The Singer 20U is an industrial sewing machine that is a favorite among professional tailors, dressmakers, upholstery and drapery specialists and teachers.

It is a hard worker, capable of not only providing hours of uninterrupted work with no respite, but providing uniform straight and zigzag stitches in all types of fabrics as well as leather, suede, fur, canvas, and vinyl.

The Singer 20U comes in various models. This particular mode, the 13, is an earlier version, somewhere around 30 to 40 years old.

It sews about 2,000 straight stitches per minute and is capable of rendering zigzag stitches at the same rapid rate of speed.

At A Glance

Rarely do you see an industrial sewing machine in a private home when the user is not sewing for a living, but we found one in Florida home.

The Singer 20U, an sewing industrial machine

The Singer 20U, an industrial sewing machine

For some reason, the machine was left behind in a vacant house and this lucky home sewer was in the right place at the right time. She allowed us to drop in to review her Singer 20U.

This Singer 20U came already installed on a four foot by two foot table with a convenient bobbin winding mechanism mounted to the right of the machine head. It has a cone thread spindle mounted on the table as well.

A convenient bobbin winding mechanism

A convenient bobbin winding mechanism

When the machine was delivered, the accessories drawer was filled with screwdrivers, extra bobbins, spare presser feet, a seam guide, and needles of varying sizes.

The adjustable height table has a 36 inch ruler conveniently located on front. The power switch is conveniently located on the lower right front and an accessories drawer on the left.

There is a convenient knee lift to raise the presser foot when your hands are occupied with an intricate sewing task and the on-board gooseneck lamp makes it easy to see what you are doing, whether threading a needle, working on a project that requires tiny stitches, or working with hard to see mono filament thread.

We observed that the machine head does not have any sort of cover to protect it from dust and debris. We’re not sure if one was included originally, but the owner told us that she intends to make a cover for her machine within the near future.

Even though this is a tough machine, it deserves to be protected from environmental debris just as much as any other sewing machine.

This machine is as fast as greased lightening. It sews approximately 2,000 stitches per minute.

If you don’t know what you’re doing, stay away from this monster because you could easily get hurt trying to figure out how to operate it. But like riding a bicycle, once you get the hang of working on this powerful sewing machine you will never forget.


Newer models of the 20U industrial series look a lot like the 13 but have lots many more standard features. Features included on the 20U13 include:

  • An adjustable reverse stitch lever on the front panel, enabling the user to quickly execute reverse or locking stitches.
  • Adjustable stitch length controlled by an easy to maneuver dial on the front panel
  • The ability to create extra wide zigzag stitches, up to 12mm.
  • Three needle positions – left, right and center – making it possible to create many different decorative stitches.

Working on the Singer 20U

Threading the Singer 20U was only mildly challenging. As veteran home sewers, we were accustomed to working on older machines with extra steps in the threading process.

A separate bobbin winder is an advantage

A separate bobbin winder is an advantage

It took only a few moments for us to thread this machine without even referring to the owner’s manual.

While later models have more user-friendly on board features, the one we had the opportunity to review does not. The bobbin winder, for instance, is not attached to the machine or built in.

Instead, a separate bobbin winder is mounted to the right of the machine head. It is a convenient feature, in that the user can wind bobbins without having to disengage the balance wheel or disable the needle.

While this was an unexpected surprise, the owner explained that she quickly came to understand that having the bobbin winder separate from the machine could actually be an advantage when working on large projects.

It took us a little bit of time to figure out how to wind bobbins on this ancient looking contraption, but after a few tries, we got the bobbin to work, and were amazed at how easy the process was once we mastered it.

As we sewed on this machine, we simultaneously wound several bobbins. No doubt this will make it possible to save lots of time because users can have all the bobbins they need to finish big sewing projects without interfering with their actual sewing time.

Zigzag and stitch width regulator screws

Zigzag and stitch width regulator screws

Reaching beneath the table to insert the bobbin case was a bit tricky. Until we were able to get used to this maneuver, we literally got down on our knees in order to see what we were doing.

After a few tries, we adjusted and were able to accomplish this task with a bit more grace.

One thing we did not particularly like, however, was that it was necessary to use a screwdriver to loosen the balance wheel and disengage the needle.

Before long, we realized it was necessary to use the screwdriver to use the zigzag function and to change the needle plates and feed dogs as well.

We concluded that although the owner’s manual specifically instructs users to use screwdrivers to accomplish these tasks, it is possible to leave the machine set so that the zigzag and stitch width regulator screws could remain loosened enough to facilitate easy shifting from straight to zigzag stitches without having to continuously stop to reset screws.

