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Mar 4, 2010

Top 10 reasons to buy a vintage sewing machine



Not being a parent,  I can only imagine what it must be like to await the arrival of a child, an event long anticipated, something you've hoped and dreamed about.  It's unforgettable.

But readers, could it possibly be as exciting as hearing the doorbell ring, opening the door and having the UPS man drop off a vintage sewing machine?

How could it be?

OK, I know what you're thinking.  It's absurd to compare the arrival of a newborn with the delivery of an old piece of machinery.  You detect a desperate attempt to justify the impulsive decision to purchase my ninth sewing machine, a Singer 15-91, on Monday, just one day after visiting my friend Johanna, who owns ten.

For me vintage sewing machines are special; for you maybe not so much.  Oh, you enjoy reading about other people's vintage mechanical machines, but you'd never consider buying one yourself.  After all, who wants to have to oil an old machine, or lift 35 lbs of metal onto the dining room table, or shlepp some old clunker to quilting class? 

It may be too late to change your mind.  But perhaps there is someone out there who's just a little bit curious and open to the possibility...

YOU there!  Yes, you

For you -- forward-thinking, independent-minded idealist that you are -- I offer my top 10 reasons for buying a vintage sewing machine.

1) Many wonderful vintage sewing machines can be purchased online for less than $50, including shipping, and at local thrift stores, garage or estate sales for even less.  Check out the Completed Listings on eBay: there are machines being had for a song.  Many of these have names you'll recognize like Singer, Kenmore, and Viking.  Others are perhaps more obscure yet fully functional.  When in doubt, ask the seller about the condition.  Can you see a stitch sample?





2) A vintage machine is a "greener" choice.   We all know by now that we live on a planet with finite resources.  It makes sense to give new life to a perfectly functional, albeit second-hand machine rather than force our planet to squeeze out a new one, further despoiling our environment in the process. 

3) Vintage sewing machines are mechanically less complex, break down less often, and are easier (and cheaper) to repair.   There are no motherboards to break down, no computer circuits that can get fried from an electric surge in a thunderstorm.  With a vintage mechanical machine, it's generally just a question of sufficient oiling and the occasional tune up if necessary -- and it often isn't.



4) When you buy a vintage sewing machine, you're connecting with a piece of history.  There's something about using a piece of equipment from the past that nourishes the soul.  We're connecting not only with those who used the machine before -- sometimes our own ancestors -- but also with those who manufactured it with pride.

5) Vintage sewing machines have already proven their reliability.  If a machine is more than forty or fifty years old and still works, that tells you about the quality of its design and manufacture.  Many vintage machines available today were top of the line and still perform flawlessly.



6) Most vintage sewing machines use the same parts -- presser feet, needles, bobbins, and bobbin cases -- as new machines.  Most of the accessories for old machines by major manufacturers like Kenmore and Singer are relatively easy to find -- if not in stores, then certainly on eBay.  Very little has changed in terms of the basic equipment necessary to sew on a mechanical machine.

7) Vintage sewing machines are beautiful.  Just like the automobiles of their day, the sewing machines of the Thirties, Forties, Fifties, and even Sixties were uniquely styled, with personality to spare.  Just like so many cars today look virtually alike, most contemporary sewing machines have a bland, cookie-cutter quality.  Gone are the vivid pinks, blues, and greens, the chrome, the eccentric lines, and the futuristic styling.



8) Using vintage machines is cool.  Just like people who wear vintage clothes tend to be non-conformists, people who sew on vintage machines are generally independent-minded and resistant to media manipulation.  They're saying, No, I'm not going to succumb to the marketing pressure to buy the latest thing with all the bells and whistles; I'm opting instead for something simpler that better reflects my values.



9) Vintage sewing machines last longer.

Will future generations still be sewing with the primarily plastic Singers, Brothers, and Janome models for sale at Walmart or Jo-Ann's the way people today can still enjoy the sewing machines of the past?   We'll see.



10) Vintage sewing machines are plentiful.  I honestly wouldn't know where to buy a new sewing machine in New York City. But just go on Craigslist or eBay, and they're everywhere.  If you buy on Craigslist, you can actually view and test the machine first to make sure you like it.

