Singer 201-2: sewing on a machine older than my parents

I am trying to cultivate a "buy-it-for-life" mindset.  When I was looking into sewing machines, I found plenty of machines that seemed to be in my price range ($100-150) with decent reviews.  I wasn't expecting a powerhouse of a machine, but if I was spending a hundred dollars on it, I wanted it to last a while. 

But as I dug deeper into reviews, I kept seeing things like "this machine broke after x months of use, and it can't be repaired since it's completely plastic on the inside".  (Plastic consumption/its widespread use is a whole 'nother issue). 

I couldn't justify spending over a hundred dollars on a chunk of plastic that would break and become unrepairable


So I decided to look into more durable machines that were still in my price range, namely vintage Singer machines.  I knew that the vintage ones were all metal (most are cast-iron, very heavy!) and figured they'd be relatively simple to repair since they were relatively simple machines.  The vast majority are straight stitch only!  Some don't even go backwards! 

I went to thrift stores until I found one I really, really liked.  I had seen a few others but they were too small (I wanted one with a larger throat), far too expensive, or in absolutely terrible condition.

Here's the one I got!  After a thorough servicing/wipe-down.

I actually didn't know if it worked or not, because the power cord was nowhere to be seen at the time or purchase...  I ordered a generic power cord off Amazon later. 

But there were a few reasons I picked this one:

1) No pitting/huge rust spots (even on the bottom).  Only the chrome surfaces had some very superficial rust.

2) The wiring seemed to be in good condition. 

3) Electric, potted motor!  I didn't want a treadle or hand-turned machine (though... I kind of want a hand-turn one just for the novelty now...)

4) Large throat space!

5) The handwheel turned smoothly, and there weren't any catches/clicks/grinding. 

6) It was 35 dollars.

I took it home and used this guide to identify it.  

This serial number look-up confirmed it was a 201 model, made around January 1950.

1950!  How crazy is that!

Sounds kind of rough...

I inspected the wiring and deemed it safe enough to plug in and not cause an electrical fire.  It didn't catch fire, but it did not sound like it was ready to sew anything any time soon. 

Thankfully there's a local business, run by a very sweet older gentleman, who is continuing his father's business.  He came out to my apartment and did a very thorough clean-up, timing adjustment, basic "how-to", plus a history lesson.

He showed me how to thread it, told me to not use upholstery-weight thread (oops), especially not as the top thread combined with a regular-weight cotton thread on the bottom (double oops), and told me I made a good purchase, since the 201-2 is a very good machine, and mine was in fairly good condition.  His visit cost about $120, or far more than the machine cost!  But it was definitely worth it. 

Features of the Singer 201-2:
  • Adjustable stitch width.  Six to thirty stitches per inch.  
  • Forward and reverse!  
  • Feed dogs can be lowered. 
  • Can be used as a workout aid (not really, please use actual dumbbells). 
And that's about it.  There are a variety of attachments (buttonholer, zig-zag, embroidery!) but by itself, the 201-2 can only do a plain old straight stitch.  But it does it very, very well.

I purchased this machine almost a year ago.  Since then, I've made clothing, quilts, pillow covers, and a variety of other things on it.  It's still stitching beautifully.

I've also purchased a cabinet, buttonholer, zigzag attachment, and LED bulb for it.  I've definitely exceeded my initial budget of $100-150, but I don't have any regrets.  

Where my 201-2 currently lives, a wonderful Singer cabinet!

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