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Apr 7, 2012

5 Mantras for the Vintage Sewing Machine Addict

Readers, today's post is as much for me as it is for you.

In fact, I wasn't intending to blog this weekend at all, but I just got back from the Chelsea flea market, where I stumbled across this lovely Pfaff 60 straight stitch sewing machine, in a table, for just -- gulp --$20.

I was THIS close to taking it home with me and had actually opened my wallet, only to discover that I had just $18 on me.  Thankfully, in those five seconds I came to my senses.  I realized: 

1) I have no room for another machine, especially not one in a table.

2) I have a machine I won on eBay that hasn't even arrived yet.

3) I'm in the middle of a sewing project and don't need another distraction right now.

But what a lovely machine.  (A little online research tells me that just the machine alone weighs 45 lbs.)  It turned very freely and seemed complete.  It had a knee pedal (a feature I love).  While there were some wrapped wires that looked a little brittle, it was nothing major.  Anyway, if you're interested, it's probably still there.

Here are a few other sewing-related things I saw this morning:

A Consew industrial sewing machine chained to its motor.

An entire boxful of foam shoulder pads.

Tons of thread and other old notions.

Many, many bolts of crappy-looking fabric.

All in all, not a particularly inspiring day -- unless you like to dig among the piles...

Friends, I thought it might be helpful to share some useful mantras I've devised, for the many of us who stumble upon vintage sewing machines and find it hard to resist them, even though we don't really need/want/have room for them.  You might want to post these on your refrigerator or next to your computer screen.

Shall we recite them in unison?

The world is full of vintage sewing machines; there are more than enough for everyone.

I do not need to purchase this machine.  There will always be an even better one down the line.

I leave this sewing machine for someone who needs it and who will be delighted to find it at such a great price.

I commit to spending more time enjoying the vintage sewing machines I already own.

I deserve to have space in my home to sew, rather than live in a maze of vintage sewing machines (and their respective tables).

And finally, a bonus mantra:

I am not responsible for restoring this sewing machine.

Readers, I hope you find these mantras helpful, particularly as spring turns into summer and vintage sewing machines start popping up at your local garage sales, street fairs, and thrift stores like dandelions.

If you can think of any other mantras we might add, please share them.  (I find having a photo of the machine to be a nice compensation, btw.)

How do you walk away from a great vintage sewing machine buy -- if indeed you do?

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. LOL, Peter, I loved this post. It is so me. I have so many machines and more in my storage unit. I just pulled out the Rocketeer and it just hypnotizes me! Like you, I need to spend more time on my projects then playing with vintage sewing machines.

  2. Mine is simple - "What would I use it for?" My handcrank 99K was bought for top-stitching (as was my Jones Family CS - but that one has a cylinder shuttle bobbin that doesn't wind very well so the 99K was bought as a replacement). My 221K was admittedly bought just "because I want one" but it does a fabulous tiny stitch so I will use it for dolls' clothes (tiny machine, tiny clothes). I have recently bought a 50s or 60s electric machine also "just because", but it was only £15, was originally sold from a shop very near my home and will primarily be used for the occasional quilting project. Now when I get notifications from sites offering "new" old machines for sale I have to think of a specific purpose that I'd use it for before I can allow myself to even contemplate buying it.

  3. Those are all good, but all can be overridden in an instant by "But I don't have a Featherweight yet!"

  4. Excellent list of mantras!

    My sewing machine collection is complete, and I don't get to buy any more until:
    a) I have restored all that I have (I realized that I can convert my Spartan to the hand crank I've been wanting! Even have the spoke wheel & crank now!)
    b) I buy a bigger house with a giant sewing room (ain't gonna happen)
    c) Featherweights for $50 or under simply don't count as a purchase...that's a giveaway and MUST be brought home)

  5. Hmmm... You know, as my fancy computerized Bernina freaked me out by continuing to sew today after I had taken my foot off the pedal, like some crazy HAL computer from 2001: A Space Odyssey, I thought of your dependable, no-nonsense vintage machines. I had to switch off the power to get it to stop sewing, and then, after powering up again, it behaved properly after that. If my sewing machine's demonic possession becomes a habit, $20 won't even begin to pay for repairs...

    1. Vintage machines have been known to keep on truckin' all by their lonesome too!

      With the vintage models, it's indicative of a wee problem in the foot pedal.

  6.'s the flip side to this. I was perfectly happy with my temperamental Elna that cost me a mortgage payment 10 years ago. Only the best for me----and then I started reading your blog, and the comments from all your devoted followers, and started looking at old sewing machines with a different perspective. Then I bought an old Kenmore (what?!) and it's sews like a friggin' dream, but it's always good to have a backup right? Then an AWESOME New Home came into the thrift store I work at--I live in a part of the country that has NO regard for vintage machines of any sort--and I got that for $6 (for my daughter, of course, because every twelve year old needs a sewing machine). Then today, an old Montgomery Ward fell under my radar. Oh, that baby sure did catch my eye. But I let it go, I could already sense that I was loosing control a little. But what if something really tempting comes my way? This montra will certainly help, may even have saved me. But, God help me, if a 3/4 Kenmore comes into the thrift store all bets are off.

