A hotly debated topic in vintage sewing machine circles is whether it is appropriate to describe these old machines as "industrial strength."
Some folks insist that using "industrial strength" is NOT appropriate. Others (myself included) feel it IS appropriate.
I confess. I use "industrial strength" to describe the machines I test and sell. And I've received my share of nastygrams from the folks that disagree.
Why the debate?
What exactly does "industrial strength" mean?
"I don't know what that means." --Dr. Temperance Brennan, "Bones" TV show
First of all, it's important to understand the difference between an industrial (or commercial) sewing machine and a household (or domestic) sewing machine.
Industrial sewing machine example
Industrial or commercial machines are larger than household models.
They are typically attached to a table that may be up to 6 feet wide with a large motor mounted in the base of the table.
These machines are designed to sew huge pieces of fabric at very high speeds for 10-12 hours a day. Some even have a self-oiling feature.
By comparison, household machines are smaller and are not designed for high-speed, high-production sewing. The differences are obvious. Therefore, when I review or advertise a vintage household machine I am well aware that it's NOT an industrial or commercial sewing machine.
So why do I describe them as "industrial strength?"
Because these household machines are capable of sewing the very same materials that industrial machines sew.
Let's look at the dictionary definition of industrial strength:
"Marked by more than usual power, durability, or intensity" - Merriam Webster "Extremely strong, durable, or concentrated" - The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language
"Much stronger or more powerful than the product normally available to use." - Cambridge Dictionaries Online
"Used to describe such products as cleansers, lubricants, and stepladders, suggesting that they would be effective in hard use environments." - WhatIs.com
By today's plastic-happy, "throwaway" standards, the old vintage metal machines stand out as having "more than usual power." The majority of household sewing machines on the market today are made from plastic, cheap metal, and rubber belts. On the other hand, a vintage Singer 15-91 is solid metal with high-grade steel gears and a direct drive motor. It is unquestionably "more powerful than the product normally available to use."
Because of this, I believe that it is entirely appropriate to use the words "industrial strength" when describing an all-metal, gear-driven vintage sewing machine. Many buyers don't have the space for a 6-foot table and industrial machine but they want something that CAN do the work of an industrial machine every now and then. That's why these old machines are so popular.
Sellers should take care, though, to clearly state which type of machine is being offered. If you are using the words "industrial strength" be sure to explain that it's still a household/domestic model and NOT an industrial/commercial machine. A little education goes a long way toward avoiding misunderstanding.
Bottom line? Whether you call the machine "heavy duty" or "industrial strength," there is nothing like an old vintage sewing machine for quality and durability. They just don't make them like they used to!
Happy Sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
Just the other day I received a phone call from a guy with a question about one my sewing machines for sale.
So I prepared myself to answer some highly technical question.
Instead, the question was "What's a slant needle?"
Wow...I almost didn't know what to say...
Then I realized I'd gotten so close to the trees I'd forgotten how many folks out there are still trying to find the forest!
Slant Needle, Slant-o-Matic...we hear these words so often that we take for granted everyone knows what they mean.
But how can they, if they've never been told?
So here's the scoop on what "slant needle" means and why they're so desirable.
Singer 15-91 Vertical Needle
For the first 100 years of sewing machine production, sewing machines had a vertical or perpendicular needle. In other words, the needle goes up and down at a right angle to the sewing surface.
Singer 404 Slant Needle
But in the 1950's, Singer changed all of that by introducing the model 301 Slant Needle Sewing Machine. Not only was it a lightweight full size portable, but the needle angled forward...it was slanted.
Wow, how cool is that!
Looks really neat, but how does it affect the price of camels in Turkey?
Simply stated, the slant needle makes it easier to see what you sew. How? Let's compare a slant needle machine (left) with a vertical needle machine (right):
Singer 404A Slant Needle Sewing Machine
Singer 327K Vertical Needle Sewing Machine
As you can see, the presser foot on the slant needle machine is closer to the front of the sewing platform. It's not hidden under the machinery. How much difference does this make?
The standard sewing platform measures 7 inches from front to back. The vertical needle is placed dead center, but the slant needle moves the presser foot an inch closer to the front of the machine. Not only does it make it easier to see, but it also provides easier access the bobbin compartment.
But it isn't just the slant of the needle that makes "slant needle" machines so special. It's actually the direct drive motor and steel gears that go along with the slant needle.
The 301 was just the beginning of a legendary family of Singer slant needle machines. It was followed by the 401A, 403A, 404A, 401G, 411G, 500A, 503A, 600E, 603E, & 604E, all of which used the same steel gears and direct drive motor.
So how do you know if your machine is a "slant needle?" Take a look at it from the needle end. If the needle is straight up and down you have a vertical needle machine. If it angles forward then your machine is a slant needle.
Such a simple question, with a very simple answer, but it really made me stop and think about what makes these machines so great.
Happy Sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
October 1957...Russia launches Sputnik, and the whole world goes into orbit...
America went crazy for "Space Age" style and Singer's response was the redesigned Slant-o-Matic, fondly called "The Rocketeer."
With sleek, futuristic lines, cool knobs, and rocket-motif levers, the 500-series was one small step for Singer, one giant leap for...well, you get the picture!
Launched in 1961, the 500 series introduced features not included on the early 400 series Slant-o-Matics. These included top-mounted enclosed bobbin winder and an additional "thread control" lever. A previous post, "Which is better? Singer 401 vs. 500 Rocketeer" discusses the differences in a side-by-side comparison of the two models.