Bonus reason:

11) When you buy a vintage sewing machine locally, you're helping to keep money in your community.  Why send your money to some transnational corporation based in another country and using the workforce of yet some other (generally low-wage) country?  Buy from a neighbor, or a local thrift store and keep the money in the local economy.  



Have I left anything out?  Let me know.

And so readers, I ask you: 

New or vintage?  Which is your next machine going to be?

76 comments:

  1. Right On!! My vintage Viking is from the 70's. She sits to my right as I sew on my fancy schmancy computerized sewing machine. There are some things that only my Viking can do. For instance, computer girl will not stop on a dime....she insists on just one more stitch when my foot comes off the pedal. There are situations where you need to stop in EXACTLY the right place. That is only one example of the many reasons why my Viking is my first love. Not to mention that she sewed for my babes in the 70's and is still going strong! Does your vintage Viking have the 2 speed/low gear? If somebody took away all my modern machines (sew, serger, coverhem, embroidery machine, etc) I would be fine if they just left my vintage Viking. ;-)!!!

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  2. here, here!!! I am a mechanical machine sewer all the way! I own two Singers: a 1980's 6136 machine that I adore and a Singer 15K that I doubly adore. You won't catch me on anything else :-)

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  3. Deffinately vintage. I leave in 4 days to pick her up in Montana. She is a 1964 Singer and was gifted to me by a relative that upgraded a few years back. Dont tell my relative though, I think I am getting the better end of the deal! I love your blog Peter... you are such an inspiration. Thanks.

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  4. your enthusiasm for vintage machines is contagious! I use a modern, basic machine but am often tempted to get old machines for 'research purposes'. My parents still use a machine with a handle, no electricity! It is a beautiful looking machine and produces lovely, even stitches but I wouldn't be able to work that slowly unless i really had to.

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  5. ps, I will be looking out for a 'Spartan' machine - I can imagine doing 24 hour sewing marathons in the freezing cold while fasting on one of those!

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  6. Definitely vintage. My main machine is a Singer 401, but I also have a 403, 500, 603, 99, and a 66. My oldest machine is the 66, which is a treadle made in 1908. And yes, it still works! The most that I have paid for any machine is $100.00, and the majority are significantly less. Another advantage of older machines is that you can do most of the repair work on them yourself! And there are websites and yahoo groups that provide you all the information necessary to do the repairs.

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  7. Great post. I have two Vikings, one about 25 years old, and one that is a few years old. I bought an old singer in a sewing cabinet for about $20 and a trip to Jersey. I bought it to use a Singer buttonholer with. Haven't actually done that yet. But, what I'd really like is recommendation on a vintage machine that will sew great straight stitching to use for topstitching jeans. Aside from the fact that I don't love the topstitching on my Viking, either the new one or the old one, I'd love to have a machine that I can dedicate to topstitching. Are there any that will take the thicker topstitching thread?

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  8. I have a new Viking Emerald 116 (bottom of the line), a 1975 Kenmore that was top of the line, with cams, etc! And my newest baby...a 1915 New Home. Check it out! http://www.flickr.com/photos/11688850@N04/sets/72157623487273292/
    Needs a cording foot for zippers, etc. But it has 3-4 hemmers, rufflers, ruckers, braiders...it is amazing. And very smooth to operate!

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  9. Vintage. I own a Pfaff 1222, and a Pfaff 1222E. Love them. In fact, I got the E after the local store told me that the 1222 was shot. They lied, though. Bottom tension assembly (bobbin case) was missing the tension adjustment screw. Got two new-to-me ones on ebay for $25 since I couldn't find a replacement screw. My 1222E even came with all the feet, original manual, and the then-optional case. The manual makes me laugh, though--"And it's so light at only 25 pounds!" My machines date from the 60s and early 70s. I even found a yahoo group devoted to old Pfaffs who helped me fix them myself when I started having problems with skipped stitches!

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  10. Vintage, baybee . . . all the way! I have two Singer Featherweights and two vintage Berninas (1130 and 1260). I do most of my sewing on the Berninas and use the Featherweights when I travel. I have no desire to get a brand new machine, as these four will satisfy my sewing needs for the rest of my life (at some point, I may find a new home for one or two of them). When friends who want to get back into sewing ask me what machine they should buy, I always recommend that they track down a good vintage machine . . . they're solid, easy to maintain, and get the job done! What more could you ask for?!

