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Of all the machines ever made by Singer, this one is the true classic of them all. The 15 series machines began production in the 1890's with the introduction of the 15-30, which had a fiddle-shaped base. This base was later eliminated and became the rectangular base we all know today. The 15 series also introduced the vertical oscillating shuttle. Prior to this all other machines had used a boat-type shuttle which moved in an arc. The 15 class machines hold the most bobbin thread of any household machine. In the early 1930's Singer brought out an improved model 15, know as the 15-88, 15-89 15-90 or 15-91. The first three of these machines are one and the same machine in every detail. The 15-88 was a machine that had no motor or handcrank that was meant to be used in a treadle stand. The 15-89 was the same machine but with a handcrank attached. The 15-90 came equipped with a belted electric motor and a solid instead of a spoked handwheel. Any of these last three machines could become the other model by changing out the appropriate parts or simply removing them depending on what you needed. From this point on when talking about any of these first three models, I will simply use the 15-88 model for the discussion. The 15-91 is also identical to the other three mentioned models with the exception of a built-in motor attached to the back. This is today known as the potted motor. The 15-91 can only be used as an electric machine with no alterations possible. Actually, the 15-91 remains the least versatile of the series.
At the same time this new 15 series was released, Singer also introduced the 201, which was available in a treadle version as well as a version using a potted motor like the 15-91. It is very difficult in the U.S. to find either of these two machines without the potted motor, but they do turn up on occasion. In Europe, it is almost impossible to find these two machines with a potted motor!
Many people are not aware that this machine has never been out of production. The 15-88 is still being manufactured in India by Singer, although the 15-91 was discontinued in the mid 1950's and never marketed outside of the U.S. from its inception. The 15 class machine has been manufactured non-stop for well over a century, with modifications of course. That has to tell you something about these machines. No other sewing machine in history has been manufactured as long! I do understand that the Indian version is not as well built as the earlier machines and also use rather garish looking Egytian decals.
The newer 15 class machines are iconic in the fact that they are so versatile. They are not fussy with the quality of thread used. Many machines simply will not sew with certain threads. Even the worst quality thread passes through these machines without a problem, other than an occasional missed stitch if there are imperfections in the thread! The bobbins can also be wound while the machine is sewing. The feed dogs can be lowered by tilting the machine back and loosening a thumbscrew just under the bed of the machine. It has true reverse, which is great for back-tacking of seams...the 15-30 was not capable of any of this. Quilters love this machine and reccomend it for quilting. It is also highly regarded for embroidery too! The 201 could also do these things, but is not so highly regarded in this capacity, especially for embroidery since it uses a full rotary movement and the bobbin is horizontal instead of vertical.
Although only a straight stitch machine, Singer made so many attachments for these low-shank machines...there was a zig zag attachment made for these machines. There is also a buttonholer, that many sewers claim does a better job than newer machines with this function built-in. There were so many feet designed for this machine that the list is staggering in length. Any low-shank attachment or feet will fit this machine like a glove!
This is not an industrial machine and do not be fooled by claims made on auction sites suggesting this. They are heavy duty machines and can do heavy duty work, but NOT industrial. The 15-91 would actually be the worst choice for doing leather on a daily basis. The 15-91 with the potted motor uses a fiber gear between the motor and the mechanics of the machine to reduce noise. This fiber gear WILL strip a tooth if you punch through heavy leather and vinyl for any period of time. If this is what you are looking to do, I would suggest the 15-88, which does not have the fiber gear. If you are going to use it for everyday household sewing, the fiber gear should never be an issue. Incidentally, the same applies to the 201 with the potted motor...beware of this!!!
Stitch quality on this machine is perfect in either forward or reverse. It is easily threaded but threads right to left. The older 15-30 threads from left to right...if the machine does not sew, check and be sure the needle is threaded correctly! All parts for this machine are easily found from parts machines that abound! You can buy new rubber O-rings for the bobbin winder at most Singer stores, which will probably be required since rubber dries out and cracks and crumbles over time...easy repair. You will also want to check the wiring of the machine for brittleness and replace any of this.
I would reccomend this machine to anyone who wants a trouble-free reliable machine that will probably still be running into the next century and beyond. I would highly reccomend the 15-88 above the 15-91 if you can find one!
Short name: Singer 15-91