Male Pattern Boldness is proud to be the world's most popular men's sewing blog!



Mar 23, 2016

My Favorite Vintage Sewing Machine



This is what my sewing table looks like these days: my green Elna Grasshopper, a Bernina 930 (just behind), a Singer 15-91 (front right), and a Singer 201: three straight-stitch machines and a zigzagger.  The Bernina dates from the early 1980's, the rest are from the early 1950's.

These are not all my sewing machines (I think I have 14) just the ones I sew with most frequently of late.  It's hard to choose a favorite because I like them all, but if I had to, I'd choose the Elna Grasshopper.  This is the machine I use to make most of my shirts.  I could use any of my machines for this, really, though I wouldn't use a zigzagger for most topstitching.

Five things I like most about the Grasshopper:

1) It has a very small footprint and is relatively lightweight.  As you can see, my sewing table is crowded.  I love having a machine that doesn't take up a lot of space and is easy to move around.

2) The foldout knee pedal.  What's extra nice about the Grasshopper's is that it folds up and out of the way very easily.  You can see this in action here (note to self: oil that joint).  With the Grasshopper, I don't have to hunt for a pedal with my foot.



3) The free arm.  The Elna Grasshopper was the very first free arm machine.  I rarely need a free arm as I'm used to flat bed machines and know most of the work-arounds for things like cuffs, but it's still nice to have.  I like sewing in a table but once I get used to a free arm (or flat bed) I rarely have issues with one.



4) It's very quiet.  The Grasshopper, when lubricated and working as it should, is a truly quiet machine.  My very first sewing machines were all very powerful, with noisy motors.  Next to a Singer Featherweight, the Grasshopper is the quietest machine I've sewn with, and I've sewn with dozens of vintage models.

5) It's easy to maintain.  You can oil the Grasshopper yourself.  It has a few oiling spots near the bobbin that originally called for kerosene; I use sewing machine oil and it works just fine.  Kerosene is simply too smelly to keep around the house.



Other special features (that mean very little to me however) are an extra gear reducer  -- often missing -- that allows you to pierce thick fabrics more effectively, and a case that folds out into a sewing machine table.



I have only one issue with the Grasshopper: there isn't a great deal of clearance under the presser foot and you can only lift the foot so high.  This is not the machine I would use to sew through ten layers of denim -- I'd use a black Singer for that, or my Bernina.

Longtime MPB readers may remember that I've owned two Elna Grasshoppers, both purchased on eBay.  That's my first one, just above, with the table set up, which I purchased in 2009.  I never warmed to my first Grasshopper: its longest stitch length seemed too short to me.  I sold it.  I purchased my second at the end of last summer.  It's cosmetically not as nice as the first one and it lacks the reduction gear, but it's otherwise perfect.

For me.

What I've learned about vintage sewing machines is that no machine is beloved by everybody, though the Singer Featherweight comes close.  We all have our particular preferences and that's how it should be. 

What's your favorite vintage sewing machine?

Have you ever owned a vintage model that just didn't float your boat?

Jump in!

61 comments:

  1. I've recently bought Singer 431G and 421G. Both very rare free arm machines. Even they are technically identical, I like 421G more. These are the most versatile machines with stitch cams and 8 different feet. Have also a 222K and a 221K. And couple of 401G's.

    ReplyDelete
  2. I used to have a New Home 444 that lasted 34 or so years. I bought another New Home from ebay and it has cams. I really haven't warmed to the cams. I find there is just too much fiddling for me. So I have a compromise, Janome 4618. a heavier machine, needed stitches and no cams! I also have a Janome 19606 but it works really well only on woven fabrics, not so nice on knits.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I love the green of the Elna!

    I see exclusively on my mom's Bernina 930 Record but I learned to sew on old Singer machines (no treadle) and I still have one of my grandmother's old portable cast iron Singers. Still sews great! My mom also has a Singer with a treadle that doesn't get much use.