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  11. Great comments, everybody. Sounds like I'm preaching to the converted -- oh, well.

    Rosie, that New Home is gorgeous!

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  12. yes, yes, yes! I just passed on a vintage Singer at an estate sale and you are making me kick myself for sure. But really I'm just holding out to find that perfect vintage Necchi to add to my collection of Viking, Bernina, Singer featherweight and my very special jadite green Riccar. Your collection is drool worthy.
    xo, suzy

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  13. I'm in the market for a new machine now. I think what scares me about vintage machines is how many people seem to need. I only have space for 1 sewing machine and 1 serger. I want both to be work horses and do everything beautifully. Any advice?

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  14. You are so right! I sew on my Mee Maw's Bernina 1020 and I couldn't be happier. I love knowing that she sewed on it too, definitely a connection there.

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  15. I'm not with you on Vintage. I love my computerized sewing machines. Mine do stop on a dime, and I love the up/down and cut threads button. However, I do have 5 machines, two sergers and a cover&chain and I TOTALLY get the compulsion to own one of every type! I also have 4 (going on 5) autoharps, and let's not go there about shoes and clothes -- San Antonio Sue PS I won the Western Wear contest!

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  16. Thanks for writing this. A few weeks ago I was given my grandma's sewing machine, a Singer 301. It's in a table, it's beautiful and everything, but I am terrified to use it! I haven't even threaded it yet. I keep using my 2008 Kenmore. Not quite sure what is wrong with me. I'm going to keep reading this until I feel brave enough to use it!

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  17. Congrats, Sue! And thanks for bravely representing the minority position, he he.

    Isabel, if I had to limit myself, I'd go for one of those Seventies-era Vikings, like the 6440 or any from that 6000 series. I think Nancy K above has one. I might throw in a Singer Spartan for superior topstitching -- but that's two machines and you want only one.

    Nancy, I've had good results topstitching with my Spartan, but I haven't tried the heaviest topstitching threads. My Necchi handles topstitching on jeans well when I crank up the tension, but it's not as precise as my Spartan.

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  18. I decided to go vintage when I needed to upgrade my cheap entry level Brother from Sprawlmart. I wanted to get my mom's old 1971 Kenmore but she gave it to my brother, who gave it away. NO! But a quick perusal of my local Craigsist turned up a 1973 Kenmore ZigZag 1810 in the cabinet, with all the attachments and cams, for $25. Works perfectly, and sews through everything, never goes out of adjustment, never misbehaves or jams. I do not own a serger and I sew knits with this - it has a "pine leaf" stitch which is designed to work like a serged seam, and the twin needle is perfect for hemming knits. It has an automatic button hole attachment and can even do bound button hole stitching. I used the embroidery design cams to stitch a design on the pockets of my recently finished jeans. I LOVE this machine, I only wish I had two so I could set one up for topstitching. The only thing I use my "new" Brother for is winding bobbins.

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  19. Kelley (above), fear not the Singer 301! It is a great machine, simple, nothing to be afraid of. Did you get an instruction book with it? If not, I can point you to one online. When I bought mine in the fall at a thrift store, I knew nothing about it either, but it's a piece of cake, really. Email me if you have questions!

    Peter, my next machine? Agh, I already feel like a collector and didn't intend to be. I sewed on nothing but a vintage machine for 35 years (the same one), then picked up 2 more at thrift stores. In December, however, I bought a brand new machine, but it doesn't have all the electronic bells and whistles. You know, I like them all. Great post! You are right on.

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  20. Peter, what a beautiful collection you're assembling. I've found that I've collected so many that working on them has left me little sewing time, but when a nice old singer shows up for cheap on ebay it's hard to resist. I'm still sorry I didn't go after the vintage Vigorelli a few months back.

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  21. Isabel, I don't think it's that we "need" more than one vintage machine, I think it's because we LOVE them. One vintage machine and one serger and you're all set!

