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Singer 285J

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I've got to confess -- the looks first drew me to this machine.

I know that Singer replaced the reliable model 99 with the Model 185J. It was a straight-stitch only machine that basically was the same as a 99 on the inside. The casing was a sturdy plastic and the color was pale-green. Some found it attractive, some found it sickly looking.

I liked it -- so I was on the lookout for a Model 185. I spied this Model 285J instead, though. The case looks pretty much the same as a Model 185 case.
... but, the machine inside was much, much more attractive than a 185! I loved the bright turquoise color. I also liked the fact that it was a heavy, all metal machine rather than having a plastic casing like the 185.

Nothing against plastic -- but given the choice, I'd rather have a sturdy all-metal tank. Again, straight-stitch only, but the machine looked beautiful and I figured it would have the same reliability as a 99 or a 185. After all, the 185 was a progression from the 99, so the 285 must be a newer version of the 185, right?


Well, therein lies the rub -- the Singer 285J has a deep, dark, ugly secret. It's not the machine I (and many others) thought it was. It's not a newer 185 -- it's pretty much a totally different machine, even though it looks similar to a 185.

Even worse, when I checked the 285J out on the Singer groups and forums, I found that the 285J is generally considered one of the two worst older sewing machines made by Singer!
More about that in a minute -- let's take a look at the threading and sewing first.

Threading the machine is pretty simple -- here's a threading diagram and instructions. The thread path follows the standard suspects, but continues down the front of the machine, not the side.

Note that the needle is threaded just like a featherweight -- from the front side of the machine, not the side facing the sewist!

Bobbin winding and setup is pretty simple as well -- it's described in the threading link above.
Here's a quick peek at the "Tower" of the machine. Basic old-style Singer bobbin-winding setup, nothing fancy. The only stitch adjustments are stitch length -- this is a straight-stitch only machine, no zig-zag!

As you might suspect, you lift the stitch length lever all the way up to kick into reverse feed.

Note also that this is not a "Slant needle" machine -- it's a straight up-and-down needle just like a Featherweight.
No surprises on the back side. The setup looks just like a 185J -- in fact, I've heard of people swapping the motors and lights between the two machines.

The light has a switch on the top -- it does not come on automatically when you plug the machine in.

I never found a machine off-on switch -- when you plug it in, the machine is live.
Let's give it a quick sew -- here's a sample straight stitch line. It looks pretty good in the picture; it wasn't quite as good in person. Still, not all that bad.

I did notice something funny, though. The machine was pretty loud (as I expected) ... but it also seemed to have a very strong vibration.

All sewing machines are going to vibrate some. There are pieces and parts moving back and forth and this will cause vibration. Much of the movement is rotary, though. This circular motion doesn't cause a deep vibration -- I guess because the weight being tossed around is moved in all directions, causing it to cancel itself out.

Needle bar movement is going to be up and down -- this causes a heavier vibration because the weight is changing directions by 180 degrees. The vibration is usually livable because the weight being moved is not all that heavy (needlebar and takeup lever), plus the direction is up-and-down. This would cause the machine to jump off the table -- if the vibration were heavy enough. Since it tends to be light, though -- because of the light weights being moved -- and because the machines themselves tend to be a little heavy, you don't really feel the up-and-down vibration all that much.

By the way, this isn't a physics or mathematical description of the work -- just my rationalization of how I think things are happening.

Anyway, the vibration I felt was something different -- it was noticeable and it seemed to want to move this sturdy and heavy machine.
And here's why! Here's the 285J's deep and ugly secret!

For some completely unfathomable reason, the Singer engineers reworked the bobbin rotation / feed dog mechanics! Instead of using the simple and relatively vibration-free mechanics from the 99 and the 185J, they came up with this ridiculous toothed gear! The heavy driving arm moves back and forth -- causing the deep vibration!

This image shows the arm all the way to the right ...
...and this image shows the arm at the other extreme. This not only causes vibration, it's really a failure waiting to happen. The gearworks are clumsy and kludgy and the vibration is trying to tear it apart.

I can only assume that Singer bought into "planned obsolescence" when they replaced the proven and long-lasting mechanics of the 99 and 185 with this piece of junk. The only other explanation I can come up with involves engineers smoking crack at work!
By the way, here's what the mechanics of a Singer 185J look like. Note how they're much simpler and lighter. This scheme is built to last -- unlike the nightmare above.

Bottom line, this Singer 285J is a disappointing machine. Beautiful -- but disappointing. It had so much promise, but poor engineering choices got in the way.

If you find this machine at a good price, it makes a fine display piece. If you're planning on doing much sewing with it, you'd better buy at least two of them ... so you'll have spare parts once your first one shakes itself apart!

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