Singer Sewing Machines – And they’re OFF!! Updated with Pics!

Do you have a Singer sewing machine with the Featherweight style Bakelite Foot Pedal? Sometimes it’s also referred to as a Button Pedal.  I’ve seen them on Model 15 machines, Featherweights (Model 221/222), Model 99 machines, Model 128 machines, 400 Series machines, and I’m sure there are others.  They’re the most common pedal I have in my sewing room.

Singer Bakelite foot
Singer Bakelite foot

 

One of the most common complaints I see about this pedal is that you press and press and press and the machine does nothing,.. then suddenly it takes off like the winning horse at the races!

Another problem the older ones suffer from is “running on their own”.

What I don’t see a lot of is how to fix either problem.  Lots of people suggest throwing that foot out and replacing it with a new one, or a “more modern one”.

Waste not want not, right?

Better still, keep your vintage machine paired with its original pedal and adjust it!!

These instructions will also show you how to get in and replace a damaged cord, or to take out the capacitor(s) to stop your machine from running on its own.

Note:  I learned this process from the “Featherweight 221 and I” by Dave McCallum.  I heartily recommend both the DVD and Book that he’s produced and sells on his site. (Opens in a new window)

Disclaimer: I’ve used this process on several machines to date, and all of them have become much easier to get along with.  Your mileage may vary and I can’t be held responsible for any damage you may cause to your machine.  It’s worked for me, but I guess it would be possible, in theory, to do this wrong and have “bad things” happen.  Please follow these instructions carefully, and use common sense.

Note: if the motor growls when you first put pressure on the pedal, but starts to move with more pressure, or the pedal gets unreasonably warm (I sew in bare feet, so it’s quickly noticeable to me.) STOP! Unplug the machine.  You’ve likely tightened things too much.  This is bad for the foot pedal’s innards, and also for the motor.

Note: If after this adjustment, or when you plug in a new to you machine and use it, you hear sizzling or popping noises from the pedal… STOP!  What you’re hearing is the beginnings of an electrical fire.  Unplug the machine immediately and if safe to do so, relocate the pedal to somewhere it won’t damage surrounding items.  (I use the sink or inside the oven (not heated up of course)  For what to do if this happens, see the article I am currently writing entitled: What a Pile of ….

What you need:

  • A towel or something to protect your work surface, and corral any dropped screws, tools, etc.
  • A blade screwdriver – this would be about the size of the one in the accessories box that came with your machine, but preferably with a better handle.
  • A pair of needle nose pliers. It’d be nice to tell you that a proper open ended wrench would fit here, but none of mine do, so we make due with what we have.
  • A measuring implement.  A ruler (marked in at least 1/8″ increments or millimeters) or calipers.
  1. Unplug the power, and make sure you know where the plug is, so it doesn’t accidentally get plugged in again.
  2. Turn the pedal over and undo the 4 screws inside each foot.
    Remove the 4 screws inside the feet. This is a good opportunity to replace the feet if they’re damaged like the one in the upper right. Don’t lose the screws though. They’re hard to find.

    Screw inside each foot.
  3. Press the pedal button, this will push the whole assembly upwards so you can separate the two pieces.

    Push up on the button and the bottom will pop apart.
  4. Notice that when you pull the two pieces apart on the side where the cord is, that there is a wedge that sits inside the notch in the top of the pedal.  Wiggle this out of the top so that you can fully separate the pieces.  (Remember what this looks like, it can be the most fiddly part of the process when reassembling)

    Note the path that the cord takes. This is important to remember so you don’t pinch the cord when re-assembling.
  5. Once they’re apart, you’ll see a large white (or it may be grey or brown) ceramic piece.  This will have a screw-head and a flat piece of metal floating inside it on one side, and on the other, you’ll see the other end of the screw, a nut, and various linkages that make the pedal deliver power to your sewing machine.
    I usually throw all of the feet and screws into the top for safe keeping.
    In the picture above, note the two screws where the cord terminates. In some older pedals, this is where the capacitor will live. If you see something that links the 2 screws together, loosen the screws, remove it, and re-tighten the screws. Why does the capacitor do this? Sewing machine manufacturers used to put these in the pedals to stop the sewing machines from introducing “snow” on TVs and such. Over time, these capacitors tend to leak power, and the machine starts to run on its own. Since TVs no longer suffer from this problem, the capacitors aren’t needed anymore. They can simply be removed.
    Ryan showing where the flat plate is

    The linkages that move when you press on the button. Notice how things move when you push on the linkages.  The flat portion above the nut will move closer to the 2 copper blades.  When they make contact, the machine will be running at full speed.
  6. Ideally, the flat metal piece will be about 1/16″ from the top edge of the ceramic, but typically I find that they’re closer than this, and sometimes even above the edge.

