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 of 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.  Why not leave a pic of your vintage machine for everyone to admire?

vintage sewing machine

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104 Responses to The Irresistible Allure of a Vintage Sewing Machine

  1. Granny G. says:

    I like all sewing machines, vintage and modern and I have eight. Two are 1940-ish White Rotary machines (the black crinkle finish). One of them is in a cabinet and is the machine Mom used to teach me over 60 years ago. It’s a great old machine and I keep it for sentimental reasons, I see her face every time I walk by it. She’s been gone for a long time so I love having the memories. It still runs well but needs a new power cord. The 2nd one is to use for parts. This a HEAVY, sturdy machine that will sew through almost anything. I also have a green Kenmore 158-14000 from the late ’60’s. It’s an exact duplicate of the one Mom bought for me when I was a teenager. It was high-tech in it’s day, it had zig-zag & stretch stitches! I made loads of outfits with it including two wedding dresses. I was stupid enough to sell it about 15 years ago (duh-h-h-h-h!) and now regret it so I found and bought a refurbed duplicate which I installed in an original Kenmore table. It purrs and will most likely outlive me and beyond as it is one of those that Sears had engineered and built in Japan when they were still making them all-metal and meant to last. It was considered a portable but it’s a tank. I actually used to drag it around with me (I was a lot younger then!) I have a 2nd one of these as well to cannibalize for parts if ever needed. I have an old Euro Pro serger from around 30 years ago that works perfectly, a roughly 35-year old Baby Lock “electronic” machine that I love but needs a tune-up, a small, year-old Brother computerized model which travels with me to my quilting group, and a HUGE Brother Innovis VQ3000 Dreamweaver which is superb for quilting and does just about everything but embroidery (which doesn’t float my boat). The VQ3000 gets used almost every day and if I have a quilt under it I can always use the Kenmore for piecing or anything else I choose. Fun!

  2. James says:

    I have been buying and restoring vintage sewing machines for several years. So far, I have given them to friends rather than selling them. I currently have three machines I use personally and another two in restoration. I also have a Juki commercial machine for leather work.

  3. Candy Soehren says:

    I have my great grandmother’s treadle from 1905 (sewed my daughter’s kindergarten wardrobe on it) and my grandmother’s coffin case electric from 1925. I bought a 1948 Featherweight for its portability and love to sew on it at retreats and classes. I loaned grandma’s 1950s Kenmore to my daughter and her husband threw it out because she “didn’t use it!”

  4. neena says:

    I also have a various amount of vintage sewing machines. 2 singer featherweights , 2 old Kenmore’s, one with cams, old viking, old singer and a touch&sew with cams. I recently bought a 1914 standard treadle with a certificate of purchase with the date city and the salesman name, Looks beautiful and works great. Even has a manual, falling apart and some of the original needles and a box of attachments.

  5. Laura says:

    At one point I had 15 machines, all of various ages and most of which worked. I have electronic computerized machines for my day to day sewing now (I will admit, it was the buttonhole), but I still love my vintage babies. I have a Davis Vertical treadle machine. My daughter bought it at a garage sale from the DIL of the original owner. It has it’s book and many parts. It would work beautiful if I had a belt. I also have a Singer treadle that I have only briefly seen. It’s in my FIL’s basement and I asked him NOT to make a table of it! I would so like to get it to my house and play. I used to have a Singer treadle … it was so wonderful. I had it set up on my parents large porch when I was a teenager and I would spend hours sewing on that on long summer days. I also had one of the first Singer machines that had zigzag built in. I wish I had never sold that one, but we were moving and I sold it to someone in need of a machine. I have a soft spot for Singer Touch-n-Sews … the bobbin winds right in the machine, and to remove thread no longer desired, unscrew the bobbin and out it comes! I wish standard bobbins could be made to unscrew to remove leftover thread.
    I am currently down to 8 machines. I still have the Davis. I also have a Singer 15-99, a Consew commercial, a Singer made in France that belonged to a beloved aunt and a Kenmore bought for my son (which means it’s in my closet, lol).
    I will admit to loving my vintage machines. I once bought a Touch-n-Sew at an auction and it froze just after I got it home. Since I knew it had moved, I heavily oiled everything and then I flipped it up and used white lube on the gears and bits underneath. Then patiently waited for two days while the grease and oil loosened things up. That was an awesome machine! I still collect vintage parts, pieces and bits … boxes of interest feet, rufflers, stitch design gears for the Touch-n-Sew machines and buttonhole attachments.

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  7. Meng Chong says:

    I still have my mum’s Singer sewing machine from 1948. The original receipt for the purchase is still in the drawer. It is very precious, and I love it!

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      It would be precious to any one who appreciated vintage and on top of that you have the receipt? Even the receipt is valuable today I am sure. Gosh…a slight tinge of envy I am feeling… you are very lucky Indeed.

