Universal Apollo (Singer 15-30 “clone”/HA-1 generic) aka “The Experiment”

Isn’t she pretty?

Prepare for a bombardment of photographs!

Unfortunately her story is not as triumphant as the Singer 328P.

I spotted her on TradeMe, advertised as just “Apollo Sewing Machine”, at a mere $1 reserve and bided my time until nearer the auction end time. In the mean time I had a quick squizz online for information and came up with absolutely nothing.

Shrug.

I figured she was some sort of re-badged Singer 15-something so I decided, working or not (there was a suggestion that it did “sew”, but we know what that means don’t we?), I wanted her. She was just so cute looking, sparkly green and smaller sized. If she went cheap enough she would be worth getting if only for pulling apart to learn more about the internals.

After a fierce 7-bidder battle in the dying 2 minutes, of which I was the victor of course, I organised to pick her up. This involved climbing up a super steep driveway – this is Wellington after all, shaped by violent geological forces – waaaay on the other side of the harbour. I do wish people would be more specific with their suburb listings!

She cost me a tiny $23.50

The lady was very nice (face-to-face contact this time) and even offered to carry it down the driveway with me to my car. On the way I learnt that the seller had been gifted several machines from an estate of a friend. He had been a sewing machine repairer/restorer so had quite a collection.

At first I was quite excited to hear this thinking that a machine from a repairer/restorer would most certainly be in sewing condition…and then Sensible Kiwi realised that actually it was quite possible there was a very good reason why this machine was residing with the former owner!

Once I was at home I put her up on my table and had a good look at her. She was dirty but even more cute IRL, a smaller and older looking version of the 201 with a few other style differences.

The power cord, plug and foot controller all looked in excellent condition, no exposed wiring or dodgy looking connections, but just to be safe I tested all the movable parts by hand first.

My first discovery, not very surprisingly, is that she needs a new drive belt and bobbin winder ring. Both are badly degraded, but I know where to buy those from.

Then I immediately spotted something more seriously amiss – there was no thumb screw in the curved slot beside the stitch length lever, hmm…

The tension knob also turned round and round past the numbers without any stopper, something must be missing inside there as well.

I unwound it for a quick look. When I had the 328’s assembly apart I remember there was a sort of tabbed stop washer inside which doesn’t seem to be present in this model, this is either by design (doubt it) or perhaps this is the All Knowing Vintage Sewing Machine Buyers Powers That Be keeping my 2 for 2 tension-dial-has-been-fuxed-with-on-every-machine-you-have-bought-so-far record in check (more likely).

I was feeling a bit deflated now so I tipped out the accessory tin to see what goodies were in there. A bobbin case but no bobbin, three extremely rusty feet (zipper, binding and whatever that other things is?!), screwdriver thingee and some other unidentifiable metal bits that may or may not have belonged to my machine or indeed any machine.

Sigh.

It was time for a cup of tea and a bikkie.

I chatted with Nerdy Hubby and he reminded me that I had said I didn’t mind if this machine ended up as my sacrifice, something on which to experiment and learn a bit more without ruining something that cost me 10 times as much.

He was right, I was just feeling disappointed because she looked like such a cutie and I was hoping for another triumphant vintage machine buying win.

So I went back into my room and took a better look at those random metal bits.

That’s when it clicked!

There was a thumb screw…and a metal disc with a funny cut out that had a thread hole…they fitted together. I took them over to my 201 and peered inside the slot…yup, pretty sure that’s two parts found!

Perhaps this miserably beat up looking accessory tin is actually a Magic Tin!

I imagined my repairer/restorer guy popping bits in it as he found or salvaged them with the intent to put it all together once he had everything and now I can finish his work!

Ok, maybe that’s going a little too far…

There wasn’t any sort of extra washer for the tension assembly but I bet I can buy one of those cheaply online and maybe after I learn a bit more about the model I could find a sort of exploded parts list to help me work out the other bits and bobs and what else I am missing.

I was feeling happier already.

To the Internet!

As you might imagine, a company name like “Universal” is extremely difficult to Google and since we are talking pre-internet the only way I could probably find out more is to look it up old-style hard copy in a old company register somewhere.

