Monday, October 1, 2012

Are You Looking For ONE good vintage machine?

Note:  I have a link to this post in my current CraigsList ads, but please remember that I wrote this post in 2012.  The machines shown in the photos below are NOT currently for sale.  They have gone to new owners long ago!  But I do have other nice machines for sale now.

In the last couple of months I have begun to get emails from readers who have questions about buying vintage machines. This post is for you.  You, the person who is looking for a one, and only one, great vintage sewing machine.  You, the person who loves to sew and NEEDS a solid, reliable workhorse of a machine.  You, the person who just wants to go out and buy a machine without having to fix it yourself.  I didn't know you were reading my blog, and I'm delighted to meet you. 

Being consulted as if I were an expert strikes me as funny. I have only been in this hobby for a few years.  Hopefully I have made it obvious that I am just blundering through this world.  I make mistakes.  I laugh at myself.  I invite the reader to laugh along with me. 

In the photos in this post The Herd means that the machine has been cleaned, repaired if necessary, and is sewing as it should.  The Hoard are those machines that are waiting for attention, hoarded for a rainy day when I need a machine to work on.

Lots of people have generously given their time and advice to me and I'm glad to pass it on when I can.  See above about how much of an expert I am not.  The place to go for RELIABLE advice is a good bulletin board.  Yahoo runs a bunch of them.  You may get both reliable and unreliable responses to your questions, but someone will step in if the advice is off kilter.
The Herd:  Wheeler & Wilson No. 8, circa 1878

Here is why people love vintage sewing machines:  they are solidly built of metal to last for decades or centuries.  Yes, you heard me right:  centuries (not including the motors or electric wiring, which can be easily replaced).  One of my machines, working beautifully, is 130 years old, and there's no reason why it shouldn't still be around 330 years from now.  Just try to wrap your mind around that for a moment.

Everyone who sews should have a good vintage sewing machine.  But how do you go about it?

The approach followed by me and many of my blog friends
  • buy that first vintage sewing machine
  • fix it up
  • fall in love with both the machine AND the process of fixing it up
  • buy another machine
  • fix it up
  • repeat, repeat, repeat, learning more and more with each "new" vintage machine
The good vintage machines are now 50 years old or older, and will need some TLC.  Do you want to do your own sewing machine maintenance and repair?  It isn't all that difficult on vintage machines, and you can learn just about everything on the internet, AMHIK.  But it takes time and trial and error.  If you begin as a total novice, as I did, it takes lots and lots and lots and lots of time.  Maybe you have a full time job.  Kids.  A life.  Maybe you don't have the time or the inclination to learn to be a sewing machine mechanic.

There is a big difference between collecting vintage machines and looking for just one good one to sew with.  I collect them, and of necessity I do all my own maintenance and repair.  Because I have many I can swipe parts from one machine to make another one work.  I don't mind if they aren't working well when I buy them because I enjoy fixing them.  You will be following a different path.

Parts have been harvested from this rustbucket Singer 66
So:  here you are.  Not aspiring to be a mechanic.  Wanting a vintage sewing machine to own and love. 
What approach should you take to finding that one perfect machine for you?  I'm going to make some suggestions, but there are no guarantees!  You can't just pop into a store and buy a vintage machine they way you can pop into Ikea for a chair.

First, be open minded.  Think about what functions you want rather than what brand name.  A particular brand and model may have a very good reputation, but that does not mean that the one that you find for sale is a good machine.  That specific machine may have led a terribly tragic life, neglected, un-oiled, left to choke in its own lint for decades.  Insects may have built colonies inside it.  I'm speaking from personal experience here (shuddering at the memory).

This Singer 99, nicknamed "The Yeti" for its coat of fur, was rescued from the trash pile behind my local thrift shop.

Photo from The Golden Age of Style

Basic types:
Straight stitchers
Plentiful and often quite cheap, which around here means $10.  They do one stitch only and the good ones do it superbly.  Every quilter should own one.   And when you think about it, all of those beautiful elaborate Victorian and Edwardian garments were sewn on straight stitchers because the zig-zag had not yet been invented.

The Hoard:  A Morse.

