Adler · Vertical rotary hook · Zig-zag mechanics

I found The One!

This is a strong statement. We all search for The One And Only sewing machine that would replace all other sewing machines for us. It would do everything we care to do, perfectly. Having used so many machines over the years, I have all but given up on finding The One. Not even The One And Only, but just The One for regular sewing. I would still keep an overlocker and fancy stitch machines for special tasks. The One however would need to be able to sew all types of material, from cobweb silk, to loose weave wool, to dense denim, to fleece, to knitted jumpers and of course to all those jersey fabrics that are so abundant today – stretchy, slinky and slippery. Let The One be able to sew all that, make a strong stitch on denim, a loose stitch on wool and a stretching stitch on jersey – let it do it all perfectly on 90% of fabrics, and it can be called The One.

I thought it was an impossible requirement, but I was proven wrong.

This is a 1930 Adler 87, made in Bielefeld, Germany. This is not a domestic machine, it is a professional machine built for tailors and factory seamstresses who at the time used to work from home and had to buy their own equipment. It is a zig-zag machine with reverse, drop feed and needle positioning left, right and centre. It is based on Wheeler & Wilson D9 – a vertical rotary hook with one rotation per stitch. The W&W D9 had no zig-zag, however. Or reverse. Or drop feed.

My Adler came in a treadle cabinet, and the machine and the treadle were in perfect working order, used until recently. All I did was give it a bit of a clean and change the oil. I also varnished the machine because old shellac was peeling off in places, as usual after 90 years.

I tried using the treadle, but soon found that it takes skill and good knees – and mine have arthritis. So I installed a motor, as I usually do.

Yep, the motor is not black – but it doesn’t interfere with the function. 😉 I couldn’t use my usual Sew-Tric because this machine takes a clockwise motor. There is no proper boss either, but there is a bolt hole under the balance wheel for something, so I used that.

I tried to keep the machine in its treadle cabinet at first because I thought it would be nice to be able to switch between the motor and the treadle. But then I found that people must have been a lot smaller a century ago because I positively had to fold myself in threes in order to fit into this workspace. And still my knees would be hitting the drawer under the machine all the time! My legs are too long, it seems… 🤭 So, out it came and into a plastic case to take place at my usual workstation that fits my legs. 👍

So you notice that the bed size and hinges in this machine are following the Singer standard for domestic machines. I think Adler did it in order to be able to use commonly made treadles and cases – good choice! Still works today! 😊


Threading here is essentially the same as in the original Wheeler & Wilson D9, down to the rotating disk with a groove on the main tension unit.

Thread from the spool passes through the pre-tensioner first.

Then it wraps around the main tensioner’s disk.

Then it goes through the guide with the take-up spring below, through the take-up lever above, and through some guides towards the needle.

The needle is threaded from right to left.

The bobbin assembly

This is the usual W&W D9 affair, with some improvements. It is very quiet. It is convenient.

This is with the shuttle door closed. You see a screw on the bobbin case there – this is the tension screw. You can adjust bobbin thread tension without removing the bobbin case! 👍

You open the door and the bobbin case does not fall out. You can oil the race without removing the bobbin case. 👍👍 Close the door when done and continue sewing.

The bobbin case is very similar to W&W D9, but it is larger, which means that it takes larger bobbins, which increases its usefulness. Although the bobbins are of course those proprietary donuts, but the bobbin case also takes smaller bobbins from other similar machines, like the D9 itself, or Jones Spool, for example. The smaller bobbins are slightly noisier but otherwise work fine.

There is a simple but effective tensioner for winding the bobbin. And yes, you can also wind smaller bobbins, with a bit of common sense.

Stitch controls

The above photo also shows all the stitch controls. Stitch length is set with the large lever which also does reverse if you push it up.

Admittedly, the dial is not very well visible – they should have really brought it forward like on many other machines. But then again, those other machines don’t have zig-zag and therefore have a lot of empty space inside the main column to play with. I’ll have to see if I can come up with a better scale on the front or something.

Zig-zag, needle positioning and drop feed levers are all located on the bottom of the column.

The bottom left lever is for drop feed – “Nähen – Stopfen”, or “Sew – Darn” (feed engaged – feed disengaged).