  8. Christel Schindler says:

    I just love love love my vintage Singer 201 in a cabinet, made about 1949. It needed cleaning and oiling and a few parts that were not that expensive. I also re-wired it to make it more safe. I learned a lot about the machine when working on it and just marveled at the engineering and manufacturing that went into it. It is so quiet and smooth compared to new machines. It will also do layers of heavy fabric without complaining. And with the all metal gears, it will never break down. It just has a straight stitch, but that’s 90% of the sewing most people do.

    I’d love to post a pic, but it won’t let me.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      Hi Christel, do send me the post and I will load it for you. The ability to post your own picture I have taken away.

    • Carrie says:

      My mother never taught me to sew. As a young woman, I was somewhat intimidated with sewing machines. I tried to get into sewing, but bought cheap machine that instantly broke and it set me back. So, years later, I found vintage and fell in love. I have many of them now, in various states. I have learned a little bit about wiring and motors, cleaning, parts and the mechanics of sewing, as well as a lot about sewing! My favorite is the 201. Purrs like a kitten and sews neat and strong.

      I have now figured out that to have a decent quality newer machine, I would have to spend some $$$, and also, there is no brand new machine that can handle what these old ones can! Got a tough project, go to your vintage.

  9. nsadewater says:

    My house has a Singer treadle in its case, Singer 327, Singer 401A, Featherweight (1955), plus other assorted Singer and White vintage mechanical machines. We also have a vintage Husqvarna serger among a few other vintage White sergers. All machines are in working order and my family loves to work on them.

  10. vanseeters says:

    I have a 201 309. And a singer 27 from1908

  11. LYNNETTE PEASE says:

    I have a number of vintage Kenmores, a Singer 401A in mint condition (inherited), and several Necchis (Italian), a Singer 99K and 185J, plus a few others. They all work perfectly.

  12. JD says:

    I love vintage sewing machines. My favorites are the 201, 301, 403, and 404.

  13. Miqui says:

    I use a bernina 807 that I bought new in 1976. It never occured to me that it is vintage! I had it serviced once that i can remember. Just a few months ago it needed new brushes. Now its good for another forty plus years!

  14. Diane Mettam says:

    My first sewing machine was my grandmother’s – a black and gold “portable” Singer from the 1920s with an oak carrying case and a knee bar. I gave it to my stepsister, with whom I lost touch over the years. How I miss that machine! It only sewed forward and reverse, but we bought a buttonhole attachment for it, and it was such a reliable machine. But my stepfather gave me a new machine back in 1968 or so, so I passed it on.

    But a few weeks ago I scored a treasure – a working Singer treadle machine in a cabinet. The cabinet top needs some work, but the machine is in working order (a friend who repairs vintage machine took a look at it before I bought it). Now I can sew when the power is out!

  15. Leanne Long says:

    I was given (yes, GIVEN) a full cabinet 1923 Singer treadle sewing machine. I have not had a chance to get it in for servicing and I know I need a new belt as the one on it does show some wear. If the power goes out long term, I know I can still sew/quilt. It is really a beautiful cabinet and machine.

  16. J Bryan says:

    Mine is my mother’s 1939 Singer Featherweight. Over the years it has sewn everything up & including a canvas horse trailer cover. 2 advantages it has over any other sewing machine I have or had (including a Huqvarna-Viking): 1) The zipper feet (one for left and one for right) can sew the closer to an edge than any other zipper foot . This makes it great for complicated, multi-layer situations; 2) The buttonhole attachment sews the nicest & most even buttonholes of any other machine I’ve used. Summers I put it on display in the local historical society’s museum, then can’t wait to get it back home again.

  17. Millie Carpenter says:

    I just realized that my sewing machine is vintage, It is an elna SU that my husband gave me for supporting him while getting his masters degree in 1972. easy to maintain, never a problem. my daughter bought a used one in 1995 when she went off to college, I was gifted a sewing machine from a treadle because my friend only wanted the base to make a table. my son collected several featherweight and lightweight singers in wooden cases. he also has a really old wilcox and gibbs treadle machine that does a chain stitch. my sister in-law wants wants her 94 year old mom’s 1950s singer. but mom won’t give it up. these old models sew wonderfully and don’t break down.

  18. Angela says:

    I only have one sewing machine. . . My Grandmother’s 1930’s Model 99K with a knee control and her button hole attachment. My grandmother sewed everything from formals to repairs. This machine can do anything I want to sew, I do not want any other machine. I would like to get a zigzag attachment, though.

  19. Muriel says:

    I have a 1948 Kenmore with a wooden cabinet and a dozen feet for various purposes. The feet are works of genius. Its solid metal all through. I’m not a very good seamstress. I just make bags, wallets, curtains, and mend things. I do maintain the machine because it came to me in great condition.

