Sewing Blog

8 Reasons Everyone Should Own a Vintage Sewing Machine

You may love your fancy, modern sewing machine, but there’s so much to love about vintage sewing machines, too.

Vintage Sewing Machine

Photos licensed via Creative Commons

Just to be clear, when I say “vintage” I’m talking about machines that are heavy, metal, beautiful and almost industrial. These are those sewing machines that you’ve been offered countless times by neighbors, co-workers or strangers once they learn that you’re a sewing enthusiast. They’re the sewing machines that your mother or grandmother used tirelessly year after year.

You may feel intimidated at the thought of learning how to use and maintain a vintage sewing machine — but let me assure you that there’s no reason to be timid.

7 reasons everyone should own a vintage sewing machine

1. The metal parts were made to last.

There’s a reason these machines are so heavy — they’re not made of plastic! The greatest advantage to metal parts is they are extremely hard to break, which means you rarely have to replace them.

With the exception of the belt, made of rubber, almost every part of a vintage sewing machine is built like a classic car — heavy, strong and with care. Fortunately, they don’t require high levels of octane to sew, and their speed and durability are pretty amazing. With the right care and maintenance, these metal monsters can run forever.

vintage sewing machine easy to repair

2. Maintenance is no longer a mystery 

Thank goodness for the Internet! You can find vintage parts on eBay, and it’s easy to find YouTube tutorials for fixing your vintage machine.

Plus, vintage machines are ideal for at-home maintenance and repairs because they have no computer software, like new sewing machine do. That’s one of the reasons it’s so expensive to fix modern machinery. When you eliminate all of the wires and electronics, you are left with a beautifully basic machine.

3. Their straight lines are the straightest out there

Most sewing enthusiasts don’t realize that all of those funky, fun stitches can actually effect your machine’s ability to give you a perfect straight stitch. If you’re struggling with a straight stitch, a vintage machine might be exactly what you need for a better stitch line.

vintage sewing machine thick or thin

4. Any fabric — you’re in control.

Because home sewing machines used to be used for everything from suits and wedding dresses to quilts and blankets, the older machines were designed to sew every loft of fabric under the sun. The majority of vintage machines have a manual lever to add or reduce pressure to the presser foot. Reducing the pressure for thicker fabrics and increasing it for thin materials gives you much more creative control.

5. They are heavy! 

Weight isn’t bad thing — consider it a blessing in disguise. These machines won’t slide around under a big project like a lightweight, plastic model might.

6. Mother Earth will thank you

Dusting off a vintage sewing machine rather than throwing it into a landfill is like giving our earth a big hug. As if sewing with an ancient piece of machinery didn’t already make you awesome, now you’re an eco-friendly superhero.

vintage sewing machine art

7. They’re useable art

How many things do you have that double as functional machinery and beautiful artwork? Not many! No longer will you have to tuck your machine away when friends or family come over. You can proudly display your sewing machine as a show-stopping art installation. 

8. Consider the history

Sewing is a fundamental skill and creative passion that has been passed down from generation to generation. You can keep that legacy alive by embracing an antique machine.

vintage sewing machine

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79 Comments

Sheila A Gunther

Thank you so much for your wonderful article. I have my mom’s old singer and one I was given that was built the year I was born a singer. It is a old work horse as you mentioned.

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CJ

Awesome article would love to see courses on these wonderful machines.
The Featherweight Shop April Henry does awesome YouTube Videos on the Featherweights.

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Karla Berg Walker

I agree that the Featherweight Shop/April Henry has awesome videos. The Featherweight is so easy to maintain by the owner. I also have the Singer 237 (1960’s). I learned to sew on this machine and my mom gave it to me in recent years. It has the most incredible straight and zig zag stitch. It also has 3 easy to move needle positions. I have purchased these machines used and fixed them up for others. They are workhorses. The only downside is the weight–40 pounds (all metal), so I have a different machine to take to classes and on trips (Janome Jem 720). The Janome 720 is just 12 pounds and electronic. Excellent machine too!

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Kat L

I agree with this post wholeheartedly! I just brought my late dad’s Singer 500A (aka the Rocketeer) home to restore (on the plane, as a carry-on : O) All metal, cool space-age look, and it has all metal parts. Wow. My hubby loves old cars and now I can totally relate. The workmanship is outstanding!

