1950s | Children | Kids | Sewing Machines | Vintage Sewing

Little Betty

November 5, 2012

Little Betty toy sewing machine

I bought this adorable “Little Betty” toy 50s sewing machine on ebay this week, because for $25,I couldn’t resist it!

After playing with it for a bit, I was able to thread the top of the machine, and by cranking the handle, I got some sort of “sewing” happening. (Yes, it has a proper needle, and the foot raises and lowers like a “real one). Only problem is, it looks like something has to be done underneath, in lieu of a bobbin arrangement, and this is the part I can’t work out. No instructions came with the machine, and it is made in Britain.

top side of work








I know, it’s actually just an ornament for my sewing room, but it’s bugging me!

I’m wondering if anyone else has come across one of these, and knows how to thread it?

underside of work

  1. It’s a chainstitcher and doesn’t use a bobbin, forming a stitch by making a loop under the fabric and pulling the subsequent loop through it. These toys are notorious for their inability to sew decently. I was given one of them for my sixth birthday, and it nearly turned me off sewing for life. Fortunately, my Mom let me use her treadle, so I learned to love sewing.

    Some years ago, the International Sewing Machine Collector’s Society (ismacs.net) had a competition sewing quilt blocks, using toy machines. If memory serves, there wasn’t a single one that was adequately completed.

    According to Alex Askaroff, of http://www.sewalot.com/straco_sewing_machines.htm, some of the earlier ones use a 12K or 12×1 needle, now apparently out of production. Also, the original booklet included with the machine would have had instructions for fixing the hook so it would pick up the stitch. If you watch what happens under the machine bed while cranking, you may be able to figure out how to fix it. Good luck.


  2. Maria,
    Thanks for all this great info!

    I will have to go back to the drawing board and play around with the hooks underneath. And, WOW, I can’t imagine actually trying to sew anything like a quilt block – that would take forever…

  3. I’m looking at the hand crank toy Singers as something to maybe teach the Bit to sew on. She wants to learn how, but she’s 4. And well, I’m wary of letting her sew on my big machine!

    1. My mom taught me how to sew at four doing hand-stitching and letting me help her on her machine. I wasn’t allowed to do anything unsupervised, but I managed to figure out how to guide the fabric with her running the pedal. This was also twenty years ago, though, on a simple machine. If you’ve got a new fancy one I might hold off a bit.

    2. The Singer Sew Handy machines were really not toys. I learned to sew on one back in the 1950’s. They were made for two reasons — one as a travel machine to make repairs to clothing while traveling and two to give a child a learning tool to sew. I would see if I could find a Sew Handy in good repair and teach your child on that. Let her advance to a regular size machine when she has accomplished sewing; as this will spark her interest in future sewing. I know I did.

  4. I’d recommend a Singer 99 for her first machine. It’s a 3/4 size model, nice for a child to learn on, not too limiting when she’s ready to move up. Look for one with a large spoked handwheel. You can take off the motor, bolt on a handcrank, and your little one can learn to crank at her own pace. Also, you can get a finger guard for it, and I doubt they are available for the toys.

  5. I wonder how many of us learning to sew on an old treadle machine? It’s a shame that they’re so hard to find, they’re prefect for small children to learn on… one stitch, one direction, at exactly the pace you are expecting. I think I was four or five when my grandmother showed me how to make doll clothing using hers.
    Way less frustrating that a silly toy.

  6. Cat, my parents were antique collectors. I learned to sew on a treadle sewing machine and to type on a cast-iron manual typewriter. I still enjoy working a treadle machine — it’s very soothing. Probably also safer than an electric machine because when you sew that first stitch into your finger, you scream and *stop pedaling*!!!

  7. I don’t know anything about this particular model, but there is nothing inherently silly or wrong about chain-stitchers. Chain stitch is extremely strong, but also very easy to rip out. It’s perfect for when you know you will want to unpick a seam at a later time, e.g. when you are sewing a muslin or test garment! It is also very strong for things like crotch seams that come under a lot of strain. The downside there is that it can get awkward very quickly if that seam pops, so it that case it’s a good idea to back up the one-thread chain stitch with a row of two-thread stitching from a standard machine.

    1. Yes, chain stitchers can be used to sew temporary seams, make straw hats, close pet food bags, and for many other applications, but the machines used for these aren’t toys. Singer and Willcox & Gibbs made industrial CS models that performed reliably under demanding conditions. Toys aren’t engineered to those standards, and can be incredibly frustrating if you expect them to actually sew.

  8. I just figured out how to thread my lb sew o matic senior tonight. I was frustrated with the same thing. That is how I found your blog. I tried a few more things and then realized if I have enough thread to lead and then I make a long enough chain at the end I can knot each and it won’t come undone 🙂 tedious if one was to try piecing a quilt but a solution never-the-less.

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