They have names like Singer Rocketeer, Necchi SuperNova, and Elna Transforma. They range from curvy and black with delicate gold decals to boxy and brightly colored.
They’re vintage sewing machines, and their fans swear by them, from sewing neophytes to long-time costumers and quilters. On the Etsy forums, shop owners trade advice on the best models. A Facebook group dedicated to vintage sewing machines has nearly 19,000 members and hundreds of posts per week.
“I wouldn’t think of using anything else other than my 1938 201k2,” said Karen Clayton, who is working to open her shop, Sew Bee It.
Some tips for choosing the right vintage sewing machine:
Do your research.
That way, you know which machines have a good reputation — and which ones even collectors avoid, said Denise Bachelder, who owns Make It Sew, a costume shop in Radcliffe, Iowa.
It’s also important to make sure you’re getting a machine that fits your needs.
“Household machines are ‘all-rounders’ designed to do a lot of different things reasonably well, while industrials tend to be super specialized for a particular task,” Suzanne Grobbel of Pressing Needs said.
So a vintage Singer may be able to stitch through garment-weight leather on occasion, but if you plan to work exclusively with leather or canvas, you need an industrial sewing machine specialized for that.
Don’t settle for a sewing machine that’s in bad shape.
If you do, you may spend weeks tracking down parts and repairing it.
“When you decide on a style or a specific model, hold out for one that’s in really good condition with all its accessories,” Bachelder said. “They are out there and if you are going to buy one, you might as well try to get it all at once instead of hunting for the manual and the feet and other accessories separately.”
Vintage sewing machines can be found everywhere from thrift stores and estate sales to Craigslist, and while some need TLC, many have been lovingly maintained. Bring along some cloth and thread, and ask the seller if you can test it out before buying.
Learn how to care for your vintage sewing machine.
Like a new sewing machine, routine maintenance is vital to keep a vintage machine in working order. And because “I’m not afraid to clean and oil, and I’m learning more about the mechanical stuff,” Grobbel said.
Instructions for care should be in the manual. If you don’t have a manual, check the International Sewing Machine Collectors Society’s website, which has several. They’re often for sale on eBay as well.