Sewing Machine -- Singer 281-1 Industrial

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Tools at the Asylum
Industrial Sewing Machine

General Info
Mfr. Specs
Training (experimental section)
Tool SpeciesSewing Machines
(Includes rubric, training information, and testing information.)
Asylum Info
LocationMultipurpose Room 2
Ownerthe Asylum
Operational Status
Latest Status
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The Asylum has been given a nice old Singer sewing machine designed for production use courtesy of Dave Brown of the Stoneham Theater.

Serial number indicates it was manufactured in 1968.



This is most decidedly not your grandmother's sewing machine. It is an industrial sewing machine, capable of high speed and sustained operation. Read the safety warnings below so you do not damage the machine or hurt yourself.

What is it good for? You can be much more productive with an industrial sewing machine. It can sew very fast, and is designed to run all day. The foot and knee controls let you work more efficiently. Its powerful motor will not stall or get bogged down. It happily sews through thick upholstery fabric and webbing and handles heavy (#69) thread. Its speed is very helpful on large projects such as banners, drapery, and theatrical drops.

Some other advantages and differences:

  • The knee lever raises the presser foot. This is indescribably handy.
  • You can wind bobbins while sewing
  • It is very fast (6,000 stitches per minute)
  • There is no reverser, and you will learn how little that matters.


Motor works fine, machine appears to be in essentially good condition and well cared for.

Parts and Supplies Needed

  • First thread guide and spool pin p/n 52239 is missing (replacements are readily available)
  • Need to replace the oil in the sump, get "Lily White" oil specifically for industrial sewing machines. 1 qt. is enough.
  • Get these supplies to make it useful:
    1. Zipper/cording presser feet (right and left, NOT adjustable) for industrial "high shank" presser foot.
    2. Assortment of heavier needles, sizes (singer) 16, 18, 22.
    3. Extra bobbin case or two (numbers below)

Supply Specifications

  • Needle system is 135x65 (1955). There are some spare needles in parts drawer.
  • Bobbin is Singer Class 95
    • Dimensions of bobbin are 21.2 mm diameter and 9.2 mm thick.
  • Bobbin case is singer p/n 52237 or assembly p/n 149063 .

Safety Warnings

You MUST be qualified and approved to use this machine. It can cause severe injury. Beware of these differences from a common domestic sewing machine:

  • The motor is 1/3 hp and runs constantly. You activate the machine with a clutch controlled by the treadle.
    • The motor coasts for a long time after you turn it off and it will drive the machine unexpectedly if you engage the clutch. Wait for the motor to stop before sticking your fingers in the bobbin area.
  • The needle is driven with enough force to go right through a finger. There is no need to test this for yourself.
  • The head is very heavy - use extreme care if you lift it up from the table.

To prevent damage to the machine

  • Be sure the self-oiling system is working when you are sewing - watch for oil dripping in the observation window.
    • If the oiling system is not running, STOP and get help. Do NOT run the 281 without oil.
  • The needles are unique to this machine. Be sure the needle you are installing is the correct type (system), and it is oriented correctly.
  • The bobbins are a special type for this machine only. Do NOT interchange with domestics or the Singer 20U.
  • If the bobbin or bobbin case does not fit easily and snap in to place securely, check if it is the correct size.
  • Turn off the motor and wait for it to stop before removing the bobbin case. It can be accessed from under the table if you don't want to lift the machine up.


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