Industrial Sewing Machine: Acquired

Well, it’s done. After weeks of trawling Craigslist, an hour-long phone call with an intelligent stranger about a different machine that wasn’t going suit my needs, and a two-week delay while the seller and I waited out their unintentional COVID exposure, I am the proud new owner of a vintage Consew 206RB-3 industrial sewing machine.

So far, it is exactly what I wanted — at least a few decades old, in decent shape, built by a reputable maker, and it has a clutch motor that I can upgrade to a servo motor if I wish. I even like the color of the head, the table, and the little drawer hiding on the left side. Connie Consew is perfect!

Decidedly Not Portable

The internet was right — these things are heavy. According to the manual, the machine head alone weighs 25.5 kg (56 lbs). The motor probably weighs another 50-60 lbs. There’s a small wooden peg sticking up from the table that has the job of holding the head whenever it is tilted back for maintenance or bobbin changes. I’ll admit I didn’t trust the little peg at first, but it does a fine job of supporting all that weight on a single point of contact about an inch in diameter.

Even so, the nice lady I bought the machine from offered to deliver it to my house like it was nothing. One of the first things my husband and I did when we went to look at it was try to lift the table. It wasn’t happening for us. But through the magic of a shoulder dolly and the physics of gravity, the seller and her husband floated this thing out to their trailer and drove it across town back to my house.

A Quart Low

So let’s take a tour, shall we? You’ve probably seen a sewing machine before, but there are a few obvious differences with an industrial machine. The biggest one is lubrication. Whereas the instruction manual of the average domestic will tell you to put a single drop of lily white sewing machine oil in the bobbin area once every couple of months, even with heavy use, an industrial machine needs to be oiled frequently and in dozens of places. On top of that, there’s a little tank in the underside that holds about an ounce of oil. This machine has an oil pan, but it isn’t meant to be filled up with oil — it’s just where oil collects and drips through from the oiling points. However, some machines have a pump and a fill line in their oil pans.

Anecdotally, this machine did not go at first when I went to check it out. The motor came on just fine, but the hand wheel wouldn’t budge at all, and the pedal did nothing. I suggested adding oil. After putting oil in all the ports, she started moving again. Apparently it had sat for a while. That’s okay, because that means I get to become intimately familiar with it as I clean and re-oil it.

This Foot is Made for Walking

Image via Sailrite

This is a compound walking foot machine. Let’s break that down. ‘Walking foot’ means that that the foot — the many-varied and interchangeable part that holds the fabric down to the bed — has a set of feed dogs that help push the fabric along the from top side at the same time that the regular feed dogs feed the fabric from underneath. The ‘compound’ part refers to the little middle bit, which moves up and down at the same time as the needle and also walks the fabric along.

Here’s a great visual explanation of the differences between drop-feed, walking foot, and compound walking foot machines. Compound walking foot machines are great for my needs in that they give an even stitch through multiple thick layers of fabric, which is what I need to sew vinyl, canvas, and leather. Like I said in the first post, industrial machines are purpose-built. This one is for heavy duty use, and it spent many years doing upholstery work. It even made a motorcycle seat!

That Motor Though

The motor in a standard sewing machine for home use is pretty small — about the size of a fist. Even the motor in my “heavy duty” Singer 4452, which is supposed to have 50% more power than a regular domestic’s motor, is pretty darn small compared to Connie Consew’s motor. This is a 1/2 horsepower clutch motor. The operating instructions I have are for a 206RB-4, and I’m really not sure what the differences are between the 206RB-3 and the -4, though I suspect they are slight. According to the manual, it will do 3300 stitches per minute! Look how fast it goes:

Because it’s a clutch motor, it runs continuously when powered, even when not sewing. It’s rather loud, too, although not as loud as I was expecting. Still, I will have fun replacing it with a servo motor that be much quieter and easier to dial in the speed. Gonna miss those cool controller buttons, though. Maybe I can re-use the motor for something else, like a go-kart. Just need an inverter.

For A Few Dollars More

Even though I really like this machine as-is, there are a few upgrades I’d like to do. Many of them are along the lines of what [Eric Strebel] did to his industrial Pfaff — move the pedal more toward the right, swap out the clutch motor for a servo motor, and augment the built-in light with something containing many small LEDs.