The reason that all these levers are here is that the zig-zag mechanism is located entirely under the bed and not inside the main arm as in most machines. This allows to keep the arm high and slender without sacrificing precious harp space – thank you, Adler!! 🤩 Even synchronisation with the needle is done down under, so all you need is a thin shaft going up to transfer the movement. 👍

The underbelly

This is where all the exciting stuff happens!

Quite a lot there, as you can see. To achieve zig-zag, the entire bobbin assembly shifts left and right, just like on the familiar side-facing vertical oscillator machines.

Except that here it’s not one shaft but two. I think this is done for stability. The shaft at the front is a helper, and the one at the back is the rotating axis that turns the hook.

The flat bar screwed to the top of the moving assembly is connected to the zig-zag lever. The arrangement is similar to other designs, it limits how far the assembly moves left and right for zig-zag.

The lower bar with a groove is a part of synchronisation mechanism that drives the left-right movement of the needle. I am a little sketchy on the details here as I didn’t want to disassemble everything, but as far as I can tell, there is an orthogonal set of gears that translates rotation of the main axis into left-right motion of this bar.

There you can just about see the gears. It is halfway the bed.

Looking up into the main column, you see a shaft going up and down into a joint which, undoubtedly, translates it into lateral movement of the needle.

The shaft on the left is for the vertical motion of the needle.

Traction and feed dogs

The feed dogs are symmetrical and massive! 😃

The standard zig-zag foot is extra long compared to other feet in my collection – it takes advantage of the long feed dogs. The feed is gentle yet firm – perfect. And of course the pressure can be adjusted.

And yes, it came with lots of feet. 😊 Standard low shank, but Adler feet are wider than standard feet for 5mm zig-zag because the feed dogs are wider. I found that feet made for 7mm zig-zag machines are a much better match for the feed dogs, although the feet are usually still too short. My modern walking foot attachment has the best performance of all other machines! The teeth in the attachment come exactly on top of the teeth in the feed dogs. 😃

The needle

Ah, here we have a problem. This machine takes system 1932A, as marked on the bobbin slider. These needles are no longer being made. They have the same measurements as common industrial DBx1 but there’s a positioning groove in the scarf, and thus there’s a matching positioning strip inside the needle bar.

In spite of what some people claim, DBx1 needles do not fit into this needle clamp – how could they, they don’t have the groove! Follow-up model Adler 187 that was introduced in late 1930s used standard needles, I think 15×1.

Luckily, my Adler came with a very substantial supply of needles, so it will last me long enough to find a solution. I shall first try to find a replacement needle bar, and if that doesn’t work, I might have to resort to drilling out that positioning strip inside the existing needle bar so that I could use DBx1 needles. Stay tuned!

The head

The mechanism inside the head is quite simple and works a treat.

It is essentially W&W D9 with zig-zag implemented as an arch motion rather than swing (see my previous post on types of zig-zag mechanisms).

The sewing

Oh yes, the sewing. Great. Fantastic. Unbelievable. This round bobbin machine is actually able to provide low tension on the bottom thread as well as a vibrating shuttle, which is my champion and secret weapon. I think vibrating shuttle is still better though for particularly difficult cases, but I tried interlock weight jersey and got 40% stretch with Adler on the first attempt! And no pulling or thread popping. I’ll be using it in my projects and will eventually discover where the limits of performance lie.

I’m sure I’ll discover many interesting points about this machine as I start using it in various projects and on different materials. Yes, it has no fancy stitches or even utility stitches, so when something special is required, I’ll be using another machine. But between straight stitch, zig-zag and overlock I’ve got 90% of sewing covered! The other 90% is embroidery and embellishment. 😉

46 thoughts on “I found The One!

  1. What a fascinating find!
    I look forward to hearing more about this machine as time goes!
    Thanks for sharing.


    1. My pleasure! Yes, this machine is something else. By the way, Adler company is still in business, specialising in industrial machines for special applications, machines that are mechanical rather than computerised because that’s so much more reliable. Their mechanical engineering is unsurpassed. It shows already in this old machine.


