Thursday, April 14, 2011

Smackdown: Singer 201 vs. Pfaff 131, from Anne Graham

Here's another contribution from guest blogger Anne Graham.  
You too could be a guest blogger.  Write about your vintage sewing machines and send pictures.  It really is just that easy!  You KNOW you have a lot to say about your machines, why not share?

Anne writes:

I have finally gotten to the final test of the series.  This one
included two known favorites of mine, the Singer 201 and the Pfaff
131.  Both machines were made approximately the same time and for the
same purpose.  The countries are different and the condition they came
to me are also different.  Each one was a freebie.

The Pfaff 131 was a gift from someone who had in turn received it from an elderly neighbor.  She was, like her machine, from Germany.  She was also known to be a fine seamstress.  I know this to be quite true as the machine was in immaculate shape when I got it.  The tools were missing but the bobbins were neatly stored according to color and weight carefully in a front drawer.  It needed new external wires from age and a new belt but that was all.  I promised to give this a good home and did.

The Singer 201 was along for the ride when I bought the cabinet it came in.  It was inoperable and very very dirty.  Because of the fine reputation this model has I took it and spent some serious time in cleaning.  I bought some parts to replace worn and missing ones.  All the while I wondered if I had truly lost my mind.  It was so enjoyable.  I do not know why I am compelled to do this.  After a while I did get it to turn and eventually run nicely.  There is more work to be done but it is up to the test.

I am now at a point in the sewing of my project where quilting is all that is left.  Each machine needs to be able to use a walking foot or feed the fabric and batting through evenly.  Each machine will have to
be able to use clear nylon quilting thread easily.

Singer 201 Pro's:  She took to the walking foot like it was made special for this machine.  It is not the special strait stitch kind either, just a common Alphasew model.  It pulled the fabric through and stitched with no tangles underneath or pulling off center.  No problem with clear thread and held tension in bobbin too.   The light placement is nice - in front of the machine.  I prefer this to the back.   It is fairly quiet considering the strength it has.  On a side note, Because it is in a case I can take it's powerful sewing ability wherever I want.  It just needs a luggage carrier.

Cons:  The machine's motor still needs some work so it is a little slow.  It will improve with more work.  This machine is a biggie, so to use it in a case means you have to raise your arms to sew with it.
The height is inconvenient when on a table and if you are doing quilting it is a lot of time in that position.

Pfaff 131 Pro's:  This baby is smooth.  It is beautiful, powerful and fast, fast, fast.  The manual it says it is a lightweight high speed machine for corset and shirt production. It may have been intended to be a home machine only.  One thing for sure, it is not lightweight in the literal sense.  It is so heavy I could not use it in a case, it had to go in a cabinet.   It sews perfectly with the quilting thread.  I like that I can open the cabinet and let the quilt lay flat while working on it.  That helps me a novice quilter by keeping it all
smooth and not bunched up.  It is a low shank like the Singer 201 and also takes a walking foot nicely.

Cons:  I have no idea why, but the Pfaff has the dumbest bobbin access of any machine.  Unless I am doing it wrong, you have to tilt the machine up each time you change a bobbin.  There is an access plate for the bobbin area but I can not get my hand down there far enough to replace one.  It's hook is vertical just like the 201, by the way.

Very very close in this segment.  They are almost exactly alike but...........the winner is the Pfaff 131.

Cheryl at DragonPoodle comments:
Anne wonders if she has lost her mind.  Many of us wonder the same thing.  Why is it so satisfying to work on these machines?  There are a million reasons, what are yours?  I love bringing them back to life by revealing their beauty and restoring them to operating condition.  But it goes much deeper than that, doesn't it?

and about that Pfaff bobbin set up.  The Singer 306 is the same, you have to tilt the machine back to change the bobbin.  You get used to it---unless you treadle it.  Then it is a real pain because you have to release the belt to do it.


  1. I love, love these machines. I have a 201-2. It is powerful with a beautiful stitch. I love this machine. I have a Janome Memory Craft something...It is a fine machine....but I love my old singers!!

  2. @Mary Beth. I have my eye on a 201 at a nearby thrift shop but I have resisted because they are asking $95 for it--but I really like the cabinet it is in. You and Anne may be pushing me closer towards it.

    I've got a Janome Memory Craft 4900 which I love for the 400+ decorative stitches (includes 3 alphabets and each letter counts as a stitch). I really, really, really like decorative stitches. But it is made of plastic and has computer components so it is just a question of when it will break.

  3. Fun to see this on your blog, so much more interesting than if it was on mine! I thought of one other thing about the Singer 201 vs the Pfaff 131. The Singer is much easier to get parts for. Very common and inexpensive. The Pfaff is less so.

  4. You know what, the cabinet is what sold me on this 201-2. It has this little pedal that pops out, near the floor. The wiring is all in the cabinet. Just awesome. I gave $50 for mine. Watch craigslist in your is a great resource for these jems!

  5. I still want a 201, after I get me one of those boxes for all my feet.

  6. nope, although I continue to look at it every time I go to that thrift shop--about once a week.
    Why haven't I bought it?
    well, it is still overpriced at $95.
    it has no power cord. No way to test the motor, therefore. I COULD buy it a power cord: ca-ching!
    It does have a button controller (aka foot pedal) but no knee lever and bracket. I like knee levers and don't mind the button controllers if they are in a knee lever bracket, but I HATE them on the floor.

    in short, still overpriced for what it is, and would take even more money to get it going.

    and finally, I am about at the stage where if another cabinet comes into the house, one will have to leave.

  7. I applaud your will power!! I know my limits too, however, I check Craigslist several times a day. Someday my Singer Featherweight will appear.

  8. I also check CL frequently. In fact, Easter morning a treadle with a Sphinx popped up in my tiny town. I've been looking for another treadle for my Singer 306, the Sphinx was a bonus. It's the filthiest machine I have ever seen and completely frozen (for now). It was $25 and you will see it on the blog sooner or later. I've never paid more than $35 and that includes machines with cabinets, and an industrial. If you wait long enough, the machine you want eventually will appear! perhaps even your Featherweight or my Elna Grasshopper...

  9. I love your collection of machines! I would keep an eye out for a 201 that can be used in treadle. I found a 201-3 for $30. I gave it a motorectomy and it now sets in a treadle. Yes, sometimes great deals come along, but if there is a 201 that can be converted to treadle and cost around $100-go for it. You will not regret the purchase. Have fun hunting!


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