Bill Holman, retired sewing machine dealer and host of several Yahoo Groups including “Vintage Singers”, is not a great fan of the Singer 328. He posted his personal opinion of it along with similar machines in a document included in the group files there.
I quote “If you compare a 328/327/329 or a Stylist with the ‘average’ sewing machine, they don’t come out all that bad. But I was working for Singer when they came out, and comparing them with machines like the 201/301/401, and using these as a basis of comparison, they stunk.”
He then referred to 3 issues he has with them:
1. Not being able to adjust the needle distance from the hook.
2. Being noisy.
3. Having a weak motor.
Bill has mended more sewing machines than I’ve had hot dinners and given me support in my novice interest in these machines and I respect his views greatly, so he must be right, right?
An alternative, rosier view of the Singer 328 has been given by others, including Elena of Elena’s vintage sewing machine blog
Elena documents a 328 as one of her “crew” of regularly used machines. She also has vastly more experience with sewing machines than me and whose opinion I also respect greatly. If a 328 is good enough for her to use regularly, it must have a lot going for it.
They can’t both be right, can they?
By a strange coincidence a 328 came up in the local free ads round the corner from me, so I bought it, for a fiver, out of curiosity to see what this machine is like for myself.
The photo and description of the machine I bought were pretty awful, being described as a “vintage Singer sewing machine for refurbishment”, with a partial picture of the back of the machine. The only thing that got my interest was that the picture showed two positions for spool pins on the lid (one had been broken off) – which means it was double needle capable and so not a basic Singer machine. Further research of google images showed it was probably a 328. The machine was partly covered in a film of dried up oil, but hey – that’s a good thing for long term storage.
I picked the machine up and it was pretty obvious it hadn’t been used in a long time. The power plug was one that fits into a light bulb socket. I thought that idea went out in the ‘30’s!
The machine itself was complete and in good health, although almost seized from its oil having dried out. The motor drive belt and rubber feet had perished and needed replacement. It had also lost all its accessories. Cosmetically it was not bad – a few scratches here and there. It had the likeable aura of a regularly used and looked after machine in its youth, whose owner just got too busy looking after grandchildren to bother with sewing, so the machine just sat in its cupboard. That thought was backed up by the seller’s tale of it being her grandma’s.
Above: a bit more cleaning needed!
The foot pedal was weird. The rubber power lead grommet had come adrift, so there were single wires showing. The rubber feet were seemingly missing, but when I opened the pedal up, the feet were inside the case. The suppression capacitor made in 1964 was still there and looking healthy, reinforcing my belief that the machine hadn’t been used for a long time. The pedal mechanism was very sloppy and out of adjustment. I concluded that someone had taken it apart, fiddled with it, given up and screwed it back together with the feet loose inside. I binned the suppressor, adjusted the pedal mechanism and gave it a clean and it all now works great.
I took the motor out and cleaned the commutator, which I did with the brushes still attached, since everything looked pretty healthy. The fact that it’s an open motor helps – as the parts are all easy to get to. The motor was easy to remove too. There was a slight issue that there’s a plastic fan on the end of the motor, held on with a threaded bar that screws into a thread on the shaft of the motor. The bar was a loose fit on the plastic, but moving the position of the bar resolved the issue. I put a bit of thread lock on the bar to keep it in position. I’ve since found out that the bar screws out the other side of the shaft until it locks the Bakelite pulley in place. All a little bit delicate for my liking. Break the pulley and it will be an issue getting a replacement.
Above: I’ve now put on a proper drivebelt!
The case was all blotchy and the vinyl looked really dirty and faded. However, after a drop of Cif, a nylon scouring pad, some elbow grease and a bit of Armorall vinyl cleaner it looked almost new.
The usual technique of surgical spirit worked a treat to clean the old oil off the machine, both the body and the moving joints. I used cotton wool pads for large areas and cotton buds for the fiddly bits.
My previous blog about the 1963 Which? Report listed the Singer 401, new, at a whopping £115.00 whereas the 328 was a mere £73 10 shillings. Lots of corners need to be cut in order to get a machine with similar features 40% cheaper surely?