    ReplyDelete
  4. I love my Singer 201-2 — and straight stitchers are the best for top stitching. I had a Bernina 930, but I was not a fan. The foot pressure was too heavy and not adjustable. The plastic on one side yellowed with age. I've been curious about the Elna SU — all the advantages of the Supermatic without the rubber drive pulley gear problem.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. That's a model I'm curious about too. They must be very heavy as the shipping on them (on eBaY) is generally high.

      Delete
    2. I own six (Elnasuper, 62C, and TSP versions). They are excellent machines. The stitch quality is about as good as it gets and they are extremely quiet and smooth. However, the foot pressure is universal and there is no feed dog drop. (There is a small plate that fits over the feed dogs. As I prefer a flat needle plate, I've never liked this approach.) Also, the hook pinion gear is an often-replaced nylon part. My overall opinion is that these are better in some respects than their Bernina and Pfaff counterparts and they can often be found much less expensively. (I acquired one for $5.) But if the one you find needs work though, be prepared for some long hours.

      Odd about the shipping. They're not heavy machines at all. I've purchased all mine locally so I've not noticed that they're unusually expensive to ship.

      Delete
    3. I had an Elna SU, graduation present for high school (it was that or a car). I loved that machine dearly, solid as a rock, dragged it all over town for work, and was sorry to have to let it go for lack of someone to repair it. The Bernina has never charmed me except for the acceleration factor; it has a lot of muscle for a computerized machine, and I appreciate the accelleration. I am free arm dependant in my sewing choices, so the Featherweights have never appealed to me.

      Shipping on Ebay is where folks make more money that Ebay doesn't take a fee on.

      Delete
    4. Actually, FVF (Final Value Fees) are levied directly on shipping charges. The problem was that sellers were side-stepping selling price percentage fees by charging low prices for items but huge shipping charges and it was difficult for buyers to determine whether shipping charges were a reasonable price (packing and handling costs plus actual shipping from the carrier) or merely gouging. This also caused problems with return shipping, problems with the carriers themselves, etc. So eBay now charges a percentage of shipping charges.

      Delete
  5. I have a Bernina 730, bought on Craigslist with all the accessories and feet I could ever desire, then serviced. It and I have just never made peace with one another. I think, as much as I love to have vintage machines around, I'm not going to replace my new computerized machine. I'm just too used to the features!

    ReplyDelete
  6. I have an Elna Lotus I don't dislike, but I just never use it. Nifty machine, surprisingly heavy for its tiny form factor (14 lbs, just weighed it on my bathroom scale). However, if I need true portability for nothing heavy sewing, it's my choice.

    ReplyDelete
  7. Ahhh, sew and tell; back to your blog's roots.

    Of preferences and seasons for some, sticking with what is available for others.

    Your ever changing collection feeds any eye-wandering tendencies that I, and likely others, may possess.

    The 201 is an impressive machine in my book, but you make the Elna Grasshopper look enticing enough to troll Craigslist for one of my own.

    Stating for the record (because it can't be said enough), Peter, all your efforts are truly appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
  8. My favorite machines overall are Pfaff industrials. For vintage domestic all-around 'does everything well' machines, Kenmore is the best value and the Pfaff 260/360 or the Necchi Julia Supernova are possibly my favorites. The Singer 201 and 301 are great, the Anker RZ, Elna Supermatic and Transforma, Necchi BU/Mira/Nova, Necchi Lelia, Meister 101... Hard to pick even a large few!

    ReplyDelete
  9. And I meant to add that Bernina is the most overrated. Only the 217 is a truly great machine worthy of its price tag. Just one man's opinion.

    ReplyDelete
  10. I have several vintage sewing machines. My machine to-go is the Singer 401G, that came with all acessoires. Later I bought other rarer feet, an original Singer walking foot, etc. It is a great sewing machine for all fabrics!

