Vintage Sewing

Introductions and a Question…

February 2, 2011

Hello Everyone,

I am yet another Sew Retro reader now come contributor!

I love sewing and creating things and I’m currently learning to knit and crochet (though this terrible Sydney heat is really putting a bit of a dampener on that!). I also love vintage and have a major vintage pattern stash that I need to work my way through. I currently blog over at Pretty Little Pictures and just recently got married.

19th Nov 2010 6

I also have a question to ask you lovely sewers – what type of machine do you use? I’m in desperate need of a new machine and am eyeing up a Janome, but would love to know what you use.


  1. I use a vintage Singer 201K mostly .. I also have a 99k, 221K and a 15K treadle. I do have a modern Janome sewing machine which I rarely use and a Janmome overlocker which I often use.

    If I were to buy another modern machine, I might go for a Bernina if I had enough money. However, for the money, a 201K, if an equivalent modern machine were built (the Janome 1600p) would be very expensive ..

  2. I use a vintage Sears Kenmore from 1974. My husband wanted to buy me a new one for Christmas, but the lady at the store said that if I have a vintage machine, she couldn't sell me anything better. New machines have a lot of plastic parts and aren't as durable. I'd check out a vintage Singer, that seems to be what a lot of people here use.

  3. I'm a machine collector. I've got a 104 year old treadle by Wilcox & Gibbs (first brand of chain stitch machine), a 30 something Singer Athena 2000 (first electronic sewing machine), a New Home in need of some repairs, a cheapy Brother from Walmart, a cheapy White that was my first NEW machine ever and my pride and joy: "Briar Rose" the Bernina Aurora 430E.
    You don't need an expensive machine. Peter over at Male Pattern Boldness loves vintage treadle machines! I will say that my favorite machine other than my Bernina is my vintage Singer that belonged to my grandma. It is QUIET compared to the newer (and crappier) machines. I would take a vintage machine over a "new" machine any day of the year. I have my Bernina because it's got an embroidery unit which I use for work. I'm in the process of fixing up the treadle machine and the New Home from the 40s.

    Whatever machine you buy, test it out in the store. If you CAN'T test it, do NOT buy it. Seriously. Had I known how LOUD my crappy machines were going to be, I'd have saved my dinero. A quiet machine that doesn't pull to one side when doing a straight seam is all you need.

  4. I have my Husband's grandma's Elna (from 1969), all metal parts. It's a workhorse and hope it lasts me the rest of my life. I did inherit a (60s/70s) Singer from my mother in law (before I got the Elna) and it fell apart. The gears were plastic and had become brittle, so they shattered when I tried to use it.

    Definitely be sure to test drive any machine you get and don't assume that its a quality machine based on the name.

    llama… Do you think New Homes are good machines? I had an offer of one, a bit beaten looking but should run well. Not sure if I should snag it or not.

  5. I use a relatively new Husqvarna Emma. I love it, I find it really reliable and it has enough variety and simplicity for me as a not-super-advanced sewer. I personally am a huge fan of the top-loading bobbin in it, I think it's the way I'll be loading bobbins for as long as I can.

    I would second the other ladies here who suggest you take whatever machine you're thinking of buying for a test drive. Hopefully someone there can also show you its features (different stitches, if there's a fiddly way to access them or if it's relatively straight-forward) and things like how to thread it (complex threading can be a total turn-off, generally) and how loud/quiet/slow/fast it is.

  6. I agree with the other commenters in that I advocate for a) solid metal machines with more mechanics that computer ships and/or b) well-regarded European brands – your Elnas and Berninas and the like.

    Janomes feel like short-term plastic toys to me. Cheap new machines will not last you for the long haul. Recondition an old machine from the 60s or 70s and you will be delighted with it.

  7. I will be contradicting Livebird here, but I'm on my second Janome and I can assure you there's nothing 'plastic toy' about them… My first one was a bottom of the range model which I had 10 years, until I upgraded to my new one. I tried servicing it myself, badly, with bits and bobs dropping off it every time, and it kept on working. I tripped over the flex and damaged the socket into the machine, and it kept on working… As it was still working fine when I decided to upgrade, I gave it to a friend who was thinking of taking up sewing. She doesn't use it much admittedly, but it still works without any problem when she does!

