric motor) then in quick succession a 1951 hand-crank Mark I, a 1955 Tan Mark II and a 1951 Mark I (both with original motors and lights).
And at this point I started getting a lot of stick from my so-called friends and, despite the fact that I've squarely laid the blame for it all at the feet of Mac, no-one seems to listen to me....I have no idea why...
I now own 16 (ahem) of these wonderful machines. In my defence (ahem) nearly all of them are different in some way...I have, of course, (who doesn't?????) the Mark I (these are the earlier black, solid steel construction models) in 'hand-crank' (the 201-4), 'external motor' (the 201-3), 'potted' or 'direct drive' (the 201-2) and the Mark II (these are the later aluminium bodied versions and different in shape to early models though identical internally) in all-tan, tan with dark brown attachments and in black. And then I have variations of these in 'knee-lever', Centenary Edition, Red 'S' Edition and so on...I just need a Mark II hand-crank version to complete my set and the only reason I don't own a treadle version (the 201-1) is because I've got so many flippn' sewing machines laying about the place that there's no room. Funnily enough, Angela inherited a treadle Singer (I think its a 15) from her Gran which she has to keep at her Mums house because she's scared that my 201 gang will bully it. And rightly sew. (A-'HEM')
Seriously though...I'm feeling rather chuffed with myself tonight because I fixed two machines that were a complete mess at the time of purchase and both of them had problems I've not encountered before (I'll be covering this stuff very soon in this blog so make sure you bookmark me!). And last week I re-wired my first 201-2 having ZERO electrical knowlege thanks to Nicholas Rain Noe's excellent blog...I'd never even used a soldering iron until then and at the age of 42 I guess most guys would find that a tad un-usual. The reason I've been able to do this is because of the fact that I own so many. If I owned just one machine I'd have no way to compare it, trouble-shoot it, swap bits, etc. That's why I'm now in a position to buy 'spares or repair' 201's cheaply on ebay and why I now feel confident enough to start a blog...something Mac recently suggested I do. Soon I'll be offering the first couple up for sale so that similar minded lunatics are able to get a good machine from someone who cares about them and not risk buying from ebayers that say 'immaculate' (yeah right) and bandy the terms 'industrial' or 'semi-industrial' about in-correctly. I myself have purchased a couple of 'dis-appointments' and have had several machines turn up significantly damaged in the post...ghastly wounds to the enamel (black Japan), cracked bases, smashed cases and so on thanks to our friends in the various postal services who are in-capable of respecting peoples property or reading simple terms such as 'FRAGILE, THIS WAY UP YOU ***************!' Check out the damage to this one...
Ok, ok...deep breath. So...a 'decent' 201 can be easily obtained on ebay for lets say £50...but make sure you look at the sellers feedback, ask a question or two, study the pictures...come on, you know the score. A lot of the time you can get a feel for someone and their sale items with just a bit of care and attention. I've paid quite a lot less than £50 for many of mine, but that is a result of experience and a lot of invested time...though granted I also spend a fair bit on spare parts whenever I see them in great condition so that I can up-grade each of the machines in my collection to be the best they can be. But for £50 you should get yourself a nice 201 that will long out-live you and hopefully be cherished by your relatives and handed down. If, like I was initially, you really are dubious, then do what I did and spend £200 or more...I regret not a penny that I spent and to this day, the first one I bought remains the nicest I own...they all have their own character and 'feel', they smell wonderful and look amazing...incredible feats of engineering all thanks to a rather remarkable man who fathered nearly as many kids as he produced sewing machines! (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Isaac_Singer).
Several things make a 201 special...not least the fact that it was the first machine that works in a totally 'rotary' manner...meaning that nothing goes 'back-and-forth', rather 'round-and-round'...it's therefore smoother and has less wear. The early Mark I machines are made entirely of steel and come in at about 20kg...this weight acts as a dampener and there's very little vibration. They are built to an incredibly high standard, back in a day when manufacturers had pride in their products and despite the fact that they are domestic machines, they sew massively 'above their weight'. You'd have to spend many, many! hundreds of pounds on a modern machine to get the same performance and no doubt it would look horrible and probably last only a few years or develop an electrical fault very quickly...one that you would not have a hope in hell in fixing yourself. Not a chance. I own about 10 Singer motors, each one being about 70 years old, that's 700 years of motor and every one runs beautifully. I own 16 201's, over 1200 years old in combined age, and every one runs perfectly. Hard to get ya head round huh?