    Measuring the distance between the plate and the top lip.  It should be about 1/16″ or 1-2 mm from the top.
  7. To adjust it to where it belongs, loosen the nut you saw on the other side of the ceramic, and using a blade screwdriver, screw the screw in until the plate sits about 1/16″ or 1-2mm from the top edge.  (Note: You don’t have to use calipers the way we did, I’m just a little neurotic. 🙂 )
    Loosen the nut. This nut needs to be loosened by the same amount that you tighten the screw at the other end.

    Adjusting the height of the plate
  8. Once you’ve done this, tighten the nut back up.  You just need it snug, not tight.  We’re not hitching up to a horse here, we’re just trying to stop it backing off again.  In fact, you can add a touch of the lightest weight loctite you can find to the threads to stop this from happening, or Dave suggests nail polish if you don’t have the loctite in his video.

    Tightening the nut back up
  9. Now that you’ve completed your surgery, put the foot back together.  Remember, the button only goes one way (the “open” portion toward the cord) and watch the routing of the cord.

    The button only goes in one way. Slot to the back (cord side) of the pedal.
  10. Hold the button in place while you re-assemble.  Turn the top upside down, and put the bottom back into the top. 
    Carefully route the cord back into the slot we removed it from earlier
    Wiggle the bottom into the top until it’s more or less seated completely

    Don’t pinch it too tight, again, we’re not trying to prove how strong we are, just have things hold together and not rattle too much.

    Place the foot pads back into each corner and screw the pedal shut
  11. Now go plug your pedal back into your sewing machine and enjoy your new found control.

    A low light pic of the 403A in action with its newly adjusted pedal

61 thoughts on “Singer Sewing Machines – And they’re OFF!! Updated with Pics!”

  1. This is such a useful guide! Thank you so much!

    I’m in the middle of working on one of these pedals and I seem to be missing the little brass clip that’s on the opposite side of the nut. Is it necessary to replace it with the same part or would a regular nut work?

    1. I think you’re talking about the copper contact plate that shows up in step 8 at roughly the center of the photo above the pliers? That plate actually is for the shorting bars as well as holding the screw. I wouldn’t modify personally. There are so many of these pedals out there for parts or replacement, it’s not really worth it.

      1. Thank you; that is the part i’m talking about. I didn’t realize it was necessary for the electrical circuit at first, so I did go find a replacement piece instead of using something different. Thanks for responding!!

  2. Hi there, I have a foot pedal that will not work. The light comes on, so I know there is power. I took it apart per your instructions and adjusted the plate as described but still, no power to the motor. Any ideas for me to try?

      1. It sounds like you have a wiring problem either in the pedal or at the machine. This post would not have addressed that for sure. Inspect all of the wiring first – with the machine unplugged – it’s the most likely culprit. After that, it’s probable that it’s been wired incorrectly.

  3. Thanks so much for this! It just saved me $50 on a new pedal. I took it apart, and a huge mass of fabric, thread, and dust fell out. Cleaned it, and put it back together, and now it’s working properly!

    1. That’s great to hear! If you didn’t do any adjustments while in there (or even if you did) make sure to monitor for any heat build up too.

    1. Assuming that it’s the flat plate on the controller – yes, it has a purpose and needs to be reattached. It’s a shorting bar – without it, the pedal won’t work because it’s not going to transfer power to the motor.

  4. Thank you so much for the tips on how to harness this race horse. After adjusting my foot pedal I am once again in love with my featherweight!

    1. It sounds like you still have a wiring problem. Running without your input suggests a short. Not running suggests an open circuit.

  5. I had a 85k singer sewing machine given to me first time I used it the foot button stuck running itself .looked you up and went through instructions and machine working great thank you so much …

    1. Sorry about the poor response time, it’s been a hectic month here. I’m really glad this post helped out and you’re up and running!

  6. Hi. Thanks for a very interesting & helpful article! I just found a 411M (In UK) with a malfunctioning Button foot control… The machine light came on but faded out when I tried to power the motor.

    Your article prompted me to have a look inside & what a mess I found…. Part of the insulator had chipped & small, sharp pieces of it were interfering with the actuating levers. Cleaned them out, adjusted the rod, removed the capacitor & it worked as it should: )

    But, I happened to have an FM radio on close by & it interferes with the signal in use…. So the capacitor will be going back on shortly!!

    BTW I have 3 button controllers & they all have capacitors.
    And the 411 has a great chain-stitch: )

    1. Hey John!

      Great to hear that it’s working better. If you find that the capacitor makes it misbehave again – i.e. the symptoms I describe above for a leaky capacitor) – there’s probably a modern day equivalent that can be used in its place. Just take the capacitor to an electronics shop and ask them what to do. I don’t have a radio or TV in my studio so I’ve never had a problem with interference here nor any reports of it from others.

      In fact, I’ve never personally had a capacitor in my hands with all of the button controllers I’ve adjusted.

