Last summer I was at a craft market selling jewelry re-purposed from old sewing machine parts when a customer mentioned she'd just seen toy Singer sewing machines at a nearby garage sale.
I told my sister and business partner, "You're on your own, I'm taking our petty cash..." and I was gone.
A few minutes later I was the proud owner of not one, but two tiny sewing machines. Best of all, I paid less than $20 for the pair.
My ownership of the first one (pictured above) lasted less than an hour, because my sister wanted it. It was the same model she had (and lost) as a child. Our big sister still has hers, though (pictured below). They received them from our uncle in 1959 when he took over management of a Singer store in Barstow, CA. He found two leftover toy machines in the storeroom and gave them to his nieces (my sisters). He gave his mother (my grandmother) a 221 Featherweight, which is still in the family today.
My sister's Singer Sewhandy Model 20
My sisters' toy machines were the tan Singer Sewhandy Model 20.
Singer touted the Model 20 as a "a real sewing machine - not a toy" because it sewed an actual chain stitch and could be used for making doll clothes. It's probably the most recognizable of the Singer 'toys', with an all metal body, hand crank, pedestal base and clamp for fastening to a table top.
The Model 20 was initially made in black to complement the traditional black & gold machines, but was later offered in tan to complement the tan and mocha machines (301, 306, etc).
Singer Sewhandy Electric Machine c.1959
As the sewing machine models changed with time, so did their toy counterparts. By the late 1950's the Slant-o-Matic machines rendered the hand-crank model passe, so Singer introduced the Sewhandy Electric, "a "real electric sewing machine for the young seamstress."
It sold for $24.95 and was styled to match the modern slant needle machines. It's constructed of metal and plastic, with an orange and tan plastic carrying case. (It was shortly after the introduction of the Sewhandy Electric that my uncle found the unwanted Model 20's in the storeroom.)
Happily, the second garage sale machine was a Sewhandy Electric. I wanted one to put on display in Dad's workshop as a tribute to the many 401's that have graced his bench.
Singer Little Touch & Sew
Time marches on, though, and before long the advent of the Touch & Sew heralded yet another update to the toy machine.
The "Little Touch & Sew" came in several colors to complement the full-size Touch & Sew machines. Unlike its predecessors, the Little Touch & Sew was nearly all plastic and not as sturdy as the earlier toy machines. (I recently picked up the one shown for $5 at a local thrift store.) So how were Singer toy machines marketed? Singer's salesman would amuse the customer's child with a toy machine while he demonstrated a full-size machine to the child's mother. The toy machines were sometimes included as a "gift with purchase" of the full-size machine, so Mom and child could have matching machines:
I hope you've enjoyed this small glimpse into the fascinating world of tiny sewing machines. Believe me, this barely scratches the surface. There are avid collectors of just toy machines and there are literally dozens if not hundreds of models made by many different makers.
For now, I'm content with my garage sale finds!
Happy Sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
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.