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Rubina

I love my grandma’s Pfaff 30. It only sews straight stitches but it is the best machine for quilting in the ditch. It has no engine. You have to move the machine mechanically with your feet. That is sometimes like a meditation as you find your rhythm of sewing and pedal.

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Heather Brenner

My hubs loves old cars, and old sewing machines. I have a Singer 431. The Rocketeer is the machine HE asked my aunt for. Because he loves how it looks. But he does know how to use it. 😊

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Kathy Feltmate

Does a Featherweight count?

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Shannon M Fornes

Absolutely!

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TrulyBlessed

Of course it does!

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Sandy

As an owner of 5 Singer 301s and 1 Featherweight I loved your article about vintage machines. Their straight stitch is wonderful and I really admire the craftsmanship, the design and the reliability. I do all my own maintenance on my vintage machines. My added bonus is that the 301 only weighs 16 pounds and the Featherweight weighs only 11, very portable!

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Susan

This is not a reply – just trying to leave a comment. I have a Elgin sewing machine in a sewing table, and have debated for years on whether to sell it or not. Does anyone have an idea on who might want it?

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Lynn West

There is a FB page for Vintage machine sell and swap

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Annette Siverson

Why thank you Lynn West I didn’t know that either!

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LoAnn Trowbridge

I would get it out and sew on it. I have mom’s Singer 301A that I want to put in a cabinet and start using it. Some say the straight stitch only is better for free motion quilting. I will have to give it a try. But if you choose to sell it, I am certain there will be lots of takers Good Luck. Oh what state to you live in? (Indiana?)

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Doris Richards

I LOVE my 301…I got it in 1957 new…I still sew on it…I collected old machines for years..kept finding them at Yard sales…Iam 82 and cant live on my own any more….But I still have my 301..My daughters have all my others…my greatest find is a Scandanavion treadle with dome lid…it has that name built into the metal frame…I LOVE old sewing machines..

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Jane

I have my mothers old Singer machine from the early 60s, an early electric machine but all metal & v heavy! It just goes on and on, it has some really cool attachments too.

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Kat

I have a Singer 201 that my mother gave me as a high school graduation gift. (I am 70 years old.) It was not new then, built in the 40’s. I use it almost every day, especially for piecing. I prefer it to my fancy computerized model for everyday work.

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Beth Cassel

I have a vintage ‘New Williams’ treadle sewing machine that I picked up at a garage sale years and years ago… I sewed my first quilt together with it and I love the look of it… the comfort of it’s history… it holds a special place in my heart and my home… Now it is more of a decorative feature in my home as I use an old electric machine now… another that I got at a garage sale and had it tuned up and it works like a dream. I am a quilt maker and prefer quilting by hand… at least for now… thank you for your post. Cheers to vintage!

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WheelyBad

Great article! I have a Singer 66k (1917, crank handle), a 201k (1956, electric,metal frame and gears, aluminium body) and a 28k (1905, crank handle) that I’m restoring to working order for my mother. I have a couple of modern machines too but I love the old ladies dearly, they’ll sew anything and winding the crank handle is really quite relaxing. They are a testament to the generations of women before me that sewed for their families like my mother, grand mother and great grandmother. Anyone looking for an old lady of their own then a Singer 66/66k or a slightly smaller (but still blooming heavy) 99/99k would be a great place to start. There are (still) millions out there, as so many were made, showroom quality will still set you back more than a slightly scruffy, well used and well loved machine but they were really built to last. The two hand cranks I’ve been inside of to clean and restore a little- there’s no damage to any of the moving parts. Drop in top bobbin exactly like most modern machines, an amazing amount of information including free owners manual downloads online, loads of good advice for getting a seized machine moving again and spares for a reasonable price on eBay or there are vintage machine specialist spares dealers. Seeing these old girls as a shabby chic display piece, a treadle base butchered to make a table or worse just dumped actually upsets me! They are amazing and so like a modern machine it’s quite mind blowing but if it ain’t broke don’t fix it!

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Vicky

I learned to sew on my mother’s Singer Touch and Sew and just recently bought a 626, and as you mentioned, I learned how to tighten up the bobbin case by watching a video on Youtube. I also recently acquired a Singer 401a and a Necchi Nora NA
I am so excited to work with all of them

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Stacey

I have 3 vintage machines: My Moms Sears Kenmore, a treadle Singer, and a Con sew industrial machine. . They all work great!

