My Singer 411G

For the last couple of years I’ve been searching for the perfect zig-zag sewing machine that can be treadled. I haven’t 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 stitches on stretchy knit fabrics. My Janome 712T does well on knit fabrics but is hard to treadle and has plastic parts that I worry about breaking when I sew thick fabric. I found a Fleetwood F-5000 free-arm machine that I was able to convert to treadle. It is all-metal, handles knits well, and is easy to treadle, but only does straight stitch and zig-zag. Also I prefer to sew on a flat bed machine most of the time.

In the back of my mind I kept wanting a Singer 411G. I knew it wouldn’t be quite what I wanted, since it doesn’t do a 3-step zig-zag (it’s multi zig-zag stitch is 4-step), and it is almost impossible to find one with a treadle balance wheel. However, I know some people have managed to treadle the electric version by shimming out the balance wheel, using a string or spinning wheel drive band instead of a leather belt, or cutting a groove in the balance wheel, so I figured that with some effort I should be able to treadle the electric version. And as for the 3-step zig-zag, I think I can design a new cam and have it 3D printed [which I did].

I finally decided to just stop buying fabric for a while so I could save up for a 411G. They are fairly rare, especially in the US where they were never sold, so I had to buy one on ebay, which I hate doing. It survived being shipped, but some idiot (probably the seller, who claims to be an expert at servicing sewing machines) had squirted massive amounts of grease in most of the places that should be lubricated with sewing machine oil. That took a while to clean up.

I kept getting irritated because the “nearly perfect condition” machine I paid too much for was a greasy mess, the tension assembly needed fixing, it was missing a screw, one spool pin was broken off, the other spool pin was stuck in place with epoxy, and the motor needed servicing. Then I would remind myself that those were the reasons I swore off buying sewing machines on ebay. Right, right.

At least the only shipping damage was the broken off spool pin. Although I can’t really count that as shipping damage, since the plastic pin was superglued in place and would have broken the first time I used it anyway. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a 411G locally, so ebay was my only option.

My 411G is the electric only version:

There is a version of the 411G that was made to convert between treadle and electric. Maybe one day I’ll find one. There is a groove for a regular leather treadle belt on the balance wheel. It has a belt cover on the front and a different type of clutch knob on the handwheel:

I 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 seems to work better on tricky knits with Singer size 90/14 ball point needles, though. I also tried Schmetz stretch needles and Organ ball point needles, but I got a few skipped stitches. I can live with having to buy Singer ball point needles for this machine. Organ universal needles work fine in this machine for sewing woven fabrics, which is good, since they are cheap and I have a lot of them.

Another reason I wanted a 411G is that it chain stitches (if you have the chain stitch needle plate, part #503599). I have a Singer 604E that I got for chain stitching, but it doesn’t produce a very consistent stitch. The 411G’s chain stitch is a bit better, but I’m still getting the occasional giant thread loop or broken thread. Maybe I can get it to work more consistently if I play with the tension and stitch length.

I decided to clean and lubricate the motor, just to see if I might be OK using it as an electric sewing machine (directions for cleaning a Singer slant needle motor can be found on this page). I also cleaned the motor commutator with a pencil eraser. I put the motor back in, and it sounded better and might have had a little more power. For a vintage machine, it’s pretty nice. It was a top of the line machine in it’s day. I still couldn’t handle sewing on an electric machine, though. It’s too loud, it’s too hard to control the speed, it’s hard to push the button on the foot controller, and it makes that annoying electrical humming noise when it gets stuck on a thick seam. So I promptly took the motor back out.

It took some work to get this machine into a typical Singer treadle base. Maybe this machine will fit in the newer (1950’s and 1960’s) Singer treadle cabinets, but the older one I have needed some modifications.

First I had to take out the metal plate on the right side of the opening for the sewing machine. It is attached to a giant spring, which also had to come out. With a mirror and a light, I was able to see the screws I needed to remove.

I’m not sure I would be able to put that spring back in. It was under a lot of tension, and I’m not sure how it all fits together. Here are the parts I took out:

I tried putting my 411G in place, but the ledge on the front sticks out too far and hits the machine:

I sawed off 4 mm from the edge of the front piece of wood.

Now the machine fit into the opening, but I discovered I couldn’t lower it completely to shut the cabinet!

I couldn’t fix that, so I just put a plastic cover over the sewing machine and tip up the left side of the table against it when I’m not using it. I can’t leave the cabinet open all the way since it sticks out into the middle of the room and gets in the way.