I’m going to try to replace the pad on the knee lifter, which lifts the presser foot from its normally-down position. While there’s nothing wrong with it, the outside is all crackled and flaky. I’ve already looked into it, and it seems that I’ll have to buy the entire knee lifter assembly. Maybe I’ll just make a little shower cap-style slipcover for it instead. I also think I’d like to get a link belt because they’re cool looking, though that might not be a good idea. I’ll have to check with my local sewing machine shop and see what they think.

Sew What?

Now that I have this baby, I can make better bags and backpacks with less hassle and at higher speeds. I could even start making stuff out of leather. I plan to start my sewing adventure with Connie Consew by working on  a half-finished bag made from upholstery fabric that the Singer 4452 couldn’t handle. But first, I’m going to go through and give her a tune-up, making sure she’s got plenty of oil.

72 thoughts on “Industrial Sewing Machine: Acquired

    1. Pretty dubious thing if you ask me, considered servo motor is the same thing as “clutch motor” aka induction motor(in this case synchronous – e.i. with permanent magnet) but wired differently and required pretty complicated IC’s just adding another point of failure and less efficient.
      But you can do:
      1) Switch to 3-phase
      2) add proper VFD
      3) add proper Regenerative braking(some VFD already have it builtin)
      3) YD autoswitch for lowering switch-on surge (and again some VFD already have it builtin )
      4) replace friction coupling by EM/EPM coupling
      5) one or two shaft encoder HS or optical(depend on required resolution and VFD some came with retrofitting kits)
      6) add Biological sensor so your machine stop sewing your or some else wet biological things(still rare but some VFD may came with it builtin otherwise just few ESP for failover or and similar board will help )
      7) Modified rotor into PMSRM (since COTS replacement for rotor practically not exist, it will required a lot of heave machinery, magnet and other metal sawing and in some case you need complete rewinding with thinner litz wires and new VFD, so this step can be safely skipped if you not ready for mouths of fun machining and rewiring with not warranted result)

      1. I don’t know why you consider a servo motor to necessarily not have all the first three things you listed. Are you assuming a servo brushed motor?

        The rest would be nice to have but are pretty far outside the scope and budget of a standard motor replacement. Especially getting a PMSRM, this is a sewing machine, not a Tesla.

        I think when the author says servomotor, they mean a BLDC with a VFD. I see no reason to have an encoder of any kind. BEMF control would be more than enough to give the control desired for a sewing machine.

        1. Well… like I said PMSRM largely unnecessary unless you can DIY from exiting rotor for cheap (x10 speed won’t hurt for large project or small businesses).
          seem I need add TL;DR:
          Cheap VFD for SM 400W for single or 3-phase around 10-$15.
          I doubt you can beat it price with new motor.

  1. Very nice! You’ll want to turn the handwheel by hand once in a while to make sure it’s not getting stiff again. The fact that it was stuck at first may be simply an initial lack of lubrication, OTOH it may have been lubricant that turned to varnish with age. I’ve unseized – and then done it again – a number of domestic machines, and the principles are the same. If it happens again, you can use some 99% isopropanol to help dissolve the varnish. Chase that with some WD-40, then with whatever oil is recommended for that beast. Run it for a bit without sewing, let it drain, empty the oil pan, then oil it again

    If you care about accurate colour rendition of what you’re sewing – some domestic sewers do – then pay attention to the colour temperature of the LED’s you use for the lighting upgrade. Some domestic machines incorporate red LED’s with variable brightness to allow tweaking of colour rendering. And of course you’ll want the lights dimmable – you may find that you sometimes need extra brightness that’s helpful in the short term but too bright for a long sewing session.

    Stock up on needles – you’ll want to change them fairly frequently. A dull needle is more likely to break; depending on how fast you’re sewing and how heavy the material is, a needle break could scar the throat plate and possibly cause other damage, such as changing the needlebar height or throwing the timing off.

    Have fun with your new machine!

    1. Be careful with alcohol around vintage machines.

      Many of the old black machines shellac protecting the black japanning.

      If you use alcohol on those old machines, you risk ruining the finish.

      You can put fresh shellac on them to fix things if you accidentally get alcohol on the shellac – but no everybody has shellac handy.

