However, I definitely have some preferences and recommendations, especially for different categories of sewing machines such as straight stitch, zigzag, pedal, industrial, toy, and leather. I will also talk about the recommendations of other bloggers, so you will have a complete idea of what people are looking for in a vintage sewing machine.
General Guidelines for Evaluating Vintage Sewing Machines
In my post on Getting Started for Free, I mentioned these guidelines for checking a vintage sewing machine:
When you are in the store, pick it up. Is it surprisingly heavy? That means it’s probably all metal inside. Metal gears and parts do not wear out as fast as plastic ones. If it’s light, I don’t understand. Turn the steering wheel. Does the needle go up and down? Do feed dogs under the needle move back and forth? Is there a bobbin case and bobbin under the needle plate? Are there any obvious missing parts?
Best Vintage Straight Stitch Sewing Machines
The first sewing machines only sewed straight. Some of them didn’t even sew backward! Still, you can do a lot with a straight sewing machine, and because they are made for a single purpose, they are very good at what they do.
Cheryl Warren notes that many couturiers love their featherweights, but that the featherweight doesn’t really produce a better stitch than any other straight sewing machine. People like them because they are beautiful, light and have not used any other straight sewing machines.
I reviewed the featherweight myself, and I agree with her. It’s a good machine, but I’m not sure if it’s worth the hype unless you want to take it to a quilt class or travel with it. The body is made of lightweight aluminum instead of the heavy cast steel or cast iron that most other straight sewing machines are made of, but it comes at a much heavier price than most straight sewing machines.
The same goes for Featherweight’s cousin Singer 301. It’s a good machine, but people often want a lot of money for them.
My first straight sewing machine was the Singer 99, which is still one of my favorites. I even have a second! The Singer 99 is a 3/4 size sewing machine, so it is smaller and more portable than full-size sewing machines.
His older sister is the Singer 66, which is also a solid machine. They take standard needles and bobbins and it’s easy to find manuals and parts for them. If the original engine is not in good shape, you can easily replace the engine or convert it to a crank.
For a straight sewing machine, I would recommend a Singer 99, Singer 66 or Singer 15 as they are all relatively common, easy to repair, easy to find and easy to use.
Peter Lappin of Male Pattern Boldness also has a post about his favorite sewing machine. Your favorite machine is Elna Grasshopper. I don’t have one of these, but I’ve heard good things about them and I’m actively looking for one. These were marketed as an alternative to Singer Featherweights, so it’s small, compact, light and bright green! It is a no-frills straight stitch machine that is solidly designed.
Cost: Free for $ 60. I wouldn’t pay more than that – these are very common sewing machines.
Best Vintage Zigzag Sewing Machines
In contrast to straight sewing machines, zigzag machines can sew a wider range of fancy stitches like the ones below.
Most straight sewing machines will be all metal, mechanical machines. As sewing machines began to come with more options, they also began to come with cheap plastic parts or computer parts that are almost impossible to fix. If you see plastic gears or internal circuit boards, it’s probably not the best zigzag machine.
I was very disappointed to open this sewing machine and find a circuit board. This is probably not something I can fix, but let’s see how it is.
Below, on the left, you can see a cam stack integrated in the sewing machine. You can select one of these discs through a stitch selector on the outside of the machine, and the needle bar will follow the cam pattern to produce that stitch.
Brian Sews has a post about addiction to vintage sewing machines: a survival guide and also a post with a question for the reader about the best vintage sewing machine you can buy. I was a little surprised to see that your favorite sewing machine is a Kenmore zigzag machine. I missed some Kenmores on my travels, just because they really don’t seem like much. I know that appearances are not everything, but Kenmores is, well, ugly.
Still, the next time I met one in nature, I bought it due to Brian’s post. It came with a complete set of cameras and accessories, too! It turned out to be an excellent all-metal mechanical machine, so don’t overlook the old Kenmores.
Here is a box of plastic cameras that came with this Kenmore sewing machine. It’s okay if your cameras are made of plastic, you just don’t want the pieces that will be used continuously inside the sewing machine to be plastic because they will wear and tear.
I have to admit that I am a fool for zigzag machines with strange points. I particularly love animal points, such as birds and fish.
I have a sewing machine just because I could make a Scottie dog stitch. And if you look at the stitch selector that I posted at the top of this section, you will see another dog stitch at the far right.
However, the machine that uses the Scottie camera has a strangely shaped coil that rolls in place (the Touch & Sew coil), which, from what I have heard, is very successful in terms of how well it works.
It is more difficult for me to choose a favorite zigzag machine because there are many options. In general, you want to look for something that is totally metallic, mechanical, not made in China, and that takes standard size coils.
I would recommend the Kenmore zigzaggers and the Singer Rocketeer series: 500, 500A, 503 and 503A. I have a Singer 503A, and it is a lovely machine, completely made of metal, with many options for drop cameras.
Cost: free up to $ 100ish. This may cost a little more, but it wouldn’t cost me more than $ 100 unless it’s a really special machine. Zigzaggers appear quite often.