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Dianne G Patterson

I own 2 very vintage Singers. One was my grandma’s and the other was given to me. As I was reading the article it dawned on me that I learned to sew on my grandma’s machine. I’ve been using it as a piece of furniture (it stores in a wooden cabinet). I’m so inspired to get it up and running now. I feel somewhat silly since I’ve had it for years and never got it out. Piecing my quilts is going to bring back so many wonderful memories of my grandma! I think I just got the best Christmas gift ever! Thank you for writing the article!

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Sara

I have a old Sew Tip or Sew Top machine from the 40’s. Does anyone know anything about these?

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Mindy KIng

Sewing machines with funny names are usually Japanese clones of the singer 15. the quality is equal to or better than the Singers they copied. giving outdated technology to japan was part of the post war recovery. compare your machine to images of the #15 and join the vintage sewing machine page on Facebook.

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Quiltbeagle

This is a great article, and it’s so true about their beautiful straight stitches. I have several vintage machines and I expect them to still be working when my computerized machines are in the landfill. They are all Singers, the Featherweight with a beautiful scroll plate and a 66 treadle that I restored myself I will never part with. The 15-91 is gear driven and easily sews through leather and the 301, known as the Featherweight’s big sister, has a carry handle for portability and with the slanted needle makes it very easy to see what I’m sewing. Though I love them as well, I’m certain that my modern electronic machines will fail in the not so distant future and be very expensive if not impossible to repair. They will never outlive the vintage ones that in most cases can be so easily fixed.

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CherryGingham

I’ve always wanted a vintage machine but have never been able to find anyone willing to part with theirs.

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Lynn West

They go for a song in thrift shops – just keep looking and maybe tell them that you are looking. Sometimes, they just toss them out thinking no body wants them

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Doris Richards

My daughter and I found one at a yard sale a couple of months ago..an old Singer just a little newer than a 301.we payed $40 for it…no case .Iam 82 and cant always remember things..so dont know the model number…keep looking…

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Heather Brenner

Check Craigslist. Also estate sales and auctions

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Greg

Actually, you reduce foot pressure for thinner, delicate fabrics and increase it for heavier fabrics (the weight of the fabric can cause it to slip if the pressure is too light).

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Susan Ertel

OH what fun these old machines are. I have my mother ‘s featherweight,
“Pulled from her cold dead hands” lol. I was given the old Singer table model, and recently a neighbor just brought in a Sewmor which is an old machine sold by Sears, turquoise from the fifties. They seem to multiply by themselves. Love it

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Stacia

Great article! I teach at JoAnn and tell mothers that are looking for a starter machine for their young daughters to look for a vintage machine in thrift stores or on Craigslist. I revert to using my 60’s Kenmore that I bought 8 years ago for $10 at a thrift store (including the cabinet!) when my new Viking makes me mad. I have used the Kenmore to free-motion quilt T shirt quilts and it sews over the vinyl-like logos on the shirts with no problem. And self-maintenance is pretty easy. Since my husband has recently started quilting, it is his main machine as he will not venture into my sewing room, AKA my “sacred sewing grounds”!

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CindyT

When new sewers ask me what sewing machine to buy I tell them to go to the thrift store and buy the heaviest machine they can find, usually a “Chrysler” as I call them, a Morse or similar brand in pretty colors with lots of chrome. Limited number of stitches, straight, zig-zag, sometimes blind hemmer and buttonhole….but those cover 99% of sewing. They run forever and are frequently smoother and quieter than newer machines.

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JenL

I have a 1980s Bernina that will sew anything it seems. I would leave the repairs to a professional though – just because it is old does not mean that it doesn’t need fine calibration from time to time. On the other hand, I used to have a hand me down 1960s Singer touch& sew, which was a terribly erratic machine that would randomly chew up fabric. The original owner had the same problem. So, old doesn’t mean good automatically either.

And, be careful with the old black machines. They look pretty but they were responsible for sewing up a few fingers, including my grandmother’s.

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Dianne Deaver

I have an older Featherweight which I love, a Janome Horizon, a #1Viking and my server. Unfortunately, my Singer treadle machine was stolen by the gentleman I took it to for service (he is nowhere to be found). It was the only machine I have seen with a scotch whistle on the face plate. Miss it a lot…if anyone knows of one I’m in the market. Used it a lot when we lose power during the winter and have my oil lamps going just like my grandma used to do.