  2. Having worked as a Furrier for a number of years – our finisher’s machine – (making the lining for the coat – usually Silk) had an ACIENT singer – with a 1/4 horse motor – watching an accomplished seamstress using that machine was a joy – that seam up the side of the lining was done at max speed – nary a missed stich or crooked seam – I found how strong the machine really was when I was reupholstering some cushions – the bead cord had a leather wrapper – and two layers of upholstery on either side – zip, zip, zip like it was sewing paper. Just as a test one day we sewed three leather belts together. You had to respect that kind of power – if you got careless – you could very well wind up sewing two fingers together…

      1. Wholly cow 8 layers of denim. I mean, of course, right? But I would have never even imagined someone needing to do so, let alone an industrial machine being ‘unbothered’ by it.

        I was going to offer to straight up ‘Bedazzle’ your entire workspace with COB LEDs in exchange for the old motor (provided you are in the bay area…) but the above comment was spot on. I’m surrounded by LEDs… constantly wiring up new novel uses for them…and yet, I very much dislike the lighting characteristics of LEDs in general but most ESPECIALLY the color. Honestly if it mattered to me and I was in your shoes I would literally have like 6 of those folding true color sewing lights. The old ones. The new ones are LEDs I think!

    1. I worked in orthotics and they had similar machines–could sew a stack of 7 layers of steer hide together. There were stories about (infrequent) accidents that would chill your blood. I’ve used table saws without guards that were less scary than the 2 Hp sewing machines.

  3. I have operated several industry sewing machines. I love them all. I’ve worked in the garment industry all my life.
    I also own four, 1single needle and 3 overlooks. If you never used industrial sewing machines…you don’t know what you are missing. They can have needle guards attached in front of the needle so if your finger gets to close, it will hit the guard first.
    Not all have them but you could buy one. They are small of course they fit in front oof the needle. Like a little cage. They cannot obstruct the view of the needle and where you are sewing.
    Connie, your article was great! Thanks.

    1. Hmm, that little cage sounds interesting. Both times I’ve put a machine needle through my finger, it was with that darn zipper foot. Most any other foot, it’s pretty hard to get that close. I will still be super duper careful, though!

      Thank you!

  4. If all you need is the knee lifter pad, save $50 and buy one for a different machine & redrill the clamp if necessary. I see (all out of stock, though) several other replacement kits with fewer parts for around $20 each. Maybe Ebay?

    If you feel really adventurous, take a stab at just replacing the pad on yours. Maybe a thick piece of neoprene rubber sheet, cut to size and glued on?

  5. I’ve got a “Connie”, too! My day job is leather /vinyl upholstery, and this machine is absolutely the KING of walking foot machines! I also have a fiber /textile design biz, and have another at my studio at home; this one is new and has a servo. At work, it’s a clutch… And it’s noisy! My tip for you: look for presser feet. My all time fave foot is actually a 1/4″ double-welt foot. It serves me in four different ways: double welt cord-making, obviously, single welt cord-making, 1/4″ topstitch foot, and the width of the foot is easy to follow for a nice scant-half-inch seam allowance. A zipper foot is always handy, too. 😊

    1. Julie knows her stuff. 1/4″ welting foot is ideal for 90% of your work and is much better than the stock one you have now. I ran a shop with several industrial machines and the RB-5 version of your Consew was my favorite. It had the larger bobbin which we needed for sewing truck tonneau covers. Your best lubricant is plain ole mineral oil they sell at Walgreens for constipation. It’s clear, doesn’t yellow, and cheap. Take Julie’s advice and hunt down a welting foot and don’t be afraid to shape it with a grinder either. Have fun.

  6. That is funny, I just got rid of my Pfaff industrial machine. I put a servo on it because it’s pretty necessary unless you are very skilled with the clutch motor. It was just to heavy and not portable. I find that I prefer to take my machine to the job and industrial isn’t the solution. I thought about a bench top industrial but ended up with a janome hd300p. It’s less powerful but still powerful enough and portable

  7. You can buy just the rubber part of the knee pad rather than the whole assembly. I also had a cloth cover sewn for the knee pad with elastic around the perimeter. It looked like a larger version of a cloth jam jar cover.

  8. I have one of these, I just found the operator manual in an old box (so thankful for that). Mine came out of the Penaljo Shoe Company where my uncle worked. I haven’t had a chance to sew anything yet but I have loads of vintage leather to make some really cool things. I’m so happy I found your article!

  9. I needed this because although I have several machines, I want one also.. My parents were tailors and I grew up with a power machine in the house. I did learn to sew on it, but I never learned how to do the maintenance. My Dad kept it oiled and after he passed, my mother took it to a local guy who took care of it for her. But alas, that machine technician was forced into retirement due to impending dementia. So I gave her one of my Singer machines which she used until she passed on. Now years later I wished that I had at least kept that power machine table which was tossed when family cleaned out the house.