The Amazon product links in this post are affiliate links. If you click on these links and purchase something, I will earn a small commission.

Now I had to figure out how I was going to treadle my 411G. First I thought I’d try using size 2/0 candle wick in the little notch on the left side of the balance wheel. I ordered some, but then the next day (after it was too late to cancel my order) I decided I’d rather try using a flat urethane belt over the flat part of the balance wheel. I got 1/2″ wide, 0.062″ thick belting. I don’t think anything thicker would fit over the balance wheel without scraping against the body of the machine.

I had several options lined up to try – candle wick, my spare urethane spinning wheel belt, and flat urethane belting. There is a piece of 3/16″ leather treadle belt in the picture below for reference. I decided to try the flat belt first, and it worked so well I didn’t try the other options.

I cut the belt lengthwise into 7 mm and 6 mm wide strips. I used the 7 mm wide strip. I joined the belt by melting the ends near a candle flame then pressing them together. After it cooled I cut off the bead at the join with a razor knife. After practicing a couple of times, it’s not hard to do.

Here’s the join:

The flat belt works pretty well. It doesn’t slip at all, even when I sew over thick seams. Most of the time it rides at an angle on the drive wheel:

Sometimes the belt works its way part way over the edge of the drive wheel, and it looks like it is going to pop off, although it hasn’t actually come off yet. I shortened the belt a little to see if more tension would help, but it didn’t make any difference. [Edit: Actually, shortening the belt did help. The belt has been staying on the drive wheel.] It sews fine, though, and if I notice the belt working its way over the edge, I just give it a little nudge to get it back in place.

I really like that the urethane belt never slips, even on the thickest fabrics, so even though I have to nudge it sometimes, I’m happy with the flat belt. Cutting the belt narrower, maybe 5 mm wide, would probably help keep it on the drive wheel, but I was worried a narrower belt would stretch out too much or get wedged into the notch on left side of the balance wheel. I do have that other piece of belting I could try cutting narrower if the belt does ever start coming completely off the drive wheel.

I don’t like that the spool pins are on top of the upper cover. You have to open the cover to see the stitch pattern chart, which is hard to do without knocking off the spool of thread. Since the one remaining spool pin is too short anyway, I decided to use a separate thread stand.

This Superior Threads stand is pretty cute, but considering how much I just spent on this machine, I decided I’d better just make my own thread stand for now. I made one from an old yardstick, a skewer, an old plastic food container, half of an old knitting needle, a bag of sand, a pair of nuts and bolts, and some tape. Not very pretty, but effective.

I was having problems with the spool spinning too fast causing the thread to wind around the knitting needle, but wrapping the thread twice around the thread guide seems to have solved that problem.

I like the mismatched drawer pulls on my treadle cabinet. Kind of shabby chic, or in my case, just shabby. Maybe I’ll replace those when I get around to refinishing the cabinet.

I’m really hoping I can manage to stop buying sewing machines now. My fleet of sewing machines is feeling pretty complete. I have six treadle machines, which are the machines that I actually use (The electric machines sit on a shelf. Or on the floor. Or up in the storage loft). My Singer 201-3 is my most frequently used straight stitch machine. I have my Singer 15-88 set up for jeans topstitching thread. I probably won’t use my Singer 328K much now that I have the 411G, but my kids use it sometimes. I have a Fleetwood F-5000 free arm machine that I mostly use for hemming jeans. My Janome 712T only gets used for sewing bras and underwear, but if I can get the 3-step zig-zag special stitch disc made for the 411G, I probably won’t use the Janome much.

In addition to the treadle machines, I have a Juki MO-654DE serger, which I really like, and a Brother 2340CV coverstitch machine. I also have a portable electric walking foot machine that will sew material up to 3/8″ thick. So I’m all set to sew just about anything from lightweight silk to a teepee. I can stop now. I don’t need any more sewing machines. This time I really mean it. Seriously. Well, except maybe if I find a treadle version of the 411G . . .

Posted in Treadle Sewing Machines, Vintage Sewing Machines
20 comments on “My Singer 411G
  1. This is so fascinating. I love the work you did on your machine, and then your homemade thread stand. It’s very clever how you made it all work for you. I have not yet bought anything from eBay – there are so many lovely items – I am tempted. I am afraid that I might end up buying a lot of trouble. I’ll have to go through and read up on your other machines!

