The 5 Best Vintage Sewing Machines Ever Made [2021]

You’ve decided to take up sewing and you’re wondering what the first step is.  Well, the most obvious and basic step to get you started on this adventure is to get the right crafting tool, namely, a sewing machine.  But this is, unfortunately, a very overwhelming decision.  There are just too many types of sewing machines to choose from.  Fortunately, Craft & Stitch was created for just such a situation.

While we love modern sewing machines here, we also enjoy celebrating the old-time classics.  So, in this article, we will look at vintage sewing machines and discover why one of these machines may be the best for beginners.

What is a Vintage Sewing Machine?

Many of us refer to old items as vintage, antique, or retro interchangeably, and while they can be used interchangeably, each word does actually have a unique meaning.  So, before we begin looking at vintage sewing machines, we need to define our terms.

  • Antique: This term refers to items that are at least 100 years old.  These items do not have to be high quality or in great condition, just old.  What makes antiques valuable is their history, rarity, age, and the sentimentality surrounding them.
  • Retro: This term refers to items that are styled after a particular timeframe.  These items do not have to be old, but they can be.  They simply need to represent a style from a time gone by.
  • Vintage: This term refers to old items that are of top-notch quality.  There is no official set age for how old something must be in order to fit in this category, but most people agree that it should at least be 25 years old.  Basically, a vintage sewing machine is at least 25 years old and is recognized as a high-quality item.

For the purposes of this article, we will be looking at sewing machines that fit the above definition of vintage.

Why Select a Vintage Sewing Machine?

After all this discussion of age and terminology, you may still be wondering why you would want a sewing machine that is at least 25 years old rather than a new model. Let’s talk about that now so that you can be assured that you are looking at the right type of machine for your sewing style.

Easy Maintenance

If you’re going to look at a vintage sewing machine, you will probably look at the machines that are purely mechanical.  A mechanical machine doesn’t include all the fancy gadgetry and electronics of many modern machines. While this may seem like a reason to avoid vintage machines, it is actually the opposite.  Mechanical vintage sewing machines are straightforward to fix and maintain; in fact, many of the issues that arise can be dealt with by watching a YouTube video or visiting online blogs.

Good Looks

There’s no denying that a vintage sewing machine is a thing of beauty.  No modern sewing machine has quite the aesthetic appeal as to these grand old contraptions.  If you are all about style, then these are the way to go.

Great Performance

These old machines were built to last and perform well.  They may not include many or any fancy extra stitches, but the stitches they can do will always be performed with excellence.

Past Connections

Working with a vintage sewing machine can reconnect you with past generations.  If you want to feel close to the sewists from decades long past, then this type of machine is a great way to do so.

Sturdy Build

Sewing machines built decades ago were built to last; after all, they were expensive and many families didn’t have money to throw at a new machine when their current machine quit.  Sewing machine companies couldn’t keep their businesses running if they were not making high-quality and long-lasting machinery for their customers.

How to Select a Vintage Sewing Machine

Now that we have defined our terms and discovered why a vintage sewing machine is still useful, we need to discuss sewing machine features.  The following is a list of features that we will use to discuss what to look for in a vintage sewing machine and will be used as a reference guide for all the products we recommend later in this article.

Bobbin Case

When you look at a vintage sewing machine, make sure it has a bobbin case and a bobbin.

Handwheel

Always check that the Handwheel is easy to turn and that it moves the needle up and down.

Missing Parts

Make sure that the machine you consider purchasing has all its parts.  If it does not, make sure the parts are available for purchase somewhere.

Needle

Make sure the needle goes up and down.

Size

It is important to consider the size of the sewing machine you plan to purchase since you will need to store it somewhere.  Whether you have a sewing table set apart specifically for your machine or you have a closet to store your machine, you need to keep track of measurements during the shopping process.

Weight

A vintage sewing machine should be made from sturdy metal without much or any plastic pieces.  The best way to know if a sewing machine is old is to pick it up.  If it is heavy, then it is probably made from metal and should be a sturdy item.  This is also going to be an important factor to consider if you plan to travel with your machine or move it from a storage spot to a sewing table.

The Vintage Models You Should Consider

Using the above features as our guide, we will begin looking at some of the best vintage sewing machine models on the market.

Singer Featherweight 221K

This vintage sewing machine is popular for those who like to travel with their sewing equipment or need something lightweight since they often move it from place to place.  Since this is a used item that is being resold, it is best to either look at the machine in person or contact the seller directly with any questions about its condition.  

What is the Price of This Model?

This model is currently being sold for $1350.00 plus shipping charges.  It may be possible to find other sewing machines for sale in your area or on other websites.

What Feature(s) of this Model Make it Worth Purchasing?

This model of sewing machine is great for those who like the look of a vintage machine without all the weight.  These machines are made of lightweight aluminum rather than cast iron or steel, and therefore, are excellent for travel.

What Year Was This Model Made?

This particular model is dated to 1952.  To date, the model of a Singer Featherweight sewing machine, look at its serial numbers and compare them to this sewing machine dating guide.

Where Can New Parts be Purchased?

If your Featherweight sewing machine is missing parts, or if a part breaks while you use it, check out The Featherweight Shop.  This shop is designed to help owners of these machines get all the parts they need, help install the parts, and fix any problems that may arise with their machine.

