The Irresistible Allure of a Vintage Sewing Machine

vintage sewing machine

There’s always been something quite special about creating clothes with a good ole’ vintage sewing machine. Perhaps it’s the idea that you’re partaking in a fragment of history…or maybe it’s the fact that your vintage sewing machine was originally owned by your great grandmother and has been passed down to your grandmother, your mother and now to you!

Indeed, when you sew with a vintage sewing machine, you’re definitely linking up with a piece of history…and using this equipment from the past somehow nurtures the soul. You see, you’re not only connecting with people who have used the machine before but also with those who have manufactured it with honor and pride.

Vintage Sewing Machines Are a Dime A Dozen

When I say vintage, I refer to sewing machines that are at least forty years old…and if you are not one of the lucky ones who inherited a vintage sewing machine, don’t fret, because you can now buy them online at a price of $75 or less and this may already include shipping. Garage sales and your local thrift store may also sell them for an affordable price and the most popular brands are Singer, Kenmore, and Viking.

vintage sewing machine

You just have to make sure that you buy one that is still fully functional, so it is best to ask the seller for a stitch sample when you make your purchase on EBay or Craigslist where plenty of vintage sewing machines are sold. When shopping, here’s a word of advice, if you buy on Craigslist you can check and test the machine first so this is quite ideal: and I promise you, that distinctive feeling of reaching out to the past will still be quite palpable.

Making A Practical and Green Choice

It is a well known fact that vintage sewing machines are mechanically less complex than the new models; as such, they don’t break down as easily and are easier to repair, making them perfect for beginner sewists. Also, because they don’t have motherboards and computer circuits that can break down, vintage sewing machines are much cheaper to maintain. After having it refurbished, all you need is regular oiling, sometimes a minor tune up and you’re good to go for a long time to come.

vintage sewing machine

Many vintage sewing machines are equipped with the same parts as the new models, like bobbins, presser feet and needles. Accessories for vintage sewing machines which are manufactured by famous brands like Singer, Kenmore and Viking aren’t that difficult to find; plus if you really think about it, not much has changed when it comes to basic sewing machine equipment, making it a very practical choice.

Many sewists probably don’t realize that using a vintage sewing machine means being environmentally friendly too. Faced with the stark reality that our planet’s resources are not finite, recycling a vintage sewing machine by giving it a new life is a kind of recycling that certainly benefits nature.

Easy to Use and Durable

Unlike the new sewing machine, a vintage sewing machine isn’t equipped with a myriad stitch functions and a computer board, so it’s relatively easy to use. With no electronic parts to deal with, anyone, like you and me, can take a vintage sewing machine apart for cleaning and then assemble it back. With just a few hooks to deal with, threading is also a simple process. The rest of the parts, like presser feet, bobbins, and tension function like those in modern machines and don’t need a lot of attention.

If you find any machine that’s forty years old and beyond and it still functions, this is already tangible proof of its durability. The same can be said about vintage sewing machines. Remember that most of these machines were top of the line in design and production and that is the reason why they still function to this day. Just like vintage cars, they are made of a more durable metal material as opposed to their modern, plastic counterpart.

If you’re concerned about what can and can’t be done with a vintage machine, think back to the fact that housewives were using these machines to make complicated fashions for the whole family and fashions have, in fact, not become more complex over time.

Elegant and beautiful, vintage sewing machines are classically colored black, white or tan. They have simple curves, bare exteriors and enamel coatings that make them appealing to the eyes. Equipped with solid parts that fit well together, they sit on hinges that will allow you to tip them back and expose their base or underside. They make beautiful consistent stitches and are extremely reliable. Their allure is actually not only emotional and sentimental, it is also aesthetic and practical, and this makes a vintage sewing machine simply irresistible.

Please share your thoughts and experiences with vintage sewing machines in the comments below.

vintage sewing machine

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22 Responses to The Irresistible Allure of a Vintage Sewing Machine

  1. Kristin says:

    You do learn how to make a French seam when you have one stitch!

  2. Kristin says:

    The hardest thing with an old machine is that patterns will ask you to use zigzag or special button feet and when you are learning how to follow patterns, it is hard to know what best actions to take. It can be really frustrating. I do wish that tutorials didn’t always have to include these. You also don’t get springs in the feet that make different thickness of fabric easier or allow you to handle knits better. They’re nice, but they are difficult because of these factors. Then again, I’ve only really used a modern machine in junior high (and likely it was “vintage”).

    I have an imitation Singer w/shuttlecock, c. 1890s-1910 based on the old manuals and documents you can get online (lots in library collections, which are, v. useful for helping to service). It has one stitch. Going backwards is done by turning things around. I learned on a Singer treadle, so the knee push is easier (though you have to account for the sideways push you might be causing the whole table). I inherited the machine I have and I wouldn’t have a sewing machine if I hadn’t.