    I have 2 Singer 15-91's, a Spartan, a 347, and a 628 Touch and Sew which I love. I've heard some don't like the Touch and Sew but mine has always been wonderful and I love not having to unthread to wind a bobbin. I also have a newer Babylock, I think from the early 90's. It's a great machine too, plastic :( but I love her anyway and it was free, how can you pass that up. One of the 15-91's and the 628 was free also, people just didn't want them, sad.

    Now, y'all aren't going to believe this... I gave one of my machines to my MIL and she kept it for a year then gave it back (thank goodness) because she wanted a "new" machine. She bought an $89. piece of plastic from Wallyworld and loves it. Ugh, as long as I don't have to use it!

    I love that you're spreading the word on these wonderful machines Peter, keep up the good work.

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  22. I learned to sew on vintage sewing machines when I was younger (middle school/high school). Basically, on everyone else's castoffs. I had one of those black ones with just a straight stitch and the pedal would pop when it was using it. I'm lucky I didn't get electrocuted! Having dealt with all the quirks of my vintage machines, I am sorry to say I prefer new.

    HOWEVER, it has to be a quality new machine. I had a newer Kenmore and it couldn't hack it. Once I started seriously sewing on it, it froze up. After fixing it, I gave it to my mother so she had a machine to use, and I went out and bought a sturdy metal NEW Janome. My Janome was a good purchase, and puts up with the vast amounts of sewing I do on it. I didn't buy one with lots of bells and whistles...I just wanted a workhorse. And it works. :)

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  23. I will say that the only thing that tempts me about new machines is the alluring thought of computerized buttonholes. I took a textiles class in college a few years ago, but we'd just moved and misplaced the pedal to the sewing machine, so I had to borrow one.

    The buttonhole process on that machine was cool! Dropped the button in and it automatically made the perfect size buttonhole. I think that it's just about the only thing that tempts me about new machines.

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  24. We have both new and vintage machines in my family and I LOVE them all! My mother, and up until her recent death, my grandmother, still sew on their vintage Singers. I'm not sure of the models off the top of my head, but they are the kind in the desk where the repair man comes to the house because they are literally pieces of furnature. Pieces of furniture that are absolute work horses that sew like a dream!

    On a side note, I adore your blog! You have given me so much inspiration over the past few weeks. Now that my new studio is set up I can't wait to get behind my machines!!

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  25. Peter, my vintage Viking is a 6460, an upgrade from my original 6430. They are the same machine, basically....except I think maybe my stitch length will go a little longer on the 6460 vs the 6430. And, if I could only have one vintage machine, I agree with you 100%. Any 6000 series Viking is a winner. I gave my red 6460 (I had a red one and a white one) to a confirmed Pfaffie and she agrees.

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  26. My original machine is a vintage Kenmore from the 1970's, bought for $15. My better machine is a Bernina from the 1990's, a QE (Quilters Edition), and is great, too. I also have a Viking (Western Auto) from the 1960's and a Necchi Mira straight stitch bought at an estate sale for $5 each. My serger is refurbished, a Janome Juno. I like the older machines. My Kenmore needs servicing, but it actually sews better than the Bernina. I liked the Bernina for the automatic buttonholes, but they are not foolproof (could be operator error :)). That one my husband bought for me when he saw I was serious about sewing and quilting.

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  27. Most importantly, does a vintage machine come with a puppy? I love the photos of your curious little dog with the machines!

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  28. While I won't be buying any more machines (6 is enough), I absolutely love my vintage machine. Martha is a 1926 electric White Rotary, and I got her at an estate sale for $30. Tuned up for $70, she sews beautifully and I love the way this machine smells. Yes, I said it, I love the smell of this machine. When I sit down at that cabinet and sew, I don't know if it's the machine oil or the cabinet wood, but there's a warm "smells like home" aroma to her that makes me happy. Like I'm really doing something right and important, and it feels good. And I named her Martha because she came in the original Martha Washington cabinet from 1926. Yup, crazy comment of the day...

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  29. If I could keep only one machine it would be my ca. 1960 Viking 21e. It's fast and powerful with beautiful stitch quality.

    I've used a green Elna just like the one in your photo. It was one my grandmother had bought new. That's a nice machine. Did yours come with the carry case that folds out to an extension table for the machine?

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  30. I've sewn on a variety of old, new, electric, computerized, industrial, domestic ect.

