Alex has spent a lifetime in the sewing industry and is considered one of the foremost experts of pioneering machines and their inventors. He has written extensively for trade magazines, radio, television, books and publications world wide.
The Singer 201 sewing machine
Don't you love the beauty spot. Where have they all gone?
The full rotary hook and high-carbon super-hard corkscrew meshing gears gave the machine a smoothness that other sewing machine manufacturers could only dream about. But all this came at a cost. It became Singers most expensive domestic sewing machine at the time.
Buying a Singer 201 by Alex Askaroff Youtube
1939 the Singer 201 hits the streets in big numbers. It was cast iron, heavy and superb.
The Singer 201was bought mainly by professional machinists who would sew for a living. The Singer 201was pretty much bullet proof and could take a direct hit from a nuclear missile and still sew.
Today there is still no domestic sewing machine made that will stitch better than the Singer 201sewing machine that is in good working order.
Singer 201 during WWII
The Singer 201has gone down in history as possibly Singer's finest model. Although technology has moved on, quality has not. The Singer 201came with a few letters such as the 210k (the K that sometimes follows the number denotes that it was made in in Kilbowie, Scotland) or the Singer 201P which was assembled in Australia using parts from Kilbowie. There were also subclasses such as Singer 201k1 or 2 or 22 etc which were pretty much identical. The big change was the switch to an aluminium body for lightness. Both the alloy and iron Singer 201 sewing machines were made up until the early 1960's.
The Singer 201 simply represents the very best that Singer's could make and was built to last a lifetime. Even today many professional sewers seek out this elusive model as no new machine can come close to this beauty for reliability and stitch quality.
Legend has it that Rolls Royce used modified Singer 201sewing machines to sew its premium super-soft hide to panels for some of their finer car upholstery as the Singer 201 made a small neat hole compared to the larger machines. I doubt if it is true but you can see how a machine of this quality can start rumours like this. I certainly know of a bookbinders that switched to the Singer 201sewing machines from industrials at their factory. I used to service the machines and remember clearly the rows of Singer 201's sewing away so quietly compared to the normal factory din.
All the early Singers were cast iron but in the 1950's Singer also produced an Aluminium version to reduce weight. There was a story that Singers, who had some large war contracts and government connections (apparently they were making machine guns and bullets during the war), pulled a few strings to obtain the surplus aluminium from broken up war planes.
The first Singer 201 cast iron machines weighed a ton and were known in the trade as Back-Breakers! The alloy 201's were lighter but lost a bit of the ooompf!
I remember a poor joke going around about a woman walking into a shop in post war Britain. "I would like a Singer." The Singer man just shrugged and said "Wouldn't we all madam, wouldn't we all."
In reality times were so hard and material so scarce that they would be put on a waiting list and be notified when one was ready. Some people would wait months for a new machine. A little bit different to today eh!
Now when I say expensive let me explain...
You can see from the receipt that Mrs Jeffrey paid 13 pounds 17 shillings and tuppence for her brand new Singer 201 in 1940. Her weekly wage at that time was 10 shillings. The average wage was little over one pound. She had paid the equivalent of 27 weeks wages for her Singer 201K! Half a years wages for a Singer 201 sewing machine!
Now in today's money what would that be? Work out what half your years wages are and you have what the Singer 201 cost in 1940. Basically they cost the same as a new car today! Now you know why the Singer 201K machines sew better than their modern plastic counterparts.
The Singer 201 ran for nearly three decades before its production costs made it unviable and production at Kilbowie and elsewhere ceased. It was the end of an era and the end of possibly the best Singer ever made.
Sew with a Singer 201K today in good working order and you will see what I mean, puuuurfection.
The Singer 201sewing machine
The Final Singer 201 was a browny-beige and by 1963 was no more. The finest sewing machine in the world became too expensive to make.
Japanese cheap imports were flooding the market and this old beauty was put to bed. By 1963 you could buy over 100 sewing machines cheaper than the 201 and the 201 only did a straight stitch!
Today the Singer 201K go for silly low-prices on Ebay because no one realises how well they were made or how much they used to cost.
