Alex has spent a lifetime in the sewing industry and is considered one of the foremost experts of pioneering machines and their inventors. He has written extensively for trade magazines, radio, television, books and publications world wide.
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The Singer 66 & 99
The Singer 66 was the first sewing machine, in my opinion, that produced a near perfect stitch. When sewing well the 66 will out-sew nearly any modern machine through a huge variety of fabrics from linen to lace, horse blankets to buckram. It is simply near perfect engineering but this came at a price. A Singer 66 was one of the most expensive sewing machines on the market costing several months wages.
Now let me explain, in 1916 a basic Singer 66k was £7,10s. Doesn't sound much until you find that many people were earning less that a pound a week. Suddenly the machine cost nearly two months wages, in today's terms, a fortune.
Most sewers would opt for the smaller twin, the Singer 99 at £6.10, but for those professional sewers who wanted more foot clearance and space the Singer 66 was the queen. Expensive but simply the best.
The 66 arrived after nearly half a century of improvements and developments. The mass produced machine was introduced around 1900 and used the smooth oscillating hook. The hook mounted horizontally allowed the bobbin to be simply dropped into the machine. The simplicity of threading and perfection of stitch made the 66 an instant best seller. The high-arm clearance and sewing ability was second to none. As the advert said, Built like a watch in the largest sewing factory in the world.
It ran from the 1900 right up until the model was superseded by the amazing Singer 201 in 1939. The Singer 201 was possibly the finest Singer ever produced. The smaller stable-mate to the Singer 66 was the Singer 99 identical except for size.
The Singer 99 was identical to the Singer 66 in all but size and lasted longer in production, running right up to the middle 1950's with almost no major changes. A reverse was added after the war in 1949. The Singer 99 was updated and turned into the Singer 185k. Basically the same machine with a paint job. Then it disappeared as plastic multi-stitch machines took over.
The British Singer 66's were adorned with three different decals. Firstly the Lotus petal as seen below. Then came the Sphinx which was also used on the Singer 15k and a few other shuttle models. In good condition both these look stunning. In America the red-eye pattern stayed with the machine whereas in Britain the Singer 66 had three decal changes.
The Singer 66 was sold in all formats, hand, electric and treadle. In Britain the hand machine was the most popular until electric motors became more affordable in the 1930's. The bolt-on motor cost £5.17s, two weeks wages or more in 1933.
I met a woman once that bought a Singer in 1926 and did not finish paying for it until 1941. She had spent 15 years paying off her machine. Wow! I have her story somewhere I must look it up. It includes a German bombing raid so it is great reading.
Now, in America the Singer 66 wore different clothes. This was to have a huge effect on its later value. In America the machine became fondly known as the Red-eye for obvious reasons. The machine does look like it has exotic eyes. The beautiful decoration made it sought after by enthusiast and collectors.
In Britain the Kilbowie machines started off with superb decoration known as the Sphinx (above) and Lotus Petal but was soon replaced with a pretty but unimpressive basic gold decal as seen below.
By the outbreak of WWII the Singer 66 was no more in Britain and the superb stitching but mundane looking Singer 201 took over. It was a similar size to the 66 but with greater sewing ability at speed due to its modern revolving hook mechanism and worm-cut gears. It was smooth, almost silent and unbeatable. For the next two decades it dominated the professional market.
The True Story
Annie Pratt, bought her Singer in the 1920's from the local Singer dealers in Plymouth. It was to make the christening gown for her first daughter and clothes over the years that followed. She treasured the machine and made many bits and pieces on her, always lovingly cleaning and oiling before putting her away.
By 1941 the family were living in Alexandra Road in Plymouth. Plymouth is a big naval base on the South Coast of England. It is where Francis Drake and the British fleet sailed to attack the Spanish Armada in 1588 and where Admiral Nelson set sail to get rid of more pesky invaders in 1805. Anyway I digress.
In 1941 Britain was having a pretty bad time with German bombers
dropping bombs everywhere, once more trying to invade our little island
nation. The Blitz was not just on London where my English family were but covered many industrial
towns as well.
Luckily she only had minor burns on her hands. She sewed on her machine, now called Lucky, for many more years before passing it on.
Can you imagine today rushing into your burning home just to grab your sewing machine! That's dedication.
Her full story is in my book, Have I Got A Story For You by Alex Askaroff
Well that's it, I do hope you enjoyed my work.
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Fancy a funny read: Ena Wilf & The One-Armed Machinist
A brilliant slice of 1940's life: Spies & Spitfires
Good morning Alex,
Great site Alex,
Well done mate.
The Singer 15k in 1916 cost £15,10s. Exactly the same as the Singer 66. The machines were the Singer Companies top sewing machines. This beauty in the cabinet cost an extra £2, another two weeks wages!
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