After we discovered that little trick, we were able to sew uninterrupted at a whirlwind pace. We put a pair of casual pants together in less than five minutes.

Three separate upper tension dials

Three separate upper tension dials

Of course, that did not include the elastic waistband and hem, but five minutes to assemble a pair of pants is pretty good in our book. Putting in the hem and the waistband only took another few minutes.

The only other thing that slowed us down was the discovery that there were not one, or two, but three separate upper tension dials and they are stacked together in one place.

There is no way around this one. Whenever it is necessary to adjust tension, the user must painstakingly set all three dials until they get the desired balance.

Even with this slight inconvenience, imagine how much you could accomplish in just one day if you were making your entire wardrobe on the Singer 20U.


  • Natural fibers/cotton-linen-wool
  • Fine fabrics/silk-satin-taffeta/velvet
  • Knits
  • Synthetic fabrics/blends-rayon-polyester
  • Upholstery
  • Leather/suede
  • Fur
  • Reptile skin/suede
  • Canvas/Twill
  • Plastic/Rubber
  • Extra thick fabrics or multiple layers


Luckily, the previous owner kept nearly all of the original accessories intact over the years.

Singer 20U's utility drawer

Singer 20U’s utility drawer

When we opened the utility drawer, we found the original accessories kit containing:

  • an owner’s manual
  • a screwdriver key
  • a package of replacement needles
  • two needle plates – one for straight stitching and one for zigzag and darning stitches
  • a separate bobbin case containing nine extra bobbins
  • three presser feet
    • one for straight stitching
    • one for zigzag stitching
    • one open foot for darning and other specialty stitches
Singer 20U accessories kit

Singer 20U accessories kit

According to the owner’s manual, a zipper foot and hemmer foot were also included, but were nowhere to be found when we inspected the contents of the drawer. However, we did find a zip lock bag filled with screwdrivers in an assortment of sizes.


After each useMonthly*Once Each Year**As Needed
Clean race hook and feed dogs
Wipe head with soft dry cloth
Wipe head with soft damp cloth
Service by sewing machine repair professional

* more often if the machine is used for extended periods of time or if used frequently

**more often if the machine is used heavily or if it is not operating properly

Tying Off The Loose Ends

The Singer 20U is definitely not for the fainthearted sewer. It is an ultra powerful machine that can make it possible for the home sewer to whip up an entire wardrobe in a single day.

It is also noisy. The clutch motor hums incessantly from the time the switch is turned on until about 20 or 30 seconds after it is turned off. This is possibly the biggest drawback to this machine.

In addition to being annoyingly noisy, it is anything but energy efficient. The machine itself sews quietly. If it were not for the motor, we would give it an excellent rating as far as acoustics is concerned.

When it comes to features, the Singer 20U is average. Like nearly all industrial sewing machines, it is limited in stitch options.

After all, if you can operate an industrial sewing machine, you should be able to create your own decorative stitches without having to rely upon a set of graphics and push buttons to help you along the way.

The need for a screwdriver to execute even minor sewing functions is a drawback, but not one that is insurmountable. As described above, we figured out a way to get around all of that.

However, the owner observed that when she is finished sewing she tightens all of those screws until she is ready to use the machine again.

The stand alone bobbin winder is interesting. It wasn’t especially easy to learn to operate this attachment, but once we got the hang of it, we were thrilled with this feature.

Never before were we in a position to see so many bobbins wound and ready for use in such a little bit of time. Then, there’s the trick of inserting the bobbin case.

Inserting the bobbin case

Inserting the bobbin case

Reaching under the sewing table to put the bobbin case on its pin is awkward at first, but quite simple once you get used to the process.

To sum it all up, beginners and even intermediate sewers should stay away from this machine or any other industrial sewing machine for all that matters.

It is super fast and extremely challenging for a new or inexperienced sewer. This machine wouldn’t even be in a home such as this if it were not for the fact that the owner happens to know someone who knows someone.

She is indeed lucky to have a machine as incredible as this… especially since she is one of those rare people who still make nearly everything she wears and takes great pleasure in doing so.

It’s not hard to envy this woman. She now has the ultimate sewing room – a veritable dream come true for anyone who loves to sew.

After a little bit of on-line research, we learned that just about anyone who wants one of these great machines can get one for themselves for just under $1,000.

