I inherited Nana's sewing machine back in 1995 when she passed away. It was her only possession that I truly wanted and fortunately for me, no one else in my family saw any value in the old machine. I don't mean monetary value, though top condition 401's can bring a nice sum of money these days; I mean in sentimental and emotional value, as each time I look at or use that 1950's beige and white machine, I relive some of the happiest memories of my childhood. That machine is priceless to me. I watched her sew and repair many garments on that machine; she patched my favorite pair of jeans where I had worn the seat out, on that machine; Nana taught me to sew on that machine.
Over the years, I have made mostly quilts with the 401, making one for each of my nieces and nephews at their birth. I've patched some clothing, hemmed a lot of pants (being only 5'6", I hem a lot of pants). A couple of years ago, I opened up the sewing cabinet to hem a newly acquired pair of jeans. As I started my project, I noticed the machine didn't quite sound 'right'; she was a little sluggish, and her stitch knobs wouldn't budge. I pushed on and finished my small project, but I was concerned that my grandmother's machine may be on her last leg.
I started searching the internet and joining any/all sewing machine forums I could find. I felt like a vacuum cleaner at one point, sucking in so much information. With my newly found 'knowledge' and printouts of parts charts, wiring diagrams, and an adjuster's manual (thank you Lord for the internet!), I set out to breathe new life into Nana's 1958 Singer 401A - the Slant-O-Matic.
|Nana's 1958 Singer 401A Slant-O-Matic|
Two weeks and a lot of elbow grease later, Nana's 401 was sewing like new again! I can't tell you how much joy and pride I have in this little beauty! I say little, but even with a cast aluminum body, she still weighs in at about 25 lbs! And I haven't come across a single thing that she can't sew through when using the proper needle. She could certainly handle another round of intense cleaning; 40+ years of cigarette smoke and nicotine definitely take their toll. So now each time I sew with her, I give her a nice clean up afterwards and she shines just a little bit more.
While doing my research to fix and repair my grandmother's machine, I discovered that having a few spare parts on hand might not be a bad idea. After all, this machine hasn't been produced in nearly 50 years and new O.E.M. parts would certainly become harder to find than hen's teeth. One part in particular that I was concerned about given my 401's recent sluggishness was a replacement for the internal motor. Fortunately, dried, gummy oil had caused her slow responsiveness and not the motor, but having a spare certainly couldn't hurt.
I began scouring my local Craigslist for similar machines and one day a Singer 403 popped up, for a dirt cheap price. The 403A is in essence the same as a 401 with one major exception - the 403 requires external cams (Singer called them Fashion Disks) to be inserted to zig-zag or make fancy stitches; the 401 has the zig-zag built in, as well as multiple other stitches and can use the Fashion Disks also. I call the owner who it turns out was settling his father's estate; his father had bought the machine new for his mom and it hadn't been used in years. All the parts were there, so I loaded her up and brought her home. After inspection, I realized this machine had seen little to no use, and using my newly acquired knowledge about the 401, I set about servicing the the new-to-me 1959 Singer 403A.
|1959 Singer 403A Special|
The Singer 403A cleaned up and sewed beautifully, albeit a bit noisier than Nana's 401. I think probably because the 403 had never truly been broken-in. She became the second machine in my collection and I soon realized just how great these machines are. They were designed to last a lifetime without worries or troubles. They were made in the USA, when workers had pride in the job and in their product, and were made long before built-in obsolescence was commonplace.
I decided then that I wanted more of a challenge and began looking for an out-of-service machine. That next machine just happened to be a Singer 404 - the basic straight-stitch only introductory machine to the Slant 400 series. That machine had been used hard and put away wet, as it were, having been used in schools to teach and it had obvious signs of abuse. A few eBay parts later and some touch-up paint later, this bad-boy was ready for another 40+ years of sewing.
|1959 Singer 404|