The main differences between the 328 and 401 where savings have been made are as follows:
- The oscillating hook of the 328, uses lots of parts common to existing machines. Machine specific parts, like the hook pitman, are simple and therefore cheaper to make. The 400 series have a rotary hook and all bevel gear drive – which is more complex to produce.
- The 400 series machines use a gear driven, cased motor. The 328 has belt drive and an open motor.
- Maximum Zig zag width is 4mm on the 328, 5mm on the 401.
- Maximum stitch length is 6 ½ stitches per inch on 328, 401 is 6 stitches per inch
- 401 is slant needle, making it more difficult to produce. 328 is low shank, so visibility to the work is less, but much easier to find accessories to fit on the 328.
- Arguably punching power is improved on the 328, from the oscillating hook drive generating more torque, plus a vertical needle and lower gearing. Evidenced by the ability in the Which? magazine test of a 328 sewing 7 layers of canvas, a 401 only able to sew 3 layers.
- Max sewing speed of 401 (1300spm) is faster than the 328 (1100 spm), probably the result of the smoother running mechanism.
- The 401 has a needle plate that rises up on moving a lever for darning; you have to change the plate on the 328
- Cams are one at a time and plastic on the 328 – they’re mostly steel and built in on the 401 (although setting the right cam on the 401 is not intuitive)
- Power lead and foot pedal are permanently fitted to the 328. 401 has plug and socket on the machine
- Light fitting is crude on the 328. 401 has a lens and looks better
- 401 has a plastic base – not sure if the 328 had one – mine doesn’t have a base.
- 401 has had money spent on improving the aesthetics
- Cheaper paint finish on some 328’s – on mine it’s a kind of “hammerite” for the bulk of the machine– textured, but hard wearing, with conventional paint on the top and faceplate.
Lots of these changes had a big effect on the way the machines were constructed, but the dilution of features available to the user on the 328 are not that great. Loss of top speed is not a huge issue – especially for the less experienced users a cheaper machine would attract.
There appear to be at least two cosmetically different versions of the 328, each available in at least two colours – beige and khaki green. On Elena’s webpage, her machine is shown having a buff, smooth finish with a circular moulding on the cam cover and two separate plates on the front. My machine has a green khaki hammerite finish. There is a single plate on the front of the machine. There’s a light switch, which looks crude but is an original feature as I’ve seen it in pictures of other machines. My machine was made in May 1964 according to the serial number. Maybe the altered paint finish and single plate on the front of the machine were an effort to save production costs? I think all 328’s were made between February ’61 and ’65, which is not a long production run. it was followed by the 338, which had very similar mechanicals, but looked more modern and came in softer colours – like light blue.
The 328 was made both in Kilbowie, Scotland as the 328k and in Canada. I’ve seen a photo of a 328 with the label “Made in Canada from components made in Great Britain and Canada”. I think both factories produced models for the US market – with 110 Volt motors. Bill expressed a gripe with a lack of power with the 328, but my machine and other 240V 328k’s don’t seem to suffer from this issue. Some 110V users in the USA don’t seem to have an issue either. It seems likely to me that some 328’s with 110V motors had a different, lower power motor, which is what the machines Bill experienced had.
I got a service manual for the machine, which shows the 328 to be easy to work on. What did surprise me was that the manual contains, on page 29, instructions for how to vary the distance between the needle and the hook point. Bill’s main gripe with the machine was this couldn’t be done. I think the restriction on moving the needle as Bill describes is restricted to the “Stylist” models. (Edit: see update below)
Bill’s last gripe about the 328 was about the machine being noisy. Being a lot like the Singer 66, the machine is an oscillating hooker. The clearance around the bobbin case on the 328 is adjustable, so excessive noise around the hook can be adjusted out. The main drive mechanism joints aren’t adjustable on the 328 like older machines like the 66, so on a very high mileage machine, slop in those joints might be an issue. But for most machines used and maintained properly I don’t see that as a source of noise. Certainly my machine has been used in its 50 plus year life and there’s little play. Comparing it to a 411/401 it’s not as smooth, certainly and it’s harsh at high speed. Keep the speed down though and it sounds quite pleasant! The only other source of noise is the motor and belt drive. My machine, and those of others with 240V 328k’s don’t seem to report motor noise as an issue. Maybe again this is a problem for certain, US market 110 V machines.
I conclude that Bill’s gripes are largely genuine but apply only to some of the US market machines.
