Mechanism · Vibrating shuttle

Vibrating shuttle machines

Vibrating shuttle mechanism is the one with the bullet-shaped shuttle moving in an arc. There are two major types: one invented by Singer and the other by White. The Singer models are called “VS”, while the White models are not called anything special which is very confusing. In England, Jones bought the White patent and called their White-based machines “CS”, or cylindric shuttle, no doubt in order to differentiate from Singer’s VS. In Germany, various makers mostly followed the Singer design.

The looks on the outside

On the outside, the two designs look the same: they both have a wide silver band on the bed of the machine perpendicular to the arm.

There is an exception to this rule: the Hengstenberg machine. This German desing 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 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 Hengstenberg variant is similar but the swinging arm is rotated by 90 degrees.

The shuttles

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.

The bobbins

The bobbins for both designs are fortunately exactly the same. 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, all other machines, even those based on the Singer design, do have the pin, and so need that hole in their bobbins.

Since the hole does not interfere with the proper function of the pin-less Singer bobbin winder, 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.


Needle types used by these machines depend on the make, but compared to other sewing machine mechanisms, vibrating shuttle 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.

Jones CS machines take “Jones” needles, that’s type 127×1, which is very rare. But you can also use a modern substitute: industrial needles DBx1 from Schmetz. Make sure they are from Schmetz rather than Organ because the scarf on Organ needles is 0.3mm thinner which is enough to make it skip stitches. The scarf is the thick bit at the top of a needle that goes into the needle clamp.

Machine sizes

Both types of 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, 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 by White 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 quite 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.


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