The Serendipitous Singer

Hello!  My name is Katie and I am apparently preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

It all began when I decided to start crocheting things for myself, which led to knitting, which led to sewing, which has tangentially led to baking and which may, in further tangential moves, lead to keeping some hens and possibly pigs (the latter of which are at the insistence of the Chef).  Basically, if you can do it without power or removing it from a plastic wrapper, then I want to be part of it.

Part hipster, part self-reliant hermit.

The only flaw in my plan (the organic onion in the home-brewed ointment, as it were) is this whole sewing business.  There’s no getting around the fact that sewing requires a machine and the only alternative to hand literally is that: my hand.  And while I love an excuse to work some hand-sewing into a garment, I’m not sure I’d be interested in constructing an entire garment thusly.   Actually, that’s not quite true: I’d be quite interested in doing it at least once.  But on a regular basis?  No, I think I’d rather not.  There are limits to my insanity.  Plus, I have a whole bunch of knitting I need to do.

Then I realised there actually was an alternative: a hand-cranked sewing machine.  Anyone who has obsessively watched Call the Midwife would know that.  And if you’re me, you start thinking that maybe you’d like one of your own.  And if you’re still me, you’ll find yourself on Gumtree in search of a hand-cranked sewing machine, or wandering through op shops and vintage markets, looking for same.  After hours lost marvelling at gorgeous old machines online, I decided I couldn’t really justify acquiring another sewing machine, no matter how useful it might be when zombies were roaming the streets and I was in need of a new skirt hem.

Even though I’d dismissed the idea, albeit temporarily, it seemed that fate had other plans and they came to fruition on a Wednesday night when I checked my phone between band rehearsals.  I opened up a message from the Chef’s cousin, little suspecting that it was going to contain these words:

Hi Katie.  Mum is wanting to rid of this old Singer sewing machine and we thought you might be interested.  If you are let us know.  No payment required only catch – you have to pick it up.

Well.  I may have squeed.  People may have looked at me oddly – I wouldn’t know, because I was too busy admiring the tantalising images that had been sent with the message.  It was a treadle machine but it didn’t look like the ones I was familiar with and it was very much lacking in the way of fancy scrollwork or elaborate decorations.  Instead, it was contained within a simple wooden cabinet and it looked all business.

As I typed out my reply (a somewhat more coherent version of the OMGSQUEE SO MUCH AWESOMESAUCE YESYESYES THANKYOU that went through my mind at first), I secretly hoped that it wasn’t in perfect condition.  I wanted a little bit of wear.  Perhaps something that needed fixing before it would work.  As much as I wanted to see it all right then and there, I wasn’t to be united with it for a week or more, when we roped in the assistance of the Chef’s dad and his larger car.

It was exactly what I dreamed: a compact, elegant cabinet which was in perfectly good condition but probably wouldn’t mind if I sanded it back and re-stained it.  Even better, the drive belt was broken.  It sounds ridiculous to be excited about that, but I was.  Here was a chance to put my stamp on the machine and do my bit to bring it back to working order!

Have a look at the photos below.  I’ll meet you at the bottom of the gallery and pick up the story.

My first sight of the Singer! It was even more compact than I imagined and came with a whole bunch of extras, including two tailor's hams.
The Singer in transit. I'm pretty sure it wasn't a fan of the speed bumps.
The accessories box is full of feet and gadgets whose purpose I can only guess at. Fortunately, I'll be able to find enlightenment in the manual, which is safely stored in the drawer below.
It turned out I didn't even need to check the serial number for the date. Except I did, and the Singer website claims it was actually made in 1950, not 1951.
I absolutely love the simplicity of the decorations. Yes, other Singers may have elaborate swirls and patterns on this plate whose name I don't know (yet), but I love this understated approach to decoration.
Ready to go! Well, once I clean it up and acquire a new belt for the treadle.

Yesterday, the Chef moved some stuff around in our front entry area and placed the Singer in a spot where I could actually open it up and investigate.  Armed with my phone and the internet, I tracked down the all important details such as what it was and when it was made.  It turns out I’ve been gifted with one of the most popular Singer sewing machines of the twentieth century: the superlative 201K.  This one was made in Scotland and came to life in 1950, according to the database of serial numbers (and in defiance of the 1851-1951 centenary badge on its side).

It.  Is.  HEAVY.  It’s made of cast iron and almost requires two hands to lift it up from its hinged hidey-hole.  This is probably why the 201Ks have lasted for so long: they’re pretty much indestructable, short of shoving them in a furnace.  Or a nuclear explosion.

The more I learn about the 201K, the luckier I feel to have been given this machine.  I have a manual, all the fancy feet, some odd-looking tools, many bobbins, a crochet hook with the tiniest hook end I’ve ever seen (for some reason) and a crochet hook with the hook removed (for likewise inexplicable reasons).  Later in the year, when my new old machine has a proper space of its own, I’ll be shining it up and acquiring the bits it needs and you’d better believe I’ll be sewing something on it as soon as possible.  I can’t wait!

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0 comment

Dianne 25th March 2015 - 11:13 pm

Oh wow oh wow! How totally brilliant! I have been thinking about treadle machines recently as I have been hand sewing a rather uniique project this week, and wondering if i could sew it on my Dad’s old Singer 29K 71 – originally used to repair shoes. Big and black and heavy as – they were certainly built to last back then!

