A Surprise Singer 401A

Singer 401A in cabinetMy husband went to the feed store to buy chicken feed, and when he got home he showed me a couple of little things he picked up at a thrift store on the way back. Then he said, “Come out and see your new sewing machine!” So, I’m thinking oh no, a random thrift store sewing machine, what am I going to do with that? I mean, it was sweet of him to think of me, but, really? He doesn’t know anything about sewing machines.

So we bring it inside, and I open up the cabinet. It’s all metal, so that’s a good sign. Then I open up the inside, and that’s all metal, too. And everything is gear driven; no belts. So now I’m thinking this could be the jeans machine I’ve been needing! Score! It’s a Singer 401A. Out of curiosity I looked these sewing machines up on ebay, and they can sell for over 10 times what my husband paid, and that’s without the original cabinet and stool.

I had to bang gently tap on the innards a bit to un-stick the stitch selectors, but now it’s oiled up and working smoothly. The red arrows in the picture below point to the parts that were stuck. The metal parts are very well made and survived my less than gentle repair efforts. I think I maybe knocked something out of alignment, though, because one of the stitch selector knobs won’t go to the last setting, and I can’t figure out how to fix it. I don’t think I’ll ever actually want to use the “J” stitch settings, but it still bugs me anyway.

Singer 401A stuck parts

Here are the stitch settings. I found it odd that instead of a 3-step zig-zag stitch, it has a 4-step multiple zig-zag stitch. The quality of the straight stitches wasn’t that great at first, but the stitches got more even when I increased the presser foot tension. So hopefully it will do nice topstitching on jeans. One interesting feature this machine has is you can put in two regular needles side-by-side, so you can do narrow double needle stitching without having to buy expensive twin needles.

Singer 401A stitch settings

It came with all of the accessories, but only one bobbin. Luckily, I just happened to have a set of these bobbins that came with my Singer 252. I have a bunch of plastic bobbins I use in the 252, and they work just fine, but I don’t like to alternate between metal and plastic since the bobbin tension might need to be adjusted differently, so I’ll keep the metal ones with the 401A.

Now I just have to get used to using an electric machine again, and I can sew jeans without worrying about breaking my sewing machine. I’m so spoiled by the perfect speed control I have on my treadle-mounted Singer 252. The 401A starts and stops smoothly, so I’m not too worried. I’ve never had a machine with a knee lever before, though.

I spent the weekend re-arranging my sewing area to make room for the new machine, and the new arrangement actually works better despite the additional sewing machine I squeezed in. The 401A’s cabinet doubles as a serger table next to my primary sewing machine.

How about a little more sewing machine porn? Want to see those metal gears she’s got under her cover?

Singer 401A inside top

Singer 401A under side

Singer 401A left face

Posted in Sewing, Vintage Sewing Machines
16 comments on “A Surprise Singer 401A
  1. I think a solid machine like that will last forever! My machine is not too old and full of plastic. Yes I can lift it with one hand but I am not sure it will last as long as your’s is going too!


  2. Carol says:

    This is the machine I learned on! Mom was an avid sewer, so it was just given that we girls would also learn how to sew. She also was our 4H leader – I sewed many a blue ribbon dress on a machine just like this one! Great find.


  3. Sourdoughgirl says:

    If the collars are still stuck, they probably have some dried oil in one of those notches. Use a hair dryer (high) to blow at it for a few minutes, wrap the collar with a piece of cloth then gently move the collar up and down. You may have to do this a few times before it will move again. Once it’s moving, use a Q-tip dipped in some degreaser (or paint thinner) to rub away the old brown spots. Apply a bit of clear sewing machine grease on the post then continue to move the collar up and down until the movement is smooth. If you don’t have clear grease for sewing machine, use sewing machine oil. Sometimes it’s easier to move the red lever control to “1” before moving the Special-K selector collar.

    If you still have problems let me know. I will be making a Youtube video on cleaning the 401 camstack soon.


    • Leila says:

      Thanks for the tip. I’ll try this if they ever get stuck again. When I got the sewing machine, the collars were in the lowest position, so I didn’t have anywhere to wiggle them. I made sure to put the collars in a higher position when I put the machine away.


    • D Dehardt says:

      Thank you for this advice. My 401-A camstack doesnt stick but its great to know how to fix it.


  4. redneckgema says:

    Thank you for your pictures. They were a great help in the repair of my machine. As a hint you should be able to remove the foot pedal from the side of the cabinet and place it on the floor. Mine has a place on the inside of the cabinet for the use as a knee pedal, I like mine on the floor….. Thanks again


    • Leila says:

      I’m glad the pictures were helpful. I ended up taking this machine out of the cabinet so I could put a different machine in it, so now this machine is in a case and I use the foot pedal instead of the knee lever.


  5. jeannie tompkins says:

    i have a singer 401a that i got at a yard sale. I learned to sew on one when young as my mother had the same model! Great machines and oil and cleaning will male them last forever! and yes they are good for heavy fabric, my mom made a boat cover once and did upholstery too as well as wedding dresses by the dozen! by the way, i paid $25.00 for mine in 1995 or so.


  6. […] tested out my machine on some cotton/spandex fabric that my Singer 328K,  Singer 401A, and other vintage sewing machines had a hard time with. The 411G did great on this fabric. Yay! It […]


  7. Kate says:

    Needles, bobbins, compatible feet, and also brushes, oil and grease for the 401A are available at my local sewing store. My favorite quilt shop gave me a repair contact who likes the old Singers but I have not needed any help. The manual gives complete instructions on maintenance and you can probably find a hard copy or electronic copy online. The one I have in entitled “The Singer Slant-O-Matic…the greatest sewing machine ever built!” Congratulations!


  8. Nicolas says:

    i’m new to sewing and i just got a Singer 401A with the cabinet given to me. I cannot figure the best way to mend pants, i’m looking to patch the knees on a pair of work pants. The issue I’m having is unlike other sewing machines this one is flat on the cabinet and i cannot figure how i could go about sewing pants. I would really appreciate any help.


  9. Kathlyn S Hofmann says:

    My mom has a Singer 401 from the 1950s. The knee lever came off. We have it plus a screw and a spring and can’t figure out how to re-attach it. Can someone post a picture of how they fit together or explain it to me. Thanks so much.


  10. Richard Beman says:

    It is actually not a good idea to use metal bobbins with the Singer #401 or 500 series machines. The reason is that metal bobbins actually wear the bottom of the bobbin case and cause the bobbin to sit lower than it should.. In this case “plastic is actually better”. I found the best bobbins come from “sew classic.com”…


  11. Marga Cabello says:

    Ho aquistato una machina 401M. Il problema è che no porta con sé li accesori.ansi tutto i dischi per ricamo. Dove poso aquistarli?


  12. Lorraineblock says:

    How do I get a 401 A knee bar. Mine fell off before I got it and I can’t figure out how to get a new one?


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