Everything You Need to Know About Buying a Vintage Sewing Machine – Beginner Sewing Projects

Black vintage sewing machine

Features, brands, qualities, what to look for and where to buy: A complete guide to buying the perfect vintage sewing machine for you.

Sewing your own projects and clothes at home is such a fun hobby. It’s exciting to take a piece of fabric and turn it into something new.

Sewing has become more and more popular in recent years. And people are starting to appreciate the authenticity of vintage sewing machines.

Vintage machines were designed to last. They have beautiful, curvy designs. They’re known for high-quality material that’s hard to come by nowadays. This is what makes them so sturdy and well-built.

So let’s dive into the world of vintage sewing machines.

Buying a Vintage Sewing Machine

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What Makes a Sewing Machine ‘Vintage’?

Certain factors determine whether or not a sewing machine is vintage.

Let’s start with the definition of the term ‘vintage’. For our purposes, a vintage machine is one that was made at least 40 years ago. Vintage machines are more attractive because of several reasons:

  • Strength
  • Power
  • Classic designs
  • Durability
  • Longevity
  • High-quality workmanship and built

Here a few more decisive factors that can help you learn more about vintage sewing machines.

Buying a Vintage Sewing Machine

Manufacturer

There are many formidable names in the sewing machine industry. Most were based in the US, while others came from Germany, Japan, and other countries around the world. But we’re only going to list the 5 most popular names.

Singer

Singer is one of the oldest and best-known names in the sewing industry. They’ve been around since the 1850s. During the first half of the 20th century, nearly 80% of the world’s sewing machines were Singer.

Singer machines weren’t the best machines built during that time. Yet, they became famous because of their smart marketing skills and easy payment plans.

Wheeler & Wilson is also a formidable name in the sewing industry. It won many awards for its high-quality machines. In 1860, it was awarded for its buttonhole machines, which can make 100 buttonholes in under an hour. Wow!

Willcox & Gibbs

Other names were also gaining in popularity. Willcox & Gibbs, for example, was founded in 1857. It made machines for domestic as well as industrial use.

White

There was also the White Sewing Machine Company. It produced machines from the late 1890s until the 1950s. They’re the second commonly found sewing machines, after Singer.

New Home

New Home was also popular during the first decade of the 20th century. They made a wide selection of sewing machines, but none were as popular as the Singer. They stopped production in 1955.

Durability and Build Quality

Vintage machines are known for their high-quality components and build. They’re constructed of sturdier parts and materials, which consist of steel or cast iron.

Some vintage machines have been working for over 60 years. They perform as well today as the day they were first purchased. Compromising on quality was never an option back when these machines were made.

On the other hand, new machines can be expected to last anywhere from 10 to 25 years.

Buying a Vintage Sewing Machine

You’ll definitely find many vintage machines with decals that have worn off. Some have chipped paint. These machines have seen a lot of use throughout the years.

But that can easily be fixed with a layer of fresh paint and newly-applied decals. You can paint to yours in any fun, trendy color you want.

Features

Vintage machines have very basic adjustment features. These features are left out of many of the new, modern machines. One basic adjustment tool is the foot pressure pedal. It helps fine-tune the fabric feeding for many types of fabrics. But it’s lacking in many of the more recent machines.

What these modern machines have, however, is more high-tech, advanced electronic features. These features make it possible for them to do hundreds of fancy stitches. But, with so many choices and intricate circuitry, there’s a higher chance of malfunction.

Plus, fancy embroidery stitches are seldom used. The vast majority of consumers use straight stitching more than any other type.

This is one asset of vintage machines. They have a straightforward design, basic interface, and user-friendly controllers.

Where Can I Find Vintage Sewing Machines?

There are several places you can try. Let’s start with the closest.

Buying a Vintage Sewing Machine

Family Members

The easiest place to start is at home. Ask around your family. Chances are you’ll probably find a family member or two who did some sewing in the past and have an older machine lying around.

Ask if they might be willing to part with it. Even if you have to pay for it, you’re getting the better part of that deal.

Local Thrift Shops

If no one in your family has an older machine, then you should start by looking at garage sales or flea markets. Facebook has many Buy/Sell/Trade pages where you can find something valuable. You can also look for good deals in Shopgoodwill or other local thrift stores.

Etsy/eBay

You always have the option of looking in places like eBay or Etsy. The problem is that shipping costs are often more expensive than the vintage machine itself. This is because they’re heavy, so they require extra shipping costs.

Another problem with shipping is that not many people know how to pack a machine properly. So by the time it reaches your doorstep, it may be broken or damaged.

Shopping for a Vintage Sewing Machine

Here’s what to consider and what to watch out for as you check out a vintage sewing machine.

What to Look For

There’s something nostalgic about buying a vintage sewing machine. It almost feels like you’re holding a piece of the past in your hands.

Plus, the workmanship is incomparable. The older the machine, the better its design and overall build. Those manufactured between the 1920s until the 1950s were very well-engineered. They often require very little maintenance.

In addition, here are a few more things to look for when buying a vintage sewing machine.

  • It should be heavy because it’s all made of metal
  • You should be able to smoothly turn the handwheel
  • The needle bar should go up and down effortlessly
  • The feeds dogs and bobbin case should move with every handwheel rotation
  • Worn decals are undesirable but acceptable
Buying a Vintage Sewing Machine

What to Avoid

Needless to say, there are certain things to avoid when you’re looking for a vintage machine. Here are a few of them:

  • Missing, bent, or broken parts
  • Holes where screws or other parts are missing
  • Light machines that are made of plastic
  • Major scratches or dents
  • Brands whose spare parts can’t be easily found

Best Brands of Vintage Sewing Machines

The following is a list of some of the most popular vintage machines available. They were made during the early 1910s until the 1970s.

Even though Singer machines aren’t necessarily the best, they’re certainly the easiest to collect and maintain. One reason is that their parts are still in production today. So it’s easy to find replacements for almost every single part of a Singer vintage machine. This isn’t always the case with the other brands.

Here are some of the most popular vintage machines today:

  • Singer 31
  • Singer 15
  • Singer Featherweights
  • Singer 301
  • Singer 99

A Final Note

Vintage sewing machines were engineered to be passed down from generation to generation. Many of them are over 50 years old, yet, they still sew beautifully to this day.

Provided you maintain and care for your vintage machine properly, it’ll help you create beautiful sewing projects for many years to come.

Don’t forget to pin this information for later, and check out some more helpful sewing information listed below.

Vintage sewing machine inset in table with text overlay How to Buy a Vintage Sewing Machine

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