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Singer 301A
and a Bandana Tote Bag

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While Singer's 221 "Featherweight" may be the most popular vintage Singer model, the model 301 "Improved Featherweight" may be the best buy on the market! Some predict this model becoming the new "Featherweight" in desirability -- accompanied by skyrocketing prices!

It's an aluminum, lightweight (16 pound) model, a "slant-needle" model (for improved needle visibility), the same fabulous Singer straight stitch, and direct gear drive. You can drop the feed dogs on a 301 and the flip-up carrying handle makes it a quilter's dream.

The 301 was produced during the 1950's; the model has an extension bed just like the 221; it even uses the 221's bobbin case and mechanism.

I got this long-bed (longer extension table to the left of the presser foot) 301 via Ebay and it ran a little slow and noisy. I removed the needle plate and found a thick pad of lint. Cleaned that up, oiled it, and it's now a brand new machine! Maintenance on these machines is a breeze -- mainly clean out the lint and keep it oiled.

I did spend a little time trying to get the tension set right. I set the upper tension at around 3 and a half, then adjusted the bobbin tension (there's a little screw you tighten/loosen) until I got a clean stitch line (no bobbin thread pulled to the top, no upper thread pulled to the bottom)

For a threading diagram, visit this link; for oiling and tension adjustments, try this link instead. You can also download the instruction manual here.


If you're interested in seeing what 301's are on Ebay, just click here for Singer 301's and peripherals
Singer Model 301 Longbed
Here's the plan -- we're going to make a tote bag ... out of bandana's! My finished product started out as four bandana's and about 36" of canvas strapping. Total cost less than $5 (got a special at Hobby Lobby -- couldn't pass up Texas flag bandana's for .87 each!)

The basic layout -- make two sides by sewing two bandana's back to back for each side. Sew the two sides together. Turn inside out, then position tote bag straps (webbing). Sew these on securely.

And that's about it! Let's go through the plan and pictures step-by-step and watch our 301 in action!
Let's begin! Match two bandana's back-to-back and pin together. Start at one corner, then sew straight down the side. I left about a 3/8" seam allowance. Your's may vary depending on the pattern on the bandana. You'll continue to sew a straight line along all four sides to join the two bandana's.

(NOTE: These steps will make one side of your tote bag. You'll have to repeat the procedure with your other two bandana's to make the other side.)

Variation:I like to join right sides together, sew them almost all the way around, then turn them rightside out and hand finish the square. You'll see why in a bit ... but you don't have to do it this way!

I like to use a stitch length of around 15 to 20 stitches per inch for tote bags. I feel it gives the bag a little extra strength.

A 301 has a handle on the right-hand side of the machine that sets the stitch length. The numbers below the bar in the middle portray the stitches-per-inch. If you move the bar above the middle line, the machine will sew backwards. I like to "lock in" the beginning and ends of stitch lines by sewing a few stitches forward, then a few backwards, then finally the rest forward. I use short stitch lengths for the locking stitches.

By the way, pretty much the only variables on a 301 are bobbin tension (set it once then forget it), the upper thread tension (numbered knob on the left) and the stitch-per-inch setting (bar on the right). I like simple.
As you stitch your way around the four sides of your tote bag side, be sure and leave your needle down when you reach the corner. This makes it easy to position the fabric to sew the next side.

A 301 does not have an automatic "needle down" setting. You must manually ensure the needle is down. Just stop near the end of the fabric -- since I'm using a 3/8 seam allowance, I stop about 1/2 inch away from the end -- and then use the hand wheel if necessary to position needle down. Next, raise your pressor foot, then spin the fabric 90 degrees, lower the pressor foot, and begin sewing the next side.
And here's why I like to do the sides of a bandana tote bag by joining two right sides together. Bandana's aren't necessarily cut all that precise -- you get to the bottom, then discover one bandana is 1/4 of an inch longer than the other! If you're not joining right sides and turning them inside out (which ensures both sides are the same length), then you'll have some extra fabric hanging around. This doesn't hurt anything -- but it could look sloppy!

If you make each side by joining two bandana's (right side in), sewing them almost all the way around, then turning them inside out (right sides now out) and hand finishing, you'll have perfectly matched side lengths!
Do the above treatment for both sides of your tote bag. Remember you're using four bandana's -- two for each side. If you're turing each side inside out (my variation), then begin with right sides in. If you're not flipping, then start with right sides out.

Here's my half-way product -- I've got two completed sides. Each is made out of two bandana's. I've flipped mine inside out, so my sides are even finished!
Next step, let's join the two sides. Note that since every side is a "right side", we'll join right sides together -- in fact, we can't avoid doing so!

Pin the bag together, then use a straight stitch to stitch three sides of the bag together. Remember to leave the top of your bag open!!!!!

Use the "needle down" technique used early when you reach the end of a side, then re-position the fabric by rotating 90 degrees and do the next side.

When you finish the third side, turn the bag "inside out" so that the inside right sides are now the outside right sides! Note that this is why we only sewed three sides of the tote bag! If you sewed all four sides, you will have a little difficulty opening your bag!

This finishes the seam on your tote bag -- in fact, the bag portion is now finished. Now, it's time to attach the handle.
Your handle position will vary depending on the size of your bandana. My side was about 18 1/2 inches wide. This divides into a little bit more than 6 inches when you split it into thirds. I decided to position each handle edge so that it was 5 1/2 inches from the side of the bag.

Cut your 36" handle strap in half. Position one handle so that the loop hangs towards the bottom of the bag; put the cut ends along the top of the bag (we're going to fold this over in a bit).

Pin the straps in place (because they will try to re-position themselves!) and get ready to sew!
Now, sew your handles. I like to sew a "square" -- well, actually, a rectangle -- at the top of the strap. I then like to sew an "X" inside the rectangle.

Use the same "needle down"/"reposition" techniques you used on the sides of the bag.
I made one side of my sewing rectangle about 1 1/2 inches long, then repositioned to complete the rectangle.
Once you sew your rectangle, reposition the bag so that you can sew at angle towards the opposite corner. I then sew across the bottom, then sew another angle to complete the "X".

I just noticed that this picture was taken after I had folded the strap over (which is the next step!). At this point (before the fold), the strap handle will lie towards the bottom of the bag, not towards the top of the bag as shown!
The "rectangle sides/X inside" stitching you just completed will be pretty strong -- but now we're going to make it even stronger!

Fold the strap over so that the handle now hangs towards the top of the bag.

Once you fold the strap over, lay it flat and sew another "rectangle/X inside" line. This greatly increases the strength of your tote strap
Here's what the "rectangle/X inside" stitching looks like. Remember, you've got another set of these on the folded portion inside!
Complete the ends of each handle -- and here's the finished product! This was all straight-stitching -- a Singer 301 strength!

You might want to consider interfacing on the inside sides of the tote bag -- but it actually hangs pretty well as it is.

Summary: The Singer 301 sewed like a dream. It doesn't have lots of features -- but what it does it does extremely well. And ... it's been doing it for 50 years and will be good for many, many more. If you lust for a 221, but can't swing the toll in this price-mad market, then consider the 301. For only a fraction of the cost -- maybe 1/5 or 1/6 -- of a 221, you'll have the same great straight stitch, almost the same weight, easier portability (with the self-contained handle), and the same reliability.

Maintenance is easy -- you can oil and tune your machine yourself (and save $50 to $60 each time) and parts are readily available.

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