The new Slant-o-Matic came in two models, 500 and 503. So how do they stack up against each other?
Both machines are heavy duty powerhouses with the ability to sew straight-stitch, zig-zag, & decorative stitches. When properly adjusted and equipped with correct needle and thread, both machines will sew leather, denim, canvas, or vinyl.
As with the 401 and 403, the fundamental difference between the 500 and 503 is in HOW the machine sews zig-zag and decorative stitches. The 500 has decorative stitches built-in. The 503 requires Special Discs to produce any stitch other than straight stitch.
Let's take a look side by side with 500 on the left, 503 on the right:
Slant needle Rotary hook Steel Gears Drop-in Class 66 bobbin .72 Amp direct drive motor Double-thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp Thread control regulator Special Disc compartment Removable top-mount spool spindle 2 fold-flat spring-loaded spindles --- 25+ stitch patterns built-in
Slant-o-Matic 503A Special
Slant needle Rotary hook Steel Gears Drop-in Class 66 bobbin .72 Amp direct drive motor Double-thread capacity tensioner Double capacity needle clamp Thread control regulator Special Disc compartment Removable top-mount spool spindle 2 fold-flat spring-loaded spindles --- No built-in stitch patterns
Almost immediately you notice that the 500 has a large knob in the front and the 503 does not:
The large knob on the 500 is the selector for built-in stitches. A look inside reveals the cam-stack that produces these stitches on the 500 and the absence of the cam-stack on the 503:
Since the 503 does not have any built-in cams, it relies entirely on Special Discs to produce zigzag and decorative stitches. Once a Special Disc is inserted, the 503 is capable of producing beautiful decorative stitches using single or double needles.
On the other hand, the 500 has the capability of combining built-in stitches with Special Discs to create additional decorative patterns. (For more information on built-in stitches vs. Special Discs, see the article "Do I need Special Discs for my 401 or 500?")
So which Rocketeer is right for you? That depends on your sewing needs. If you want simplicity with the option to occasionally sew decorative stitches, the 503 will suit you perfectly. It is very easy to operate and typically a little quieter than the 500 since it has fewer moving metal parts.
But if you want maximum creative flexibility and don't mind learning how to use the knobs and charts, then the 500 is the better choice.
Whichever model you choose, you'll be 'over the moon' once you own a Rocketeer!
On a lighter note, my family reserves the term "Rocketeer" for the 500. Our nickname for the 503 is "Purtineer." Almost a full-fledged Rocketeer, but not quite!
Singer sure didn't make it easy to identify black & gold models. Model numbers are often missing or incomplete. And if you do find a model number, you won't find the common name of that model anywhere on the machine itself.
For example, we're all familiar with the Singer Featherweight, but it there's no "Featherweight" label anywhere on the machine itself. You might see a small "221" or "222" model number plate, but that is all. This can make identifying a black and gold Singer tricky.
An exeption to this rule, however is the Singer 192. At first glance you may not even realize it is a Singer, because of the big "Spartan" label across the front.
A second look, however reveals the Singer name inside the harp of the machine at the base of the column and a model number "192K" on the stitch-length lever.
Further examination reveals a class 66 drop-in bobbin and a belt-drive Simanco motor. It's a 3/4 size machine, smaller than the 15-91 but larger and heavier than the 221 Featherweight.
So why the name "Spartan?"
According to Merriam-Webster, "spartan" is defined as "marked by simplicity, frugality, or avoidance of luxury and comfort."
This is what Singer had in mind when they introduced the Spartan. It was a stripped-down, budget version of the 99K.
Side-by-side the machines are strikingly similar. Spartan is on the left, 99K is on the right.
Almost identical in shape and size, but unlike its more expensive sister, the Spartan is devoid of gold-leaf decoration and the Singer badge. It is also missing the task light and auto-stop mechanism for the bobbin winder. It came with a bakelite box base but there was no provision for a cover or carry case. Truly "spartan" in its details.
But the Spartan holds its own in the Singer family when it comes to heavy duty sewing. If properly adjusted it will sew tough projects as well as the 99K or Featherweight.
And it's pretty darn cute, too!
So next time you see a little black and gold machine with big block letters spelling "Spartan," stop and take a look!
By now it is common knowledge that I am a fan of the Singer 15-91. What's not to like? It's simple to operate and will sew through anything you can cram under the presser foot.
And, like the Model T Ford, "you can have any color you want, as long as it's black."
But did you know that Singer produced an almost identical machine in a color other than black?
That machine is the 15-125. It was produced from 1955-1958 and was the last of the potted motor straight-stitch models. Singer was modernizing its image and they updated the classic 15-91 with a re-shaped casting and a light green paint job. The color is similar to the 3/4 size 185k, which was itself an update to another popular model, the 99k.
So what changed? Let's take a look at the two machines side-by-side. The 15-91 is on the left and the 15-125 on the right.
As you can see, the changes were cosmetic, not mechanical. Motor, tension knob, light fixture, stitch length selector and bobbin compartment are exactly the same.
Which means that if you want a 15-91 but don't want black you have the option of green! Even the foot control and cords were color-matched. Which is the one drawback to the 15-125. If the cord is lost or damaged the only option for replacement is black, which rather spoils the look.
Otherwise, the 15-125 is a worthy successor to the better known 15-91. The machine pictured above walked right through several layers of garment leather and even sewed 2 layers of cowhide belt. This machine definitely has "industrial strength" but it is NOT an industrial model. It's still a household model, so it's not a good idea to sew belt leather every day on this machine, but it's nice to have the option for a quick repair!
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.