Pros:

  • Lightweight
  • Great looking design
  • Parts are fairly easy to find
  • Maintenance tips are easy to find

Cons:

  • Very Expensive
  • Only sews a straight stitch
  • Not as sturdy or as durable as a cast steel or a cast-iron model

Singer 99k

This vintage sewing machine is a ¾ size sewing machine which means it is more compact and more portable than regular-sized sewing machine models.  Since it will be nearly impossible to find one of these machines that have never been used, you should examine the machine in person or ask good questions of the seller before purchasing it.

What is the Price of This Model?

This particular model is on E-bay, so its price will vary.

What Feature(s) of this Model Make it Worth Purchasing?

This model is a great purchase because it has a vintage machine’s aesthetic appeal in a smaller size but with a sturdy cast iron body.

What Year Was This Model Made?

This particular model is dated to 1953.  Singer sewing machines are easy to date by locating the machine’s serial numbers and checking SingerCo.com or ISMACS.net to find out when it was made.

Where Can New Parts be Purchased?

Parts can be found by checking the list of parts for this machine and searching for the specific items online.

Pros:

  • Smaller, more compact size
  • Built from durable cast iron

Cons:

  • Heavy
  • Only sews a straight stitch

Kenmore Zig-Zag Sewing Machine 158.12470

This vintage sewing machine was designed to make stitching easier and stronger by adding a zig-zag pattern to the options.

What is the Price of This Model?

This particular model is on E-bay, so its price will vary.

What Feature(s) of this Model Make it Worth Purchasing?

This model of sewing machine is made for stitching with both straight and zig-zag stitches.  It is also of a durable and sturdy build.

What Year Was This Model Made?

This particular model was made in 1975.  Kenmore sewing machines can be dated by using their reference sheet located at Sears Archives.

Where Can New Parts be Purchased?

Parts for Kenmore sewing machines can be found at Partselect.com.

Pros:

  • Produces both straight and zig-zag stitches

Cons:

  • Heavy (31 pounds)

Singer Rocketeer 500A

This vintage sewing machine is all about versatility and ease of use.  It can be used to create several different types of stitches with little hassle.

What is the Price of This Model?

This particular model is priced at $350.00.

What Feature(s) of this Model Make it Worth Purchasing?

This model is sleek and stylish, built for durability and versatility.  It can produce more than one type of stitch and is easy to adjust settings with the visible levers.

What Year Was This Model Made?

This model is dated to the early 1960s.  Singer sewing machines are easy to date by locating the machine’s serial numbers and checking SingerCo.com or ISMACS.net to find out when it was made.

Where Can New Parts be Purchased?

Parts can be found by checking the list of parts for this machine and searching for the specific items online.

Pros:

  • Includes built-in stitch patterns
  • Designed to be used in machine darning, upholstering, and embroidering

Cons:

  • Expensive

Pfaff 260

This type of vintage sewing machine was made in West Germany, which should give you a sense of when it was made.  It is a sturdy machine that was built to take on thick layers.

What is the Price of This Model?

This model is priced at $319.00.

What Feature(s) of this Model Make it Worth Purchasing?

This particular model is on E-bay, so its price will vary.

What Year Was This Model Made?

The seller does not give out the necessary information required to date this model, but these sewing machines were made in an era when West Germany existed.  This particular model has been completely renovated by the seller.

Where Can New Parts be Purchased?

The best place to locate parts for a Pfaff sewing machine is at Sewing Parts Online.

Pros:

  • Durable
  • Includes a lot of different stitch options

Cons:

  • Expensive
  • Dials lose their markings easily

FAQs

Question: What can be made with a Vintage Sewing Machine?

Answer: You sew basically anything on a vintage sewing machine.  Once you learn how your personal machine holds up against certain types of fabric and how to move the fabric through it, you should have a good idea of what it can and cannot do well.  The one thing to keep in mind about vintage sewing machines is that they do not all come with stitch selections; many only come with a straight stitch option.

Question: How Can I Maintenance My Vintage Sewing Machine?

Answer: Since most vintage sewing machines are mechanical, they are rather easy to fix yourself.  In fact, there are many websites designed to help sewing machine owners save money by teaching them how to maintain many problems on many different machines.  Some of these sites are:
Instructables
Mermaid’s Den
Do It Yourself Skills 

Question: Are Vintage Sewing Machines Better than New Sewing Machines?

Answer: The answer to this question will be a matter of personal preference; however, there are a few facts that make a vintage machine better than its modern counterparts.  These facts are:
– Vintage sewing machines are mostly or completely mechanical, and therefore, easy for anyone to fix; whereas, modern machines are usually made with electronic parts that are difficult to fix.
– Vintage sewing machines are simple to use which makes them great to learn on; whereas, modern machines have a lot of stitch options that make it a very complex contraption to learn on.
– Vintage sewing machines are built with strong metal parts so they will last for years; whereas, modern machines are typically made from plastic parts that break or bend.

Bottomline

If you were unsure of whether or not a vintage sewing machine was the ideal item for your sewing room, this article should have helped you make that decision.  Now you know all about why these machines are so wonderful and how to find the best one for your sewing needs.  Happy Crafting!

Further Read:

Research Citations

Do You Sew

Mermaids Den

Sewing Is Cool

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