For Love of Vintage Machines | Morse Fotomatic IV

There is something undeniably attractive about a vintage sewing machine. Up until last year, I was somewhat intimidated by them as I’d never sewn with one. I had this thought in my head that new machines were better (Haha … Silly, I know.).

Now that I’ve sewn with a couple vintage machines, I am definitely addicted! It’s a good thing I don’t have more space in our current home or I could very easily become a serious collector!

Vintage machines are not only beautiful, but they are (generally) built like tanks and sew like a dream. They are solid, amazing machines.

A Thrift Store Find

A month or so ago, my hubby sent me a text with a photo of a sewing machine that was at Value Village … for just around $30. Yes … He knows me well. I did some quick research, fell in love, and by the time I asked if he would pick it up, he’d already left. But, he loves me enough that he went back to test out the machine for me and show me it’s accessories via video chat.

He ended up bringing it home for me. <3

History

The Morse Fotomatic IV (sounds like a vintage camera — that’s what hubby collects) Model 4400 was manufactured at the Toyota factory in Nagoya, Japan in the 1960s. That figures — it looks like its appearance was heavily influenced by the cars of the time!

The first page of the instruction manual includes the following quotes: (I love vintage marketing!)

In 1948, Mr. Philip S. Morse and his associates began to design a new type of zigzag sewing machine, specifically for the American woman, which would combine superb mechanical quality with maximum simplicity of operation. Above all, its operations could be easily understood through the miracle of the FOTOMATIC® system.


The first MORSE FOTOMATIC® was a sensational success with its pictures on a screen of “the stitch you select … before you start to sew.” The FOTOMATIC® IV is a proud new development in this famous line!


A machine of graceful lines and matchless design, the FOTOMATIC IV adds to the already famous MORSE innovations automatic buttonholes, automatic blind stitches, and a wide variety of beautiful, completely automatic design and embroidery patterns in either single or double needle swing!

From the MORSE FOTOMATIC IV MODEL 4400 User Manual

Features of the Morse

When hubby brought home my Morse, it had the original price tag with it! The case it almost completely shot, but the machine is beautiful. I had done some research on it before hubby purchased it and saw a demonstration where it sewed through leather. That sold me.

When hubby lugged it in, he said it weighed like a tank. He told the truth. I haven’t weighed the Morse yet, but it is HEAVY! This is one machine I don’t want to move around unless I have to.

The machine features ‘automatic zigzag and buttonhole stitches.’ It came with a throat plate specifically for straight stitching and one for zigzag. It has several stitches to choose from, including the blind hem stitch. You simply move the lever to choose the stitch you want.

One of my the things I use most often on this machine is the pressure foot control — the little knob right at the top of the machine. It adjusts the pressure of the foot and it’s the simplest thing to set. You just push it down as far as you want for the amount of pressure you need. It’s micro-adjustable, which is awesome! I can lighten the pressure for lightweight fabrics and knits and increase the pressure for heavy duty work. It’s a feature I wish my new Singer Confidence 7640 had!

The Morse has this interesting little knob to select type of fabric. I have only sewn on ‘Norm’ so far, but I’m curious about the other. I know that the manual says it regulates the feed, but I’m not sure in what way.

The Morse has a sweet bobbin winder. I think it needs a new rubber piece as it is semi-unreliable when winding and makes a terrible high-pitched squeak while winding!

The Morse has a beautiful zigzag and straight stitch. It sews like a dream. I’ve yet to try the automatic buttonholes or any of the decorative stitches because of a problem with the machine that I didn’t know about until after we brought it home.

Not Quite Fairy Tale Perfect

I’m still a relative newbie in the world of vintage sewing machines. So the one thing I didn’t know was that a cracked cam stack is one big red flag. I now know that if a machine has a cracked cam stack, it’s best to walk away.

I didn’t even know what a cam stack was when we bought the Morse.

And … go figure … the Morse has a badly cracked cam stack.

So, what is a cam stack anyway? A cam stack is a round part (in this case made of nylon) that has ridges and bumps that direct the machine to make the decorative stitches. In the Morse, it almost has rings like a tree, with each one being a decorative stitch!

