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!
Looking to "Go Green? or "Get off the grid?" Treadle sewing machines are the ultimate in renewable energy. Like a bicycle, you pedal it yourself.
Singer treadle machines are a dime a dozen. The problem is that nearly all of them are straight-stitch only. So if you need treadle AND zigzag you don't have many options.
The 328 Style-o-Matic is the answer.
Heavy duty power, zigzag and decorative stitch capability and treadle ready. Replace the motor belt with a treadle belt and install in a treadle cabinet... Voila! The ultimate green sewing machine.
The 328 was manufactured from 1963-1965 at Singer's Scotland (328K) and Canada (328J) factories, which means they not difficult to find.
The 328 is belt-driven which requires regular adjusting for optimum performance. When properly adjusted it compares favorably to its gear-driven counterparts. All of the 328's I've tested sew lightweight leather, heavy denim, duck canvas, marine vinyl and upholstery with ease.
If you need an all-around household machine with treadly capability, look no further than the 328 Style-o-Matic.
The 328 uses Class 66 bobbin and low shank attachments.
It's no secret that I love vintage Singer sewing machines. From the 201 to the 301 to the 401 each model has its merits. But every time I sit down to test a 15-91 I realize that this is the one I love the best.
Not only is the 15-91 beautiful to look at, it's crafted from nearly indestructible steel. The rear-mounted potted motor and steel worm gears add up to tremendous punching power. It doesn't slip, stall, jam, or bog down. If you can fit the fabric under the presser foot, the 15-91 will sew it.
Singer produced myriads of 15-91's from the early 30's to the late 50's. Early models were highly decorative with fancy embossed scrollwork on the cover plates:
Later models had a simpler satin-stripe motif but are still graceful, elegant machines:
The 15-91 is a straight-stitch machine, but Singer produced a wide array of attachments for zigzagging, hemstitching, blind stitching, and buttonholing. There was almost nothing that couldn't be done with patience and practice.
Eventually the zig-zag models took over the market and the 15-91 became obsolete. But the surviving machines are a testament to Singer's heydey. The oldest 15-91's are upwards of 80 years old but still get the job done.
So if you need a heavy duty straight-stitch machine but don't have space for an industrial model, you can't go wrong with a 15-91.
The introduction of the Touch & Sew series marked the beginning of the end of classic heavy duty Singer machines. Plastic parts took the place of steel, aluminum and other cast metals. The result was lighter and quieter machines, but without the strength and longevity of their predecessors.
Because of this, the Touch & Sew often gets a bad rap in vintage sewing machine circles. However, there are a handful of Touch & Sew models that are graced with the same STEEL gears that drove the 400- and 500-series slant needle machines.
It's not uncommon to find 600, 603, and 604 models with steel gears, but the 626 is another model to watch for. You'll have to remove the bottom cover (which means unscrewing all 4 feet) to be sure, but your efforts will be rewarded if you see steel gears beneath the bobbin-compartment.
There are a lot of reasons to love a steel-geared Touch & Sew. They are less industrial feeling than the earlier slant needles, which means a smoother & quieter sewing experience. And the stitch quality is superb, with some of the best satin-stitching I've seen.
The steel-geared 626 is one of my favorite all-purpose sewing machines. It's a joy to use for everyday projects and has the chops to tackle heavy duty jobs too. If you're looking for a great all-around sewing machine without the vintage price tag, keep your eyes open for a 626 with steel gears!
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.