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Singer 31-20

The return of an old friend

Singer 31-20

Singer 31-20

This Singer 31-20 tailors treadle sewing machine was manufactured at Singers Elizabethport factory in 1900.  It will sew heavy fabric and light leather up to 3/16 inch or 4mm thickness.

I don’t know about this machines early history but I bought it from a saddle maker in Palo Cedro, Ca. in 1970 and added an after market 1/6 hp ac/dc sewing machine motor/w controller.  For the next 20 years it was used on our ranch to repair and create seat covers for pickups and farm equipment. After that it was forgotten in one or another old shed until this fall.  The laminated deck was falling apart and the head was caked in dirt and grime.

Decision! junk or reclaim? Emmmm…………………………………………………… That damn old machine used to be real handy.

I soaked the head with penetrating oil and gathered up the pieces of wood and parts falling out of the failed drawer, and moved them to the new shop.

Last week tried the machine head and it rolled over! so I spent part of the week  cleaning off dirt and rust. Also made up a new deck for the treadle and repaired the drawer. Then threaded her up and tried to sew some old denim, and tried, and tried. Poor results for several days, although things did get somewhat better. What the !!!! that thing used to never mis-a-lick.

Went on that blessing/ curse of the New Age, The Internet! Spent most of 3 days looking for information, Manuals etc. Found out my old Singer was OLD!  BUT!  Singer made tough, bullet Proof, machines that would work for several life times. Maybe the best line of American machinery ever made.  If you ever bought one, you would never need to buy another as you could not wear it out, even under commercial use. They made them by the millions for over 50 years. In every corner of the world there are old, cheap Singers that are still being used to sew foot wear and clothing. So even though Singer went bankrupt and no longer supports their old machines there are people out there that love them. Hoard and share parts, or sell parts, even make new parts, print manuals and provide free pdf downloads. There are also chat rooms with years of chatter to read up on to increase your knowledge on the care and maintenance of your sticher.  After 5 hours of reading comments on line I was able to correct my machines’ timing and she sews very well again. Hurrah!

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11 responses to “Singer 31-20

  1. BobN January 5, 2014 at 5:42 pm

    The picture reminds me of my mother. She sewed a lot when I was a kid and had an old treadle machine almost identical to your picture, only hers was black. I bet its still works and is in her basement. She used it up till about 15 years ago quite often so I bet it would still work as its stored in a very good location. I will check next time I get a chance.

  2. Simon Derricutt January 6, 2014 at 3:34 am

    Several years ago I bought one of these here (cost 20 euros!) and it works pretty well. One slight problem is the stitch-length setting, where a bush has worn somewhat and I need to make a new one sometime. No electric motor here – it runs from the treadle via a leather belt so can be used in a power cut. For mine, the machine itself can be hinged down to give a flat top surface. There’s really not much to go wrong except for the shuttle itself – it doesn’t seem to have rusted so a bit of polishing is all that was needed to make it work pretty well as new. It’s not something I need very often, but it’s a nice thing to have around and when I do need it it’s much faster than hand-stitching (as well as neater).

    I don’t know when or where mine was made, but I suppose like yours it’s around a century old and still working. Nice engineering.

  3. p.g.sharrow January 6, 2014 at 7:44 pm

    @BobN & Simon Derricutt, Hi! Guys. After searching the net for information on my old machine and discovering the difficulty of finding the needed information, I thought I should post and leave some bread crumbs. A good sewing machine that anyone could own, use and maintain was one of the most important inventions of the Industrial Revolution.
    I do think I should fix up a belt as a standby. But the electric drive we use now is only 1.5amp ac/dc and could easily be powered by our electronics backup system. Hard to use the computer and sewing machine at the same time. 😎 pg

  4. BobN January 6, 2014 at 8:48 pm

    P.G. Sharrow – I agree the sewing machine was huge in history. I grew up in South Dakota and almost every household had one and it pretty much kept family’s in clothing and blankets. The Singer man coming through for sales and repairs was a real event. His presence in town spread like wildfire. A prized gift to a girl getting married was a Singer.
    It is a real page out of history, it changed how families lived. I had very few store shirts as a kid, my mother made all mine. I think I got my first store shirt when I was 13.

  5. p.g.sharrow January 7, 2014 at 7:53 am

    Yeah! Mother made clothes for us from brightly printed cotton feed and flour sacks on her Singer. We even made a living room rug out of old woolens one winter when we were snowed in. An all hands project. Mother, father and 4 kids cutting, sewing, rolling, braiding and sewing the thing together. Everything went through that Singer! No hand stitching. Damn nice, heavy wool 5 x 10 foot oval rug to have on a rough wood floor. pg

  6. Simon Derricutt January 10, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    When I was a kid my mum made nearly all my clothes too, and she had a Singer that had been modified by adding an electric motor. I think my dad had the treadle bit somewhere around for a long time, too. One of the big things when I was young was when that old Singer got retired and my mum got a modern one that could do fancy stitching. I don’t think the newer one ever got the same amount of work put through it, though.

  7. p.g.sharrow March 30, 2016 at 9:00 pm

    Emm…… Over the last 2 years, this post slowly has gained more and more views. I wonder what is so interesting. 🙂 …pg

  8. John September 10, 2016 at 11:06 pm

    I just brought the old machine ,it was tent making for years.lovely to look at it’s a learning by trial and errors .im hoping to nail it one day befor I die ,.still a lot to learn .many minor adjustments for what it’s used for I think .its fun though .those old birds who used them had engineering degrees I recon lol I’ll get the right needle for the upholstry thread and get the tensions correct and x fingers .and keep it on the same thread and needles when I nail it .just hope it doesn’t need a service! Good luck this is where I’m at. I need good advice

  9. p.g.sharrow September 11, 2016 at 6:36 am

    @John; adjusting the tension for the material and thread is a matter of examining the results and getting the top and bottom threads to match. remember that the bobbin has a adjustment as well.
    I added a spool pin to the right for the thread and use a naked spool on the left to add a bit more serpentine tension and reduce the pulsing of the thread draw on the supply spool.
    Getting the depth and timing of the needle right is the most important thing for dependable stitching. Thread the needle from left to right and fix it in it’s holder slightly rotated clockwise so that the thread loop is aimed at the oncoming bobbin hook.
    The main thing is to keep the machine clean inside and oiled. I use mine to repair my Levi’s and sew cotton duck/ tenting. Seems it will sew anything I can stuff under the presser foot, even old boot leather …pg

  10. Mara November 26, 2016 at 7:22 pm

    Congratulations for getting it working like a gem once again! So rewarding; isn’t it? Many happy creations ahead😀
    (I have one. Want to keep it but don’t have room. Sadly, will be parting with it.)
    Mara

  11. p.g.sharrow November 27, 2016 at 9:06 am

    @Maria; I hope you find it a good home. Of my postings, this one seems to generate a continued interest, so there are many people all over the world that still prize them…pg

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