What I did learn is that this style of Japanese manufactured machine is more commonly referred to as an HA-1 Generic or a Singer Class 15 “clone”, clone is in quotation marks because it isn’t an exact copy, although many Singer parts are interchangeable.

A cheeky visit to the Singer ID website and I also discovered that the closest Singer my machine represents is a 15-30.

I also learnt that there are over 5000 different “brands” of these clone machines that were made in Japan by more than 15 different companies. During the 1930s a combination of weak yen and trade restrictions meant it was cheaper to produce machines locally and their domestic sewing machine manufacturing began.

After WWII there were a lot of people looking for work, plenty of idle machine shops and Singer’s patent had expired, manufacturing of these machines (most commonly based on the Singer 15 & 99 class machines) increased in earnest and Japan began to export.

Some machines were given American or European sounding names to appeal to the overseas markets and they didn’t just come in black. They came in metallics or flat colours of pink, green, blue, yellow and more! They were well made and often ran more quietly and smoother than their Singer equivalents. Any retailer could purchase a clone machine and have it badged to sell under their own brand.

Here is how I imagined the story of my machine went:

Mr (or Mrs) Entrepreneurial Kiwi thinks these new fandangled sewing machine things seem to be pretty whiz bang popular! They decide they better get on board and start their own sewing machine company pronto. Ohh but those pretty black Singers are quite expensive! There must be a market for a cheaper machine…hmmm…those Japanese ones seem like quite good quality, I’ll ask them to badge some up for me. I’ll call my new company Universal Sewing Machines, it sounds like a quality international brand and it will be a difficult name for a  collector to Google in the future!

I’m off on an imaginary sewing tangent again, sorry, let me backstitch… ;)

There is the plan, it is a “best case scenario”, fingers crossed kind of thing, please excuse me while I share my nerdy little flow chart:

This is not going to be a quick project for me. Instead it will be something to tinker away at over the next few weeks and months but, having said that, I most definitely do not want this to languish into years. So, I’ll keep you posted :)

I am also working on a new page for my top menu that will mention each of my machines (modern & vintage) and their stories/links to posts as they crop up, I’ll let you know when it is live.

Thanks for reading! :)

They are multiplying, all the better for taking over the world (*evil laugh)

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My new old toy

Since my first proper taste of owning a vintage sewing machine* I’ve been keen to get a few more to tinker with. There are a couple of specific models I am looking for so I keep my eye online for when one pops up in my area that I can hopefully afford.

Singer 201K-3

Buying an old sewing machine off of TradeMe (the NZ equivalent of eBay) can be a bit of a gamble. The machines that sell cheaply (i.e. within my budget) often only sell low due to the seller having no clue about the machine at all. Either there is a very short description,  no machine name or code, suspect suggestions that it may work, or the worst photos in the world…sometimes all of the above.

I’ll give you an example: I spotted a cute little vintage machine for sale, the description by the seller was very short (“I think it goes?”) and they only uploaded two photos, both of which were of the back of the machine tightly wrapped in it’s cords and hiding most of the identifying markings. My interest was piqued however as it was a different looking beast from the usual vintage (i.e. often not “vintage” at all) machines that go up for such low prices. I was about to ask the seller for a front facing photo when I noticed someone else already had, “Can you please upload a photo of the front of this machine?” to which the seller had replied, “Sure, what is the front?”

Sigh…

The comment response was, “You pick it up and TURN IT AROUND”…Needless to say they never uploaded the photo and I let it go to someone else.

While trawling TradeMe on a bad TV night last week I spotted this groovy looking Singer 328P Style-O-Matic for $30, closing in 1 hour and, even though this model is not one of the ones I crave, for some reason I wanted her. So I threw on a bid with 5 minutes to spare and won with no competition. I think you will agree, for $30, from an obvious non-sewer, “it appears to function” (I am guessing they wiggled the handwheel a bit), this is what I mean by “a bit of gamble”!

On enquiry about pick up and payment I was instructed to leave the money in the letter box and the machine would be at the top of the stairs. The seller clearly had no desire for any face-to-face interaction. Later, after a different day was decided upon, she told me she would leave it in the back of the station wagon at the bottom of her driveway. I felt like I was going to a dead drop and I wondered what would happen if I showed up and it was stolen…in the end I showed up later than expected and the seller must have had to go out, for there was no station wagon to be seen. Instead I found the machine hidden under a tarp in the driveway with a handy and hastily made cardboard sign reading “sewing machine” on top!

