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Thread: Singer 401A - Good for quilting?

  1. #1
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Singer 401A - Good for quilting?

    I was in a thrift store yesterday and ran across a 401A Singer in a wood cabinet. Both are in great condition. I had one of the employees plug the machine in and it purred like a kitten. There were no cams or other accessories with it, other than a brush and one bobbin (still with thread in it) in the bobbin area. I downloaded the manual from web. Further research reveals it was manufactured in Anderson, SC between 1959 and 1961. I see that the cams and accessories seem to be readily available on eBay. The throat plate on it now is for the zigzag stitch. Since everything in the store was 1/2 price, I paid $49.95 for the machine and cabinet. It was so nice I couldn't pass it up, although I have 3 other machines. My question is: Does this machine stitch a true straight stitch for quilting like some of the much older ones, i.e. featherweights, and do you think I made a wise purchase or not?
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

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    ha where in oregon ? yes it was a very good buy ...

    I just gave away my mom's old 401, you do know they have several built in stitches also....as far as the cams ,, you can bet the can stack inside is froze up....so unless you are into tear that apart to clean it those cam
    s won't work any way , now I believe all the black singer cams will work, the zig zag plate was the standard plate on those... it seems like there stitch was very straight inline. I know mom used it doing very fine doll clothes and her lamp shades. lately I see the price on 401's going sky hi...

  3. #3
    Super Member J Miller's Avatar
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    Shirley,

    We paid a bit more than that for our 401A that came without a case top. It runs nice and does indeed sew a straight line.
    It has a built in cam stack that in my opinion, (an opinion not shared by others such as my wife) produces better patterns than the top hat cams. And we have a bunch of cams to use in it too.

    My only concern is that it doesn't have as much room under the harp as some of the other machines do. If this is not a concern, I don't see why you couldn't quilt with it.

    Our only cam with the ZZ needle plate too. We've got a bunch of other bits from our LSMG and so far no SS needle plate.

    Did you get a good deal, I think so.

    Joe

  4. #4
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Thank you, Joe. The manual I downloaded does not tell me much about the cams. What are the top hat cams? And how are they different from what look like sets of black-colored cams I see advertised on eBay? Does the "built-in cam stack" have certain stitches already within the machine without having to put in a cam at the top of the machine? Any further explanation you folks on the Board can give me would sure be appreciated.
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

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    these are also a double needle machine.

    I did use this one making a big quilt 7x8 ' it wasn't easy pushing the fabric, small harp area.. at times I had the needle so hot it would flex like rubber
    The lady that has it now, has a 603 her cams fit the 401

    had the 401 been black I would have kept it ..

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    flip the lid up there's a diagram of how to set the dails for built in and top hat

  7. #7
    Super Member Candace's Avatar
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    You really only have about 5 cams or so to buy that aren't inside the machine if you'd want, as the cams are all built in on the 401.

    Any machine that does a zig zag stitch won't make a 'true' stitch like a straight stitch only machine like a Featherweight etc. But, you'd have to likely look with a magnifying glass to have it bother you. LOL. Straight stitch machines are the truest straight stitch because there is no wiggle room in the needle bar. The machines are typically poured castings and the needle bar offers no side to side movement. I quilt with my 401 all the time (straight stitching). And I piece with it. I don't like it for free motion quilting because of the raised feed dog plate that catches on the quilt sandwich and the tension issues due to the horizontal bobbin case. I have quite a few straight stitch only machines and I do use the 401 quite a bit.

  8. #8
    Super Member J Miller's Avatar
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    Shirley,

    The top hat cams are called that because from the edge view they look like little flat brimmed hats. There is a raised part in the center and a mouse hole shaped hole for the locator peg on the flat part. The other Singer cams are flat.

    The built in cam stack has a big bunch of stitches. And by varying the controls of the machine you can alter them to your tastes.
    Sadly I have a bunch of good pics on my other computer drive, the one that died, that I'd post if I could.

