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A few months ago, I received an email from an enthusiastic Male Pattern Boldness reader, telling me I had helped convince her to buy a vintage Singer straight-stitch sewing machine. I’d been spreading the word about vintage sewing machines on my blog since the beginning, but I never thought anybody was actually paying attention!

I’d like to share some of my enthusiasm for these machines with all of you here at BurdaStyle today. Here are my TOP TEN REASONS TO GIVE A VINTAGE MACHINE A TRY.

1) Many wonderful vintage sewing machines can be purchased online for less than $75, including shipping, and at local thrift stores, garage or estate sales for even less. Check out the “Completed Listings” on eBay and you’ll see what I mean. I consider “vintage” to be any machine more than thirty years old. Many fully functional machines this age (or older, much older) can be had for a song. Some of these have names you’ll recognize like Singer, Kenmore, and Viking. Others are more obscure. When in doubt, ask the seller about a machine’s condition. (You can also ask to see a stitch sample.)

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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.

3) Vintage sewing machines are mechanically less complex, break down less often, and are easier (and cheaper) to repair. With vintage sewing machines, 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. (You WILL want to make sure wiring is intact, however. Ask!)

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. Singer actually makes available information about their old machines on their site, and you can find out the exact day they were manufactured!

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.

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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.

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8) Using vintage machines is cool. Just like people who wear vintage clothes tend to be at the forefront of things, people who sew on vintage machines are generally independent-minded.. They’re saying, No, I’m not going to buy the latest model with all the bells and whistles; I’m opting instead for something simpler that better reflects my values.

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9) Vintage sewing machines last longer. Will future generations still be sewing decades from now with the primarily plastic machines for sale today? We’ll see.

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10) Vintage sewing machines are plentiful. Most sewing machine store in New York City closed a long time ago. But 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. (Bring a fabric sample, and maybe some thread.)

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So readers, I ask you: Do you ever sew on a vintage sewing machine?

Have I convinced you to give one a try?

New or vintage? What’s your next sewing machine going to be?

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When native New Yorker Peter Lappin bought his first sewing machine two years ago to hem a pair of thrift store jeans, little did he know he was initiating a journey that would bring him fame and fortune. While awaiting his fortune he stays busy writing “the world’s most popular men’s sewing blog,” Male Pattern Boldness, and now contributing to BurdaStyle.

“For more than twenty years I’d lived on the edge of the Garment District without even knowing what a seam ripper was. Now I rip daily!”

151 Comments

  • Missing

    Feb 17, 2014, 05.34 AMby backbaybeck

    Thanks for your posts. I have been debating whether or not to keep my mom’s 1958 Singer. I learned to sew on it and I love the old-style light. I purchase a newer Singer a few years ago and the only things I like better about it is the weight the thing that allows you to do sleeve cuffs. I will keep the vintage. :)

  • Missing

    Dec 11, 2013, 09.21 AMby Rae Reinhartz

    I’ve had a vintage admiral sewing machine that I inherited from my great-grandmother and in recent years I’ve been itching to use it but had problems finding a manual copy and I have limited sewing machine mechanic knowledge. I always had assumed antique sewing machines are more reliable, just judging by the garments created back in the day when the vintage sewing machine was in it’s prime. I also was born in Virginia City, Nevada which is a historical landmark ghost town that has all the original or restored artifacts, structures and tools used in the 1860s, so I have a deep appreciation for antique gadgets already.

    I’ve recently started converting a lot of my wardrobe to victorian/steampunk goth and I am ready to start testing out my admiral, in fact I just recently found a pdf manual. Wish me luck! lol

  • Missing

    Aug 10, 2012, 05.45 AMby Liliya Inosova

    Brother XL2600I is not a complicated piece of equipment that is difficult to operate. Here are some of the numerous perks of Brother XL2600I which makes it convenient to its clients. The product is an electric powered sewing machine that users can easily control through the foot pedal.