But as we stated above, don’t even consider any machine in the Singer 20U series unless you are a seasoned sewer who is comfortable with a truly fast and genuinely heavy duty sewing machine.

Singer 20U Review
Link To Official Website
Skill Level:
Needs lots of help – able to sew a straight seam but unfamiliar with most sewing techniques; needs assistance and instruction on basic sewing techniques.
Competent – can make different clothing items without assistance or guidance, but not good enough to sew intricate projects or to sew without a pattern.
Expert – can sew anything without instruction or assistance; possesses an expansive knowledge of sewing techniques and terminology.
Stitch quality
Ease of use
  • Sews up to 2000 stitches per minute
  • 36 inch ruler stamped on the front
  • Goose neck lamp attached to the machine head
  • The clutch motor is noisy and runs continuously once the power switch is turned on whether the foot pedal is engaged or not.
  • When changing the needle plates from straight stitch to zigzag or darning plates, you must also change the feed dogs in order for the machine to operate.
4.5Overall Score
Reader Rating: (19 Votes)

40 Responses

  1. Frans Beckers

    I found this review while looking for parts for my 20U. Same model, probably same age. It was given to me as I am an fanatic car restorer and wanted to master the art of upholstery. Luckily a read your review and now I will first go to a course to learn how to use it. I think, ones I mastered the art of upholstery, It will stay whit me forever.

    • Laurie Higgins

      excellent article, thank you. I bought one of these machines second hand with no manual (of course if it is 30+ years old.) I can use all of the help I can get. It works amazingly. Redid boat seats on a 30 year old boat.

  2. Lnda

    I bought a 20 year old 20 U about 25 years ago. I love this machine. I didn’t have a class, so it was a harried learning experience. I have sewn through my finger once. Beware! The accessories made for this machine give it many options. My button hole attachment makes absolutely perfect holes. The only drawback is the cost of some attachments, but you do get your money’s worth.

    • Cindy

      What type of button hole attachment do you use? I have this machine too, and love it.. Does it use the 489500 or 489510 buttonhole attachment??

      • Vernelle

        Hello, Cindy –

        Thank you for visiting Sewing Insight.

        I use a Singer Professional Buttonholer. They are no longer being manufactured, but can be found online and through some dealers who sell and service vintage sewing machines. If you cannot find one locally, call Eve and Dave’s Sewing Center in Ft. Lauderdale at 954.564.2557. Ask for Dave and tell him I told you go give him a call.

        Happy stitching.

  3. Jarou

    Even if I am an inexperienced man-sewer (amateur) I find my 20u very useful for making tops and cushions for my sailboat. I changed the motor for an electronic one that is silent and speed adjustable. I think I now have the ultimate machine. I find myself looking for new project to do on “The Beast” as I call this machine. Paid 150$ for it and an extra 150$ for the new motor. A real deal.

  4. Vernelle

    Hello, Diana –

    Thank you for visiting Sewing Insight.

    You should be able to find a walking foot for your 20u at an authorized Singer dealer or almost any dealer that sells and services industrial sewing machines. You might even be able to find one at a shop that specializes in servicing and selling refurbished sewing machines of all types.

    If these options prove to be unsuccessful, try the internet. Unfortunately, I could not find accessories for the 20u on the Singer website. However, there are several sites that offer accessories for industrial sewing machines for sale. It may take a little legwork, but I have no doubt you will be able to locate a walking foot for your 20u before long.

    Happy stitching.

  5. Asele

    Hi everyone!

    Has anybody found a walking foot for the singer 20u please? desperately looking over the net but to no avail. Please, please, please help…

    Also if I don’t find one or if it is not made to take one, can use it to sew leather as it without damaging the leather? what thickness of leather is admissible?

    Many, many thanx in advance


    • Vernelle

      Hello, Asele –

      Thank you for visiting Sewing Insight.

      Does your 20u come with changeable needle plates, feed dogs and presser feet? If so, change all three of these items to the straight stitch option. Once you do that, you should be able to use any high shank walking foot. Make sure it is HIGH SHANK and be sure to change the feed dogs as well as the needle plate and presser foot. The 20u has a very wide zigzag stitch area. If you do not convert everything to the straight stitch function, your walking foot will not work.

      Happy stitching.

      • Asele

        Hello Vernelle!

        Thanx very much for replaying. I am to get hold of these high shank walking feet here in France but to no avail. You guys in the states are lucky, you can get any parts you like. But here it is impossible. Tried to buy them from US sites (Xa7253001 from amazon, RWA-5 – High Shank from the sewing outlet etc.)but none are willing to ship to my destination! I am grieving! But I hold on dearly to your advice and try it as soon as I get the opportunity to get one.

