I’ve been trying to rotate some of my favorite machines recently. I love my Necchi machines so much that I could sew on them forever and never feel like I was missing out on anything (is there such a thing as sewing machine monogamy?) but variety is the spice of life, they say. Also I want to use the others enough to keep them well maintained and to break some of the older ones back in to optimal performance. So I’m revisiting some of my Singer machines.
I currently have two Slantomatic 401s. One of them came to me perfectly tuned, oiled, adjusted. It was the first vintage sewing machines I purchased for myself when I began sewing regularly and the Walmart plastic Brother sewing machine just wasn’t working for me anymore. The first time I sewed with it, I was in love. Compared to the rickety, inconsistent stitch quality of the bargain basement Brother, with its dismal white lump design and utter lack of aesthetic appeal, it was heavenly. The stitches are gorgeous and the feed is so consistent that I can turn my work and sew perfectly over the stitches that came before. *swoon*
It converted me to a vintage machine enthusiast forever. It’s gear driven, which gives it a feeling of solidity and precision like nothing I’d sewn on before. Internally it’s all metal, save for one part–there is a very large, crucial gear on the handwheel that is actually textolite, a very durable plastic material. Unlike many of the plastic and nylon materials Singer used over the years, it doesn’t seem prone to breaking, thankfully. (For more info, see Old Sewing Gear’s great blog here.) It has zig zag, a blind hem stitch, and three step zig zag stitch built in, as well as a ton of other decorative stitch possibilities. The needle position is adjustable and the needle plate has measurements engraved in it, which is really helpful with seam allowances.
I bought another in awful shape as a clean up project. It was caked in weird greasy gunk externally, which was impossible to get off without alcohol soaked q tips. It was varnished up internally as well, which alcohol works well to clean up–it evaporates quickly enough that it isn’t as much of a problem near wiring as something like WD40 would be (which the jury seems out on using to loosen stuck sewing machines anyway). The camstack and gears that allow for the decorative stitching were bound up as well–I had to use a hair dryer multiple times to allow the warming and cooling of the metal to expand and contract the parts enough to work the oil in and loosen up everything. Now it sticks a bit from time to time, but overall it’s working wonderfully.
So that’s my current go to machine for my foray into sewing with jersey. With a ballpoint needle, it works incredibly well for this purpose. I thought I’d share some photos of mine and some of the technical information I’ve found over the years. (Apologies to the original source of the schematic–although the manual can be found on the Singer website, I’m no longer sure where the schematic is from. And the service manual was made available by Donald of Sewing Dude – his post here. His blog is very informative and very, very funny!)
singer-401-service-manual from Sewing Dude blog
9 thoughts on “Sewing Machines: Slantomatic 401”
Amanda, Have you ever used a hand powered sewing machine, the kind you have to turn the hand wheel? It does not need electrical power. I’m curious about how easy or difficult they are to use.
EmilyAnn, I have been rescuing and converting some old sewing machines to hand cranks for a couple of months now. The reproduction hand cranks are made in China and are nowhere near the quality of the very scarce original ones, but they are adequate. These machines were so well engineered that they sew smoothly and beautifully whether the motor source is electric, a treadle, or by hand. I love sewing on the hand cranks.
Amanda, I love your writing, and I am just as in love with those Italians as you are. I have five Necchis. Two of them–A BCJ upstairs and BF downstairs–are my primary sewing machines. My next favorite ones are the Singer 500 and 503, the Rocketeers. I have a 401 but have not yet started working on it. I may get that one out next because so many people sing its praises.
Amazing! I love that you salvage machines too. And thank you for the kind words. 🙂 I have a rocketeer I’m saving for a rainy day too, and an old 301 which only does straight stitch but has the slant needle too. So neat! It’s such an addictive hobby. Makes you wonder why manufacturers just threw visual design considerations out the window though. The old decals and later atomic age curves and mod pastels are so distinctive.
I agree with Janet–they are nice but I’d definitely convert an older machine than buy a contemporary reproduction. The only thing is very old machines sometimes don’t have the necessary hole on the side of the base to mount the crank mechanism. I have four hand cranks, but have never used them for a full project–one of them uses a reproduction crank which is junk and won’t rotate smoothly, but it’s a neat job. They seem to have machined a custom metal shim to be able to use a the flat based Singer crank on a round bodied 50s or 60s era Swiss made Helvetia. Another problem I’ve had with mine is the bobbin tire being cracked and old and hard to find a correct sized replacement for. Since many if these are vibrating shuttle machines, I can’t just use another machine to wind the bobbin. But I have had some luck with a removing the old tire and wrapping a rubber band around it to approximate the size of the original tire. It gets enough grip on the handwheel to work! I love the feel of using a hand crank, but only sew with it when I’m in a slow Zen mood and want to enjoy the journey. The fiddly feel of only having one hand to guide my material is strange for me, though for something delicate and precise like a chiffon scarf it might be ideal. The control of being able to do one stitch at a time could be very useful.
Thanks for that.
Hello Janet. Thanks for your personal experience with the hand cranked machines. I’m tempted to get one of the reproductions.
I wasn’t very clear in my response, sorry–the hand crank *mechanisms* are adequate when put on an old machine. I don’t have any experience with the reproduction hand crank *machines*, although I looked at the Alibaba website a few weeks ago and I know there are factories in China churning them out. My advice would be to stay away from the reproduction machines if at all possible. I have heard they just don’t work well. It’s a simple matter to take the motor off an existing vintage machine, remove the solid hand wheel, and replace it with a hand crank mechanism. Takes about five minutes.
Just to clarify, the 401A has a 4-step zig-zag built in, not a 3-step zig-zag. It’s one of the things that keeps me from using my 401A much, since a 4-step zig-zag doesn’t work as well as the 3-step zig-zag for applying narrow lingerie elastic or hemming stretchy knit fabric. I’ve considered trying to design a 3-step zig-zag cam and have it 3D printed, but I’m sure that would be a lot of work.
You’re absolutely right, thanks for clarifying that! 3d printing does seem to hold soooo much potential for those hard to find sewing machine accessories and parts. Here’s hoping it becomes practical in terms of cost/effort in the next few years.