There's one point I'd like to make though in the interest of safety, and at the risk of putting you off just slightly, and that concerns electricity. The vast majority of electrified machines I've bought have been in dire need of some kind of attention when it comes to wiring, and that applies to both 'potted' motors, external motors and the foot pedals as well. 201's were made for about 25 years from the mid-1930's so even if you get a later one it's going to be about 55 years old. Many people may have owned any given machine throughout its life and unfortunately it won't have been maintained correctly. Cables are often perished or rotted through because of in-correct oiling and often wires are exposed. A few times I've opened something up only to find that it's been badly tinkered with and/or the wrong materials used...safety standards and materials have changed over the years and a bit of t.l.c. may be needed. A lot of you probably know a sparky who can help you but trust me, it's all stuff you can do yourself as long as you pay it proper respect.
Ok, now to restore your faith...as I mentioned above, I had ZERO electrical knowlege until just this month and have now totally re-wired what's probably the most complex of 201 permutation - a knee-lever operated, direct drive 201-2. I've also now re-wired every single foot pedal, female socket and added new plugs plus neatened up various motors and cable-ends by trimming, adding shrink-tubing and ring terminals. None of this stuff is expensive, it's all easily obtained, and will last you years. Go to a proper electrical shop for advice, not somewhere like B&Q or Homebase where you'll no doubt get served by some depressed student who's only concern in life is 'are my jeans low enough around my ass so that enough of my pants are showing?' And as I also mentioned, if buying 'blind' as on ebay, be prudent, ask questions, study pics and dont rush...whilst 201's are indeed precious and special things, they are not rare, and another will come along for sale very soon. Or just buy a hand-crank version to save yourself any trouble. I'm someone that likes to learn and takes huge satisfaction from achieving a goal so whilst my journey has been daunting at times, at no point have I not gone ahead...more on this stuff later...
Anyway, it's now 4.34am and as usual I'm in sewing-machine-mode when I should be in bed so I'll just say a few thankyou's and be back very soon:
respect of course to Sir Singer and huge thankyou's to Sir Mac and the bushcraftUK krew for starting me off, continued support and new friendship! and to my suffering wife Angela (whom I've yet to inform will have to move outside to live in the shed soon as I need the extra space) my son Oliver (who must be equally sick of me because instead of playing 'Thomas Tank Engines' with him I usually play 'Tinker With A 201' nowadays instead, though he does strip cables for me and loves running the motors at full blast and un-screwing throat plates) and also to ebayer Chris for his immaculate and friendly service.
And just quickly whilst I'm here I'd like to mention a famous blog that I was introduced to by Mac that was founded by a lovely couple known by many, Sid & Elsie...and a few more helpful links that have helped me through my downward spiral into lunacy:
http://oldsingersewingmachineblog.com/category/singer-201-early-and-later-models/ http://ismacs.net/singer_sewing_machine_company/serial-numbers/singer-sewing-machine-serial-number-database.html http://www.tfsr.org/publications/technical_information/sewing_machine_manual/ https://www.universalsewing.com/images2/parts_lists/all/jr980ajq.pdf http://www.sewalot.com/collection_picture_alex_askaroff.htm http://vssmb.blogspot.co.uk/2011/12/how-to-re-wire-potted-motor-part-1-wire.html http://shop.sew-classic.com/main.sc http://www.helenhowes-sewingmachines.co.uk/index.html
and check out this guy...amazing...and yes it's my next project!:
and if you need any help or advice or have any questions, feel free to drop me a line...I'm still very much a newbie at all this, but if I can help, I will:
oh go on then...one more pic...apologies for what my son is holding...plastic hammers are disgusting! lolol!