Friday, June 6, 2008

Singer Puzzle Boxes

I do love the history behind our delightful sewing attachments and accessories. I saw my first puzzle box over a year ago and my interest was piqued immediatley! If you have one available, look at it closely and the workmanship is extraordinary. I can appreciate the time it went into creating these lovely attachment cases; especially in the year 1889. Unlike today, with every piece being the same, you can see small differences between each one. It may simply be the placement of the "holders" or some having Singer numbers, with others showing the number of the actual attachment. The shapes of the metal holders vary, and of course - the attachments continued to change over the years.

How long were they made? We know that John M. Griest (yes, that is how he spelled his name before he began the Greist Manufacturing Company), applied for a patent in 1888 for a "folding box", and received the patent in 1889 - the date seen on every box. The assignee of the patent was Singer Manufacturing Co. According to my research of the patent office, this may have been the last patent Griest applied for under the 'original name spelling' and for anyone other than his future company.

Remember I said he called it a 'folding box'? There isn't any evidence of Griest, nor Singer, calling it a Puzzle Box, a name we have quite possibly coined today.

There were different styles of folding boxes, for specific Singer sewing machines. I know I won't catch them all here, but will certainly add others as I come across them.

One of the earlier boxes was the Style #3 for the Improved Family and the Vibrating Shuttle #2. This box was held closed by a very tiny latch on the side. Inside we find all the wonderful attachments of the era! Can you well imagine a homemaker opening up her box for the first time? The beauty of the velveteen and each attachment secured in its proper place? What a delightful way to start the day! Could that be why we search and quest for them today? So we in turn can open it up and feel the delight and excitement?

Back to the Style #3. The instruction manual, found on the Smithsonian web site, shows a date of 1900. This does fit it being the very earliest one made for Singer sewing machines. Inside the manual it states, "Embodying all the latest improvements, and enclosed in a patented folding box". The latest improvements refer to the attachments inside called the Style No. 3 - we sometimes give the Style No. to the actual box, but it was for the set of attachments. This box was made in Elizabeth, N. J.

The very dainty latch kept the box securely closed. If you notice the size of the box and the size of treadle drawers, you will see they just fit perfectly! Once you finished sewing, you placed your attachments back into the folding box, and then safely into your treadle drawer.

The ruffler shown in the attachment case, Style #2 is a very old ruffler. That fits perfectly as the actual box is over 100 years old! This ruffler was more elongated than those in later years. Also fitting perfectly within the box were the long bobbins and a place for the needles. Many times you can find a puzzle box with pieces haphazardly placed in. True excitement and joy comes when you have every piece in the box, and they are in the correct spot.

The attachment set contained everything you needed for your household sewing. The ruffler and the shirring plate work together, the same as the under braider foot and the under braider. This certainly allows us to "view" the fashions of the era. Tucking was used extensively, especially on pinafores, blouses, and dainty dresses.
Each folding box set of attachments had a specific hemmer foot (not to be confused by the Foot Hemmer). This foot has an extended part, going behind the needle which has a hole in it. Notice each of the hemmers and the binders in the box have a long piece on the end. They fit perfectly into the hole of the hemmer foot and once tightened, they are ready to use! Without this specific foot, the hemmers and the binder are not usuable on your sewing machine. Watch for that foot if you are thinking of buying one of these pieces of history.

I did enjoy using the hemmers and the binder on my low shank Singer 221 Featherweight. Simply fold the hem over once, insert into the middle scroll, and then wiggle back and forth. As you wiggle, the hem is made with a very time second fold being formed inside the hemmer. Begin to sew. The hemmers come in varying sizes, from a large table linen hem to the dainty shirt-tail hem.

All of the necessary tools for sewing were also included in the folding box. The seamstress has the bias cutting gauge for making binding, the large and small screwdrivers for adjusting the tension and shuttle, the wonderful stiletto to get in some very small places! Also included was the cloth guide for keeping all those seams straight.

Later folding boxes were made with a "thumb indent" which opened and closed the case; inside were clasps which clicked together. This is the box for the Style #11 set of attachments for the Singer 27. Wonder how many there were? I know there is a style #14 and and a very hard to find box for the Style #11, Singer model 15 - holding round bobbins instead of the long bobbin.

Until next time - Happy Sewing!

The Sew Box


Nicki said...

I was wondering if you could help me. I recently purchased a puzzle box for a Model 15-30. Do you know of anywhere that I can find a readable diagram of parts and numbers. My box is mostly intact but there are a few things missing or broke. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

Nicki said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting the information on Singer folding boxes. All but one of the other sites I've seen are selling these boxes, but I already have one and would like to complete it and restore it. I would also like to find a list of the parts (and a diagram to help place them).


Charlene said...

Hi AnnDee,
I have quite a few of the parts lists and diagrams. The Style 11 is at our business website:

If you send an email to me I will be glad to help more.


Barb said...

The information you gave is totaly wonderful. I just came across a puzzle box and the attachements. Unfortunately, other attachements are with it and I do not know what belongs and what does not.

Unknown said...

If you could email some close up pictures of the corners and email them to me at I want to make one of these to hold some pens but I cant figure out how the corners are held together to be able to open and close.

Anonymous said...

Dear Charlene,

I had a lovely time reading your posting.

I have a Singer 128k hand-crank sewing machine from 1936.

I also have a complete Singer puzzle-box with all its attachments and accessories inside it (bar one - I'm missing a screwdriver). As it's for a Singer 27-28 series machine, what number of box would this be? I've been struggling to find out...

Becca said...

Hi there, just found this post, and it's the closest I've found to the info I need, I wondered if you could help me further. I have one of these boxes, almost complete. I know what all the bits are, but what completely foxes me is how the hemming feet attach! PLEASE could you tell me how this happens, and save me from more years of frustration :) Many thanks, Becca

Unknown said...

Stitchery! Sewing Machine Attachments, Needle, and Thread: Singer Puzzle Boxes....

Anonymous said...

I, too, have just stumbled upon your post. I've owned many Singers, none newer than about the mid-eighties. Right now I have four of the newer ones (Quantum XL100, XL150, XL1000 and XL6000). I do have some older ones that are in non-working condition but just are for show.

Like many have asked, I would also love a list of parts and a diagram, just to make sure I have everything. I am so confused as to what these might do!! But if a housewife saw my machines now, she would probably say the same thing!


JoeTownsend said...

Thank you ! My box has just arrived in the how on earth do I open it ?

Charlene said...

Hi Josee! By now I hope you have been able to open it. A puzzle box for sure! If your box is like the last photo - which it probably is - it will just lift open at the "thumb indentation". It's in the top middle of my last photo. Good luck and enjoy your box and attachments. I love them.