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May 22, 2011

Roads Not Taken

Readers, I was this close to buying a vintage Singer 401A sewing machine at the flea market yesterday.  The dealer was asking $80, but I'm pretty certain he'd have taken less.  It came complete with a box of slant attachments and a very nice carrying case, and it looked like such fun.

But I exercised some restraint (for a change) and walked away.  Let someone else buy it who really needs it, I thought or did I actually say it out loud?

I don't have the space and I don't need the clutter -- physical or mental; I have a lot of sewing to do.  Despite last winter's eight-machine purge, plus my impulse gift to Rain of a Singer 15-90, I still have what feels like an awful lot of vintage sewing machines:

Singer 15-91

Singer 99

Singer 221 Featherweight

Singer 66 treadle

Pfaff 30

Pfaff 139 zigzagger

Viking 3240 zigzagger

Plus my Brother 1034D serger -- which has performed flawlessly for more than 16 months.

That's a lot of sewing machines, no? 

No, I can't justify one more sewing machine, unless it were a vintage Elna Lotus, of course.  (If you know some good reasons for skipping the Lotus, please share them.)

I feel proud of myself and I know you feel proud of me too.  I mean, maybe if I had a dedicated room solely for sewing machines, as some of you have.  But I live in an apartment, and wherever I happen to be sewing, a lot of other things are going on too, including cooking, blogging, and chihuahua wrestling.

Still, every time I let a deal like the aforementioned Singer go by, I feel a brief pang of regret -- like, it would have been worth the money just to play with the machine for a while, and then pass it on to a sewing machine hoarder friend like Rain or Johanna.

I often get emails from MPB readers telling me about the fantastic deals they got via their local Craigslist or some estate sale.  The same reader I mentioned a few weeks ago whom I'd advised on a purchase of a Singer 99K (the very same day I found my 99K) just sent me this:

For $50 he picked up this stunning Singer 201 complete with attachments, table and stool!

Does this email seem a little insensitive to you, readers?  I always try to see the good in people.  He no doubt wanted to share his good fortune with me.  And who doesn't enjoy sharing others' (extraordinary) good fortune? 

In closing, friends, today I'd like to focus not on the things we have, but on the things we have chosen not to have.
  • Because we exercised some self-discipline. 
  • Because we were responsible adults to our insatiable inner children and said no, not this, not now.  
  • Because it was the right thing to do.
Tell me about a deal you passed up.  A good deal -- no, a great deal.  Tell me about how you at first tried to rationalize the purchase but ultimately resisted, and why.  Tell me how you never regretted it.

Make me feel better!


  1. Peter - I check your blog most mornings as it brightens my day. You share a lot of yourself. I get it about fighting remorse over not making the purchase. I think keeping focused on that "lot of sewing to do" is the cure. You were mature. Maybe another day your little boy can have his way. I'm putting footies and gripper-snaps into baby boy knit pj's for little grandson today. They need gripper-snaps for such a short time!

  2. *sigh* I feel your pain. I have no words of comfort, but I do know what you're going through.

  3. Nope, I don't have that self-restraint. If it's a great deal, I just can't let it go. I'll justify it by saying it'll have great re-sale value (and then I never re-sell...).

  4. Thanks, guys.

    P.S. Today that 401A is sitting outside in the drizzle -- I just checked. "Sigh."

  5. I just can't get past the part where I am to have no regrets about not buying the machine. $50 for a machine in a cabinet with a stool. That's a really nice collection of machines.

  6. Think of every item in your home as a renter. Ask it, "what do you do here that's worth the space you take up?" Not to be mean to items, but to value your space. Items must earn their rent. Just as you would limit people-renters who wanted to room with you, no matter how wonderful they were, you must limit sewing machine-renters.
    "Sorry, dear 401A, every job you can think to do here is already being done by others. You will find useful accomodations elsewhere."

  7. Oh, Sue, that's brilliant. I think it may be time to get rid of the dogs.

  8. Oh, Peter, I LOVE the Pfaffs - they are may favorite machines. My main machine (Pfaff Creative 1471) blew its motor almost 2 yrs. ago, and it took me until last month to find a new motor. In the meantime, I purchased 3 machines - a new Singer HD110 which sews well, but I don't like the bobbin case assembly. And in our local paper a little old lady was selling her vintage Pfaff Automatic 260. The machine is in mint condition with all of the parts and instructions and in a cabinet - $30.00. Turns out she had 2 identical machines (one purchased for her daughter), and agreed to sell both - spare parts!! The only problem with the vintage Pfaff is that it has no stretch stitches, and I have no serger. What can I say, I love sewing machines!

