I’ve always been one of those “sew-ey, crafty girls.” It would be nice to style myself a seamstress, but in reality I have nowhere near the chops to self-apply such a title. I’m just a woman who likes to use her intermediate sewing skills to DIY myself into a nicer space and thriftily sweet duds. And recently, I got myself a cheap computer armoire from Craigslist, and converted it into a sewing hutch — with all my sewing supplies and projects nicely stored in it.
For the last decade I’ve used a bare-bones, modern Singer electric sewing machine. It’s been a good machine, if a bit cranky for the last while. As my husband and I were moving to our current apartment I picked up a cabinet-mounted, vintage Singer 66k on the cheap, thinking to use it for a sewing desk. As a lark, I decided to try out the old girl after we got settled in. Unsurprisingly she didn’t work, so I folded her back up and kept using her cabinet as a desk for my modern machine.
Years go by and my modern machine becomes demanding — needing frequent tune ups and bogging down/eating my work more and more with every project, binding up if it has more than a shred of fluff in the feed dogs, and running loudly. Also, if I try to sew anything other than cotton it tends to skip stitches or eat the fabric. Oh yes, and making buttonholes with it is a chore sent straight from hell.
So, I’ve not had the heart to do much with her.
That’s when I dusted off the old sewing cabinet with the vintage Singer in it and really looked at it again…
She wasn’t a bad old machine, really… After tinkering with her a little, I plugged her in and nearly jumped out of my skin when she ratcheted to life! I had, originally, thought her motor was shot. All along it had really been just a minor lead/power pedal issue. I tinkered with her some more, but to my dismay I still couldn’t get her to work right. I began to examine why I was so disheartened about not getting the old girl to work. It’s not like I really needed another sewing machine, right?
During this soul-searching I thought about all the experiences I’ve had with vintage machines versus modern ones. Every post-1960s sewing machine I’ve worked with had become problematic within years. My current modern machine requires a tune-up nearly every time I sit down to sew a project.
On the other hand, the vintage Singer Featherweight I learned on is still running beautifully — despite its age and having suffered the abuse of being a starter machine for my sisters and me. Even my mother’s neglected, antique treadle machine‘s action was smooth and quiet. None of those vintage machines had EVER been serviced (at least to my knowledge, that is) in my lifetime.
This realization led to the decision to put my modern machine into retirement and use a vintage machine for my everyday sewing. I found a ’40s-era Singer 15-91 for $50, snapped her up and brought her home. I was pleasantly surprised to find that she fit in my sewing cabinet!
During all this my husband asked, “Why are you spending all this time and money on these old machines? Wouldn’t you rather have a new one?” [Insert horrified look here.]
I explained to him…
These vintage machines are from a time when things were built to last forever.
Today’s machines may have a bunch of bells and whistles, but they’re only built to last for a certain amount of time before they die. The expectation of the manufacturer is that you’re going to pitch the old one and buy a new one. Many of the parts (including some of the actual machinery) are plastic. Vintage machines are solid — made of enameled cast iron and steel. Even the cord is covered in rubber!
Vintage machines were also meant to handle a wide array of fabrics with ease.
Even though they’re classed as “household machines” they can still handle everything from multiple layers of denim or canvas to a single layer of lace with no problem. Modern household machines have trouble with multiple layers and very heavy or light fabrics.
Many of these old machines can be snatched up for less than $100.
And that’s often with a cabinet and tons of extra feet and attachments. My modern machine cost about $150 brand new (and came with very few extras).
Lastly: These machines are just freaking sweet!
I mean, go and look at her picture… she’s stunning!
So, if you’re the “sew-ey” kind who’s living with the burden of a cranky, modern sewing machine, I highly recommend looking into a vintage replacement. My personal preference is pre and post-war Singers but don’t let that box you in. There are a ton of good, vintage brands out there that are ripe for the picking. Do a little research and see which one calls to you. Check out local thrift stores, Craigslist and Ebay (but watch this last one as machines can get pricy on there). You’ll be stitching vintage-style in no time!