    I've had my new Janome 5 years now and it is absolutely fantastic. Sews like a dream, is beautifully quiet (which the first one wasn't), and has never let me down despite me treating it no better than the first one (I'm just a bit more careful with which bits I unscrew now). My one and only gripe is that it can be a bit fiddly when feeding the thread around the little knob that regulates the tension when you wind up your bobbin. Hopefully new models have a better system… But considering that for the price of my two Janomes combined, you'd just about get half a Bernina, I can live with that…

  8. I use a Viking Emerald. I like the way it sews and love the bells and whistles, but a few small things have broken, like the bobbin case lid. Overall, I'd recommend the machine, because I know it's nearly impossible to find a perfect one.

  9. It's a Janome 4623LE Plus. It's relatively basic (20+ stitches) but does have an automatic one-step button-hole which is very simple to use and works out button-hole sizes for you (pull down a lever, pop on the foot, set to button-hole setting et voila!). Not sure whether they still make it, but they must have something very similar in that category. It wasn't even that much more expensive to buy than my previous sewing machine, but is sooo much nicer to sew with!

  10. I don't think you'll find your answer here as we'll all recommend something different and machines are as individual as the users! You really need to go try them in a shop.

    I have a cheap Brother XL2230 which is 6 years old and has served me well, it's exceptionally light to cart about, the only real niggle is its stitch limitations. I was going to upgrade to an Innovis 350SE, but I'm hearing such good things about Silver Viscount, I may go that way instead (same spec as Janomes, couple of hundred pounds cheaper!). If I had serious money, I would seriously consider a Bernina.

    I notice Brother do a few metal chassis machines, the drama school I teach at are buying two new XL6600 for the workroom.

    My overlocker is also a Brother, I am fan! I think one of the best things is that they use universal feet and spares, etc which saves a lot of money on buying extras.

    I also love my friend's 25 year old Bernina, its a pleasure to sew on, sorry I can't remember the model number. I hear rumour that UK John Lewis sewing machines are actually made by Janome?
    Janomes are user-friendly but, like Bernina, I'm priced out of their market. The machine I avoid like the plague is the Frister+Rossman's of old, I have used three and found them all to be pretty unworkable – one even caught fire on me!

    Good luck with finding your dream machine.

  11. Hi Molly, I know Janome do more expensive machines, but mine was only about £280, 5 years ago. I got it online via Sewing Machines Direct (who do free delivery and send you a bumper pack of accompanying freebies – thread, scissors, etc.). They currently have a Janome 4618 for only £229, which seems fairly close to the 4623LE Plus (not quite as many stitches maybe; also I'm not sure it has the up/down needle button, which for me was a complete revelation and which I couldn't be without now!).

    That said, before I sound like a complete zealot, I'm sure there are much better machines than my Janome! But for the money, I do feel you can get some good deals even in their lower prices.

  12. I'm partial to older German machines: my mom's Bernina 830 (mechanical) and my 20yo mechanical Pfaff are both great machines.
    There are some neat things about computerized machines but you can't beat a machine that keeps running for decades, imo!

  13. Wow, thanks so much everyone for the comments.

    Alas, I too cannot afford a Bernina (even a second hand one!) and I am looking at older machines too.

    I think I'll still stick with my gut and go the Janome route, only because I have a secondhand Janome overlocker which is a total workhorse and seems to take everything I throw at it.

    Now I just have to choose a model and I'm away laughing!

    Thank all so much for taking the time to comment, especially in such depth! I'm sure I'll be coming here with more questions in the future 🙂


  14. I use a Singer 201-2 from the 50s. It sews like a dream, and once you read through the manual it's pretty easy to use.

    It only does a straight stitch, but you don't need much else for vintage sewing, hehe. 🙂

  15. A Bernina 1008 is a sturdy mechanical machine. If I were buying a new machine right now that's what I'd get. However, it doesn't have the knee lift. And I love sewing with a knee lift. So I'm hoping that my Bernina 1130 and 1530 never die.

  16. I have had vintage machines (Singer and Elna), and although they were fine and worked until I moved and gave them away, I now have a Janome QC6062 and adore it! it is admittedly a quiling machine, but that is actually useful for thicker materials. It does buttonholes and overlock stitches beautifully and has a load of decorative stitches on top. It doesn't feel like a plastic toy at all, and I have had no problems with it. I highly recommend it.

  17. Hi,
    I actually use both a sewing machine and serger/overlocker from janome. They have been great and I would definitely recommend!

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