So, you are considering the purchase of a vintage sewing machine… Good choice! Maybe you like the quality of construction, the smoothness (feel) of the machine when you turn the balance wheel. Maybe you like the variations of style or color these vintage machines possess. Maybe its the feel of metal as opposed to plastic. Maybe you want a sewing machine that was made before the idea of planned obsolescence crept into the manufacture of domestic products. Maybe the low cost of a well built high quality vintage machine is your first consideration. After all, for $100 to $200 you can purchase a good vintage sewing machine that has been serviced, cleaned, and adjusted to sew great, whereas that level of quality would be prohibitively expensive to manufacture today (when they were manufactured, they were very expensive, often the cost exceeded a full months wages for the average person). If you are mechanically inclined, you can pick them up for very little money and return them to their full potential with little effort. Well, if you are interested in reading further, I will offer some advice that may help you decide on a particular vintage sewing machine.
- All metal construction – A deciding factor for me is first and foremost the machines construction. Sewing machines have been available in the domestic market for almost 170 years. During the majority of this time, regardless of who manufactured the machine, one characteristic they all shared was that the bodies were made of cast iron or aluminum and the components were made of steel or bronze. This offered many advantages for the end user. More of a consequence of manufacture than design, they had to be manufactured with durable metals and machined to precise tolerances to operate reliably. The byproduct of this “limitation” is an overbuilt, durable, and reliable “heavy duty” sewing machine. It is true and undeniable that they can last more than a lifetime with minor maintenance… my Wife sews on a Singer sewing machine made in 1874 and it runs smoothly and produces a near perfect lock stitch.
- Year of manufacture – All metal sewing machines began to phase out steel gears in favor of nylon gears between 1968 to about 1972. The effect on durability was catastrophic. Nylon gears would work perfectly well for a long time, but not for decades. Over time, the nylon would deteriorate and fail, leaving the owner with the option of an expensive repair or a new machine. Play it safe and look for a vintage machine made prior to 1968. For machines manufactured later, do your homework and make sure you are considering an all metal machine. For example, Kenmore and others continued to offer all metal sewing machines until about 1972 and they are good high quality machines.
- Brand Name – Stick with Singer, Kenmore, Brother, or White. The US is saturated with these brands and you can find an almost endless supply of replacement parts at reasonable prices. From motors, controllers, wiring, internal parts, and accessories, you can keep your machine running for a very long time. I’m not trying to endorse these over any other brand… Other high quality machines such as Bernina, Pfaff, Elna, Necci, Husqvarna, and Janome are always worthy of consideration because they are all high quality and precision built, but replacement parts may be hard to find and be much more expensive for these brands.
- Origin of manufacture – All metal vintage machines made by Singer, or a branded machine made in Japan are of very good quality. These include Kenmore, Brother, and (for the most part) White. If you live in the USA, you can’t go wrong limiting your choices to these brands. I am not saying that other brands are less worthy, but for ease of service and parts they probably offer the best long term value for your money.
- Expectations – If you are planning to sew canvas, leather, or other dense thick material, don’t consider any vintage domestic sewing machine regardless of brand… all metal or not. They were not designed for this purpose and will not last long in continuous use on these materials. If you need more than 27 or so decorative stitch patterns, look elsewhere. All vintage all metal machines capable of producing decorative stitches use internal metal or plastic cams and/or plastic pattern cam inserts to produce the pattern (plastic here is an exception to the all metal rule and have proven durable for this application). They sew these patterns via mechanical action and will produce a very satisfactory stitch but keep in mind, the stitch pattern is accomplished by swinging the needle bar only, the feed is always forward, never back and forth.
- Do your homework – The internet is a vast resource for getting information, reviews, demonstrations, and advice for just about any sewing machine model you are considering… This is important because even vintage all metal sewing machines had models that proved to be problematic and should be avoided.
I hope that this advice will start you in the right direction for finding a great quality reliable all metal sewing machine that suits your needs. With all the choices available on the market, I know you will find a machine that suits your need and provide many years of service. Please let me know what you think!