The debate of vintage sewing machine vs new can get heated! Often found in Facebook sewing groups, someone innocently asks “I’m looking for a beginner machine, any suggestions?”, not 5 seconds later, people swoop in to clamor about how vintage machines are the best. Their parts are made from metal! They are more reliable! They are better quality! I always chime in with my experience, and decided to write it out into a full blog post instead. I’d love to hear your experiences with vintage sewing machines vs new, in the comments, too!
This is the vintage Kenmore sewing machine that I inherited from my Grandma when she died. She sewed, my Mom sewed, and once I got pregnant with my first child, I finally learned to sew. I’m not a particularly sentimental person, but I loved the idea of making things for my son, on a machine that made things for my Mom. I read the manual, I cleaned it carefully, and I dove in.
Except it was more like a bellyflop! I stopped and started so many times, because I’d get frustrated with the process or the results. Looking back, a few of the projects I failed on were user error like choosing the wrong fabric (bulky home dec for a roll-up shopping bag) or too difficult for a beginner (alphabet shaped pillows) BUT even more of the projects that frustrated me, were beyond my control.
The tension knob was temperamental, leading to constant fiddling and fixing. I took it in, sunk in $100 for a cleaning and a tension knob replacement, was thrilled for a week until… the knob was wonky again. I spent hours of time, trying to rethread, replace, tweak so it would behave. My baby wouldn’t sleep, my sewing machine wouldn’t cooperate, the hobby that I thought would be “me time” was just as frustrating as the rest of my day! Finally, I’d had enough.
I visited the local Janome & Brother dealers to see what they had, was absolutely repelled by the Janome salesperson, and cringed my way through a $400 machine purchase at Brother. The salesperson showed me all the bells and whistles, with a stop/start button, automatic threading, but I couldn’t stop smiling because it just.. sewed. No tweaking. No jiggling. It sewed! Straight and true.
I wasted months of stopping & starting, frustrated at the machine’s limitations, and not knowledgeable enough to understand when it was me or the machine. If I hadn’t grown up around sewing, I surely would have given up! While vintage machines might be heavier, sturdier, more well made, they can also be finicky and expensive to fix at a shop (emphasis on the can! I know they can also be wonderful and well made and totally worth it). It pained me to stop using my handmedown Kenmore, but I think my Grandma would be happier that I’ve truly learned how to love sewing, by letting go of her machine.
So what do I think a beginner should do in the vintage sewing machine vs new debate?
I think the best case scenario is shopping with a local dealer or buying from a trusted reseller who can show you the ropes in person. Not only does this cut down on packaging, it keeps your money in your local economy! You’ll have someone who you can go back to with questions, who can tell you to just change the needle instead of taking it in for a full cleaning.
BUT I also understand, that like me, sometimes you are learning and working in tiny bits of time, in between naps. I understand that it can be inconceivable to take 3 hours out of a day to visit a shop when you’re nursing a tiny person and working around naps! So, I also have my recommendation for the best new machine to order off Amazon below and some pros & cons to consider when considering vintage vs new sewing machines.
Vintage sewing machine vs new pros & cons
I realize ‘vintage’ will mean different things to different people. I don’t remember how old my Kenmore was, but it had different stitch options and was maybe not old enough to be vintage? So, remembering that, the pros & cons I can think of for each option:
Vintage machine – pros:
- Made to last for decades
- Metal parts – hard to break
- Issues are often cheaper to fix because they are mechanical, as opposed to computerized
- Though they weren’t built for knits, they were built for thicker fabrics and can handle heavier weights with ease
- Can often be found for free or inexpensive
- Saving something from the landfill
Vintage machine – cons:
- It can be expensive or challenging to find replacement parts, manuals, cords, etc.
- Many only have a straight stitch, which isn’t ideal for sewing knit fabrics
- After being used for years, may have quirks or issues that are difficult for a beginner to diagnose and/or fix
Modern machine – pros:
- More bells & whistles – the automatic button hole function is amazing!
- Possibly comes with a warranty or service package, if purchased new
- Plastic parts mean they are lighter, easier to travel with
- More popular machines often have specific video tutorials for how to use them, online, which is great for beginners
- Some functions may make sewing more accessible – for example, I have an old back injury and it is so much more comfortable for me to sew using the button (no foot pedal!)
Modern machine – cons:
- Computerized displays are more expensive to fix – often repairs on cheaper machines aren’t worth it, it makes more sense to just buy another one
- Environmental aspects of buying new (packaging) & buying modern (planned obsolescence)
So what new machine would I recommend for beginners, if you don’t have a local shop or can’t get to one and want to shop online? This one! (and check out my post of easy sewing projects for beginners, to get a head start!).
It has amazing reviews, several people who I know and trust have used it for years and recommended it, and I have had great luck with Brother brand (they aren’t, and have never paid me! I just like their machines).
This is not the machine I have in the pictures up above! I have the Simplicity SB3129, which I bought from the dealer, the Amazon equivalent is the Brother Project Runway PC420PRW. I am very happy with it, but it is pricey for a beginner machine.
So, that is why I’m glad I ditched my older machine for a newer one. But, if/when I need or want a new machine? I’ll definitely consider a vintage one again, especially now that I am more experienced in trouble shooting machine errors and confident in my sewing ability!
What is your experience with vintage sewing machine vs new? Share in the comments!