  10. I have one sewing machine and I have made quilts and other clothing for my family and would not buy any other machine they are work horses and not plastic I have mine now for 50 yrs and I love ❤this machine

  11. I’m a skilled craftsman, though not much of a sewer, and this article came up at random on my Google page. Despite not being part of your “target” audience, I found the article written with such clarity, I had no trouble (at all!) following and becoming absorbed into the world of industrial sewing machines. I now find myself intent on dreaming up a project (tent?, laundry hamper?, tool bag?) that could justify my buying one. Your subtle use of humor was also appreciated. Most DIY articles are either too stuffy and dry, or they mistake cloying “cuteness” for wit (example: puns like “sew easy”, or “… left me in stitches!” Ugh…). Anyway, nicely written! I’m going to figure out how to subscribe to Hack-A-Day on the strength of your article. Thx!

    1. These ppl are not corny housewife “bloggers” “publishing” nonsense via WordPress about subjects they saw on Pinterest and have no experience in – to get you to buy some BS that comes with a kickback from Beff Jezos…

      These ppl r SRS BZNZ

      How sad is it that not-bs is *startling* to see nowadays

    1. I never heard what that machine sold for . I bought a domestic machine but l was really needing industrial. Maybe you might want to make a trade for domestic and cash , for your industrial.

  12. I have an industrial Pfaff I use. I love it. Always comes in handy. I once made a jeep top using a 5 gallon bucket in strips for the lip on windshield and sides. Sewed right through the plastic.

  13. I truly enjoyed reading your article which seemed to have just popped up on Google on my phone . Having owned an industrial machine decades ago, loved it, but I felt like I was waking up my entire neighborhood whenever I sewed, not to mention my family. If I had all this information back then, I would probably still have it . I have portable machines that do the job, but it does take longer. So, I may need to look into industrial machines! 😊

  14. I want the same sewing machine any ideas where I can look for one? Please I need to know. I am an Uhpolster and I don’t have a machine. I need to practice what I learned before I forget it. So if y’all guys have any information as to where I can find one! or where to look? It would be great and so helpful of you guys. “ I Thank you in advance. “

  15. I bought my 206 RB Singer in 1982 brand new in 1982. I still use it today. I use it for upholstery in planes, trucks, and automobiles. And lots of other stuff too. Enjoy! Great selection.