    I learned on 70's era Montgomery Wards machine. In NO TIME I knew that machine inside and out. To the point where if my mom was using it, I could tell by the sound in the next room what was wrong with it.

    Me: "Mom, make sure the top thread didn't pop out of the take up hook."

    Mom: "How did you know that was the problem?"

    After I sewed that machine into the ground I purchased a computerized almost top of the line Viking. It's my new fav but there is something about the Wards machine I miss.

    For a few months I had my hands on my cousins vintage Pfaff in a cabinet. Beautiful condition with all attachments no scratches, manual ect. To be honest I was a little afraid of it because it was a knee pedal sewer and was of the mind at that moment "new is better." I was holding the machine until my cousin's daughter moved and was ready to inherit it. I secretly hope that she doesn't want it and I can snag it back. I recall my cousin being so happy to have snagged that machine. IDK where on earth it'd go in my sewing room as it's in a built in cabinet.

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  31. I absolutely agree - nothing is as thrilling as a new toy. I don't have kids, so I understand your glee.
    This has kicked me in the butt to get my Necchi to the repair shop. I bought it in California right before we moved and it needs some work. Off to the repair shop tomorrow!

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  32. I'll admit, I used to be biased against old machines. Probably because the first machine I sewed on was one I didn't know how to thread! No wonder it had "tension problems."

    I even remember seeing my aunt's old treadle machine and feeling sorry for her because she "had to" sew on that old black Singer. (Which she used to produce many beautiful things, by the way.)

    I've always preferred mechanical machines, but it was only recently that I learned about the durability and capabilities of those great old machines. Not to mention the styling. My 1950s blue and chrome thrift-store machine is so much prettier than my "new" boring white plastic one.

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  33. I learned to sew on a 1914 Singer treadle; my mother would not let me touch her electric zigzag Singer. I loved that treadle machine. I had a little sewing world set up in my closet when I was 14. I made lined wool dresses and pleated plaid skirts. Basically, I copied everything by Ladybug or John Meyer. THose old treadle machines will sew through anything and always work. I still have that machine. Today, I am on my 2nd Bernina, a 1630, which I love. I have also owned an Elna Supermatic(with all the cams), which I gave to my babysitter and a Bernina 1130, which I sold. I am thinking of downgrading, although I will keep the 1630, to a simpler machine. I just do not use all the embroidery stuff. I also have a 5 thread Bernette, which again, I would like to downgrade from. I only use the serger for overcasting.

    I could easily become a collector of vintage machines...but I already have so many bad habits...fabric, patterns....

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  34. That old green Elna is so pretty. I have an Elna Stella from 1984, she is a year older then me and likes to remind me of this a lot, but that ancient looking beauty is so pretty.

    Kate

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  35. I'm loving the comparison of awaiting a sewing machine in the mail, to giving birth! Let me say this; the anticipation is the same but if I'd had a choice, I'd much rather have had the baby arrive by mail!

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  36. I found an old Gritzner on the side of the road for council clean-up. I snapped (dragged actually 'cause it was soooo heavy) it up. My mother (who was in the car with me at the time) was horrified that I was collecting more junk. After realising it may electrocute me, I took it to be repaired (re-wired) AUD$80 later it was in excellent shape and my good friend admired it (she can sew like a seamstress) constantly. I had to give it to her and she has a fruitful love affair with it, churning out shirts, quilts, cushion covers. I am in love with ye' olde machines! xx - I'm with you sister on the post a baby Air Mail. 9 months was too long and agitating. X

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  37. I love old sewing machines! I have a Singer from the 80s-not saying that's very old...but my favorite is my Singer 185J! I've names her Susie-I picked her up at a thrift shop for a mere $25.00! My best vintage find ever. Anyway, she's from the 1950s and sews like a charm!

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  38. Hi Peter! I own the Necchi SM Club on Yahoo and found your Picassa albums today, while searching for something else Necchi. Love the 555 and Lydia albums and want to ask you about the Lydia but I haven't been able to find an email addy for you. Could you please contact me @ angie 33 @ wowway com

    Thanks!!

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  39. I love my Singer Model 404, beautiful latte colored, all metal machines.

    In fact I have two, which I have absorbed from dearly departed sewists in my family. The noise they make while sewing is very familiar and comforting. The various attachments really work well. There is a pleater! it is like magic. And the buttonhole attachment cannot be better.