How to spot a straight stitcher: 
There is a lever or knob on the pillar (on the right hand side) to control stitch length.  That's the only lever (or knob).  It has a needle plate with a tiny hole for the needle to go through, rather than an oval opening, and the presser foot also has a very narrow slot for the needle to slip through.

For every pretty green or pink one, there are a hundred black ones, btw.

The Hoard:  Universal MZ
You can set them to straight stitch, or to make a zig-zag stitch.  You can make just about anything with them, and the zig-zag is handy for mending and for finishing edges so that they don't ravel.  But if you are the passionate seamstress I am imagining, you already know this.

How to spot a zig-zagger:  
There are usually two levers (or sometimes large knobs), one for stitch length and one for stitch (zig-zag) width.  The needle hole is oval and large enough to accommodate those zigs and zags.  The presser foot will also have a much wider opening than on a straight stitcher.

They make a variety of stitches, functional and decorative, in addition to the usual straight stitch and zig-zag.  Creators of garments will love the blind hem stitch.  I love decorative stitches but some folks never use them.  

The Hoard:  Morse 4400

How to spot a multi-stitcher: 
Vintage multi-stitchers use round cams to make their stitches.  Some of them have a built-in cam stack, and these will have a lever for stitch selection with tiny diagrams of the stitches above each position of the lever.  

The Hoard:  Elna Supermatic. The flat surface folds up to become the carrying case.  See the cam door?

Some of them take individual cams, and these will have an opening on the top so that you can insert the cam you want.  If there are no cams with the machine, then what you are seeing is a multi-stitch CAPABLE machine, but now only a straight stitcher or zig-zagger.  Move the stitch width lever to maximum to check if it zig-zags.  They also have the oval needle hole and wider presser foot opening.

Now about brands.  You may already know the good ones:  Singer, Pfaff, Elna, Necchi, Brother, White, Bernina (good vintage Berninas are rarer than hen's teeth). This does not even scratch the surface.  Good companies made machines and "badged" them with the name of the department store selling them.  Japanese companies in the post WWII period produced millions of machines under hundreds of names designed to appeal to the American market.  (all of this is bulletin board lore, btw.  Remember, I am not an expert, I'm just passing the info along.  It's probably correct, but how would I know if it was not?  If I hear it often enough, or from sources I have come to trust, I assume it is right).

The Herd:  Riccar 108, zig-zagger

Kenmore 1515 multi-stitcher

And speaking of brands, don't overlook the Japanese-made Kenmores.  Almost all of them are plain and utilitarian in styling.  They will probably not make your heart sing at first sight.  But they have followers that are loyal to the point of fanaticism and the song they sing is very convincing.  

Kenmore 1515 with its extension table

Vintage Kenmores are solid, reliable, dependable, and can handle just about anything.  They are not sexy and others may sneer at your machine.  Yes, it happened to me.  Just smile smugly, because you know something they don't:  these are some great machines. 

(see below about how to tell good vintage from crappy vintage, because there are crappy vintage machines of every brand name out there also).

Where to look:
  • The attics and basements of your friends and family.  Put the word out.
  • Thrift shops run by charities
  • Yard sales and estate sales
  • CraigsList.  
    • Type "sewing" in the search box
    • Be smart about doing business with total strangers. 
    • Prices on CraigsList range from ridiculously low to stratospherically high.  If you are patient and look every day you may find a gem for a great price.  
and a reader added a brilliant suggestion, so brilliant that I am ashamed that I did not think of it myself.  See his or her anonymous comment below.
  • an OSMG (old sewing machine guy, discussed in more detail at the end of this blog post).  

I don't bother with antique stores or thrift shops run for profit.  I'm shopping at the bottom of the market, but you may not need to be so cheap frugal.

If you are a novice, stay far, far away from eBay.  First, the shipping charges alone will be enough to buy you a good local machine.  Next, there are hundreds of horror stories about poor packing and machines broken during shipping.  Finally, you want a machine you can see and examine.  There ARE good reliable people who sell machines on eBay but there are many more who do not know enough to write a useful reliable description of the condition of the machine, or know how to pack a 40 pound machine for shipping.

