Sunday 10 October 2021

New challenge

I really don't need another vintage sewing machine. But then, I don't 'need' more fabric (or a pattern for making a squirrel) either, and look where that got me.

I shouldn't have. But I did

I spotted this at the local auction last week, and fell in love with the colourful decals. Plus, I was intrigued by the unusual squared off shape of arm, and the layout around the feed dogs. But mostly, the decals.

Ooh, pretty!

Even the faceplate has decals

It took me a while to spot the serial number, as it is hidden round the back. Once I'd found it (R 887019), this site informed me that it was made in the first half of 1903, probably June. No wonder it looks a bit worn in places! I also discovered that it was a model 48K, which gave me access to lots more information, including the manual. It's a shuttle machine (unlike my 1917 Singer 99K, which takes the familiar round bobbins) and, unusually, the shuttle goes from side to side rather than front to back - see the picture above.

According to this site, the 48K was produced as a cheap machine, using technology which was even then out of date. Clydebank appears to be the sole Singer factory which made it, and then only in limited numbers. It was not heavily promoted by Singer, and didn't even appear in sales brochures. It cost four pounds (£498 today), or four pounds, twelve shillings and sixpence with the bentwood cover (£576). By comparison the 28K, which was the cheapest machine which Singer actually advertised, was five pounds and fifteen shillings (£716).

My machine has a bentwood case - clearly the original owner decided to splash out the extra twelve and six!

It needs some attention

The case fastens with a latch which drops over a knob on the base, which is then turned to secure it in place. There is even a key which locks the knob in the horizontal position. It seems a lot more secure than the little internal latch on the 99K, but I'm still not sure I would trust it for carrying long distances.

Locking mechanism and key

I must admit, my original intention was just to clean it up a bit, and have it as an ornament. I'm in the (long) process of reorganising my house, and have an empty shelf on which it would fit nicely. But . . . The shuttle mechanism contains a threaded spool (which I'm leaving in place until I'm confident I know how to replace it!), the handwheel turns smoothly, and the feed dogs work. Oh, and despite being 118 years old, it uses 'modern' machine needles. There seemed no harm in threading the machine up and seeing if it worked. You can see where all this is going, can't you?!

Not going to lie - this bit is scary!

The first thing I noticed is that the base is much lower than that of my bobbin machines - 45mm/1¾" instead of 75mm/3". I’m short-waisted, so I have to sit on a princess-and-the-pea style arrangement of cushions to feel that I'm at a reasonable position relative to the 99K. That 30mm difference makes it a far more comfortable height. And, it does work. The tension needs some attention, but that's hardly surprising. Even the spool winder works with a bit of coaxing - which is just as well really. I can fill round bobbins on my modern electric machine, but winding spools is another matter.

The winder, with an empty spool in place

So now, it's gone from being an ornament which just needed dusting and a wipe down to a something which I want to restore to fully usable order. I've seen some beautifully shiny 48Ks online, but even if I had the skills for that level of restoration, it's not for me. This is a working machine, and I want its appearance to reflect its long, useful, life. For example I love the way that thread has worn a tiny groove in the lacquer at the bottom of the faceplate.

Worn away by years of slight pressure

It does need a very good clean, though. There is a pungent whiff of years of caked-on oil, and the metal parts are all very brown. Initially I assumed that it was rust, but following a suggestion I found online (and there is a wealth of information out there on restoring old machines), I wondered if it might just be dirt and tarnish.

And it was. To illustrate just how much dirt and tarnish is involved, here is a cotton bud after I'd wiped off the seventh application of cleaner/polish.


Cleaning this one piece took me all morning, and a lot of elbow grease, but you can see the difference.

Guess which side I'd cleaned

It's going to be a long job, and it's something far more mechanical than I'd usually do, and out of my comfort zone. But, I was looking for a winter project other than sewing, and this also works as a tribute to my dad. He was handy at DIY and also an accomplished model-maker, and would have had this fixed in no time. I shall be feeling my way far more than he would have been, but hopefully I have picked up a few of his skills along the way.


  1. What a beauty...the decals are gorgeous! One of the machines that I learned to sew on was a Singer treadle with a shuttle. It had been used continually and worked like a top! (No idea what model it was, but I loved it.)
    Just before the pandemic I found a 1953 Singer 221 Featherweight. (My first machine was a Featherweight that vanished into thin air... My sister and I still can't figure that one out!) It's a "modern" machine compared to yours. Are parts available for your model, or do you need to find used ones? Best of luck with your restoration!

    1. Wow, a vanishing Featherweight, that's impressive (and annoying)!

      I think that the machine has all of its parts, I'll find out as I work on it. The crucial thing seems to be the shuttle, as it is specific to this model, and fortunately the shuttle is in place.

  2. Thank you! I'll try to post a few update posts as I go along.

    My local auction house quite often has vintage machines and I always like to have a look at them, even when, like this time, I had no intention of buying one! The Singer website still sells parts, including treadle belts, for 66K and 99K machines - clearly they realise just how many of them are still in use.