My Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine

In my last post I promised I would talk a bit about my Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine.

A friend of mine was given this gorgeous Singer treadle sewing machine. One of her friend’s aunties or granny had moved into a nursing home and couldn’t use her machine any longer. My friend never got into sewing, so the sewing machine was languishing in a corner and one day she decided to give it to me, as I had expressed an interest.

Although the machine was still just about in working order, it obviously required a lot of cleaning and lubricating to make it usable again. So I found the Treadle On website, which contains a lot of useful information. Therefore only a small summary here: I took the machine head out of the cabinet and removed an enormous amount lint from all the nooks and crannies. Then I removed all the rust with WD-40 and also attempted to remove most of the grime. I then generously lubricated the machine head with sewing machine oil, and greased all the moving parts of the treadle, including the gears underneath the machine head. After I put everything together again it purred like a kitten.

Here are some pictures of the beautifully embossed cover plates, which give access to the internal workings, so you can lubricate the lot. It also has the Singer emblem underneath the stitch length selector. The serial number plate showing “EC661.971” was still attached, so I managed to work out that my machine was produced in the Clydebank, Scotland, UK factory in 1940!

Despite its age, it still had most, if not all, accessories in a variety of biscuit tins and boxes. We have here from left to right, top to bottom: a lint brush, a collection of bobbins, a darning plate (this covers the walking dogs), a zipper foot, a gathering foot for shirring, an adjustable hemmer, a binder (for applying bias binding to an edge), a ruffler, a foot hemmer for sewing a fine narrow seam, the edge stitcher makes for easy joining of lace and insertions, a little tool for threading the needle, and last but not least, a blind stitcher for “superior invisible hemming”.

There is also the famous button hole attachment, to make perfect machined button holes on this straight stitch machine. Instead of the needle going left and right for zigzagging, this clever contraption moves the fabric to left and right! Although it sounds like this would never work, it actually makes the most beautiful button holes ever, as you have full control over everything. You can adjust: button hole length, spacing of the stitches, the width of the bight (this is the width of the stitch used for the button hole), and the width of the cutting space. Gorgeous!

And as you cannot zigzag with a straight stitch machine, there is also the following attachment: a zigzagger. The round inserts determine the zigzag stitch: normal zigzag, arrow head, groups of three zigs and three zags, and a scallopped stitch. Like the button holer, there is a lever that cups around the screw for securing the needle in the shaft, and that’s how it drives the mechanics inside the attachments. You can see the lever in situ in the picture above.

The stitch length selector also controls the direction of sewing. Unlike what I previously thought, you always spin the flywheel in the same direction (when I start treadling, I give it a swing with my hand, from the top of the wheel towards me). So if you need to reverse, you switch the stitch length selector lever from bottom to top. The length of the stitches can be selected by unscrewing the small screw and moving it up our down. This controls how far down or up you can push the lever. You can kind of see how this works in the picture below. The engineering is all very clever!

Luckily my machine also still had all the instruction manuals, otherwise I wouldn’t have known how anything works, or indeed, what they even are!

Without these, I would never have been able to thread the machine and work out how to service it. The machine is built in such a way that you can easily service it yourself, and the instructions show you how to take the machine head apart and put it back together again. I doubt you would ever see that in modern sewing machine manuals! Despite this it has taken me up to last week before I understood exactly how to set up the tension dial again, after I had taken it apart for cleaning and lubricating.

So, this is my Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine. It is easy to operate, and it makes the most beautiful soft noise when you use it. It gives you superior control over the sewing speed, something I always struggled with with electric sewing machines. And although I have many knitting projects in the pipeline, I hope to be able to make a pair of woollen charcoal trousers for the coming winter, which I think will go very well with the fire engine red Cornish guernsey that’s on the needles right now.

DEAR READERS, PLEASE NOTE THAT I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO HELP YOU WITH ANY ENQUIRIES ABOUT SOURCING SPARE PARTS, OR PUTTING A VALUE ON YOUR OLD SEWING MACHINES. I WILL ALSO HAVE TO DELETE ANY COMMENTS BY PEOPLE TRYING TO ADVERTISE A VINTAGE SEWING MACHINE FOR SALE.

38 Replies to “My Singer 201K Treadle Sewing Machine”

    1. I believe this model (Singer 201) has been produced for a long time and it came in a handcrank, treadle and electric motor version. There are also a few other models that look very much like this one.

  1. Gorgeous! I have managed to acquire 2 201s – one electric (potted motor) and the other handcrank and I love them both dearly! I’m mostly a knitter like you and saw you mention your machine on Ravelry – I hope you’ll both be very happy together!