Katie Writes Stuff 26th March 2015 - 9:51 pm

As soon as I read your comment, I looked up the Singer 29K and spent bits of the morning reading about them. What an incredible workhorse of a machine it was! I’d love to hear if you decide to use your Dad’s Singer for this mystery project – it sounds like an opportunity that can’t be missed!

jennyrecorder 26th March 2015 - 1:46 am

The Net is invaluable in servicing these old Singer. I restored my MIL’s 1957 handcrank which had been gathering dust as bric-a-brac for over 40 years. The restoration was easy as the machine was so basic, it still needs new feed dogs, but is certainly adequate if the zombies reach Oz and we lose power. On another note, before you get chickens do some reading on vermin, my backyard is running with rats atm, all because I haven’t been diligent enough with keeping the chook food vermin-proof-yuk! 🙁

Katie Writes Stuff 26th March 2015 - 9:55 pm

The fantastic thing about the internet is that it’s full of all sorts of information, as well as the supplies we need. I’m hoping all it needs is a good clean and a new belt, because I turned the handwheel and it was as smooth as silk. There was a bit of rattling in the vicinity of the bobbin, so I’ll have to check that out. It should be fun to learn how the machine works and how to keep it in good order.

Thanks for the tips about preparing for hens. It won’t be happening for a while (although hopefully before the zombies arrive), so that should give us time to scope out the situation and see if it’s viable.

alexiericrac 26th March 2015 - 1:31 pm

Oh my word! It is absolutely divine!
As a kid I remember playing with one that belonged to my aunt (who got it maybe from my great grandma). This family heirloom doesn’t have the cupboard door on the front, it’s pedal only with cast iron legs. I do hope it’s still in good condition and that I can maybe get my hands on it….

Katie Writes Stuff 26th March 2015 - 10:00 pm

Isn’t it wonderful? I feel beyond lucky to be gifted with something that’s not only gorgeous, but practical, too!

From what I’m reading about anything sewing machine built pre-1960, they can take a lot of punishment. They were built to last forever and they cost an absolute fortunte at the time. So if you do have a chance to get your hands on your aunt/great grandma/s sewing machine, go for it!

Bonita Vear (@bjvear) 26th March 2015 - 4:49 pm

You just got the Singer of my dreams! AND it WORKS too! Yes, I am happy just to have one to look at ~ it doesn’t need to sew… But seriously, this is awesome Katie. Now you simply HAVE to sew something on it! {And as you MIGHT be able to tell from all the caps, I’m SLIGHTLY excited for you, and may or may not have squee’d along with you reading this post 😛 }

bonita of Lavender & Twill

Katie Writes Stuff 26th March 2015 - 10:05 pm

You seem as excited as I was when I finally had a chance to have a proper look at it! I have an idea of the pattern I’d like to sew: it’s a pattern for a top with a scalloped hem from the 1960s, so the pattern looks like someone went crazy with a hole punch and forgot to put any writing on it. Realistically, it’s the sort of thing that might have been sewn on it when it was still a newish machine.

Huzzah for empathic squeeing! I love being able to share things that make people happy to see. 🙂

hashigal 26th March 2015 - 6:01 pm


I have envy. I learnt to sew on a Singer treadle machine, in part because we didn’t have electricity when I was a kid learning to sew, and they are fabulous! Sure, there’s only straight stitch, but you get to take full-bodied control of the sewing. That probably sounds weird to a lot of people, but you develop a whole sensory range around the connection between your feet and legs and the movement of the needle and the feel of the fabric as it feeds through.

You’re going to have so much fun with it.

Katie Writes Stuff 26th March 2015 - 10:09 pm

I am a little worried about being completely unco-ordinated when it comes to treadling and sewing at the same time, but I’m sure I’ll work it out. It’s something I’m looking forward to, in fact!

I learnt to sew on a little green Elna that belonged to my Dad and I can still recall the smell and the heat of it. It’s fascinating the way these memories stay with us, isn’t it?

hashigal 27th March 2015 - 6:58 pm

It will certainly come with practice. You’re going to have SO much fun!

Linda of Nice dress! Thanks, I made it!! 27th March 2015 - 12:36 pm

You are now ready for the zombie apocalypse! And I am jealous. I just love vintage patterns, machines, manuals, whatever. I can just imagine who might have used them before me. Good thing I have no room to keep it all of I would be a vintage pack rat. Your machine is beautiful!

Katie Writes Stuff 27th March 2015 - 2:05 pm

Yes, I’m definitely prepared now. As soon as I make sure everything’s in working order, of course – this is the only way I could justify taking up space with it, modest though it may be. They are far too pretty for their own good!

Ovis Obscura 6th April 2015 - 3:44 am

The bitsy wee hook *might* be to help you thread the needle. Maybe.

That’s so exciting! What a treasure! Have fun fixing it up and making it your own!

My mother has my grandmother’s treadle sewing machine, so I figure I’ll borrow that if I need a skirt hem when the zombies are roaming. 😉

Katie Writes Stuff 6th April 2015 - 12:38 pm

Yes, as long as you know where it is, you should be well-prepared when the zombies are out and about. That’s the important thing.

I think you may be right about the purpose of the teeny crochet hook. Now that I’ve watched a few videos about the machine, I’ve come to realise that having such a miniscule little hook could come in handy. It seriously is the tiniest one I’ve ever seen – I couldn’t even imagine having the patience to actually crochet anything with it.


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