What I Recommend For Sewing Machines: Vintage Sewing Machines

vintage sewing machine with blue tape measure

I have a special fondness for vintage steel sewing machines-so what I recommend for sewing machines, are those particularly crafted from the 1940s to the 1970s. These machines don’t just stitch fabric; they weave stories of an era renowned for its robust manufacturing and attention to detail. I recommend choosing a vintage piece from this period for several reasons.

The golden era of sewing saw sewing machines built to last, with steel construction that often outperforms the plastic counterparts we see today. Brands from this period, like Bernina, Singer, White, Kenmore, Elna and Pfaff, set standards for quality and performance that still hold up today and forever if kept in shape, which is easy, as most machines are easily repairable and unlike their counterpart the plastic models which breakdown frequently and are often un-repair able. Most vintage machines will sew beautifully over heavy or layers of fabric, if your using a plastic model try stitching a thick area on a pair of jeans, it most likely won’t sew very well or not at all.

Beyond their durability, the precision of these machines is unmatched. Many sewers I talk to talk with love about the evenness of the beautiful stitches, something that modern machines struggle to replicate. Keep in mind I’ve only offered a few vintage brands but I’d say that all or most all vintage brands are just as good as what I’ve listed here, so if you find yourself shopping for one consider other vintage brand names as well.

When it comes to choosing a sewing machine, the environmental angle is something I consider closely. Opting for a vintage model is not only an eco-friendly choice as it involves recycling existing tools but it also reduces the demand for the production of new plastic machines, which typically use more resources and energy. As well they don’t last long and then you have to buy another one, adding again to increasing the demand for more plastic. Let’s face it, this is business and in the modern world, nothing is made to last.

The next section of this article will delve into the historical brands that stand out in the realm of vintage sewing machines. These are the workhorses that have passed the test of time and continue to offer their service to both novices and veterans in the sewing community.

Trusted Workhorses: Iconic Brands of Yesteryear

If you’re scouring the market for a sewing machine that will serve you faithfully, consider the iconic brands that dominated the textile industry from the 1940s to the 1970s. Consistently, models from Bernina, Singer, White, Kenmore, Elna and Pfaff have proven their worth as steadfast partners in both personal and professional sewing ventures.

Bernina stands out for machines that are celebrated for their precision. Renowned for Swiss engineering, this brand’s vintage models are coveted for their enduring construction and reliability and the many styles of stitches it offers, I love Berninas, I had one for many years. It sewed so well that I hated to give it up but was moving and many things had to go. The vintage Elna machines are very similar to the Bernina, also, manufactured in Switzerland, now though the new plastic models are owned in the USA by the Janome Sewing Machine Company and are produced in Japan.

Singer, arguably the most recognized name in the sewing world, offers a heritage of sewing innovation. Even the earliest machines from Singer promised beautifully constructed machines that were always reliable.  I’d say have to say that all vintage Singer models were great machines and there were hundreds of models to choose from, and there still are..

My favorite however is the Singer Featherweight which was produced between 1933 and 1968. There were two models, the 221 and the 222. The difference between both models is that there is only the stitch regulator lever on the 221 Model. On the 222 Free-Arm Featherweight, there is a Sew / Darn Lever and a free arm. When it comes to the price tag well there’s drastic difference the 221 Model is often within the few hundred dollar range and the 222 is somewhere between $1200 and on up of course depending on the seller, however you do not need to spend that kind of money for a vintage machine. I have the 221 (which is the most popular model) and I love mine, it was from the late 40’s and it sews like a dream. It’s very cute in its compact travel case which is why I took this with me when I moved. This great little machine also has an adorable website where you can find all sorts of wonderful things; go to ‘The Featherweight Shop’ at https://singer-featherweight.com This machine was called the featherweight because it was the first light weight machine produced, but most users today will tell you it’s on the heavy side but by contrast most other larger vintage machines are much heavier and I’d say the only drawback vintage sewing machines have, is their weight but then again how far and how often are you going to carry your sewing machine anyway! Just a minor drawback when compared to the great use you’ll get out of it for years to come.

At this point I also have to say that all vintage sewing machines are just as good as each other, they were all well made from a time back when companies took pride in their craftsmanship. One of the beautiful things about owning a vintage machine are the amazing accessories and feet, it’s just really fun looking at all the interesting feet and special attachments for these old guys.

When it comes to distinguishing between which vintage model, it’s crucial to consider specific features and capabilities based on your needs. Do take note of features like built-in stitches, like the blind hem stitch, buttonhole capabilities, zig zag stitching. The versatility of a zig-zag stitch is undeniable. It can reinforce edges to prevent fraying, and on knits it permits fabric to stretch without snapping the thread. Although I don’t really use the zig-zag option, that’s because I teach differently, I teach beautiful seaming where you don’t need anything but a straight stitch machine and your garments will be beautiful and professional constructed. You’ll also want to check the availability of replacement parts, some may be hard to find but for the most part you’d be surprised as to how easy it is to find parts for these vintage beauties. You can often find parts on eBay or even Etsy or from your local sewing machine repairman, I’d like to mention when it comes to maintaining these older models, a regular dust and clean, combined with periodic oiling, are essential. And remember, a machine’s historical value can add to its charm and appeal, potentially influencing your decision.

Don’t overlook White, Kenmore, Elna and Pfaff – each brings something special to the table. White is recognized for user-friendly models superb for everyday sewing needs. Kenmore machines, often exclusive to Sears, boast solid craftsmanship. Elna and Pfaff’s models are well-regarded for their smooth operation and functionality.