  9. Sue, thats is what I do! I figure if I own it, it better be making me happy for the space it takes up.

    Peter, hahahaha!

  10. *drools over the Pfaffs* If it helps, I'm looking to buy a serger, and my two vintage Pfaffs are almost the same machine--one's a 1222, and the other (which is really the one that's mine, 'cause the other's my mom's) is a 1222E...

  11. Peter,

    I understand your pain to let the beautiful 401A behind! I also need to control myself, because of my love with the vintages... Here in Germany they are alwfully cheap and it is difficult to resist. I still have no treadle and I keep telling me, to wait till I live in a bigger place... And that's why I let them go, even when they sit in the neighborhood and are sold in E-bay for 1 Euro... "Sigh"

  12. OMG!... "Oh, Sue, that's brilliant. I think it may be time to get rid of the dogs."
    Peter, you are too funny! I love your blog and your personality!


  13. Hmm I think you did well in resisting! If you were able to think carefully and walk away, then it wasn't meant to be. Maybe if you remember that there are still many other cheaper machines, that have not been sitting in the rain, waiting for you to snatch them up in the future?
    On a side note, thanks so much for posting about Chelsea flea and HM fabrics. As a person on a budget (read: cheap), I am so happy to have found out about these bargain places. I'd been to the other Chelsea flea (in a garage), which was not budget friendly, and so I was happy to stop by this flea market, do a little digging to actually find cheap vintage clothes!

  14. I only took one of the two machines that were offered for free. I hope I got the better one. (It's just an old Kenmore. I don't remember what the other one was.) I'm glad I grabbed the one I did; the belt broke on my Singer 306, and I never have money on the same day as a chance to order one.

  15. We -are- proud of you. But now after this gallery I seriously doubt you really live in NY :-).
    Think of it this way - slant accessories are heinously non-standard. You're much better off with a single set.

  16. Hello Peter, really like your blog. The best find I ever had, was a complete bernina 930 for only 20 euro (28,47 dollar)! It was jammed, but it only was a thread, tangled up in the hook!
    The only thing I missed, was the case, to put the feet in. But the feet I've got!
    Second best: Bernina 1031 for 80 euro (113,90 dollar). That one looks af is it is new!!

  17. I'm honestly the kind of person who waits for other people to buy her sewing machines. That's who I am. I'm waiting for a new machine or used but excellent machine to replace my ancient and simplistic though quite faithful Brother. My birthday is in July, hear that, Universe? JULY!

    But recently I've been scoping out reams of lovely vintage fabrics, adding them to various digital shopping carts across the internet, and then watching, wistfully, as other people buy them. But I figure A. I have far too much fabric and I should be using that before I buy any more and B. It's better to see and feel fabric in real life then take a chance on the deceptive internet. Right?

    As for the nice reader who wrote you about his excellent vintage sewing machine find, well, I'm of two minds about this. One of my best friends just got a new job, and they not only paid for her move, paid out her lease, got her a new house in Austin with a pool, but they also gave her an iphone, and ipad, and a computer. And I'm thrilled for her, I am, but she is in an industry, consulting for hedge funds etc, that has tons of extremely well paying jobs for young people, while I'm in an industry, writing and development for theater, that, um, doesn't. And I love what I do. And I'm happy she's successful. But I don't really love hearing about all the perks. Does that make me a bad person? Mayhap. But it's a fine line between being happy for someone else and not really needing to hear about all the gritty details...

  18. I was at an antique mall a few years ago and decided to look in the drawers of one very ugly 80s pressed wood armoire.

    Inside were at least 30 factory fold Butterick patterns from the 30s! I was floored. I didn't have much money, so I casually asked the lady what she wanted for them. "$3 each." I wanted to scream YES! But I didn't have that much money, so I only got a few.

    I still think on all the ones I left behind. *sigh* I hope they went to good homes.

  19. Re: getting rid of the dogs and ... cooking, blogging, and chihuahua wrestling.
    We know who cooks, we know who blogs, but if the dogs leave who will do the chihuahua wrestling?

  20. I try--not always successfully--to move something out before introducing something new. If it can't fit with room to use it, then it wasn't meant to be. I struggle to focus on the quality of my work, and the tools are secondary to other considerations, although the right tools (the BEST tools) may replace previously esteemed items. Good luck. Thanks for sharing this, Peter--it is a grownup skill we are all going to need as the economy keeps getting worse. Kristina in Ohio

  21. Peter, I LOVE reading your posts!

    ...and that Singer 401A is such a beauty!!!

    Sorry, couldn't help it, that's how I feel:) I would definitely buy it if I was able to bring it home.

