Wheeler & Wilson’ D9 was a very successful rotary machine – and was reproduced and modified by many manufacturers. Wheeler & Wilson themselves produced many versions of this machine and kept improving various aspects of it as time went on. In 1905 Singer took over Wheeler & Wilson and in turn produced some D9-based machines known as Singer 9W (clever name, that 😉).
I haven’t got a D9 but I do have a Singer 9W1 and a Jones Spool.
My Singer 9W1 dates approximately to 1906, it is a very early Singer variant which is nearly identical to the latest version of the original D9.
My Jones Spool dates approximately to 1899 and is based on an earlier D9 variant, plus Jones really had a go at modifying it! It is significantly different from the original.
So, what’s the same and what is different? And most importantly: how does that affect sewing? Let’s review!
The rotary hook
Both machines have the same type of rotary hook and have the same movement – that’s the heart of the matter! However, they have different bobbin cases and use differently sized bobbins.
The bobbin case in Singer 9W1 is fixed into the hook, so you only remove the bobbin; the bobbin case in Jones Spool is caged in – you open the door and remove the bobbin case with the bobbin in it. This is based on an earlier D9 variant – they had the same bobbin cases.
Both machines use donut shaped bobbins, but Singer’s are smaller. Singer later redesigned the bobbin case introducing flat bobbins which they used later in model 221 – the Featherweight.
Note that the two bobbin cases in the photo have a major difference: the thread comes out in the opposite direction, and consequently the bobbin spins in the opposite direction too. In the older design used in Jones Spool, the thread comes out against the movement of the cloth – this is similar to the original Singer 15 (I know that Singer 15 is an oscillator and not a rotary, but the bobbin still rotates!). In the new design used in Singer 9W1, the thread comes out in the direction of the fabric feed – this is similar to Singer 15-89 which uses that odd left-handed shuttle. It is supposed to be a lot better but Singer went back to the original design on their model 15 after just a few years, so I can only assume that the improvement was mostly theoretical. 🙂
When it comes to sewing, I find no significant difference between these two configurations, but the caged bobbin case in Jones Spool makes a lot of noise, whereas the clip-on bobbin in Singer 9W1 is beautifully quiet.
Both machines make an excellent stitch, from cotton lawn and into coat weight wool. Passable stitch on chiffon, although still a bit strained. Too tight for jersey – the stitch does not stretch, just like on all other round bobbin machines. But: both machines handle excellently uneven thicknesses, such as sewing over bumps, zips or heavy seams. No stopping, stalling, shortening stitch, jamming, getting stuck or skipping stitches just past the thick bit – all those things that most other machines love to do. Such performance is hard to find, and all that with a fixed general purpose foot, not even a hinged foot and certainly no industrial compensating foot!
The underbelly and hook axis drive
The underbelly is completely different – Jones modified everything!
First, the drive as it comes out of the column on the right. A sliding joint in Singer 9W1 versus a rotating disk with a double joint in Jones Spool.
In both cases there is a long slider inside the column, but the end is different.
Although these drives look very different, they achieve exactly the same movement of the hook: it slows down about a quarter of a turn before reaching the needle, then speeds up just before that meeting point.
These machines drop the needle lower than others, so it travels a longer way up after the lowest point and before the hook meets it. This produces a bigger loop for the hook to catch, and a more secure stitch formation, in particular compared to Singer 15 and 66 designs where the distance that the needle travels upwards before meeting the hook is much shorter as the needle doesn’t drop quite as low. I think it could though – definitely something to try, it would involve lowering the needle bar and re-timing the machine to match.
The start of the feed mechanism is in the inderbelly photos too: it’s the flat horizontal bar in the Singer, connecting to a stitch length regulator on the bed of the machine like in transverse shuttle machines. But on the Jones it’s a lever by the balance wheel, so here you see an axis coming out of the column; it is joined to a round shaft rocking on its axis – the familiar feed design that we see to this day.