Finding the Right Vintage Gem: Tips and Tricks

Embarking on the quest for a vintage sewing machine can be rewarding and fun. I have some seasoned advice to help you navigate this exciting pursuit. Knowing where to look is critical. If you are an experienced sewer exploring antique stores or estate sales can work as long as you can try out the machine and if you buy a machine this way aways make sure you have all the accessories or at least the foot pedal and a pressure foot and check the wiring. You can most likely get other accessories online.

My best advice for purchasing a vintage machine is online through eBay or Etsy. There are many reasons for this. The sellers are usually reliable but you have to make sure to really read what the seller is telling you about the machine. Also, you are protected with eBay and I imagine Etsy as well. Most machines are returnable provided it’s offered. The sellers on both sites are usually reputable and honest and are knowledgeable. I don’t recommend buy a machine from Craigslist as the sellers aren’t rated and most sellers are not aware of condition or have knowledge of what they are selling.

Here are some great pointers for purchasing a vintage sewing machine on eBay. I would do an eBay search for “vintage sewing machines”.

Try not to select the really old models before the 1940’s. The best are from the mid 40’s through the 1970’s, (except for Singer) with the Singers don’t buy any machines from the 1970’s. There were so many models, and if you’re not sure if it’s steel it could be a plastic machine. It was during the 1970’s when most machines were changing over from steel to plastic.

So you’ll want to look at the seller ratings, look for high ratings about 97%-100% but not lower, as well where it comes from, the United States is best because of shipping costs, Canada is higher shipping costs but sometimes you can get great machines. Try not to buy machines from Australia or other countries because of the electrical wiring differences.

Here are some brand names to look for, although most all brands are fine.  The well known names are Kenmore, Singer, Bernina, White, Neechi, Pfaff, Husquvarna, Elna…these are just to name a few, just about all of the old machines were made beautifully, as quality craftsmanship was always essential years ago. The Bernina models that are great are all the 700, and 800 series.

Make sure you are getting a machine that has at least one pressure foot. The machine should have a power cord and a foot pedal, make sure the wiring is good, feeI free to ask the sellers any questions. It should have a case for shipping purposes, unless the sellers deal in machines and know how to pack well.  The reason that it’s important to get a machine with a case is that the seller will wrap and pack the machine first, then it will go into the case all wrapped and the seller will then warp the case before it goes into the shipping box and now you have a wrapped machine that extra protected in the case as well in the shipping box. Don’t buy a machine that comes in a table, unless it’s local or it will be too costly. Importantly, really look at what the seller is saying about the machine. Look for words good or great condition, runs well. Look at all the photos to see what’s included. Shop wisely!One thing I wanted to mention, If the vintage machine doesn’t have the manual you can most likely download one online.

Lastly, joining a community of vintage sewing machine enthusiasts can be invaluable. Veterans in these groups can offer a wealth of information, especially useful resources. It’s through camaraderie and shared passion that the legacy of these marvelous machines continues. Happy hunting, and may you find a vintage treasure that sews as beautifully as it stands the test of time.

Should you have any questions or concerns or if you need help purchasing a vintage sewing machine. Please feel free to go to the comments below and let me know.

8 thoughts on “What I Recommend For Sewing Machines: Vintage Sewing Machines”

  1. This offers a refreshing perspective on sewing equipment, highlighting the enduring value and craftsmanship of vintage models. With insights into the reliability, durability, and unique features of these timeless machines, this article serves as a guide for both novice sewers and seasoned enthusiasts. Whether you’re drawn to the nostalgia of vintage aesthetics or seeking a reliable workhorse for your sewing projects, this recommendation provides a compelling case for exploring the world of vintage sewing machines. Dive in and discover the timeless charm and practical benefits of these classic tools!

  2. Hey what a unique and interesting topic. Like you said the best advice is to network and get advice from other enthusiasts. One thing about asking for help from others is quite often they know so many things that you don’t. They’ve made the mistakes that you haven’t yet and you can avoid those by asking for help.

    • Hi Jake, Thanks for your comments. You’re right it’s so true that it’s great to get help from others, a whole cycle of learning from mistakes and passing that knowledge on to others. 

  3. As an avid sewing enthusiast, I found your insights and recommendations incredibly helpful. Vintage sewing machines have a certain charm and durability that is hard to find in modern machines. I’m curious to know if you have any specific brands or models of vintage sewing machines that you highly recommend. Additionally, what are some key factors to consider when purchasing a vintage sewing machine? Thank you for sharing your expertise on this topic!


    • Hi Marios, Thank you so much for your comments. The brands I had mentioned in the article are great machines, Bernina, Elna, Singers, Kenmore, Pfaff and really any brand as they were all constructed beautifully. You just don’t want to buy machine older than say 1945-1940 because parts might be different and also look for rust and the best place to buy one is on eBay and make sure to read the sellers descriptions with words like ‘great condition’, ‘good working order’, you just want to make sure your buying a good working machine.  The seller should have a high rating not lower than 97-98. I hope this was helpful.

  4. For sewing enthusiasts, vintage sewing machines offer timeless charm and reliable performance. I recommend vintage models like Singer Featherweight or Brother straight stitch machines for their durability and simplicity. These machines, often made of sturdy metal construction, provide excellent stitch quality and versatility for basic sewing projects. Look for well-maintained machines with smooth operation and available spare parts. Vintage sewing machines not only evoke nostalgia but also offer a rewarding sewing experience, making them a beloved choice among enthusiasts and collectors alike.

    • Great, thanks so much for your comments.  It’s great to hear from another collector or sewing enthusiast.  


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