    I am partial to Singer vintage machines but all the comments make me think I need to look around at some garage sales in case I am missing something.

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  40. I am not a collector. Nope, not me. Let's see, 2 toy chain stitch machines, Singer 28 hand crank, Singer 66 treadle, Singer 55-91, Singer 221, Singer 640, Bernina 1030, Viking Quilt Designer. And a White 234D serger. Mostly I use the Viking, but when I need to do a bit of heavy duty cloting repair - the Singer 55, for regular buttonholes - the Bernina, for chainstitch - the Singer 640. The others mostly just hang around and look good. I am on the hunt for attachments for the old machines though.

    and for anyone who's secretly hoping to get a someone's vintage machine - make it known you'd love to give it a new home. How often has it happened that the old machines get traded in, sold, given away, or (dare I say) sent to the landfill without realizing that someone in the family wanted it? That reminds me, I need to put a word to my Mom about her 1950's Necchi.

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  41. After years of using machines from the early 90's, I've just purchased my first vintage machine: a Singer 500A Rocketeer. Thank you for the inspiration!

    Blogged about here:
    http://sparkledonkey.blogspot.com/2010/03/be-my-baby.html

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  42. Just happened across your post while searching for info on a Montgomery Ward sewing machine table...but saw that you have a few of the same machines I do! Namely the Viking, the Genie, and the Kenmore. All great machines! (I'm actually looking for a 2nd Genie so I can retire my 1st one, LOL)

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  43. Peter, I don't know how I missed this post earlier! It's wonderful, and I love seeing the photos of your gorgeous machines lined up like this!

    I also want to extend an invitation to your lovely readers and fellow vintage-machine lovers to check out my website, zigzaggers.com, and to contribute reviews of their favorite vintage sewing machines. Let's spread the word about the benefits of re-using these beauties!

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  44. I smiled when I found your site..I love vintage too....it is addictive!!!!
    karen in seabrook texas
    ;)

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  45. I got to get a new, small one, to fit my tiny little apartment in Buenos Aires, but I got 2 (actually 3) old machines that my grandmother passed onto me, as well as the love for clothing making ... love you blog man!

    Cheers from Argentina :)

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  46. Hello,
    I just purchased a Viking 6440 from a Thrift store for $20. Was that a good buy? I played with it today and I love how it performed when I hemmed jeans. I'm a beginner, should I consider a new machine since "CAMS" on eBay are pretty pricey? Pricey like $200 for 10 cams. PLZ HELP.

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  47. Mimi, I would enjoy the machine without the cams. You'll find you really don't need the extra embroidery stitches those cams provide.

    Someday,somewhere those cams will turn up for less than $200. Or you'll find another vintage machine that's complete.

    $20 is a fantastic price for a 6440, even without the cams.

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  48. I really like sewing because i can create every thing like a skirt, blouse, pants or dresses and desing my own style. When i am sewing i usually feel my imagination flies. I think i am appationated about this.

    buy viagra

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  49. I love your post Peter and just ordered some books to recommended online.
    I have a vintage Bernina 830 Record from 1973 got it for a steal $50 bucks. But now I am looking at a 15-88 Singer Treadle - but I am still not sure if I need another machine I barely know how to use the one I got -but after reading your post I think I will make an appointment to take a look at the treadle. Thanks Peter for all the information and entertaining blog.

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  50. Treadles are wonderful -- you won't regret it!

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  51. You forgot one big reason: you learned to sew on one of the vintage machines.

    I learned to sew on a treadle machine, and I just loved it; now thirty plus years on, I found a Singer 28 at a garage sale for twenty bucks a few months ago. I had no idea how to judge it, and was so lucky that it's in excellent shape. It was born in July 2006 and still works excellently well. The biggest difficulty was finding bobbins, but ebay has been good to me and I have plenty now (plus some new home bobbins that are distinctly longer than the singer ones, despite looking similar in the pics). Live and learn.

    Now I just have to get organized to sew more than the apron I made in that long ago Home Ec class.

    Other reasons:

    Treadles don't use any electricity.

    Treadles get you leg exercise while you sew, nice gentle exercise for us old farts. Keep those leg clots away.