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Dianne Deaver

I hate smart phones that think they know everything. Scotch thistle, not whistle. And server, not server. Sorry.

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Heather Brenner

Smart phones just hate the word “serger”. You always have to force them to not “correct” it

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Kathleen

I’ll add mine to the list. I have my grandmother’s Singer RedEye Treadle. And I purchased a Singer Featherweight at a flea market. I found a production list online (can’t find that list anymore) and know that both machines, according to their serial number, are listed in the first batch codes ever made. I actually did a LOT of sewing on the treadle when I was learning and before I purchased my own Singer Touch and Sew (with cams, loved that machine) with my babysitting money. I gave that machine up years ago when I thought I would never sew again. The only thing that keeps me from being sorry I gave it up is that I donated it to a local organization involved with the handicapped.

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Sharon Howell

I had an old White with cams—but one broke!

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Linda K

I have a Singer touch and sew with cabinet. It was my first machine. I was so excited when I bought it. Does this count?

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Nancy

I still have my grandmother’s manual portable that she brought from England in 1911. It is heavy, has the wooden cover and a manual turn handle. I hate to get rid of it but that day is coming. She sewed her own clothing and her daughters clothing because she always said “store bought clothing is sewn with a hot needle and burnt thread’. This was, of course, during and at the end of the war. Times were tough and lots of love went into the creation of the garments.

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Debbi Cesari

My vintage machine is not as old as many mentioned here, but still a solid workhorse. My Bernina 1980 #830 that came in the big red carrying case. And boy is she heavy! And sews up a storm! I love this machine!

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Barbara Santopadre

My mom had a Necci that she bought in Ohio in 1951 when my brother was born. I had a Necci that I bought at a yard sale in California for $20 (which included the sewing cabinet) in the early 70’s. It just happens that the serial nos. are 13 digits apart which I find amazing. We have sewn everything from leather to silk on our machines, they are truly workhorses. In fact, she and I made her first and only quilt on her machine. She has since passed, and my sister has her machine, but every time I use mine I think of all the wonderful times we had together sewing.

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Sheila Belcher

What a lovely article. What nostalgia. I have my mother’s Jones machine, black and gold, hand cranked, which my father bought for her when they married in 1938. I learned to sew on it when I was a child, made mine and my sister’s entire wardrobe on it, and then went on to make my bridesmaids dresses, going away outfit and soft furnishings as well. My new husband bought me a Jones electric machine – did a zig zag stitch, oh what technology! – in 1967 – he said I would be like a fish out of water if I didn’t have a sewing machine. I made everything on that from Christening robe to a replacement cover for his 30 foot cabin cruiser boat and recovered a 3-piece suite twice! The tension did suffer after that, but it still plodded on until in the 1980’s when I progressed to electronic, digital machines. But I always kept my old “Jonesy” for all the heavy stuff. I love them all.

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Linda W

I first started sewing on my mothers old treadle, I think it was a Jones and had by appointment to Queen Alexandra in gilt, then moved onto an old manual that had a motor attached (sewed a few fingers with that), Got an electric in the late 70s and in the 80s started an applique/cot quilt business with a computerized Janome New Home (I spent a fortune on it but got a grant from the council) before going to work in the Heath Service. Spent 27yrs as activity co-ordinator/benefit advisor/ teacher in mental health. Taught lots of people how to craft and often took my old Janome in – it is still going strong now and I have retired but it hasn’t. Now looking at a new embroidery/sewing machine to play with but love the beauty of the old machines.

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Beate Bermann-Enn

My cast iron indestructible Sears Kenmore bought in 1964 when I was a new bride still hums away happily. It resides in my study, in it’s cabinet, with a wooden board on top to convert it into a larger table. It still comes out for certain straight line jobs. It
snew sister is an “Elegante 2” for embroidery tasks. It is much more complicated and after two years I still have to refer to the book…

