If you’re just getting into sewing, it can be difficult to figure out what sewing machine to buy. You want something that isn’t too advanced but that you won’t grow out of quickly. Too often, beginners find themselves eyeing up inexpensive plastic machines at Walmart or Target and asking “Is this a good machine for me?” I’m going to go out on a limb here and say no, no it isn’t.
Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced sewist, you can probably pick up an infinitely better vintage sewing machine for the same or less money if you’re willing to look. There are some truly amazing vintage sewing machines on the second-hand market or sitting neglected in somebody’s basement.
The first thing you’ll notice when shopping for a vintage machine is how heavy they are. This is good for a number of reasons:
- Metal parts are more reliable and hard-wearing than plastic. Metal machines sew better for longer.
- They won’t bounce around the table while you’re sewing
- They will sew through the thickest of fabrics like butter. Many people who sew bags with heavier fabrics like leather and vinyl look specifically for vintage machines because they know an old metal machine will handle the work.
I see vintage metal sewing machines all the time at thrift stores in Kentucky for around $30 but, eager to prove this wasn’t just a local phenomenon, I reached out to the members of the WeSewRetro Sew & Tell Facebook group to see what second-hand machines they had spotted (and, often, bought!). Scroll down to see the vintage machines being used to crank out stunning garments and keep scrolling for some tips on what to look for and where to find it.
Found at a thrift store in New Jersey, USA.
Found at a thrift store in the USA.
Found at a Salvation Army store in Pennsylvania, USA.
Found at a yard sale in the US.
Found on Craigslist in the USA.
Ok, we’re getting a little pricy now at $100 but bear in mind: this machine will outlive you, your children and probably your grandchildren. Purchased from the daughter of the original owner in Illinois, USA.
Found at a yard sale in Wisconsin, USA.
Found at the Habitat store in Tennessee, USA.
Found at an estate sale in the US.
Found at an antique mall in the US.
Found at a thrift store in the US.
Found on Craigslist in the USA (cabinet included in price)
Found at a Trash & Treasure sale in Ohio, USA.
Found at Goodwill in the US.
Found a Re-Store in Indiana, USA.
Found on eBay in California, USA.
Found on Craigslist in Kentucky, USA.
Found at Goodwill in the USA. price includes all accessories. Bernina is a great brand.
It’s worth noting that this is not just an American thing. Here are some vintage workhorses from England, Ireland, Poland, Iceland and Australia…
Found at a car boot sale at a weekender in England.
Found in England. Price included all the accessories.
Found in England.
Found in Ireland.
Found in a thrift shop in Ireland.
Found as a trade-in at a Sewing Machine Center in Ireland.
Found online in Poland for the equivalent of $40 USD.
Inherited from Grandma in Iceland.
Where can I find a vintage sewing machine?
- Your family and friends
You might be surprised how many people you know have an unused or unwanted machine lurking about in a garage or basement. Here’s what WeSewRetro-er Mary had to say about reaching out to family first:
Let everyone know you’re looking for a sewing machine. You never know what might turn up!
One of the easiest ways to find a machine on Craigslist is to set up a search with your chosen parameters (putting in a maximum price is usually helpful) and then set up an email alert. Any time there are new search results for “sewing machine” or whatever your search term is, you’ll get an email. Effortless.
- Yard Sales/Garage Sales/Car Boot Sales
- Local auctions/house clearances
- Estate sales
- Thrift stores (USA)/Charity shops (UK)/Op shops (AUS)
- Facebook resale groups
- Antique Stores
- Shopgoodwill.com (USA) / TradeMe.co.nz (New Zealand…we have some Kiwis in the house 😉
Sometimes this site can a little pricey. Be careful to factor in any shipping and handling charges – heavy machines are often best picked up in person.
- Classified ads in the local newspaper
- Pawn shops
How do I know if it’s worth buying?
Missing parts (like a power cable) are not necessarily deal-breakers once you know what you’re doing, but for a hassle-free first buying experience, check the machine has a power cable and a bobbin case. Accessories like needles and bobbins can be bought new inexpensively. If you’re in a thrift store, ask if you can plug it in just to verify it runs. You don’t need to see it sew, you just need to see it go.
Plan to have it serviced once you get it home. This is something you could potentially learn to do yourself, but dropping it off at your local Vac & Sew Shop for a couple of days is painless. Pricing on a service varies with condition and location, but around $50 is not uncommon in the US.
How do I know what needles/accessories/parts I need for my vintage machine?
Once you’ve got your machine home, search online for a copy of the manual. You can very often find these for free in PDF form so search hard before handing over your cash. This will tell you how to thread it, how to use any fancy features it may have and what parts you might need. If you have questions, find a community online of people who love these things and pick their brains. The Vintage Sewing Machines group on facebook comes highly recommended – they really know their stuff!