    The insides of our 401 is steel, steel, steel. Not one tiny bit of plastic in there. Pull the top off of that machine and look at it. The cam stack is right below the trap door for the removable cams. Directly under it, you can't see it without a mirror is the steel driver gear. The controls can be jammed up if you turn one nob without resetting the other nob. Set one, make sure the nob has latched, then set the other one.
    When you lift the trap door there is a chart, or should be, showing all the built in patterns and where to set the nobs to get them.
    Plus in the manual I downloaded and printed (a large .pdf file) there is extensive instructions on how to set the controls with and without the cams. That too is on my dead PC and I'll try to find it and post it for you.

    The 401 is one machine that benefits greatly from Tri-Flow. Lots of things to oil and grease. You especially need to oil and free up the parts that move up and down on the two vertical shafts just to the left of the cam stack. If those don't move free, you'll have fits getting the cams, built in or removable, to produce the patterns.

    When we got our machine the cam stack was not jammed up, but the actuators on the vertical shafts almost were, and someone had put what looked like black chassis grease on the cams. Ugh, what a mess. That stuff had solidified and I had to scrape it off one little bit at a time. Use Tri-Flow grease here.

    I've got an errand to run in a few minutes but when I get back I'll pop the top off our 401 and take some pics for you if you want.

    You got a good machine. Once you get it cleaned and lubed I'll bet you'll smile as you use it.

    Joe

  9. #9
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Thanks, Candace,

    Yes, that does make perfect sense that the ZZ machines would not stitch as "true" as the totally straight stitch machines. Thanks for your information on this. I had never seen a raised feed dog situation before and I was wondering if that might impede such operations as FMQ. I did flip this switch earlier today to see how it actually worked and I can see how it might cause some problems with FMQ.
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

  10. #10
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Wow, pictures would be great, Joe! Where do you get the Tri-Flow lubricant?
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

  11. #11
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Thank you, notsureif,

    I did flip the top yesterday when I got it home and could see that the 2 dials with the letters probably were the combos for the various available stitches, but being unfamiliar with the machine, I didn't know how the dials/letters interacted with the builtin stitches and the cams I don't have.

    Pushing that big quilt through the small harp area must have been almost impossible - I congratulate you!


    Quote Originally Posted by notsureif View Post
    these are also a double needle machine.

    I did use this one making a big quilt 7x8 ' it wasn't easy pushing the fabric, small harp area.. at times I had the needle so hot it would flex like rubber
    The lady that has it now, has a 603 her cams fit the 401

    had the 401 been black I would have kept it ..
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

  12. #12
    Super Member J Miller's Avatar
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    Shirley,

    I get my Tri-Flow oil and grease from Sew-Classic.com: http://www.shop.sew-classic.com/

    Here is the controls and the inside of the trap door with it's pattern instructions:

    The "A-B-C" settings on the left are pretty much standard for the cams. To install and remove the cams you need to turn the right control (inside nob) off of the "Special" place, then once the cam in, they just snap in, you put the control back on the "Special" slot.

    Here is a pic showing the difference between the Singer flat and top hat cams:


    And here is pic showing a cam installed:


    Now here is two pics of the machine with the top off:

    In this pic you can see much of the interior of the machine and that there is a bunch of moving parts to oil. Your owners manual will give you specific instructions on what to oil and what to grease.
    I've marked the picture with notes. O's for oil, G's for grease. The owners manual says to use the Singer Lube for the gears, but I think the Tri-Flow grease works better. The only non metal gear in this machine is the big fiber gear on the back of the hand wheel. The owners manual says grease it.

    In this pic the vertical shafts the cam stack controls slide up and down on is indicated by an arrow. These need to be clean and oiled or they will bind and jam.
    If you look back on the pic with the cam installed you'll see two holes to the left of the cam stack, a slot with a shaft and hole in it's center, the top of the cam stack with a hole in it's center, and three holes to the lower right of the trap door mortise. These are all oil holes.
    This isn't all of the top either, and under the bottom there is a bunch of other oiling places.

    Keep it clean, oiled and greased and it will run nice.

    Here is the link to what I'm fairly sure is the owners manual I downloaded and printed. It's a pretty big .pdf file so it will take a bit of time to load.
    http://www.singerco.com/uploads/down...0496cf11fe.pdf
    If it's the manual I think it is there is extensive info in there on how to operate the machine as well as lube it.

