A Simple (But in Depth) Comparison – The Difference’s Between a Singer 201-2 and a Singer 15-91

I have seen this topic more than once… Folks comparing the Singer Model 201-2 to the Singer Model 15-91. problem is, for many of the comparisons the information is not complete enough to be useful, or at least the comparison is not “apples to apples”. I thought that I would weigh in and give you a complete side by side comparison and take a close look at these two machines… how they are the same and how they are different. The following comparison might surprise you. Although there isn’t a quiz at the end of this lecture, with regards to my comparison you can draw your own conclusions.

Spoiler alert… Aside from the “potted motor” they both share, there is very little similarity between these machines for comparison! Before I talk about the difference between these two venerable sewing machines, I will simply mention the things that are the same and then I will discuss in greater depth the things that are different… One other note. The pictures captioned for the 15-91 are not all 15-91 machines. I don’t have enough 15-91 pictures to show all of the mechanisms. But, the mechanisms and assemblies in all model 15 machines shown here for comparison are identical to the mechanisms and assemblies in the model 15-91.

Similarities:

Both machines have the same footprint area. They have the same hinge distance, and either will fit a Singer cabinet or case. The potted motor is the same on both machines (the bobbin winder assembly attached to the motor is not. The “finger” on the 15-91 is wider to fit the wider class 15 bobbin). The stitch length cover plate and the back access plate are the same. The balance wheel is the same, the bobbin winder guide is the same, the spool pins are the same, the bobbin winder tire is the same, The stop motion knob and washer is the same, the beautiful jet black color is the same, the decals are the same beautiful metallic gold ( but different design), the drop dog feed system is the same, they both use the same standard needle type… and that’s just about it. Aside from the motor, the balance wheel, and these ancillary parts and pieces, all similarities end. To me, they are totally different machines in almost every respect. For a fair comparison, what we need to know is where they differ. Lets take a closer look…

Differences:

First is sewing area. For many folks, especially quilters and those who appreciate a larger harp space, the 201 beats the 15-91 by a small margin. The 201 needle to column distance is 8″, the arm height is 5.5″, and the harp space is 44 sq.inch. The 15-91 needle to column distance is 7″, the arm height is 5″, and the harp space is 35 sq.in. For some folks, these dimensions are important. Does this matter for your sewing projects?

The next is the bobbin style. The 201 uses a horizontal full rotary hook and drop in class 66 bobbin. A full rotary bobbin spins in a 360 degree circle. The 15-91 uses an oscillating hook and a vertical side loading class 15 bobbin. An oscillating hook rocks back and forth in less than half of a 360 degree circle. The class 15 bobbin holds more thread than a class 66 bobbin and requires fewer bobbin changes for large projects… a quilt for example.

Drive mechanism:

The 201 drive mechanism is fully gear driven, except for the feed dog rocker assembly. The upper arm shaft is straight and has two eccentric cams attached to it. One cam turns a connecting rod to power the feed dog rocker mechanism. The other drives the stitch length fork. The machine has six matched heat treated steel gears to transmit power thru the top sewing arm shaft. One gear in the arm shaft transmits power to a gear on each end of a vertical shaft in the sewing machine column, and then to two gears on the bobbin drive shaft under the bed of the sewing machine, and then to one gear on the rotary hook shaft. Because of this rotary motion, the 201 runs with very little vibration.

In contrast, The 15-91’s sewing arm is actually a crankshaft with one eccentric cam attached to it. The eccentric cam drives the stitch length fork. The crank turns a connecting rod, the end of which attaches to an eccentric rocker arm and the bobbin drive shaft. This rocker arm drives the bobbin shaft around to a point, and then changes direction to drive the bobbin shaft to a point in the opposite direction (hence the term oscillating hook). It is also connected to the feed dog drive rocker mechanism. Although the drive mechanism on the 15-91 is well balanced, this oscillating movement induces vibration in the machine. One advantage of this system is that the bobbin hook is fixed in position by a pin through the shaft and unless damaged, the hook timing will always be correct.

In the front of the sewing machine head in the 201, the end of the arm shaft has an eccentric cam crank that turns a three point linkage attached to the needle bar and the take up arm. The top sewing arm on the 15-91 drives the take up arm directly. The take up arm on the 15-91 has a roller bearing that fits in the thread take up cam. This cam has a groove milled into it such that as the cam turns, the roller bearing on the take up arm follows the groove and produces an up and down motion. The needle bar is operated via a connecting link. One end is pinned to an eccentric stud fixed in the thread take up cam.

Tension assembly… The 201 tension assembly is located on the front side of the machine. The 15-91 tension control assembly is located on the front end cover plate. The tension controls use the same tension discs and beehive spring, but the take up spring is different. The 201 tension assembly is a separate unit that fits into the machine. On the 15-91, it is integrated in the cover plate.

Thread take up arm… The 201’s thread take up arm is on the side of the machine, the 15-91’s take up arm is on the front of the machine.

The light fixture shroud on the 201 is integrated into the body on the front of the machine. On the 15-91, The light fixture is separate from the machine and is located on the back of the machine.

Weight… both machines are constructed of cast iron (late production 201’s were cast aluminum). The 201 weighs approximately 34 pounds and the 15-91 weighs approximately 26 pounds. While more weight (mass) helps dampen vibration, I do not think the difference is appreciable in operation of either machine when mounted in a cabinet. This leads to portability… Both are full size and neither is lightweight. Although both will fit in a full size portable case, they are best suited for a cabinet. The 201 will sew on a table top without a base, the 15-91 will not… it needs to be supported in a base.

