After Karen’s post about her vintage Bernina find last week, I thought it was only fair I get to brag about my own vintage machine, a 1949 Singer 201. Not that there’s any competitiveness here at Bargain Box, but I love my little lady!
The 201 model was apparently produced by the hundreds of thousands from 1935 to 1961 and it was the top of the line, you-beaut model for the home sewist back in the day. You can still find them in really good knick for a great price too, because there were so many made, and their owners usually looked after them so well. In fact, I’d suggest a vintage machine like the Singer 201 to beginners because you can get a wonderful machine for less than the cost of one of the plastic “fantastic” models that’ll break down within 2 years of use if you are really enthusiastic and sew every day.
The beauty of the Singer 201 is in its simplicity and exceptional stitch. Yes, it’s true it can only go forward and back, but home sewists used these machines to create everything from cushions to clothing. Many women made a decent living sewing on their 201s!
If you’re on the lookout for a machine, whether you’re a beginner or intermediate sewist, be sure to check the following when you’re browsing Gumtree or Ebay. I’d suggest only looking at local machines so you can check them out in person and talk to the owner.
- Give the machine and all its hidden bits a good once over to see if there is any lint build up or rust. Open the bobbin casing, and lift up the machine to see its underside.
- Check all the key parts are there and in good condition – Bobbin case, foot pedal, presser feet, screws (the screws can not be bought at Bunnings!), thread spool pins
- Ask to try it out. Go forward, go backward, try the bobbin winder.
- Look over the cords to see if there is any fraying, cracks or disintegration.
- Some of the machines prior to 1950 have motors that need to be replaced before they are plugged into your power. Ask the seller if the motor is original – if so, it may need replacing.
- Only use sewing machine oil. Check with the seller to ensure only sewing machine oil has been used.
- If you’re lucky, all the gold decals will be in good condition. If not, no big deal unless you’re after a decorative machine!
- If the original manuals aren’t with the machine, you can download one here from the Singer website.
- Check the serial number on your machine and find out how old it is!
Don’t be turned off by the lack of zig zag or fancy stitches, especially if you’re a beginner. There’s a fantastic amount of presser feet available that do all kinds of cool things. One of the coolest things I’ve got is a ruffler foot, which looks like a scary monstrosity but creates ruffles or pleats in half the time as the basting – gathering – stitching method.
If you’re lucky, the previous owner will have bought all the presser feet you could never even think to buy. The binder foot helps you attach bias binding easily, to curves and straight edges! A hemming foot will allow you to create the finest turned and stitched hems, you can also do lace insertion and edging too. There’s even special feet for creating button holes and zig zags – yes even on this simple ol’ girl who only seems to do a straight stitch at first sight! (I’d love to get my hands on one of the button holers.)
I’ve been making all my bumbags on my gal Tilly, and loving every bit of it!