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1911 Singer help

Dinosaur | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

I had my grandmother’s 1911 Singer cleaned and tuned up a while ago, and it worked fine for a few weeks but then the flywheel locknut started unlocking all by itself while I was sewing, and of course the needle stops when that happens.

No matter how tightly I clamp it down–and I have strong hands–it will come loose as soon as the needle encounters anything even resembling heavy going. That machine used to bulldoze its way through leather, cordura, #2 canvas, you name it, all without even breathing hard. Now, a lap-felled seam in light cotton stops it dead in its tracks.

What’s wrong with it? Help!


How now, Mighty Sauron, that thou art not brought
low by this? For thine evil pales before that which
foolish men call Justice….


  1. User avater
    Dinosaur | | #1


  2. starzoe | | #2

    Is the belt too loose?

  3. Ckbklady | | #3

    Hiya! The person on the forum to ask is DamascusAnnie - she is a professional quilter who uses only the older machines. If you look her up in Advanced Search (above the topic list on the discussion page, you can find her and drop her a line directly, in case she doesn't see this post.

    Good luck!


    1. User avater
      Dinosaur | | #4

      Hi, Annie, I'm told you're the expert on older sewing machines. Would you have any idea why my 1911 Singer keeps unscrewing itself? ;o)

      I should specify the machine was originally treadle-driven but was motorised in about 1937; the motor still works fine and I finally replaced the belt a couple of years ago.

      What happens is that when the needle encounters any sort of hard going, the locknut on the flywheel unscrews and uncouples the drivetrain from the needle. It didn't used to do this; I could sew workgloves, backpacks, heavy zippers into canvas duffels, you name it--things that stopped my ex's modern machine dead in its tracks. But now, it won't even go through a lap-felled seam in light cotton costume material (I had to finish my son's Hallowe'en costume by hand).

      1. damascusannie | | #5

        Most likely the three-eared washer inside the clutch has flattened out over time so that you aren't really able to get it tightened down firmly enough to hold when the going gets tough. This is a common problem on older sewing machines.

        1. User avater
          Dinosaur | | #6

          Thanks. It's great to finally get some solid info from someone who knows what they're talking about! (I've already asked this question of both local repair shops and gotten nothing but a blank stare for my trouble....)

          Would that washer be available from Singer, or am I going to have to fabricate a new one?

          1. damascusannie | | #7

            Let me talk to some friends over at the Vintage Singer site and see what they recommend and I'll get back to you. I believe that you can restore the washer to working condition, but I've never done it and I want to make sure you get the right method.

          2. damascusannie | | #8

            The guys at Vintage Singer think that you may be able to solve the problem by rotating the washer 180 degrees. Try it one direction and see if that works, then try it the other way. If that doesn't work let me know and we'll have to pursue more extreme (but still DYI) measures.

          3. User avater
            Dinosaur | | #9

            Thanks, Annie. You're great. I'll get back to you after I tear the old darlin' apart later tonight....

          4. KharminJ | | #10

            I just replaced the icky, stretchy sueded leather belt that a (now out of business) repair guy put on my 1901 Singer - what a joy it is to use again!

            Now I just have to get back in the habit of getting it started by-foot, instead of by-hand.

            I hope Annie's suggestion helps you get the Joy back, too!

            Welcome aboard!


          5. damascusannie | | #11

            I have to chuckle about your foot/hand remark. I use hand crank machines, too and when I first go from treadle to hc, I always find myself reaching out with my feet trying to find that treadle pedal! Then when I switch back, I keep reaching for the hc handle. It's funny how quickly we develop habits.Yesterday I finished a quilted tote bag for a "Think Pink" tote bag exchange I'm participating in at the Treadle On forum. The bag I made is black with variegated pink peacock feather quilting and a pink batik lining. I like it so much, I'm going to make one for myself, too!

          6. KharminJ | | #12

            ...black with variegated pink peacock feather quilting and a pink batik lining...WE-WANT-PHO-TOS! WE-WANT-PHO-TOS!(think rally chant)That sounds gorgeous ~ I'm so happy to hear about and see all the beautifully creative BCR (breast cancer research) designs (in both fabrics and projects) that are making the rounds this year. Even the fleece patterns are much more fun and attractive - so we're selling a lot more of it! KharminQuilted Tote Bag Hah, Annie, you beat me to it! I see there are pics in this new thread! And it IS beautiful! Thanks! K

            Edited 10/28/2008 2:10 pm ET by KharminJ

          7. damascusannie | | #13

            No problem--I like sharing pictures.

          8. User avater
            Dinosaur | | #15

            I just replaced the icky, stretchy sueded leather belt that a (now out of business) repair guy put on my 1901 Singer -

            Don't know if these would fit the old machines, but Lee Valley sells leather link-belts which work wonderfully on power tools. Much lower vibration, better power transmission, and infinitely adjustable for length.

            View Image

            The belts are ½" wide; sold by the foot.

          9. KharminJ | | #17

            Spiffy item, Dinosaur! Thanks for the thought, but it won't work on a sewing machine (great for lots of other tools, though!)

            It's too wide, and I've always had to adjust the belt in about 1/4" increments, not the 1/2" it looks like these do.

            I found the proper purpose-built 72" x 1/4" hard leather belts for $6 each at SewTech in Mt. Prospect, Ill. (Kevin at 847-398-3366) Didn't even have to "order" them - and he has a half dozen more in stock, too!