        Many, many thanx once again!!

      • Jacques

        Look for it on (eBay France)you will find it available in Europe.

        Voir eBay France “Pied Marcheur”

        Bonne Chance/Good Luck

  6. kit thornton

    I want to find an expert near London who can overhaul my overworked 20U machine

    • Frans

      Hi, if you mean the motor belt just take the old one to an automotive shop and get one there.

  7. Driele

    Eu comprei essa mesma máquina mais não sei como usala já pesquise no YouTube mais só acho em inglês se alguém tiver o manual o souber como usar me ajuda

  8. Chris

    I have one of these machines along with the sturdy work table that I would be interested in selling. Tough work horse… It can see leather!!
    We’re in the Chicago area.


  9. Jocelyne

    Hello! I just purchased one of these and am still waiting for the shop owner to come give me pointers. I’m really just curious as to why my thread shoots out of the top every time I go to sew. Has anyone experienced this? I desperately want to sew with this machine and haven’t been able to yet. Thank you!

    • Jocelyne

      The thread snaps and shoots out of the take-up lever. I’ve changed out the needle, checked for burrs, cleaned out under the throat plate, adjusted the tension and it still isn’t working properly. It won’t even make a complete stitch. I just had it serviced.

      • Frans

        If the thread snaps it is clearly to tight. Are you sure you are in the right spot on the tensioner? It is eady to make a mistake here, aldo in setting the tension. Have s carefull look in the user manual. If you are sure you ar doing everything wright I would go back to the company or store thst serviced it.

      • Jocelyne

        The tension is so very tricky for me. Without numbers on the tension dial how does everyone find the perfect tension? I’ve been wanting to take it back to the guy to have him handle it but he keeps going out of town and I don’t have enough time to take it over.

      • frans beckers

        Indeed the manual is not very helpfull here as it asumes you are a professional. There is a way I tried but it may cost some time. I use a replacement motor as advised in a previous post.
        This allowes me to regulate the speed down to practically zero.
        Now I can play with the tension and look at the ” loops”. Above- in or under the cloth. Take your time and you will get the hang of it . Alternatively use the handwheel to jto control the movement of the needle.

  10. Jocelyne

    That makes sense. If it goes slow enough the thread lasts a little longer but as soon as I speed it up it snaps. I’ll just keep fiddling with it then until it works out. Replacing the motor seems more challenging since sewing seems to be a burden in my house (I talk my husband’s ear off about sewing 24/7).

    • Frans

      And this makes sense to me. It seems your upper tension is set to high or you are threading wrong. Are you using all posts and is the thread inbetween the discs of the tensioner? HAve close look. To lower tension turn the knurled knob CCW .
      Keep on sewing or taking about it!

      • Jocelyne

        I’ve threaded and rethreaded exactly how I was shown. Along with the tension being wrong there be something in the tension disks causing the problem? Also, let me just put out there that the guy told me it was okay to use WD-40 on the machine and I’ve since learned it leaves residue and I will never do that again.

      • Frans

        WD 40 is not a good idea. If you clean with q-tip dipped in alcohol.
        To check the tension mechanisme: pull the thread through with your hand (gently) while turning the knop. If you feel no difference there might be your problem, the plates could be stuck! Clean and try again. If necessary dismantle, clean and check condition, reasamble (in reverse order as they say )
        Take pictures!

      • Jocelyne

        I wish there were a way to post the pictures or a video of what’s happening to give better insight. The guy lost all credibility after the WD-40 suggestion. Frans, do you have this machine?

      • Frans

        Yes I have. It was given to me and
        I plan to use it for car upholstry. It is a wonderful machine. One thing popped in my mind. Are you using the correct needle? I started out with the wrong one and had similar problems. This is one of the reasons I changed to a motor that is fully contolable. It came ftom China but is a perfect (direct) replacement at a reasonable price.

      • Frans

        You can use watsapp to post a video.
        You can find me under my name
        Frans Beckers in the Nethetlands

  11. Omoré

    Someone please.. Do you know the Singer 20U 51B? Tell me what functional advantages it has over the rest of 20U models. Got a $450 deal on one. The owner is leaving my country to settle in the US… Is it worth it?

    • Jocelyne

      If you don’t get an answer check out the Facebook pages Vintage Sewing Machines and Vintage Singer Sewing Machines


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