    Sewing machines in cabinets make good tables too. I have a big flat piece of cardboard and I do puzzles on it on the cabinet when it's closed. I keep the cabinet 90 degrees to my computer table, makes a nice contrast between now and the past.

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  52. Very late to the fray on this, but yes, vintage for me too. 95% of everything I've ever sewn has been on two machines: a Pfaff 90 and a Singer 221. I adore the Pfaff it simply purrs along, it never jams and it sews beautiful straight lines.

    A straight stitch and a simple zig-zag can go a long way.

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  53. Hi Peter!
    I am so glad I found your blog. I inherited my grandmother's Janome 672 and has never touched a sewing machine before in my life. But reading your blog has inspired me to learn and hopefully embrace a new hobby. ;)

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    1. That's great to hear, Adisty. Good luck with it!

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  54. Great post, Peter! Really inspirational. I've brought home a used (vintage?) Janome 672 from my local sewing machine shop just a couple days ago, and today I finally have the time to plug it in to do some tension adjustments. It's a nice machine with great stitches, and need I mention, very strong? It prolly weighs 20kg (honestly, with a plastic Singer as my previous machine, this comes as a shock!), is mostly metal, and has pretty purplish-pink dials :P I'm so excited about my 'new' machine and instantly remembered your post on vintage sewing machines. Here are a couple pictures of the Janome 672 :) http://www.flickr.com/photos/91602880@N03/

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  55. Do you know anything about Mercury sewing machines from I'm guessing the 40's or 50's? I found one in my mum's attic when I was cleaning out her house after she died. Its in a wooden case and weighs a ton.

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    1. Nigel, it sounds like you have a Japanese clone on your hands. These were well-engineered sewing machines (usually copies of the Singer 15 model) made in Japanese factories right after WW2 and then badged by the American companies who imported them.

      You can read more about them here:

      http://malepatternboldness.blogspot.com/2011/10/send-in-clones.html

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  56. hehe.. I started seeing two years ago, on one of those horrible little dressmaker machines.. a few months later, my boyfriend brought home a riccar.. which was great until I broke it. picked up a dirty singer for ten bucks, but it was loud, then bf brought home an affordable and clean domestic from the fifties or sixties.. worked well, except for the bobbin winder.. Iused the loud singer to wind bobbins. the front tension on the domestic was never awesome, but all my problems disappeared when my bf brought home a bernina 830 in its red case. he paid fifteen CAD for it, and I've never looked back! I was also given a bernina 1010 which is my back up. the rest of them live in my storage. the 830 is from 1972 , I think, and the 1010 is from 1992. team vintage and team bernina!

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  57. Love the Japanese class 15 clones. I might have 6 of them. Maybe more.

    @jenables - I also have an 830 Bernina bought new in the early 80s. A workhorse that I will never sell and I still use it regularly.

    Fortunately one can still find some oldies at estate sales for 20 bucks or so but at that price it just feeds the addiction. *sigh*

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  58. Any suggestions as to a repair person (I'm in Bergen county, NJ)for an antique (circa 1927) Singer sewing machine? It was my grandmother's, and I learned to sew on it. I would like to use it again, but the wiring is dangerous looking. I took it out of the cabinet to refinish the cabinet, but I don't want to put it back in until it has been repaired.

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  59. I love vintage/antique sewing machines. I have my great grandmas 1900 Singer 15 treadle, a 1914 singer 99, and an 1892 Singer Improved Family treadle. You really cant beat the shiny black Singers, they're just so solid and literally unbreakable. And they really are a piece of history.
    To the Anonymous user before me, any qualified electrician will be able to check/repair the wiring. And you're totally right to be cautious of 89 year old wiring.

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  60. Hi Peter! Just found your blog and enjoyed reading it. I also a self-thought in sewing and get hooked since 2010. I use Messina , a plastic modern sewing machine. Now thingking to.purchase a vintage one. Do you know about Janome 273. Just saw it last week and can't stop thinking about it. Thanks before :)

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  61. So I am attempting to start sewing but this first step, buy a vintage sewing machine, is quite a process. I'm looking at craigslist and see tons of different machines. does this look like a good start?

    https://seattle.craigslist.org/est/atq/4335671391.html

    I want a portable sewing machine that can deal with thicker fabrics. (if this does not look like a good fit and someone is feeling awesome and wants to look on craigslist seattle for fun i would be grateful!)