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Joan Kramer

Am 68 years old and just started machine quilting, and learning to do free motion quilting, Learned to sew on an old Singer treadle machine when I was about 13 years old. Had a few sewing machines since then, and have made drapes and curtains, clothing, all types of household sewing and mending through the years, most on an older electric Singer which had some zig zag stitches; it was a heavy workhorse. We decided to sell everything and live in an RV and sold the machine. Bought a mobile home here in Florida a couple years ago and joined the quilting group. Made the mistake of buying a Singer at Walmart; looked like a good machine but has many plastic parts, very touchy with certain threads and does not like to sew thicker or bulky items. In the meantime I bought a Juki straight stitch quilting machine which I love, especially good for free motion and it was on sale (but very heavy and too large to carry). Still wanted something smaller with zigzag features to take to our community center for quilt group. Found an awesome old Kenmore made in 1981 for $50 which has some basic stitches built in, comes with cams and buttonhole maker (so I can do appliqués and other stitches). It is metal, quite heavy for the size but portable and it is an awesome machine. Came with manuals, several feet and bobbins. Stitches a perfect straight or zigzag and can handle multiple layers. Both machines I have now I can clean and oil myself; they are simple and durable. I am looking forward to many years of enjoyment. And the Singer I bought will be donated to charity because it is okay for very simple, basic sewing.

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Ann Nell

I purchased a New Home portable machine in 1963. It is made of metal and very heavy. Several years after buying it, my mom offered me a machine cabinet that had been owned by my great-grandmother. It was practically in pieces. I had no furniture restoration skills and didn’t think I want the cabinet until I looked down at the treadle and saw Hew Home on it !! I couldn’t believe it. I know the cabinet is well over 100 years old by now. I was blessed with a neighbor boy that was taking woodworking shop in school and he offered to restore it as his class project. His father was a mechanic on the Naval base and he sandblasted all of the metal parts to the cabinet, painted them and now the entire cabinet is perfectly restored. There is a wooden box that sits on top of the cabinet , two drawers and a side piece that flip up to give me more space for the item I’m sewing to lay on. These are all original. There is a wooden piece that attaches the treadle foot piece to the wheel. And to think, I almost passed it up. Thank you, Great-grandmother Mink.

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Evie H

I have my mom’s 1935 Singer 15-90 in a beautiful cabinet. It is definitely a work horse. Mom sewed everything from delicate wedding dresses to heavy-duty upholstery. I learned to sew on it (oh so many years ago!) and it’s still going strong and sews beautifully.

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Linda B.

I’m 68 and I decided two years ago to take up sewing. Growing up, my mother was a beautiful seamstress and her sewing machine was a Singer in a cabinet. She begged me to let her teach me to sew. To this day, I regret that decision. I gave her machine to a co-worker–for free!
So, as I said, I decided to take up sewing and, after much research, I bought a restored Viking. It’s a great basic sewing machine, light weight and portable, which is ideal for when I need a machine for a sewing class/lesson. In 2015, a good friend of mine mentioned that her mother purchased a new sewing machine and gave her ‘old’ BERNINA Record 930 to her. This machine is 33 years old and hums beautifully. I bought it from her for $250! There isn’t a piece on it that is plastic. It’s very heavy, so it sits on my sewing table. It has every foot, every book, etc. that was ever made. I don’t think I’ll ever need a space age sewing machine. I just wish I would have listened to my mom so many years ago.

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Francis

I just re-acquired my great-grandmother’s Singer 1907 Drawing Room cabinet treadle sewing machine after it was sold after her death in 1986. All the accessories, instruction book, and family treasures are included. I remember Mamie using it. I was fascinated watching her feet peddle and her hands move at the same time she was telling me to sit still. Her needles and pins are still stuck in the fabric that is attached to the machine. If you have now seen this machine Google it. All the sides are carved. She died when she was 110 years old. I am 67. My son and grandchildren are impressed with the quality of the machine and beauty of the cabinet. I am so lucky to have it.

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Leila

I love vintage sewing machines because I can maintain them myself and I won’t break them sewing a pair of jeans. Having to pay someone to maintain my sewing machine makes me feel like I’m just renting it instead of owning it! Also, given the choice between a treadle and electric sewing machine, I always pick the treadle to sew on. I learned how to sew on a treadle machine, and I can never sew as accurately on an electric sewing machine, since they are generally hard control and have low power at slow speeds (except maybe for really expensive machines, which I won’t buy because of the reasons stated above). Modern machines do have their place – most vintage machines have limited stitch choices and many of them skip stitches when sewing on elastic and knits – but my vintage machines will always be my first choice to sew with.

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Susan Hebert

I’ve owned a Bernina from the 70s, bought used by my parents as my high school graduation gift and received a New Home treadle when my brother and sister-in-law divorced 6 years ago. Still need to get the treadle up and running. Lots of info on-line, including its original manual and lists of serial numbers that helped to determine it was made in 1911! Look it up by manufacturer and see what you can find!