The worse crack in the cam stack. There are at least two or three other minor cracks on the other side.

The really sad part of all this? Replacement cam stacks are unavailable. They just don’t exist. So, unless I happen to find another Morse Fotomatic IV 4400 with a pristine cam stack … I’m out of luck.

The good news? I can still use the straight stitch and the zigzag. The machine’s other features and the beautiful ways it sews still make the purchase worth it to me.

Have you ever sewn with a vintage machine? I’d love to hear about it! Leave me a comment! 🙂

17 thoughts on “For Love of Vintage Machines | Morse Fotomatic IV

  1. Do you need to take the top off to see the cam stack? Someone local is selling one of these that looks in very good shape. They are asking $300 or willing to work with someone on a good price. They say it is going to that much on ebay. Just wondering if it would be worth checking out.

    1. Hi Dee!

      Yes, there are two screws on top that you remove to lift the top off and see the cam stack. As for whether it’s worth it, I recommend checking out the Morse Vintage Sewing Machine Owner’s group on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/groups/118136551553861/). They’re really helpful and have a better feel for the value of the machines. Best wishes to you!

    2. I sell on ebay and can tell you that what something “goes” for or is listed at does not mean it is what it will sell for. On the ebay site on the left side scroll down a little bit it will say sold, check that box. That will take you to the page that lists what things actually sold for. You cannot go by what something is listed for. Always always always check the sold prices.

  2. Hi Dee, I own six Morse. Two 4400 ,three 4300 and a 1950s Morse that is a Singer Clone. The most I have paid was $140 for my first Morse 4400. This Morse was perfect. The cam was intact with the accessories & manual. All my others machines without accessories & manual $30-$35. These machines as good as they looked were all locked up. With alot of oil plus heat and some mechanics some cleaning. They’re all beautiful and working. It’s a gamble with this machine especially for replacement parts. Try to pay as little as possible. When you get a beautiful Morse that works great. You’ve won the Jack pot.

  3. Hi Dee.
    There may be a solution to your broken cam stack. Try to find a company that make industrial prototypes by 3-D writers. They can scan the cam stack, modify the resulting file to remove the cracks, choose a better material, and print you a new one! (and maybe a spare one for later…?)
    Yours, Olaf

  4. I wonder if that cam stack is a candidate for 3D printing for a replacement? If the 3D plastic would be tough enough? If it worked you would have a whole new cottage industry!

  5. that cam stack looks like it can be remade. prob the easiest way would be to cast it. My friend has a 4400. I’ll take a look. The other option would be to make a 3D model and print.

    My friend’s machine has a problem where she is breaking needles on reverse. I will see if i can figure that out. Any tips would be greatly appreciated.

    1. I’d love to know about casting and having a new cam stack made. That would be awesome! I know someone in my Morse Fotomatic group on Facebook was working on a 3D printed model, but I’m not sure that succeeded.

  6. I see you have the manual. Can you please share pictures of it? I got a copy from ManualsLib, but it is hard to read. Thank you!

    Such a beautiful machine.

    1. Hi John, if you join the Facebook Morse group. You can download that manual from the file section for free. Also everyone is so helpful if you have any questions.

  7. The tension assembly on my 4400 got out of wack so I disassembled it and, of course, now can’t seem to get it back together quite right. Do you have a diagram for the assembly and directions for tensioning the springs? Perhaps a cleaning manual that shows how it all goes together?
    Thanks!

  8. Hi! I saw your post and was so excited! I noted that you mentioned it had the original price tag. A group I’m in full of vintage Morse machine owners rarely have that info, especially since the company in Japan did not retain any records. I know a mid 50’s model was sold for $199 per a vintage ad I found, but I can’t find any ads for these mid to late 60’s models. I have a 4300 that I simply adore and spent more than most because of my location (Alaska) and the fact that it had all the repair/tune up information from the previous owner and it was in like new working condition.

    That said, how much was the original 60s price on your model?

    1. Hi Sarah!

      So fun! The tag that came with mine has a price of $349.95.

      I hope that helps your research. They’re such awesome machines. 🙂

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