    1. Well, Siobhan, it’s all about quality. Quality persists and ages well. Since this is a professional machine designed for varied work rather than a particular task, it was the perfect machine back in 1930 also since it actually does do varied work. It was designed to work 10 hours a day, every day, and that shows. Quality is all you need.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Elena,
    A most interesting and versatile machine, thanks for posting the details. Presumably you have enough bobbins together with your Jones Spool? Original spec bobbins must be properly rare for this machine! The needle issue you have solutions for already, so happy sewing! Lots of percents in your summing up I notice!
    Dan H


    1. Dan, this machine was in proper use, so came with lots of accessories, including 6 bobbins, and I have 8 more Jones bobbins, so that’s workable! 😀 I also started re-investigating modern bobbins because someone mentioned that a certain type of Singer drop-in bobbins is flat enough to fit here. But the same person claimed that DBx1 needles also worked, so I’m taking it with a huge grain of salt. I also keep looking at odd collections of accessories on eBay in search of more bobbins. 🙂

      As for the percentages, hehe – that’s because embellishing is a different task, so I don’t count it in sewing. The amount of embellishing depends on the project of course, but I think I average at 50% in terms of time spent. The remainder is the non-sewing stuff like cutting and pressing.


      1. What a gem you have gotten! And you’re so fortunate it came with a good supply of bobbins and needles. My Singer 348 uses a Class 66 drop bobbin. It does look similar to the one for your Adler but a word of caution. My 1885 Singer Treadle (New family model) has a bobbin that is thin with edges curved slightly downward. Since both machines are Singers I thought the modern class 66 would work. (I’ve had no problems using modern bobbins in my grandmother’s 1947 Singer). What a disappointment to find that the diameter of the class 66 bobbin is a few mm wider and unusable. We also discovered that the hole that locks the bobbin into the treadle bobbin winder is too small. I hope your ebay search renders some good bobbin & needle finds.


      2. Hi Beth,
        Class 66 bobbins – old or new – are much higher and don’t fit these W&W style machines, unfortunately. I read that some of the newer wind-in-place Singer drop-in bobbins might work because they are very flat. But this needs a proper investigation. I don’t think there’s any chance finding original needles anymore, so conversion will be in order. However, the machine came with nearly 70 (!) needles in different gauges, so this should last me for a while. 😀

        Regarding Singer 66 bobbins, you are absolutely right that they are not all the same! I have a 1906 Singer 66K made within the very first production run of this model here in the UK. It takes exclusively early style class 66 bobbins – machined out of a single piece of metal. Although the later bobbins appear to fit, they don’t make a good stitch. Clearly, something changed in the hook itself to accommodate those new style two-part bobbins that were so much cheaper to produce.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I love the wealth of knowledge you have about these lovely machines. I didn’t realize there was a difference in the style of the old and new class 66 bobbins. Thank you so much for that tidbit of information! I have only 1 bobbin for the treadle and am desperate for more. When I search for New Family bobbins I’m only finding shuttle bobbins. I’m now wondering if an old style class 66 might just work on the treadle. To think of all the needles, bobbins, feet, and machine parts that were mistaken as junk and thrown away. Happy sewing!


      4. I always thought that Singer New Family was a precursor of model 15 – a vertical oscillating hook with a kind of clip-in bobbin, isn’t it? But then again, I’ve also seen the very first Singer 12 being advertised as “New Family”, so may be they used that term loosely. There’s more info on this on and

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Elena, I cannot thank you enough. You gave us the link of information we needed to find the type of bobbin used by my treadle. Up until now all we knew from 1 page of a tattered manual and the machine’s serial number was it belonged to the New family Series manufactured in 1885. Thanks to your tips my research today turned up that my machine is specifically called the “Improved Family” also known as the Model 15-1 (just as you said). I now have a specific bobbin number and a downloaded manual. Thank you again! Beth


      6. Glad you’ve got it figured out! 😀 But I suppose it will be difficult to find those bobbins. Or are there reproductions available?


      7. Oh, that would be great! I’ve never seen any, could you post a link, please? (I take it you realise that class 15 bobbins are different.)


