How To Shop For and Buy A Vintage Sewing Machine

Have you been looking at all of my sewing machines and been wondering how to shop and buy a vintage sewing machine for yourself? I’ve got some tips to help you navigate all of the sewing machines out there and come home with a vintage sewing machine that will make you happy. We will briefly touch on cost but that’s truly a post all of its own. I’ll walk you through where to look, what to look for, and dispel some myths out there when it comes to not only buying but also using a vintage sewing machine. So let’s get to shopping and buying you a new to you sewing machine.

how to shop for and buy a vintage sewing machine.

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How much should I budget for a vintage sewing machine?
You may not have to spend a dime. If there is a family member with a machine they may be willing to give you that machine. Otherwise, you will have to spend some money. How much money you will need to spend I can’t answer. There are too many variables that affect price for me to give you a solid range here. Things like location, market demand, market saturation, condition, service history, and what I like to call the grandma tax all play in to what people will ask for a sewing machine. Sometimes I see prices and shake my head while others are amazed at the deal. My best advice is to figure out how much you are comfortable in spending and look for one in that range. As you get more familiar with your area you’ll learn what is available and what prices are like.
Where do I look?
If you have people in your family who have sewn in the past start with them. There’s a chance they have an older machine sitting around and they might just part with it. If not start by looking at garage and estate sales, Facebook Buy/Sell/Trade pages, Craigslist, and Shopgoodwill for local pick ups. There are machines available on places like Ebay and Etsy but I’m not comfortable with having a machine shipped to me. First of all vintage sewing machines are heavy so it usually costs $40 or more to have it shipped. The other thing is if the person doesn’t know how to pack the machine for shipping it can show up on your front porch destroyed. I’ve seen too many photos of broken machines that were shipped and not packed well for me to bite the bullet.
I’ve found a machine I like, what do I need to know before I buy it?
Before you start shopping familiarize yourself with the parts of a sewing machine. You’ll need a good idea of what tension assemblies look like, what bobbins and bobbin cases look like, what a drop in bobbin looks like, and how to check for a knee bar. The great thing is there are tons of photos on the internet for you to look at. ISMACS is a great resource for photos of various machines so you can see what they should look like. The other thing that ISMACS has is the Singer serial number database. If you are looking at a Singer machine get the serial number so you can look up what it is, no matter what the seller is telling you. I’ve seen machines marked as a Featherweight or 221 that were really a 99. After arming yourself with that basic knowledge you’ll need to look at the machine for damage. I’m not talking about scratches on the machine, unless the scratches will actually affect the operation of the machine they are purely cosmetic. You want to look for dents, signs of abuse, rust, check the motor for signs of fire and smell it, and check the wiring to see if it’s safe. I would steer you clear of any machine that looks like it has been dropped, something could be bent inside. It’s up to you on buying the machine if the motor or wiring need replaced. I am willing to buy a machine that has a smoked motor or bad wiring if the price is right because those are things that my husband is capable of fixing. Not everyone has those skills or have someone in their area who is willing and capable of doing it.
The machine I bought doesn’t work, now what?
That’s a pretty open ended question. If the needle won’t go up and down it’s probably dirty. The insides need to be cleaned. Make sure there is no thread around the hand wheel or tied up in the bobbin area. Make sure the dog feeds are clean as well. Then it’s time to start working on getting the varnished oil out of the machine. There are lots of methods to doing this but I suggest one for new people and that’s flushing it. You need a product like Blue Creeper or Marvel’s Mystery Oil. Both of these products are designed to get into tight spaces and clean away the old oil without damaging the metal. They are not oil to use for normal maintenance unless you also purchase Blue Creeper SMO. Put the oil anywhere metal touches metal top and bottom of the machine. You’ll want to turn the hand wheel and add a little bit more oil until the hand wheel turns freely. Then run the machine for a bit with a paper towel under the needle and the machine unthreaded until everything moves freely. After a couple of days re oil your machine with sewing machine oil. If that doesn’t work, contact me and I’ll do my best to help troubleshoot your issue.

What brand of machine do you recommend?
I’m not a brand or manufacturer specific person. We primarily have Singer and Kenmores because that is what is readily available in our area. I looked for more than a year for my Necchi BU. I really like the older Necchi machines. My mom had used Necchi machines so I do have a sentimental attachment to them. The nice thing about Singer is that parts are still available and there are lots of people out there who can help you with any issues. Kenmores are hardy little machines and in my opinion make good beginner machines. Sears still carries parts for many of the machines. Kenmores aren’t the fastest machines out there and one reason I really like them for beginners. They are also built like tanks. We have a few of the Japanese imports from the mid 50s -60s. They are very good looking machines and they sew well. Parts for the Japanese imports are fairly easy to find as well. Most of the Japanese machines have parts based off of Singer parts so they can be interchanged a lot of times. The downfall though is finding a manual can be difficult because they have odd names and it can be hard to figure out who made them. Do your best to make sure there are no nylon gears and do a Google search to see if there are any known issues with the machine. There are lemons out there.
I’ve been told I can’t make a quilt on an older machine. So why are you telling me how to buy one?
I don’t know who you’ve been talking to but you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. You can make a quilt on any machine out there. There are many quilters who use a treadle sewing machine because that’s what they prefer, my husband is one of them. There is nothing an old sewing machine can’t do that’s needed in quilting. Embroidery is a different story but I’ve seen it done on older machines as well. If you look at a Babylock Jane it’s essentially a vintage sewing machine. My Necchi Julia has the same threading system and there are some with the knee lift option.

how to shop for and buy a vintage sewing machine

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