    Once I had a Pfaff 96, also complete with acessoires, but I could not bind with it! After one year of use, I sold it.

    I also had an Elna I, but it has some issues, like a missing screw in the foldable arm and the motor started to smoke, so I decide to sell it too and changed for a Featherweight, but the grasshopper is a great machine, it is true.

    ReplyDelete
  11. My go to machine is a 1951 Singer 301. It's the first of the slant shank machines, the drive gears are all metal and the bobbin is easy to get to. It only weighs 17 lbs, so it's easy to take along, and it's full size , unlike my Featherweights.

    ReplyDelete
  12. Тебе не хватает машинки с верхним продвижением ткани!

    ReplyDelete
  13. I have a Featherweight, and Singer 500J (Rocketeer), a Kenmore of no particular pedigree, and my absolute favorite, a Bernina 1080. To say I love my Bernina is an understatement.

    Every time you write about your Elna Grasshopper, you torture me, I passed one by at a garage sale. It was $10, I have regretted it ever since. If I ever see another, it will be mine.

    ReplyDelete
  14. I've generally sewn with hand-me-downs until I was about 35. Then I bought the sewing machines that I learned to sew on - Singer 301 and Elna SU. The latter burned out and was too expensive to fix. I bought 2 Bernina 830's and the first kept jamming when I would zig zag (even after professional repairs). The second one lacks a slow speed. Now I have a Singer 401, and it sits next to my 301. We are a happy trio.

    ReplyDelete
  15. I've sewn a zillion things on my trusty Singer 401A that I got used in 1970. I will never get rid of it. The only other machine I own is a Brother made for the Japanese market that I bought strictly because it is Snoopy-themed (I'm a Peanuts collector). It does sew slippery knits better than my 401A, so I do use it for those, but the Singer is used for everything else.

    Nancy

    ReplyDelete
  16. Except for my serger, I only sew on vintage machines. I learned to sew on a treadle sewing machine, and for some reason I only want to sew on machines that can be put on a treadle base, so that limits my choices. I haven't found the perfect zig-zag machine to put on a treadle base. Right now I'm mostly sewing on a treadle modified Singer 328K, and it's OK but not great. As for straight stitch machines - I love both my treadle Singer 201-3 and my Singer 15-88. BTW Peter, it's your fault I bought a 201 (actually I now have two) - I couldn't resist getting one after reading your post about yours.

    ReplyDelete
  17. For someone who doesn’t have much time for sewing, I have a lot of machines. I love my Singer 401, which was my mom’s machine. It’s my go-to, reliable, trusty steed. It has reverse stitching, zig-zag and lots of stitch options that I don’t use yet. It’s not very quiet, but the sound of that machine brings such great memories from my childhood.

    I once had a vintage Brother, but I don’t remember the model. It NEVER worked well. I put it out on the street.

    I also have a White treadle machine. Very smooth and quiet, but only does straight stitching. I’m holding onto it for the zombie apocalypse, when there will be no more electricity.

    Then there’s the factory machine. It’s very fast, but it’s trying to create its own sonic boom.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I have an Elna SU that I inherited from my mother-I learned to sew on it as a kid in the 80s and 90s, and it's still my go-to today. After what had to have been the most horrendous abuse by teenage me, it's still going strong! I love it. I also inherited my Mom's White Superlock serger, also from the 80s and apparently reputed to be great. After years of endless struggle, though, I finally pitched it and bought a new Pfaff serger. I don't miss it one bit.

    I also got a Kenmore 480(?) (it's in its box and weighs WAY TOO MUCH for me to dig it out and check right now) from the 60s from my mother-in-law. So far, it's not as heavy-duty as I feel it should be, but I think the problem is with the belt. I will probably like it better after it takes a trip to the sewing machine hospital. I'll get around to that when I feel like spending the money. I don't love it enough to make the effort yet.