  16. I’ve sewn on many industrial machines working in garment manufacturing, as I mentioned in an earlier reply. I started sewing production when I was 18. There are so many brands and different types. You can find new and used industrials online. Of course start with Google. You will end up going down the rabbit hole finding more and more sites having to do with industrial machines. Ebay has them all the time. I’ve seen them on Craig’s list as well. When I sewed production…of course you usually do the same operation. You sew the same part over and over all day. You get paid piece work. The harder that particular sewing part is the more you will get paid for one piece. The parts come come in bundles from the cutting room. Maybe a dozen per bundle or 50 per bundle. I at one time sewed for Glamorise, Foundations. They manufactured many different styles of bras. I sewed shell lace edging onto the straps of some of the styles. The lace was about 1/4″ wide and came in fairly large rolls which where attached to my machine, and there was a special attachment in front of my machine where the lace went through so it was guided directly under my needle. As I sewed the lace would continually unroll. I sewed up one curved side to the top which was very narrow, about 1/2″ wide. I needed to learn how to go around that top narrow section across the top and down the other side which was a different curve to the end. Then do it again on the next piece. On this operation there was a steep learning curve. A lot of it is hand eye coordination. I thought I’m going to have to stop and pivot at two 45° angles and still make money. Most operations a sewer can sew the piece and never stop until the end. It took me awhile but I learned to pivot the strap under the needle on both angles without stopping! It wasn’t long before I would not even have to stop the machine and do a dozen straps straight on. As I was sewing one holding it with my right hand , I then would pick up another strap and have it ready to insert in the folder as I ended the strap in front of it, that probably took 6 months to accomplish. The only thing that stopped me from going faster was the machine! And you know how fast those machines are! Once in awhile I’d run off the edge of the strap and then stopped, ripped out some stitches, pull the lace and the strap back where I ran off and petal to the metal…right back into the rhythm. If you sew a small mistake in a bundle of a dozen or more, believe me, you will get it back to correct once it went to the quality girls! Ha! That was in the 70’s, before most of the garment manufacturing went off shore to be made cheaper, There were about 10 different types of garment manufacturing in my area…rural area. To sew the garments. They are still here but all the seamstresses are not. They are warehouses that store their garments AFTER they are sent back from China or Mexico or Honduras or India….. I saw hundreds and hundreds of mostly women lose their jobs. The only thing they knew how to do. I learned to create and sew my own clothes at a very young age, my mother taught me. She also worked in garment factories all her life. She learned how to sew when she was young. She could make anything. From wedding gowns to upholstery. She was amazing. I went back to college to study Fashion Design and of course if you can sew and read patterns that’s half the battle. Some students never used a sewing machine let alone read a pattern. But the one thing you have is 6 hour long classes in pattern drafting. I loved the pattern making. More than the designing, but they go hand in hand. If you can draft a pattern from only a picture it is a great accomplishment. I took to patterns like a duck to water. I excelled at drafting them. Back then I did them on the table. I came home got a position with a huge knitwear factory. Talk about trial by fire. But I learned how to make patterns for knits and how to sew knits plus all the different sewing machines needed to create the clothes. 2 needle cover, 3 needle cover, mock safety stitch and on. Several years. Then they downsized. Well the sewers all lost their jobs. That company was private label for catalogs. Lands End, Eddie Bower, Izod, Macy’s, Victoria Secret was our largest account. Sportswear. They don’t do much sportswear anymore. It seems to be all under garments. I did all patterns on the table for years. Then came Gerber and Lectra. Garment pattern drafting software. CAD. I last worked for WOOLRICH as patternmaker, grader. That was private label as well, but we only made WOOLRICH patterns. There I learned how to pattern parkas that could have 50 pattern pieces. And they had to fit, or if they found their way to the cutting room for production and one piece was off, you were in big trouble. That never really happened, at least not to me. I developed many outerwear garments while there. Straight from a huge knitwear manufacturer to wovens. I forgot to mention I learned Gerber CAD there and drafted patterns on the computer. And it wasn’t AUTO CAD. I wrote all of this for the benefit of home sewers or just anyone interested. If it is too long I understand if you don’t want to include it in your replies. Thank you.

  17. I have a industrial sewing machine like posted with the exception that it’s a singer and I’m trying to sell it so if anyone is interested give me a shout for more details…757-636-5631

  18. You will love the 206, I’m a professional upholsterer and my 206 is the workhorse of the shop. If you practice a bit and get used to the clutch motor, there’s really no need to go to servo, I actually tried 2 different ones, and went back to the clutch motor ( though needle positioning on the fancier servo was kind of nice , when the encoder was not messing up). Actually, once your experienced, you can sew a single stitch, or as fast or slow as you want with the clutch. Up to you.

    Likewise the light, I just screw a 60w equivalent led bulb in the existing fixture, seems perfect.

    Oil it everytime before using. You will probably want to pick up some additional presser feet, at least one beading or welt foot, and a right and left hand zipper foot make nice Addison’s, and can be had cheap on eBay.

  19. I have a 1926 singer upholstery machine very similar to the one above
    That I’m interested in selling
    It was used to make leather belts hats and upholstery for cars
    it still works great
    I’m in Arizona

  20. My 1 st 3 rd 5 th job was sewing. 7 the 9 and 10 as well. But I wanted to let you know hobby lobby lets you use (on phone) coupon 40% off any regular priced item, I get the most beautiful leather hides, suede, smaller pieces as well. All are reg priced not higher than ??? Maybe $12.00 or so. I like to get the larger ones to make all kinds of things. Bags, belts, custom many fun things. Also I have even used my industrial to see a dryer belt, a motor car belt of some kind for a friend (it got him to the auto parts store. And my vacuum belt. I am so fortunate to own many machines even a huskavarna. I know they are chainsaw people too. Anyways. Happy sewing.

    1. Hobby Lobby got rid of the 40% coupon altogether! I have a small bag of leather scraps that I’ve had around forever, so I’m excited to try those out before I go buying any leather. How awesome that you sewed all those belts!

      1. For buying leather, I often go to The Salvation Army store & buy leather coats. I recently purchased a 339-3 direct from Consew, it’s a double needle & I love it! I have an older version of the same at work. I am a flag seamstress in upstate NY. I’ ve modified some attachments from Amazon to work with my machine & was able to bue bobbins there as well.

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