Search this site

Willcox and Gibbs Chainstitch Machines

Contact me

The Willcox and Gibbs "Silent Running" Chain Stitch machine must be one of the most sucessful, longest-produced, and widely-used machines from the early years of sewing machine history.. These were used in domestic and industrial settings of all kinds; are beautifully made, and apart from one minor modification, had almost no changes in the mechanism during the manufacturing life of the machine, which spanned more than 80 years. Needles are still made for these.
The first machines were made around 1857, right at the start of sewing machine history, and these little workhorses were still being produced, sold, and widely-used in the 1950s. I suspect that some of the "straw hat" machines are still working hard for a living

The early machines had a "glass" tension unit, which is adjusted in the usual way with a nut..
Later machines had a most ingenious and easy-to-use Automatic Tension, and the serial numbers on these are usually prefaced with the letter "A"
The machine above is my own Automatic, and still works beautifully, as you will see below
For a good article and links on the history of these machines, try HERE for more information
And Google...


Decals on the arm and bed

Automatic tension and spool pin

Needle plate with patent dates


The stitch on the top looks like the regular lockstitch. It's important to match the stitch length to the weight of the thread and needle for the most even results. A heavy thread needs a thicker needle, and will prefer a longer stitch.

Underneath, the stitch is chained, as there is only one thread. This has the disadvantage that the whole seam can be unravelled by pulling one end unless it is finished off properly.. then again, if you want to tack or adjust a seam, that works rather well.. Some later 60s Singers had additional widgets to make a chainstitch for this purpose. None work terribly efficiently. The chained seam is also slightly more elastic, so that a curved seam is stronger in use. And no bobbins to wind.. These do use slightly more thread per inch of sewing...

To finish the seam, pull the end loop through to the back with a pin. Note that I have unravelled a few stitches to show what can happen

Then slip the free end through the loop and pull tight..

Older Style Machine

The first machines had a "glass" tension - some of the later machines made for industrial use had these until the last dates of production (I suspect that many machines are still working, as they are very solid, easy to keep working and nice to use)
This machine belongs to my friend Valerie, and came in to my workshop for repair - all it needed was a new needle and a bit of a talking-to

Older machine - the differences are really quite small at first glance

Detail of the needle end

The wheel

The Glass Tension unit

Parts For Sale

All of these are from an Automatic Tension model - please note that these have no bolts or screws unless listed or shown - I bought these in a couple of lots as you see them; I think I would have made an attempt to repair one of these; they are so nice; had there been a bit more...
I'm actively looking for incomplete machines to buy for parts (or odd parts) - never had a page empty out so quickly..
November 23rd 2015 - look, more stuff! (Updated, as some stuff sold and more found, February 24th 2016)
Nothing is to scale...

Having sorted out the boxes (oh, the needle boxes!!) I find I have a very few needles for these; £5 each, one per customer, in an assortment of sizes..

WG010 Chassis; £35

WG010 from the other side

WG010a Similar, better condition; £40

And the reverse side...

WG015 Needle driver bar with ends and screws; £15

WG014a feed dog support; £5

WG019 Stitch-length support and screw; £4

WG021 Part from inside the head, and associated spring; £5

WG022 Collar and fixing screws from the lower drive-shaft; £3

WG028 Automatic tension driver bar; £10

WG027 Complete Automatic Tension unit; £25 (SOLD)
Not shown, WG027a, all as above apart from the cap; £20

WG011 Drive wheel; £6.50

WG003 Drive cover from the right-hand end of the take-up arm; £4

WG029 Needle-bar arm; £15

WG030 thread guide and spring from top bar at face end; £4.50
WG030a Long spring only; £2.50

WG034 Thread guide; £2.50

WG013a Needle Plate screws; £2.50 each

WG012a Stitch length lever; £8

WG036 Feed underpart; £5

WG035 Thread guide from the centre of the WG029 arm; £2.50
My address is:-
Helen Howes
Helen Howes Sewing Machines
4, The Raveningham Centre, Beccles Road, Raveningham, Norfolk, NR14 6NU. United Kingdom
01508 548137
From outside the UK dial:- 0044 1508 548137
I'm open 11 till 5 every day except Tuesdays and Wednesdays