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Why I ditched my vintage sewing machine for a new one

Why I ditched my vintage sewing machine for a new one

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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!

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Thursday 9th of February 2023

I have a 1980 Bernina 930 identical to my Mom’s I learned to see on. Bought it with scholarship money as a freshman! But if I wasn’t already comfortable with it I’d have bought a new one and recommend new to others.


Thursday 26th of January 2023

The Kenmore you show here isn't one of the better models, if I am not mistaken it is made in Taiwan and that might be why you didn't love it. A good Kenmore from the 1970s that is made in Japan will sew circles around any affordably priced modern machine. I took my Kenmore 1050 (a small, portable model) to a sewing class and it was the only vintage machine there and it was the BEST machine there, able to sew over the thick seams of our project where the other modern, plastic machines choked. And yes, these machines not only zigzag, but also stretch stitches and can sew knits just fine.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Thursday 9th of February 2023

I'm not sure of its origin! I'd be curious to try an older machine now that I know what I'm doing but haven't run across any in good shape while thrifting. My modern plastic $400 machine has been trucking along for about 11 years now though, thankfully! I put it through a lot, haha.


Thursday 26th of January 2023

I have a New Home (Janome) vintage machine, it's a zigzag & will sew anything - including knits. Vintage machines are, also, faster. I've sewn on machines for about 60 years, including in factories, the reason I can't tolerate a slow machine. I bought a brand new Brother once, it seemed cheap, flimsy, puttered along, sounded clunky. I had it a few months & when we moved, I left it behind! I've had a serger/overlock machine for about 20 years and recently upgraded to a Singer Quantum 5 thread (serger, safteystitch, coverstitch) machine. With my new machine & vintage machine there's nothing I can't sew and have a professional looking outcome.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Thursday 9th of February 2023

I'm glad you have a set-up you like! My $400 Brother has been handling everything I've thrown at it for about 11 years now knock on wood, I keep looking for a vintage one to try now that I know what I'm doing but no thrifting luck yet.


Tuesday 17th of January 2023

Since my mom worked for Sears, I grew up around Kenmores. I also sew professionally on industrial machines. That said, the best sewing machine is the machine that lets YOU sew the things YOU want to sew. Happy you found what works for you. I have new and vintage machines, and use each for the things they do best. No one machine is "the best, period." Functionality is the key. That said, if there was a fire and I could only save one machine, it would be my heavy metal Kenmore 158.1755 (although it is so tough it would probably survive a fire and a tornado.)

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Thursday 9th of February 2023

What a diplomatic reply amidst all the others championing vintage haha :) that Kenmore sounds like a keeper!!


Tuesday 11th of October 2022

Your article was an interesting read. When I retired I was going to buy a fancy computerised sewing machine. The lady in the shop was sewing on a Vintage Bernina 730 Record and was gushing over its ability. I watched her sew and wow. It was so smooth, it purred and was purchased. Her daughter was trying to sell me a computerised new Bernina. I had a sew and play with the 730 Bernina Record and fell in love. My old machine at home was a now Vintage Husqvarna (the green one) Automatic. I love both these machines and they never miss a beat.

I feel sure the computerised machines are a treat, but not for me. Oh I had a Brother Overlocker, dreadful and traded up to a Pfaff Hobbylock. Now quite old, but also has never missed a beat!

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