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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.)


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.)


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?


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!”


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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
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      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.

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      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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    Mar 18, 2011, 05.37 AMby vbugge

    Oh I SOO love a vintage sewing machine, I have a few, I think I only have 6 right now. I have bought, fixed and given several away to my family members and friends. I LOVE that you can do the maintenance yourself and find a ton of info online to help you out. Oh and don’t get me started on the joy of finding a box of attachments at the thrift store and finding out they work on your machine! (Let me know if anyone knows what type of machine Greist attachments work on, it’s not singer)

    My favorite craigslist purchase was a Rocketeer, it only needed a 68 cent part to make it work perfectly (the tire that makes the bobbin spin when you fill it), I gave it away and sort of wish I had it back but it was in a table and I had no space. I also found a late 60’s singer for $1.29 at the goodwill, it works great I gave it to my mom. Oh and I picked up an industrial Singer for $25 off Cragslist, it seemed like it might be seized up but I oiled it a lot and wiggled the flywheel repeatedly over a couple weeks time, finally it loosened up, & sews beautifully now. So even if it’s a little bit of a gamble I can hardly resist a great deal on a machine and the chance that I can make it work, so far I’m doing pretty good. I always tell my friends to buy vintage and it’ll outlast everything else you own.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 09.29 AMby Peter Lappin

      Re Greist attachments, I think it all depends on which ones you have (and which Singers you’re using) because I believe Griest made many of the Singer attachments.

      You have certainly had some fantastic “finds.” Those are harder to come by in NYC but I HAVE found two sewing machines (one working, one not) in the TRASH, if you can believe it!

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    Mar 18, 2011, 02.22 AMby clotheshorsecouture

    I have a Singer 503 “Rocketeer”. They were manufactured in the early 60’s. It is my favourite machine, so much more fun to use than my very $$$$ computerized machines! The stitch quality is fabulous, it is a true workhorse.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 02.25 AMby Peter Lappin

      OK, I may be spending the night on eBay! ;)

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    Mar 18, 2011, 12.07 AMby dilladop

    Peter, I specifically blame you for the fact that I have managed to acquire three vintage machines. I never would have thought of buying any more after the modern Pfaff I had until I started reading your blog. I now have the aforementioned Pfaff expression 2036, two Singers from thrift stores, a Stylist in a cabinet bought for $45 (it makes much better buttonholes than the Pfaff) and a 99J in excellent condition for which I paid $125, but it had a boatload of goodies that came with it, including the original manual, attachments, brush, buttonholer, walking foot and some stuff that I don’t even know what they are. Lastly, a Grasshopper Elna, my sentimental favorite because my father bought my mother one when I was born and he drafted and sewed me two little sunsuits on it. He’d never sewn before…kind of like you… So, thanks!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 18, 2011, 12.15 AMby Peter Lappin

      Dilladop, I accept full responsibility! ;)

  • Missing

    Mar 17, 2011, 11.33 PMby ravenjasmine81

    Vintage all the way! I love my Singer 338; it’s a beautiful teal green, runs like buttah, and cost me 45 bucks.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 17, 2011, 11.56 PMby Peter Lappin

      Wow. I think I would buy ANY old machine that came in teal. LOL

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    Mar 17, 2011, 10.35 PMby wardrobelady

    A friend has an old portable singer with a wooden lid, it is hand operated and the bobbins are nothing like i have seen before. However she was able to get it serviced and buy more bobbins locally. She loves it and has used it to sew canvas awnings for a boat. Her modern machine could not sew them at all. I have another friend in her 70s who uses the treadle Singer which belonged to her mother. My Janome is over 30 years old and sounds like a chaff cutter but works well. Thanks for such an interesting site.
    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 17, 2011, 11.29 PMby Peter Lappin

      Interesting! I sew with a Singer treadle (pictured above) that’s from 1924 and works perfectly. AND it’s a source of exercise! ;)

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    Mar 17, 2011, 10.29 PMby robiedodson

    hmmmm. I am definitely intrigued…especially when you mention that they’re “cheaper” to repair and/or find parts for. I’ve always assumed the opposite! I am reading this post literally moments before i was headed to the Goodwill with 2 machines….I am going to hold off for a bit and see if I can’t get that vintage inspiration rolling!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 17, 2011, 11.30 PMby Peter Lappin

      Of course it depends on the machine, but parts of just about any old Singer or Kenmore are readily available on sites like eBay.

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    Mar 17, 2011, 10.19 PMby toasterdays

    My grandmother was a seamstress before and after WWII. She collected many beautiful machines. I learned how to sew because I fell in love with the vintage machine my parents gave me. I now have 3, soon to be 4 vintage sewing machines. My favorite is my featherweight. I’ve never used a machine that performs as well as that featherweight. My parents will soon be giving me their vintage industrial sewing machine!! They just have to figure out a way to get it from California to Texas!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 17, 2011, 11.31 PMby Peter Lappin

      I envy you! I still am waiting for a good deal on a Featherweight — not that I need another sewing machine (he he). Maybe someday!

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    Mar 17, 2011, 09.49 PMby Kaitlyn Brandt

    I have one, and I love it! It’s from the 40’s or 50’s, and it was my great grandmas! It works WAY better than my new one~ I think it’s nickname was the Rocketeer, and it even has it’s own table. I can’t say I’ve had a bad experience with it, honestly.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 17, 2011, 09.59 PMby Peter Lappin

      Oh, the Rocketeer is a a very famous Singer model with amazing styling. Don’t ever sell it — except to me (he he).

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    Mar 17, 2011, 09.32 PMby shellidawn

    I fell in love with vintage sewing machines a very long time ago and this article has definitely underscored my resolve to make this my next sewing machine purchase; even pushing me MORE in that direction! I do agree that the quality of the machines is incredible!!! Thanks for the post!

    1 Reply
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    Mar 17, 2011, 09.18 PMby constances

    I have two of the machines you featured. I got my Singer “blackhead” from my mother in 1972 when I went off to college. Recently it got a “new home.” Out of the carrying case and into a refurbished 60’s vintage sewing cabinet. Then I also have the Kenmore you showed. Both are workhorses. I proudly use them along side my newer machines. Can’t have too many machines!

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 17, 2011, 09.31 PMby Peter Lappin

      Blackhead? That makes me want to reach for the Clearasil! LOL

      I agree: you cannot have too many machines — now I just have to convince my partner! ;)

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    Mar 17, 2011, 09.10 PMby FabricUiPhoneApp

    My sister got my grandmother’s black Singer sewing reconditioned and working…but she doesn’t use it as far as I know! I often think of doing a sewing demo on a vintage machine at a vintage fashion show…it would be a hit with the guys and girls.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 17, 2011, 09.31 PMby Peter Lappin

      I think that would be fantastic!

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    Mar 17, 2011, 08.36 PMby atrinka

    Good for you Peter!!!!!

    1 Reply
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    Mar 17, 2011, 06.57 PMby thejam

    I actually bought a vintage singer machine last year from ebay. All i had to do was get it service and it was good to go. I loooooooooooove it.

    1 Reply
    • Jeans_sew_along_best_large

      Mar 17, 2011, 08.35 PMby Peter Lappin

      Hurray! Glad to hear it!

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