    I got a Singer Touch and Sew at a garage sale this summer, and I mostly really like it. Old Singers are just great, and this one is no exception. I did fork out for a hospital trip for this guy, and it was worth it. The quick bobbin-winding feature is pretty rad, though it doesn't let me put enough thread on. I *love* the buttonholes it makes.

    Lastly, my other half convinced me to buy an old hand-crank Frister and Rossmann from 1909 last summer. I haven't made time to try it out yet (it's nice just to look at!) but there is a plaque welded to it indicating it did time in an upholstery shop for lord knows how many decades, so I have high hopes that it'll do a nice stitch on heavy fabrics. Anyone else here ever used a pre-electricity hand-crank machine? Any tips?

    Also, I echo those who say they simply don't get along with Berninas.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds like it would do you good to get in touch with some vintage sewing machine groups. There are lots on Facebook and some on Yahoo that have been around a long time. They will have answers and tips for you.

      Delete
  19. Peter I have a German zz machine from the 60's and that's what I make shirts on. I have been doing it wrong this whole time. It is an Anker, I have a picture but can't work out how to put it in the comment.

    ReplyDelete
  20. I love all my vintage machines (Singers 201-2, 15-91, 401A, 306K, and a couple of old Kenmore model 90's) with the exception of my Singer 128- it's my cutest being feather weight size with a "Godzilla" finish, but that shuttle bobbin just turns me off. I've also got a touch and sew I bought for the cabinet that needs new gears (of course) that I haven't been able to judge.

    ReplyDelete
  21. It's funny that in this modern age, so many people are attached to such old machines. Perhaps a comment on the quality of Made in China/Made in Korea/Made in Thailand of modern machines in comparison to the old machines that were made in Europe and the States??? Down with offshoring!! Personally I've never tried sewing on a vintage machine and I would be wary of trying because I always struggle to rectify problems on any kind of machine and get very quickly frustrated by them (my machine doesn't work at the moment and I'm super-frustrated because I've got lots to do that I can't get on with until I find a way to take it miles and no doubt pay a fortune, to get it repaired!) The grassshopper looks great fun. But there again, where do you store all these machines?!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Once you try a vintage metal machine, you will never ever want to sew again with those plastic ones. They are smother, quieter and the great advantage ist that it easy to service them at home. And they never really break. Of course there are models than others, you can compare them with oltimer cars, if you know what I mean.

      Delete
  22. My favourite vintage sewing machines are the ones that come my way free of charge or very cheaply and still work as intended. Top favourite, this week at any rate, is my Singer 201K treadle. It's quiet, smooth running, and sits flush with a large flat work space. Second favourite is my diminutive Singer 28K. The vibrating shuttle holds no fears for me!

    ReplyDelete
  23. I have two machines that I use the most, my Singer 401 for ziz-zagging and my 201 for straight/topstitching. I've always heard about the "legendary" 201 and it's smoothness and control and when I started using it I was blown away! My 401 never fails me when sewing knits, particularly fleece fabrics.......I also have a Rocketeer which I bought just on it's looks alone, even though I was warned by a repairman that they hate knits and he was right on the money! To this day, I don't understand how the 401 and Rocketeer (500a) which so many claim are exactly the same internally can be so different in handling knitted fabrics.....Singer must have screwed up somewhere in the design of the Rocketeer that came after it's 401! I'm going to see if I can find a repairman who may be able to solve the problem with adjustment. Now it's just sitting on the shelf looking beautiful!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I really wanted a Singer slant needle machine, having read rave reviews like Scorpion's et.al. I had already purchased a Singer buttonholer attachment for slant needs that could do buttonholes wider than 1". I couldn't believe my luck when I found a 401 at the Goodwill Outlet, where all hard goods are priced at $8.00! A beautiful machine, even nicer after I cleaned, lubed, and replaced some missing parts. I tried the buttonholer, but this model did not have a convenient feed dog drop, but instead you had to laborious raise the plate, drop in something, etc, etc, generally kind of a hassle to changeover. Also, the buttonholer works by the machine doing the zigzag, and the buttonholer simply moves the fabric in the buttonhole pattern, nearly impossible to get a tight satin stitch. Also, these machines do make noise, due to the gear drive design, not annoying, but it makes you think it's due for an oiling. Although a wonderful machine, it just didn't work for my purposes. I miraculously found an original cabinet for it on Craiglistt (they were going to use it for a bathroom sink vanity!), rewired it to fit the knee pedal, and sold it to a good home, again on Craigslist.

