So you have a project or cottage industry and you need a heavy duty sewing machine. You've heard you should get a Singer 401, but can't find one that fits your budget. Then you see a 403 and wonder...what's the difference?
Good question. The simple answer is that 401 was top-of-the-line and 403 the next step down. But what does that really mean?
401 Slant-o-Matic Fully Automatic
Features: Slant needle Rotary hook Steel Gears .72 Amp direct drive motor Double-thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp Special Disc compartment 25+ stitch patterns built in
403 Slant-o-Matic Special Semi-Automatic
Features: Slant needle Double thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp Rotary hook Steel Gears .72 Amp direct drive motor Special Disc compartment No built-in stitch patterns
Inside the 401:
Note the stack of steel cams at center right. These are the "built-in" stitch patterns. Special Discs are not required for zig-zag and over 25 other patterns. However, Special Discs 1-5 are additional designs not built-in on the 401 and can also be used in conjunction with built-in stitches to produced additional "Combination" stitches, such as scalloped zig-zag.
Inside the 403:
Note the absence of steel cams. Unless a Special Disc is inserted the machine will only produce straight stitch.
So which machine is better?
The bottom line is: it all depends on what kind of sewing you will do. Both models have the same motor, the same steel-gears, and the same basic design.
If all you need is heavy duty straight or zig-zag stitches, go with 403. It is simpler to operate and a little less noisy because it has fewer moving metal parts. And you can still do decorative stitching with a set of Special Discs.
If you need maximum artistic freedom, go with the 401. It's harder to use at first, but once you get familiar with the controls, you will enjoy the variety and flexibility of built-in stitches. And you get the prestige of owning "top-of-the-line" if that matters to you.
Happy Sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
In the vintage heydey, Singer was cranking out machines by the hundreds of thousands in multiple factories worldwide. Some factories produced complete machines, others produced components.
Therefore it can take a bit of detective work to determine exactly where your vintage machine was born...
Singer's most prolific factories were located in Elizabeth, New Jersey (USA), Anderson, South Carolina (USA), Bridgeport, Connecticut (USA), Clydebank, Scotland (Great Britain) and St. Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec (Canada). The majority of classic Singer machines came from one of these factories.
Machines manufactured in Canada and Great Britain are often labeled as such on the inside of the motor column. Markings on the motor or foot control can be misleading because they may be a later add-on from a different factory.
Serial numbers may also provide clues to factory of origin. If your machine has a serial number beginning with 2 alpha characters, those alphas may be unique to the factory of origin. For example, if your serial number begins with NA, NB, or NC then it was almost certainly manufactured at Anderson, South Carolina, USA.
Another clue is the alpha suffix on the model number. That "A" in 401A stands for "Anderson." If you look at the serial number you will most likely see NA or NB at the beginning.
Other alpha suffixes include:
E = Elizabethport factory, Elizabeth, New Jersey, USA J = St. Jean-sur-Richelieu factory, St. John's, Quebec, Canada K = Kilbowie factory, Clydebank, Scotland, Great Britain W = Wheeler & Wilson factory, Bridgeport, Connecticut, USA G = Karlsruhe, West Germany
328K made in Canada
Therefore, your 328K probably came from Scotland. But the otherwise identical 328J came from Canada!
But your 328K could be a hybrid of components from more than one factory. The label shown here was found on a machine with a "328K" model number plate. Apparently Singer consolidated parts from Scotland and Canada to complete the 328 model production run.
411G with Canadian serial number
Another joker in the deck is the 411G shown at right. It was a bit of a puzzle because the "G" indicates Germany, but the serial number points to Canada. After some research it appears that the head was cast (and stamped with serial number) in Canada, then the machine was assembled in West Germany as reflected in the model number suffix. To add to the international flavor, the accessories are marked "France." I found it in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, so it's quite the international traveler!
So, the next time you wonder where your machine came from, follow the clues and see what you find!
Happy sewing! Barbara (NOTE: All information is deemed reliable but cannot be guaranteed.)
Five years ago my mom needed a sewing machine and my sister offered her an old Singer slant needle she picked up at a garage sale for 5 bucks.
Dad said, "We don't want it!"
A former sewing machine repairman, Dad had a lot of experience with "plastic junk" sewing machines. His reaction to Marilyn's offer was due to working on a much later, mostly plastic Singer slant needle machine.
Mom needed a machine for a project, so Marilyn brought over her garage sale find. One look inside and Dad was hooked. NO PLASTIC!
That's the beauty of the Singer Slant-o-Matic sewing machines. They are nearly 100% metal. The spool pins are nylon and the foot control housing is bakelite, but the rotary hook, gears, and needle drive are steel. The motor is direct drive, which means there are no belts to break or slip. All of this adds up to a heavy duty machine that is nearly indestructible.
Next thing we knew Dad was buying up vintage sewing machines right and left just to fix them up. Mom quickly became alarmed because a fixed income doesn't support a non-paying hobby. So I listed that first machine on eBay and we sold it for $125. Thus was born Dad's post-retirement hobby/business. He fixes them and I sell them.
And along the way I've fallen in love with these old machines and have learned an awful lot about them.
And it all started with a machine that "we don't want!" Boy has Dad had to eat those words...again...and again...and again!
OldSewinGear is the collaborative effort of retired repairman Gary and daughter Barbara. We love old sewing gear and enjoy sharing what we've learned in our vintage sewing machine adventures. We are located in Roseburg, Oregon.