      8. I finally found a US based sewing supplier through Amazon that carried the bobbin for my 15-1 Singer Improved Family. A pack of 10 arrived yesterday. I immediately spun up a bobbin and popped it in. A perfect fit and sewed beautifully. According to the supplier this bobbin #2073 fits the following machines “Singer sewing machines : 15-1, 15-22, 15-43 17-1 to 17-30, 17-32, 17-41, 17-42 17U130, 17U141, 17U142 17U230, 17U241, 17U242 18-1 to 18-18, 18-22, 18-23, 18-35, 18-36 18U122, 18U222, 18U322 68-1, 68-4, 68-6, 68-7, 68-9, 68-12, 68-14 to 38”


      9. I just received a gift from my mother once belongs to my grandmother and that was the adler 187, I use needles without the groove, they are just flat needles, but since everyone told me couldn’t fit the sawing machine I look inside the bar and noted that the groove kinda started to fade maybe because of the use or because of someone kinda reduce it. In any case the needles are flat in the side and I can assure you that work with no problem. I have tested the machine stitches with good results but still have a lot to learn.


      10. Hello Sergio, yes, Adler 187 takes 15×1 needles. This is one of the differences with Adler 87. It is not the same machine!


  3. Well the Eagle has landed in a lovely home! What a post – have enjoyed seeing the mechanics too. Fascinating. I also have the same problem with treadles and legs too long (I’m not that tall – and my daughter is delighted that I’m now shorter than her) – but I seem to have found a solution. I use my rocking chair! Upstairs I have an “executive” chair that also rocks and swivels – just as well in my smaller space – and now my derriere and tum get a work out when I sew!

    I am particularly drawn to the sundial tension gauge! Not seen anything like it before so keep scrolling back up to look. LOL! Happy sewing and testing the machine to the nth degree!


    1. I am not that tall either (5’5″) but I’m taller than my mother and a lot taller than my grandmother, so there you go. I also wear 2″-3″ heels because my knees are put together wrong. (“When I look at this X-ray, all I can think is that human bones cannot be arranged in this fashion!” – according to my consulting surgeon. Raising the heel re-arranges the knee a bit to make it more human-like.) But I can see how a rocking chair would help! I have another treadle – a 1890s Singer, but that one has more room in it because the pedal is lower and the machine sits on top of the table rather than being sunken into it. It’s for those flat TS machines like Singer 12. I’m not using it yet but at least I fit into it! 😀

      The sundial tension gauge on Adler is fantastic, isn’t it? And this is at the time when tensioners normally came without a gauge of any kind. It responds to the pressure of the spring – a simple mechanical contraption, but as I like to sew at low tension to get a stretching stitch, I actually have “below zero” tension. I plan to adjust the indicator to a more useful range, but that requires to shorten the main spring and I didn’t get to it yet.


      1. Snap 5ft 5 too (originally plus a half) but I guess I’m now at the most 5ft 4. Last time I wore heels was at my wedding and I resembled a sailor trying to stand on deck of a ship in stormy water. Mostly I’m either socks, barefoot or walking boots – just lately wellies. I am so bad with heels! Amazing with regard to your knees! Plus arthritis isn’t fun – and you are so young – so unfair. Also interesting your stretching stitch. I’m rubbish with clothing, but give me some patchwork and some quilting and I’m away. With the fairies usually! 😉 Looking forward to seeing your stitchy sessions with the Adler. xx


      2. The doctor said that I have this knee arthritis exactly because I wore flats all my life – that damaged my knee joints, should have worn heels! Now he tells me!! I find it very easy to walk in heels, although I prefer boots to stabilise the ankle. So ankle boots all year ’round, also indoors. I actually walk better in heels than in flats – more stability in all joints, all because of the knees. They spoil everything – ankles, hips and even the spine. Bah!