Translations of sewing machine descriptions used by sellers: local, thrift shop, and eBay:
"Works" means that they plugged it in and the light came on.  It does not necessarily mean that it works.  You may think I am joking, but the manager of a Habitat store actually told me this.  I had suspected it for a long time!
"Runs" and "Runs good" means that they plugged it in, pushed the motor controller (foot pedal) and the motor made spinning noises and did not emit smoke.  It means that they think the motor runs, but does not necessarily mean that the machine runs.
 "Worked the last time we used it", which might have been 25 years ago, really needs no translation.
and my personal favorite, which I have heard several times:
"I know it works good because it belonged to my grandma."

Is it "good vintage" or "crappy vintage"? 
You have tracked down a machine, and are suspending belief on whatever the seller is telling you.  How do you figure out whether to take a chance on it or not?  And don't kid yourself, every vintage machine purchase is a roll of the dice.  You may win, you may lose, it may be a draw (you win eventually but only after spending more time or money than you planned).

Good vintage is solid metal, especially any drive shafts or gears.  Crappy vintage has plastic gears and perhaps other plastic parts.   The transition from all metal machines to more and more plastic parts began in the mid-1960's, but it is doubtful if you will know the date of the machine in front of you.  Here are some guides to finding a good one.

Where was it made?
It may be worn away, but usually if you search you can find "Made in___" information somewhere on the machine.
US, Great Britain, Canada:  Potentially good
Once upon a time we had factories.  Remember factories?  Remember when there were good industrial jobs here in the US?  If you do, you are probably as old as I am!

Germany, Switzerland, Italy:  Potentially ever better

Japan:  Also potentially good, many wonderful machines were produced here after WWII.

The Herd:  A pink Atlas, made in Japan for the Brother company.

Taiwan?  Cast iron?  OK.  Plastic?  Walk away from it.

The Herd:  The front says "Necchi", but the back says "Made in Taiwan".
p.s.:  in the comments section below both Elizabeth and Cari tell me they have found good Taiwanese machines.  My advice: be sure to peek inside to see if it is an all-metal model.

China?  Run, don't walk.  Leave that puppy behind.

It's not that there is anything wrong with the Taiwanese or the Chinese.  It's the fact that by the time sewing machine manufacturing had moved to those places, the days of all metal machines were long gone*.  Which leads us to the next point...

*update:  I recently had a cast iron Taiwanese "15 clone" come through my workshop.  

Does it have plastic parts?
Examine it as best as you can.  If it has a computer type screen, walk away.  If the body is plastic, walk away.  If you can open it up and peer inside and you see plastic, walk away.  If it obviously weighs 40 pounds, it's probably a good all-metal one. 

You might make an exception to the "no plastic" rule for the cam stack of a multi-stitch machine.  Be sure to turn the machine so that you can see the stack through a full rotation.  If there are cracks, walk away.

Is the motor internal (built in) or external (hanging off the back of the machine and connected to the handwheel by a belt)? 
If it is built in, walk away.  If something is wrong with it, you are out of luck. Or if a motor for it can be found, you are out of a rather large quantity of money.  If you buy one with an external motor and the motor is bad, you can buy a brand new motor for around $50.  Or you could buy another vintage machine and swipe the motor off of that one---they are pretty much interchangeable.  And then the insidious disease of vintage sewing machine collecting and repair will get its grips on you.

By the way, you can replace the drive belt very cheaply, so don't let a bad or missing one scare you away.

The Hoard:  A White
When you turn the handwheel (on the right) does the needle go up and down?
If it doesn't, walk away.  

If you hear yourself thinking "It probably just needs a little sewing machine oil" then succumb to your fate and face the fact that sooner or later you, too, will be collecting and working on vintage sewing machines.  Cleaning and oiling solve 90% of the problems with a good all-metal machine.

P.S.:  Most of the handwheels will turn towards you (as you face the machine).  Whites turn away from you.


Is the wiring taped together?  Is the insulation falling off of it?
And if it does not look fine, you know what to do.  All together now: WALK AWAY.  Or you could take the motor off, throw it away, and put a hand crank on it.  but that's a story for another day.

