Singer 201k, electric

Reputed to be the best machine Singer ever made, I find it hard to argue. I own three; all electric, although I suspect that one of these has been adapted to electric from being (I suspect) hand-crank. This third one also features a knee-lifter bar which the others do not. They date from 1949, 1952 and 1954 and were acquired between four months ago and last weekend.

A real workhorse, the 201k is all cast metal, a standard low-shank, side clamping machine which uses standard machine needles, bobbins and Singer feet. It has an unusually long harp, measuring 8” long by 5 ½ “high which makes it particularly sought after by quilt makers. It is a straight-stitch only machine, plus reverse. The stitch length is changed by a sliding lever on the front of the machine, with increments marked at 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 15, 20 and 30 stitches per inch. If the lever is pulled above the centre line (which is marked) the machine sews in reverse.

The 201k also features a varnished wood extension flap which neatly clips onto, and folds down from the wooden base in which the machines are housed. The machine tilts out of this base to reveal the thumbscrew which, by two possible positions, controls dropping or raising the feed dogs.

The stitch quality is exceptional; perfectly formed, even and straight. If you do a lot of top stitching, then you should be settling for nothing less than this.

Usually a fair few accessories, feet and attachments are included in the sale of these machines but spares and replacements are extremely easy to source and also very cheap. Twin screw holes in the bed also allow it to use industrial attachments such as hemmers, bias binders etc. The quality of the original, Singer attachments is exceptional and they are well worth seeking out in preference to their modern counterparts. Indeed some do not, to my knowledge, have a modern counterpart; the tuck marker being one example. The ruffler, in particular, is very smooth and not at all clattery (as I believe the modern ones sometimes are) and there are three different types of bias binder foot. There are also buttonholers and zig zag attachments available although I have read mixed reviews on their efficiency and would suggest that they (like the monogrammer attachments, for which the pattern cams are difficult to obtain) are for purists only as most of us would have a second, more modern machine with zig zag and buttonholes included.

The addition of a new, clam-shell foot pedal is an improvement as it is easier to regulate the speed than with the original, button activated one.

The Singer 201k was also manufactured as a hand-crank and a treadle. A conversion in either direction is easy, a conversion to hand crank being especially easy if the machine already possesses the larger, spoked fly wheel although hand conversion kits are hard to source in the UK they may be obtained from a US seller on e-bay. It is my intention to eventually convert one of my three into a hand-crank. There are also two distinct styles of casting. The older one is the typical, antique Singer style, black with gold decals and a large, spoked fly wheel. The newer models were much more streamlined in shape, with a smaller fly wheel and no decals. They were available in black or a pinkish tan. The end plates may differ too, being embossed either in scrollwork (which is my favourite) or else with art deco-style vertical stripes. The newer models vary only in the casting; both offer the same functionality and smooth, even stitches. It has an extremely good lamp, mounted at the rear of the machine that takes an easily sourced, low-wattage bulb and provides very good illumination at exactly the right position.

When not in use, the 201k packs away into a 21 ½ x 14 ½ x 9 ½ “ suitcase, formed of bent ply and covered in mock-crocodile ‘leather‘ with metal reinforced corners. It is certainly designed to withstand knocks although with the machine inside it you may need to engage the help of a strong man to carry it out to the car!

The 201k remains my favourite, all round sewing machine although it is very heavy indeed and therefore not easily portable. It astonishes me that they can be obtained for so little money. When I next make curtains or loose covers, of all the machines I own, this will be the one I choose for the task. It is smooth and quiet to use and like my 222k, a joy to run.

Dimensions: 20L x 8 ½D x 12H inches. Weight: about 26lb (12kg).

A 1954 cast alloy 201k and a scroll-fronted 1949 cast iron 201k, both electric.

The 201k gives a beautiful, well tensioned and accurate straight stitch.

Copyright of the blog owner 2010

7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Vianca Salanga
    Mar 18, 2014 @ 10:23:23

    Hello, I’m so happy to stumble across your lovely blog! I was wondering if there were any ways or methods to purchase a 201K online from the UK, to be sent to the US (where I live, obv,)? They listed much cheaper there than in the US, and I’ve been looking for a post-war, tan or black model, to no avail. Thank you for sharing your beautiful machines, and work!


    • Offspring
      Mar 18, 2014 @ 18:59:07

      Hi Vianca and thank you for your compliments on my work and the blog. With the exception of the one given to us by my next door neighbour and one or two picked up from a local auction the only way I’ve ever sourced any of my machines has been via ebay but however it were purchased I think the shipping to the USA would be eyewateringly expensive and also very risky as unless the seller knows how to correctly and securely pack a sewing machine for transit the chance of it arriving damaged is pretty high. The machines alone weigh around 27lb and because the cases are usually made from wood too this adds even more to the weight. I always try to go and pick a machine up in person whereever possible to minimise the risk of damage in transit. Is there any reason why you’re particularly wanting a Kilbowie one? If you did acquire one it would have a 240v motor which would need to be replaced with a 110v one before you could use it. Keep an eye open on Craigslist and at yard sales. The bargains are definitely there to be had and they’re well worth waiting for. I hope you have some success soon. 🙂 xxx


  2. McKenna Powell
    Jan 22, 2014 @ 01:10:48

    I own a 201K in beige. She’s named Stella and I just love her. I use her as my main sewing machine because, as you wrote, her stitches is just superb. I don’t have any additional feet but after looking at your large collection, I think I’m going to start seeking them out. I also own a Husqvarna Zig Zag 1963 (in lovely green), a hand crank Singer 1923, a New Hope (Singer clone) 1925 and my latest vintage purchase a bright orange Empisal Honey. I have no idea what her age is as I’m having a difficult time finding any information whatsoever on Empisal.


    • Offspring
      Jan 22, 2014 @ 08:29:06

      Hi, McKenna I’m glad you love her as much as I love mine. Top of my list for extra feet/attachments are a narrow, hinged adjustable zipper foot, a buttonholer and a small zigzagger such as the Swiss one or the Greist. Those are the ones I reach for most. Also a blind hemmer an edgestitcher, the veining foot…oh it’s no use trying to single them out. I love them all! 🙂


  3. Darlene Toddy DeVries
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 20:13:21

    Thanks so much for the info.


  4. Offspring
    Nov 29, 2011 @ 20:03:01

    Hi Darlene! The 201 and the 201K are basically the same machine but the ‘K’ suffix denotes that the machine was manufactured in the Kilbowie factory on Clydebank in Scotland. I’m glad you love yours – they really are marvellous, aren’t they? 🙂


  5. Darlene Toddy DeVries
    Nov 27, 2011 @ 00:36:05

    I own a wonderful Singer 201…what is the difference between a 201 and a 201K? Any help would be appreciated.


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