Vibrating shuttle mechanism is the one with the bullet-shaped shuttle moving in an arc. There are three major types: one introduced by Singer, another by New Home and the third one by White. They are all called “VS” which is very confusing. In England, Jones used the White patent and called their White-based machines “CS”, or cylinder shuttle, no doubt in order to differentiate from Singer’s VS. In Germany, various makers mostly followed the Singer design, but there were a few notable exceptions.
Singer vibrating shuttle machines come in two sizes: full size with the bed length of 14″, and 3/4 size with a 12″ bed (measurements are approximate). In Europe, those two sizes were quite well standardised for all three VS designs, so machines of different makes would usually fit into the same cases and treadles. But it’s best to always check to be sure, because the machines made in the USA had very different dimensions, for example.
Singer called their full size machines VS2, 3/4 ones VS3. Jones called their full size machines Medium CS, 3/4 ones Family CS, CS-E (with an electrical motor), Popular (with a Saxonia-style hand-crank), D53 (with a square boxy body).
Full size vibrating shuttle machines of either design are fairly rare. 3/4 size ones are common and plentiful. Their harp space (the space under the arm) is similar to that in modern multi-stitch machines with a much larger bed length of 16″ or more, which is sufficient for most domestic use.
The looks on the outside
On the outside, the three designs look very similar: they all have a wide silver band on the bed of the machine perpendicular to the arm.
There is an exception to this rule: the Hengstenberg/Anker machine with the Wittler mechanism. This German design is a variant of Singer’s VS with the shuttle swinging parallel to the arm of the machine, and so its silver band is shorter and runs along the bed of the machine rather than across it.
The difference inside
Flip back the machine and have a look at the mechanism inside the base – this is where they differ.
The White and Jones machines have a long arm that swings in a shallow arc, and the rotation centre is quite far to the right.
The New Home design has a medium-sized arm with a rotation centre pretty much in the middle of the bed. This example is by Mundlos who followed the New Home design with their vibrating shuttle machines.
The Singer and many German machines also have a long arm running along the bed, but it does not swing. The swinging arm is very short, the arc is steep and the rotation centre is on the left.
The Wittler variant is similar but the swinging arm is rotated by 90 degrees.
Because the shuttle must mirror the shape of the arc it is following, the difference in arc curvature makes for different slant of the tip of the shuttle. Short arm designs like Singer can keep the same shuttle for full size and 3/4 size machines because they can keep the arc the same and just lengthen the driving bar. However, in the medium and long arm designs the length of vibrating arm depends on the size of the machine bed, and so the arc is different in full size and 3/4 size models, which in turn means that each machine size has its own shuttle with a different curvature. Here is a side-by-side comparison of a Singer shuttle and a Jones Family CS shuttle – the difference in curvature is quite striking.
The bobbins for the original Singer, New Home and White machines are, of course, completely incompatible with each other. But in Europe Singer design dominated, so British and German manufacturers largely adopted Singer bobbin design for all their VS machines, except Pfaff who had their own hollow bobbins for a time, but they switched later. So European VS bobbins became interchangeable except for a little hole for a positioning pin in the bobbin winder. Singer machines don’t have such a pin, and their bobbins don’t have the hole. However, most other VS machines do have the pin, and so need that hole in their bobbins.
Since the hole does not interfere with the fit of the bobbin in the shuttle, I personally prefer the bobbins with the hole so they could be used in all vibrating shuttle machines.
Both bobbin types are being made again, so you are no longer restricted to chasing vintage ones. Just look for Singer 27/28 bobbins, and check for the hole.
It is worth noting that the Singer bobbins have a short pointy pip at either end which fits perfectly into the Singer bobbin winder, providing a good grip on the bobbin so that a positioning pin is not required to keep it in place. Non-Singer bobbins, old and new, don’t have appropriately shaped pips, so Singer bobbin winders might slip on them. There is however a very simple solution to this problem: a little BlueTack in the bobbin winder to hold the bobbin in place.
Needle types used by these machines depend on the make, but compared to other sewing machine mechanisms, vibrating shuttle often requires needles with a larger eye, which usually means thicker needles. So if your machine is skipping stitches, try a thicker needle, or a top stitch needle that has a larger eye than a regular one.
Singer VS machines take “standard domestic” needles, that’s type 15×1, a.k.a. 2020, HAx1 or 130/705H. They come in many varieties, including “top stitch” which have a larger eye. Most German machines of any VS design also use 15×1 needles, making them more usable today than the original White or New Home machines that used their own needles – impossible to find today.
Jones CS machines come in two variants: some take 15×1 needles, while others take “Jones” needles, that’s type 128×1, available for industrial sewing machines. But you can also often use a more common substitute: industrial needles DBx1 from Schmetz. Make sure they are from Schmetz rather than Organ because the shank on Organ needles is thinner which is enough to make it skip stitches. The shank is the thick bit at the top of a needle that goes into the needle clamp.