The best vintage pedal sewing machines
I don’t have a pedal sewing machine, but I do have a couple of machines that I would like to put on a pedal table once I have one, like this beautiful Singer 27!
One of my favorite blogs is from Cheryl Warren of Dragon Poodle Studio, and I recently heard an interview with her about how to collect old sewing machines from the Hello My Quilting Friends Podcast with Leah Day. Cheryl wrote a corresponding blog post to accompany the podcast on how to find the right pedal machine. And she also has a place in the purchase of a good vintage sewing machine.
His advice is very complete and useful. To step on, she recommends getting a Singer table, which fits most standard size machines. You don’t have to keep the sewing machine inside, but if you want to change it, be sure to get a vintage machine with a belt is driven motor, instead of an encapsulated motor. You need a way to fasten the pedal belt to your sewing machine. Singer 15s and 15 clones are a good option to start, but be careful with the engines encapsulated in Singer 15-91s!
Below, you can see an example of an engine encapsulated in a Singer 101. The engine is under the decorated round plate.
And here, you can see an example of a belt-driven motor in a Singer 66. The motor is screwed to the back of the machine and is connected to the handwheel with a red belt. This is also where you would place a pedal belt. Now that I’m seeing it, I think the Singer 101 could work as a pedal machine since the handwheel has the same belt guard as the Singer 66, but be careful if you see a potted engine because it won’t. it will always be the case
I also asked Melissa Shields of The Quilting Room with Mel about her choice for the best vintage sewing machine, but she didn’t want to be the favorite. Her husband Paul, however, has a publication about why he doesn’t have a favorite pedal sewing machine. See also Part II and Part III of this series.
The initial publication reviews the characteristics to look for, different types of pedal machines and some recommendations. I was surprised to see that he recommends the VS machines (vibrating shuttle) to step on because of their superior stitch quality. In fact, I haven’t used my Singer 27, since I don’t have a way to feed it, but I’ve heard elsewhere that round coils work better than long shuttles, so it was interesting to see that Paul prefers shuttles. So now I’m excited to see what Singer 27 can do!
Cost: free up to $ 300ish. If it is rare or particularly ornate, you can pay more. If you stay tuned, you can find treadmills quite cheap. I have missed a few in the range of $ 50-100, which I now regret.
The best vintage toy sewing machines
I love how cute toy sewing machines are! I have a small collection of them on display in my office, and I wrote a guide for Betsy Ross toys sewing machines.
I think it’s fun to play with them and it’s nice to use them as exhibition pieces. Given how small they are, they are surprisingly functional as sewing machines. But, having said that, they are not very good sewing machines.
Most of them only make a chain stitch, instead of the usual lock stitch, which can be easily untangled. And while they usually have tension mechanisms and thread guides, the stitch tension is inaccurate. They get stuck easily and you have to be careful when you take off the fabric so you don’t accidentally unravel the entire dotted line. I have spent a lot of time trying different toy sewing machines in the hope of finding a good travel machine to sew on the fly, and I have not succeeded.
I would not recommend that you get one as the first children’s sewing machine. This would probably frustrate the child and make him not like to sew. Also, vintage toy sewing machines are quite collectible, and you would probably pay as much as you would for a normal-sized sewing machine. Consider getting a Singer 99 of 3/4 size for a child.
Cost: 10-200ish. This varies depending on the quality and rarity.
The best vintage sewing machine for leather
I include this category because there are many scammers out there. You will often see online sellers who claim that old sewing machines are heavy-duty semi-industrial sewing machines capable of sewing through multiple layers of thick leather for tools. They will even include an image that seems to support this claim.
Do you know what they never do, however? Include a video of them using the sewing machine in question to sew the three or four layers of thick leather shown in the image.
Old sewing machines are coarser than most modern machines, even those that are marketed as “high strength”, but they are not semi-industrial and are not capable of sewing through thick leather, certainly not with the beautiful and to stitches shown on them. Photos
You could probably buy one of the straight sewing machines recommended above and sew through 3-4 layers of leather or fine leather upholstery. But that is all. Visit the Leatherworker.net forums for expert advice on leather sewing machines. They have a series of threads related to what old sewing machines are and are not capable of sewing.
Cost: Same as for vintage straight stitch sewing machines.
The best vintage industrial sewing machines
Okay, I only have one old industrial sewing machine (see my publication on the restoration of a Singer 281-1), but I’ve seen a handful of them. In recent decades, many factories “updated” their sewing machines and sold their old industrial singers. It seems that industrial singers in the 200 range are quite similar and appear on sale often enough so you can get in touch with one without too much trouble.
These sewing machines are sturdy, reliable and you can still find parts for them. The manuals are available online. They carry standard industrial needles and presser foot. They can handle heavier materials, but they won’t sew several layers of thick leather either. Now you can see why I am so skeptical about domestic sewing machines that are marketed to sew leather!
If this robust industrial machine cannot handle that type of leather, how could a domestic machine do it?