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MKW

Great article and oh so true. I have an old singer that my husband bought me many years ago – it still runs great. Very dependable and doesn’t need a lot of care like the new ones. I have a new machine also and I use it a lot but go back to the old one from time to time. Would never consider getting rid of it. I’m keeping my eyes open for a good Singer Feather Weight.

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Lynne Charsley

I have had my singer treadle machine for year and years. It as born in 1938 and when I was learning to sew at Tafe in the Blue Mountains we used to have black outs just around tea time until late at night. I couldn’t finish my home work so I dusted off the sewing machine gave it some oil. Replaced the needle with a ball point needle because I as stitching fleecy sweat shirts. The machine went like a dream and the stitching was beautiful. I did it by candle light which made me think of my grandmother sewing for the family late at night, it was quite comforting really. And the rhythm of the treadle was like a cats purr. I still have my machine and your article has encouraged me to re visit it for my quilts. Thank you so much.

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Sharon Weaver

I make a great many of my quilts with 3 of my treadle machines, learned to treadle in 2007. When I sew with the treadle, its rhythm is relaxing to me.
The oldest is a 1917 White Rotary, 1936 Singer 201K and 1955 Pfaff 60. All of them sew a beautiful straight stitch and are a joy to sew with. I get great satisfaction being able to maintain these wonderful old machines myself. have a couple of treadle machines that weren’t moving at all when I bought them; its amazing to see them sew again. After months of careful cleaning and oiling, I can use them.
I have been using vintage/antique sewing machines since about 1997, bought the 1st Singer featherweight and fell in love with how well it sewed and so quiet.
I have 2 modern plastic wonder machines, that can be temperamental at times. I learned to sew when I was 9 or 10 years old.

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Jacque Horner

My Singer Featherweight was “born” one month before I was. This 66 year old machine travels with me constantly and makes weekly appearances at my quilt group. It’s about like a Timex….takes a licking and keeps on ticking. There are times when I much prefer it to my expensive Bernina. As Sharon said, the newer machines can be temperamental which is so frustrating. These old beasts make a beautiful stitch that can’t be beat.

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Sable calamateos

Yess! Im so lucky i found a vintage viking for $10 andbits in perfect condition!

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Sue Bu

Bought a Simger treadle from a family friend in the early 80s. A few years later I saw one at a garage sale and thought it looked familiar. Bought it, got it home and turned out the 2 machines were identical and both born in 1901. Stopped using the first one when it kept snagging my fabric; the second one did the same from the time I bought it. Only recently did it cross my mind that the needles are not installed correctly, but haven’t had time to check this out. In the last 6 months I have acquired 2 Singer Featherweights (born 1946 and 1955), a Singer fiddlebase or model 12 born in 1891, a Singer 99k born in 1915 with the best stitch and the sales receipt of its original purchase, and 3 Singer model 20s (children’s machines with a chain stitch). All but one Featherweight are working machines and all but the treadles and Featherweights are powered by hand cranks. Just enjoying their beauty and ease of use along with some great stitches.

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Annette

The best old workhorse in the world, my grandmother’s Singer with treadle and electric motor which was optional. It will sew jeans, coats, upholstery…anything you ask it to do.
The Singer 115 was manufactured in St. John’s, Quebec, sometime between the years 1924 and 1936.
I love the old machine.

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Noela

I have a 1903 Singer 28K crank handle. Bought it last year for $166.50 Australian dollars. It is in good working order. I have not used it yet but is now on my must do list after reading all your comments.

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Laura

I recently acquired my grandmother’s White 41 and I am in the process of restoring it. I am also in the process of figuring out what all the accessories do. I own a new machine that does lots of automatic stitches, but I am truly impressed about all of the different attachments for the vintage machine that make different stitch patterns. The White can do everything my new machine can do, it’s just a little more work to swap out the cams. However, that’s pretty impressive for the society we lived in back in the 1930’s, without all the technology we have today.

