Zigzaggers – Singer, Ruby & Greist

Zigzaggers are potentially one of the most useful attachments to own if you have a vintage, straight-stitch machine and they can also be arguably one of the most frustrating and difficult to use so I thought that I would amass and compare a few different ones and give an honest opinion on their use.

On test were:

1. Generic, basic metal zigzagger with joining plate.

2. Greist Decorative Zigzagger

3. Singer Automatic Zigzagger, Simanco number 161157

4. Ruby Automatic Zigzagger

Not tested were YS Star Automatic Zigzagger, Singer zigzagger number 160620, Singer zigzagger number 121706 nor Singer (Swiss) zigzagger number 160990 as I do not presently own them. The Swiss Zigzagger is also incredibly difficult to find with a full complement of metal cams – which I believe number 10 in all – and the prices for even an incomplete set are presently beyond my budget. When and if I obtain any of these I will review them separately. I am keen to obtain a Singer 160620 as it has a cord guide, present on none of the models I tested today. I would also like to obtain one of the basic Singer zigzaggers 121706 on which the generic test one was based as again it has a cord guide and I am keen to compare the quality against the generic one which seemed a bit ‘clunky’ and imprecise.

Preparation: All zigzaggers were tested on the same fabric; a double thickness of medium-weight cotton twill. I did not use a darning plate nor drop the feed dogs. Where instructed, I adjusted the tension and threading path and in some instances loosened the presser foot pressure.

Generic, basic metal zigzagger with joining plate.

 

Generic Zigzagger & Joining Plate


 

Description: There is very little to describe, really. It’s a small, bent metal thing with a detachable joining plate and width adjustment made by means of a screw at the back of the attachment. It has good clearance of the fabric, perhaps too good as at times I felt that the fabric was not being fed as accurately and effortlessly as some of the other attachments although of all the zigzaggers this was the only one able to achieve a really narrow (1.5mm) satin stitch and the feed problems were minimised when the zig zag movement was kept small. Overall I felt that I had to work quite hard to keep the fabric feeding in a straight line, especially when the zig zag was a wide one. Tension-wise, there was tunnelling when the zig zag was wide but with the tension eased off to 0, the sewing speed reduced and the presser foot tension reduced the tunnelling was greatly improved.

Size: Smallest of the zigzaggers tested.

Scope: Just a simple zig zag with no additional stitch patterns but within its scope it is minutely adjustable between wide/narrow and long/short and gave the narrowest satin stitch of any of the attachments tested.

Price: Usually amongst the cheapest.

Pros: Widely available so no need to be patient or pay a lot of money.

Cons: When the zig zag was set to wide it was a little difficult to control the feed of the fabric and keep the row straight. This attachment would probably benefit from the fabric being stabilized prior to stitching. There is no cord guide in the front of the foot.

Conclusion: A good, basic zigzagger but definitely a budget model. Will do the job and do it well enough but I’d describe it as a utility model – fine for neatening seams but for topstitching you might be better to pay more and get one of the alternatives. That said, as this was at its best sewing a tight, narrow satin stitch it would be fine for producing a pronounced row of top stitching or else tiny appliquéd edging.

Greist Decorative Zigzagger.

 

Greist Decorative Zigzagger


 

Description: My favourite utility model, this is really sweet. It looks very similar to a blind hemmer. It uses small, steel pattern disks similar to the Swiss Zigzagger. There are four stitch widths marked along the side of the attachment and a sliding gauge which is moved along to correspond with these markings. The unit is easy to attach and the cams can be changed without removing the attachment from the machine. The zigzagger can also be disengaged without removing it – simply flick a tiny lever to disengage the cams and flick it forward again to reengage it.

The zigzagger includes 6 pattern disks and additionally, when used without a cam, produces a normal zig zag. Despite the title, the patterns all give utility stitches rather than decorative ones although the quality is good enough to be used for topstitching if desired:

  • Zig zag (no disk)
  • 4 stitches each side (disk marked 4,4)
  • 3 stitches each side (disk marked 3,3)
  • 2 stitches each side (disk marked 2,2)
  • 4 stitches zig, 2 stitches zag (disk marked 4,2)
  • 6 stitches each side (disk marked 6,6)
  • Blind hemming – 5 straight stitches then 1 zig zag (disk marked 5,1)

In terms of setting up, I found this to be one of the more unfussy attachments: it required no special threading nor loosening off of the tension or foot pressure. It handled the fabric firmly but gently and – above all – consistently, producing a top-quality finish with no tunnelling.

Size: Dinky.

Scope: The best utility one I tested. It gives a good selection of stitches and whilst essentially utility they are of sufficiently good quality to be used decoratively too.

Price: Varies. Mid-range.