      3. Blooming knees! LOL! I seem to be quite lucky so far! Oh well back to the Arkansas Crossroads! TTFN xx


  4. Hi Elena, My only German machine is a Pfaff 34 clone of a 31-15 that I need to work on after a problem arose with a right angle binder kit with it’s feed dog and needle plate integrated into the kit. Have to wonder…..if the needle has a groove in it then does the needle bar have a matching bump on it vertically/parallel to the bar? If so, what about your dremel you have mad skills on taking off that bump on the needle bar so the dbx1 will then fit in? Best regards, Mike


    1. Hi Mike,
      Yes, this is exactly what I meant with trying to drill it out. However, the dremel will never fit under the needle bar as is, so the needle bar has to come out. And if I’m taking it out already, it might be better to replace it with a properly manufactured one that takes 15×1 or DBx1 needles. I shall only resort to drilling if the needle bar cannot be replaced for whatever reason (such as a proprietary diameter). My dremelling skills include an understanding of my limitations. 😉


  5. Great, I’m so pleased for you! On my recent machine hunt, I realised that a machine’s capability to sew many different types of fabric is often not even mentioned as a USP, when in fact it’s probably the most important feature…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I agree! In industrial machines this is the FIRST thing they specify – which materials it is designed to sew. Domestic machines, however, always sew any type of material of course, as long as it is cotton poplin. Who on earth would want to sew anything else? 😤


      1. Haha, yes, spot on! Only Husqvarna seemed to have thought about it with an automatic setting per fabric type… but somehow that sounds daunting too, especially if there’s no manual override. I don’t want my machines too clever 😉 Have you given the One a name yet?


      2. The secret of handling different types of fabric is in traction, thread tension and hook type. Traction means large feed dogs preferably with variable height, adjustable foot pressure and a foot that matches the feed dogs perfectly. As an extra, you can use a walking foot or a smaller “jersey” foot. Thread tension needs to be adjustable in a wide range, both for upper thread and for the bobbin. Hook type reflects how sensitive it is to small variations of the size of the loop that it has to catch. Different needle types can often help with that, to a point. But even hooks of the same mechanical type can have different sensitivity due to – guess what – quality and precision of manufacture. The only way to know for sure is to bring different swatches with you and to test the machines in the showroom. No amount of reading about them can substitute the actual test. And I agree that relying on some magical setting sounds dodgy!

        I think The One is just going to be called Adler. 😀 Or I might call her Irene in reference to Sherlock Holmse’s The Woman.


  6. I have an Adler 189a, which I love and thought was the one. However, she is driven by linen belts with cogs. I live in fear that one will break because if it does, there may be no way to replace it. I am going to look for an 87.


    1. As far as I can make out, the only thing in common between 189a and 87 is the name “Adler”. Not to say anything bad about 189a, it’s just a completely different machine – a Pfaff design, isn’t it? If you want to look for the Wheeler & Wilson design like in the 87, you might be better off with model 187 – as far as I understand it, it is the same as 87 except that it uses standard 15×1 needles, a big plus! Good luck!


      1. I actually have a Wheeler and Wilson W9, but haven’t refurbished her yet. Yes, the 189a does take 15×1 needles, so there’s that. I will be watching to see how you like the Adler over time. Good luck to you as well!


      2. Since 189a is a Pfaff design machine, would not a Pfaff belt fit? No guarantees of course, but Pfaff belts are readily available.


    2. There are folks out there replacing the belt by winding UHMWPE line in place on the machine and then re inserting the staples one at a time. It works and the machine does not have to be dis assembled. Best regards, Mike


      1. Wow, that’s really good to hear. Do you know where I might find instructions? I would be thrilled to have that option. I also have a Pfaff 360 that has the same issue.


      2. Recommend you get on the Pfaff forum to see if that person is there or not. It is not an easy undertaking but if the belt fails an only option. I’ve heard from original staples to some type of upholstery staples work. My Singer 112w’s have belts still available as well as safety clutches so honestly I’ve not looked into it very much on a personal level.


    1. Hello, Basically what is done is that a line of approx. same diameter is wound around the two pulleys until the upcoming belt is the correct width….1 piece of line wound around and around….then the staples are put back or new staples put in place again. UHMWPE is not line that stretches and crazy strong. One wouldn’t need allot to do it. If original staples are used somehow the will need to be bent out then bent back in again. I have not done it but others sure have. The advantage is that some of the machines cannot be dis assembled any easy way and this method can be wound in place as long as the pulleys are kept in right position the timing remains un changed. Best regards, Mike


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