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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

    Mar 18, 2011, 10.10 PMby wodnesdaeg

    Of all the sewing machines I have the one that sews the best and most consistently is my grandmother’s Singer, while not very vintage, it was built in the late 50s, it is a fabulous machine.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 19, 2011, 02.20 AMby Peter Lappin

      I think 1950s qualifies as fully vintage! ;)

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    Mar 18, 2011, 09.20 PMby andiebordallo

    I loveeeee my vintage Sears Kenmore Zigzagger function and form wise! It comes in this beautiful dresser like cabinet (not sure of the proper term) and has the most amazing stitch ever! Got it from the wonderful owner of the apartment I live in. She purchased it in the 70s to give to her daughter or who ever will inherit her love for sewing. Unfortunately no one did, and when she saw me coming home with loads of fabric, she found out that I love sewing as well and gave it to me! It’s practically flawless and in excellent condition! Another thing is, when I opened the drawers, it was complete with vintage notions and monogrammers, all the presser foot and attachments you can think of, as well as vintage patterns and books! She even gave me a vintage sewing poster that now hung nicely in my sewing room :) I love sharing this tale with everyone who’ll care to listen :D

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 09.26 PMby Peter Lappin

      What a great story. And what wonderful luck!

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    Mar 18, 2011, 06.17 PMby katexxxxxx

    Hehehehe… Good to see a fellow addict! here’s my breakdown:

    Adria Saxonia treadle, circa 1887: Freecycle special. The head works, but the table needs restoration. It’ll only ever be a museum piece as needles are no longer available. I need to rehome this one as it breaks my MUST be usable rule…

    Jones Family CS with Princess Alexandria decals, 1907: hand crank. My smoothest running machine, bar none!

    Singer 66K, December 1923, with Lotus decals: hand crank. The first machine I bought, in 1976, as a student. It had a back screw foot, and as at the time I couldn’t get additional feet for it, I had the presser bar swapped out for the standard one and nicked all my mum’s low shank Singer attachments!

    Singer 28K, 1936: hand crank. Came in an alligator patterned squashed frog green metal case. Neat machine…

    Singer 15-88 treadle, 1936, made in Canada: my working treadle. Lovely…

    1956 Singer Featherweight. Cute as a button!

    1948/58 Singer 99K: the FrankenSinger! My mum’s old machine built out of several bits after an accident with a crane and a ship!

    Singer 367: amazingly good for something with mid 70’s plastic gears! Zigzag machine.

    Elna Lotus ZZ: circa 1968. Slightly cosmetically challenged, but works perfectly.

    Elna Lotus TSP: bit later, also very good.

    Elna Lotus Stella Air Electronic: Mid seventies superstar! A Grab&Go machine when traveling.

    Frister & Rossman Cub 4: another neat little machine, this time mid 70’s. I have two of these…

    Frister & Rossman Cub 8. 1982. Nor currently working as it’s awaiting a repair that involves digging out the main sintered bearing and reimpregnating it with oil…

    Bernina 807, circa 1970 or so. Ex school workhorse. Needs an extension table, but works perfectly.

    Viscount 2000: Mechanical workhorse from the early 80’s.

    New Home: Similar age, lots more mechanical stitches. FAST!

    Husqvarna Optima 190: again, early 80’s. but this time electronic. Great workhorse,

    I also have several newer machines:

    Bernina 1005 (late 90’s) Bernina 1150MDA serger (about 3 years old) Husqvarna Huskylock 910 (1998, but not working: needs replacement needle bar) Husqvarna Lily 550 (my standard workhorse, bought in 1999) Brother 1034D serger, 3 years old Toyota thing, about 5 or 6 years old, about to be re-homed to a student.

    Hm… I don’t really collect them, they seem to just land here.

    My next machine? Possibly a Bernina 830 embroidery machine, and I’m still on the lookout for a Singer Rocketeer!

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 06.26 PMby Peter Lappin

      OK, I think it’s time for intervention here. LOL

    • Mlonghs_large

      Mar 20, 2011, 01.36 AMby mlssfshn

      Is the rocketeer the 501 A I want one of them too.