Pros: Petite, easy to use, easy to change the cams, gives a nice finish across all widths and stitch lengths, good tension and good fabric control. Unlike some of the other models the presser foot had a central gap through which to pass the thread.

Cons: Not widely available so depends upon a chance find. Despite its title, no really decorative stitches. Cannot be adjusted to give as narrow a zig zag as the basic Singer-type one. Cams small so easily mislaid. There is no cord guide in the front of the foot and no gap in the front of the foot, meaning that the top thread must first be fished through under the foot if it is not to become caught up in the stitching.

Conclusion: This one is a keeper and I suspect will be the one I usually reach for if needing to do zig zag.

Singer Automatic Zigzagger Simanco part number 161157.

 

Singer Automatic Zigzagger


 

Description: This was the largest model tested and subject to different cams gave the widest range of decorative stitches of any tested. I tested it with the following cam sets:

Set 1 (Red, as supplied with attachment):

                 Cam 1 (Simanco 161000) Zig zag

Cam 2 (Simanco 161001) Scallop of 5 small stitches & 1 larger zig zag

Cam 3 (Simanco 161002) Domino stitch

Cam 4 (Simanco 161003) Arrowheads

    Set 2 (Ivory, Simanco part number 161008):

Cam 5 (Simanco 161004) Scallops (all small stitches)

Cam 6 (Simanco 161005) Walls of Troy

                Cam 7 (Simanco 161006) Multiple Stitch Zig Zag

Cam 8 (Simanco 161007) Icicle

    Set 3 (Blue, Simanco part number 161076):

                Cam 9 (Simanco 161067) Key

Cam 10 (Simanco 161068) Ball

Cam 11 (Simanco 161069) Block

Cam 12 (Simanco 161070) Shingle

I found that the attachment worked very well although I did have to lessen the tension to prevent tunnelling on the wider zig zag settings. The cams are easily changed without removing the attachment from the machine – the lid is flipped up and the cam simply lifted out. The attachment can be completely disabled in situ by the flick of a lever, the mechanism being on a much larger scale than the Greist model and of a different design.

Size: Big. This is the largest attachment of those tested and the cams (which are cast aluminium) are also big although this does make them less likely to become lost than the tiny steel disks of a Swiss Zigzagger or Greist Decorative Zigzagger.

Scope: Subject to additional cams, the widest of all tested.

Price: Mid-range but cam sets can be expensive as they are not so commonly seen as the basic attachments with red cam set 1.

Pros: Versatility. Of all the attachments tested this gave the widest scope of patterns both decorative and utility and was also widely adjustable both in the bight width and in the stitch length. Markings on the front of the presser foot make it easier to keep the fabric feeding true.

Cons: For me, the size was a bit of a turn-off and I would have liked a central gap in the presser foot to make threading easier. There is no cord guide in the front of the foot and no central gap in the presser foot.

Conclusion: Despite its size I did feel that of all the zigzaggers tested this one gave the widest scope of decorative and utility patterns but the difficulty of finding cams mean it is not a choice for the impatient! It is, however worth the wait.

I did not test Set 4, (Yellow) as I do not presently have it but for the sake of completeness it comprises the following patterns: Curved Mending (Simanco 161071) which is a multi-stitched wavy line, Open Scallop (Simanco 161072) which is a satin-stitched scallop, Three Step (Simanco 161073) which is a satin-stitched diagonal bar and Solid Scallop (Simanco 161074) which is a satin-stitched semi-circle.


Ruby Automatic Zigzagger.

 

Ruby Zigzagger


 

Description: This was a real surprise, being built on a totally different principle to the Greist and the Singer models but working surprisingly well. Rather than have removable cams it works by selecting a starting position on a fixed, lateral cam plate which then acts upon the rest of the mechanism to stitch out the prescribed pattern. The starting point is set by moving a pointer into one of 8 numbered holes on the cam plate. I found that the fabric fed very well and that there was no tunnelling. It was easy to change between patterns mid-way through a row although the pattern width could not be altered. The instructions advise that the tension is slightly lowered and the tension spring ignored when threading and doing so I found that the stitch quality was impressive; very consistent and it was relatively easy to feed the fabric and keep the line straight.

The numbered holes used to select the stitch pattern on the Ruby Zigzagger.

Size: Medium-sized, similar to a basic, non-template buttonholer.

Scope: Surprisingly wide. Offered a good selection of patterns both decorative and utility. 8 decorative patterns, plus basic zig zag.

Price: Mid-range.

Pros: No cams to lose. Compact and easy to use.

Cons: Uncommon, so availability depends upon a chance find. Also, no means to change the width of the patterns although the stitch length could of course be altered. Cannot be disabled in situ. There is no cord guide in the front of the foot and no central gap in the presser foot.

Conclusion: Despite its limitations I love it.

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