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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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Helen

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!

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..

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