Anyway, it certainly looked ok, so I left the cash and hefted it into my car.

When I got it home the first thing I did was give it a good clean – and then I explored the little cardboard box that came with it:

The advert stated “No extra feet” but I count three here (zipper, button & hemming), plus 6 “fashion discs” (one in the machine, I call them cams) and six bobbins. They also said the clips on the case were broken but they are not. With this much luck already I was doubting the machine would actually sew!

So I plugged her in and was rewarded with a glowing light bulb. I have never threaded a vintage machine before so I consulted the handily included instruction booklet and set to work. Winding the bobbin went smoothly enough and then I began to thread.

I put the bobbin in first, top loading, another first of me, but it went in ok. The bobbin assembly was a bit wobbly and it looked like the tension screw was mostly undone…a sign someone had been fiddling with it? I’d come back to that after I tested the rest…

When I got to the needle thread tension dual I was a bit confused about where to run the thread, the diagram is very general, turning the tension knob felt…not right…and there also didn’t seem to be any markings relating to the tension numbers.

Are you kidding me? There are three discs behind that knob to choose from!

Sigh! So I consulted the older 201 and sure enough there was a -|+ marking above the tension numbers. A closer look at 328 and I found the -|+ marking upside down, someone had definitely been fiddling…not a good sign…so, with nothing to lose (really) and secure in the knowledge that after I stuff it up completely the Internet would tell me how to make it right again, I promptly disassembled it.

Then I started the reassemble, not that tricky really, I used the 201 as a guide, they are very similar.

So I didn’t need the Internet in the end, I worked it out by myself which is much more satisfying isn’t it?

Another squinty look at the threading instructions and I worked that bit out too…A new needle and she was ready to go!

We started on a zig-zag stitch since I didn’t check the stitch width setting first…not bad…from the front…

…oh but the back! Oh dear! Sad Kiwi!

I might have panicked just a little bit. After some thinking I revisited the bobbin case and, following the instruction book, I tightened up that screw, testing and tightening some more until…

Huzzah! Line after line of beautiful, straight, and tension (almost) perfect stitches.

:D

Then it was time to play with the cams:

I stitched up a little swatch for future reference:

She can do a lot of modern sewing functions that I didn’t expect too: Button holes, left-centre-right needle position, and she can even run two needles!

Phew! A gamble that paid off. This little retro cutie is hard-working and very tough, she is a bit different to all the black curvy Singers out there and has her own distinct personality. I’m glad I took the risk and picked her up.

I can easily see myself building a small collection of vintage machines, I’d love to learn more about how they work and a tiny bit of restoration. I have always enjoyed pulling things apart and learning how they work, which is a good thing, because I’m going to impose a fairly strict rule on myself, that they must function, or at least be DIY repairable, and I really shouldn’t buy a new one until I get the last one going, or at least the correct parts on order.

The Internet did come in handy for teaching me that the Singer 328P was produced out of the Penrith factory in NSW, Australia, that is what the P denotes. They began production in 1959 assembling 201P machines and later added the 227P and the 328P to the line. The grey plastic base was made locally and is specific to the Australian (and therefore NZ) market.

I was hoping for a more specific manufacture date but when I finally located the serial number the Singer website merely gave me a bracket of 10 years, 1957 – 1967. ISMACS suggested a smaller range for the K (Kilbowie factory) model of 1963-1965…hmmm…I know it was after 1959 and my serial number is early VA series so I could guess it could be around 1963 as well…Who knows?!

For future reference, if you are struggling to find the serial number on a 328 or similar, here is where I found mine, you can’t even see it in the picture, but trust me, it’s there:

Serial number location – Singer 328P

So, there she is, my new old toy.

I’ve given here a nick name already too, The Tractor, said with absolute affection, here is why**:

Mechanic Husband commented that “it sounds like she has a diesel knock!”

*FYI I have a replacement belt on order and Electronic Husband booked in for re-wiring the plug ;)

**I was still playing with the tensions when I made this video, that’s why it looks like I am pulling on the fabric, because I am! Also, she does sew at a constant speed, not in this video because a short cord meant I have the foot pedal up on the table and I was driving it with my right hand, which is tricky.

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