      Delete
    2. Me again. Sorry for all the above typos, it's hard to edit when using an IPad.

      Delete
    3. So your cashmere blend was done on the 401? I have a Rocketeer too, and it is a piece of eye-candy. You make me want to find a 401 to call my own.

      Delete
    4. Actually I used the 201 and zigzagged the knitted waistband and cuffs on with the 401.

      Delete
  24. My favorite machine is my Singer Rocketeer. It never fails me and I love the sound she makes....just clicks along with never a complaint! I rarely sew with knits, so I haven't experienced that problem. I also have a White that I just purchased at a thrift store for $30. I haven't had time to look into it; it's a beautiful aqua/white/chrome beast and in a month or so I'll have time to really work on her. I also have a black Singer from the 1920's that I bought just because she was so pretty; no time yet to really work on her. Lastly, I have a new Janome computerized machine and really don't like that one. After working on my Rocketeer everyday, the Janome feels so "plastic" and rickety. I guess I prefer a heavy, solid machine.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Vintage machine that are all metal have what I call "backbone", they sit solidly and aren't jumping all over the place like the plastic junk they make today! Speaking of Janome, I heard they make a computerized sewing/embroidery model that costs......are you ready? $15,000!!

      Delete
  25. Forgot to mention, Peter, that I found an Elna Grasshopper at the local Good Samaritan for $50. Unfortunately, I had to wait for my next payday and when I went back she was gone!! I almost dropped to the floor and wept! I will keep my eyes out for another, and will borrow the $$$ if need be!!

    ReplyDelete
  26. I bought an Elna Grasshopper about a month ago, after I saw yours. I have plans to do more that open the case and admire it but thus far that's all I have had time for. I already own a 40's singer purchased with a beautiful cabinet from Craig's list. Is my Janome 5018 vintage? I bought it new 20+ years ago. The Singer and the 5018 have been real champs. A couple of weeks ago I bought a brand new Janome Horizon 8900. Oh my, can it do things. Magical things. This is why the Grasshopper is sitting forlornly in the corner. Apparently unlike baby, you can put Grasshopper in the corner.

    ReplyDelete
  27. And does anyone here own an old typewriter? We have 2 at our house and bought each of our grown sons one as well (and bought each of them a vintage Singer, a Rocketeer and one of the 40's black Singers). You should all get a vintage typewriter. Bwahahahaha.

    ReplyDelete
  28. I have a Grasshopper just like this, partly due to your recommendations over the years, when I saw one on Craigslist I pounced. I had it serviced and it is the sweetest, QUIETEST little machine. It's unbelievably quiet, really. My Singers are clunky and clangy and loud in comparison. Thanks for this post, I like to have two machines up and running - a zig zag machine and a straight stitch. For a long time the straight stitch has been my Singer 99, which is a great machine, but I think it's time to give the Elna some time in the sun. Whenever I use my Elna, my husband, who could care less about sewing but loves machines, notes how sweet and quiet and just pretty she is.

    ReplyDelete
  29. I learned to sew on a Grasshopper. My dad bought it new for my mom when I was born. He also took a little sunsuit and copied it to make me two more. This was 1951. I love my Grasshopper for the same reasons you do, Peter. I will never part with it. I also have three vintage Elnas, two SUs, and a TSP. One of the SUs I bought when my oldest daughter was born in 1975. They make the absolute best button holes of any machine I've had, new or old. I also have an immensely heavy 191J that I'll never part with. I've had lots of other vintage machines over the years, but these have stood the test of time. My newest machine is a Pfaff Expression 2036. It's great for the IDT feature but it's no vintage Elna, that's for sure!

