Sewing Machines | Vintage Sewing

Why you shouldn’t spend $100 on a plastic sewing machine from Walmart

By on January 23, 2016

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.


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!


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1940s | Sewing Machines | Vintage Sewing

A new-old sewing machine, a pair of pants, and a question

By on July 31, 2014

The past few weeks have been FULL of sewing machine mayhem!  I visited my parents in Indiana, and brought home a new-to-me sewing machine, a gorgeous 1925 Singer 66.  After cleaning out the decades of lint, replacing the belt, and oiling every single moving part I could found, it WORKS!

(pardon my messy sewing area)

It’s really an incredible machine.  If you haven’t sewn with a treadle before, you should try it out.  It’s a good workout, as well as being fun.  I think the physical requirements make me feel like I am doing so much more.

(There are more pictures and even a video of the bobbin winder on my blog.)

I knew I had to sew something vintage on the machine once I got it working.  I was hoping for something 20s/30s, but got too frustrated trying to find a pattern I liked, so one night I just sat down and made a pair of ’40s pants from Simplicity 3699.  I’ve made them before – such a good and comfortable pair of pants!

One of these days, I’m going to make the blouse (I even have fabric picked out).  For now, though, the pants are fun and easy.  I was able to finish them in a night and morning.

(sorry for the distant photos…I’m still trying to teach my husband how to take proper “fashion” pictures of my projects)

I didn’t change the pattern too much.  Last time, the waist was WAY too high (I love the 40s waist, but goodness I’d like my pants below my bellybutton, please!), so I took about 3 inches off.  It’s still pretty high, and the crotch rides fairly low.  They were also very long, so I sewed a cuff on the bottom (which you can’t see from the pictures).  Overall, I’m very pleased.  They are great lounging pants.

Now for a sewing machine question.  In the midst of figuring out how to make the Singer 66 work, my “modern” machine (which is about the same age as me…), a Singer Sonata, decided to kick the bucket.  It had been hanging on for dear life desperately for some time, so it is probably time to let it go.  That, and the repair cost would be outrageous.  So!  I need some advice.  What type of sewing machines do you all have?  Do you like/love/hate them?  I mostly sew clothing, so I don’t need fancy computerized embroidery stuff.  I’ll be happy with a buttonholer, bobbin winder, blind hem, and the ability to sew on all types of fabrics.

If you have suggestions, or a link to someone’s wonderful sewing machine advice, I would be grateful!  Thank you!


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1950s | 1960s | Dresses | Notions | Sewing Machines

Vintage Jackpot and Another Completed Dress :)

By on June 20, 2014


Whoa! I know I just posted yesterday about finishing a dress but the past week has been a very productive one for me and I was able to complete a project that I had gotten half-way through and just wasn’t able to finish at the time! This dress is made out of a wonderful blue cotton from Vintage Vogue V8875 🙂 This was my first time working with a Vintage Vogue repro pattern and while it presented some interesting challenges and techniques I hadn’t tried before I must say I am pleased with the result!                                                    


I also wanted to share a few vintage treasures that I recently acquired! A close friends grandmother passed away and she was left with boxes of old sewing things like patterns, notions, and fabric. When she asked if there was anything I would like since she wanted to see it go to someone who would get use out of it I of course said yes! I came home with boxes of stuff and I thought you’d like to see some of it 🙂 Feel free to swing by my blog for more pictures and details!

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1940s | Sewing Machines | Vintage Sewing

Sew for Victory Blouse – Vintage Inside and Out

By on May 2, 2014

This is my first time Sewing for Victory, it has been a great experience, and I’m thrilled with the result.  The blouse I made looks fabulous on my daughter – she gladly modelled it for me – but it’s mine!

This is the pattern I used.  I had to do a fair amount of re-sizing and restyling, all of which is explained on my blog.

I did all the machine sewing using my 1949 Singer 15K hand machine, added the tiny rick rack braid with a braiding foot that came with my oldest treadle machine, which dates from 1913, and made the buttonholes on my 1936 Singer 201K treadle using a buttonholer attachment.

All the seams were finished using vintage techniques, so there is not a raw edge in sight.  Here is the inside view.

My next sewing project is going to be a dress for my god-daughter, Meg’s, third birthday at the end of May, using the home made pattern shown recently on my blog.  I will be showing the construction of the dress step by step.  Meg’s big sister Lily will be watching progress with interest.  Lily is ten and already a keen sewer. I hope lots of the vintage sewers out there will be interested too…


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Dresses | Sewing Machines | Vintage Sewing

A Shirtwaist Fit For Cycling

By on October 17, 2013

I have been lurking for a while checking out everyone’s great vintage style creations. I am finally posting adding my own! This is a modern Butterick pattern (5846) with a retro flair.

 I sewed  almost the entire dress on my “new to me” 1948 Singer Featherweight.  I cheated and used my modern Singer for the button holes.  I was in a hurry to wear the dress and didn’t want to fiddle with the Featherweight’s button hole attachment.









More pictures and information on my blog.  Both the machine and the fabric were gifts from my Mum. what can I say… She knows what I like!

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