If you've every played with a toy sewing machine, you know what chain stitch looks like.
So maybe you think it's kid stuff.
But did you know that Singer made full-size "grown-up" machines that also sew chain stitch.
What exactly is chain stitch? Is it useful? Which Singer models have a chain stitch feature?
Good questions! Let's answer them.
First let's briefly review how a sewing machine works.
A sewing machine typically has two threads. The top thread passes through the needle and the bottom thread is wound on a bobbin. When the needle point pierces through the fabric it draws the top thread down to where a hook grabs the thread and wraps it around the bobbin thread before releasing the top thread. When the needle raises back up through the fabric the two threads are "locked" together to form a complete stitch.
Chain stitch is different because it uses a single thread. When the needle pierces through the fabric, the machine loops the top thread around itself, forming a series of interlocking loops. From the top it looks like a normal straight stitch, but from the bottom it looks like a chain.
The beauty of chain stitch can also be its fatal flaw, because chain stitched seams can be removed with a single tug on the end thread.
Which is great if you WANT to sew a temporary seam, but a real frustration if need a permanent seam. You can lose an hour's work in seconds if you pull on the wrong thread.
Which is why chain stitch is typically reserved for toys or handheld "quick repair" sewing tools. But there are situations when a temporary stitch is a desirable tool for dressmaking or quilting.
Which is why Singer included chain stitch as a feature on some Slant-o-Matic and Touch & Sew Models.
Which ones? Let's take a look:
411G, 600E, and 603E are notable examples of chain-stitch capability along with steel gears and a slant needle. Most Touch & Sew models have chain stitch capability, but beware of plastic gears!
So if you're looking for a heavy duty machine or quilting machine with the added bonus of chain-stitch basting keep an eye out for one of these remarkable machines!
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.
When Singer introduced the 500 Slant-o-Matic Rocketeer, it featured a new threading step that Singer called a "thread control."
So what is it? What does it do?
Singer 500A "Thread Control"
"The automatic thread control, located above the tension, ensures a smooth flow of thread from spool to needle. This device eliminates spool weight and drag by pulling off a measured amount of thread before it passes through the tension discs."
So there you have it straight from the horse's mouth! Thread control is clearly the greatest invention since sliced bread!
So this thread control was a giant leap forward in sewing machine technology, right?
Ummm...not so much, because there's no noticeable difference in stitch quality when comparing the 401A and 500A. Singer apparently came to the same conclusion, because "thread control" disappeared after the early 1960's. It does appear on the German-built 401 and 411 models but then Singer went on to produce the "Touch & Sew" series with a horizontal spool spindle which eliminated spool drag completely.
Alternative threading for Singer 500A
Thread control was so underwhelming that Singer went so far as to distribute an alternate threading guide for the 500 that bypasses the thread control. This threading chart was included in the "Knit Kit" that Singer produced for sewing double-knit fabrics.
I've experimented with both threading methods and I prefer to bypass the thread control because it's faster. And the stitches look just as good without it.
So there you have it...thread control. No, it didn't revolutionize sewing machine technology, but it's still a cool feature that sets the Rocketeer apart.
So you've decided to take the plunge and invest in a Slant-o-Matic 401A.
Great choice! The 401's versatility, power, and longevity are beyond compare. If you select your vintage 401 carefully you will enjoy many years of sewing pleasure.
So what should you look for?
Clearly cost is always a factor. Just a few short years ago you could pick up a smart looking 401 for $25, spend $100 or so having it tuned up and you had a great machine at a great price. But these days even thrift stores and garage sales want $100 or more. And eBay sellers may be asking $300 or more for a serviced machine.
So before you spend your hard earned cash on a "Farm Fresh" machine, consider the following:
Cosmetic Condition These machines can take a beating and still sew like champions, but poor cosmetic condition can be a red flag. If there are gouges, scratches, and dings on the outside then there's a good chance the machine hasn't been regularly cleaned, lubricated, or adjusted. This could mean damage or wear to internal machinery.
Dirt and Rust Old sewing machines are often dirty. A layer of dust and grime on the exterior of the machine isn't necessarily a bad thing, but dirt and grime on the inside can cause wear and tear on the machinery. Signs of rust or blistering paint can mean that the machine has gotten wet in the past. If the machine has been wet then the motor and electrical wiring may need repair.
Mechanism Does the handwheel turn freely? Does the needle move up and down? Does the hook rotate around the bobbin? If the handwheel is frozen or binds, then the motor bearing may be frozen.
Power Cord & Foot Control 401, 403, and 404 models have two cords, a power cord and a foot control cord. Check for both. A replacement power cord runs about $12. A replacement foot control can be $50 or more.
Spool Pins Broken or missing spool spindles are easily replaced, but will cost a few dollars. If they've broken off it can be tricky getting the stumps out of the spindle holes.
Needle Plate & Bobbin Cover Plate Check for any missing plates, which may cost up to $20 apiece.
If you are buying a machine from a private party or secondhand store be prepared to spend $100 or more on servicing if you want to get the most out of your machine. 50 years of dirt, grime, and neglect can take their toll. Running a dirty, unserviced machine will cause unnecessary wear and tear.
The following checklist details what to look for when looking at a 401 if you want to minimize servicing & repair costs:
Having difficulty viewing the checklist document? Visit "Cheat Sheets" page for pdf download..
The same considerations apply if you are considering purchasing an un-serviced machine from an online seller.
On the other hand, if you are considering shelling out a few hundred dollars for a "serviced" sewing machine from an online seller, you should consider the following:
Positive feedback Look for a proven track record of quality work and good customer service.
Description of cosmetic & mechanical condition A reputable seller will be upfront about cosmetic flaws and mechanical performance. So review the listing carefully. How does the seller describe the machine? Are there clear, close-up photos? Does the seller mention cosmetic flaws? Are there stitching samples? Video of the machine in action?
Detailed description of servicing Servicing a machine involves a whole lot more than wiping away the dirt and squirting some oil into the little holes. Thoroughly cleaning a machine requires disassembling all moving parts and removing all dirt, grime, and oil residue. The motor wiring, bearings, brushes, armature, & commutator should be inspected, and replaced or rebuilt as needed. All organic parts (bobbin tire, bed cushions) should be replaced. Spool pins & felts should be inspected & replaced as needed. Plates, doors, hinges, knobs, & levers should be cleaned, adjusted, repaired, or replaced. Tolerances need to be adjusted to standard specifications. All moving parts should be lubricated with appropriate oil or grease.
Return policy or Warranty Does the seller stand behind their product? At minimum the seller of a serviced machine should offer return for refund if the machine is dead on arrival. Some sellers may warranty their work for an additional period of time, but keep in mind that even the most conscientous seller cannot guarantee that a 50+ year old machine will run another 50 years.
Shipping insurance Look for full value insurance against shipping damage.
Protective packaging These machines deserve a whole lot more than a flimsy cardboard box and wadded up newspaper. The shipping industry does not handle with care. In fact, when we first started selling machines we were advised to package each machine to survive a kick down a flight of stairs. So that's what we do, and we haven't lost a machine yet! An appliance-grade cardboard box lined with 2-3" of foamboard and filled with peanuts or bubblewrap is the best protection for your vintage investment.
A "farm fresh" 401 may be a great deal, but there can be a lot of hidden costs if you have to replace a lot of missing parts or repair damage from years of neglect or abuse. On the other hand, paying a higher upfront price for a "serviced" machine may be more cost effective, IF you buy from a reputable seller.
Either way, if you choose your 401 carefully and invest either your time or money in quality servicing, you can expect many years of sewing pleasure from your vintage treasure!
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!
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.