Vintage Sewing Machines
Get to grips with your vintage or retro sewing machine.
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.
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.
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.
If you want to learn how to properly clean your machine, I suggest this great step-by-step tutorial on Craft Nectar.
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.
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).