  7. Your list can apply to a host of demons to be conquered and I shall tell you that I love you for posting them. You are truly a blessing to those who follow you on the interwebs.

  8. LOL at the mantras. I need to glue a copy in my purse.

    Let me add:

    I will be featured on a hoarders if I bring home one more.

    1. I was laughing too hard to type - that should read hoarders' SHOW if I bring home one more....

  9. Great mantras -- though I need to apply them to fabric.


  10. I can't believe you passed up an entire box of shoulder pads! Haha.

  11. As a dyer and printer I would have pounced on those crappy fabrics! Its amazing what a bit of dye and a silk screen can do!

  12. LOL. I always wonder when you post a new machine where on earth you put all of them in a NYC apartment. Keep up the good work.

  13. Good job resisting a “panic purchase”. I would have grabbed that Pfaff and ditched the cabinet. We never see Pfaffs in my neighborhood (PVD). Last week I guilted myself into buying a 15-91. We stopped at a antique shop and outside in tons of junk was a white plastic case. I had to look (wouldn’t you have?) had been raining and there was water pooled on the top of it, so when I took it off the water spilled all over the resident machine. It was $20. I did not need it BUT had I left it there it would have been ruined. When I got it home and on the bench, I first thought that someone had already cleaned and restored the machine. The inside, underbelly and gears are all spotless. The original wiers for the lamp and motor are perfect and need no attention. Under what little dirt, the machine shines and what looks like a bit of nail polish on the top arm this machine is pristine! It has seen little, if any real use in the past 65 years. Still not sure what I’m going to do with it yet.


  14. These mantras cement your place at the center of the sewing universe.

    I've been fighting the sirens call of a treadle.

    What I've determined is that any machine is not an extension of my "sewing-worth" (self-worth for our subset).

    Compensating through acquisition is merely a symptom, and typically this enables a much larger problem to fester.

    Your mantras are well timed, and much needed.

  15. The industrial is a Consew 210 lockstitch I think. It looks like it at minimum needs a stand. belt, a clutch, thread stand and a bobbin winder

  16. I make rules about buying more machines and then I break them. For example, "only Singers" because parts are plentful. Then I find a Viking 4000 for only $6. My goodness, I've spent more on a cocktail! And it runs perfectly.

    The next rule was there had to be a need (topstitching, portability, etc). I broke that one, sort of,when in a fit of "mid-century marvelousness" I had to have a Morse Superdial. At $30, even if I use it only as decor its cheap. The need for beauty after all...

  17. There have been ones I have left behind only to regret it later too. The pink 1950's Brother, the Necchi Julia with all the attachments and a very nice German Pheonix in a tiny deco style treadle cabinet. Ugh. What is now plentiful may not be someday.

  18. I love the architecture of vintage sewing machines and would probably have them on display, but I love my modern machine for all the things it can do. I had a really cool machine, I don't remember what it was but it kind of resembled a 1950's car. It was chrome, aqua and white. This was before I could appreciate anything vintage. I gave it away, the person took it and flew out the door.

    I can totally understand addictions for anything vintage.


  19. A perfectly timed posting. I was just eying a used Elna on Craigslist and needed to be talked down. I've now put my money away and am going off to sew on the four machines I already have.


  20. LOL. Thank you. Saying I have a problem is the first step. :-)

  21. Mine is just like yours "There will be others.."
    Sigh. I am out of room. But I have fixed up five more, bringing the ratio of functioning machines to in need of repair up. But there are so many more machines to fix....

  22. How do I walk away? Hmm ... good question. I tell myself, "I'll think about it," give myself a time-out, and hope I come to my senses. That being said, I just brought home a Singer 15-91 in a cabinet this weekend for $30. Clearly I was too excited to pass that one up.

  23. Peter,

    Those mantras are very similar to mine! I have enough great vintage sewing machines(all in cases), but something tells me I should have a treadle... I am still resisting though: I saw yesterday on my local list a lovely 15-88 with perfect decals and parlor cabinet for just €30! The mantras did work!

  24. Peter, friends, my name is Kristina and I am a sewing machinaholic. My machines were orphans who needed a good home, except for my fancy computerized Bernina that was weary of being in an impersonal shop. My 1950s Elna Supermatic followed me home from a garage sale and left the door unlocked for her twin so she could borrow parts and actually work, which she does with 100 cams that make wonderful stitches like a row of little ducks. I've had a few temporary residents, but you know how a good orphanage always has room for one more? I pride myself on finding good homes for my kids, have placed three machines successfully in the last year, but the garage sale season is starting up in Ohio, the great state of basements and attics and barns, all full, so often yielding a pitiful candidate for TLC...


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