  2. Let’s get a bag of sand, a knitting needle, and a ruler, and make…… If I’m ever on a deserted island I hope you are there, with a couple treadles of course.

  3. norma says:

    I was fascinated by the way you converted this machine. I wouldn’t know where to start.
    I bought a machine on eBay once and it was ok but not what I’d hoped for – i wouldn’t do it again

  4. John says:

    Very interesting thread: )
    If you know what you want, you have to persevere!? You doing an excellent job there, seems to me.

    I love the Singer slants & have a few…. 401G x2, 404G, a 411M (Italian) & a couple of 431Gs.

    Being in UK there is steady trickle of 411 & 431s available on Ebay & Gumtree, but it is always Caveat Emptor!! Buyer beware…. I always collect rather than risk shipping, which gives you the opportunity to test & examine thoroughly before taking them home.

    Not always practical, of course, I would not easily travel more than 100miles to do it. And then only if I have a family member en route, to combine the trip with something useful at the same time.

    Re the chain-stitching on the 411 & 431s, all three of mine do it very well, but tension is critical. A tiny difference makes ALL the difference in my experience, & of course you need a smooth, even feed of the upper thread before you even start….. I’m currently making my own universal thread stand & it is very interesting to see yours…. I’m using bicycle spokes rather than knitting needles, but if it works, cool: )

    One serious weakness with the slants is the rather crude & delicate thread spooling set-up. Nylon/plastic & not durable. A design fault I would say, but there must be solutions to this & I’m thinking about a fix quite seriously.

    Please excuse my long reply, but I thought it necessary.
    Keep up the good work: )

    John.

  5. John says:

    Well, thanks for that Leila. I am familiar with Tammis blog & video about the spool pins: ) She is the best online resource for Slants in my opinion, & I would never have set out on this course with the 400 series machines without her many useful hints & expertise. Not much else online for these lovely machines that I’ve seen.

    I was thinking in terms of a simple alloy pin with a suitable screwed end to it underneath to fix it properly to the cam stack lid. Not difficult if you have the time, & a lathe; ) There would be a definite market for a reliable substitute, I’m certain! Just needs to be easily/economically reproduced….

    I have ‘fixed’ several broken, missing pins previously & it is such a chore.
    Not as much as converting to treadle though!

    John.

  6. Fadanista says:

    You are a total expert on fixing these machines and I do like this latest one. I love following your mechanical adventures!

  7. Elena says:

    Hi, can the 411G drop its feed dogs? And if not, then what is that lever on the bed for? 🙂 I’ve had a 431G and was thoroughly disappointed with that one. It was in very good shape, but it could do too much yet not enough useful stuff among that. For one, it could not drop feed dogs, meaning it could not make a decent button hole. And I found chain stitching on it flaky at best, so when my Kenmore arrived from USA, Singer 431G went on eBay and over to USA. Funny how the world turns around. 🙂

    • Leila says:

      The lever is to raise up the plate around the feed dogs instead of lowering the feed dogs. The middle lever position is for darning, etc. A lot of Singer slant needle machines have this feature. It obviously is not as effective as lowering the feed dogs, since you don’t have as large of a flat surface. I haven’t tried making a buttonhole on it yet. I always use a buttonholer. I have one of the older style ones for slant needle machines that comes with a feed cover plate that screws on. I’ll likely make most of my buttonholes on another machine that can drop its feed dogs, though.

      • Elena says:

        Thanks, Leila! This is a lot better than nothing though! The 431G does not have such a lever and comes with a separate set of raised plates instead. That’s useless for buttonholes though because you can’t change a plate mid-stitch! I have buttonholers too, but they can’t make a corded buttonhole, and besides I often find it faster and easier to make my own with just zig-zag. The next crucial question is then this: if you set zig-zag width to 2 and set the needle right, do you get zig-zag sewn in the right half of the foot? And if you set the needle left, then in the left half? The 431G does not do it on the right because “the right side position is reserved for special functions” according to the manual. The zig-zag comes out centred. How crazy is that?!

        • Leila says:

          The “red lever” controls either the needle position (left, middle, right) or the stitch width depended on the type of stitch you have it set to. It’s confusing. When you are straight stitching, the red lever controls needle position. When you have the stitch settings set to zig-zag, the red lever controls only the width, and you can only sew a centered zig-zag stitch. When you are using a combination pattern, the red lever changes the pattern in mysterious, unpredictable ways.

          • Elena says:

            Yep, this is pretty close to 431G. Yes, I remember it now. I read the manual about five times back and forth trying to figure out how to stitch zig-zag on the right. You can’t. The way I make simple buttonholes is like many semi-automatic machines do it: 1) Set zig-zag width to 2, needle left – stitch forward for the length you need. 2) Set zig-zag width to max, needle centred, drop feed dogs, make some stitches. 3) Set zig-zag width to 2, needle right, feed dogs back on, machine in reverse – stitch back to the beginning. 4) Repeat step 2. I’ve got a long rectangular foot in which you can set the length for the buttonhole and it holds the material in place firmly. Very handy, but this method does not work with the venerable 431G! 😐

  8. […] decided to attempt to make a 3-step zig-zag special disc for my Singer 411G. In my opinion the 4-step zig-zag that is built in just isn’t a substitute. I usually use a […]

  9. I like your new treadle slant machine! I’m glad that you posted about adapting a modified flat belt to the hand wheel, and where you got it. I have a Singer 401G that I’d like to set up as a treadle. My wife uses electric Singer 401A machines at home and at the shop, so I think she might do ok with a 401G when she needs or wants a treadle machine. I use a Singer 319W treadle for most of my clothes mending, and have commented on it at this site before.

    Any chance that you could post a photo of your Fleetwood F-5000 free-arm machine? I would like to see what it looks like. I collected a Bernina 830 Record that I’ve thought about trying to convert to treadle, but haven’t achieved that yet.

    My wife and I have 8 treadles set up and ready to sew in our house. I use four of them fairly regularly (1950s Singer 319W, 1917 Singer 16-41, 1960s Singer 20U, 1943 Singer 29K70) and she uses two of them from time to time for quilting (1901 Singer 27K2, 1950 Singer 78-3). I do almost all of my sewing on treadles, but she does almost all of her sewing on electrics. The two that get little or no use are a 1936 Singer 96-40 (set up for darning) and my maternal Grandmother’s 1906 White VSIII. My Grandma got it used as a wedding present in 1928. The White works great, but is waiting until our daughter gets room for it at her home to take it through another generation. She’s a sewing gal too, so she’ll get plenty of use out of it.

    CD in Oklahoma

    • Leila says:

      Here’s a before picture of the Fleetwood with the motor and a picture of it as a treadle (complete with cute kitten). I removed the base and bolted the machine directly to the table. I cut a hole in the table under the free arm to get enough clearance for it, then covered the table top with vinyl since I used an ugly scrap piece of wood. I was lucky that a Singer balance wheel fit on the machine, since the original one is plastic and has a crack in it.

      • Thanks for the photo links. Looking at your machine gives me some ideas about how to proceed with mine. I’ll have to see if a Singer spoked wheel will fit mine. The project has been on the back burner for a while, since I rarely use a free arm machine for my jeans mending. Sometimes, knees are easier to mend on a FA. To mend a hole in the little skinny-legged jeans knees that I rarely see, it’s about as easy to open a side seam as it is to wrestle them around on a FA, especially now that they are using a chain stitch in the jeans leg seams on some brands. Those side seams can be opened full-length in one quick zip (sometimes even while the owner is still wearing them).

        CD in Oklahoma

  10. Linda says:

    Thank you so much for posting this!! I’ve been trying to figure out how to treadle my 411G too. Can’t wait to try it out!
    As to your zig zag for knits- have you tried doing a straight stitch with double needles? I don’t sew on knits much (still have nightmares of sewing on 1970’s poly knit as child) but I did try sewing a t shirt and used a double needle. It gives you the double row of straight stitches on the front, but on the back it creates a zig zag that looks very much like a serged seam. It worked perfect. I had the stretch needed plus a nice finish.

    • Leila says:

      I haven’t tried using double needles on this machine, but I’ve tried it on my other machines. I think every garment I’ve used a double needle hem on has ended up with broken stitches after being worn a few times. In my opinion double needle hems are OK on fairly stable knits or knit fabric that has been interfaced, but not anything that will be stretched a lot. I sew enough knit garments that I convinced myself I could justify a coverstitch machine, so that’s what I use for most of my knit hems and topstitching now. I use the three step zig-zag for sewing elastic directly onto lingerie, etc.

      Good luck treadling your 411G. I hope it works for you, too. I’m still really happy with how mine is working out.

  11. […] love my Singer 411G, but it really needed a 3-step zig-zag stitch. I made a 3-step zig-zag disc a few months ago, but […]

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