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    Mar 18, 2011, 06.11 PMby mrsnkwong

    I purchased my first vintage sewing machine at a garage sale for $20. I had spent all that weekend with my Dad searching for the perfect machine, and I came upon many ranging anywhere between $35-$150. The more expensive ones I found were in thrift stores. They were asking $80 for the cabinet alone, and in bad condition.

    When I saw the tell tale sewing box with pop locks, I unlocked it to find something that just made me so excited! It LOOKED like a vintage chevy! I looked it over- in it’s oh so shiny condition, turned it’s wheel… it was perfect! Lady wanted $25, got $20- could’ve done better but was too excited! Took it home to find it was a Morse Photomatic III. Total work horse! There’s a maintenance sticker on it, saying it was last serviced in 1983, totally amazed. The previous owner had used a piece of masking tape to mark 5/8" on the plate. I even found a whole bunch of Morse feet on etsy for only $20 when I know the ruffler foot that came with it cost $30 new!

    As much as I love my new/old shiny vintage machine, it wanes in work capability to my industrial juki. I love them both though! I’m sure that this’ll be my last vintage machine though since I don’t need much more.

    1 Reply
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    Mar 18, 2011, 05.49 PMby tallulah43

    I have a top of the range Viking Husqvarna but it is soooo complicated and its such a pain getting it set up etc so I what do I do? Just move my bum to the other side of the lounge, take the top of my 1900 treadle Singer and off I go :-) Why would I need anything else, french seams are wonderful:-) She sews beautifully, she looks amazing with her golden sphinx and I think of all those other hands that have lovingly made things on her. Totally wonderful

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 06.28 PMby Peter Lappin

      Sounds great! I love to treadle and it keeps my calves shapely to boot!

  • Theoddduckavatar_large

    Mar 18, 2011, 04.04 PMby tammieduckworth

    I got lucky and found a 1952 Singer 99k in the original maple table for $30.00 on craigslist. It is in pristine cosmetic condition. Replaced the belt, cleaned and oiled it, and it sewed beautifully for about a year. Now for some reason, I cannot get the tension to adjust correctly. The stitch still looks great on top, but the bottom not so much. I really need to get it working properly again but I hate to take it out of the table to get it to a repair shop. I keep trying to figure it out myself but I have pretty much exhausted my knowlege. I miss my little baby workhorse.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 06.29 PMby Peter Lappin

      I wonder if you might replace either the bobbin case or the shuttle?

    • 985f0154fdefdf284531d76b36fbffee7a42548e_large

      Mar 25, 2011, 01.16 PMby katexxxxxx

      Have you tried cleaning between the tension disks? Sometimes old grunge fossilizes in there and over time it can disturb the tension mechanism…

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    Mar 18, 2011, 03.16 PMby ruddhess

    SWEET!!!!! Vintage SM’s ROCK!!! Awesome article! Rescue the machines and donate them to worthy recipients – folks who will cherish their precision and rugged durability!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 06.29 PMby Peter Lappin

      Right on! (Does anyone say “right on” any more?)

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    Mar 18, 2011, 02.57 PMby momob

    I’d love to get an old Singer Featherweight. I sew on a Bernina 1130 that I’ll keep for the rest of my life. It is 23 years old, I have all the attachments (which cost me an extra $1,000) and dealers still offer me $1,000 for just the machine alone every time I take it in to be serviced. Why give up perfection? It is the best machine Bernina ever made, they tell me. Maybe 23 years of age doesn’t qualify it to be “vintage”, but I don’t need anything it doesn’t provide. I’m not one for lots of embroidery, but if I feel like adding something, my machine does the old fashioned typed of hand stitching looks. I also have a toy Singer from the 50s which is an adorable knick-knack to enjoy.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 06.30 PMby Peter Lappin

      I love those old toy Singers!

  • Missing

    Mar 18, 2011, 02.10 PMby njmcvicar

    Another reason: My 1948 Singer sews canvas & leather like no modern machine I’ve used or seen. I’m sure I’ll still be using it in 2048! (OK I’ll be 90 then, but I might still be using it.)

