Costume design, vintage sewing machines, painting

Mid-Century Japanese Toyota Arrow!


I brought home another stray machine… and this was a first for me; it did not bear any brand name that I could locate. Being the avid researcher that I am, I was surprised to find *nothing* about this machine or its maker. Ed Lamoureux’s excellent post about Japanese sewing machines in the 40s, 50s & 60s helped shed some light on the absence of identifiers. I highly recommend reading the post and the comments. To summarize: After WWII, Japan began manufacturing sewing machines based on the Singer 15 and 99 models (often making them better and quieter than Singer). They released the machine under various names, styles and colors. Over 5000 of these “brands” exist, however, records of them do not. The Singer models they are based on are still highly prized (and often pricey) but the clones can be found at thrift stores for peanuts. The great thing about this is the fact that the Singer parts fit the clones & vice-versa, no specialty parts needed! UPDATED: I recently found out that this machine was often called a “Toyota Arrow”, and one recently sold on eBay for $170! Also, the identical machine was sold in Australia under the name “Pinnock”, with the brand name on the stitch width knob rather than the crown.

On to my find… while browsing the sewing machines at Salvation Army, an older gentleman struck up a conversation with me. Turns out, he’s a retired sewing machine repairman, and had a lot to say about vintage machines. It was cool to have someone to poke around these machines with me, however we did not find a single machine in their collection that didn’t need a certain amount of work or replacement parts. He did advise me to swing by Goodwill on my way home, and said nothing more. On that day, I was specifically looking for a machine in a table that could straight, zigzag and backstitch reliably. That’s it. And I found it for $9.99 at Goodwill (BTW, did you know you could shop Goodwill online at shopgoodwill.com? Search for ‘sewing machines’ and you won’t be disappointed). The machine came in a great mid-century desk with 4 drawers, a knee pedal and a big sign that said “NEEDS REWIRED”, hence the $9.99 price tag. After inspecting it, I could see no reason it would need to be rewired and happily loaded it into my car. I didn’t even look in the drawers until I got it home, but when I did I discovered a smorgasboard of accessories, notions, bobbins, presser feet, stitch templates, a ruffler and an invisible zipper foot! Total score!

Then I checked under the hood and found a sticky orangy residue coating everything, but after a WD40 bath, gentle scrubbing, grease and oil, she was good to go. Then I checked the motor. Ugh, it was in bad shape. It was in such bad shape I immediately found a replacement on Ebay and ordered it. However, I am impatient and wanted to play with my new toy. That combined with the fact that a replacement was on its way compelled me to take it apart and try to save it. I’ve never seen a more disgusting motor. There was black gunk coating everything. I broke it down as far as possible and cleaned it as I went. The brushes were worn down to nubs (replaced them), the copper plates needed some serious buffing (they now gleam), everything else needed a good cleaning and I did also decide to play it safe and rewire the motor. Success! Purrs like a kitten. A VERY quiet kitten.

I was mostly flying blind with this machine as far as learning how to thread it and what all the buttons actually do. I found that the bobbin case from my Singer 15 fit perfectly, and that most machines thread in the same basic way, so I was sewing in no time. The tension was perfect as-is, and made a beautiful stitch.

Some features: Needle-position selector – I LOVE this and use it a lot.  Feed dog height knob – Also very useful to be able to drop the dogs for using my buttonholer. Knee pedal – I’m really starting to prefer a knee pedal to a foot pedal. When I’m in the middle of a big show, my calf and ankle get really sore using a foot pedal. Reverse and stitch length are in the right place, are clear, and easy to use. Specialty stitch templates – So far I’ve only used the basic zigzag, but I have 14 templates total along with the original chart that goes with them. Bobbin winder – Easy and works great, ’nuff said. Feed dog plates – VERY easy to change out. Great for switching between straight, zigzag and buttonhole stitching.

Some mysteries:

There are 2 smaller knobs numbered 1-4 next to the main stitch width knob (the one with the crown on it). I have no idea what these do. Looking inside the machine it seems to be linked to the stitch width, and may have something to do with controlling the width if using a pattern with the needle in the left or right position, but I haven’t tested that yet.

The label on the front that says “Lit”. I’m concluding that it means the machine does, in fact, have a light. The “Precision Built” label also seems to say more about the machine rather than the actual maker. The only maker’s mark I can find are on the underside of the machine, “Toyota” is machine stamped into the metal. So yes, the parts were made at a Toyota factory, however it’s not necessarily a Toyota machine. Or is it? No matter, I love the machine.

This has become my favorite machine. It is incredibly intuitive and easy to use. I have used it to sew everything from chiffon to leather, and it has performed beautifully. My only complaints are its weight (40+ lbs) and sometimes the threads snarl if I’m not holding them when I start stitching. The weight is only an issue because I love the machine so much that I take it with me when I’m working on-site, and it’s really too heavy for that. As long as I leave it in its table, it’s fine. (Side note: anyone know of a good vintage machine that has all the features of this one, but weighs less? No plastic, please.)

Do you have a mid-century clone? Tell me about it!



13 comments on “Mid-Century Japanese Toyota Arrow!

  1. Anonymous
    February 6, 2013

    Wow, this is fabulous!! I just picked up a White 764 and can’t wait to go through it and start using it, too. But, alas, I don’t have the luxury of the accessories you have.