    Hope this helps, if you have any questions ..... ask.

    Joe

  13. #13
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by J Miller View Post
    Shirley,

    I get my Tri-Flow oil and grease from Sew-Classic.com: http://www.shop.sew-classic.com/

    Here is the controls and the inside of the trap door with it's pattern instructions:

    The "A-B-C" settings on the left are pretty much standard for the cams. To install and remove the cams you need to turn the right control (inside nob) off of the "Special" place, then once the cam in, they just snap in, you put the control back on the "Special" slot.

    Here is a pic showing the difference between the Singer flat and top hat cams:


    And here is pic showing a cam installed:


    Now here is two pics of the machine with the top off:

    In this pic you can see much of the interior of the machine and that there is a bunch of moving parts to oil. Your owners manual will give you specific instructions on what to oil and what to grease.
    I've marked the picture with notes. O's for oil, G's for grease. The owners manual says to use the Singer Lube for the gears, but I think the Tri-Flow grease works better. The only non metal gear in this machine is the big fiber gear on the back of the hand wheel. The owners manual says grease it.

    In this pic the vertical shafts the cam stack controls slide up and down on is indicated by an arrow. These need to be clean and oiled or they will bind and jam.
    If you look back on the pic with the cam installed you'll see two holes to the left of the cam stack, a slot with a shaft and hole in it's center, the top of the cam stack with a hole in it's center, and three holes to the lower right of the trap door mortise. These are all oil holes.
    This isn't all of the top either, and under the bottom there is a bunch of other oiling places.

    Keep it clean, oiled and greased and it will run nice.

    Here is the link to what I'm fairly sure is the owners manual I downloaded and printed. It's a pretty big .pdf file so it will take a bit of time to load.
    http://www.singerco.com/uploads/down...0496cf11fe.pdf
    If it's the manual I think it is there is extensive info in there on how to operate the machine as well as lube it.

    Hope this helps, if you have any questions ..... ask.

    Joe
    Joe,

    I can't thank you enough for the time and detail you have furnished in response to my question. I am always humbled and in awe of the kindness and generosity of members of this Board when help is needed by another member. You have have certainly helped me tremendously with the pictures and advice you have furnished. I am so grateful. I've printed out the information and the pictures and will keep it with the machine. Thanks again!!!
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

  14. #14
    Super Member Annaquilts's Avatar
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    Yes, it is a good buy and a great machine. I have heard though it is not great with the actual quilting but I have not tried.
    Anna Quilts

  15. #15
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Thanks, Anna,

    In the realm of quilting use, I think I will probably use it more for piecing rather than quilting other than maybe some SITD on small projects.

    Quote Originally Posted by Annaquilts View Post
    Yes, it is a good buy and a great machine. I have heard though it is not great with the actual quilting but I have not tried.
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

  16. #16
    Super Member kitsykeel's Avatar
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    My first vintage (other than my Featherweight as a gift in 1959) was a 401A in a blond cabinet for $30.00, purchased just this past January (I am new to collecting vintage.) Our thrift shops around here have such good prices, the machines are just too great at those prices to pass by. I love the many decorative stitches built into the machine and when you apply that second needle, you get some really interesting designs, especially when you use two differing colored threads. Have not tried quilting on it yet. Interested to hear what others say about that too.
    Kitsy

  17. #17
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Wow, you got a really good deal! It is rare that our thrift shops around here have any sewing machines. IMHO, I believe Goodwill never puts them out, but instead places them on eBay for big bucks; If you do see one there, and it is so very rare, they are all beat up and ready for the junk pile. I felt really lucky to find this one at another type thrift store, so jumped on it. I think everyone should have at least one vintage machine (and more if you have the room, LOL!)