I’m sure Bill is correct in stating the 328 was marketed as a cheaper alternative to the 401 series and that salesmen of the time were told to steer customers towards the more expensive models. The 328 certainly had design compromises to get the costs down, which resulted in a lower specification. However, my experience of restoring and using the 328 is that – for UK spec machines at least, a very good job was made of keeping all the most valuable elements of this kind of machine, whilst costing nearly 40% less than the 401.
These retained features include:
• excellent tension control top and bottom
• very fine adjustment capability for stitch length
• interchangeable cams with all the utility stitches you would want
• Singer “old school” quality, bringing with it durability, reliability and ease of maintenance
• double needle capability
• Selectable needle position left/centre/right
I think these retained features, plus the good sewing performance as demonstrated by the 1963 Which? Report are why this machine scored so highly compared with the 401 at the time.
There’s also one feature of the 328 that some of the 400 series machines don’t have — and that’s the ability for treadle operation. I’ve had a go and all you need to do is swap the handwheel for a heavier and higher geared one – a spoked wheel off a 66/99/201 will do nicely – and unscrew and remove the plastic block in the bed. Replace the drive belt with a treadle belt and voila! – a fancy stitch treadle machine. It’s much easier to convert than something like a 411 – I have another post on doing that. You can’t use the bobbin winder with the smaller drive diameter of the spoked handwheel, but resourceful sewists like those reading this far could find away around that…..
Having now restored and used the 328 I like the fact that it’s easy to use, has lots of useful features and no features you don’t want that just get in the way. It has the easy and cheap to run combination of 66 bobbins, standard needles and low shank feet. I’m not a fan of the looks though, it’s almost got almost a military look about it. Rugged, not pretty.
Comparing it to my 411g on the upside, it’s easier to use, a bit lighter and uses standard low shank feet and attachments. On the downside, it doesn’t do chain stitch, I don’t like the looks and it’s not as smooth.
The 328 is more a “date with your significant other of 20 years” than a first date – efficient, comfortable, predictable ….I’d better stop there! I like it and for lots of jobs, because of its usability it would be the quickest way of getting a good job done. That’s a sign of a good machine, surely?
Maybe more of the reason behind why salesmen were told to steer people towards the 401 etc. and away from the 328 was not that the 328 was a bad machine, but simply that the profit margin on sales of the 401 was much better than the 328?!
Update 8th Nov ’17
Top tip – don’t play with sewing machines when you’re getting over the flu.
The picture above is the presser bar clamp out of the 328 after I had the machine running at full speed and moved from straight stitch to full zig zag with a 110 needle and a straight stitch needle plate fitted. Big bang, lots of bits of needle flying about and then no presser foot pressure. The impact obviously cracked the presser bar clamp. Helen Howes came to my rescue again with a replacement part. I notice that part she supplied, probably off an old 66, was forged steel and nearly twice as deep as this 1964 sintered steel part. Quality of manufacture was obviously already reducing by that time….
I’m struggling to get a drive belt to fit – reference the post on belts. I’m currently using a toothed belt installed inside out, which works and the drive is much quieter than it was, but is not ideal. Original spec belt is on order, which should be better.
I’ve now adjusted the machine – there was lateral slop in some of the feed joints, which I’ve now eliminated. There was some lateral movement on the eccentric feed too. I took the feed dogs off and sharpened them up with a needle file.
I checked the needle to hook clearance – which is more than the two thou specified maximum distance, but as the machine works I’m leaving as-is for now. I queried with Bill Holman about his statement you can’t adjust the hook to needle clearance. His response was that whilst you can adjust the clearance, the clearance to the needle plate is adjusted at the same time, which could well mean you can’t adjust the hook clearance without causing clearance problems for the needle in the needle plate. On 400 Class machines there are separate adjustments.
I’ve got this 328 working as best it can be, but there is still quite a bit of noise and vibration at high speed. I think it’ll have to stay that way. I’m nicknaming this machine “the tractor” – it’s green, not so good looking and a bit rustic, but easy going and hard working.
