My Singer 403A, AKA Emma Peel and Sewing Projects in the Works

I’ve been meaning to write this post for what feels like forever now – I sure know I kept promising to write it, but I kept putting it off for one reason or another, as seems to be my way the last week or so! Today I told myself I was going to sit down and write it no matter what so here, finally, is a little introduction to my newest vintage sewing machine, a Singer 403A Slant-O-Matic that I’ve named Emma Peel, after the iconic character played by Diana Rigg in the 1960’s television series, The Avengers (who was also one of my first crushes).

Seriously, who doesn’t love an intelligent woman with a sense of humour who can kick some serious ass, all while looking, well, like Emma Peel/Diana Rigg?!

Ahem. Back to the sewing machine!

So far, the 403A Slant-O-Matic is my favourite sewing machine that I have ever used. It looks fabulous and works like an absolute dream! I expected it to have a lot of problems that would need fixing, but surprisingly it didn’t! Other than needing a replacement for the little bobbin winding “tire”, needing the bulb replaced and obviously needing a more thorough cleaning/oiling, it is in perfect condition, which is very impressive!

Emma Peel

Emma Peel, my Singer 403A Slant-O-Matic! Also pictured, my huge Doctor Who coffee mug, thread, fabric.

It took me a few minutes to figure out how to thread it and wind the bobbin – but under less stress it probably would have taken even less time, as this is the most intuitive machine I’ve ever used. The drop in cams to change the stitches are easy to use, and mine even came with the Zig Zag stitch cam already inside (which I didn’t realize right away, having no idea what I was looking at at the time), which was so lucky as (from what I’ve seen) they tend to be the priciest of the cams when bought individually!

I took my Slant-O-Matic to the Ottawa Sewing Centre, which has an excellent reputation for working with vintage machines, just to have it looked over and be sure there were no problems. One of the owners, Yasmin, replaced the bobbin tire, adjusted the tension (which had been a little off) and helped me find a few bits and bobs (the manual, a zipper foot, a blind hem cam, and a light bulb since the one in the machine burnt out the first night within five minutes of being on). She had a whole bunch of other cams and presser feet that I would have bought on the spot as well if I had had the money – but seeing as I didn’t, I decided to save up for them instead and either buy them there (which could be a bit pricey, buying individual pieces) or buy a set online and just keep my eye out for good prices. I’m so glad that my machine didn’t need a bunch of work – and was very impressed and pleased that Yasmin didn’t charge to adjust the tension or quickly look the machine over! I’ll definitely be going back there if I need any work done on this machine (or any vintage machine actually) that I feel is beyond my ability to fix, because the owners are very friendly and helpful and the prices definitely aren’t as bad as they could be! Plus, their collection of vintage sewing machine parts and accessories is like an absolute treasure trove!

Unfortunately in the last week or so, I haven’t been sewing as much as I would like to, because I’ve been busy trying to coordinate a bunch of stuff and it has been pretty overwhelming, anxiety provoking and depressing, but I’ve been trying my best to get through it all and the soul sucking process of searching for help and resources has luckily been punctuated by a few very nice things – like seeing some of my sisters and my little niece, reading the wonderful, supportive comments from all of you, and some nice quiet moments of quality time with my sweet cat. I did sew one project almost entirely on this machine though, it was just one that doesn’t give me the best feelings – a vintage inspired button down shirt I made for my husband at the end of our relationship. I’m proud of this shirt, because a hell of a lot of work went into it, the hand sewn blind hems truly are invisible, and it looks pretty damned good for being the first men’s shirt I’ve ever made, but it just makes me kind of sad and angry and conflicted to look at it.

retro inspired men's shirt

The button placement is incredibly off, because I had him put it on and tell me where he’d like the buttons – honestly, I should have just used a ruler or tape measure or something to make sure it was all even, but whatever. If I’d cared enough, I also would have re-sewn a few of the buttons because they weren’t perfectly lined up with the buttonholes, but honestly, by that point, I just wanted to finish it and was already seriously depressed by this project but I’d committed myself to making it, so make it I did.

Here you can see some of the blind hem from the inside, and the zig zag stitch from my Singer 403A, and also (in the second picture) the blind hem on one of the sleeves from the outside:

(Click to enlarge images)

I’d like to sew another shirt from this pattern again (though for who, I have no idea, a brother in law/one of my sisters boyfriends perhaps?), because the pattern itself is exactly what I was looking for, even though some of the instructions were frustrating and I ended up going my own way on some things so that the shirt would look neater and cleaner on the inside. Oh, the pattern I used was Simplicity 5581, which I believe it out of print:

simplicity 5581

Like I said, not the best instructions, but a great pattern in and of itself, especially when paired with retro-vintage inspired fabric. I still have some of this fabric left, because I was originally going to make the hat from this pattern as well, and another pair of shorts with it, but honestly, I feel like I could put it to better use in another project – there are few people I want to sew for at the moment and a certain somebody is not one of them.