If you enjoy your sewing and don't need all the fancy stitches grab a Singer 201K while you still can. It is a machine that will make you smile with each stitch.
The Singer 201k Sewing Machine simple perfection.
Which Report 1961
In 1961 Which Magazine tested over 40 sewing machines that were on the market at the time. The tests were amazingly in-depth and, as the magazine stated, the machines were expected to take substantial work over a lifetime. You cannot imagine anyone making anything today that was built to last a lifetime! Where did it all go wrong? For example each electrical foot controller was tested over 75,000 times to review its capability.
The Singer 201 won the Which Magazine overall best machine, remembering that Which was an unbiased and independent magazine never weakening to flattery. After extensive testing and abuse, including dropping the machines, the magazine stated that... The Singer 201 and Necchi Supernova cannot be seriously faulted.
They were the best but also the dearest machines. The Singer 201 cost £66. 1s. 3d. (the Universal Sew Maid cost £11. 19s.). The average wage in 1961was well under £20 per week in the UK so as a minimum the 201 relates to around one months wages. That relates to the sewing machine costing around £1,000 at today's value and that is after the machine became relatively cheaper to its original 1930's price.
No wonder it was such a beauty! The 201 was costing over six times the price of some of the other sewing machines! It was closely followed in price by the fabulous lightweight Singer 222k at £65. 15s. 6d.
Remember on final point. Nothing lasts like quality and quality seldom disappoints.
Well that's it, I do hope you enjoyed my work.
I spend countless hours researching and writing these pages and I love to hear from
people so drop me a line and let me know what you thought:
Both Sussex Born and Bred, and Corner of the Kingdom
Fancy a funny read: Ena Wilf & The One-Armed Machinist
A brilliant slice of 1940's life: Spies & Spitfires
I moved into my new house and found a 201k in the basement in its box. I googled and found your site and so I used it and it is so so amazing ! I work in the leather trade and I can sew soft leather with it and all other materials. Simply amazing I am truly blest!
I have just watched a programme on Ch 4 on bombing in Britain during the war, and I thought that I saw a 201 in the rebuilt and simulated house of that time, so I Googled Singer 201.
As a young man in the 70s I wanted to buy a sewing machine, partly because I was a quasi hippy, and partly for its general utility, and was advised by a market trader in The Cut, Waterloo, to buy a Singer 201, he saying it was the best they ever made, and that rumour had it that Rolls Royce used the 201 to sew leather to quarter inch ply wood on the dashboards of their cars.
I bought my Singer from a shop in Bromley where I lived, for about £50, and being an engineer tuned and adjusted it. It has been a great machine, a real workhorse, and saved much money by allowing repairs.
As an engineer. I am heartbroken by the paucity of invention, and reducing standards of much consumer engineering, and this is one lovely example I will never get rid of, being firmly embedded in my 'grotto' of iconic designs. I have wondered if the brown aluminium ones had any advantages though.
Best Wishes, Russell B.
I went on the internet trying to find a manual for our old treadle
but, with no joy. Out of the blue, my Mother produced the very tatty
manual, and also the attachments, for the Model No. 201K. This drove
me to the internet again to find out more, and I found your very
informative webpage. What a wonderful surprise, little did we know the
machine Dad bought in 1947 was one of the
I just found your wonderful web site. I really enjoyed it.
I just came across your article and I loved the information it includes. There were many points I did not know about until now.
My first 201 was by accident, I had ordered a Singer machine on Ebay about 5 years ago with the seller not knowing what is was he was selling and low and behold it was a 201, I was in love with the elegant quality that Singer instilled in their machines so many years ago.
I just wanted you to know that I appreciate your article and all the research you did.
Have a great day and take care.
Cameron D USA
Thanks for a great resource!
I have just used the Singer 201 to make 2 pairs of curtains for my daughter and it is indeed a fantastic machine. I am almost reluctant to admit that it sews a better stitch and sounds better than the Bernina! Now I don't know which one to refer to as my Rolls Royce!
Thank you for your very helpful website.
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