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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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Andrew

Sunday 14th of November 2021

There are vintage machines of all ages and yours is one of the newer vintages. For a beginner an older straight stitch machine such as a 15 class (many makers) would probably be perfect, as they are so straightforward and easy to use.

Gayle Knowles

Thursday 28th of October 2021

I have just gone from a less than 3 year old Brother machine (almost the same as the one in the photo) to a 36 year old Bernina 930, which was their flagship model of the era. The Brother was lightweight and felt like it would fall over if I pushed heavy fabric through it, plus it struggled with multiple layers of thick fabric. There was nothing intrinsically wrong with it., it was just flimsy and I felt like I was sewing on a toy.

The 36 year old Bernina cost me far more than the Brother machine had, but oh what a difference. Solid, substantial and it purrs like a kitten. So smooth and it handles thick fabrics with ease and definitely won't fall over. And it's easy to maintain, I can open it and see the moving parts and see what needs cleaning and oiling and do it myself.

In over 40 years of sewing, the Bernina 930 is far and away the nicest sewing machine I've ever used.

Alex

Thursday 8th of July 2021

I did start to learn on my mom's Janome 9000 but I started sewing on a perfectly preserved (aside from a one speed foot pedal that wasn't original) singer 99k from '57 in 2016. It was awesome to learn on! Never broke down on me and still hasn't. I just kept collecting sewing machines this year and came across many many singers. I started collecting when I found a Dressmaker 7000 from what I think is form the 70s (no info on the brand, many speculate about it being one of the thousands Japanese brands that popped up for money) and it sews very well and even has a built in zig-zag! Now I am going to sell it because I am running out of room for all my machines. I then collected a 2012 Singer 160 (their anniversary machine to mark their 160th) and it sews beautifully. I got it for $50 because it was broken but in reality it was just a needle tip stuck in the bobbin area. I then collected a 1912 hand cranked singer model 28 for $50 on Facebook marketplace and oh boy does it sew like a dream. I then collect the same model but from 1924 which was electric. I was so happy because I was able to switch the machines and now my 1912 singer is electric and has a nice bentwood cover to keep it safe! I just love it electric. It doesn't have a pedal but it has knee lever to control the speed. I prefer that over the pedal mainly due to the fact I can control the speed better. It is a vibrating shuttle machine so it is loud and moves a lot but I find that bobbin mechanism does not tend to jam up which I just love. I then collected a what I presume to be 1913-1916 Bradbury family VS sewing machine, a brand that was popular in the UK and sadly it isn't usable but it's quite the show piece with it's original walnut coffin case. I have collected my final machine which is a White Rotary table top machine from the early 20s. After a rewire, cleaning and oiling, the machine sews but requires a technique to move the fabric or else the it bunches up due to how the presser feet attach (not anything like the traditional method that others used) but it does do a decent to good stitch.

I took the hand cranked from my 1912 singer and put it on my 1957 99k so now I have a very good hand cranked machine.

Since I have a modern and an antique machine and vintage machine, I can say that even though the modern singer I have sews amazingly, my 1912 and 1957 singers keep pulling through with good stitches, simplicity and sheer power. The modern Singer is amazing for the fancy stitches and the seam finishes. My antique singer is amazing for the stitches and when paired with a vintage zig-zag foot and a vintage buttonholer, the machine works amazingly swell with those. Vintage machine can be a learning curve but when you learn how to operate them, they sew beautifully.

Depending on your needs, vintage machines are great for heavy duty sewing and casual sewing etc. and modern machines are great for quilting, casual sewing etc...

At the end of the day, get the machine type you want/need.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Sunday 18th of July 2021

Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience! Happy sewing!

Smantha William

Thursday 24th of September 2020

I am just really inspired as well as your writing talents and also with the layout on your own weblog. Is that this a paid theme or have you customize it yourself? Anyway keep in the excellent quality writing, it’s uncommon to peer a great blog this way one these days..

Lisa Gordon

Monday 25th of May 2020

Older post, but couldn't help but comment. I do agree with those who say it depends on your interest. It truly does--if you are in it for practical reasons (want to sew things for family members or yourself, craft efficiently for the end product), then a newer machine is likely better for you. However, if you are in it for more ephemeral reasons (love a challenge, are into nostalgia, appreciate "old style craftsmanship"), then you probably want to look into vintage machines. I personally am of the second sort--I love antiques and love to challenge myself to learn new skills simply for the sake of the challenge. Although I want to eventually produce a well made end product, the "journey" to that end product, for me, is almost more important than the product itself. I've now taught myself how to disassemble and make small repairs to vintage machines (for me, vintage means prior to 1970, when plastic started showing up in the internal gears). I enjoy sewing simple projects on those machines (face masks, part of our new normal, on my vintage Singer 201, a simple machine with an incredible straight stitch and an ability to sew through multiple layers like no other). I love taking a dusty, about-to-be junked relic and with love and care turning it into a shiny, smoothly sewing work of industrial age machinery. I was recently given a 1964 Necchi Supernova, frozen solid from neglect (hadn't been oiled since the 60s was my guess), and enjoyed the achievement of unfreezing every stuck-solid gear and joint--not an easy process, using heat guns and pliers over several days in some instances! I have sewed on it now, and look forward to using the gazillion different stitch options--fully as many as the most expensive modern computerized machine--to produce crafted sewing kits. That machine is, indeed, finicky--but for me, finicky is part of the package deal of the challenge. For someone who just wants the machine to do its job, finicky is certainly frustrating, and not something they would be interested in. So yes, it totally depends on what you love, what your interests are, and what the machine means to you. If it is a means to an end, and the end product is what you are aiming for (lovely clothing for your kids, or a machine that will help you produce magnificent quilts in record time), a newer machine is definitely a better choice than a vintage one. If you want to linger along the way to that end product and whimsically enjoy sewing on a lovely antique, not minding when it needs a tweak here or an adjustment there, then a vintage machine would be quite pleasurable to sew with. We're all different, with different likes, dislikes and needs. The machine you choose should be based on an assessment of who you are and what makes you happiest.

Stephanie - Swoodson Says

Wednesday 27th of May 2020

I read comments on older posts and I know other people do too :) Thanks for sharing your thoughts, you have a really beautiful way of writing about sewing.

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