Monday, December 11, 2017

A Special Singer 401

Years ago, when DH and I bought our first home, we were new graduates with new jobs and not a lot of money for furniture. His dad offered to let us have some of the furniture from the farmhouse where DH had grown up, but which was vacant at the time. Among other things, we brought home this Singer sewing machine cabinet to use as a desk:

Singer cabinet #353 with my Singer 401a

It had been DH's mother's cabinet and he recalled her sewing at it.  But it didn't have a machine in it at the time we brought it home and no one knew where that machine could be. The cabinet did have a few sewing items in it, like a foot pedal, accessory box, a few patterns, and a few cams. I didn't know what they were at the time, but I kept them in one of the drawers. Later, I stripped the cabinet and refinished it with a tung oil finish.

About 10 years later, after the birth of our second child, I took up sewing to make cloth diapers and to give me something to do while being a stay-at-home mom to a two year old son and a medically fragile baby girl. It was fun and gave me a creative outlet. It didn't take long for me to progress from diaper-making to making baby clothes from Kwik Sew patterns. I set my modern machine on top of the cabinet, but it was really too high to work well and it was just too uncomfortable to sew long for that way. At some point, I asked the people on if it were possible to modify the cabinet for my modern machine and JennyG from SewClassic suggested that I look into a vintage machine. I ended up buying the Singer 401 in the picture and it is still one of my go-to machines and still resides in that cabinet.

Fast forward to a couple of weekends ago. My father in law is now selling the farm and my husband has been helping him clean out the house. DH was using FaceTime to call me while he was in the attic and show me what the house looked like now (we had spent our first summer there after our wedding) and I joking said "well, if you find your mom's old sewing machine, bring it home."  He agreed. A moment later, he and I were both surprised when he said "And there it is!"

Found at last!

His mom's original Singer 401 was tucked away in a cubby hole in the attic.  It had been sitting there at least 30 years or more. His mom passed away 34 years ago and it probably hadn't been used since before her death. It was covered in dust and grime, bird and mouse droppings and sported a mud dauber's nest underneath. It still had a filled bobbin and a broken needle. The bobbin winder tire had melted into goo and the power cord was very stiff.

Still had Cam #4 inside.

DH opened up the top and found the machine was actually pretty clean inside.  He brought it home and I spent a couple of hours cleaning, oiling and lubricating. After inspecting the inside wiring, I borrowed the power cord and a foot pedal from my other 401 and plugged her in.

She runs!
It was a beautiful sound. This machine had been well cared for before being left in that cubby hole and with a little new oil and grease, she ran beautifully after over thirty years of just sitting.

She still makes pretty stitches too:
Straight stitch and zig zag

Decorative, including satin stitch

I bought a few new parts from Sew-Classic including a new power cord, new needle plate, and bobbin cover. There is still a little rust on the thread guides and some bug stains on the back of the machine, but she is now all cleaned up and ready to be reunited with her cabinet sometime in the future.


Hard to believe this is the same machine!

From the research I've done, she would have been made about 1957 or 1958 and was Singer's top of the line machine at the time.  There was very little lint inside. While she has nicks and scratches due regular use, the fact that she moved at all is a testimony to the good care she received during her working life.

DH found another machine in the attic a bit later:  a Necchi BF Nova:

This one, per my research, dates back to the early 1950s, probably around 1954.  She is much cleaner as she's been stored in her case since the last time she sewed. I haven't played with this machine yet as the wiring has some bare spots so it is unsafe to even plug her in. This machine is much more stiff and hard to turn and will need a thorough cleaning and lubricating before she sews again.  I will probably put her away until after we have moved to the old house and our addition is built.  Then, hopefully, I will have more time and space to play with her.

Now I just need to figure out where to put them both.


Martina F said...

What a fantastic story!

BarbaraShowell said...

I wasn't a bit surprised to ear that 401 go. I'm really envious of the Necchi.