            Good to hear your problem had an easy fix, too! I haven't had the nerve to take mine apart yet, except to get most of the white grease out (used by previously-mentioned NOOB {now out of business} "repair" guy) Bleacchh!

            Stay warm!


          10. User avater
            Dinosaur | | #18

            'Stay warm'

            Yep. Summer is officially over. I no longer jump in the lake first thing every morning even if there's no ice on it yet. Must be getting old or something....

            Finally put the snowtires on the truck yesterday. Before I could even finish putting away my tools, it started to snow.

            Now that's what I call 'Cosmic Validation'.

            It's Dumping now; we've already got two or three inches since 5pm and predictions are for a foot by tomorrow morning.

            All I gotta do now is clean out the carburator on the snowblower which I have conveniently postponed doing all summer long. Oh, well, at least the sewing machine is fixed and my wood is in....

          11. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #19

            You are one up on us!  The snowblower is stuck where it is until the corn comes off, and it still needs to have the gears fixed.  The wood is neatly stacked in the field, also waiting for the corn to come off.  And the snow is now three inches deep and the mud is probably deeper....

            Cosmic validation is right, figured we should have pulled the snowblower out to fix it in the spring.....    Cathy

          12. User avater
            Dinosaur | | #20

            We lost the electricity at 12:35am last night and didn't get it back till about an hour ago. Lots of wind with that low-pressure system, and lots of snow, too. Over a foot of very heavy wet snow fell, bending small trees double across the roads and breaking the tops of bigger ones. Hydro Quebec had so many calls their automated (dis)information system crashed and didn't get up again till about 6am.

            I had about half a cord's worth of dead branches and tree heads come down in the night...the biggest piece of tree--about 25 feet long x 10" dia., plus all the branches coming off it--missed my garden shed by a foot and landed right in front of the door, blocking it pretty well.

            Guess what was in the shed?





            The chainsaw, of course!


          13. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #21

            A real Good News, Bad News situation!  Glad it did not damage the shed tho.  Guess you will have lots more wood for the fire when you manage to get that one figured out. 

            Our power bumped on and off all night, but did not go out for long.  Some in our area went out last night round 6 pm and still is not on.    Snowy winters seem to come in twos, so I guess this one is starting early......

            How is the vest coming?    Cathy

          14. User avater
            Dinosaur | | #22

            No progress on the vest, but it's my Grandfather's fault, not mine.

            (He was the one who threw out the treadles when he electrified the Singer for Grandma in 1937.)






            That power outage really messed up two rush jobs I'm behind on, so I've got a bit of catching up to do before I can get to sewing. But a quickie costume vest won't take long. I'm gonna drag out the same pattern I used for his 'GI-Joe' combat fatigues shirt a couple of years back...kick it up three sizes...and leave off the arms.

            The big latex full-head mask is what everyone's going to look at, anyway.

            View Image

            Hmmm. Think maybe I'd better stuff some quilt batting in there to keep Mr. Binks' nose from collapsing....

          15. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #23

            That is SO AWESOME! 

            Two of my girls were home and dragged out our Halloween tickle trunk yesterday.  So they are all set. 

            DD1 is a DSW and her client is really tiny.  So the tiny little mouse costume I made for DD when she was 4 fit like a glove.  We threw on a furry collar I picked up for $1 at a sale somewhere because it looked like a good addition to the box made it look like a lion!  Her client was thrilled, and is happy to be able to dress for the occaision with everyone else tomorrow.  Even though her client is 25, she is really only a small child still.  It made me laugh when she sat and roared!   Cathy

          16. User avater
            Dinosaur | | #24

            You do realise I didn't make that mask, I hope. That's a bought item. I'm not equipped to do the original sculpture, then cast negative and positive plaster moulds, make the latex mask, and then paint it. (Well, if I did nothing else for a month, maybe, but....)

            Me, I'm dragging out an old, brown 'Friar Tuck' gown and hood and sticking the light sabre from my son's one-and-only electronic game in my belt. Voilà! Instant Qui-Gon Jin; I already have the beard....

            Cool on your DD and her tiny client. Reusing those costumes doesn't happen often enough. I've got to go through our old costume trunks around here and see what I can pass on to friends with younger children.

            Ah, well, off to pick him up at school in about an hour. The children all wear costumes to school here on Hallowe'en, but they won't let them wear masks, so we'll have to transform him from a face-painted clown into Jar-Jar Binks in the boy's bathroom somehow....

          17. User avater
            ThreadKoe | | #25

            Yes, I realized it was a purchased item.  it is still cool tho.  Have fun tonight Boys!  Cathy

          18. User avater
            Dinosaur | | #14

            Annie, you're a genius! The washer wasn't in bad shape, but it was the problem.

            Here's what I deduce happened: The problem started shortly after I had the machine sent out and tuned up. The 'repairman' who 'tuned up' the machine must have removed the clutch knob to oil the mechanism, and replaced it without screwing it down enough...then ran the setscrew down so far it couldn't pass the first of the three tabs on that washer. Result: no matter how hard I cranked it down, the clutch wouldn't fully engage. Slippage.

            Removing the clutch knob to look at the washer let me see what was happening. I've adjusted it so it doesn't slip...and now know how to do it in future thanks to you.

            Jar Jar Binks will have his little green vest this Friday night. ;o)

          19. damascusannie | | #16

            Excellent! And the great thing was that you were able to take it apart, easily figure out the problem and correct it on your own. That's one of the best things about the old machines--the DIY nature of the repairs.

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