But speaking of sewing for other people! I’m going to be sewing a dress (or a few dresses!) for one of my sisters and I’m incredibly excited about it! I’ve never sewn for another grown woman before – and our body types are very different, to boot, so this will be a fabulous project and great experience, learning to fit and sew for another woman will be a wonderful skill to have. Before I even started sewing my first garment, I knew that one day I would love to make outfits for all of my sisters as gifts, and I’m glad I’m finally going to be able to make a dress for one of them! (She may even model it here on the blog! πŸ˜‰ ) Sewing something special for someone you love is a truly wonderful gift, I think, and I’m looking forward to fittings, picking out fabric, finding patterns, sewing and most importantly, having the perfect excuse to spend more time with one of my favourite people on the planet. β™₯ I’m also going to be trying to help her learn how to sew too! Right now, while I wait for her measurements and our next sewing related get together, I’ve been trusted to mend a lovely vintage 1950’s dress for her.


There is quite a bit of work to be done on this dress (mostly on the inside), and I may post some before and after shots at some point. Fingers crossed I do this dress justice! I’ve started work already, but took a break for a few days, I’m going to get back to work on it tonight I hope!

Other than that, I’m sewing myself a dress which feels like it’s taking forever, mainly because I keep going days without sewing a stitch (which is not like me at all!), I’ve got another project I need to finish which keeps tripping me up at every step, and a couple of patterns that I’m looking forward to sewing but haven’t started yet – I need to finish these other projects first!

How about all of you? How have you been doing? What have you been sewing? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!




Like my content and want to support this blog? Please consider buying me a coffee – it isn’t mandatory, but it will definitely be greatly appreciated and make me and my cat do a happy dance around the living room. πŸ™‚

25 thoughts on “My Singer 403A, AKA Emma Peel and Sewing Projects in the Works

  1. Good morning,
    I’ve been a follower for awhile. I joined because of your love for vintage. I do enjoy your posts more so because I am vintage🀣. I was surprised to read that you are in Ottawa, I’m in Kanata. I,too, have had excellent service from Yasmin. May your life moving forward have many pleasures.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love that dress! Your sister is really lucky to have you make dresses for her! I am so bad at sewing, I can barely move a button over. I wish I could make dresses, but I’d be happy to just sew a hem at this point. Great entry, can’t wait to see more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It really is such a pretty vintage dress – I’d love to find a pattern like it! Aw, thank you! I hope that I’m able to make her a dress that she will love! When I do finally get started on it/finish it, I’ll definitely post it!

      Also, there are a lot of great resources to help you learn to sew – even wonderful Youtube sewing tutorials! I was really intimidated when I first started sewing two years ago, but it has honestly been wonderfully fun to learn! And so far, (with the help of some books, blogs, and videos) I’ve been able to teach myself and have never taken a formal class or anything like that. The way I see it, anyone can sew and the internet has helped make it possible for anyone to teach themselves! I’ve only really been sewing clothing since Spring of 2017, before that I was mostly sewing dolls and doll dresses, and the occasional pair of pajama pants. Now I’m teaching myself to sew all kinds of vintage inspired clothing – and a lot of it completely by hand, which just goes to show that you don’t even need to necessarily invest in a sewing machine right away. With a few basic tools (pattern, fabric, thread, needles, pins, scissors, being probably the most important to start) you can start teaching yourself. πŸ™‚ And you can even find videos on Youtube about how to sew a hem, by the way. πŸ˜‰ Like this video on how to sew a classic hem stitch, for example:

      Sorry for the long response! I’m just all about encouraging everyone to sew and spreading the sewing love! πŸ™‚


  3. Would love to take sewing class to improve my skills but I like seeing and altering some of my clothes. I want you to sew me something vintage inspired. Hehe. I’d love that. Hope you’re feeling better and lots of love Emily

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sounds like Emma Peel is lovely! πŸ˜€ And also that you have a good sewing machine maintenance place nearby – very important. Only one question: what do you mean by “they adjusted tension because it was off”? Tension depends on the thread and material you are sewing, as well as on the type of stitch you are doing, so how can it be off without a project at hand? If anyone wanted to adjust tension on my machines, I would slap their wrists and tell them to mind their manners – tension adjustment is not for strangers, it’s a private thing for you to do, it’s different for every project and no one should be messing with it. πŸ™‚ Sorry for the rant there, but I feel it’s too often that even good places resort to the scare technique of “Ooh your tension is off and it may only be touched by a doubly certified Engineer, or else a Giant Black Hole will come and eat us all”. Yeah, right. Bring on the zombies, I’ve got a ray gun. πŸ˜‰

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t really remember, she just ran some thread through to test it and started tweaking the tension dial, she didn’t say anything about it at the time or make a big deal about it. That said, I had had some difficulty with the tension of the machine the first night I had it (before bringing it in) that has cleared up now, but from now on I’ll definitely deal with the tension on my own! πŸ™‚

      Also, “Yeah, right. Bring on the zombies, I’ve got a ray gun.” has got to be the best thing I’ve heard all Summer! I’m seriously still laughing at this comment – it should be put on posters, t-shirts, badges, something! It’s fabulous! πŸ˜€ I’d totally wear a t-shirt with this quote on it!


