Singer song of sewing machines

DSC_1012_editThis is the result of my latest shoplifting spree in All Saints. I just have this thing about pinching the fittings and fixtures in pretentious shops. Plus they have like 10,000 machines on display, surely they won’t miss one, right?

I’m obviously kidding. I hope that was clear. I’m not, as previously suspected, the notorious All Saints bandit of Portobello. Those of you who follow my insta-nanigans will know that shortly after getting back to the UK from my round the world jolly I visited my parents, and took a very special object in a Singer branded wooden box back to London with me wedged between our suitcases in the back of the car.

This object of outstanding mechanical beauty is my Granny’s 1933 Singer 66K sewing machine. My Dad has been tripping over it in his workshop for a few years now, and so I did what any loving daughter would do and offered to take it off his hands. Granny bought it in 1933 when she was nineteen or twenty and heading off to university. While studying at Oxford she met my Grandpa (they used to play illicit games tennis on the college courts after 6pm, and other such scandalous behaviour), and they were married in 1938. The Singer of course, came along too. My Dad remembers Granny using a handle to operate it in the early days, but some time in the 1950s she had it converted to electricity. Apparently an engineer came to the house to attach the bolt on Singer electric motor and light, which my Dad also remembers.

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DSC_1016_editIf I look this good when I’m 82 I’ll be very happy. She is mechanically sound and all the actions are beautifully smooth. The clutch that stops the needle from moving while the bobbin is winding seems to have a few issues, but nothing I’m sure I can’t fix with a little trip to the internet. And the electrical cables for the pedal have seen better days, but again that is easily fixed. All she needs is a good gentle clean to bring that beautiful surface back to life. Chris, lover of all things mechanical, is completely smitten with her and now expresses regular outrage that my modern machines are all made of white plastic.

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DSC_0001_editOne of the things I loved about my Granny was that she was a hoarder and a documenter. I have pieces of furniture from her that have handwritten labels on the bottom saying how old they are, who owned them and how she came to have them. So I really shouldn’t be surprised that her sewing machine still has all its original instruction manuals, dated from 1933, and the documents that came with the electric motor upgrade. The diagrams inside just kill me with their awesomeness. These machines were meant to last; to be taken apart, mended, cleaned, understoood and looked after. Today I can’t even take the battery out of my phone without voiding the warranty. That my friends is an idiotic state of affairs.

DSC_0019_editBest of all, hidden beneath a metal plate is a secret compartment containing a little green box full of treasure.

DSC_0017_editAn army of different attachments and gadgets designed to do all sorts of things. And the end of a broken needle, because as I said, Granny was a hoarder.

In antique Singer nerd circles, the 66K is not one of those rare and valuable machines. This particular machine was part of a run of 15,000 manufactured in November 1933, and the model itself was in production from 1907 to 1939. Sewing machines were very popular, built to last, and produced in their millions in factories all over the world. Antique Singers in general are surprisingly common and can be picked up for a song on Gumtree if you are so inclined. Hence why All Saints are able to use 10,000 of them at a time for their store fitting. But despite having no real material value, the revolutionary design of the 66K has in many ways set the standard for modern machines, with innovations including drop in bobbins and back clamping presser feet. Singer continued to produce these machines up until the outbreak of World War II, at which point the 66K was superceded by the superior 201K.DSC_0003_editObviously the material value of this machine is neither here nor there to me. It is a piece of my family history, and as such is completely priceless. Now I just have to decide what to do with her; obviously get her cleaned up and running smoothly, but then what? A machine this beautiful needs to be displayed and used. I just need to find the right place.

Do you have any experience with vintage machines? Any tips for care and maintenance would be much appreciated!

What do you think?

  • I’m still absolutely a beginner sewist, but my first few garments were made at my parents’ place, where I learnt to sew on my gran’s old Singer – which wasn’t powered, so I was using a handle as your dad remembers! The manual for the machine also tells you how you can arrange for a mechanical treadle foot to be added by a Singer engineer, never mind electricity!! I liked learning on it – like driving a back-to-basics old car I think I had to take more care and become better at sewing as a result (as well as yes, having to completely take it apart and give it some real tlc after a long hibernation!) And it was also really enjoyable to use such a lovely old thing. So yes – for what it’s able to do, use it. And it should do a lot, I remember my mum making curtains on ours! Enjoy it :)!

    • Sadly the handle for this machine was disposed of after the motor was fitted, which is a shame, as it would have been fun to have a go at using it. I’m still blown away by how similar it is to my machines – the threading mechanism is largely the same, there is a bobbin winder, the needle is released in the same way and the presser foot is raised and lowered in exactly the same way. Once she’s been given a good clean I reckon I’ll try a project or two. My dad tried to sew pieces of leather for his car using her, but I’m not sure whether the lack of success was down to the machine or his, erm, technique!

      • I guess why change a design that already works? Odd to think about because very little other technology is so well-conserved but I guess even now a sewing machine is more of a mechanical object than most of our other electronics. And… was he trying to reupholster his car?!!

        • Not the upholstery but the roof – he owns a 1936 Austin that he’s been refurbishing, and was wondering whether he could repair the roof using the sewing machine. The verdict was not so much… ended up going to a specialist roof maker!

  • Your “new” vintage machine is definitely a think of beauty. My Mum had one just like yours. In fact the picture of it in your boot with its hard cover made me do a double take and took me right back to my child hood. I would love to have one now even if simply for display purposes.

    • I was amazed how many vintage machines are to be found on Gumtree and Ebay etc, and for around £35-£50. I love how so many people have ‘sewing machine memories’ from childhood! I remember my mum using a beautiful blue machine (not a Singer I think) that was completely unreliable and kept unthreading itself. So many memories… I’d love to know what happened to that machine.