Monday, December 5, 2016

What is my sewing machine worth?

There really is no answer to this question.  Read on and I will explain why.

No photos in this post.  I'm blogging from a secret bunker under the Antarctic ice.  Or some other place where I don't have access to my photos.

Here's what happens.  A person inherits or otherwise acquires a vintage sewing machine.  They google the make and model.  The find my blog in which I enthuse about it.  They hope it is actually worth something.  They write to me to ask "what is my sewing machine worth?"

I am here today to break your heart.  You're welcome.

The heartbreaking news is that you will be lucky if you can sell it AT ALL.

There is a small group of hardcore vintage sewing machine enthusiasts.  We love the old machines, often to the point of obsession.  Our missionary zeal leads us to sing their praises every time we are around sewing people.  But nobody listens.

I belong to a wonderful quilt guild of about 50 women (Alamance Piecemakers, in Burlington NC).  They all know how I love the old machines.  But they really DON'T want to hear that the old piece of cast iron they inherited from granny is actually a far BETTER machine than the plastic whiz bang wonder that they spent hundreds or thousands of dollars on.  I have finally learned my lesson on that.

I'm not there to make enemies.

Back to the hardcore vintage enthusiast.  We already own dozens of machines. My own collection always hovers around 100.  I'm willing to pay $25 for something I really, really want.  My guild sisters donate others to me all the time as do other people.  I ALWAYS try to talk them into keeping them.  I have never succeeded.  Not once.

I donate some but only if I know exactly where they are going.  Kind of like puppies or kittens.  You don't just hand them out to people who will abuse them.   And they do need regular cleaning and oiling which I can teach someone how to do in 2 minutes flat.  I don't want them to go to the kind of person who thinks that she can pay a service center $100/year to do what she should be spending 2 minutes a month on doing herself.  This also applies if I am selling them.

Yes, I AM a judgmental witch.

I do sell some.  Whether selling or donating I have spent a MINIMUM of 5 hours cleaning, oiling, and checking them out.  It is usually much more than that.  I do it for fun and for the love of the old machines.  I don't donate or sell any machine unless it is in perfect operating condition and as clean as I can get it.

What do you get paid for an hour of your labor?

I sell them to friends (and friends of friends and guild sisters whether they are friends or someone I really don't know very well) for the exact amount I have invested in the machine and any needed
replacement parts.  Plus a bottle of oil and a lint brush.  Notice that I am not charging friends anything for my labor.

I sell others on CraigsList from time to time.  If it is straight stitch only it is well nigh impossible to sell.  If it will zigzag AND is a pretty color I might get $150.  Keep in mind that this is for a completely tested and serviced machine in perfect operating condition.

So.  I probably spent $50 on average for the machine, parts, and supplies.  Say an average of 10 hours of labor on the machine.  At least an hour taking and editing photos for the ad.  Writing the ad.  Time, gas, and depreciation on my car running around finding machines.  If this was a business which it quite obviously is not.  Purchase of specialized tools.  One whole room of my house dedicated to this obsession (just the repair space, not counting all the sewing machines strewn all over the house).

Get the drift?

There is ONE make and model that "normal" sewing people want and are willing to spend a reasonable amount for.  The Singer Featherweight, model 221 or the extremely rare free arm 222.  Reasonable = $300 to $500 for a Featherweight in fully serviced condition, upwards of $1000 for the 222.  Normal = people not obsessed by vintage machines.

There are a few other models that the obsessed are willing to shell out $100 to $200 for.  I'm not going down that rabbit hole in this post, but when I get a question about one of them I give advice about what to say in a CraigsList ad.

So, in answer to the most recent query:  You should definitely keep it.  You will never see a finer machine than that one new in any store at any price.  They just do not make them like that anymore.  Learn to sew if you don't know already.

What's it worth?  Whatever you can get someone to give you.  If anything at all.


  1. Enjoyed this post - it is so true! I was bitten by the vsm bug a little over a year ago and only have five...probably my limit because of space constraints but they are awesome and beautiful machines. I love that I can do the maintenance on them myself. My ten year old portable Janome is rarely used now that I have "the girls".

  2. Mrs. Warren, would you consider making a 2-minute video on how to service your machine? Inquiring minds want to know from a respectable source.



    1. This is a great idea and I will attempt to back up my claim with a video. Be warned though that I am as slow as molasses in January. And it is almost January!

    2. Mrs Warren I'm looking forward to it. You see, I'm already starting to show signs of an addiction. When I see certain old machines, I can feel my heart race and my tummy quiver.

      I already have my eye on two machines. One is a singer 19 and the other is the ugliest singer you ever saw, but I won't buy them until I learn how to service them.
      Speaking of the ugly singer, I never have seen anything like it, and cannot find other pictures on the internet. If you'd like to see it please let me know and I'll give you a link.

      Sincerely, "George" (real name Jerry Underwood)

  3. This is such an excellent article. So well said. I just love my vintage machines because of what they do and do so well and do much better than any current sewing machine. I clean them for people, I rescue them when I come across them. I try and hammer the points about straight stitching to all the quilters I know. What harm would it be to keep one vintage machine on hand when the computerized ones go down? If more people did that, we could keep a lot in service. I wish I could visit you and see all your machines! I sew on mine almost daily. When I rescue and clean one and it works, I have a great bubble of satisfaction. Thank you for such an awesome article. You are a good writer!

  4. Let me tell you about my retirement fund. I worked for a company that gave us stock, back in the tech boom. I sold it, while it was still $16 a share, and bought a new Elna. I don't know what I was thinking. Used it for a year and saw that the shop had taken a Viking 6450 on consignment. I am assuming the woman decided she needed a new machine. The Viking was well maintained. I traded in the Elna and another $200 and took the Viking home. I still have it and it still works just fine. The company stock slid all the way down to less than a dollar a share, when it was delisted. I think I made the better deal. (although, I could probably come up with a great deal on a similar machine these days.)

    Truthfully, I will hold onto the Viking and my Singer 99K, probably rehome the Singer 401A that I've never bonded with. I love my treadles. They are the one thing that makes me want to sew.


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