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Donna Kohler

It’s great to hear appreciation for the old beauties! My grandmother taught me to treadle in her little adobe house in El Paso, Texas in 1954. She had a Singer treadle sewing machine with a long bobbin and mysterious Egyptian decals. Years later I bought my first zig-zag electric machine then in the early 1970s I bought my first treadle. More sewing machines came into my life but in the early 1990s when my treadle was in storage while I lived in Holland I missed it. In 1993 when my feet treadled again I decided to give up electric machines. Soon the treadles started multiplying, like potato chips, lol. I learned a lot more about them from the Treadleon list that I joined in early 1999. In 2004 I was a guest on Alex Anderson’s Simply Quilts Show #923 on HGTV where I demonstrated three machines. I wrote a little book, “Treadle Sewing Machines: Clean and Use an Iron Lady” in 2010 and have a few YouTube videos. My home has about 21 fabulous treadle machines, all types and two zig-zag. I have made anything and everything on the machines and love doing free motion embroidery, like patting your head and rubbing your tummy at the same time. Now when people see my machines all about I tell them I rescue them like some rescue cats. I clean them up, feed them a little oil and they purr like kittens.

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Cher

I agree wholeheartedly with this article. These old machines are amazing. Besides a modern
computerized machine, I own an old Singer, circa late twenties, one of the first electrified machines. It still works and sews a straight line like nobody’s business. I also own a fancy Necchi from the year I was born, 1957. It has tons of features. I call it my little Italian sports car/sewing machine. These heavy old machines are great for sewing slipcovers and heavy, bulky items. Part of the fun of buying these old machines were the people you meet and the sleuthing you can do to find old manuals and parts that make them run like when they were brand new. You also can’t find a better made cabinet because the cabinets were made out of durable materials made to last. It just so happens my husband owns a furniture restoration business so he was able to restore the old Singer cabinet back to what it was. They are a dime a dozen out there on the i-net. I would highly recommend buying and oldie.

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Theresa in Tucson

I learned to sew on my mother’s 15-91. It was old fashioned when she bought it in 1952 but it is still going strong in my youngest sister’s possession. I have three old Singers in my stable; a 301 in a hoop case, a 15-91 in a sewing table and a 221 Featherweight. They are all set up for different tasks. The 301 is used for topstitching, the 15-91 is used for buttonholes on heavier garments, and the Featherweight is the dining room table machine. That means it comes out when the sewing room, AKA guest room, is otherwise occupied. A previous 15-91 was adapted for a hand crank and sent off to an orphanage in Africa. My main machine is a Bernina 930, the first generation to use electronics. When the motherboard dies and cannot be replaced, I will be looking for an all-mechanical zig-zag. Love, love, love, my old machines.
Theresa in Tucson

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Training Wheels Sewing

I am a big fan of vintage machines and have recommended finding one to many who have asked about buying a machine, especially on a tight budget. I hate for someone new to sewing to struggle with an inexpensive new machine! I tend to use my vintage machines far more than my newer machines, but if you want a new, electronic machine – for the knee lift, the automatic thread cutter, or some other reason, I find the Berninas give beautiful straight stitches at all price points. Unfortunately, that cannot be said of all brands, regardless of price.

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Vreni Breakell-Caudle

I was on my way to a meeting one morning and passed 2 treadle Singers sitting by the side of the road! I was only able to rescue one of them, but it is gorgeous! I’m ordering the belt and a new throat plate which was missing and then it will hold court in my sewing space as the queen she is! I also have a featherweight, which I love. I had an old Kenmore mechanical but while making my niece’s wedding dress, the motor seized. I actually cried when that happened!!

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FrancesMC

Vreni, you might be able to get a new motor. Do investigate, it’s not the actual sewing machine so a new one should be fine. Of course, it may be too expensive.

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Mamie

Thanks for the inspiration. I’ve always loved the vintage machines and was gifted a featherweight a few years ago. I was hesitant to use it as I didn’t want to break it-although the seller indicated it still worked. It was used to decorate my sewing room! I’m going to give it a go. I will def check out the videos online. Thx!

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Mary Lazas

I own several vintage and antique Singers, I love them all! My favorite is an 1883 Improved Family treadle with a fiddle bed. I also have a 1928 no. 12 in a parlor cabinet, a 1952 Featherweight, a 301, and a 501A. They are all good, sturdy machines. If I had room in my house, I would collect more.
I’m glad to hear there are so many others who appreciate these beautiful machines.

