Saturday, July 14, 2012

The Herd: Singer 15s and clones

The Singer model 15 was produced for a long span of time and in many variations, including some made for industrial uses.  Japanese copies (15 clones) are even more plentiful.  I can't even scratch the surface of this topic, but I can show you my herd.

Disclaimer:  There are charts for looking up Singer serial numbers, and other charts which describe the characteristics of the models.  I'm no expert, but I can Google with the best of them.  So take my dates and model number on the Singer 15-30 as my best guess based on information found online.

1904 Singer 15-30, waiting to be restored.  No round stitch length plate.

I love the sphinx decals, which Singer also used on the 127 (and maybe others?).  Someday I will clean it up, take the motor off and pop it in the treadle.  It's easy to swap machines in and out and I like trying out the different models. 

1953 Singer 15-91
Singer 15's are easily identified by the tensioner on the left and the round stitch lever plate on the pillar.   I was excited to find this 15-91 because it gets a lot of good press on the boards.  The fact that it is gear driven rather than belt driven is acclaimed as a plus.  It is easy to drop the feed dogs on any model 15, but you do have to reach underneath and loosen a large screw to do it.  Dora has described how to do this on her blog.

On most vintage sewing machines the motors are interchangeable, but the 15-91 has a "potted" motor and is stuck on (see 15-125 photo below).  I've just never bonded with this one.  It could be that the almost 60-year-old motor may need some maintenance.  But I think it is because I easily fall in love with naked 15's--stripped of their motors.  Spin the handwheel on a clean and oiled naked 15 clone and it keeps on spinning and the needle keeps on going up and down.  Can't do that with a potted motor, and machines with enclosed motors always feel sluggish to me.

Not all 15's are gear driven.  Some have the belt driven motor on the back (and thus could be stripped naked), but I don't have one to show you.

1956 Singer 15-125.  Color is off here, photo below is better
Same machine in a new suit of clothes.  By this time factories in Japan were churning out copies of the Singer 15 in pretty colors and with some other improvements.  Singer tried to keep up.

Potted motor
I haven't bonded with this one either, but it is probably the potted motor.  I know I will feel better about them if I ever decide to take on motor evaluation, maintenance and repair.  So far cleaning, oiling, and tinkering keeps me happy enough.

a real improvement:  a marked throat plate.  You can order similar ones for 15s and clones from Jenny at Sew-Classic.

Japanese copies of the Singer 15 are collectively known as "15 clones".

The Royal shown above is a classic 15 clone.  It's a line for line copy of the Singer 15.

The beauty of the design details on these machines just blows me away.

I wrote recently about free motion quilting with these machines.  When I have one of these machines on my quilting frame I'm running it at very high speed, and the thread tended to pop out of the thread guide, which sent it flying out of the tensioner with disastrous results.  This ONLY happens on the frame, but if you have had a similar problem there is a very simple solution:  a metal washer.

Loosen the faceplate screw just a bit and slide the washer into position,  then tighten the faceplate screw (shown circled in red).

No way can the thread pop out of this guide.  Cheap, easy, and it does not change the machine in any way.  Of course you will have to take an additional microsecond to push the thread through the round hole.

Super easy, right?  Then why did it take me a full WEEK to figure this out?  I wandered around the house looking for things that could be glued in place.  I figured that glue would never hold.  One last peek in the parts box and it dawned on me.

 I've got another one of the black clones living on the quilting frame now.  I auditioned 4 different machines but in the end came back to the first one.  Once I had the washer thread guide figured out, it works beautifully.

Notice I said that the machine works beautifully, not the operator.  Take a close look and you can see how truly bad my FMQ is.  I'm working on it, and getting better.  By the way, this quilt is a secret, so don't tell anybody about it, shhhhh.

I paid $10 for this Admiral Star.  I had gone to see a machine listed on CraigsList, and when I got there the guy had two machines and was desperate to get rid of them.  I was not, repeat not, in the market for another black 15 clone.   I got a good price on the machine I did want, but only by "bundling" this 15 clone in the deal.  Do you watch "American Pickers"?  That's where I learned the term "bundling".  They ignore sewing machines, but sometimes you can spot them as they dig through somebody's attic or outbuilding.

The Japanese also made some improvements to the basic 15 model.  Beautiful colors, for instance.

Post WWII, Modernage 250.  I believe it was made by Toyota.  My go-to piecing machine.

This apple green and white machine is another line for line copy of the Singer 15, but can you spot an additional feature?

It has a feed dog drop knob on the top of the bed.  That's it right below the "250".

Photos don't do justice to the Remington 30's yummy pearlescent green.

I really do try not to buy more 15 clones, but for $10 how could I walk away? 

The feed dog drop linkage is vulnerable to being gummed up with decades of dried up sewing machine oil, but should respond to more oil, heat from a blow dryer, and some patient prodding.  Just peer under the machine below the knob--it's easy to see that the leg bone is connected to the knee bone, so to speak.  In fact, this is one of my favorite things about bringing vintage machines back to life:  peering underneath or inside and seeing how things are connected and how they work.  And then persuading them to work.