    ReplyDelete
  30. Peter, I like that Grasshopper. I'd never seen a photo of one next to other machines before--it is smaller than I realized! It's cute. I have a Singer 201k hand crank--it's lovely! But I do most of my sewing on a 1977 Bernina 830 Record, and I LOVE it. My beautiful 830 replaced a mid-level computerized machine that I hated with a passion. I bought my lovely vintage mechanicals and I've never been happier. I recently bought a Bernina 707 Minimatic on eBay ("to take to classes," was my excuse). The 707 is nice, too. It's a simpler machine than my 830--it has fewer stitches and it's not as cosmetically pretty. But it sews very well, and I like it.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I forgot to mention one! My cousin gave me a Singer 101 that I have on display. I haven't sewn with it because the wiring is in pretty rough condition. I am going to do a little restoration on it soon.

      Delete
  31. As a comment in general, nothing beats an all metal, vintage (50's to 60's era) sewing machine. By then, most of Europe had gotten back on it's industrial feet, and the Germans and Swiss began producing some the best machines the world has ever seen. Not to be outdone, we Yanks, along with the Brits, produced those classical Singers, again, some of the best machines ever created.
    I am a freelance apparel designer, and I sew a lot. Although I have numerous industrial and domestic machines, my favorite, and the work horse of the bunch is my Pfaff 260, still in it's original cabinet that I purchased at a thrift store for $25 over 15 years ago. Since I make samples and try various techniques for sewing those pieces, the versatility of the 260 is a bonus. Because it has an internal drive belt, it has great piercing power, so it can handle delicate and thick with the correct needle size, it can zz, and it does have a dial a stitch feature which I have never used, but still works. I also have two Pfaff 130's, one in it's portable case ( held together with duct tape and a braided leather belt), that was my first purchased machine in 1975, and my Mom's 130 still in it's cabinet that I learned to sew on, and I have set up for buttonholes with a Singer buttonholer.
    My advice to those with these machines, keep them lubricated and they will last a lifetime, and in some cases such as my own, a couple lifetimes!

    ReplyDelete
  32. I adored my grannie's pedal powered Singer but it got given away before I could lay claim to it!.

    ReplyDelete
  33. I love my two 80s berninas - 1120 and 1230 - and recently bought a Janome Combi - it has a two thread overlocker on one end and you turn it around to swap ends. It came out about 1980. Weighs a ton. That is the first machine I ever bought for myself new so I knew I would like it and I do. But I have an Elna supermatic I bought because I learned to sew on them and it is just awful. The tension will never behave. That and a Bernette I thought I would love as it is the same body as my Berninas but it is a sick parody - clunky, noisy, nasty creature.

    ReplyDelete
  34. My daily stitcher, did not start as 'vintage' I bought it new in 1991. It is a Bernina 1230 and I still still love it, but it is thoroughly VINTAGE at this point. I gave up pro-hair cuts for a year to push this into the budget. I just bought it, but the penance was giving up the $50+ a month for cut and color at the salon for an entire year. Once the long defunct Sewing World website came along, and the marvels of antique and vintage machines came along I was smitten by the end of the 90's... and having found eBay about the same time... I acquired a few... then quite a few more. Noble to keep them from the landfill. A birthday treat one year: Featherweight from my local sewing machine shop and it is a delight to see and fun to use. A friend in the 70's had an Elna I coveted... it was light blue and smooth and so quiet. I have one of those (SU types) I bought and a 2nd one that came off the curb. Easy to spot that machine case. Both work equally well. Now people gift me with machines and I can completely resist buying them. Necchi Supernova in a cabinet that is built like a 50's tea cart is probably my most unusual.. It is smooth like I imagine an Italian Maserati would be... Dream on! I quit counting machines after it passed 30 some...