    I don’t really think of a machine that has a round bobbin as vintage, cause they have all the new-fangled extra tricks. I do think it is not as easy to learn how to sew anything complicated on these machines just because you can’t get the instructions for how to do it.

    Last bit: Moving a machine that is so solidly built up and down flights up stairs through many apartments is not such a joy. I love my machine, but there are clear disadvantages.

  3. Dottie says:

    I have 2 vintage machine both singer’s. Now after reading all comments,I know it’s time to see how good they work.One I purchase for 75 dollars in the cabinet,the other was given to me.Now I’m going to be busy. Thank you guys.

  4. Lynn McGinty says:

    I inherited my mother’s Necchi (steel) machine when she passed as I am the only sewer in the family. Not sure how old it is but she sewed all of our clothes on it growing up and her clothes before we came on scene (I’m now almost 63).In 1969 she bought me my very own Universal (steel) machine as she was tired of fighting me for sewing time. I still have both and won’t relinquish them.

  5. Lyric says:

    This article was a nice find too. Not sure exactly when the vintage machine bug hit me. That is for actually using them versus simply looking at them. (Years ago I found a treadle on a curb, picked it up, , and used it in a hallway for decoration.)   No doubt when I married the hubby five years ago it was firmly established for we live off the grid.

    Now I have two Singer handrails, one named Tabitha and a Sears Minnesota treadle named Hadassah that I am terribly intimidated by simply because she has a vibrating shuttle. I attempted to sew with her after consulting You Tube on jow to use the VS and no stitch formed ; ( Not knowing what I am doing incorrectly I closed her up and relegated her to the bowels of my sewing trailer on favor of Tabitha.

    Now I want to trade her for some other vintage treadle but with a round bobbin. Perhaps I should make it a matter of prayer for I really want to begin using a treadle machine.



  6. wheelybad says:

    I have a 1917 66k and a 28k I’m fixing up for my mum from 1905. The 28k uses a shuttle bobbin, originals of which are getting harder to find and my 66k uses a round drop in bobbin that are really easy to find. Both machines were working, just in need of a very good clean and oil. Do not be sucked in when listings on eBay etc state a machine is “rare” (millions were made all over the world in the case of Singer) or “semi industrial” (maybe by today’s standards… yes they will go through thin leather, canvas, denim but use the right needle,and never force it), Neither are true. Don’t pay over the odds either, people list in hope that someone who has not done their research will be looking. Only if a machine is in showroom condition is it worth a lot. The key is, they’re only worth what you are prepared to pay. Treadles cost more than both electric and hand crank (certainly in the UK, thanks I believe to the charlatans that rip the machine out to make “shabby chic” furniture). Mechanical wise they are dead easy to do basic repairs and maintain, but if there are electrics involved and it comes without a certificate to say it’s been recently tested, get it tested before plugging it in. There are many sources of manuals online (ISMACS and the Smithsonian online library are my two best sources). ISMACS (International sewing machine antique collectors) have identification information on their website and there are many other sources if you do a web search.

    A scruffy but working hand crank machine can be picked up for a few pounds/ dollars. Parts and accessories for long-standing models are freely available and many can use modern accessories. Set yourself a price after seeing what they sell for and stick to it. Older, rarer machines need non standard needles though these are not going to be machines for everyday use. If you love sewing and sewing machines a vintage machine in your collection is a pleasure to own, so much fun learning, maintaining and researching. Occasionally treasures are found but to me, both old ladies with their worn out decals tell a story of generations of sewers before me and are treasures for that reason.

    I’d love an newer (1945-1970) Singer, I’d love a featherweight! But for now my old girls and my modern mechanical will do me fine. I wish I had space for a whole room of vintage machines as I find them fascinating.

    I’d urge anyone to pick a vintage machine up, you’ll fall in love and end up spending hours reading and researching and more hours again sewing with it.

  7. karen says:

    A word of advice for Jessica on her search for a treadle sewing machine. If you plan to sew large volume projects (i.e. quilts), look for a rotary hook treadle. The long bobbins on a vibrating shuttle bobbin do not hold a lot of thread. You will have to be constantly winding thread on the long bobbins. No other complaints, vertical shuttle treadles perform perfectly and have terrific stitches.
    For any sewing machine purchase, make sure that you know what type of bobbins, needles, .shuttles you prospective purchase takes, then go online check on replacement availability and cost.
    You would be surprised at how many of the non singer treadle machines have specialized requirements that are difficult to obtain.
    I love vintage machines, they are far stronger and much more durable thanmodern machines. Whichever vintage machine you decide to buy, do your homework. The internet is a wonderful tool to help you. Many knowledgeable people are generous with their advice. Good luck.

