When it comes to vintage sewing machines, few are as well known as the Singer 201. Originally manufactured back in the 1930s, this amazing piece of post war engineering represented the top of the line in sewing technology and remained a best seller for years to come despite it's prohibitively high cost. Most domestic machines available at this point were offered as a hand crank or treadle unit, but the 201 had the option of an electric motor!
This particular machine is a 201-2 and holds a special place in my heart. It was the very first vintage machine I purchased--the catalyst that launched me into what has now become an insatiable obsession! The astute reader may notice that my 201 is devoid of its iconic decals, more so resembling a Singer 1200* in appearance.
*The Singer 1200 is identical to the 201-2 except it has a built in knee lifter, no decals and was intended as a high speed artisan machine for tailors.
The 201 is a cast-iron, fully gear driven, top loading, horizontal rotary hook machine. It uses class 66 bobbins like the 3/4 sized Singer 99s and the Singer 66 that predates it. The 201 features a unique motor mounted in the back that resembles a pot--often referred to as a 'potted motor.' While the build quality of these machines is second to none, you may discover that time has not been kind to the wiring. In many cases, the insulation may have rotted away so if the wiring looks suspect, don't plug it in until it's been fixed. The risk of electric shock is very real.
Though not for the faint of heart, the re-wiring procedure itself isn't too difficult. I won't go into the process here as there are some fantastic tutorials readily available online.
The potted motor is rated at .6 amps and isn't particularly beefy but due to it's construction, the piercing power on the 201 is comparable to other Class 15 clones with much larger motors.
The 201 came in four different subclasses in the US.
- 201-1 - a treadle operated version (much more common than hand cranks in the US)
- 201-2 - has an electric potted motor
- 201-3 - has an electric external belted motor
- 201-4 - uses a hand crank (more common in the UK)
While I've never encountered a 201-3 with the external belted motor, I've contemplated replacing the potted motor on my 201 with a more powerful external motor to boost speed. With the potted motor, the 201-2 tops out at about 1100 stitches per minute--not a slow machine by any stretch of the means but it does have a slow acceleration curve. Unlike the oscillating hook on the nearly identical Singer 15-91, the rotary hook on the 201s can theoretically handle much higher top speeds.
If you do try retrofit a potted 201 with an external belted motor, you'll need to replace the hand wheel with a Singer 15-91 hand wheel and belt guard in addition to the motor to fit the horizontal shaft properly. Sonically, you'll find the timbre is quite different between the two motors--the belted motors being quieter than the whirring of the gear driven potted motors.
Peaking inside the nose, you'll find the 201 basically looks like a more robust version of the Featherweight. Under it's flat bed, you'll find a thumbscrew that allows you to drop the feed dogs.
This machine features a matching stitch length regulator. The thumbscrew is mounted on the side of the lever and secures a plate that locks in your desired forward and reverse length. This mechanism works much better than the thumbscrews often found attached to the base of the stitch length lever as that design has a tendency to loosen during use. I can't say I'm a fan of the bobbin winder though. It's very finicky compared to the winders found on Featherweights and the 301s.
The light powers on independently from the machine. In fact the machine draws power as soon as you plug it in, so make sure you leave your 201 unplugged when not in use.
The 201 uses the same narrow feed dog configuration as the other black head Singers which handles curves beautifully!
Below is a refinished Singer Cabinet no. 65 which I've somehow managed to scuff up again. I love how it completely hides the machine inside. This is far and away my favorite vintage Singer cabinet. The styling is much more versatile and can blend in suitably with more modern decor. It has 3 usable drawers on the right and a fourth faux drawer in front.
There is a spring loaded support arm that pops out as soon as you lift the leaves of the desk.
Just swing the machine up and you're ready to sew!
These tables also come with a pedal mounting bracket found on the inside of the front facing facade. This allows the operator to activate the foot control with a retractable knee lever.
It's worth noting, the 201 is a very stable table top machine, even without a bentwood base. There are two flat gear covers found under the machine that serve wonderfully as legs. Weighing in at nearly 40 pounds, this vintage stitcher won't bounce around annoyingly when sewing at top speed unlike some of the more modern Stylists and Fashion Mates often seated in plastic bases.
- Straight stitch only
- Matching forward and reverse
- Rotary hook
- Large harp space
- Drop-able feed dogs
- Adjustable presser foot pressure
- Class 66 bobbins
- Accepts low shank feet
In summary, the 201 is a fine machine indeed. While it is exceptionally stable as a table top machine, it is much better served in a cabinet due to it's weight. If I didn't have a garage full of industrial machines, this would be my straight stitch machine of choice.