This is my favorite 15 upgrade:  a bobbin cover that flips up (rather than sliding to the left).

The access is great and it doesn't slide or fall off.

If you've got a favorite 15 that does not have the hinged bobbin cover, keep your eyes open for a thrift shop machine that does.   No guarantees, but I have performed some successful transplants.

Here's an improvement that seems fairly pointless:  The stitch length lever mechanism works the same way, but instead of numbers lined up vertically on the face, there's a tiny window that reveals a number printed on the moving plate beneath.

Pink Elgin 15 clone
This machine is much more beautiful than my photographic skill (or lack thereof) can convey.  In fact it is TOO beautiful.  It is so beautiful that I don't want to sew on it for fear of messing it up.  I much prefer an almost-beautiful machine like the pearly green Remington above.  It has a couple of nice deep scratches on the back of the arm and I'm not afraid to use it.

The decals are just about perfect and the gloss is glossy!

And at the opposite end of the spectrum:

I was recently given this one as a gift.  You see it here in "attic fresh" condition.  The key question is always:  does it turn?  If it does, it can almost certainly be brought back to life (this one does).  Even if it doesn't, there is still hope.  Oil + heat + patience will work wonders on frozen machines.  Motor/controller units can be swapped out interchangeably among all the clones--among just about any external motor machine of any kind, in fact.  Or you can ditch the motor entirely and pop it in a treadle or put a handcrank on it.   So one day this may join the herd as another of those smooth-as-silk 15 clones.


  1. Loved seeing these and reading about them, Cheryl.
    (I found some clones in a Catholic charity store yesterday--apparently the person who priced them thought they were outrageously valuable. Needless to say, the prices were so high I was not in the least tempted.

  2. You have some nice ones Cheryl. I have several clones too, aren't they sweet stitchers?


  3. How cool! I picked up a Singer 15-91 this past week. The wiring was fried so I can't use it yet, but I can't wait! I've heard good things about the 15s.

  4. Oh, what a wonderful herd of 15s! The tip on the washer is going to save me so much swearing- brilliant. Thank you! Laura

  5. The washer idea is a great idea. I might have to try that one. Thanks.

  6. I love seeing your 15's. I just brought home my first one this weekend - one of the green ones. It needs a bit of work to clean it up, but everything seems to be moving okay.

  7. Beautiful sewing machines and I have started a herd too! I have been using a 15-91 for years and love free motion quilting on it. I use big spools of thread and had the same problem as you and what I did was put a bent wire on top to hold the thread. I like the washer idea too!

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  9. I have a 1926 model 15 which I verified with Singer because there is no model number only the serial #. It has been with my family since probably around that time.

    I think it is a 15-30 and may have been on a treadle, because I don't think there was electricity in the area my family lived in until the '30's or even early '40's. The machine was put into a hard plastic Singer carrying case, probably from the 1950's. The plastic is very hard and thick almost like wood. It is a light green color.

    Can you provide any comparison to the earlier 15-30 or other versions made around 1926 to 15-91 that there is so much information on.

    Singer could not say what version of 15 my machine is freom the serial number. I am guessing it is the 15-30. I cannot find any reviews on the 15-30 or other models of that year. I did see some videos on U tube.

    Also what other models could it be if any?

    Thank you in advance for any info.

  10. I have a singer 15 1911, with Spinx decals. It looks a lot like your 15-30, but the bobbin winder is attached lower down and has a big wheel that runs on the balance wheel. I have stripped the machine, cleaned and rebuilt it. But I can't get the bobbin winder to work. My husband took it off the machine as the screw was stuck but I didn't see how the spring and washer were placed before they flew out. Do you have any machines with this type of bobbin winder and do you know how it goes back together.

    Thank you Danielle.

    1. Hi!
      I have got the same machine than you but mines if of 1907.

  11. I have both a Singer 15 and a Stitchmatic, where do you get replacement cords for the Japanese clones?

    1. Try Tell her the machines that you have.

  12. Hi. I just bought a 15 clone, electromatic and can't seem to find alot of information on it. I need to replace the motor and had to put new plug wires on it. It turns beautifully. Can I put a new motor on it with same volts. Should I use the same 15 clone guide for a singer for maintenance. If you have any more information it would be appreciated.

    1. Yes, it is very easy to replace a motor. Check for a replacement motor. And the manual for a Singer 15 will be a good guide for maintenance. Good luck with your machine!

  13. I just acquired a 15 clone made by The Prince Sewing Machine Co. in India. I don't know much more than that. Its stamped with a serial number 40265FG. I don't know how to thread it properly and can't get the top thread to pick up the bobbin thread. Do you have any threading diagrams and know what would cause the bobbin issue?

    1. For a variety of very good reasons I don't offer manuals, or even links to them, on my blog. But if you type "singer 15 clone manual" into google you will easily find a manual for free that will meet your needs. Good luck with your machine!


I want to hear from all of you who want to talk about sewing and sewing machines, so please leave a comment. I will be approving all the posts before they go public. This will weed out all the people who just want to sell you something. Or worse, capture you and use your info for nefarious purposes.