  5. Emma Peel is beautiful! It’s great to see her. Congrats too on building a relationship with the sewing place. They sound like an excellent sewing resource. The men’s shirt is really cool, but wow, what an emotional project. Kudos on finishing it and putting the project behind you. Looking forward to seeing your pieces made for your sisters and niece, and your own current dress project. How fun!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Have you seen her in The Mrs. Bradley Mysteries? I just started watching the show and I absolutely love it – Diana was fabulous in it! Really too bad it didn’t last long.

      Aw, thank you! It was definitely an emotional project, with way too many conflicting emotions involved. I’m really glad I finished it! Though I would love to use this pattern again because it was really cool making a vintage inspired men’s shirt, I just don’t have a reason to at the moment. I’m hoping that I’ll be able to finish at least one of my current sewing projects soon – I’m getting a bit annoyed with myself for not completing anything, but I realize I need to cut myself some slack right now. I did finish sewing a pair of 1970’s jeans a few weeks ago that I keep meaning to post about, so I’ll definitely have to get on that! The jean material I used attracts cat hair like no other and soaks up the heat, so I haven’t worn them as often as I’d like since finishing them, but even so I kind of love them, flaws and all! πŸ™‚


  6. So I watched the 1998 remake of The Avengers with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman, after reading reviews suggesting it was the worst film of all time. Not having watched that many films, I’m not sure I can confirm that report, but it’s certainly up there among the best (worst).

    You did an excellent job on the shirt, though I certainly understand the conflicting feelings. Here’s hoping your next project is more fulfilling! (Also I have a mug in that Dr Who line! Mine has Tom Baker on it though I really want the Jon Pertwee one.)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve never seen the 1998 remake, but now I definitely want to – I have an irrational love of really bad, cheesy movies!

      Thank you! Working on this shirt put me in a bit of a sewing funk, it seems like I’ve run into problems with every project I’ve attempted since, but I’m trying to break that pattern. Super cool that you have a Tom Baker mug, by the way! I’d love to see it! I hope you can get the Jon Pertwee one too! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

      • Shameful to say, but I’ve yet to watch any of the James Bond movies! Mostly because while I know I could start with the more modern ones, I’d love to start right from the beginning and see every single one in order (I’m THAT kind of a nerd, LOL), but haven’t been able to find the first ones. I’m going to have to start dedicating myself to the hunt because I know I’m missing out on some Class A cheese, not to mention some truly iconic films!

        Also, that Tom Baker mug is EVERYTHING! ❀

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh I have to do that too! Dr No is truly spectacular and well worth starting from. I love the early films – the latest ones didn’t impress me as I felt they were thuggish and boring when they could have taken the opportunity to evolve with the times. It’s easier to say the sexism in the earlier films was a product of its times but there is really no excuse for the content of a 2015 film to be just as sexist.

        Liked by 1 person

  7. great machine – I have one from the same range…. 328k – they are so strong and I used teach sewing with it as it will just keep going. everynow and then I am tempted to look to get the cams but I have not as yet as I can’t really justify when my other machine will do all the decorative stitches. I do use it a lot with the singer button hole attachment.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Some day I would LOVE to recreate some of her outfits from The Avengers! I think it would be SUCH a fun project! πŸ™‚ Both the character of Emma Peel and Diana Rigg as a woman are truly iconic! πŸ™‚


  8. Pingback: In The Pink Room Mini Review | The Pretty and The Kitsch

  9. i just bought one of these 403a s and I love it. Did you get that zig zag stich with this machine? Mine seems tiny even set on widest width. Thanks for your input

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Mimi! Yay! I love the Singer 403As too, they’re such cool machines!! Yes, my machine did come with a zig zag stitch cam and when I used the zig zag awhile back it seemed small as well. I’ll have to pull it out and test the different widths to see if it stays tiny, because I haven’t played around with the width of the zig zag stitch too much yet. I know they often recommended to use a small zig zag stitch when sewing stretch fabrics, so that could be why the zig zag is so small? Just a completely random guess and I could be 100% wrong!


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