Miles of electrical tape do not make this wiring safe!

Time to test stitch 
 If it passes all the tests above, do some test stitching.  This means that you should have in your purse a bit of fabric, a spool of thread, and a loaded class 15 bobbin (for the bobbins that are inserted into a holder and then put in the machine) and a class 66 bobbin (for the bobbins that drop into the top of the machine). 

How does the stitch look?  A tiny bit of a slant to the stitches is a normal result of the way the stitch is formed.  How's the tension?  Does turning the tension dial change the tension?  Move the zig-zag lever through a range of widths.  Is it working?  How's the motor controller (foot pedal or knee lever)?  Does it start right up and change speeds smoothly?  Or do you have to give it a boost?  Or is there a jackrabbit start?  How does the motor sound, look, smell?  Screeching, sparking and smoking are obviously not good signs.

The most important question is:  does it make a stitch?  Almost all of these vintage machines desperately need to be cleaned and oiled, and they will perform much better once this has been done.  By the way, all of the problems described above are fixable, so it if is making a satisfactory stitch, it is a good candidate for you to:
BUY IT.  If you love it.  
If you don't love it, trust your instincts and keep looking.  Unless it is super cheap and you need a machine RIGHT NOW.  Then buy it and keep looking for one to love.  

Who is going to clean and oil and adjust it?
You can do it yourself.  You really, really can.  But I promised that this post was for the person who just doesn't want to for whatever reason.  

So now you need to find someone to work on it.  
Here's what's not to do, and what will happen if you ignore this advice.

What not to do:
Look in the yellow pages, or whatever digital version you use, for a sewing machine repair shop for your brand.  Walk in and tell them that you want it cleaned, oiled, and lubed, the motor and all wiring checked, and any necessary adjustments made.

Here's what may happen :
When you return to pick it up they may tell you one or all of the following:
 (all plucked from stories on the boards, and in each case turned out to be not true)
  • your machine is obsolete
  • it needs parts that are not available
  • no repair manual is available for it
  • it is so old and worn out that adjustments are no longer possible
Then, guess what?  They will kindly offer to sell you a brand new whiz bang plastic computerized wonder.  Engineered to last for YEARS (not decades or centuries).  Costing many hundreds (for a really cheap one) to many thousands of dollars.  Any wonder why they don't want to fix your vintage machine?

What you need is an OSMG
Old Sewing Machine Guy.  Old enough to have been trained back in the day when sewing machines (and all other mechanical devices) were meant to be repaired.   This means that the OSMGs are all over age 75 by now.  Nowadays "repair" people just yank components out, throw them away and replace them, not the same thing as real repair at all.  Word of mouth is the only way to find an OSMG.  Or I suppose you could just start calling up shops and asking how old their repair guy is (and they were all guys back in the day). 

And now you understand why so many of us repair our own machines.  I'm sure there are good repair people out there everywhere and in several age cohorts younger than 75-80, and word of mouth is really the best way to find one.  If you join a bulletin board you can even ask if there is anyone in your area who can recommend one.

By the way, my local shop requires that you pay to have the machine cleaned before they will even look at it to see what repairs are needed.  Cleaning is $75.  
That would buy me three lovely vintage cast iron machines.   

Good luck in your hunt for that one perfect machine.  And don't blame me if you contract a serious, incurable case of VSMAD:  Vintage Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder.

Sewing machine collectors and vintage fix-it folks:  Please leave your own advice for the person who wants to buy a vintage machine, but who does not want to become a geek like us and spend hours researching machines and days and weeks cleaning and repairing them.  I may incorporate your advice into the post above, and will give you credit if I do.  TIA!

This post is really, really long.   I thought about breaking it into parts (part 1, what kind of machine, part 2, where to look and what to look for).  My conclusion was that it would be more useful all in one.  Any opinions to guide me in the future? 

I don't know Ed Lamoureux, but I like his blog.  He has also written about finding and buying an old sewing machine. 


