Treadle-izing My Singer 328K

I’ve been looking for a vintage all-metal zig-zag sewing machine to keep in a treadle base ever since I was confronted with my Singer 252’s limited life expectancy. This search led me to the Singer 328K.

My requirements for a sewing machine were:

Singer short shank sewing machine so all my attachments and accessories are compatible
All metal gears and no timing belt to break
Takes special stitch cams (fashion discs)
Can be used with a treadle base
Uses regular sewing machine needles
Top-loading drop-in bobbin (they have fewer thread snarls than front or side mounted bobbins)

I wasn’t sure my perfect sewing machine existed, but then I found the Singer 328, and it seemed to meet all of my requirements. The only thing I wish it did that it doesn’t was hold two fashion disks at once so I can switch between zig-zag and 3-step zig-zag easily.

Singer 328K treadle

I bought my Singer 328K on ebay. On the auction listing there was a video of the seller putting it through its paces without thread, but the motor worked, the needle went up and down, and the feed dogs moved, so I thought there was a very high chance it was in good working order.

When I got the sewing machine, it had survived shipping. I attribute that more to the shape of the sewing machine and the fact that it was in a case than the limited amount of packaging material. I cleaned and oiled the machine, then put thread in it. As soon as I started to sew, the thread immediately jammed in the bobbin area.

I finally figured out that the spring on the bobbin case was broken off and the bobbin tension screw was missing. Well, I just happen to have a Singer 252 parts machine with a very similar bobbin case, so I took the spring and screw off of its bobbin case and put it on the 328K bobbin case. They fit just fine, and the sewing machine works! Do you know what lesson I took from this? NEVER, EVER get rid of vintage sewing machines or sewing machine parts. Which means I will have to be very careful not to acquire too many sewing machines, or my house will be too crowded to live in.

One of the things I noticed about this sewing machine is that the shuttle race oscillates rather than spinning around in a complete circle. I suppose it is cheaper to manufacture an all metal machine this way, since you don’t have to have gears down below the bobbin. Also you don’t have a timing belt that can break. The affect of this design is that the machine vibrates when sewing at high speeds, which is kind of annoying. It’s not quite as bad as my antique vibrating shuttle machine, though. Now that it is on a treadle base, I can’t sew fast enough to have the vibration be an issue.

Singer 328K plug for treadle belt notchIf I hadn’t read that the Singer 328 can be put in a treadle base, I never would have guessed that it would work. On the bottom right of the sewing machine bed there is a plastic plug that unscrews to reveal a notch for the treadle belt to go through.

After removing the plug, the motor belt needed to come off. I found this blog post that helped me figure out how to get the motor belt off.

I have two treadle bases; one is a Singer base from the early 1900’s and the other is a German treadle with a larger wheel. There is so little clearance for a treadle belt I figured the Singer base would be the only one that would work.

Singer 328K belt rubsI made my own table top with a custom hole (nothing fancy – it’s made from scrap wood) so I could position the sewing machine exactly in the right spot to get the best clearance for the treadle belt. I quickly realized that no matter how I positioned the machine, the treadle belt would rub on the front of the sewing machine frame just below the bobbin winder. I think you are supposed to replace the handwheel with one with a smaller pulley before hooking it up to a treadle, but I don’t have one that fits. I’ve seen pictures of a Singer 401G (which has a similar shape to allow for a treadle belt) with leather shavings all over the machine from the belt rubbing. Yeah, that wasn’t going to work for me. Some of the sewing machine frame had to come off.

I’ve marked below the part I cut off. The frame is aluminum, so it wasn’t too hard. I drilled holes along the cut line, then filed down the edge. A Dremel would probably be good for this, but I don’t have one. For anyone else doing this, learn from my mistakes – mask off the end of the machine so it doesn’t get metal shavings all over inside and put tape on the front of the machine so you don’t scratch it when your drill bit or file slips.

I could have just left the original wiring in place, but the old cord was getting a little stiff and I didn’t want to have the foot controller in the way, so I put in a new power cord to the light only. Since the machine is metal, my electrician husband suggested grounding the machine to avoid the possibility of electrocution if there is an electrical fault. Sounds like a good idea to me! There are moving parts in there right next to live wires, so I could see the possibility of something bad happening.

Singer 328K treadle belt no stapleSince there is so little clearance for the treadle belt, I didn’t want to use a metal staple to connect the ends of the belt. I figured it would scrape on the inside of the sewing machine. Instead I connected the belt ends with upholstery thread and put Fray Check all over the thread. We’ll see how it holds up.

I would not describe the Singer 328K as “treadle ready”. It took a lot of work to get it set up, and even now there is barely room for the treadle belt. Maybe someday I’ll get a replacement handwheel that works better for this machine.

Would I recommend this machine for treadling? Not really. It’s not terrible, but it takes some modifications to make it work and it sews slowly since the pulley on the handwheel is so large. It should be a good machine for teaching young kids to sew on, though, since it treadles slowly and easily. I just happen to have a couple of kids I’m teaching to sew, so maybe this isn’t a bad thing.

Update 11/5/2015:
I found a handwheel that sort of fits on this machine and lets me sew much faster. Spoked handwheels are too thick around the edge, so they hit the cover on the side of the machine and won’t go on all the way. You might be able to use one with the cover off, but I didn’t want to do that, since then I’d have exposed wiring and and ugly gaping hole.

The handwheel I used is a solid black one from a motorized Singer 128. Unlike most solid handwheels, this one has the same diameter at the belt groove as the spoked handwheels.