  2. The old Singer machine brought back memories of my late mother…sewing away…in the 1950’s…She was a demon knitter and crochet artist as well…Just found your blog by accident today…I’m enjoying it very much…

  3. Just wondering what this model is worth… I know where to get one from, but is in need of a service and TLC. Seems just about most parts are there, including the knee operation arm! Anyone in Brisbane, Queensland have any suggestiions?

  4. I have the exact same cabinet minus my mum’s exact same treadle machine as my dad took it out for her and replaced it with an electric one though left the instruction book inside, so yes a 201K. I now use the cabinet with my Bernina on top but love the connection with my late mum who taught me to sew. I can’t quite see the full pic but does the door have a semi-circular, two tiered storage box attached??

  5. Hi. Does yours have the bar that slides out the side to hold the left hand cover open? I’m trying to fix mine up but cant work out how the springs work to make it come out and close automatically when the cover is opened and closed.

    1. Josh, I had a cabinet with a 201 electric potted motor that had the swing out bar support. It swings out with a spring, but you have to swing it in by hand, and it only stays in when the lid is closed. As soon as the top is lifted a bit, the bar swings out so as to support the lid in the open position.

  6. Did you know the 201 models have a screw under the bed that can be removed and moved to another hole and this drops the feed dogs?

    1. I have several old Singers, my first being a 201-2, a potted electric type. Last summer I found another in better condition, and started searching the internet to learn more about them. I leaned that there are treadle models. Well, today, I became the owner of one that looks very similar to this one, but 1937 model. It looks about the same except the thread tensioner is an older style with smaller numbers on the top of the center cylinder shaped part. I like the ones like this and my other 201s that are easier to read. My access covers are the ornate type like this one pictured.

      1. Hi David how easy are the 201k treadle models to find? I have a cabinet that looks similar to the one in the original post. It would be about 1950s, unfortunately the machine is long gone.

  7. I have several old Singers, my first being a 201-2, a potted electric type. Last summer I found another in better condition, and started searching the internet to learn more about them. I leaned that there are treadle models. Well, today, I became the owner of one that looks very similar to this one, but 1937 model. It looks about the same except the thread tensioner is an older style with smaller numbers on the top of the center cylinder shaped part. I like the ones like this and my other 201s that are easier to read. My access covers are the ornate type like this one pictured.

  8. I was given a machine very like yours back in the 1970’s by a lady tailoress to the Royal Family. Sadly I had to part with it when I had to move into a flat. Broke my heart and I’ve been looking for another recently but to be honest it’s hard to know where to start as I’m not very technical and wouldn’t be able to repair or service it myself. I’ll keep looking though….wish me luck.

  9. My granny had one of these although hers was on a table/stand rather than being with an enclosed cabinet. You have put so much work into her, I know you’ll be happy together!

  10. Hi, I’ve just found and bought what looks like the twin of yours! Have you done anything to the wood yet? I would be interested to know. Cheers. Sue.

  11. Hi I bought my Step Grans Singer tredle machine from her estate many years ago now.Im sixty two years young and after a very busy career life have decided to learn how to sew.I can’t believe how beautiful this machine is to use after a little TLC 🙂

  12. I just got a 201 treadle, I collect Singer machines(have an electric 201 and a hand crank) but never saw a 201 like this. Has 5 drawers, dark wood, maybe cherry?
    The base is mid-century style but the sides of the legs have wood over the cast iron, very beautiful! Has anyone seen one like this?

  13. I’ve purchased this exact machine in the same cabinet today I’m so excited to use it I bought it from a charity shop it has the original manuals and all the extras with it I just need to learn how to actually use it now I cannot wait to use it can this be converted to electric and also there’s a wire coming from it which looks like the bottom of a bulb like you could screw it into your lamp if that makes sense is this for the light and do I actually put it into a lamp or somethink sorry for sounding stupid but I’m young and really don’t know how it all works

  14. I have just got my “new” 201K up and running. The cabinet is identical to yours – but I’ve no idea what that little clip at the top right hand side of the cabinet is used for. Wonder if it could grip a water bottle? Any ideas for it’s original purpose?

  15. Hi I hope you still answer posts here!
    I have just bought a hand crank 201 and a treadle cabinet which isn’t complete. I have found a spring to help it be lifted up from its stowed away position but goodness knows what else I shall need to set up my machine. If I can’t work it out I wold value a few photos of what goes on under the hood, so to speak!

  16. I have just asked Tom a question about this in an email, forgetting that I could really ask all of you reading the blog! Do you know if the “no number disc” older tension mechanism on the 201 can be swapped for the mechanism that has the numbered disc on the later 201s? Thank you for any advice, hints or tips… Megan

  17. I was wondering if you know what the thing in the middle of the emblem on the machine is? It’s pointed at the top and looks like there’s thread wrapped around a hollow bit in the middle?

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