    Quote Originally Posted by kitsykeel View Post
    My first vintage (other than my Featherweight as a gift in 1959) was a 401A in a blond cabinet for $30.00, purchased just this past January (I am new to collecting vintage.) Our thrift shops around here have such good prices, the machines are just too great at those prices to pass by. I love the many decorative stitches built into the machine and when you apply that second needle, you get some really interesting designs, especially when you use two differing colored threads. Have not tried quilting on it yet. Interested to hear what others say about that too.
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

  18. #18
    Super Member J Miller's Avatar
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    Shirley,

    You are right to a point. Good Will does not put machines out for sale, but they don't use eBay. They have their own on line auction site. http://shopgoodwill.com/
    Here is the direct link to the sewing machine search: http://www.shopgoodwill.com/search/S...&showthumbs=on

    We have been buying sewing machines and other goodies from there since last October and I have noticed a steady increase in prices of the sold machines. Especially the Japanese ZZ machines like my Alden and some of the others with built in and cam driven decorative stitches. Those seem to be quite popular now.

    Enjoy.

    Joe

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    Quote Originally Posted by J Miller View Post
    Shirley,

    You are right to a point. Good Will does not put machines out for sale, but they don't use eBay. They have their own on line auction site. http://shopgoodwill.com/
    Here is the direct link to the sewing machine search: http://www.shopgoodwill.com/search/S...&showthumbs=on

    We have been buying sewing machines and other goodies from there since last October and I have noticed a steady increase in prices of the sold machines. Especially the Japanese ZZ machines like my Alden and some of the others with built in and cam driven decorative stitches. Those seem to be quite popular now.

    Enjoy.

    Joe
    They use eBay as well. I was surprised last week when I came across a goodwill auction. I've stopped looking at goodwill for the most part. Even when you donate to a specific store, they take most of it back to their processing center and redistribute it. The good stuff is pulled for auction there. St. Vinnies and salvation army is better for finding machines around here. Too bad they put crazy high prices on them.
    Last edited by misskira; 06-14-2012 at 08:33 AM.

  20. #20
    Super Member Candace's Avatar
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    Yes, they do use ebay as well. There are Good Will auctions run through ebay. The ones run through ebay would be much more secure and have buyer protection.

  21. #21
    Super Member J Miller's Avatar
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    OK, I stand corrected. I don't do eBay much at all anymore.

    Joe

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    Super Member Jeanette Frantz's Avatar
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    My son picked up a Singer Featherweight a few months ago at Goodwill locally (Ocala, Florida) for $50. It was absolutely an unbelievable buy! It needs a belt, a good cleaning and oiling before I use it, but my son was a sewing machine mechanic for 14 years, so I don't have to go to the shop with it! The machine is in excellent condition otherwise, but I'm really lucky that he found it!

    Jeanette Frantz

  23. #23
    Super Member Mornigstar's Avatar
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    Jeanette Frantz --I'm half asleep reading your post and then I remembered. -----While in Fl last winter met a
    man who told me his relative was sewing machine mechanic for 14 yrs. I needed a part so he wrote out the
    name and info. Mentioned Ocala area but I go south of Fort Myers. Somewhere in my briefcase of notes I have
    his name which I believe is the son you referenced because I remember the "Frantz" part. Awesome!
    If I can find that tomorrow I will write the name. As is said --It's a small world

    Seems to me the man siad it was his brother --is that probable to you?

  24. #24
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    I love, love, love my 401 A. 53 years and counting and no trips to the hospital. I piece, embroider, and quilt with it.

  25. #25
    Senior Member ShirlR's Avatar
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    Thanks for the link to GW's auction site, Joe,

    I will check it out. I just read the 2 replies below yours, and I, too, saw a featherweight being sold through eBay by GW for a machine located at an Oregon location. This was well over a year ago, but hence my comment about that issue.

    Quote Originally Posted by J Miller View Post
    Shirley,

    You are right to a point. Good Will does not put machines out for sale, but they don't use eBay. They have their own on line auction site. http://shopgoodwill.com/
    Here is the direct link to the sewing machine search: http://www.shopgoodwill.com/search/S...&showthumbs=on

    We have been buying sewing machines and other goodies from there since last October and I have noticed a steady increase in prices of the sold machines. Especially the Japanese ZZ machines like my Alden and some of the others with built in and cam driven decorative stitches. Those seem to be quite popular now.

    Enjoy.

    Joe
    Shirley
    "We shall pass this way on Earth but once; if there is any kindness we can show, or good act we can do, let us do it now, for we will never pass this way again." Stephen Grellet

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