    Check here for the reviews http://ebrothersewingmachine.com/

  • Missing

    Jun 22, 2012, 04.18 AMby zunsew

    This is a very information site! If you are buying for a new sewing machines, please check out the reviews in here! It highlights some of the best features and its pros and cons. See the reviews here or buy Brother XL2600I in Amazon

  • Missing

    Dec 23, 2011, 08.03 PMby Allison Lance

    Love my Singer 201! Best machine, ever. $12. I also have 4 other vintage machines. Can’t help myself!!

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    Jul 22, 2011, 06.04 PMby notdeadredhead

    So, I finally found out (after much searching online) that my machine is a Montgomery Ward’s Machine, most likely from the 50’s or 60’s. I’m still working on the specific model, but it’s really similar to the UHT-J1276. :^D I found that most of the machines around that time were cast in Japan, and then shipped on over. No wonder it weighs a ton! However, I’m all for a “classic” machine. As you say, they work beautifully, and I’m pretty sure that my machine will still be going in 50+ years… unlike my old college room-mates’ machines that died. (That’s 2 new machines. One lasted about 5 years before needing repairs, the other: 6 months.)

  • Missing

    May 23, 2011, 01.12 PMby murrie

    Right now I have the opprotunity to get a singer 99k with a few accessories/cover/manual or a singer 66 (1911) which looks to be in excellent condition and has a desk. I can not check out either in person but they offer full refund (I pay for shipping). My understandings is that this singer 66 is the mommy to the 99k (which is smaller) and is not electric. Both are running 75 bucks right now. I need opinions!

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    May 11, 2011, 10.35 AMby kiwiliz

    $75 eh? So the vintage singer machine (much like the one in the first photo) that’s going for $200 (Australian dollars, about the same in USD) at my local op shop is too much? I’m not even sure if it works, but it’s sooooooo pretty.

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    Mar 29, 2011, 01.33 PMby wolfywilgus

    Just like the last post! My grandmother just gave me her Singer Feather-Weight (the original instruction book is included, and i think it said it was last copyrighted in 47… or something like that, so i assume the machine is that old) and it’s really fantastic. I used to use my mother’s Singer that she’s had since the 80’s and it’s so funny how much less stable it feels. the Feather-Weight was made to be easily movable, and the 80’s one wasn’t (obvious from it’s size), and the Feather moves like it has spontaniously attached itself to my dining table… No rattle or anything!

    It’s fantastic… siggghhhh

    1 Reply
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    Mar 28, 2011, 08.24 AMby mitmit

    My grandmother gave me a vintage hand powered sewing machine when I was a little girl. I still have it and it still works. It’s been with me for 25 years now. The machine I use every day for straight stitching is also a vintage. I think it’s a Singer. I’m thinking of buying a newer one as well, but have decided to keep my vintage if something breaks down on the new one. :-)

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 28, 2011, 08.31 AMby Peter Lappin

      It’s always good to have a back up or two…or three…or four! ;)

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    Mar 27, 2011, 11.51 PMby harrietbazley

    My mother bought me an old hand-powered sewing machine ‘to learn on’ as a birthday present when I was little, but I sold it (to a good home – I delivered it myself on my bike trailer) through the local paper when I was in my teens and had given up sewing in favour of new hobbies. I rather miss it now: I never took to electric machines which are (or were in those days) noisy, frightening, and too fast.

    Ironically my brother has just bought a hand-powered Singer for his own domestic use (he lives on a boat and all the electricity has to come from the batteries via an inverter to turn it into DC current – hand power is much more convenient), which bears a strong family resemblance to the one I used to have….

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 28, 2011, 08.32 AMby Peter Lappin

      Harriet, you make a great point — hand-powered machines (and treadles too) can sew slowly. I think a lot of the difficulty people have sewing is controlling the sewing speed.

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    Mar 25, 2011, 04.15 PMby yuriko123

    I will go to my mom’s, and get the machine she has.. ( it belonged to my grandma) so its like 50 years old and still works pretty good.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 25, 2011, 04.19 PMby Peter Lappin

      Great that it’s staying in the family!

