Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Smackdown Test #2: The Cabinets

I have five cabinets under consideration.  I need one or two for the winning smackdown machines, whatever they turn out to be.  One needs to be a nice looking cabinet to keep in the living room, and one for the studio.  Looks don't matter in the downstairs studio.  The junk studio materials are so visually overwhelming that the furniture virtually disappears.  The studio machine could even be a portable.

Singer 99K Cabinet
Looks are not the only consideration.  I use the straight stitch machine for quilt piecing marathons.  The winning machine will have to be housed in a cabinet that seats me comfortably.

Later on I'll be exploring which machines and cabinets, if any, are interchangeable. There is nothing to think about with the little 3/4 size Singer 99:  it fits its cabinet and its cabinet fits it and neither will play well with others.

I'm new to the whole vintage sewing machine thing, so if it ever sounds like I know what I am talking about, guess again. Another purpose of the smackdown is to get to know my machines better and think about things like the differences in needle plates and cabinets.

Dressmaker 132 cabinet
Currently housing the Dressmaker 132 is the smallest cabinet.  The knee opening is too narrow and I sit canted half sideways with one leg under the machine and one stretched out to the side.  An ergonomic nightmare.  Another deal breaker: it has no drawer at all.  These are the reasons I hate it.

Dressmaker, well used
It just can't be that easy, though.  Here's why I love it:  The wood is beautiful even if the finish could be improved upon, and the patina of wear on the inside speaks volumes about its life.  I was told that it had belonged to a lady who made her living sewing and doing alterations. 

SINGER QUEEN ANNE CABINET No. 40 (or similar to a No. 40)
Queen Anne style cabinet
Singer cabinets have their own names and style numbers and I have run into them from time to time but couldn't find a complete pictorial list.  The ISMACS site lists a No. 40 Queen Anne sold with 15-91's, but the photo is not identical to mine.  The style of this one does not appeal to me, but the nice wide knee opening makes it very comfortable.  The center drawer is adequate for my straight stitching needs.  I like the split top, which gives some extra room on the right for scissors and other necessaries.


This cabinet currently houses a Singer 306 in the early stages of recovery from a life of hard use and abuse that included overdosing on the sewing machine oil.  I'm considering soaking the sewing machine in kerosene but wonder what one does with a leftover bucket of used kerosene at the end of the project.  Do you know?

And although I would rather have this cabinet in the living room just on looks alone, it does have one drawback.  There is a bar across the bottom at foot level and this prevents the controller (aka foot pedal) from sliding back to a comfortable position.  I could solve this by installing a knee lever if the internal clearances will allow for it.

I love the 1940's feel of this cabinet and the little sewing chair.  There's a resonance there that sings to me.  I was born in the late 40's and although my mom's taste ran to Danish modern and my grandmother's ran to the mid-Victorian, the picture books of my early childhood were filled with drawings of furniture just like this.  And it has truly awesome drawers. 

The chair was a Habitat find, love at first sight all the way across the room--it was that 40's resonance again.  $15, some Restor-A-Finish, a scrap of fortuitously perfect upholstery material from my stash and a staple gun created  one of the most satisfying quickie projects ever.

BTW, none of the cabinets looked this good when I bought them.  Howard's Restor-A-Finish is the answer.  Great stuff.


This is a late entrant in the smackdown.  I had 15 minutes of free time on Friday and happened to be near my hometown thrift shop and stopped in on a whim.  I had been there just a couple of days earlier,  and this was not there then.  I peeked inside the cabinet and there was a lovely shiny 401 (my current 401 is not so pretty).  Also included was the manual and a complete box of attachments.  It was marked "Clean Me Up And Take Me Home for $25" although both the cabinet and the machine were nice and clean.  The next day was half-price day so I set my alarm and got there at opening time and bagged it all for $12.50.

This cabinet has two good features to make up for its cheap construction and ugliness:  The drawers and the top opening.  This configuration will be useful in the downstairs studio where I don't have the space to open out a cabinet top.  An inset piece pops out of the top and then the machine can be pulled up.  A third plus is actually the horrible color.  My basement studio needs light colored objects in it to keep it bright.

Blecchhh:  plywood and particle board

Apparently the rot set in at Singer earlier for the cabinets than for the machines.   The serial number on the 401 that was inside the cabinet dates the machine to 1956.  The earlier cabinets are solid wood.  This one is particle board and plywood covered in formica.  Ugh.  It is also that horrible "blond" color that my Mom loved in her Danish modern.  At least the formica kept its color, though, while my Mom's dining room set turned a couple of different shades of orange over the decades.

One of the DDs calls what I do "geek quilting", and so in the spirit of geek quilting I am including here the spreadsheet on which I recorded the dimensions of the cabinets.  Perhaps it will be useful to someone else.  Keep in mind that except for the ones labeled Queen Anne and No. 65, the name of the machine is not really the name of the cabinet. 

Singer 99 Dressmaker Queen Anne Singer No. 65 Singer 401
HEIGHT 30 30.5 31 30 30
DEPTH 16 16.75 17 16.5 16.75
TYPE OF TOP one leaf one leaf split leaves split leaves panel removes
WIDTH CLOSED 23 22 26.5 29 36
WIDTH OPEN 46 44 53 58 NR
MACHINE OPENING, WIDTH 12 14.5               16.5              16.5 16.5
KNEE OPENING 19.5 17.5 22.5 18 22
DRAWERS center none center 3 2
KNEE LEVER no no yes no yes

The knee levers are hooked up to those button controllers, which connect to power cords, some of which are interchangeable.  After I decide which 2 machines I want to keep I will consider which cabinets will house them.

The straight stitch walking foot is here.  I'll be playing around with pressure foot pressures and the walking foot and decide which machines make the best stitches.


  1. Thank you for doing this comparison. I am enjoying this read.

    I have cabinet #65 with a Singer 201-2. I love it. There is a pop out foot pedal just in front of that wooden bar that goes across the bottom. The foot pedal is concealed until I tap it with my foot, then it pops out. I love this cabinet.

  2. I love the Queen Anne table and the great chair you found. The wood is great on that chair.


Say hello or leave a comment here. I would love to hear from you! If your own settings are set to receive a comment back, I will write to you. If you don't hear back from me, you will know that your own settings are set to "no reply".

I have to block anonymous posts to prevent spam. I am really sorry if this excludes you.