  22. That Singer 401A? I've been sewing on one like it for fifty years. Never had a reason to get another one. I don't sew much any more, mostly hems and things.

  23. I seem to have the opposite problem from you -- I don't buy stuff, I don't obsess about it, but then I realize I need whatever it was....and don't have it. Then I kick myself. I'm a terrible shopper.

    Our cats don't pay rent either, but the snuggly one is cuddled up to me right now, and I figure she's cheaper than therapy.

  24. I hate to be the commenter who says this, but you really should have purchased it. The Singer 401A is the Cadillac of sewing machines. Despite all the 7 machines I have, the 401A is my go to machine. It's the last good machine Singer made that has full metal parts (not that made in china, plastic gear garbage that they put out now). $80, that was a steal, they easily go $250-$300 on ebay. I know, that's how much I paid for mine, but it was worth every penny. I admire your restraint, I know I'm going through a cleaning process, if I haven't used it in a year I'm thrifting or sell it.

  25. I enjoy your blog very much. This post hit close to home because I have my mother's Singer 221 featherweight (she got it when it was new). She used it all her life, and I use it now. And I also have my grandmother's Elna lotus - a beautiful little machine! They have such sentimental value to me . . .

  26. Go get that machine immediately . You are allowing the distruction of a cultural heritage item . Seriously if you did go and get that machine I would pay you for the box of attachments as I have one except mine is a G and I love it . It does very good top stitching . My mechanic says it is the best Singer ever made . You could always rehabilitate one of your others ??? Thats not what you wanted to hear is it???

  27. Peter, your restraint is admirable! But I won't be surprised if tomorrow's post has a pic of your new 401....
    My biggest exercise of restraint was over a near-mint-condition Singer 348 'Blue Magic' on Ebay, local, I think for around $80. I had this model which was my Grandma's, and it fell on the floor and was destroyed. My local repair shop cobbled together parts of mine and another they fortuitously found but it's not the same. Then a friend kindly found me another in okay condition for $20.
    I actually went and looked at this Ebay one. It was lovely. But I already have two (in poorer condition, but they work). I let it go. Sigh... but the 348 is not my go-to machine anymore anyway. No major regrets.

  28. I know...alas, the carnival has left town!

  29. Peter, You have some wonderful machines.You said you didn't have the manual to the Viking. You may not know that the bobbin winder knob on the right lower end pulls out for a slow (1/5 speed, full power) setting, so handy for hemming over the seams of jeans. Use folded cardboard or layers of felt to even the presser foot.
    I enjoy your blog. Barbara in Oregon

  30. Yes, you did good. There is ALWAYS another sewing machine around the corner. But always.

  31. Love your blog.

  32. My friend is an Elna junkie. She has a funny looking green Elna, an Elna Lotus and any other Elna that she can get her hands on. Some have some funny things called cams. She displays them to be worshipped.

    I am pretty sure my Aunt has that Singer Slantomatic type machine. It was advertised on the back of a 60's or 70's sewing magazine.

    I only have one machine. It is a Brother and I love it.

    Love your machines. Your blog is so much fun.


  33. I never respond to posts older than three weeks, but had to let you know, of all the machines NOT to buy, that Singer wasn't it! I purchased my 401A in 1958, and it hasn't stopped purring since. I keep it clean, well oiled, and every now and again send it in for a good overhaul, and it has never failed me.

    I sewed all my own clothes for years, then it was used for my two girl's outfits and home decor. These days it makes fun things, like greeting cards and handmade "junque" journals. Since my daughters buy machines that give out on them after a few years, I would have picked up the one you saw without hesitation.

  34. Too late now! LOL

    I've added a few sewing machines to my collection since, but back then I was standing firm...Oh well.

  35. Because it's like this: If I want it I go ahead and buy it. I play with it for a few days/weeks or however long it takes to get it out of my system then I sell it. I'm happy, the seller is happy, my ultimate buyer is happy. All God's children are happy! :)

    BONUS: Almost every machine comes with some little goodies - obscure attachments, accessories, vintage notions - that sweeten the deal for me. Going through the drawers and the sewing stool is just about the most fun thing EVER!

  36. Peter, you should have taken it. That machine, which could be considered as a precursor to the Touch and Sew series, is an absolute dream to sew on! I learned to sew and free-hand embroider on that machine, and it even survived a fire! Even if I have moved to another good sewing machine in recent years, I will always have a soft spot for that old Singer, that could do practically anything. And besides, vintage clothing is always extra special made on a sewing machine of the same vintage!

  37. Peter, just found your blog this loving it! will be following you on pinterest! that sewing machine in the top...I have one, it's great...and quite a few more :)


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