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    Replies
    1. Chris, that's twice what that machine should be going for. It's the right machine but too expensive. Maybe you can offer less.

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    2. Thanks so much for the reply,

      Seems like all singers are going for at least 150 on craigslist in this area no matter the model or condition.

      one other question, what about this removable swing arm business, as valuable as I've been reading for cuffs and hems or will i be able to work around it?

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    3. You do not need a free arm; a flat bed is just fine. $150 is a good price for a Singer 15-90, 15-91, or 201. Other good options are the Singer 66 or 99. These are all vintage black metal Singers. Make sure the wiring is sound and, if you're buying on Craigslist, bring a bit of fabric and test. If you have more questions, email me at peterlappinnyc at gmail dot com..

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  62. There are sewing machines in this post that I learned to sew on. My mum had a Singer 210 series machine, and the Viking machine from the 1970s is exactly the same as one I made a nightshirt, a pencil skirt and a plush dachshund draft excluder on in my secondary (think Junior High) school in the equivalent of years 6-9.

    I now own a Brother (modern) machine that is about 15 years old. It may have more stitch options on it, and at least it isn't computer controlled, but essentially all those skills are the same.

    We were all actually quite sad when my stepfather could no longer repair my mum's old singer. It sewed through anything, but getting spare parts (the motor eventually wore out) became impossible. I loved the long bobbins. Curtains, cushion covers, dresses, skirts, and no end of corduroy dungarees (overalls) were run up on that machine by my mum, step-father and me.

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    1. I would have to agree with you.I recently bought a pfaff 90 in a local salvation army store for $15.00 and ordered a instruction book for another $15.00. I had it serviced and it is running like a top.I like connecting with the past and really wonder about who used it before me and what they created..I also have a kenmore.which is more modern..

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  63. I'm new to this site. Last year my Elena SU that In had for about 25 years gave out. I could not find a motor to fix it. It was like loosing a best friend. My husband bought me a Singer which is so noisy I do not like to use it. I want another vintage, one that I can repair and service myself. I was given an older Montgomery War and bought an older Kenmore at the pawn shop for $25 that sews wonderfully and does not sound like its going to fall apart. I'm still looking for that working vintage Elna SU. Have a wonderful sewing day.

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  64. I have a Singer 328 with a .95 amp all metal motor and body that my husband and I got from a thrift store that came with most of its parts in a blond wooden cabinet for either $5 or $15 and all it needed was fresh lube! I'm happy that I can use that now for the medium weight to heavy weight items such as canvas and denim duffle bags, purses, work aprons, and clothing. I'll save the fancy new machine that I'm still on the hunt for to replace my Singer 6235 for light weight to medium weight use.

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    Replies
    1. Followup!
      After using it a few times, I've some problems to report.
      The bobbin portion is somewhat loopy in a zigzag-looking sort of way, with any fashion disc used. Then while using the actual zigzag fashion disc, the top thread tension went all wonky after working fine. I've played with both tension adjustments until I was almost in tears. I don't know where to go from here. Do you have any suggestions?
      Additionally, in order to start sewing I need to give the machine a push with a spin of the side wheel, or the motor will just hum, and it's such a slow sewer! What could be the reason for these problems?
      Finally, does the pressure knob at top left back of the machine adjust the foot or feed-dog pressure or what does it adjust?
      Thanks for any/all replies!

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    2. My guess is the pressure knob is for the presser foot pressure. You might want to have it serviced, if you can. I'd also check the manual, and if you don't have one, find one online (The Singer site has them for free I believe).

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  65. I love vintage machines for all the reasons stated. I was given a Bernina 830 with 12 feet and all its other acessories in that racy red case. Bliss. I paid C$150 for a massive tuneup. It purrs. I have my first machine, a 514 Singer. Noisy, but easy to use. I just bought a 1914 Kenmore in pristine condition, with cams, mongrammer and button hole attachment, for $100.00. It is "portable" in that it has a case. It weighs a ton. But, I will take all metal construction over plastic portability. Vintage rocks. Great post!

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