Sewing Machine -- Singer 281-1 Industrial

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Tools at the Asylum
Singer 281-1
Industrial, light grey, aka Van Halen

Singer 281-1 industrial sewing machine

General Info
Mfr. Specs
ManualSinger 281-1 Service manual
Training (experimental section)
Tool SpeciesSewing Machines
(Includes rubric, training information, and testing information.)
Asylum Info
LocationFiber Arts
OwnerArtisan's Asylum
Operational Status
Latest Status
QR Code



See Industrial Sewing Machine Safety

About this machine

  • Straight-line stitching
  • Light weight to medium-heavy weight fabrics
  • Presser bar lift, 5/16"
  • Stitch length, 7 stitches per inch
  • Self-lubricating with oil flow window
  • Knee lifter to raise the presser foot
  • Can wind a bobbin while sewing
  • No stitch reverse
  • Table is on wheels



  • Needle system is Singer 135x65 (1955). Sizes 8-22. Groz-Beckert 134. Other equivalents DBx1* (not indicated what the asterisk is), 135x5, 135x7, DPx5, SY1955. Manual. "Use SINGER* Needle, Catalog 1955".
  • Buy your own needles to match your project, and enough that you can change them frequently for best results.
  • Be sure it is inserted as high as possible, and oriented with the long groove to the left.

Bobbin & case

  • Bobbin is Singer Class 95
    • Bobbins can be wound while sewing, which is a feature and also a safety risk. Keep hands clear of needle area, belt, and bobbin winder.
  • Bobbin case is Singer p/n 52237 or assembly p/n 149063
    • Dimensions of bobbin are 21.2 mm diameter and 9.2 mm thick.
  • Safety! Turn off the motor and wait for it to stop before removing the bobbin case (to prevent inadvertently engaging the motor while your fingers are in the needle zone). The bobbin case can be accessed from under the table if you don't want to lift the machine up.


  • 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 email maintenance@ and fiberarts-lead@ Do NOT run the machine without oil.
  • Use "Lily White" oil specifically for industrial sewing machines. 1 qt. is enough.


Upper threading
Bobbin Loading


  • March 2020
    • Adjusted pedal bracket and angle - pedal is mounted high anyway , use a taller chair for better comfort
    • Tightened pedal connector rod
    • Shifted bobbin winder
  • December 2019
    • Stitch width button not working? Check manual for in.structions, unlocking.
    • Spool pin came loose, needs a good hammering in again
  • November 2019
    • Check to see if the needle positioner can be installed (shop owns one)
  • October 2019
    • Servo motor installed by Awesomenaut volunteer
  • August 2019
    • The machine was fine-tuned by shop volunteer Alex
    • Need to purchase and test with the right thread - a heavy-duty, nylon thread. Our shop spools of polyester keep breaking.
    • Seems to work best with very thick fabric (two folds of felt).
    • Belt seems very tight - need to verify the ideal and adjust.
    • Possibly will be changing out the clutch motor for a servo motor.
The machine flips to its side for access to the oil pan, bobbin area, etc. August 2019
Showing the back of the machine and the original clutch motor. July 2019.

  • Pre-2019
    • At some time before 2019 the first thread guide and spool pin p/n 52239 was missing, has been replaced.
  • History

Artisan's Asylum was given this Singer sewing machine courtesy of Dave Brown of the Stoneham Theater. July 2004.

Serial number indicates it was manufactured in 1968.

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