So the actual feed mechanism is completely different:
The feed in Jones Spool is the familar axis-driven feed: the horizontal (to-and-fro) movement is controlled by the rocking axis, while the vertical movement is simply the feed dogs riding on an asymmetric collar just behind the hook. The spring pulls down on the feed dogs and keeps the other end from jumping up.
In Singer 9W1 the feed mechanism is much more complex. Although the vertical movement is driven in the same way (feed dogs riding on the collar behind the hook – number 1 in the photo below), the horizontal movement is controlled by another collar (2) pushing a bar (3) joined to another bar (4) that pushes on a bulge (5) of the stitch length controller (6) that pushes the feed dogs (7) to the back (forward feed). How far back the feed dogs move is determined by the position of the bulge (5) – more to the left is further away from bar (4) that pushes on it, so a shorter stitch. To return to the front position, the feed dogs are pushed by the spring (8) – this movement happens with the feed dogs submerged and not touching the fabric, and so it does not require much force.
The Jones’ axis-driven feed can be modified to give reverse motion as was done in so many machines since, including Jones themselves on their later models of Spool and more recently Dan upgrading his old Spool. The Singer’s old style feed however cannot produce reverse motion because the spring could never move fabric. But this is not the transverse shuttle feed either, even though it looks similar at first sight.
Yes, we have the same horizontal stitch length regulator bar, and this bar is what limits how far the feed dogs can move, but it isn’t actually pushing the dogs as in 9W1. The horizontal movement of the feed dogs in a transverse shuttle machine is controlled by a flat bar riding on a collar of the rotating axis coming through the column – that collar is under the big bell-shaped thing on the right. The spring in a transverse shuttle feed pushes the dogs upwards, thus controlling the vertical movement; the spring in 9W1 doesn’t control anything really and only returns the dogs to the starting point.
In sewing, the feed in both Singer 9W1 and Jones Spool feel extremely similar if not identical. These are both axis-driven feed mechanisms, and in their handling of fabric they are radically different from the spring-driven feed of transverse shuttle machines and rather similar to all other machines that I know.
The head, the foot and the needle
First, the obvious: the distance between the presser bar and the needle bar is huge on Singer 9W1! So even if you could fudge back-clamping feet from Singer 66 into it, they would be way too far back with respect to the needle. Jones Spool, on the other hand, has the usual Jones foot fitting: a short low shank, that is, it’s just like Singer low shank except that it is 2mm lower.
Because of the shift of the presser bar forward in Jones Spool, they also redesigned the head, but essentially it’s still the same. The only thing to note though is that the 9W1 thread tension release works much better than that of Spool – but more about it in the next section.
The needles used by these machines are also different: Singer 9W1 uses 127×1 flat shank needles, while Jones Spool uses the usual Jones needles – round shank 128×1. The 128×1 are still available, although rare, but 127×1 seem to have been well and truly discontinued. However, there are readily available substitutes for both.
Singer 9W1 takes round shank 108×1 needles and Jones Spool takes DBx1 needles, both are common industrial types. But you can’t just put them in – they are slightly too short for the respective machines and thus skip stitches. 😦
And here comes the magic: a needle stop. No, you don’t need to lower the needle bar: both machines have a mysterious hole above the needle clamp that goes right through the needle bar, and through the needle groove. If you plug that hole with something and thus create a needle stop, your substitute needles come to the right height and sew beautifully! 😀
Staying on the topic of needles, the needle plates of both machines have a needle channel attached to them on the underside.
I am not entirely sure why it is required or how it helps, but there it is.
The tension unit
The D9 tension unit is like nothing you’ve seen before – it is made up of three separate parts, all attached to the face plate.
First there is the pre-tensioner – a small unit with a light spring; then the main tension unit which comes in two variants on both machines; then there’s the slack regulating spring unit. The take-up lever in Singer 9W1 is plain and takes in the thread sideways; in Jones Spool it has a separate roller and takes in the thread head on.