Class… both are definitely domestic grade machines. neither is commercial grade or industrial strength. However, the 201 does have a class distinction. It is known as a “professional grade” machine. It was designed for a tailors or seamstress use and intended to be used for prolonged periods. One variation of the 201, the identical model 1200 has a knee operated presser bar lift to further highlight its purpose. While this distinction does not raise it to commercial grade, it is recognized to set it apart from others in the domestic arena. The 15-91 has no similar distinction or feature. Does this mean the 15-91 won’t stand up under similar usage? I think not, from my view they are both remarkable and tough sewing machines. Even considering a 70 year old vintage of either, you will not live long enough to wear either of these machines out. Both are heirloom quality and should be passed down through family generations.

So there is the comparison. Which is better? I won’t say and leave it to you to decide. will say that for smoothness, the 201 wins the day. For looks, I love the curves of the 15-91. For stitch quality, both create laser straight balanced stitches. Some say the 15-91 is better for quilting because of the vertical bobbin… I’m not convinced. Some say “what is so special about the 201”?… I say “sew with one and you will know”.

Which would I recommend? That’s easy… the 201… no, wait, the 15-91… uh, the 201… or the 15-91. My point is that as different as they are in comparison, you can’t go wrong or be disappointed with either.

If you like what you see, or looking for a fine restored vintage sewing machine, please visit our Etsy store at https://www.etsy.com/shop/pungoliving, and see all of our other restored fine quality vintage sewing machines. Don’t see what you are looking for? We take custom orders! If you have any questions, please contact Lee at Pungoliving@gmail.com.

Published by pungoliving

First and foremost, I decided to share some of my experiences with vintage all metal sewing machines. It is a natural progression of my life experience exercising my hands and my mind. My background is a simple story... graduating High school, I wanted a trade. I landed an apprenticeship at Norfolk Naval Shipyard in welding. 5 years later after earning certification and working in many different environments, I decided to enroll in College and earn an Engineering. At the same time, I married a wonderful girl and started a new life. Graduating College with a degree in Structural Engineering, I began a 35 year career in the Federal Government. Along the way, we were blessed with 3 beautiful children. Earning a Masters degree in Engineering and registration as a Professional Engineer I worked for the benefit of my family and my Country. Over the years, I have pursued many different hobbies... woodworking, car mechanics, astronomy, and taking apart and putting together all sorts of things. Pretty much anything I could put my mind and my hands into. So now, many years later, I am retired and finally able to wile away my days at home with the love of my life. Her interests have always been in sync with mine, but spending so much free time with her, I realized how broad her talents are! One interest she is particularly fond of is sewing. It didn't take me long to put 2+2 together and realize that I could do something with this. So, acquiring, adjusting, servicing, and restoring sewing machines was a win-win. I have a hobby that is detailed, involves tinkering with precision engineered high quality manufactured machines, while she has an opportunity to sew on various different makes and models of sewing machines. While there are many that have information on line, and what I have to say more than likely has already been said, I wanted to contribute to that conversation and learning gleaned from my experience and research.

9 thoughts on “A Simple (But in Depth) Comparison – The Difference’s Between a Singer 201-2 and a Singer 15-91

  1. Thanks – this is a great comparison! Which do you prefer – peaches or bananas? 😉 But as different as they are, people still have their preferences, usually without a good reason. “I just like the feel of it!” 🙂 I find myself liking the feel of the oscillator better because I like its rhythm, so I prefer 66 over 201 😮 (that’s more comparable). But then again, I like Wheeler & Wilson’s D9 which is a rotary… Go figure! 🙂

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    1. Thanks! I picked up an early Singer 9W but I have not decided what to do with it yet… I agree with you completely! My philosophy is use the machine that suits your preference… my Wife enjoys her Singer 27. What a beautiful stitch!

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  2. Thanks for this in-depth and easy to understand compassion. I have read many posts on the differences and after reading them still could not be certain which machine I have. I’m sure now they are 15-91s. Most posts differentiate with the white “switch” in the front of the machine which is suppose to indicate the machine is a 201.
    Your comparison was much clearer.
    Thanks for sharing your extensive knowledge. I’m finding myself binge reading most of your posts.

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    1. Hello Cam,

      Thanks for letting me know you found my blog useful! As you found out, there is much more difference than a white light switch. They are both fine machines!

      Have a blessed night and I hope you find my other blogs useful.
      Lee

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  3. Thank you for this in depth discussion of the difference between the two different models of singer machines. I was just given a 15-91 from 1952 by a coworker, who was cleaning out a relative’s house, and knew I loved the vintage and older sewing machines, but I didn’t know much about it.
    I had thought I wanted a 201, eventually, if one became available around where I live, but I’m pretty thrilled with my new gift of the 15-91!

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    1. Hello Amy,

      The 15-91 is a fine machine. Overall, I would say that the 201 is a little quieter and smoother because it is a gear driven rotary hook, but the difference is a quibble. The 15-91 will make a beautiful straight stitch every bit as nice as a 201 and many folks prefer them for quilting. I would bet you will not find a negative review for either machine.

      Take a good look at the wires on your potted motor…. these are the Achilles heel for either machine.

      Clean it, oil it regularly, and use it… these machines run better the more they are used.

      Thanks for letting me know you found the blog useful and please let me know if I can be of any assistance in answering any questions you may have with your “new” machine.

      Have a blessed evening,
      Lee

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    1. Hello Andrew,

      I completely agree. They are both great machines and it really comes down to preference. The 15 is a bit louder with a bit more vibration, but it is still a pleasant machine to sew with. A drop of oil on the bobbin race and at each of the oiling points goes a long way to quieting any clanking noise. That’s pretty much the same for any oscillating hook machine.

      Thanks for your comment!
      Lee

      Like

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