  8. Pam says:

    Thank you for this article. I have been sewing since I was a child, and am now 72 years of age. When my grandmother passed I wanted her sewing machine. It is a prior to year 1900 model. I got it and I still have it, don’t use it, but I won’t give it up. I still also have the Singer I received for my high school graduation, plus three other Singer machines, newer models, and a Janome machine. These are my treasures, and I plan on keeping all of them.

  9. Debs says:

    Over thirty years ago, when I was expexting my first child, I sent my husband off to a craft fair to sell some items I had woodburned with wildlife scenes.
    A bit like Jack and the Beanstalk, he spent the takings on an investment for the future; not magic beans, thank goodness, but a hand cranked Singer Sewing machine.
    In the many years since, I have loved and used the machine gratefully.
    I made babyclothes and home accessories galore silently, when babies were sleeping.
    The machine starred in a school Victorian Day event.
    I took the machine to use when volunteering with craft sessions locally and could set up anywhere without worrying about finding a power socket.
    When the weather is nice, I can sew in the garden without trailing cables or making any noise.
    Lovely, lovely thing.

  10. Rosemary Walker says:

    My sister-in-law convinced my parents to buy me a sewing machine for my high school graduation. Previously,I had been using a Singer that my mom and grandmother had used for decades. Although I was grateful for my gift, I must admit I was bummed at the time to see my classmates receive cars instead! My Pfaff quickly became my most prized possession, and it lasted 30 years. Since my local dealer wanted $100 just to diagnose it, my husband bought me a new machine. The new one has many more bells and whistles, but I long for the simplicity of the older machines. I’m a bit of a purist, as Grandma taught me that hems, buttonholes, and embroidery must be sewn by hand. She also decreed that “garments should be as pretty on the inside as they are on the outside,” so I certainly was held to a high standard. (Every time I see a quilt with unfinished edges, I imagine the poor woman spinning in her grave!). Thanks for the article; you have rekindled my desire to make my older machine functional again:)

  11. Vivian Perry says:

    I live in Spain and inherited my mother-in-law’s Singer that she got when she was married 1937. It was made in Scotland. I use it very often and. I would never change it for a new one.

  12. Vanessa Taber-Robinson says:

    I have a 1947 Featherlite which sews beautifully and my husband recently came home with a Singer treadle machine which was made in 1919. I have cleaned It all up and it looks great. It has all the extra feet and attachments with it. The belt needs to be tightened and then she will be ready to go. They really are lovely machines and I’m sure my very expensive Husqvarna embroidery machine will not stand the test of time as well as these.

  13. I have two 50 year old Singer sewing machines. I call myself a “doll maker” and most of my seams are 1/4 inch. These machines ( “Slant-a-matic” and a 335) have metal parts and sew beautifully. The modern less expensive machines have plastic parts and do not sew as well (I bought one and ended up returning it!). Both of my machines have zig zag capability- which i do use. Do see if you can find one!

  14. Mary Mosher says:

    I was incredibly fortunate to discover a 600 series Singer (in a cabinet) at a local
    Thrift Store. As soon as I saw it, I had to have it. It is the exact same model my mother had owned, and the machine I learned to sew on, from the age of 10. My husband wasn’t so sure I needed another machine; after all, I have a Singer treadle foot (in working order), a metal Brother about 40 years old, and a computerized Brother with all the fancy stitches. I managed to convince him I “needed” it and somehow, cabinet and all got stuffed in our Honda Civic. All the way home I worried it wouldn’t work. Got it in the house and plugged in the foot control then the power cord. Held my breath and switched on the light – it worked! So far, so good. Long story short – everything worked perfectly, bobbin refill and all. Lots of accessories were still in the cabinet, including bobbins, all the presser feet, and cams for specialty stitches. I felt transported to the past – remembered immediately how everything worked; even the sound was familiar. I particularly enjoy having the large throat for quilting work. I’ve now logged a couple hundred hours on it and it’s running perfectly. The price – including cabinet – a whopping $20.00 – and it was senior’s day – my husband has hit that milestone, so it all cost me $14.00. So, keep your eyes peeled, and you might spot a deal. There’s nothing quite like sewing on a vintage machine, thinking about all the busy hands who worked with it before yours did, and the things it may have helped create.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Mary, thanks for sharing your story. You certainly made a lucky find and got a great deal. Congrats and happy sewing!

  15. Jessica says:

    I have been wanting to get a treadle machine for such a long time! Do these pros of buying a vintage sewing machine still apply?

  16. Kylie C says:

    I picked up a vintage machine with zigzag capability from the late 50’s for $25 in a cabinet from our local goodwill. Spent about $45 for a new potted motor, belt, and electric foot pedal online then spend about an an hour cleaning and oiling everything. Even with my upgrades it’s still less expensive than a buying a new entry level machine!

    The biggest surprise is how much quieter it is than the basic brother sewing machine I had been using. Plus with the cabinet it’s a flush sewing surface and I can drop the feed dogs which means I can work on my FMQing.

What do you think?