old sewing machine seen from close up

The interest in vintage items is on the rise over the last couple of years. Every year there are more shops and events that sell or celebrate vintage clothing, vintage furniture, vintage cars, and many other vintage items. Sewists didn’t skip this new-old trend. Vintage sewing machines are in demand as well. Why we love these old items, and why we seem to love them more and more?

Some people think it’s just a short-lived trend that will fade away. Moreover, they resent the word ‘vintage’ saying that it is used to lure people to buy stuff that is simply old. Oh, my! Are they wrong! Actually, the world vintage is very specific. You can use words old, retro, and antique, but none of them have the same meaning as vintage. The word vintage origins from Old French. Originally, it meant wine harvest, but it evolved to denote wine of high quality. Over time, it became the word that describes any item that is old and possesses high quality.

This definition brings us to the essence of vintage items growing popularity. Our time is characterized by the mass production of low-quality products. Today’s industry is more about design and short-lived trends. On the other hand, vintage items were often made to last forever. Vintage sewing machines fit this description perfectly.

What Is Exactly Vintage Sewing Machine

While we know what ‘vintage’ means, it’s not easy to set boundaries that define vintage items. Vintage pieces are often confused with antique and retro ones. So, what’s the difference? 

For starters, retro doesn’t have to be old at all. The word retro refers to the style of the past, regardless of how old the item is. Retro items can be brand new, but the style and design resemble past trends.

Antique items should be at least 100 years old. These items aren’t necessarily high-quality, although it is desirable. Usually, they should be collectible. The age, history, rarity, and sentimental value affect the value of the item.

High-quality items, less than 100 years old are called ‘vintage’. Some people say that true vintage items have to be at least 50 years old, while others take 25 years as a starting point. So, this boundary is not clear. As for vintage sewing machines, well, for starters, they look very different from modern ones. If it’s robust, heavy, and all-metal, it is most likely a vintage piece. These machines ruled throughout the second half of the 19th and 20th century, and they were slowly replaced by modern-looking sewing machines from the 1980s.

vintage sewing machine seen from close up

Why You Should Buy a Vintage Sewing Machine

It’s not like you have to own a vintage sewing machine. Modern machines are just fine and they can provide all you need to sew whatever you want. Nevertheless, there are a couple of reasons why you should consider buying a vintage sewing machine. It is more about love and passion than about need, though. 

It’s a Time-Travelling Experience

Our modern sewing machines are like blank pieces of paper. It’s up to you to write whatever you want on it. They are smart, flashy, and they can do almost anything. On the other hand, each vintage sewing machine beauty has a history of its own. You are just continuing the line. Who knows how many hands have turned those wheels, and how many dresses, coats, pants, and shirts from different eras and styles it has produced. When you touch these heavy-weight old beauties, you can almost feel that you’re reaching out to the past. You can feel the pride of the manufacturers who made it to last for ages. Working on it, you’re becoming a part of that history, you’re the one that continues the legacy. For me, this is more than enough to decide that I must have one of these machines. But, stay tuned, the list goes on.

They Don’t Make Them As They Used To

This is a sad truth. While modern machines are constantly improving in many ways, when it comes to construction and durability, they are no match for old machines. Each part of a vintage machine was made of high-quality materials (usually cast iron or steel), and it was built to last for generations. With a little bit of care and maintenance, these monsters were practically indestructible.

By the way, back in the day, these machines were extremely expensive. So, breaking down, or malfunctioning after a couple of years, was not an option. 

They Still Perform Great

Usually, vintage sewing machines can only do a single, straight stitch. But, they do it as straight as it gets. Moreover, these machines were used for everything, from repairs, everyday clothes, wedding dresses, and suits, to cowhide leather and blankets. So, they can take on whatever you throw at them.

They Are Easy to Maintain

There’s no software or delicate electronics, just pure old mechanics. And even if you’re not an expert, you can use some modern technology to keep your old beauty in shape – it’s the internet. You can find myriads of online tutorials on how to maintain or fix almost any vintage sewing machine.

Vintage Sewing Machines Are Beautiful

Never underestimate the power of good looks. These old machines are beautiful so you don’t need to put it away when your friends are coming over (not to mention that it would be a daunting mission). There are people that don’t even use these machines. They keep them in their houses as decorative items. It’s a shame, though.

black vintage sewing machine on a white background

What to Look for When Buying a Vintage Sewing Machine

First, you have to ask yourself why you are buying it. Some writers still use old typewriters. You may be the same when it comes to sewing machines. It just feels better and you feel connected to antecedent generations and times. However, maybe you want to buy a collectible item that will become even more valuable as time passes by. Also, you may prefer the beauty and appearance of these machines, so you can enjoy having it around even when you don’t sew.

Whatever your goals, you should make sure to buy a machine that works or can be repaired easily. This is what you should check out.

  • Handwheel. It should turn smoothly and without much difficulty.
  • Needle. Check out if the needle goes up and down as you turn the handwheel.
  • Check for missing parts. The machine can look sturdy and beautiful, but if it misses some parts, it won’t work properly. If some parts are missing, you can probably find them elsewhere, but they might be expensive.
  • Check out the bobbin case.

I would also recommend buying vintage machines of the most popular manufacturers such as Singer, Viking or Pfaff. This is not a must, but it’s much easier to find spare parts for these machines. While old age might add up value to your new old sewing machine, be cautious with very old models if you want to sew on them. Models made before the 1920s are likely to use different bobbins, shuttles, and needles. It’s not impossible to use these machines, but it can be very tricky. And you might never find a missing part if you need one.

Final Thoughts

Both modern and vintage sewing machines have the same or almost the same essential parts such as bobbins, needles, and presser feet. Apart from that, they offer quite a different experience. Modern machines come with dozens or hundreds of stitches, many automated functions, and many more fancy features. Vintage sewing machines come with history, beauty, and unfading built quality. 

If you’re looking for a practical sewing machine only, you’ll be fine with many of today’s models. But, if you want to feel the whiff of history and pass it to future generations you need to add a vintage machine to your collection. The choice is yours, but I am sure of one thing: if you ever buy a vintage sewing machine you will not regret it.