Update 14th November
I managed to make a heavy carrying bag with this machine, using a pattern from Tammi at Archaic Arcane. I made life difficult by quilting what was some pretty heavy cotton. At the worst case I was trying to sew through 12 thicknesses of cotton plus at least 4 of batting, which neither the needle or machine liked at all. I well and truly blunted a needle, which I’ve not done before. The machine started making nasty noises under that load, so I think the needle was not under proper control and rubbing on things it shouldn’t which is what blunted it. The inside out drive belt worked flawlessly though. Unfortunately the alternative original spec belt I ordered is too narrow and just slips. Atelier Needlecraft also couldn’t get an industrial belt to fit either. My choices now are rubber belt (yuk), turning the handwheel on a lathe or staying as I am with the inside out belt.
I’m warming to this machine. With a new LED bulb, sewing at moderate speed on sensible fabrics it’s nice – certainly sews a nice straight stitch. Zig zag seems to need more top tension, which is OK once you’re used to it.
Update 21st November
I posted a note on the Vintage Singers site about my finding that you could adjust the hook to needle clearance on the 328. Bill Holman responded along the lines that whilst the adjustment can be made, the needle consequently moves in the needle plate, such that you could have the needle to hook clearance right, but the needle position in the needle plate may be wrong and there’s nothing you can do about it. On the 400/500 series machines there are separate adjustments.
Still no luck with getting a belt to fit. The inside out one is constantly trying to roll itself over, so rides up out of the handwheel pulley, putting too much tension on the belt. I’ve got a shorter belt on order and plan to turn down the handwheel on a lathe to get the pulley narrower.
Update 26th November
STILL trying to get a belt to fit. Ordered one that was too long – then ordered another supposedly 10mm shorter that arrived the same length. Grr! Yet another on order, 15mm shorter. (further update, that one’s too short!) For now I’ve reverted to a rubber stretch belt, which does work, although puts more tension on the motor than I’d like.
I wondered if I could make the machine any quieter. Comparing it to my 411’s/401 it really was a bit of a clunker. I went through the adjustments in the service manual describing how to adjust the driveshafts. Both the top shaft, cam stack and vertical shaft were a bit loose. Adjusting these has made quite a big reduction in noise and vibration. It’s still not in the same league as the 411/401, but I’ve removed its “tractor” label.
I also had a go at trying to widen the zig-zag width, but concluded there’s no adjustment for this. (further update: see new post on this subject!)
Update 20 January ’18
I ended up buying another 328 since I’ve agreed to let someone else have the first one. The “new” one came with a nice case, a load of feet including a low shank special purpose foot, 7 cams and a steel bed extension that fits nicely in the case. All for the princely sum of £9.26. Was dirty, the driest machine I’ve come across and the power cords were more twisted than fusili pasta, but it was hardly used. Was sold as “not working”. The only problem I could find was that because the machine had been tipped upside down, the bobbin case had moved out of position and caused a lock up. I just took the bobbin case out, cleaned and oiled everything and we’re ready to rock…..
This machine is slightly different from the other. Whilst at first glance they look the same, the second one, made in early 1964, has a metal motor cover attached with two screws, whereas the newer machine has a plastic cover attached with a spring catch and one screw. The older machine also has no switch for the light – it’s just on all the time the machine is plugged in, which suits me fine.
Update 1st March ’18
Finally, I’ve found a drive belt solution that works as it should for these 328’s.
It’s a 400mm long vee belt that’s custom cut to width based on a fixed number of ribbs. Photo above shows a 4 rib wide belt. Details here:
With this particular belt, each rib is 2.34mm wide. I ordered 3 ribs wide, equating to a total width of 7mm. This width fits the handwheel nicely – the belt sits on the shoulders of the slot, not the bottom – and it also fits in the pulley wheel on the motor in the same way. The belt is a tad too long, but as it fits so nicely, you get no slip despite the belt being a bit loose. That’s as it should be – the belt should only be tightened to the point it doesn’t slip, then a higher proportion of the power of the motor gets to drive the machine. The belts are really good quality – and very cheap. Result!
Update 3rd Jan 2019
Mike in the comments asked about how to remove the tension assembly. Answer is there’s a set screw accessible fromthe front of the machine as shown in the following extract from the service manual:
The set screw is hidden quite well behind the zig zag mechanism, so a short, thin screwdriver is needed to reach it. The service manual itself can be downloaded by joining the Vintage Singers group at Groups.io: