singer 401 questions

Old 01-26-2017, 02:52 PM
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Default singer 401 questions


i have been trying to get a better sense of what my expectations should be for using older machines.

i currently have a singer 401 that until recently was working was somewhat unreliable when it came to fancy stitches but the straight stitch was gorgeous and the zigzag worked like a charm.

for no reason i can discern it stopped picking up the thread and now has to go to the shop. i have done all the recommended at home problem solving things and it needs skills i don't have.

properly tuned and adjusted, it should easily make all of the stitches it was engineered to make, including the ones the cams could produce, not break thread for no real reason, not need to go to the shop every three months and tick along sewing happily for years right?

or am i being unreasonable? i don't want to put another couple hundred dollars into it if it's not actually going to work as well as it did in the first 5 years of its life.

i also have a basic workhouse bernina, with a zigzag stitch. ummmm....can't remember the model number but a reputable basic machine. i figure it will cost about $300 to get it back in business because it needs a bobbin case and a foot pedal.

if you had a limited amount of money to put these machines back to work, which one would you invest it? i need a good dressmaking machine. but i am so FRUSTRATED by the 401 right now i don't know whether to crap or go blind.

please...just tell me like it is.


Last edited by stillclock; 01-26-2017 at 02:55 PM.
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Old 01-26-2017, 05:18 PM
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I feel your pain. I have a Singer Touch and Sew Model 750 and today it was giving me fits because it would not do much of anything other than a straight stitch. It would break thread, skip and drop stitches on plain old zigzag, as well as a couple of cam stitches I was trying to produce. I switched out the needle for a new one, and damn, if that didn't make the difference! No more dropped stitches, and no more skips, either. It seems like these fancy stitch machines can be very picky as to what supplies you use. I've gone so far as to name this machine Christine, after the car in the Stephen King novel LOL. She sometimes has a (EVIL) mind of her own!
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Old 01-26-2017, 06:20 PM
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Possibly the bobbin thread hook isn't engaging.
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Old 01-26-2017, 07:10 PM
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I also have a Bernina and some vintage Singers. I think the number one thing to realize is that no machine just runs along fine without some maintenance. When I only had the Bernina, it went to the shop for a tune up every year like clockwork. Now that I'm using the vintage machines to piece, I extend it out a bit to 18 months. I've also learned that using an older machine is different than using a more contemporary electronic machine. Even though my 301 is the machine I learned to sew on, I went back and reviewed the manual and read on here about it before I started using it again. Ditto with the 503 and I will do the same with the Featherweight before I start using it.

If you have switched needles, cleaned the bobbin area, rethreaded it and took the bobbin out and reinserted it, then you will probably have to take it in to be repaired. As to which one, it's really a personal decision. I love my vintage Singers for piecing, but IMO for garment construction there is nothing like my Bernina.

You can buy a bobbin case and foot pedal and replace those yourself. Neither of them requires any special knowledge. You can probably pick either of them up on eBay pretty reasonably.
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Old 01-27-2017, 04:05 AM
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Ive ever seen a machine does not go out of timing on its own.
Have you cleaned the lint out of the bobbin area.
As far as stitches go, you have to regularly oil that machine. If there is dried oil you will have to clean it off. There is a lot of information on this board. You can search here - look in the upper right and type in Singer 401 and see what you come up with. Some will be good repair info some will not be of any use at all.
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Old 01-27-2017, 05:21 AM
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This was my experience and I got a lot of great help here, lots from Miriam (thanks!) and i got it up and working. Maybe something here will help you.
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Old 01-27-2017, 10:28 AM
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I will second what is mention by others. The 401 is well worth money spend on a service, but you can often get very far with a thorough DIY clean up and maintanance. I would start by unscrewing needle plate, take out the bobbin case, clean under there, even take of the needle clamp and scrape out any dirt and grime out of every nook and cranny. I've had two machines slightly thrown out of timing because the space for the needle shank was packed full of grime. With a tooth pick I have poked out surpising amounts of grime from seemingly clean bobbin case and race on 201s. Use a reasonably fresh oil (less than 10 years old, if it has chanced color from clear to more amber it often turns sticky), even try fancy teflon on oil for an extra smooth turning mechansim. Detect all oil points, apply oil, turn the machine, and reapply; move all knobs and levers, test sew, and repeat it all the next few days. Pay extra attention to parts involving cams, stitch selector, make sure they move freely, click properly into place etc. Pick the top tensiner appart and clean the parts. The service manual for the 401 is available, and there's several helpful blongs and youtube videos on this model regarding timing and tuneup.

Any machine will eventually need a full service, but an extra thorough (DIY) cleaning and polishing can be a must once a year or so. All the settings and stitch patterns should work well on a 401, and it should run depedably and trouble free when sorted out. By going through the machine from one end to another, thoroughly cleaning up and tending to it carefully you can often detect the smaller issues causing the trouble. You have to invest some time and effort on the machine it self to save some money, but I guess it will be about half the cost to sort out the 401, compared to what you have estimated for your Bernina.

That said, my old Bernina 730 has very nice, even, satin stitches compared to the vintage Singers I've used. When money allows it spend some time and money on your Bernina too. A back up machine is a must; and at times I have a second machine threaded up and adjusted for specific purposes. Berninas have a few plastic gears but they are tough machines that stand up to any job you throw at them. With basic maintanance they tend run trouble free for years and years. I have had my two Berninas in for service a couple of times, but not nearly as often as a professional would recommend (which I think is once a year or so).
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Old 01-28-2017, 04:48 AM
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Is your needle inserted the correct way? With my vintage machines, I have assumed the needle is inserted the same way for all, but that is not the case. Some are inserted flat side to the left, others to the right. Some thread the needle left to right and some right to left. I am not familiar with a 401, but check your manual just to make sure...
Good luck!
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Old 01-28-2017, 05:30 AM
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Linda, most modern machines insert the needle FLAT side against the NEEDLEBAR.
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Old 01-28-2017, 07:50 AM
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It has to be something simple. Most likely dust, lint, gunk or other things are impeding the pickup. The needle is a big part of it. It has to be in right and pushed all the way up. The bobbin has to be in the right way (threading goes in like a small letter p), tension discs clean, etc. I have cleaned up and serviced about 15 of them in my time and own 2. The top gears are sometimes gunked up and the arm that defines the stitches doesn't get to travel in full when you are choosing stitches. I clean every single interior piece and oil with Tri-flow oil. It is a very solid machine and unless it was dropped or really man handled, it works wonderful. I have cleaned many other machines and the 301 and 401 are solid, well designed and well machined. If you go to the yahoo forum- Vintage Singers, you will find specific cleaning instructions and diagrams. Don't give up on the machine- it is a very good one.
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