Today we are going to discuss Singer 101. The 101 was Singer’s very first residential sewing machine specifically designed to be used as an electric sewing machine. Not to be confused with the electrified sewing machines that were designed to be used as a treadle sewing machines or hand-cranked sewing machines and adapted to accommodate the use of an electric motor and light.
Singer 101 Sewing Machine
The Singer 101 Model was introduced in 1920 and production ended in 1932. During the twelve years of production, 230,475 of these machines were manufactured. Averaging less than 20,000 machines per year with a consumer cost per machine of $140.00 to $170.00, $2,000 – $3,500 in 2022 money, it was easy to see why there are not a lot of these machines roaming out in the wild.
I wasn’t able to match all the machines to a specific manufacturing plant but I was able to match my particular machine’s serial number to the Elizabethport facility. Singer records show the production run of serial numbers containing my numbers was commissioned between 1928 and 1930. Mine was registered as being produced on Aug 2, 1929. As stated in the intro the Singer 101 was specifically designed to be an electric sewing machine only. It has a built-in (potted) motor that drives the sewing machine crankshaft via gears instead of the typical friction wheel or belt systems common to the period.
How We Acciquired Our Sewing Machine
I first learned about the 101 while researching a different model of Singer machine. We really never expected to see one in the wild. I was pleasantly surprised when one showed up on a local buy-sell-trade website. I was even more surprised when I found out it was located 4 miles from my house for the sum of $25 bucks. We made arrangements to go look at the machine the following morning. One look told me everything I needed to know about the machine. It had been well cared for in its previous life but had been put away full of lint and had been stored for a very long time.
The seller didn’t have any insight as to when it was last used because she bought it as part of a package deal at the end of an estate sale. It was very stiff but the motor seemed to be functional. All of the original wiring was surprisingly supple and in excellent condition. The cabinet needs to be stripped and refinished but the wood is in excellent shape. As we stood in her garage and discussed the older machines in general and the 101 in particular, she was very excited in knowing that we were not interested in doing any Steampunk art deco nonsense with the machine but that we were going to clean it up and put it back to work doing what it was meant to do.
I offered to pay a little more but she declined because in her words she had gotten what she wanted in the package deal and had sold some of the other extras for more than she paid to begin with and if I felt it was worth $25 when she was happy to see it leaving her garage with me.
Singer 101 Oiling System
Not only was the Singer 101 the first Singer machine designed for electricity, but some other design features remain proprietary to it as well. It is the only residential Singer machine to utilize an oil sump and wicking system to lubricate all the components under the bed of the machine. It is also the only machine to incorporate a fully removable bedplate so all cleaning and regular routine maintenance can be performed from the top side of the machine.
The Singer 101 oiling system was an interesting design. Instead of a small tube running down to the needle, there was a ‘spider’ that sat in the bed of the machine and feeds oil to the underside of the machine. This vintage sewing machine is worth restoring just for its unique oiling system!
Needle Type and Bobbin Type
The stitch length regulator is a rotary dial that protrudes from the bedplate surface beside the pillar of the machine. Now with all these unique innovations, it would be easy to expect to find special needles or perhaps a one-of-a-kind bobbin. But that isn’t the case at all. The 101 uses a common 15×1 needle and a class 66 drop-in bobbin. The needle threads left to right same as the model 66’s and the 99’s and it doesn’t seem to mind using a plastic bobbin. We have added a short video to demonstrate how to thread the needle and wind a bobbin. It also showcases why I feel the way I do about this specific 101.
Singer 101 Serial Number Location
The 101 serial number is located on the underside of the machine. You can use the ISMACS database to find when your sewing machine was commissioned.
Conclusion – My Final Thoughts on the Singer 101
I enjoy using my 101, I find it to be very quiet and smooth in operation. It probably is not the fastest stitcher in the Quilt room, but it certainly sews fast enough for the average sewist. It lays down some of the finest stitches any round bobbin machine can be expected to produce and can proudly match the quality of the two 201s we have in the studio.
The biggest disadvantage the 101 has, in my opinion, is its lack of back-tack or reverse. I believe if it would have had a full reverse stitch it could have seen more success on the sales floor. But without anything significantly different at the time, the cost difference between it and the motorized 66 or 99 severely hampered its acceptance into most households of the era. Mind you now this is only marketing speculation and my opinion.
So until next time, Enjoy your machines your way, and may your doctor only stitch up your quilts and not your fingers.