    ReplyDelete
  35. For more than 40 years my right hand in the sewing room was my Bernina 741, bought used in 1973. It weighed 52 pounds but sewed like a dream, and never skidded on a table or did anything but purr in that special Swiss precision music. It had one nylon gear that broke in 2006. I was seduced by a new computerized Bernina which I traded for, anxious to have the 9mm wide zigzag and 12(!) different buttonholes. I missed my 741 for a long time but have gotten used to the convenience of the computer with memory, the 9 needle positions, and the buttonholes...but I'm not always sure I made the right decision. I also have an Elna Supermatic and a Kenmore portable, 1040 I think the number is, and the Kenmore has a feel much closer to my old 741. The Bernina was quiet too. Now I'm thinking I'd like to try the Grasshopper. As I bought my "new" Bernina used, and without the embroidery part--it was the first Bernina w/a separable embroidery unit--I saved some $$$. I loved my old one for many features, including intuitive design, it seemed so much more reliable and easy to use than my old f***ing Singer, which my well-meaning mother gave me in 1970, and never sewed a single stitch without complaining and snarling thread or fabric or both. The 14th repairman told me with a straight face, "This machine is just a real lemon, honey. The Good Lord himself couldn't fix it." So I ditched it and never trusted Singer again.
    Kris

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I thought I was the only person who didn't like Singer sewing machines old or new.

      Delete
  36. I love my Singer 201k/2. It was my grandmother's first 'proper' machine – a present from her husband and mother-in-law that took some saving up for in 1958. It weighs a ton, and it's straight stitch only (although I do have 1960s zigzagger and buttonhole attachments for it). It tackles thick fabrics and topstitching with aplomb, but it's getting more temperamental as it gets older, sadly.

    ReplyDelete
  37. When I returned to sewing a few years ago, I decided it would be nice to have a change from my first and only machine, a sturdy but unexciting Janome-made Kenmore purchased new in 1984. However, I didn't need a lot of fancy features and was leery of computerized machines. I found a pristine mid-1990s Bernina 1000 on Craigslist, and at about the same time, a relative gave me her 1953 Singer 66, which needed cleaning, oiling, and a new belt. I loved sewing on the Bernina, I loved fixing up the Singer, and I loved learning about vintage machines. Within a couple of years, I acquired a Pfaff 332, an Elna Supermatic, a Bernina 1010, a Necchi Supernova, a Kenmore 158.1030, a Singer 401a, a Singer 301a, a Singer 221, and a Singer 99. Each of them (except the Bernina 1010) needed a little repair work, which was interesting and fun to do. Since I don't have vast amounts of time to sew, and usually use the Bernina 1010, most of them don't see much action; but still, the only one I've managed to part with so far is the Singer 99. At least I'm trying to stop myself from acquiring more!

    ReplyDelete
  38. Peter, you are doing a good thing by championing the virtues of vintage sewing machines. I know several people who wanted to try their hand at sewing and purchased a cheapo machine at the local discount store; of course, the machine was a disappointment and the venture was frustrating.

    A neighbor had a Shark machine which constantly jammed and formed thread nests. I told her I would check in the thrift stores for a vintage machine. Long story, I found a heavy Kenmore from the 1970s, complete with instructions and box of attachments still in the plastic wrap. The machine was stiff running and the bobbin winder strained. Price $12.

    Very simple zig zag machine with five stitches. Evidently the machine had been sitting for a long time. I gave it a good cleaning and oiling. When I took the bobbin case out,there were thread bits in the shuttle. Removing the top panel revealed thread that had wrapped around the balance wheel. My guess that the original owner made some mistakes and the Kenmore was relegated to storage then ended up at the thrift store. Ran the machine at high speed, oiled, ran the machine, oiled some more. As the machine loosened up, it began to run smoothly. Threaded it up and found that it made some very nice stitches AFTER I found where to set the red dot! Needless to say, my neighbor was so excited with this vintage jewel and has been using it regularly. In fact, she said the more she sews, the smoother the machine runs.