  7. Thank you so much for your help…..my machine was running like it was possessed and I didn’t have a clue what was wrong. Followed your advise and discovered the capacitor had leaked, removed it and no more trouble 🙂

  8. Bravo! What a wonderful use of time… sharing your knowledge and experience and letting us “little brother” types take such praise for our endless knowledge! THANK YOU! for sharing with us. I hope to do the same for someone else along the way.

    james

    1. James, I’m so glad it helped you! I hope your older sibling was thrilled. I definitely love the thought of people paying it all forward. 🙂

  9. Thanks for this brilliant post. I was in the process of trying to order a replacement foot control when I found you. Saved me money and put me in good order with my wife and daughter. I love the quality of the machine. real precision engineering. Great presentation. Thanks John

  10. hello. I am going to do the same with my 314 vintage singer sewing machine. mine did the run on its own as well and than stopped so will see if that will change something on it I am just worried that my motor went but fingers crossed it didn’t. I will reply if any success or not .

  11. Hi thanks for your info, but is the capacitor a little white tube with two wires at each end I have removed it but not game to turn the machine on.

    1. Hi Terese, Based on your description, I’d say that’s right. If your pedal looks like the pictures in the post after removing it, you should be fine. 🙂

  12. Hi – I have the same foot plate for my Singer 99K (just bought) and the wires were all disconnected. I have reconnected and all works but the light goes out when the foot pedal is pressed, any clues – the wiring is from the foot pedal yellow and black – and then out to the plug the wiring is yellow and pink – the three prong connector is black – pink – yellow and yellow – I then wired the plug with pink as live and yellow as neutral. Any advice would be awesome. Thank you Denise

    1. Yep, you have at least one of the wires located where it shouldn’t be. The light wires go on 1 and 3 (there should be numbers inside the yellow, red and black circles on the male connector. Yellow being 1, Black being 2 and Red being 3) and the pedal on 2 and 3.

      This is the most common diagram for the singer pedals and male connectors: http://ismacs.net/singer_sewing_machine_company/singer_featherweight_sewing_machine.html – the image is the last one on the page.

      Let me know how you make out?

  13. Like everyone else, I need to say a huge thank you! My vintage Singer 201 had progressed from pops and crackles to full blown runaway-itis, and your wonderful tutorial saved the day. I didn’t find a capacitor, but I think my machine pre-dates television so may never have had one. After a good clean out she purrs like a kitten again. And now, I need to go sew!

    1. I’m so glad to hear you’re up and running!

      A lot of machines had their capacitors taken out during service when they started to leak, so it’s also possible you did have a capacitor but it has long since been taken out.

  14. Thanks Tammi for making it so easy! Took out the capacitor — my 411 was often running on its own before that.

  15. Thank you ever so much, I had exactly this problem with my machine, it would stop and start and recently it just started going on its own but I followed your instructions and now runs like a dream! Excellent.

  16. Hooray! Someone finally explains why there was a capacitor in there in the first place!

    Right now I am stuck trying to figure out which clip to bend to get the foot pedal out of the cabinet. I poked around with a screwdriver between the pedal and cabinet wall and got a button out. A two hole white shirt button. So at least this machine was used before it came to me.

    1. Hi! So does that mean you have a capacitor? All of the pedals I’ve ever had here haven’t had them. I’ve seen them in photos but that’s it.

      You shouldn’t have to bend any clips. The pedals usually slide out in some direction – a lot of them are up. Try pushing. Once you’ve seen thebracket without the pedal, it becomes obvious but of course you have to get there first. 🙂 Unfortunately, I don’t have a cabinet model here right now that has a clip but my neighbor does and I’ll try to remember to grab a photo the next time I’m over there.

  17. Thank you so much for going through the bother of putting this online. I have my grandmother’s machine. It had always been fine, but then it started going like a steam train on its own. Such an easy fix, when you know how.

    1. Hey Sarah! Going on its own can also mean that there’s a short in the cord. Please make sure the cord doesn’t have any exposed wires! I’m glad this post helped you out otherwise! 🙂

  18. Sweet!! I was about to swap out the original pedal on my 301A and, with hubby’s assist, was able to adjust the pedal so that I can control the speed. The flat piece was hanging off the edge of the ceramic piece. We adjusted the nut and screw and now it’s just right. Thanks bunches for the clear pictures and detailed instructions.
    Kelly W

    1. Hi Kelly! I’m glad it helped! Yeah, I’ve found a couple with the shorting bar hanging way out there too. I wonder sometimes if that’s why the machines find themselves homeless.

  19. Saved my butt big time.. in the middle of a project the button fell into the controller. The foot controller had been recently overhauled, but apparently they didn’t even snug anything! Everything was just floating around in there! I got it back together with your help and lookie here.. I actually have speed control on my Centennial Featherweight! Woohooooo

  20. Thanks, I have just bought a singer 368 from a church sale, pluged it in and it started to run on its own, although I knew it was something to do with the foot pedal I didn’t know how to fix it, thanks for the into

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