First, select the stitch pattern you want to use. There are 24 discs available for the Slant-o-Matic and early Touch & Sew machines. They are numbered 0-23, with 0 being standard zigzag and 23 being basting stitch.
Next, open the lid on the top of your machine:
Check to see if there is already a disc in the machine:
500 disc compartment WITH disc
500 disc compartment WITHOUT disc
Singer 401 stitch selector knob.
If there is already a disc in the machine, you will need to remove it before inserting the disc of your choice.
To remove or insert a disc you may need to adjust the knob or lever settings on your machine.
If you have a 401, 411, 500, or 600 model, make sure the stitch selector is NOT on "Special."
Singer 600 stitch selector levers
Singer 500 stitch selector knob
403 stitch width lever
If your machine is a 403, 503, or 603 model, set the stitch width lever to "S" or "STR".
Grasp the raised center portion of the disc firmly and pull straight up. There's no special trick to this. As my dad always says, "Pull hard and it'll come easy."
Now you're ready to insert your chosen disc. Line up the holes in the disc with the two posts in the disc compartment.
Press disc firmly into place. There should be a slight click when it's fully seated.
Let's look at it in motion:
Next, readjust knobs & levers for Special Disc sewing.
For 401, 411, and 500 machines, set large center knob at "B" on the left and "Special" on the right. For 600 machines, set the upper stitch selector lever at "Special" and the lower stitch selector lever at "B". Then set stitch width lever to desired width.
For 403, 403, and 503 machines, set stitch width lever to desired width.
Finally, adjust the stitch length lever to desired density. Special Disc patterns typically look best when sewn at the shortest stitch length possible.
That's it! You're ready to sew. It's really that easy.
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.
We've all heard the old saying: "If it looks like a duck..."
Well, if a sewing machine looks like a 401, threads like a 500, chain-stitches like a 600 and treadles like a 328...it's a 411!
Which makes the 411 more of a Platypus than a duck.
So let's get the 4-1-1 on the 411...
The 411 features a number of unique characteristics, beginning with its manufacture history. The 411G shown above was a puzzle, because the "G" in the model number 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.
At a glance the 411 resembles the 401A but on closer examination there are a number of significant differences. Let's compare the two machines: (411 appears on the lefthand side of each comparison.)
The two machines look similar but the 401A is "squarer" in styling. Stylistically the 411 more closely resembles the 403.
The 411 and 403 share a prominent pointed ridge on top and distinctively shaped light cover. However the 411 has a couple of mechanical features that mimic the 500 Rocketeer.
Note the additional thread tension regulator just above the tension knob. This was a new feature when the 500 was introduced and was also used on the 411.
The 411 and 500 also share a top-mounted bobbin-winder.
Another unique feature is that while it looks like a Slant-o-Matic, the 411 can chainstitch like a Touch & Sew!
The final twist is that the 411 can also be used as a treadle machine, making it one of the very rare zig-zag treadle models. This feature is also found on the vertical needle 328 Style-o-Matic.
Note the channel for the treadle belt in the base just directly below the handwheel.
The 411 is truly a fascinating member of Singer's Slant Needle family. It does not feel as well built as the 401. The casting feels lighter and the paint job and trims appear to be lesser quality. But the unique versatility of this machine make it a strong contender for the title of "Best All-Around Slant Needle!"
The late 1950's and early 1960's were times of change on every level around the world and throughout society.
The 401A Slant-o-Matic was Singer's flagship sewing machine during these momentous years and its production spanned a critical shift in brand image from "Old Fashioned" to "Modern."
The changing face of Singer is captured in the evolution of the badges and markings on the 401A. A comparison of 4 individual machines reveals the progression. First up is #NA775005:
I'm partial to the "early" 401. It's prettier than its younger siblings. Note the stenciling on the Special Disc lid. It's two-tone brown and gold. The stenciling on the back is also two-tone. And the badge is a lovely bright gold embossed shield with the Singer "S" superimposed over crossed needles and a shuttle bobbin. The model number has its own plate mounted below the badge. All of these details give the early 401's a more "embroidered" look.
Before long, Singer began to streamline the decorative elements, as seen on 401A # NA810187:
The Singer badge and model number plate are unchanged, but the stencilled letters on the lid and back side of the machine have been changed to a simpler, monotone brown.
Singer's "Red S" logo was launched around 1960. It was sleeker, more modern. With the new logo came additional changes for the 401. The trend was toward a cleaner, less fussy design aesthetic, which is reflected in the next machine we'll look at, #NB519064
The model number still appears on its own plate just below the badge, but the lid stencil has vanished and the rear stencil is monotone brown. The mechanics of the machine are un-changed, but the overall appearance is getting plainer.
But the trend toward plainer was not yet complete. The late-run 401's are even less embellished, as seen on #NC009804:
The model number has moved to the stitch-length plate, further reducing production costs. Same machine, but cheaper to produce. Increased market competition from Japan and Europe was pushing Singer to simplify and economize.
The times were changing, and Singer was changing with the times.
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.