    Had it not been for your blog, Peter, many sewists would not realize what fine sewing machines those vintage Kenmores are!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks -- that's great to hear, Drew!

      Delete
    2. I don't call him the "Wizard of Vintage" for nothing!

      Delete
  39. I gave the two I had away. I am not a fan of vintage sewing machines I prefer the one that I have now, it has far more features, sews beautifully and is easy to use. The Kenmore vintage machine I owned was pretty good for straight stitching which is great if that is all you need it for. I do like the look of vintage singer machines they are very industrial/vintage. I have my grandmother's treadle singer machine and my mother has about 3 vintage singer machines, one has a rocket kind of spool, and one even comes with a ruffler. I had no idea they had been around that long.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I prefer to sew on vintage machines because: 1.) I can maintain them myself 2.) I mostly work on big heavy weight fabric projects that the new lightweights cannot handle (plus they look like plastic fetuses) 3.) They can be very inexpensive (under $25 + one day of restore/repair). I like many of the straight stitch Singers (15-91. 201, 301) and also the simple to use Singer237, which is a basic zigzag with a good satin stitch and this model can also be adopted to treadle. My go to travel machines are Kenmores - right now I'm very happy with model 158.1641 for larger projects and the tiny 1030 and 1040 (Ketherweights) for lightweight projects. The "ketherweights" are small like the Singer 221's but they also do zigzag and a few more handy stitches at the turn of a dial. I also recommend that any serious sewist should mount that heavy "portable" machine on a sewing stand - feeding the fabric level with the sewing machine bed and having the extra support of the fold out table extension makes sewing a pleasure - plus no more family trauma created by having a sewing project take over the dining room table. Just drop the machine down into it's slot, close the table and use it as a living room or bed stand when the machine is not in use.

    ReplyDelete
  41. When my Elna Supermatic started sparking, I bought a second one. I love it so much!! I can't even imagine living without it. It is my favorite thing in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  42. In case it isn't in the comments above, you mentioned on Instagram to use regular sewing machine oil instead of kerosene to lubricate the bobbin race, but I think that is a mistake. Over time the oil will thicken and slow the machine's operation. Kerosene was specified for a reason. I just bought a Grasshopper and plan to use lamp oil in place of kerosene because I think it is the same viscosity but without the odor of kerosene. You may want to try it to see if it makes a difference in the speed and noise level. This is such a neat machine that I can hardly contain myself until mine arrives! In the meantime, I replay all the grasshopper videos to keep my spirits up.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Late to the party, but enjoy your blog a lot. I've only done basic repair sewing for myself, but am planning to learn more. Have been using my wife's 30+/- years old Singer and detest it. I have my mother's Singer 221 Centennial which is in pristine condition (she bought it to sew on merit badges for her Girl Scout troop in the early 50s, but had a bigger machine). I actually love it, but am a bit afraid to use it much because of its wonderful condition.

    Anyway, I love the vintage machines from the 40s and 50s, and am awaiting a Bernina 530 Record (mid-late 50s) found on Ebay ($149) that appears to have rarely been used. I got to test one out several years ago at a tailor/sewing shop and fell in love with its power, simplicity and velvety smoothness, and that machine had seen regular use for 5 decades. I especially love its aesthetics; two-tone curviness, just nice to look at. Hoping we'll work well together.

    Pictures of this machine's internals look new, as does the exterior. I'll know in a few days.....

    Anyone know how to date Berninas from their serial number? Any info on this machine will be appreciated.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sounds wonderful. Good luck with the Bernina!

      Delete

Related Posts with Thumbnails