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    Mar 25, 2011, 10.50 AMby freaky-philomeen

    the first and best ever machine I was sewing on was my mother’s strange-beige Singer, she bought it after her marriage in 1960. It has so many stitching programmes, you get dizzy! Still works at its best. I bought my Singer while studying so I took the best I could get for a little budget. It can only do straight and zig-zag-stitches and to go backwards you have to press the button in with one hand – - such a backlash in technique! I adore those new ones too, where you can design and cut out and what else but I’m simply not willing to work through a 100pages handbook first! Vintage machines are still expensive round here. Does anyone know sources in Austria or Germany?

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 25, 2011, 01.10 PMby Peter Lappin

      Do you have flea markets nearby? How about eBay?

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    Mar 25, 2011, 01.54 AMby sammi357

    Love the article & your blog! We also seem to share the pattern obsession! Old machines are my weakness..yard sales, second hand stores, free on the street…they follow me home because they know I will love them and oil them and name them George… Well, maybe not the George part, but I do love to work on them and make them functional again. My ‘daily driver’ is a Bernina 1030. Collection includes several Singers, incl. a 3/4 sized green one, a Necchi Supernova, a couple Morses, a Remington, Berninas, Kennies, incl a really pretty blue one and a Kennie Rose, which is a little portable…very handy and not as $$$ as a featherweight (a fw is in the family but not mine yet!) and Anker that has two top tension dials for using dual or decorative threads. There haven’t been many we couldn’t fix, and fortunately for me, dh (Dear Hubby) is an electrician. He says, “how much?” and when I answer, usually between free and twenty dollars, he says, “That’s pretty cheap entertainment for you for the weekend!”

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 25, 2011, 07.56 AMby Peter Lappin

      That last line’s hilarious and SO true! Happy hunting!

  • Missing

    Mar 24, 2011, 08.39 PMby murrie

    Can someone suggest a vintage sewing machine that is affordable? Im currently a college student learning how to sew. Wanting to get the most bang for my buck, I purchased an avocado singer from the 60s (?). Sadily, it was a scam and the guy sold me a busted machine and couldnt get ebay to make the guy pay for return shipping (considering how he LIED and listed it as working)…return shipping would have costs a fortune so I ended up giving it away because I had no room for it.

    ANYWAYS. Long story short I want a good reliable machine, with parts still available on the market, and is affordable. I just want suggestions so I could know what to keep my eye out for.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 24, 2011, 10.14 PMby Peter Lappin

      Try an old Kenmore zigzagger from the 70s, anything with a 158 in the number will be a great machine. Or a black Singer (Spartan or 99K if you want a straight stitch machine — those are usually no too high).

      Sorry to hear about your bad experience. Read my latest article, which is about HOW to purchase a vintage machine.

  • Yvette_books919_200x249px__large

    Mar 24, 2011, 07.55 PMby Yvette Stanton

    I have a beautiful old treadle Singer. I’ve never used it as the whole treadle business scares me. It does have a ruffler though, which is what really tempts me to try using it…

    1 Reply
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    Mar 24, 2011, 04.21 PMby hstorm799

    I inherited my grandmother’s 1938 Singer, and it does a better straight stitch than my shiny, plastic, 2 year old machine!

    1 Reply
  • Fripperie_cigarboxbird_avatar_large

    Mar 23, 2011, 10.05 PMby fripperie

    I’ve, er, actually lost count of the exact number of vintage machines i’ve got, but it runs the gamut from a beautiful Elgin treadle machine (in a 6-drawer cabinet, w/automatic lift, $20 at auction) to a ’60s Singer slant. The old mechanical machines are so much easier to work with, there are feet and attachments for EVERYTHING, and nothing short of dropping it down the stairs will seriously hurt one.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 23, 2011, 10.09 PMby Peter Lappin

      But don’t try it to find out! LOL

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