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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
- Synthetic fabrics/blends-rayon-polyester
- Reptile skin/suede
- Extra thick fabrics or multiple layers
Luckily, the previous owner kept nearly all of the original accessories intact over the years.
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
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 use||Monthly*||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|
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.