Several steps forwards and a few less steps backwards

You’ll be pleased to hear that the planning of the planning of the Silly Girl’s Project to recreate my grandparents’ 1955 road trip to Monte Carlo is coming along nicely.  (Part one is here)  I’ll just say that the whole thing is still rather fluid and not forming itself in an orderly fashion due to my meandering brain.  No surprises there then.

2015 05 12 after a serious clean

In my last post, I had acquired Heather, a 1958 Singer 201K sewing machine, for the purpose of making my 1950’s-style outfits for our road trip to Monte Carlo.  As usual, it was buy first and do the research later.   During my investigation into how best to clean up and restore Heather to her former glory, I chanced upon LOADS of information about the Singer company and their products.   It turns out that there is a worldwide fan base of Vintage Sewing Machine enthusiasts (obsessives?) and that manuals, information, sources of parts and general encouragement is pouring out of t’interwebs.  There’s a Facebook page with almost 18,000 members, all encouraging each other.  I don’t need any encouragement, I’m dangerous enough on my own.

It seems that these bits of kit are so well-engineered and simple in design that, with regular maintenance, they go on forever and, barring a disaster of momentous proportions, can be looked after by their owner.  I’m all in favour of that – get a book out of the library and DIY, learn new skills along the way and save a packet.  Or nowadays, get onto t’interwebs and FIND OUT HOW.  Once you’ve seived out the garbage…

Singer-201-Service-Adjusters-Manual  SAM

Here’s some interesting stuff that I discovered along the way.  Did I mention my meandering brain?

Singer was such a successful company that in 1862 they decided to open a factory in the Glasgow area.  Demand continued to escalate and another factory was build in 1873 and in 1885 they opened their biggest ever factory on 46 acres of farmland at Kilbowie in Clydebank. This included 2 3/4 miles of railway to connect up various parts of the site and to 3 railway stations in Glasgow, Helensburgh and Dumbarton.  The company employed nearly 7,000 workers and produced an average of 13,000 machines a week.  It was the most modern factory in Europe at the time.  They even made their own cabinets and tables to house their sewing machines and employed 2,000 joiners to do so.

During World War II, in line with most other engineering companies, Singer  turned their engineering facilities at Kilbowie to producing ammunition and hand grenades.  The factory made Mills No 36 hand grenades and even the bombs that they produced were stamped with the Singer logo.  Have a look at this – is it a bullet?  Ignore the yellow stuff.

Is it a bullet?

Is it a bullet?










There’s another story behind the above…  Although Heather sews beautifully, having joined the Vintage Sewing Machine group on Facebook, that bunch of “enablers” kept posting photos of beautiful old Singers.  You know – the kind everyone’s Mum and Granny had,  all shiny black with lots of gold decoration.  I learned to sew (such as my “sewing ability” currently is) on two of those machines (a treadle and an electric) and we also had them at school.  I bet there isn’t a school in the UK who lets excitable 11 year old girls loose on such obviously horrendously dangerous equipment which is designed to murder children.  Tut. That’s why no one can sew. Besides, you only ever sewed through your finger once.  A lesson for life. You can’t beat a good solid education.

Anyway, I hankered after such a pretty little black and gold beast and I discovered that because hardly anyone sews and these machines were pretty much bombproof, there are hundreds of thousands languishing unused and neglected.  That makes them cheap to buy. Add to that the availability of parts, their reliability and virtual idiot-proof-ness, and the idiot had to have a go.

This time I did my research.  No, I really did.  I looked at Ebay for a couple of days, Googled for a bit and then chose my weapon.

28K cropped for blog

It’s no ordinary sewing machine, let me tell you.  You know that normal sewing machines have a round bobbin for the bottom thread?  This one doesn’t because they hadn’t been invented then.  She is a “vibrating shuttle” machine and has the bullet-shaped thing (above) which contains a long bobbin loaded with thread.  The pointy bullet travels forwards and backwards underneath the plate and loops its thread through the thread that the needle has just deposited through your fabric, forming a stitch.  Clever, eh?  She’s a 1901 model 28K.  The K stands for the Kilbowie factory in Clydebank where her relative Heather was also made.  So I now have two generations of Scottish singers.  Not these ones.

Lulu for blog

Sharleen for blog






Isabella (I can explain her name, if you really want to know, but it’s another convoluted story) had been living in Wales.  In a barn with chickens, judging by the look and smell of her when she arrived last Thursday. I had no idea what she was like beyond what I could see in the photos and although she was well-packaged when she arrived, the rattle from the box didn’t bode well.  I realised that if she had parts missing, I wouldn’t even know.

Oh well, too late – I had blown the enormous sum of £17 plus £15 delivery so I got my sleeves rolled up, rubber gloves on and got on t’interwebs again.  There followed a most interesting journey of discovery (story of my life) and within 4 days I had her cleaned up inside and out, oiled, threaded and last night I managed to produce this masterpiece on her first test drive.  Using the needle that she came with, some ancient thread (both no-no’s) and some old lining material.


One of us can sew.  Now I just need to produce some variations of this:

Scary sewing pattern

Sewing patterns are the next mystery to unravel.  I have the pattern, the fabric, the lining fabric, the zip, the matching thread and I’m terrified to start cutting.  I’m  liking the middle one and I’m liking the fabric that I bought enough not to ruin it with scissors yet.

Meantime, maybe I’ll just document the story of Isabella’s transformation from sad little machine so that maybe someone else who is daft enough to buy a vintage Singer sewing machine on a whim will find out how easy it is to beautify, restore and operate.  I’ve found some You Tube videos and perhaps there’s a Facebook page for Reluctant Seamstresses.

Wish me luck.

On another (connected) note, this is the car that my grandparents did their 1955 trip to Monte Carlo in –

Car to id cropped

It’s a 1954 Rover P4.  Yes, there’s a Facebook group.  Yes, I’ve joined.  Yes, I’ve got some new friends. Yes, it’s just as easy to get hold of one of them but a wee bit dearer.  That’s a whole ‘nother thread, as it were.  Let’s stick with Heather and Isabella for the next few posts.

The Silly Girl’s Project continues…

You can find other posts about the Silly Girl’s Project by clicking on the Tag 😀

About Jo Graham

Scottish genealogist - this blog is for my own family history and photos
This entry was posted in Douglas & Elsie's 1955 Road Trip, Silly Girl's Project, Singer mania and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Several steps forwards and a few less steps backwards

  1. adriansmith440303 says:

    Great blog post Jo. “Two generations of Scottish singers” ha ha. Priceless!

  2. Little Nell says:

    I’m really enjoying this Singer Saga. Of course, I too learned to sew on my Mum’s ‘electrified Singer; I even made my wedding dress on it! My own first machine to start married life, was also a Singer. It gave me a lot of grief and I switched to a Husqvarna. My current model is Japanese, but it’s not nearly as attractive as the old Singers.

    • Jo Graham says:

      I’m pleased to hear it – so am I although that one little album has led to an awful lot! I thought it was my other Granny who was the entertaining one 🙂 There will be more, probably quite a lot more.

  3. I loved your article and can relate to the sewing in school. The first article I remember sewing in school was skirt and matching lined vest, but I also remembering doing some straight sewing on the treddle singer of my great aunt. She was very brave with me. Thanks for the memories Jo

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