    I highly recommend such a machine to anyone willing to clean and oil it. It’s easy to maintain. And very cheap. Everyone thinks they need to computerized stuff. Plenty can be done on q vintage machine.

  20. Kathy says:

    I never realized I had a vintage machine! I still use the Singer Stylist my grandparents gave me for my 1969 college graduation.

  21. PattyP says:

    One of my machines is a Singer Slant-o-Matic (actual model name) that I think my syster called a “Rocketeer”, so I assume that is the one being referred top here by others. I bought mine on eBay over a decade ago for $90, but one can get them for less. My sister and I both learned to sew on that model, and have each bought a used one from eBay since my mom had kept the original. I have a more modern Singer sold under the Sears brand that is simply not as heavy and bobust, bought in an emergency when I had a deadline, before i bought the Slant-o-Matic.

    Machine dealers (I only had experience with Singer) used to offer money off new machines if one traded in their old one when purchadsing a new one when buying. The reason was so they could destroy the older, more robustly built machines so they could not be re-sold to new buyers by the individual. It was done in the hope that most new sewists could only buy a new machine if they could not find a used one. I’m very glad theat many people kept theirs and sold them to a happy line of customers.

    The problem with modern machine is that gears inside are made of nylon or plastic and they will eventually break during heavy use or lightening fast sewing on long seams. Never run a modern machine at full speed for more than a few seconds. I broke gears in them when I sewed for a living, impatiently waiing for the machine to get to the other end of the fabric. I won’t necessarily sauy one can run my old Singer full speed a lot, but it is certainly less liekly tpo bust a gear than more mkodern offerings. I mayb be wrong, but I belive that the old machines were engineered to run smoothly without issues for a user’s lifetime and beyond.

    • Lisa says:

      Machines made in the 70s thru the early 90s were made with plastic which cracks and crumbles. Yes, you can replace the gears but it is in this service technicians humble opinion NOT worth it.
      Modern machines (10 years or younger) are made with nylon gears -which is a GOOD thing. NYLON wears well and makes the machine self-lubricating. I can elaborate on this if anyone cares how. (Most people do not maintain their machines properly, thus making this almost a necessity).
      Vintage machine WILL last quite literally a life time IF you maintain them (not store them but actually USE them) but so often we get newer machines for the bells and whistles and forget about the pretty one in the garage and it freezes up. Once this happens, you MIGHT get it back up and running but it will never be the same.

      • Cindy S says:

        I would love to learn more about how nylon is self-lubricating, and if my newer (4 yr. old) Janome even needs to go to the shop for maintenance.

        I oil the bobbin wick and keep it clean.

  22. Lois says:

    Confession time – I’m a vintage sewing machineaholic. Blush ……..

    I have 34 vintage machines, nearly all in working condition. Ranging from my best loved little hand cranks dating from the 1860’s and up, the three treadle machines (treadles take up too much room to have very many), the good old mechanical machines from the 1940’s and up, my dear little Featherweight, my beloved 45 year old Bernina 830 (my classic go to machine that will sew through anything that will go under the pressure foot) up to two computerized Pfaffs. And the mechanicals beat the new machines hands down. If anything goes wrong, all I need is a screwdriver and 5 minutes to fix it.

    • Lori B says:

      I only have 2 and am eyeing a third and my husband already wishes I would collect something smaller. I can’t resist though.

  23. Dana Crawford-Pulley says:

    I have four VSM’s, for now, lol. The oldest is a 1925 Singer Treadle, coffin cover, made in England, and picked up for a song in a junk store in Spain. The most interesting is my Graybar coffin cover portable, from the 1940s. Alas, during one of our many Navy moves, I lost the power cord, and as it is very unique, can’t use it. A 1950s knee lever was my very first VSM, but my favorite belonged to my husband’s grandmother – metallic turquoise Monarch by Brother, made in Japan right after the war, with an insane amount of attachments. I just gave a 1950s Morse Zigzag 4300, blue and white, in a cabinet and with a chair, to my cousin’s teenage daughter, she showed a keen interest in sewing, so I figured why not give her a workhorse of a machine? I keep them all cleaned and oiled, even the Graybar, so all the parts move, at least.

  24. June Owen says:

    I have 2 vintage machines, one Singer I’ve had since bought new in the early 60s, and still works. Sadly I chopped an older Singer in part exchange for it and now of course wish I still had it. Another I found in a charity shop is a 1936 Singer just like the one my mother had, which ploughs uncomplainingly through the toughest jobs. The 60s machine was made in Bonnieres, France and the 1936 one from Clydebank. Their names? Bonnie and Clyde of course!!!! I do have a more modern machine too which I use day to day but my vintage pair aren’t going anywhere! There’s a web site where you can look up the serial number and you can find out where and when manufactured. Might be of interest? Might be the Singer site? Sorry can’t remember.

What do you think?