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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

  • Ad7b468c7e0a764e7aacc3d19f93c20e9defa647_large

    Mar 22, 2011, 06.48 AMby yasuhisa

    i love the spartan <3

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 22, 2011, 12.46 PMby Peter Lappin

      That is a wonderful machine — and it’s one of the most affordable; it generally doesn’t go for as much as a 99K, though it’s virtually identical (it doesn’t come with a light).

  • 14bc8a2d20e90a30636b1fb9e0a8396d4cbbaccc_large

    Mar 22, 2011, 03.09 AMby tudorrose69

    Hi Peter, are all these machines pictured yours? They are lovely!

    I also appreciate your shameless pitching for Etsy. It is a great way to make some extra cash for the average American, man or woman!

    You actually purchased a pattern from me a couple of years back, I recognized your name when it started popping up on Burda. Never did I know I was selling to a celebrity!!!

    Glad to see you are helping to educate the sewing enthusiast with learning the art itself, as well as design and construction elements!

    Take care, Sophie Beatrice@etsy.com

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 22, 2011, 12.47 PMby Peter Lappin

      Ha – small world! Yes, those machines are mine, though in the spirit of full disclosure, I’ve sold a few to make room (and $) for a few others, like my soon-to-be-delivered Featherweight.

  • Missing

    Mar 21, 2011, 10.30 AMby Ruth Brown

    I got my new belt for my treadle, but alas had no time to put in on and try it out. Had to assemble the greenhouse while the weather held & that took all our time. So today . . .

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 21, 2011, 04.27 PMby Peter Lappin

      Ruth, it’s not too hard to do. Don’t make it too tight!

  • Imgp4340_large

    Mar 21, 2011, 03.00 AMby alissaslagle

    I do most of my sewing on a 1920’s Singer treadle machine in the cabinet. I love using the treadle! I recently purchased a slightly newer electric Singer as well. I haven’t had any problems with either of them, don’t ask me about the troubles with my modern electic machine:S!

    1 Reply
  • Enlarged_hilarity-copy_edited_large

    Mar 20, 2011, 02.11 PMby Testosterone

    Have a Kenmore 31541 (from the early 1940s!), and a more recent Kenmore for zig-zag and such.

    I so want a treadle machine! Peter Lappin, you’ve inspired me to get one this summer. It’s as if you not only spread awareness of vintage machines, but “sewing machine kharma” as well (Talk about a dynamic duo!).

    Enjoying all these posts (I guess I’m now deeply into “The cult of Peter Lappin”).

    VINTAGE MACHINE PEOPLE, ARISE AND JOIN THE CIRCLE!!!!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 20, 2011, 04.47 PMby Peter Lappin

      Please call me Peter.

      Or Mr. Lappin. ;)

  • Me_mohawk_large

    Mar 20, 2011, 11.57 AMby Makeshift123

    I have two stunning hand-operated singers from the 1910’s that were my mothers and her mothers. Work like and absolute charm and no need for electricity. My only complaint being the limited types of stitches i can do on them.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 20, 2011, 04.47 PMby Peter Lappin

      I’m guessing you mean straight stitch, right?

    • Me_mohawk_large

      Mar 26, 2011, 10.48 AMby Makeshift123

      Yep.

  • Zuzsastyleprofilbild02_large

    Mar 20, 2011, 09.51 AMby zuzsa-haag

    Good to go through this list and find so many kindred spirits :) I regularly sew on my 1970s Veritas (don´t know if this type of sewing machine is familiar outside germany. They started a long time ago (around 1900) as a singer descandant in germany). My mother gathered it up from an old lady and passed it to me. That´s when I began to sew. I love this machine and will never give her up! I also have a beautiful 1930s maschine, very similar to the singer you hug in the foto, peter. It´s a veritas, too, and has gold pattern all over it. But I prefer to sew on the electrical one. Liked your post very much. Greetings, Zuzsa

  • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

    Mar 20, 2011, 09.36 AMby Peter Lappin

    OK, you MADE me do it: I just picked up a Featherweight on eBay! (Whom can I send the bill to? he he)

  • 2219d1858938c5779dc9ec440c4096cd417639a4_large

    Mar 20, 2011, 01.54 AMby ghost

    I love my ancient machines. I have two Singer treadles – a red eye & a memphis, a White rotary electric circa 1935 in its cabinet & with all of the attachments, a 1957 Singer 99K, and a few “newer” machines – a Viking, a couple of Necchis, a Singer golden touch & sew, etc – out of the late 60’s & 70’s. My collection began out of necessity, as a college student in need of an affordable machine (thrifted for $15!). Then I needed a second machine & it grew from there. Now I look at them all, and I see them as functional art, each representing their era. Even without built in features, I am fondest of the classic black machines. They are the ballerinas of the sewing machine world. Beneath their pretty black & gold corseted lines, they are hard core; elegantly poised to whirl into the most challenging of tasks. All of my vintage machines have served me so well, I would not trade them for the most high tech contemporary model! Thanks for the great article. Perhaps we will start to see fewer treadle cabinets reworked into plant stands.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 20, 2011, 09.36 AMby Peter Lappin

      Beautifully expressed — and so true. That last sentence is great!

  • 1a782239bacc076eefb6a41bcd5565c80c67da21_large

    Mar 19, 2011, 10.07 PMby euma

    Last week my mother in law gave me her 41 years old Singer sewing machine, and I’m oh so happy!!

    1 Reply
  • Ppa_large

    Mar 19, 2011, 11.25 AMby pinkpoison74

    Youve convinced me LOL im going to be on the search for the perfect vintage sewing machine :)

    1 Reply
  • Singer_large

    Mar 19, 2011, 06.25 AMby HollyGoltly

    I simply adore the look of vintage sewing machines. My family has been sewing for generations, so I grew up around the older machines. My mom broke from the pack and got a new one, a Singer Touch-Tronic 2001 – now 31 years old, and it still sews like a champ. I had hoped to get her machine (and my great grandmother’s if it is in a basement somewhere), but she isn’t letting go of it any time soon. I got a new Viking, and hope to get at least half that out of it. I still plan on some day getting a vintage sewing machine.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 19, 2011, 01.55 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think once you open yourself to the idea, you’re going to start seeing them everywhere. That’s where the fun begins!

  • Missing

    Mar 19, 2011, 12.17 AMby katieroses11

    The Elna Grasshopper that was shown at the top is identical to the one passed down to me by my Grandmother. It is a fantastic little machine and has been great for me to learn on.With its simple mechanics and steadfastness I know its going to last at least another 60 years!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 19, 2011, 02.21 AMby Peter Lappin

      I loved my little Grasshopper, though I sold it a few months ago to a guy who wanted to use it to sew leather shoes, do you believe it? It was that strong.

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    Mar 18, 2011, 10.16 PMby sianysiany

    My machine actually belongs to my mum. It is a Frister and Rossmann 902 that was bought in the 1970s. I have contemplated buying a new one with all the bells and whistles but I am convinced that nothing will compare to my vintage beauty of a machine!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 19, 2011, 02.21 AMby Peter Lappin

      Sounds like a great machine!

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