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Snippets Issue 16 : The Vintage & Retro Issue

Vintage Sewing Machines

Get to grips with your vintage or retro sewing machine.

Vintage Sewing Machines

Last autumn I was introduced into the wonderful world of sewing with a vintage sewing machine. Tucked away in a little antique store near a coastal town in Washington State, I found a beautiful bright pink Morse zigzag sewing machine made in the 1950s. I almost passed this machine up, uncertain if it would perform up to par with the newer Janome sewing machine I had been using. After a bit of hemming and hawing, I decided to take a chance and buy the heavy pink metal sewing machine. And I'm so glad that I did, because it would have been a regretful mistake if I had not.

I absolutely love my vintage Morse sewing machine. Not only is it beautiful, it's also a total workhorse. At the risk of sounding like a well-meaning grandmother, they just don't make things the way they used to. My machine runs so smoothly, and is so much quieter than any other machine I've ever sewn on.

I'm not an expert on vintage sewing machines, but I can offer up a bit of advice based on the personal experiences I've had using my machine over the past year. So if you just bought a vintage sewing machine, or are thinking about it, here's what I suggest you do upon bringing home your new best friend.

sewing machine
sewing machine
sewing machine
sewing machine

Number 1

Right off the bat, find a locally owned sewing machine repair shop in your city, preferably one that has been in business for a few decades, as they are more likely have extensive experience working with older machines. If you're not sure where to go, contact a few of the well-known crafty people in your city who sew things for a living, or a locally owned fabric store for suggestions. Then, before you even try out your machine (tempting as it may be), take it in to the sewing repair shop for a tune-up.

The older machines, especially, tend to have their tension discs out of alignment when you get them, just because they have most likely been sitting in storage somewhere for who knows how long. Some small part might be missing, too, like a rubber bobbin belt. The technician at the repair shop will give your machine a good look-over, replace any missing or broken parts, and set the tension to sew properly. One thing I would suggest upon picking up your machine from the repair shop (something I wish I would have done) is to ask the technician to show you how to thread your machine. It will save a lot of time, and a small headache. Trust me on this.

Number 2

It's very handy (nearly crucial, really) to have a manual for your sewing machine. Not only will it help you learn how to use your new machine, if you find your machine isn't working properly, the manual can help you figure out what's wrong, and you could save yourself an unneeded trip to the repair shop. If your machine is missing its manual, you might be able to find a copy for sale online. Sew USA has a large collection of vintage manuals for sale for only $10 each.

Number 3

If you want to learn how to properly clean your machine, I suggest this great step-by-step tutorial on Craft Nectar.

Number 4

Many old sewing machines come with special attachments that can look a bit intimidating. Check out "The Sewing Machine Attachment Handbook" by Charlene Phillips to learn what each attachment is, how they fit onto your sewing machine, and what you can do with each of them. The book features plenty of step-by-step photographs to help you use your attachments correctly.

Number 5

Lastly, keep an eye out on eBay or your local classifieds (such as Craigslist) for extra parts and fun attachments for your machine. With some persistence and a little luck, you should be able to find these things at a pretty inexpensive price.


Do you love or hate your vintage sewing machine? (Photography by Chas Bowie).

Comments

What a timely article! I recently found a 1958 green metal Singer machine (with a sewing table and all attached) in an alley, and my mother picked up a machine that looks extremely similar to yours (though it's called a "Princess," I still can't seem to find any information on it online). Thanks so much for the info! And your machine is beautiful =)

Your machine is gorgeous! I love vintage machines, I have three, haha. They really are so much better than most of the current plastic machines. Not to mention - so much nicer to look at! These are great tips for someone new to the world of vintage machines :)

Great article! Looks like such a fun machine. And yeah, they are incredibly wellmade. I normally use a Bernina and my mom an Elna (both from the 70's-90's range) but for a time we were machine-less and briefly used an amazing machine that my great-grandmother used for her sewing job during world war 2. It was heavy as hell and built to withstand a nuclear attack, I swear, but it was at the same time the prettiest sewing machine I've ever used - black with beautiful gold details painted on. Rather than a foot pedal, this machine was operated by a sort of lever that stuck into the front and which you pushed sideways with your knee. We used ti to do some of the work on a turn-of-the-century style skirt I made (the one I'm wearing in my user picture here, actually).
Thanks again for a fascinating article.

wOw that machine is soo cute!! haha My grandma has hers that still works from the '40s--haha

LOVE!!!!!

LOVE them all. I have several old Singers, including a Featherweight, and they are all wonderful, and true workhorses. Not to mention beautiful.

I have a two tone universal sewing machine that looks like an aqua/off white 50's model chevrolet. Aesthetically speaking it's beautiful. Functionally, I can't figure the thing out. I have tried on multiple occasions to figure out the settings based on common sense and prior machine use, but it's been to no avail. I've never had such mixed feelings towards a sewing machine in my life. I hate to use it but love to look at it.

I LOVE vintage sewing machines!! I own an Montgomery Ward's Heavy Duty Commercial (1940s); Domestic Treadle (127 years old); Morse (but, grey. I love your pink); New Home (circa 1940) and a gold New Home (1930). They ALL are functional and I use each and everyone. I recently purchased a Frister and Rossman handcrank and a few other vintage ones.

I LOVE vintage sewing machines!! I own an Montgomery Ward's Heavy Duty Commercial (1940s); Domestic Treadle (127 years old); Morse (but, grey. I love your pink); New Home (circa 1940) and a gold New Home (1930). They ALL are functional and I use each and everyone. I recently purchased a Frister and Rossman handcrank and a few other vintage ones.

I LOVE vintage sewing machines!! I own an Montgomery Ward's Heavy Duty Commercial (1940s); Domestic Treadle (127 years old); Morse (but, grey. I love your pink); New Home (circa 1940) and a gold New Home (1930). They ALL are functional and I use each and everyone. I recently purchased a Frister and Rossman handcrank and a few other vintage ones.

Thank you for the advise and encouragement in buying an old machine. I recently started sewing again after years (decades really) of not having the time for it. I have toyed with the idea of buying a second machine. Maybe I will get my Mom's old Bernina repaired that is stored in the attic. Thanks again for the great info!

Yes! I never thought a sewing machine could actually inspire me to be more creative but I LOVE my vintage Dressmaker. I found it online with a cabinet for $20!



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