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.
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?
I'm a native New Yorker and sewing fanatic! I started sewing in 2009 and today make all my own clothes using vintage sewing machines and vintage patterns, in addition to sewing for private clients. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!