  1. What an awesome and informative post! Yep, you and me, we are alike. I love your pink machine, by the way! Thanks for such a wealth of information. I know you spent a couple hours composing this helpful post, and I know it will help a lot of people. Have a wonderful week!!!

  2. I'm going to show this to my enablers!

  3. I've gotten good deals on at least two machines because they "didn't work", "the needle didn't go up and down" when you turned the wheel. You know why it didn't go up and down, because someone had twisted the knob for when you wind a bobbin. Nothing wrong with the machines that yep, oil and a good cleaning didn't fix.

  4. Really great post! I read every bit, even though it made me late for work!

  5. Nice job. Another source for good, serviced, vintage machines are those of us afflicted with VSMAD. If we can let go of the ones that we have cleaned, oild and learned to love. Yes, even a 328K. Rattly thing it is. I have to admit that some of the Taiwanese made Kenmores, while they have plastic cams,do have metal shuttle gears and make a very nice stitch and many are free arm. While they won't last as long as the earlier Kenmores, they are easy to thread, maintain and use. And they don't weigh a ton. I would not discount Taiwanese made machines too hastily. Just sayin' In fact I just found an Elgin Taiwanese machine that will stitch, with some work. I would also add that some vintage machines take that funky 206 X 13 needle (Singer 306,319 and 206) and while they are good, solid machines, the needle system limits size and availability.
    Some motors appear to be internal but are actually belt driven, just housed inside the machine body behind a bump out in the machine body. So don't be afraid if you don't actually see the motor. Just the same, I love my 201 which is gear driven with an internal "potted motor." I am always happy when I hear that 201-2 run. If you look at Michelle's profile photo, that there is a 201. AMHIK.

    1. OOPS It's a Singer 66 Red Head. Sorry. Now that is another lovely machine. Easy to maintain and can be electric, hand crank (as you see) and treadle.

    2. Elizabeth,
      I agree with EVERYTHING you said and have a particular fondness for those funky 328s myself. I think the styling is every bit as retro-cool as the Rocketeer and I love Singer's flat cam system. I haven't checked out the Taiwanese Kenmores, I think the Taiwanese Necchi soured me on Taiwanese machines. If only the Kenmores weren't so boring looking! These machines have to find new homes eventually, and the Kenmores will be left behind every time.
      thanks for writing,

  6. What a WONDERFUL post! You are such a good writer! Very good advice. But really, ONE vintage machine? No such thing.....because once you do the "magic" of oiling and cleaning, you will hear their squeaky little voices calling out for help! Laura

  7. Lovely post! I have just started gathering few machines. Started with a treadle 115 and picked up a 66 redeye without the cabinet last week. I want to put a crank on it. Have a 15 that I need to rewire. AND I am looking for a little $10. machine to give to a little friend of mine. She is 8 and she wants to learn to sew. So the search is on.

    1. Viki
      I also treadle a 115, which have a great reputation for free motion quilting. Haven't tried that on my 115 yet, but I have the project picked out for it.

      Think about putting a handcrank on the machine for your young friend. It's a super easy conversion (and easy to convert back to the motor also). I posted about the process earlier. It's a very non-threatening way to teach sewing to a person of any age.

      thanks for writing!

  8. Hi Cheryl,
    Great post! I'm of the same mind as Elizabeth, though, on not discounting all Taiwan made machines. I have a Dressmaker from Taiwan that's all metal, takes cams, and actually sews a good stitch.

  9. First- I must thank you for your video on converting to a hand crank. It was the one I felt explained it most efficiently. I did the conversion just recently and am so thoroughly overjoyed with it! It's a whole new world for me. Second, I wasn't really actively collecting vintage machines, but circumstances have brought me four in about a month and a half. My biggest acquisition is a treadle- a dream machine. And not just any dream machine. It's a Wheeler & Wilson #8. I have downloaded the manual, but I have to study it very carefully. The wording back then is different than today's. It will take some work to get her going, but I believe she will. To round things out, I read this post, absorbing like a sponge. I want and need to know everything about these majestically beautiful, functional machines. This post has helped me immensely and I thank you for sharing your knowledge. I look forward to reading the rest.

