Sewing Machines: Slantomatic 401

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 401a – manual

singer 401a – schematic

singer-401-service-manual from Sewing Dude blog


Singer Slantomatic Troubleshooting

I’ve been sewing all weekend on a Slantomatic 401 I bought on a whim for $50, as a fixer upper project, when I first began my downward spiral journey into sewing machine hoarding. It was a mess. The camstack was frozen solid with old grease, and the stitch selector wouldn’t move at all. The whole machine was full of weird grime–not dust, which tends to wipe off easily enough, but a greasy caked on goo that soap and water and even WD40 didn’t do much to remove. I’ve been working at it with isopropyl alcohol and Q-tips. The outside isn’t fantastic, but I went over every nook and cranny of the inside and removed all the gunk and reoiled it with Tri-Flow oil. I freed up with camstack with a combo of WD-40, a screwdriver to scrape hardened crud bit by bit from the gears, and a hairdryer. The hairdryer is magical. The heat loosened up old frozen parts just enough for the penetrant to work its magic, and now it’s fully functional! Not beautiful, yet, but functional. (For your tinkering pleasure, see the end of this post for a Slantomatic 401 manual, service manual, and a link to an amazing tutorial on all things frozen camstack related from The Archaic and The Arcane blog.)

So I oiled it up to work on my Advance raglan pattern. For my wearable muslin version I settled on an ivory jersey, and most of it went really well. Well, I should explain. There is a cycle of emotions I go through when sewing vintage patterns. I begin in dreamy joy, enamored of the pattern illustration, dreaming of looking all Audrey Hepburn in my future garment. The main seams sail along. I get most of it together with my illusions intact. And then I get to the facings, and my dreams begin to crumble in the face of geometrical reality. They inevitably blow my mind. Most of them seem to be designed to fit together, from front panel to back to the other side, which I think is great, theoretically. But there are always problems with the snips and clips and places where the work has to turn to match edges and it’s never quite all I’d hoped. This is where the worry sets in. By the time I get to sewing up closures and hems, I’m pretty sure I’ve blown it. The topstitching is the nail in the coffin, especially with jersey fabric, where the feed just never goes as smoothly as it should and my lines end up looking like I sewed them drunk. When I try it on, I almost inevitably find that my tree trunk waistline does not fit without risking taking someone’s eye out popping off a button. And the shoulders. Typically, they don’t fit for crap. So I find myself staring at the pattern illustration feeling foolish for ever believing that I would resemble a woman whose waistline is drawn to be smaller than her head. But then, if Mad Men should have taught me anything, it’s that illustration=advertising=creation of a fantasy.

This time, I mostly just disliked my topstitching and resolved to add more width at the waistline. Shoulders, at least in jersey, fit wonderfully in the raglan cut. Also, I wasn’t sure about interfacing the jersey; now I know. If I want a crisp finish and pretty collar edges, interfacing is a must. Especially in formless bendy soft and squishy jersey. I’m considering redrafting the facing where it joins. There must be a simpler way.

But…I like learning things the hard way.


(Singer 401 Sewing Machine Manual)

(Singer 401 Service Manual)

(The Archaic and The Arcane’s Tutorial on Camstack and Other Issues)