If you own a Singer 401 and, like me, are ready to explore the decorative stitches your machine has, I would like to give you a checklist of adjustments you need to make on your Singer 401 so that you can be amazed and enjoy the many possible variations of decorative stitches you get with this vintage sewing machine.
- Look out for the “embroidery” supplies section:
You must search for the embroidery section when looking for supplies to work with decorative stitches. Look for “decorative threads” or “embroidery threads”.
- Make sure the Stitch length regulator is in the “Release” position:
The “stitch length regulator” is a lever with a screw called “the thumb nut” that you will find at the far right side of your sewing machine. This lever must be in the “Fine” position when working with embroidery and any decorative stitches. The notch of this lever must be about middle point on that “Fine” space.
You have to loosen the thumb nut by rotating it to the left (remember righty-tighty and lefty loosey) to make sure you are on the “release” position. There has to be some room between the notch and the metal plate. You know the thumb nut is in the “locked” position when the screw looks completely tightened against the plate. When you sew with the screw on “locked” position, your stitches will not move at all and you will have a nasty mess like this: So you have to unscrew the thumb nut and test how your stitches are looking. Sorry I cannot give you a precise location but this is a vintage sewing machine after all.
- Adjust the position of the red Lever (Stitch Width for Decorative Stitches): Your instruction manual gives details on where the red lever should be moved and it provides you with the inner and outer knob combination letters to produce a specific stitch. Remember that the the red lever controls the width of the stitch only when you work with decorative stitches. The red lever must be on the widest setup, -which is number 5 -for most of your Singer 401’s fancy stitches.
- Have your bobbin full: Believe me, when it comes to decorative stitching and embroidery, your machine will “eat” a lot of thread, I mean, a lot of thread… so be generous filling your bobbin and have handy several threads of the same type and color. I don’t like to mess around with the bobbin tension because it means using a tiny screwdriver. Avoid adjusting the bobbin tension if possible. For the samples that I tested, I used different thread colors in the upper thread and in the bobbin. You know you have the right adjustments when you don’t see bobbin thread showing on front of fabric.
- Use a satin stitch foot or a monogram foot: Check your sewing machine manual section on settings and specialty feet required for embroidery, applique, or decorative stitching. For your vintage Singer 401, you must work with your special purpose foot to produce satin stitch and any of the decorative stitches. This is what the special purpose foot of my vintage machine looks like.
- Needles: Use embroidery, topstitching, or ballpoint needles depending on the thickness and stretchiness of the fabric you will be working with. My Singer 401 likes the embroidery needles from Schmetz, size 11. So far embroidery needles work well with rayon and metallic thread and with cotton and linen fabrics.
- Typical decorative stitches used for Applique: Zig zag, multiple zig zag, blanket, satin stitch, or any stitch that goes side to side. My Singer has satin stitch, comb stitch, scallops, and multiple zig zag-like stitches that I sure could use for applique and decorating fabric edges. As far as additional stitches, I really wished I can have flowers, hearts, stars, and small alphabet letters, but …. I would need to pay big money to get these! Notice here two basic stitches that I tested with rayon thread: Comb stitch (also known as blanket stitch) and satin stitch. I like the look. Just make sure you test varying the red lever to 3, 4, or 5 to produce the desired effect.
- Use variegated, rayon, or embroidery threads: Test, test, test samples until you find the proper settings, tensions, needles that your machine will perform the best. Just write it down on the fabric you are testing. I love the smooth look and feel of rayon the best!
- Test your metallic threads with various needles: So far my machine likes metallic and rayon threads with embroidery needles size 11. This is a very tricky business. Keep testing. You will find some metallic threads have different compositions (poly, nylon, rayon), so you may be a little frustrated if you are not using the proper needle type and proper thread for that fancy look. Chances are you will experience broken needles or jammed threads as you are beginning to explore the stitches your machine has to offer. You just have to have patience and record what did you change to get the best results. I have to place my metallic threads inside a cup behind the machine, otherwise I get horrible jammed threads underneath the fabric. The metallic thread tends to tangle around the spool pins and things get messed up!
- Lower your upper thread tension one to two notches to avoid bird nests: This is a must as you will notice that the bobbin thread is showing through your front piece of fabric or you are getting broken needles. This is the sign that you have to make adjustments. For my Singer, I only needed to adjust the upper thread to “Zero” not the bobbin.
So I hope you find these details helpful and enjoy getting creative with your Singer 401 decorative stitches.