Saturday, April 22, 2017

Vintage Singer 15-91 Rescue & Revitalization



Vintage Singer 15-91 Manufactured Approximately 1947


My husband regularly scans Craig's List, and this popped up in the town next to us. Was I interested? I wasn't sure. I have another Vintage Singer that is an industrial machine, and frankly, it scares me. It was last used in a flag factory, and built for speed. I was looking for one to sew leather.

A quick internet search tagged the advertised model as great for leather, but also as 'The Tailor's Machine'. Now I was interested. The ad said it was in working order, and $65 for the machine, cabinet, attachments, and manual. Not a hefty investment if something went wrong. 


It was in a local thrift store. (Be safe when dealing with online ads.) The light turned on when the seller plugged it in, and the motor started, but the needle would not move. It tried. I was skeptical. She was sure it was worth thousands, but I'd done my homework. I was ready to walk away, but offered $55. She accepted, and I carted it home.

Several You Tube videos and internet searches on cleaning vintage machines left me with a damp microfiber rag, some Q-Tips, and a bottle of Singer Machine Oil, which I already owned. Would she actually run by just cleaning and oiling?



I blew it out with a regular machine compressor then started to remove the dirt. Don't aim compressed air into any machine. If you are using a can of compressed air, keep the can upright. Tipping it will introduce moisture. If you must tip the can, then bend the flexible straw upward. Oil was next. The manual shows how to remove various plates, and all the points the machine should be oiled. Several points have felt wicks that draw the oil in as reservoirs. Did you know modern day machines still work the same way? You might want to check your manual as this was a recent surprise to me while watching my current machines go through a service!


The serial number led me to an online search to determine the production date. They were issued in lots so you have an approximate time period. Mine is from 1947. 

Spit and polish was doing a nice job of shining up the exterior, too. I heard mixed recommendations on using WD-40, but knowing it could remove the gold paint made me withhold. I only used a damp rag followed my a little machine oil on the outside. 


And She Runs!

To end the cliff hanger, the process took about 2 hours. I oiled dozens of points. I would turn the wheel by hand--only toward you, please, and find the squeaks and sticky points. Eliminate one, and there was an immediate difference, but she still seized slightly. I got to the point of just slight pause, and plugged her in. The cord was original so I was alert for any electrical problems. I ran it slowly, and continued to listen as she came back to life. Oil. Run. Oil. Run.

Last of all, I changed out the needle, added thread, and gave it Tailor's Try. She is incredible for a 70 year old! This is a sound I remember from my childhood. 

I immediately went to my local hardware store to replace the frayed cord. They were smiling at the quality of the piece that fits onto the machine. It was so well made! I made the new cord 15' long, and we matched the style as close to the age of the machine as possible. One portion of the plug is bright yellow--goes against the receptacle, and can be colored with a Sharpie marker.


Gadgetry Galore!


Next week I'll get into the accessory box to figure out some of the attachments. Rufflers, button holes, French seams, etc. Sewing was definitely an art.


Even the accessory box was made beautiful, and of high quality to last.

My Instagram and Facebook friends were so helpful with information on some of the how-to's, and there is a lot of help online from discussion boards. I have a finicky bobbin winder to deal with next week, and motor grease to add when it arrives, but all in all this was a successful process. I highly recommend giving it a try.

"Hi, my name is Julie, and I rescue old fabric, 
blocks, and vintage machines."

Come on, Doxie girls.
Let's go sew.

Linking up with~
Crazy Mom Quilts

13 comments:

  1. What a great find! My husband and I have our grandmothers' 1929 Singer 99s. They’re portables, with lovely wooden cases. I love them for quilt making. They only straight stitch and no back stitch, but they work so well and are great for the denim quilts I sometimes make. I even do some machine quilting with them. Enjoy your new machine.

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  2. The accessory box is for a Singer 401, a slant needle. The motor on your machine is a potted one and may need grease in the tubes. I have rescued about 3 of these and cleaned another 3 or 4. If I loved closer, I would give it the spa treatment for you. There is a vintage Singer yahoo group where I learned a lot. It is an incredibly hard working machine, I mostly use mine for machine stitching bindings.

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  3. Great rescue, Julie! I would have no clue what to do.

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  4. This was an interesting read and information that I need to learn. I have a few vintage machines that need some TLC and I'm not real sure how to start with them because I'm not sure which model they are.

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  5. Bellissima macchina, acquisto ottimo e.......il mio sogno è averne una uguale.....chissà... Comunque complimenti.....un saluto Silvana

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  6. Your machine sounds wonderful it must be so satisfying to have done it all yourself. I love vintage Singers, my Mother had one when I was a child. At Christmas my daughter bought me a 99k handcrank, love it, although by the time I got it she had done all the restoration, on the second one that is, she kept the first one for herself she loved it so, AND she only sew occasionally. She even sorted and labeled all the accessories for me, how wonderful is that?

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  7. Loved reading this. I also rescued the same model from a thrift store for $35 a few months ago. She barely ran in the store but I thought for $35 I would take my chances and maybe learn something. Same exercise as you..... clean, oil, run, oil, run etc....until she ran like a charm. I can't explain it but she is now my favourite machine. Purrs like a kitten. I can't believe there are so many of these quality machines out there not being used. I have a brand new Bernina, and my work horse Husqvarna, but this little baby is my favourite. You are going to love this machine!

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  8. A great rescue Julie. I hope to some day run across a featherweight machine.

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  9. Looks like I remember Mom's first machine. Hers had a knee lever instead of pedal to run it. She traded it for a Singer w/ cams for decorative stitches about the time I started sewing on a machine.

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  10. That is a great rescue, Julie. I think you have more patience than me. I tried rescuing my grandmother's vintage machine from my brother's attic, but since I used it as a teen, too many pieces and parts are now missing. But I do own a Featherweight that I use on my Curvy Quilters sewing days! Love that machine! I'm sure you will love your Singer with all the TLC you are giving her!

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  11. Looks like there was more than one Singer in this machine's old home. Like Linda says, that plastic box is not for your machine. I do see duplicate feet in there so some may be for your machine. The cams, definitely not. Tread carefully as you try out the feet. Use the hand-wheel and not the pedal. Look carefully, there are numbers on each foot and this website should be helpful. http://www.singersewinginfo.co.uk/simanco_accessories/

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  12. I have a beautiful blue Singer 15 "clone" made in Japan after the war when, apparently Singer released the patent. And as someone else stated, those stitch cams in the accessory box fit a few other Singers. If one of them is a #8 blind stitch, I'd love to buy it from you! I'm missing that one.
    Happy Sewing!

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It's always enlightening to hear your thoughts or suggestions. I try to respond in a timely manner, but admit life is very full here! I will return comments online if it's of general interest, but offline if a personal response is more appropriate. Give me a shout with anything urgent at julie@pinkdoxies.com, and I'll try to get right back with you. While I believe in free speech, spamming will not be tolerated, and as in all our interactions, speak kindly.

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Julie