    1. Kat,
      Thanks so much for your post. I did create a blog tutorial on hand crank conversion, but have never done a video. Somebody else deserves the credit for that!

      The Wheeler & Wilson No. 8 is a terrific machine, extremely well engineered. I'll be posting more about it and my other treadles one of these days. None of the workings are enclosed, so you can see exactly what is going on with all the mechanical stuff--just fascinating.

      It sounds like you have contracted a case of VSMAD (Vintage Sewing Machine Acquisition Disorder). There is no cure!

      Cheryl Warren

  10. What great information! I just linked my post to yours so anyone who is interested can pop over and learn more...thanks so much!

  11. Thanks Cheryl, I too read the whole thing from start to finish. Your warning has come too late for me: I have a shocking case of VSMAD, and am running out of living space (you'll probably see my place on "hoarders" at some stage) but really enjoying my machines. GF mentioned how "cute" it was last night when I used the treadle to sew the sleeve of her new blouse.
    My justification is that some day these beautiful pieces will be recognised for what they are and valued accordingly (yes I'm dreaming), but in the mean time I'll continue to sew and enjoy the feeling of knowing how to repair all my machines. Only bought two I couldn't fix, both contain large amounts of plastic.

  12. I have been looking purchase a sewing machine my first one by the way and would like to get a vintage one. I have narrowed it down to three different models. A Nechhi 535fa, a kenmore 1753, or a morse 4400. I am wondering what your thoughts are these three machines. I noticed you had the morse machine pictured and gave good reviews on kenmire machines.

  13. I have been looking purchase a sewing machine my first one by the way and would like to get a vintage one. I have narrowed it down to three different models. A Nechhi 535fa, a kenmore 1753, or a morse 4400. I am wondering what your thoughts are these three machines. I noticed you had the morse machine pictured and gave good reviews on kenmire machines.

  14. I'm a fanatic fan of the 1975 Kenmore 158 convertable. I've broken all your rules and gotten great machines for under $20.
    I bought an old sensor 70 off ebay and got refunded because it didn't work as described. I got to keep it tho. For $100 a technician cleaned it and got it running like new. It's worth at least twice that. There's something about the sound of a Kenmore humming along that's soothing.

  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

  16. I would like to point out that most vintage sewing machines can be fixed, I would never pass up a good machine just because you cant seem to get it to move at the thrift store, or where ever it is you are buying it from. Even most cracked cam stacks can be replaces with very little work. I have yet to find a vintage machine that I could not fix Bernina, Kenmore, White and Singers. I would hate for anyone to pass up a good vintage machine because it needs a little TLC. Even if you have to spend $200 to get it working it is far more valuable that and of the new pieces of junk they make today.

    1. Everything you say is true, but this post is for people who DON'T want to work on them themselves. And for $200 I could buy EIGHT awesome vintage sewing machines that just need to be cleaned and oiled. But I repeat, I do agree with all that you have said.

  17. I have a Brother Made in the Republic of Korea- she sews like a dream, but I don't see Korea/Republic of Korea in your list of good/bad


    (I will still love her but I am interested in what you have to say :)

  18. I recently purchased a MW UHT J1265, serial number47X 8664 (made in Japan) ;but it has no bobbin case, bobbins, attachments, or manual. The intact rotary hook/shuttle assembly is stamped J-G4 .For clarification is it also called J265? Are parts interchangeable from other models? I cant wait to start sewing on this thrift store gem! Thanks

    1. I am not familiar with this model and so can't really answer your questions. I have found that most machines of this era take a class 15 bobbin case and bobbin. there are two different styles of class 15 bobbin case however. Jenny at MAY be able to help you more. good luck with your machine!

    2. I'll contact Jenny...thanks for the info :)

  19. I'm one of these! My cheap crappy plastic mini machine, bought second hand due to my extreme poorness at the time, finally died. And now, I want something that couldn't die if I hit it with a hammer.

    I bypassed all the unknowns of buying a vintage machine from a garage sale or Craig's List, and bought it straight from an OSMG. It cost a bit more, but it came in perfect restored, working condition, includes extra parts, and even a hour-long tutoring session to learn the basics of use and maintenance. And it still costs probably a third as much as a decent new machine that will by dead in 5 years when a computer chip dies.

