Vintage Sewing Machine Addiction: A Survival Guide

When you've been bitten by the vintage sewing machine bug, it's virtually impossible to recover. Once you start noticing the generations of old Singers, Kenmores, Elnas and Necchis, they start turning up everywhere: the thrift store, garage sales, flea markets, etc. Fifty years ago, sewing machine were built like tanks and were as common as toasters; it's no wonder they're in overabundance today.

The challenge for the connoisseur of vintage machines is two-fold: Almost any sewing machine manufactured before 1980 can be had for relatively cheap, and it's easy to fall into pound-puppy syndrome: you feel it's your duty to save these orphaned machines from the trash heap.

Since this new obsession is most likely here to stay, let's talk about managing your obsession so you don't end up turning your spare bedroom into a sewing machine museum.

The ground rules:
  • Don't buy any sewing machines that show signs of having had a hard life. Inspect the underside and peek under the covers and doors, if possible. Chips in paint, rust, or missing parts are signs you should move on. Limited chipping on the machine bed is acceptable, as are easily replaced universal parts like a bobbin case or motor belts.
  • Before you buy anything, you should know which brands are most highly regarded. The top two brands in vintage machines are the Italian-made Necchi and the German-made Pfaff. Most vintage machines manufactured in Japan are also excellent and often carry names like Kenmore, Dressmaker, and Montgomery Wards, among others. Don't pay too much just for a name: no machine is one-of-a-kind; these were mass-produced products and are still plentiful. When in doubt, keep looking.
  • Have an understanding of what features set certain machines above the rest. Look for droppable feed dogs and the more rare, but highly useful, needle position selector. Machines that used cams to create special stitches are often missing these extras today and have more internal parts that could go wrong, making these machines less desireable unless in excellent working condition and complete with their original accessories.
  • Look for "barn finds". This is a machine that likely has been sitting around for a very long time without use. The oil will have dried up, the belt may have disintegrated, and the hand wheel will be hard to turn. A machine like this could be priced low because of it's apparent unusable condition but can be refurbished with new belt, bobbin tire and oil, all for less than $10. It's a risk of course, but if the price is right you have little to lose. Machines that have been stored in a case rather than a cabinet will be in better condition, having been protected from the elements, than cabinet machines that were open to the air even if closed, and were often left in their upright position, exposing them to dust and moisture.
  • Don't pass up a super-cheap machine that happens to be missing a part or two or is in questionable shape. Motors, tension assemblies, foot pedals, bobbin cover plates, etc. are often interchangeable between brands. Buying a broken-down machine for $5 just for a tension assembly or motor you can use in a machine you are restoring will save you quite a bit over buying new. Look to see if you recognize anything you need but avoid collecting too many non-functional units, especially if space is at a premium.
  • Listen to the motor if you can. Release the knob that engages the needle and let the motor spin alone (or just the hand wheel) at full speed. The motor should sound smooth. It's normal for a dusty motor to have an acrid smell, but a choppy or clunky sound is not a good sign. Sparks are also possible at first but not acceptable after a few trial runs. Motors can be rebuilt fairly easily for those willing for follow directions, but this is time consuming and can be complicated. New motors are easily found but can cost more than the machine is worth, depending on the model. Consider, if it is a very strong machine otherwise, will you be willing to source a replacement motor?
In closing, you must learn to be selective. You can't buy them all and you shouldn't.

What if, however, more eligible machines show up in your life than you can possibly purchase? You could avoid places where old machines are likely to be found, but what fun is that? The best solution is to buy only those machines you truly love, and to raise the standards of what you are willing to bring home. Hunt for only the very best examples at the best prices.

And what of the machines you pass up -- how can you just leave them there? I suggest bringing your camera with you when you hunt, and creating a photo album of the many machines that don't make the cut. It's always fun to have a record of what you found and at what price. There's always the possibility you'll find the same thing cheaper at another time.

And if, at that time, you experience a slightly accelerated heartbeat that suggests, This is the machine I want and I want it now?

Go for it!

28 comments :: Vintage Sewing Machine Addiction: A Survival Guide

  1. do you know anything about a "bamberger's" brand? Made in Japan.
    If you do, please email me:

  2. Oh Brian, how I share your love for old vintage sewing machines. I love the old the singers and Kenmore's and those old iron machines that don't even have a name. I have my old singers in a storage unit right now, but this post made me long for them again. Thank you for your posts and your you tube videos!!

  3. Hi Brian,
    I recently acquired a beautiful 1950's Zenith (Japanese)30 DeLuxe Precision machine. All is in working order except I need a new Bobbin Tire and Belt. The Bobbin Tire is thicker than the standard Singer part and the belt is a little smaller for my machine. Do you have any recommendations for sources for these parts? Thanks...I'd love to start using the machine!

  4. Hey there Brian, I'm looking to find some information on an older machine that I found. It's marked as a "Amazon" brand. From the looks I would think it's from somewhere around the 20's, maybe a bit earlier, but I'm really not sure. Just hoping you could point me in the right direction for some information.