The main tension unit has some felts, two disks, a roller between them, a release pin, a disk against which the release pin pushes to release tension, a spring and a tension nut. The two disks and the roller come either as a fixed unit or as three separate items, and that determines the placement of the pre-tensioner and how the thread passes through the tension unit, so they are not really interchangeaable.
Both types have a tension release pin that, when pushed from behind, is pushing against the ring with the bar in the middle which, in turn, pushes against the spring and releases tension from the main disks. This is the general tension release mechanism found in so many machines; what is different here is the external part that pushes on the pin from the outside.
On Singer 9W1 it is working very nicely.
The lever that pushes the pin has a wide lip with a gentle rise – it works even when approaching the tip of the pin from the side.
On Jones Spool it’s touch and go.
The lever that pushes the pin has a small sharp rise that only works if the pin is only slightly poking through the channel. If it rises too high, the lever gets stuck and rises the whole face plate instead. To get it to work, you have to bend the central bar in the little disk of the tension unit – bend it by just exactly the right amount! :-s
After the main tension unit, the thread goes into a slack regulating spring unit. It looks rather complicated and consists of many small parts, but essentially it is two plates with a roller in between them arranged very similarly to our modern tension units where the slack regulating spring is a part of the unit and not a separate thing. They have basically replicated a tension unit here but without the main coil, so thread is not tensioned, only kept back by the spring. The units look slightly differently on Singer and on Jones, but my Singer’s one is missing the top bit, so I can’t compare them properly, but here is a close-up of Jones’ unit:
Most machines, including many contemporaries of the D9, use a combined tension unit that comprises the main tensioner and the retaining spring. Yet I must admit that the split-up configuration works better! It is less dependent on the jerks of the spool of thread and feeds thread more evenly to the needle. Many better machines use a separate pre-tensioner to this day, I think that is the part that mostly helps to eliminate jerks of the spool. It also makes it impossible to sew with zero tension which almost always results in a hot mess of thread engulfing the hook.
When all is said and done…
…which one do I choose: Singer 9W1 or Jones Spool?
It’s close – they are so similar in their sewing abilities, despite the many changes that Jones introduced with their Spool. I choose Jones Spool because of its nearly standard low shank foot fitting which can easily be made standard, and because it works with more commonly available needles – DBx1.
But yes, it’s a lot noisier and it requires those rare donut shaped bobbins. I’ve been collecting the bobbins, and I’ve been thinking of several ways to add some sound dampening to the bobbin assembly. I also like the fact that it is possible to add a little reverse motion to its feed as Dan has done with his.
Overall, the sewing abilities of both these D9 incarnations are excellent, but not remarkable. They cannot make a flexible stitch for jersey, like vibrating shuttle machines do. They don’t work that brilliantly with chiffon, not even nearing transverse shuttle machines. They do work well with uneven thickness though and they have a very large harp space. But all this also applies to my Singer 66K after I tickled its feed dogs, and the 66 is a much more standardised machine: domestic needles and class 66 bobbins. And yes, admittedly my 66K uses back-clamping feet, but they are quite common and I’ve got loads of them, and yesterday I made it a right-sided zipper foot, which is the one foot that does not exist in back-clamping fitting because zips didn’t exist yet back then.
So I’m keeping my 1899 Jones Spool, and I sold my Singer 9W1 – to a museum! 😀 The Gates Sewing Machine Working Museum in Dorset. They are still building it up, so contact them first if you want to visit.
Postscript – the before and after bit
As you probably guessed, Singer 9W1 did not come to me in its current glossy state. No, it was very rusty, dirty, and the varnish had turned to powder.
But I only touched it! 😮 The varnish could be removed with the slightest touch. I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t protecting anything!
The needle was stuck in the groove and the whole thing had to be soaked in oil so that I could remove the needle clamp and eventually very carefully loosen and remove the needle without breaking it off and blocking the groove forever!
More rust and gunk. The stitch length regulator would not move because of lint and dirt stuck in the channel.
But all is well that ends well. It’s amazing what a splash of oil and a helping of elbow grease can do! 🙂