My latest acquisition is a Singer 12 from 1883.
This was also called the Singer New Family and was the first machine that was generally available for household use. I have done some basic cleaning and have been able to get her stitching really well – good enough to piece the blocks for a TreadleOn block exchange I am taking part in, in September.
Here is a picture of me sewing the blocks on the machine and using the Singer Seam Guide. Absolutely brilliant for getting that 1/4 seam needed for accurate blocks and you don’t need any special feet – as long as you have a screw hole in the bed of the machine to tighten it up.
I was lucky with this machine, because although it wasn’t restored at all when I bought it, it was working well and had its boat shuttle, bobbins, and needles that worked.
You may not know this but the Singer 12 does not take modern domestic machine needles. At the time the machine was made there were hundreds of different needles made, by many different manufacturers, for different machines. To add to the confusion needles that fit the same machine from different needle manufacturers were numbered differently. Each manufacturer used its own numbering system.
Singer tended to name its needles after the first machine that used them – and with a new needle designed for the Singer 12 they called this needle 12×1 (the first version). They later designed a new needle for their Singer 15 series of machines which has become the 15×1. This needle is now universal (as far as I am aware) for nearly all domestic sewing machines though there are hundreds of different types available for the different industrial machines.
The 15×1 still has equivalent numbering systems which you may be more familiar with depending on where you live – the 130/705H which is used in Europe and also the HAx1 which I think may be an Asian designation.
So the 15×1, the generally available needle does not fit my Singer 12. For this I have to obtain original needles made for the machine – either Singer 12×1 or an equivalent such as the Boye 23 – or obtain an industrial needle that will more or less replace the 12×1 needle.
There is a cross-reference of needles on the ISMACS (International Sewing Machine Collectors Society) website.
It is a spreadsheet showing needle type numbers from old manufacturers that are equivalent to the 12×1 needle, but also includes modern-day industrial needles which have been found to work.
Testing the Needles
I have been doing some testing myself and here is a photo comparing the needles I have tried so far and some notes below on what I have found to work and what I haven’t – at least in my machine.
2. – A needle bought from Alex Askeroff at £5 each as suitable for the Singer 12 – it is marked GB 100. I assume this is a Groz-Beckert needle and the size is 100 but I do not know what system it is – as you can see it has a long point below the eye. This works perfectly.
3. – Original needle supplied with the machine when I bought it – I’m not sure what this is but it works and looks similar to the 339 below. This works perfectly.
4. – A Schmetz system 339 needle size 90 from a packet marked Schmetz Necchi, bought off Ebay for £13.99 for 4 needles.
This works perfectly. Now that I know the size I will look for some cheaper ones!
5. – A needle sent to me from a kind person in the US. It is the smallest from a tube of 3 Boye needles. The system is 23 and the tube is also marked 40-100. This works perfectly.
6. – A Groz-Beckert system DBx1 needle size 80/12 from a packet of 10 bought off Ebay for £2.79.
The ISMACS list states that shanks vary on the DBx1 with Organ being smaller than Schemtz needles. I have yet to measure the shank on this needle but maybe it is also one of the smaller makes which is why I was able to get this to fit, though a bit fiddly. It does push the eye slightly to the left and forward so you would need the needle plate with the larger hole. This works perfectly with the alternative needle plate.
7. – A needle marked 16 100 given to me by the seller as an ‘Industrial 16’ needle. I do not know what system this needle is. It has a large shank and would need the gap in the needle clamp made bigger to use.
The Singer 12 does not have a needle stop like modern machines – meaning that within reason you can move the needle up in the needle clamp in order to get the eye in the correct place for making a stitch. The main issue I feel is with the size of the shank – the 12×1 has a very small diameter round shank. With a larger diameter shank the eye of the needle is pushed slightly to the left and forward, meaning that it could miss the hole and hit the needle plate. Luckily with my machine came a second needle plate with a larger hole, which is supposed to be used for larger size 12×1 needles used for thicker fabric, but I have been able to use it to compensate for the small shift of the needle tip.
You might think that the 15×1 with the flat to the shank would be fine since it might compensate for the increased size of the shank – but the Singer 12 threads front to back, just like many modern machines, and the flat would have to face the back of the machine, meaning that the needle would still be moved to the left, even if the needle was able to fit.
If you have a Singer 12 and have found other easily available needles to fit do let us all know!