  5. Hi I took a part a vintage unity sewing machine made in USA and I cant when I assemble the piece back together I had an extra screw I think I put it back wrong.


    Email me at

  6. I have this B&B named sewing machine it says made in Japan. I am looking for more information about the name.

  7. So luck to come across your excellent blog. Your blog brings me a great deal of fun.. Good luck with the site. sewing machine for beginners

  8. Hi Brian, I have a Singer 99k that has quit working. NO power coming to it. Light not on, motor not responding. So my question is, should I get a new motor assembly? Does it have to be a 99K motor, if not, what other machine motor would work? I attempted to convert to treadle but quickly found out the 99K is too small for a standard cabinet w treadle. So, I am back to figuring out how to get a motor for it. Thanks for any ideas. Sheila in Louisville KY.

  9. Hi,
    I recently moved from the UK to the US and am looking to buy a sewing machine. I used to have a old brother industrial straight stitch from the 70s and LOVED IT! I'm looking for something that has a 3 step and a 1 step zigzag stitch, a straight stitch and double needle capability would be ideal (double needle isn't a necessity though. New machines don't seem to be build like older ones, but wanting the zigzag stitching has thrown me on where to start! Would you be able to recommend any models that sew through a variety of fabrics. I'm looking to sew very fine and light weight materials primary, ideally I'd like it to sew leather as well but I'm not sure that I will fine one that will do all of the above. I'd really appreciate if you have any advice!

  10. Hi,
    We have a Kenmore Model 90 sewing machine with a Model 5151 motor. It says it uses 1.2 amps. We moved overseas and have to connect it to a transformer since we have 220V electricity. Can you help me figure out what size transformer we need? I believe it would use 144 watts, but not sure what type motors were used in those days, i.e. if it is an induction motor or other kind. Also, I read I should consider the surge amps, but that is not listed on the nomenclature plate. Thanks!

  11. The challenge for the connoisseur of vintage machines is two-fold: Almost any sewing machine manufactured before 1980 can be had for relatively cheap, and it's easy to fall into pound-puppy syndrome: you feel it's your duty to save these orphaned machines from the trash heap. my homepage

  12. Thank you. my website

  13. Thank you so much for sharing this tutorial. It's just the thing my granddaughters will love.
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  14. Thanks for sharing this information,its was very useful ,keep updating more threads Best Embroidery Sewing Machines in Chennai

  15. Hello Brian,
    I live in Australia and was given many years ago a Unity sewing machine. It was my grandmother's. It comes in a type of suitcase. It is like new. I don't think she hardly used it and I used it once to make some curtains. It is an electric with a peddle. It comes with original oil tin, bobbins and even some cottons! I don't really want to part with it, but I am moving overseas and it is burdensome to take. I am wondering where I could sell it and what I could ask for it. Can you help please? I would appreciate it.

  16. I have not heard about before. Keep sharing more blog posts on this Community and get extra benefits with this ideas and knowledge. Thanks for this one.
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  17. Where is a good place to find one. My niece is starting to quilt and she will be using this machine. Any help would be appreciated. Thanks.

  18. I recently found a Japanese sewing machine from sewing machine sales corp. It's dark green and it's called Southern Pride,and since I'm from Alabama it's awesome. Though I've searched endlessly I cannot find this one. Good hunting.

  19. I recently found a Japanese sewing machine from sewing machine sales corp. It's dark green and it's called Southern Pride,and since I'm from Alabama it's awesome. Though I've searched endlessly I cannot find this one. Good hunting.

  20. I recently found a japanese sewing machine. It is a Goodyear super deluxe precision sewing machine. I cant seem to find any info or pictures of it on the internet. Any suggestions?

  21. Cool blog you got here and thank you for the valuable information about the sewing machines and cheap sewing machine.thank you.
    sewing tutorial

  22. Hi! I know this blog post is old, but I just got a Dressmaker S-9000AAB sewing machine for $5. I've never owned a sewing machine before, and the tension assembly is messed up. Where can I find a replacement that will work?

  23. but it can be more difficult to separate out over inflated prices from what an actual fair market price may be.

  24. I think I have never seen such blogs ever before that has complete things with all details which I want. So kindly update this ever for us. convert psd to wordpress theme

  25. Oh Brian! This page really speaks to me. For many years I had the urge to rescue stray cats... which I did... until they started urinating in the corner of my condo and my husband had had enough. Now I want to rescue all the stray vintage sewing machines. Hubby isn’t super excited, but luckily it’s not as involved as having cats. Anyhoo... I just found the most beautiful Necchi heavy duty (model 502) machine. It seems to be working, I have the manual, but it’s missing bobbin case and needs oil. I’d love to spray paint it hot pink, or rose gold. I’m just in love with it❤️

  26. Do you know who made the sewing that is marked Golden Rule?? Also if so are you able to let me know what the value on that particular brand is as I’m looking into purchasing one. I’ve looked all over the Internet but I’m not finding anything on it Thanks so much ��


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