    OSMG's are starting to be find-able on the internet. They might have reviews, or articles about them, and a couple even have basic websites. Turns out there's a fairly famous one only about a 10 minute drive from me, and the internet helped me find him pretty quickly.

    1. GREAT advice, wish I had thought of it myself! I have incorporated your suggestion into the blog post above. thanks for writing.

  20. You are a wealth of information and entertaining, too. I have spent way too much time reading about machines and not enough actually restoring them. I have 4 old Singers from my family that need some work and have recently bought a Kenmore 158.13033 that weighs 4 tons and needs much tLc and a Singer that needs a new bobbin plate cover (at a minimum) that slides from right to left. I paid $20 a piece so I can have at least that much fun with them. I have made low offers for an aqua Universal Deluxe and a Morse Deluxe. What do you think? They both look like Singer knock-offs but the color makes me think they are post WWII and might zig zag. Without good photographs, how can I tell if these old machines zig-zag? I have looked high and low for the history to these machines and the most I have found is a guess that they were made by Toyota on contract for some other company. What resources are there for a side-by-side comparison of models and their relative merits? Thanks again for all your knowledge and sharing.

    1. If there is only one dial or lever on the front then it is a straight stitch only machine. I could not answer your questions by email because your settings are on "no reply".

  21. I found this pink atlas sewing machine on craigslist, and I'm on the fence about getting it. On one hand, it's adorable. On the other, the seller wants $80, and if it's truly sewing-ready, then I feel the price -- though a bit more than the $25 some lucky people find in thrift stores -- isn't off the mark. What are some things I should look for? I know the classic warning signs -- hand wheel that doesn't turn, etc. Anything machine specific?

  22. Just bought a beautiful Kenmore 148.15600 yesterday....I'm so in love!! Found it on Craigslist for $20.00. I almost felt guilty for paying so is in amazing condition...such beautiful stitches! The gentleman who sold it said he just wanted it to be used and enjoyed by someone! He also generously gave me a sewing box with many $$ worth of threads(some on wooden spools!)buttons, needles, and more bobbins than I'll ever need! I couldn't believe my luck with this. I have other sewing machines, but I think this may well be the only one I'll need forever!

  23. Machines that used cams to create special stitches are often missing these extras today and have more internal parts that could go wrong,

  24. Excellent tips! I am so excited to have NOT thrown away a Necchi BU recently, if it weren't for a riding lawnmower seat cover and a failed fiance effort. I got this machine from a neighbors shed and it sat in my shed for over a decade. Always in a case. It's going in for a tune up soon and I've replaced the wiring. I'm really excited about learning to sew. It would be difficult to learn this skill if articles like this were not available.

  25. I agree with almost everything you said here except one thing: I would not "walk away" from a fine vintage machine just because it has an internal motor. There are fine machines with internal, direct-drive motors that surpass the performance of any nearly any modern sewing machine for strength, durability, and stitch quality. For example, a Singer 301 is among the best straight stitch sewing machines ever made and nearly any one you buy will be in good working order (unless it was very obviously neglected or abused.) Ditto many of the other 1960s Slant-O-Matics like the Singer 400 and 500 machines.

    1. I absolutely agree that these are fine machines. But of the dozen or so 401 and 500 series machines I picked up at thrift stores, all but 2 had serious problems. Yes, they are great when working properly. But this post is targeted VERY SPECIFICALLY to give a vintage sewing machine novice the best chance of success with their first machine. (Never had a problem with the half a dozen 301s that have come through my hands.)

    2. I guess I've been lucky then, because of the dozen or so Slant-o-Matics I've bought in the last couple of years, every one worked perfectly (most of them I resold to happy new owners!) What I'd be way more concerned about when looking at vintage machines is the potted motor machines like Singer 15-91 and 201 which almost always need new wiring. Of the dozens of those I've come across, almost every single one had deteriorated wiring leading to the external motor which could potentially cause serious injury.

    3. Yes, I've only had one potted motor come through my hands where the wiring didn't need to be totally replaced. And the friend I bought that one from believes that the owner before her had it re-wired.