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Betsy

I didn’t know that I collected sewing machines, it sort of snuck up on me! People would say “Do you want this sewing machine?” and I’d say “Sure”, and now I have about 7 or 8, or more. My favourite is my grandmother’s old Singer. You can go to the Singer site, type in the serial number and it will tell you when yours was made. I love the treadle, need a new belt, but they are still available. I got a Necco from a friend, all metal, my own Singer that I got in 1963, a Kenmore, a couple of Whites and my mom’s Universal, my mother-in-law’s portable Singer that she probably got in the early 40’s. I got 2 on newer machines on Freecycle because they didn’t work. The bobbins were put in wrong! I love sewing and 4 machines are up and ready to go at all times. For Christmas I got a surger! So excited to use that! Thanks for this site, it’s great!

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Marshablog

That’s sound great! I remember my grandmother also has one. And She is very fussy when sewing by her vintage machine.

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Janice Geiger

Love this article. I have two treadle machines a Singer 27 1910 , a Free 1900 parlor treadle and a modern electric singer. I was taught at 9 how to sew on my mom’s Singer treadle. Treadles are very quiet compared to electric Singer machines. I can sew late in the evening without waking anyone. My electric machine is temperamental and frustrating. I prefer my treadles for mending and quilting. I’ve even stitched jeans and leather without a problem. I’ve taught my daughters on the treadles and they love it. So if you get the chance buy one. You won’t be sorry.

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FrancesMC

I have an Elna Supermatic, from 1969/1970 or thereabouts, which is running well. I also have a mid-range Elna that I bought in 1967 but it currently doesn’t work. I have quite a few cams for the Supermatic but almost never use them. I keep looking at newer machines but never quite get around to buying and probably never will if the Supermatic keeps working, given that I’m 85. I see them advertised occasionally and would recommend them.

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Anne Timpano

I have 2 Kenmore machines dating from 1963 and 1973 respectively. Neither has ever needed any kind of mechanical repair, though the older machine is in need of a new rubber belt. I have used them for every type of garment imaginable and numerous houshold crafts. They have never let me down and I have never been tempted to buy anything newer or fancier. They just work, work, work! 🙂

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Mary Gillette

I have a Singer (black head) 201-2 that was “born” in January of 1941, that I got for $15 at a garage sale back in the 90’s. It is in the original cabinet, has ALL of the attachments in the original box, including the tube of motor grease, AND the original manual. I paid a guy $75 to service and clean it, put new felt on, replace some of the outer wiring (cords) that needed it, and make it so that I could remove it from the cabinet if I desired. As an expert on antique machines, he said that this model was even better than a Featherweight, and his favorite.

It makes the straightest stitches that I’ve ever seen, and sewing is like cutting butter with a hot knife…even better than any of my modern (expensive) machines. I love using my machine, and if all I’m using is a straight stitch, that’s what I usually use, as I keep it set up all of the time and ready to use. One of the best machines EVER!!!

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Brenda Ryan

I was so lucky to purchase a beautiful vintage Florence Parlor Treadle machine in perfect condition with all it’s specialty feet. This machine was made up to 1912 and was made to construct the most up to date techniques of it’s day as well as today. It would be lovely to have a class on caring for these machines such as their belts, getting your rhythm down on the treadling these machines, etc. What types of needles, bobbins, etc. to use. I cannot wait to try this treasure out. I was also able to rescue a long neglected Singer Red Eye. Looking forward to someone knowledgeable teaching a basic class on care, adjustments and use of these wonderful machines

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Tom Tapping

I have two vintage machines, a Singer 201K (originally a hand-cranked machine that I have motorised) and a Singer 99K (came as motorised, but I have fitted a new motor because the original wiring was faulty). The 201K is set up permanently, always ready to sew and get used almost every day. The 99K is more of a portable for use around the house.
Both machines needed a thorough cleaning and oiling when purchased along with checking and adjusting the bobbin and upper tensions to get them sewing a perfect straight stitch. They also came with a range of feet and accessories that make both machines outstanding once you know how to use the accessories, which did require a little practice.
I also own a modern 34 stitch Toyota mechanical machine that I used to use for everything. It’s a great machine, but these days, rarely sees the light of day.
I sew clothes, bags and help my partner making quilts (I do the piecing sewing). I would not change from using my 201K for all the modern computerised machines in China or Japan.

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Joanne Ewing

I have my mother’s Singer 201k knee operated machine. Has a lovely sound when running and the gold decals are just beautiful. Just don’t make anything as good now.

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