Sunday, November 8, 2015

Industrial Strength - Singer 111W155

It's been a long time coming but I finally got my first real-life honest-to-goodness industrial sewing machine. And as the title states, it's a Singer 111W155. This machine weighs in at a portly 61.5 pounds. Yes, that is only the sewing machine head unit. The table/motor is probably another 80 or 90 pounds, although I didn't weigh it. Here she be in all her glory ('scuse the previous owner's dust).

I've sewed through a lot of heavy duty things on my domestic machines such as leather and canvas, and they do quite well, but having a true industrial..... well, it's just cooler to a sewing machine nut such as myself.
A 111W155 has the following features:
Single needle (135x17), lock stitch, compound feed (woohoo!) with a vertical-axis sewing hook (horizontal bobbin), and alternating pressers with 1/2" lift (W152, W153 are "only" 3/8" lift). Maximum stitch length is 3 1/2 to the inch (W152 through W154 max stitch length is 5 per inch). Safety clutch prevents hook from being damaged by accidental strain. Adjustable lifting eccentric to instantly set the alternating pressers to the minimum amount of lift required. Max speed 3500 R.P.M. (W152 through W154 max 2900). For stitching upholstery work, leather coats, buff wheels and binding heavy felt padding.

The "W" in the serial number indicate the machine was made in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

Below are a few photos showing the "industrial-ness" of this behemoth.

If you've read my past blogs, you probably know I'm a sucker for the extra "stuff" that might come in the drawers/nook/crannies of a sewing machine. Well, this time was a fairly good gold mine. The two items that were the most exciting for me to see were an original owner's manual and parts book, seen in the photo below. Among other things are various feet and bobbins, and a spare clutch disk and motor pulley. The pulley is larger than what's on the motor now, so the large pulley would make the machine go faster than the small pulley, so I imagine I'll leave the small pulley on.

Below is the part number on the box of the large pulley. [edit 11/24/15: The part number on the box (994492) is for a 'slow speed' 1-3/4" diameter pulley that came installed on the machine. The p/n for the larger 2-3/4" 'standard speed' pulley is 994500. I swapped pulleys to see how much different it handled - truth is, not much difference that I could tell, so now the 2-3/4" standard pulley is installed.]

Below are a couple tags that originally came with the machine and were in one of the booklets.

Below is the back side of the upper tag shown above.

I don't know if Lester (if I'm interpreting that right) is the original owner or not. The manual revision is "1256", so I'm assuming the machine was sold in the late '50s.

Everything about this machine is original Singer, even the lamp (yes, the wiring is a bit crusty), 1/2-hp motor, and control box (actually, "Electric Transmitter Switch" is on the label - oooh, sounds so much more important than "On/Off Switch").


 Below is a photo of the whole shebang.

Oh, and if you happened to notice the belt in the previous photo, that is one very good reason I won't be able to try this machine out until I do some fairly major work to it. The offending piece is a timing belt between the upper and lower shafts. Fortunately the belt broke the day I went to look at the machine, before I'd arrived at the seller's house, so that was a bargaining chip for me. I would have been a bit bummed if I'd gotten the machine home only to have the belt break the first time I fired it up. A new belt is ordered and hopefully won't be too terribly difficult for me to install. Time to read up on how to do it.

I wanted to add a little addendum to this blog that explains the difference between the terms "needle feed", "walking foot" and "compound feed". Hopefully I'm correct in all this terminology.

"Needle Feed"
This system has a standard presser foot that presses down on the fabric. The needle, after piercing the fabric, moves in unison with the lower feed dogs, assisting in moving the fabric along, but the upper foot remains stationary except for the fact it is pushed up slightly by the lower feed dogs when they raise up to contact the fabric.

"Walking Foot" or "Vibrating Foot"
On a walking foot machine, the upper foot "walks" or moves in unison with the lower feed dogs. When the feed dogs move to the rear, the upper foot also moves to the rear, so the fabric in the machine is being pulled through by both the top and bottom feed mechanism. On a standard domestic machine, the lower feed dogs do all the work, and the upper foot stays stationary, providing only downward pressure on the fabric.

"Compound Feed"

This feeding system is more complex, in that it has a walking foot of sorts, a needle feed, and bottom feed dog. The "walking foot" moves in conjunction with the needle feed and the feed dogs. During this motion, the presser foot raises up to allow the fabric to move to the rear with the feed dogs and needle feed. Once the needle lifts out of the fabric at the end of the stitch, the presser foot again presses down on the fabric to hold it in place as the needle and upper "walking foot" move forward to the next position.


  1. That is an AWESOME looking machine. I am jealous. You could make yourself some nice outerwear on this machine.

    1. Yes I could. If only I knew how to sew more than a hot pad. Maybe once I retire....

  2. One of the best machines I ever owned. When I bought the business I was working for back in the early 90's, I inherited a 111W, and kept it for 20 years. In that time I sewed lots of leather, vinyl, and other thick fabric projects, and I don't think I ever had a mechanical problem with it. Just a good cleaning and oiling kept it running well. Since it has a drop in bobbin, it can easily tangle up at the first stitches if you do not pull the tail ends out a few inches when starting. Something to remember when trying to sew quickly. If you have ever seen the video "Posse on Broadway" by Sir Mix A Lot (Baby Got Back is is most famous work), you'll see the boys all wearing black leather jackets with fur trimmed hoods; those jackets were made on my old Singer 111W. So now you know the rest of the story!

  3. Used the 111w155 back in Provincetown leather shop 1970.. have one now a 111w156 (reverse) still that runs like a champ I picked up as a basket case and refurbished. New belt,etc. My father used a 16-141 for over 60yrs upholstering in a large shop. Just lot's of oil and careful sewing it will go forever it seems.

    1. It's interesting for me to hear from folks that used these machines (Jim C. and John Y.). I just recently got involved with sewing machines, so it isn't in my past, but I'm enjoying hearing the comments. It kind of in a way connects me with the past of my sewing machines. Thanks guys!

  4. I just bought this same machine! My husband actually bought it for me for my Christmas present, and I can't play with it until Christmas.😑 In the meantime, I have to find a place for it to live and will clean up the head. So excited!

  5. Where does one find oiling felts for this machine? Ive looked everywhere tried cross referencing part numbers but cant find any..

  6. I’m getting started with a 111w155 and am looking forward to doing some seat covers. I’m building a 1961 English Ford Anglia and as you might imagine the parts are not available in the USA. So engine,transmission,rear axle, and upholstery are all up to me,including paint. I plan to follow your page as well as others, so keep posting.

    1. Sounds like it will be a nice car when you're done. I don't do much sewing on the 111 but would like to. I actually bought my seat covers so I cheated...