Craftsperson’s Guide to Buying a Used Chainstitch Embroidery Machine

I wrote this guide because there wasn’t a lot of transparent public information available about the Singer 114w103 and Cornely Chainstitch machine currently available on the web. When I began my search for my first machine in Spring of 2015, it took me quite awhile to realize that a few of the online communities for these machines are unfortunately moderated by opportunistic dealers who have a tendency to prey on newcomers. Since discovering my first machine, I’ve personally owned and helped others to restore dozens of 114w103 and Cornely chainstitch machines. While I still have much to learn, I feel compelled to share a bit of what I’ve learned and collected from others in the chainstitch community. It is my hope that this guide will help others to avoid expensive pitfalls when buying and/or restoring their first chain stitch embroidery machine.

DISCLAIMER: I do periodically restore and resell chainstitch machines. However, this guide was not created in any way to promote my own machines (on the rare occasion when I even have one for sale). This guide is intended to give the reader the tools to “peer under the hood” of machines that may become available anywhere in the marketplace and make an investment that will continue to make embroidered artwork for generations to come.

Tips for first time buyers

1. Stick with machines from North America, and Northern Europe

Many of the bigger US textile factories sold their secondhand machines to countries like India, Turkey, Italy, Australia, and others. Some of these machines and parts are now being brought back to the US through resellers in the United States. The machines were often used very heavily under subpar conditions with bad oils and makeshift replacement parts that have poor castings. There are some big dealers who do very slick restorations on these old machines (new paint jobs and decals, a great sales pitch & promise of phone support and a high price tag). It’s best to steer clear of these machines. The nightmare stories are endless, and you are likely to receive a machine with subpar parts and problems to address in the future.

Update May 2020We are now seeing sellers on eBay in California carrying cheap parts at premium prices from these grey market dealers in Australia, India, and Pakistan. Be careful out there!

2. Be Wary Of Repainted Machines With Fresh Decals

This tip goes hand-in-hand with what is written above. Often, repainted machines with fresh decals have been restored in a way as to cover something up. This is not always the case, but a good reason to ask more questions about the history and origin of the machine if you see that it has been repainted or made to look newer than it should.

3. Look for machines with Simanco Parts and original Accessories

Singer’s Simanco branded parts were very well machined to tight tolerances. When clean, oiled, and set to the proper timing they can create precision work with little to no problems. Unbranded parts can reveal an undesirable history and signal troubles ahead. The telltale signs of a cheap casting on a reproduction nipple can either be a dead giveaway for a machine that’s been restored and re-imported from the far east or simply fitted with low quality replacement parts.

The picture below shows an original nipple for a Singer 114w103 alongside two reproduction copies. If the machine you are inspecting has reproduction nipples, there is a good chance it came from grey market sources overseas.

4. Try Before You Buy

Depending on your location, this one isn’t always possible. But there is nothing better than getting to feel the machine running with your own hands before purchasing. While slow, gummy gears can be easily remedied with a good cleaning and fresh oil – missing, damaged or poorly fit replacement parts quickly become apparent when the machine is operated firsthand. If ordering online, ask that the seller provide you with a video of the machine running and performing chain and moss stitch, and include both chain and moss stitch tests in the shipment with your machine.

5. Provide Clear Packaging Instructions To Your Seller & INSURE WELL!

Packing these machines is a real headache, and there are many heartbreaking stories of machines being destroyed in the mail. Don’t make the same mistake I did and trust the UPS or FedEx to package the machine for you (even for their expensive packaging fee!). Provide your seller with clear instructions for packaging prior to purchase and make sure that the seller insure the package for the full value of the machine when shipping. Don’t be afraid to offer an extra sum of money to a seller to help with packaging on their side. It really is the only way to ensure that the machine arrives safely to you.

Packing Tips:

The best technique for packaging I’ve found is through the use of 2″ pink rigid foam insulation found at most large hardware stores. It typically costs about $25 for a 4×8 sheet (enough to ship roughly two machines). Obtain a good quality double-walled box for the machine that allows for an extra 2″ on all sides of the box for protection. The foam will reinforce the box and protect the machine from the inevitable impacts it will suffer by even the most careful mail courier service. Have the seller remove the hand-crank, needle bar, and tension spring prior to packaging and block in pieces of foam and cardboard so that the basic frame of the machine is held in place while the head and all fragile protruding parts underneath the machine are floating in space. There should be no movement in the box if packed properly. Never ship a machine head and a motor together. Clearly mark the package fragile. Many couriers (such as UPS) require expensive packages to be dropped off directly to a shipping depot with a signature from a manager and not a local pack and ship location. This modifies the packages “chain of custody” and requires that it be stored in lockup and inspected by a manager at each hop along the way. Providing the proper paperwork for signature will ensure that your package is duly insured by the courier in the case of a mishap and is treated more carefully regardless.

Safe packaging of a 114w103 using 2" rigid foam insulation. Notice that the head and all important parts are not touching the walls of the box. One more piece of 2" foam with be added to the top of the box before it is taped for shipping.
Safe packaging of a 114w103 using 2″ rigid foam insulation. Notice that the head and all important parts are not touching the walls of the box. One more piece of 2″ foam with be added to the top of the box before it is taped for shipping.