September 1, 2011

Getting the 411 on Your Vintage Lady: Who She Is, Where She's From, Her Age (GASP!) and More (Singer Edition)

I've officially given up on getting any actual sewing done this week in favor of playing with my "new" sewing machines.  So if you're looking for more on the lattice gown or the leather squid corset, you'll have to wait, because I declare this Vintage Sewing Machine Week here at The Laced Angel!

Whether you have an old sewing machine that was your grandmother's or you picked one up at a yard sale or antique store, you might be in need of a little information on it.  Maybe the manual is lost or damaged (only one of my four came with a legible manual), maybe it came with weird attachments you've never seen or maybe you're just curious about when and where your machine was made.   Through the awesomeness that is teh interwebs, you can often find answers to all those questions and more!

I'll start with the brand of machine you're most likely to have: Singer.  Singer didn't necessarily make the best machines out there, but they had the most effective marketing campaigns.  They sold millions of their machines, and many of them survive today.  Since there's so many of them they aren't worth much, but they're often quite pretty and still useful.  Properly fixed up they will sew for a long time to come, and because so many of them exist it's not too hard to get replacement parts if needed.   Here's my first Singer-

My first pretty lady (pre-cleaning), a model 66 Singer red eye.

She belonged to my great-grandmother.  When I got her she was in a cabinet and had a little electric motor clipped her back.  Unfortunately the manual she came with was ruined and illegible, and I didn't even know anything about her other than the brand.  Thankfully, getting info on Singers is crazy simple.  First, locate your machine's serial number.  It will be on the right hand front corner of your machine bed, and will either be all numbers, one letter followed by numbers or two letters followed by numbers.  In the photo above, it's on bed of the machine just below that large circular gold seal.

The G is hard to read here but you get the idea

Singer has helpfully included a page on their website where you can look up your machine.  Go here and select the link that corresponds to the type of serial number you have (no letters, one letter prefix, or two letter prefix).  It will send you to a page with various charts you can use to look up what year your machine was made and where (mine was made in Elizabeth, New Jersey in 1922).  You'll also have the option to download a pdf of serial numbers with models and dates.  Check that pdf to find out your machine's model number (different than your serial number).  ETA:  Since I wrote this, Singer seems to have pulled most of this info off their site.  Go here instead to find when it was made, the model number and more)  You'll need it to find a manual!  Once you've got your model number (mine's a 66), go here to get the manual for it. 

You now know where your machine was made and when, plus you have a model number and hopefully a manual.  If you want to know about the history of your machine or Singer in general, or you're trying to figure out how to use one of the accessories it came with, the International Sewing Machine Collector's Society has a great website with a variety of information on lots of different types of sewing machines.  Go here for their Singer stuff.  I found that the 66 came in treadle, hand crank and electric varieties and had different decals depending on where and when it was made.  Mine features so called "red eye" decals, one of the more common designs.  Red eyes were made for the US market (common European versions featured a lotus design) and are so named for the exotic red eye shapes in the decal pattern.

Thanks to these websites, I was able to quickly piece together information about my second Singer acquisition.  She's a model 99 hand crank made in Clydesdale, Scotland in 1932.  The 99 models are the nearly identical little sisters of the 66 models; they're 3/4 of the size and come in little carrying cases.  They have a less ornate decal pattern.

 The little sister to my first Singer, pre-cleaning

 Serial number on the bottom right hand corner of the bed

 No electricity for you!

 Sweet little portable case

Tomorrow we'll have a look at a few other brands of sewing machines that don't have quite as large a web presence as Singers.  Until then, here's a few more useful links!  Great site with lots of information on restoring, using and maintaining vintage machines, mostly treadle versions.  Check out their Sewing Machine Shop section.  Dedicated to refurbishing Singer machines to send to Africa.  They've got an amazingly detailed step by step breakdown of how to take apart your machine to clean and repair it. Loads of articles covering machine histories  This Smithsonian website gives you access to all the sewing machine literature they have in their database (includes manuals, trade cards, catalogs and more).  Keep in mind that they only have literature relating to American made machines.  Most of their stuff hasn't been scanned yet, so many of the entries are just descriptions.  They do have pdfs of many of the manuals I've tried to look up so far though! They claim that if they can't find the part you're looking for, it's not to be found.  Haven't used them, so I can't validate their claim.  I'll likely be putting them to the test soon!


  1. This was a really informative post. Thank you for posting it. I think I found a Singer 66. Mine isn't a treadle, though, and it was certainly well used, but it was only $10, so I figure I can't go too wrong at that price!

  2. I'm glad you found it useful! It sounds like you got a fantastic price on a wonderful machine. I've fixed up my 99 and started using it and it works like a dream. I posted about the cleaning/fixing process here-
    I hope you have a great time using your Singer!

  3. I can't thank you enough for this sewing machine info!! love your blog! appears to be awhile since you have posted anything. Hope you keep it up
    Chris in Tucson


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