  26. I have my mother's White 77 straight stitch that I learned to sew on when I was a little girl. It's in its own original table and is run with a knee lever. I oil it and it runs beautifully. It's functions are somewhat limited as I don't have any accessories so I keep it for sentimental reasons and use it once in a while to keep it "exercised". I also have a Japanese-made Kenmore model 158-14000 which is the exact model my mother bought for me back in the late 60's. It's an awesome, solid, heavy machine that works every time. I use it for general sewing, quilt piecing and the odd bit of free motion work. I love it and it never disappoints me. My main machine is a large, 46-lb Brother Innovis VQ3000 that has an 11"+ throat and does FMQ beautifully. Yes, it IS one of those computerized babies but with regular maintenance it's superb and I love using it. It's smooth, quiet and with the correct needle will sew through 6 layers of denim. I know the White and Kenmore will be around longer than I will, the Brother - probably not. I just enjoy them all for what they are and as a retiree, I can sew any time I want - JOY!!

    Perhaps this will give you a small chuckle - when my mother bought me the Kenmore, it was the first time I'd ever used a foot pedal and it took me YEARS to become truly competent with it - I was so very used to the knee lever. My Brother Innovis came with a knee lever to use for hands-free lifting of the presser foot and I'm virtually incapable of using it. I keep thinking it will run the machine! Guess I'm just "hard-wired". ;-}

    Thanks for sharing you considerable knowledge and excellent advice.

  27. I have a white brought it for $35 dollars. Don't know which model it is, but i'm trying a new habit. My effort to make my own easy skirts and gele's head wraps came a stop. The thread is not stitching right. haven't had a machine in my hands for years. how do I find the model to thread the machine correctly? waiting on your reply

  28. This is just a wealth of information; thank you! What heavy duty vintage machines have back/reverse capability? I understand the Singer 66 does not. I'm looking for a large machine, ornate machine [like the red eye] that has a reverse and large harp/throat. Any suggestions?

  29. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Dear WHO,
      I want to explain why I deleted your post, in which you expressed a perfectly understandable and legitimate frustration with some people other than me. A lot of us in this field are old (just turned 70 myself, plenty of us are LOTS older than that). Some of us get crankier as we get older. I share your irritation. But there is also a wealth of wisdom out there and not everyone is an annoying old crank. So I deleted your post because I don't want to turn people away from one of the most helpful sources of advice out there.

      with respect
      Cheryl Warren

  30. Is it possible to find a treadle multi stich vintage machine?

    1. The "footprint" of many of the vintage multi-stitch machines will fit into a Singer treadle. You just have to swap the machines, and there are YouTube videos that show how to put machines in and out of cabinets.

  31. I just bought a Japan made machine in almost perfect condition. Clean, heavy,all metal, zig zag. It has a plate that says "made expressly for Carson pirie scott co" the other plate says " 133 zig zag super deluxe it was made in Japan. Has the manual and a dynamic brand motor. Has the original metal accessories box and everything. However it is missing the thread take up spring, how do I know which spring will fit it as I cannot find another one like it online at all? Thanks for any help!

  32. I don't know if you could see my last comment because my profile was private but I made it available. So I'm commenting again. I just bought a Japan made machine in almost perfect condition. Clean, heavy,all metal, zig zag. It has a plate that says "made expressly for Carson pirie scott co" the other plate says " 133 zig zag super deluxe it was made in Japan. Has the manual and a dynamic brand motor. Has the original metal accessories box and everything. However it is missing the thread take up spring, how do I know which spring will fit it as I cannot find another one like it online at all? Thanks for any help!

    1. I did get your comment in my email inbox, but something in your profile is set to "no reply" so I wasn't able to email you back directly.

      The supplier I used to use retired and I haven't found another one, but I have heard from others that Central Michigan Sewing Supply is reliable. Perhaps they can help you.


I want to hear from all of you who want to talk about sewing and sewing machines, so please leave a comment. I will be approving all the posts before they go public. This will weed out all the people who just want to sell you something. Or worse, capture you and use your info for nefarious purposes.