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. Beth Laske-Miller
    February 6, 2013

    OOH! The White 764s are cool, love the styling! Do you have other machines you could “borrow” some accessories from? Or is the needle position off to the left like my White 415? Speaking of… I’ll be doing a post on that machine today ๐Ÿ˜‰

  3. Anonymous
    February 6, 2013

    Good morning, Beth, I'm home sick with the flu, but you got me curious so during this rare period of energy I had to pull the machine back out and take a look. I didn't realize it before, but yes, the needle is left homed on this machine.ย  And, since it has been so long since I looked at it I forgot that I did actually get an accessories box with 4 low shank feet in them.ย  They are quite heavy duty, too, which is awesome!ย  I might be able to find some other feet in my stash that will work but now I'm not even concerned about it. The reason I didn't realize the machine was left homed is that there's a 1/4" quilting foot on it.ย  The feed dogs are wide enough, with 4 rows of feet, that this foot actually will work to make a 1/4" seam for quilting, which is most of what I do anymore. I hadn't heard of Posterous before I saw your post today and haven't gone through the other postings, other than taking a quick peek at that awesome brown dress you have posted!ย ย  Iย  was looking to find what other types of sewing you do; you mentioned that you take the Toyota with you.ย  What kinds of work do you do? I'm new to collecting vintage sewing machines, I just started last summer, but I'm already out of room!ย  My hubby just rolls his eyes. I'll be looking for your post on the 415 later today. Take care, Connie

  4. Beth Laske-Miller
    February 6, 2013

    Hi Connie!
    I’ve been lucky to avoid the flu so far (knock on wood), hope you’re better soon!
    I am a costume designer, primarily working in theatre, but also film and dance. I also do a lot of home dec sewing, painting, etc… I’m trying to add more to this posterous site about my machines and “for fun” sewing. My portfolio for costuming is over at http://www.behance.net/Bethlmiller Please feel free to swing over and check it out!
    I started collecting vintage machines about a year or two ago. They’re just so gorgeous and perform so much better than the newer machines! My first was a Singer 66-8 (which I still have). I’m not a pro by any means, but I love learning about new (old) machines and love their personalities! I’ve been so thrilled to find other kindred spirits lately, though my hubby still rolls his eyes too ๐Ÿ˜‰

  5. Sherry
    October 31, 2014

    Hi Beth, I love your machine and I have a couple of questions about it that hoping you can answer. I too have a mystery machine and there’s a few tiny things about your that look familiar to me. I’m looking for cams for my machine and I see that your Toyota takes unusual cams. I’m wondering if you can take a picture of the cam shaft for me without the cam in it and if you can take a photo of one of the cams turned over so I can see the inside of it. Those Japanese machines are so well made and I would love to be able to find the cams for my vintage Coronado. Thanks, Sherry

  6. Linda Champanier
    November 30, 2014

    Thanks so much for posting about your fabulous Lit sewing machine. I just bought the same machine branded Supre-macy. Sadly, it came with no accessories, cams, or instructions (although it seems straightforward, except for the two mysterious numbered knobs).

  7. Hope
    July 2, 2015


    My dad has just found the same machine with a walnut cabinet at a Value Village. Do you have any what it’s worth? I cannot find any information on it.

    Thanks so much!


    • tinkerbeth2
      July 27, 2016

      The value for these machines is very subjective. The value is always more in the eyes of the owner of the machine, especially since this particular machine is so easy to use, a workhorse, and so cool-looking!

      From the research I’ve done, there don’t seem to be many of them out there, especially in the US. I hope you grabbed that one from Value Village!

      In general, I’ve found some of the best machines I’ve ever owned at Goodwill, Savers and Salvation Army for between $9.99 & $15.99. Ones that I don’t plan to keep I usually fix them up, locate missing parts & accessories and resell them in Craigslist. Most have sold for between $75-150. So it’s not likely to make you rich, but it’s something ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. Bob Kerber
    August 27, 2015

    I have the twin of your LIT TZ 20, but it’s badged as a Supre-Macy. You were very fortunate to get it for what you paid AND you got all the accessories, cams, and instructions too! Mine is missing 3 of the cams and the instructions but it does sew beautifully now that I’ve corrected a few problems it had. Someday I hope to find the missing cams, manual/instructions!

  9. Norene
    November 1, 2015

    I have a machine identical to yours that I purchased from a Canadian gentleman. Your post is the most detailed information I could find regarding these machines. The booklet that came with mine was for a Morse 600. It runs great and since this is my first vintage machine, I’m in a learning curve on maintenence. I didnt see where I could send you a photo – mine has slight differences. Where yours have the 2 levers, 2 buttons and crown button, mine has a National Home brand metal label. I do have Toyota stamped underneath and all else is same except mine is rose-pink color. Mine has a Necchi motor on it. Let me know if you’d like a photo of it and thank you for the great information on these Japanese machines!

  10. Ruth
    April 17, 2017

    I have the same machine except it’s marked as LaSalle. Still looking for more information on it. Such as threading. Just want to confirm it.

  11. P. SMALL
    April 19, 2017

    I found Arrow model 621 with desk. Would you say this sewing machine is good for a beginner?

    • tinkerbeth2
      April 21, 2017

      Yes! The speed is easy to control, and the mechanisms easy to understand. I wish I had learned on a machine off this quality ๐Ÿ™‚

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