I put the new handwheel on and moved this sewing machine to a different treadle base that has a slightly larger wheel than Singer treadle bases, so now I’m getting 6 stitches per treadle instead of 3. About 5 stitches per treadle is typical for a Singer treadle sewing machine. Sewing faster means treadling is a little harder, but it’s still reasonable.

The only problem with this handwheel is that I couldn’t use the bobbin winder because the ridge that the bobbin winder makes contact with is in further. I really wanted to be able to use the bobbin winder on this machine since it winds really nice bobbins, so I cut and filed off some more of the aluminum sewing machine frame so the bobbin winder could make contact with the handwheel. I kept filing off a little more, then a little more. I was getting worried it wasn’t going to work and I would have hacked up my sewing machine for nothing, but eventually I got enough taken off, and the bobbin winder works.

Singer 328k modified for treadlingSinger 328k modified for treadling bobbin winder upSinger 328k modified for treadling bobbin winder down

I was trying to use the 328k as my main sewing machine, since I know the plastic gear deep inside my Singer 252 is likely to break at some point in the next few years. I just don’t enjoy sewing on the 328k, though. It doesn’t have a lot of harp space, doesn’t have the extra-high presser foot lift feature most machines have, and I have to make extreme adjustments to the tension when using various stitches. Also I just think it looks like an ugly alien grasshopper, so it’s hard to fall in love with. I just got a straight stitch only Singer 201 to use as my main treadle sewing machine. I’m happy enough with the 328k to use it a secondary machine when I need to use zig-zag or other utility stitches. So I think I’m finally set for life with sewing machines.

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines
10 comments on “Treadle-izing My Singer 328K
  1. Quincunx says:

    Thank you both to electrical husband for recommending the grounding and for you for taking the pictures along the way. I have now an unplugged Kenmore with a tiny single wire coming out of the plug. I reasoned it had to be a grounding wire and where it had to go. (My not electrical but smart husband figured out how it attached and I found the only place that matched.) It is very much a relief to have the thoughts seconded before I plugged it in and tried the multimeter testing.

  2. […] been trying to replace my treadle Singer 252 with a treadle Singer 328k, since I know the plastic gear deep inside the 252 is likely to break at some point in the next few […]

  3. […] leather treadle belt on my Singer 328K was slipping when I sewed over anything thick or used twin needles. I tightened up the belt, but […]

  4. arrow says:

    All metal models are lovely and very dependable, but if its a good model it’s well worth replacing a cracked plastic gear. They tend to last like 50 years on some models even with regular use, though there are no guarantees. Some of the plastc they used decades ago turned out not to be the best, but the replacement gears we get these days are of a more lasting quality.

    • Leila says:

      That’s a good point. I have thought about trying to replace the plastic gear on my Singer 252. For that machine it wouldn’t be worth paying someone to do it, but I found instructions on how to replace the gear and the gears are available and inexpensive, so I might be able to do it myself. The 252 doesn’t handle thick fabric well, though – the needle bends and often breaks when I sew over a thick seam on heavy fabric, so I don’t know if I’ll bother to fix it now that I have other machines I can use. If it was a higher quality machine, I’d definitely have the gear replaced.

  5. […] I needed a treadle base with a smaller wheel for this machine. For reference, I previously had my Singer 328K on the Pfaff treadle base, and I could sew all day on it without getting […]

  6. Kathy says:

    I have a singer treadle base but I can not get my 328 to fit inside the cavity. The 328 base is about 2 1/2 inches deep below sewing area
    and the treadle lift clearance is about 1/2 inch. Any suggestions how to get my 328 inside my treadle.. Thanks

    • Leila says:

      I don’t know what it would take to fit a 328 into a treadle cabinet. I ended up taking the top off of an electric sewing machine cabinet and attaching the treadle irons to that.

  7. CD Thayer says:

    I like to read other people’s adventures with their zigzag treadles. I upgraded my zigzag treadle from a Singer 306W to a Singer 319W in 2014 because I got tired of swapping cams between zigzag and 4-step multi-zigzag. Those two cams are built-in on the 319, and along with straight stitch, are the three stitches that I use the most. I mend denim clothes for the public on my treadle. I use the recommended 206×13 needles (in both machines) because all I ever use is size 11 or 12 with Tex30 thread, and those sizes of needles are easy to come by. Other sizes besides 14s can be tougher to find. I don’t hem jeans or replace zippers with this machine, only re-enforce and darn rips, re-sew hip pocket corners, and put in bar tacks (hip pockets, crotch, belt loops). I do mend crotches with it, and sometimes bend or break needles when I do, but not often. We use a Singer 20U for the leg hems and zipper replacements and use Tex80 thread.

    I replaced the original balance wheel with a 9-spoke wheel to make it easier to start/stop/fingercrank as a treadle. The bobbin winder tire runs on a band of 8-9 ounce veg-tanned leather butted end-to-end with a staple and pressed onto the wheel’s smaller shoulder. I’m using a German Singer “artisan-size” (18” x 36”) non-dropdown treadle cabinet for my 319W now. I removed the drip pan so that I can reach under the machine to access the bobbin case and help remove the slide-off 1-piece needle plate/slide plate to see my hook area from above.

    CD in Oklahoma

  8. […] found one that meets all of my requirements, but I’ve found several that come close. My Singer 328K is all metal, it makes most of the stitches I need, and it is easy to treadle, but it skips […]

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