    1 Reply
  • Missing

    Mar 18, 2011, 01.55 PMby gaynor77

    Thank you for this tribute to trusty old sewing machines. The first electric machine I used was my a Jones machine which is my Mum’s. It’s older than me (I’m,cough, 34), has only had the motor replaced once and is still going strong. But my first ever go on a sewing machine and the one which saw me through 3 years of University was an old, manual Singer. I didn’t have the money or confidence to use a modern machine but I knew I had to sew, so we made a trip to the store and I like to think that, like a cat, it picked me. I’m pleased to report that it’s still going strong. I love the motion and the quiet noise it makes (in our family it’s affectionately known as the click-clack), and that it’s still a completely usable machine. I can’t imagein not sewing and I hope I it will help get my daughter interested in it too. Do you think at 3 she’s too young!!?

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 02.43 PMby Peter Lappin

      Not at all if she enjoys it! Much better to start a child on a real sewing machine than a toy she’s not going to ever be able to sew with for real.

  • Mlonghs_large

    Mar 18, 2011, 12.17 PMby mlssfshn

    I aways wanted a fetherweight but never could afford one. So a couple of years ago I did my research and found the next best thing, the 301A, the feather weights big sister for less than $100. My first machine when I was 8 was a Kenmore my mom bought when she was in high school late 60’s. My next machine was a Singer from the 50-60 but I don’t know the model #. When I went to collegel my great aunt gave me a machine that it and the case weighted almost as much as I did that was from the 60’s. I currently have the 301 A and a Kenmore 147, I wish I still had all those machines and if I had the money and the space I’d own more.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 01.45 PMby Peter Lappin

      I hear ya! I’ve thought about a 301 but I think they have slanted feet; I’d have to buy new attachments.

    • Mlonghs_large

      Mar 20, 2011, 01.39 AMby mlssfshn

      It is but I was able to find all the pieces I needed and still kept it under $150.

  • Missing

    Mar 18, 2011, 09.47 AMby Ruth Brown

    I wanted to add one more auction site & it benefits a good cause. www.shopgoodwill.com

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 01.45 PMby Peter Lappin

      That’s where I got my Singer Genie!

  • Missing

    Mar 18, 2011, 09.25 AMby Ruth Brown

    I have two. An old White electric in the most beautiful cabinet I’ve ever seen and a turn of the century Singer treadle. I keep meaning to try the treadle, but first I need to get a new belt. This blog post has encouraged me to run out later today to our local sewing machine store and get a new belt for it. Yes, they do stock them…large Amish community around here. Here’s to sewing vintage!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 01.46 PMby Peter Lappin

      Belts are easy to find and cheap (around $5 here). Do use the treadle — they’re wonderful!

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    Mar 18, 2011, 07.59 AMby cellarstella

    I have two Singer 319w’s; one working and one for spare parts! I was able to take the better parts off the less functional machine and put them on the more functional machine, making it even better. My “Verna,” named for her green hue, has serious personality and can sew through something like 14 layers of denim, not that I’ve tried it. I regularly sew through about 6 layers of fabric, though. She’s mad at me right now because I broke a needle in her… a little TLC in the shop and I suspect she’ll be humming away again. I do most of my own maintenance using information I’ve scrounged up from out of print books from the library.

    2 Replies
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 09.26 AMby Peter Lappin

      Wow — now I had not heard entirely positive things about this early zigzagger (it’s a zigzagger, right?) but I’m thrilled to hear you’re enjoying her.

      It’s just so great to give an old machine a second life — it’s like adopting an abandoned pet from an animal shelter.

    • Missing

      Mar 19, 2011, 04.10 AMby cellarstella

      It was the first zigzagger produced by Singer and had some issues, mainly being “too complicated for the home seamstress.” I like the features, though! The most difficult thing is that it takes a specific needle not sold in stores, so I have to stock up from ebay now and then.

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    Mar 18, 2011, 06.34 AMby urbandon

    Great article Peter. Some wonderful reasons to buy an older machine. I’m planning on buying an older machine- I know one will come my way soon.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 09.27 AMby Peter Lappin

      Thanks, Don. Once you open your door to vintage, you may have a hard time shutting it. They just start “showing up” as if my magic!

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