Where to find vintage sewing machines and what to look for before you purchase. These tips are specifically for vintage Singer sewing machines but should be applicable to most machines.
Vintage sewing machines were built to last. They might be older than you, but they were made to sew through several lifetimes. They are a great option if you are looking for a sturdy sewing machine. Plus they are fairly inexpensive, compared to brand new sewing machines.
My mom and I joke that if you find a black Singer you buy it. But I would be a little choosier than just any black Singer sewing machine.
Where can you find a vintage sewing machine?
There are lots of places to find one. I have purchased some at the thrift store and through the Facebook marketplace. At the thrift store, they could be in the collectibles case, with the electronics and other sewing machines, or even just in the furniture folded up into their tables. You can also check yard or estate sales and Craigslist. If you want to bid on some you can always check eBay or Goodwill Online. Another good place to check is etsy, but I do think that people there know the value of the machines so you won’t be getting as good of a deal as you can with some other places. However, on etsy and eBay many models have been serviced or refurbished so they should be in good working order and ready to go. Just know that these are heavy machines so the shipping can add up real quick.
When searching online marketplaces try generic searches such as “vintage sewing machine” as well as specific searches like “Singer 221 featherweight”. Some people are just selling what was in grandma’s garage and have no idea what they are looking at other than it’s old and a sewing machine.
Another great place can be to just tell friends and family. Who knows what they are storing? Or maybe they have a neighbor or friend who’s looking to unload some family heirlooms.
What should I look for?
That really depends on the type of machine and how big of a project you are willing to take on. You can easily fix them up yourself, or you can take them into a sewing shop to be serviced. In my area, a general sewing machine service starts at $90. That doesn’t include parts if any are needed. In general, though there are a few things that I look for when I am shopping.
How does the machine look?
How is the finish? Is it coming off? What about the decals? Are they intact? Are there any major scratches or dings? Keep in mind these are very old machines and some have seen a lot of use. Of course, I would prefer to have my machines in pristine condition, but all of mine have worn decals. I’m okay with that. I plan to use my machines, so they don’t have to be perfect. If you aren’t okay with wear and tear then this is an easy way to weed out potential machines.
It is possible to completely repaint the machines and reapply the decals. People paint them all kinds of fun colors. I would love to find a featherweight in need of a paint job and paint it aqua like this beauty I found on Instagram. 😍😍😍
Does it work?
In my experience at the thrift store and on Facebook rarely do they have the power cable, so it’s hard to be 100% sure that they work. Plus I’m wary of just plugging them in and turning them on without doing a once over and some basic service. Who knows how long the machine has been sitting without oil or motor grease?
I typically just look to see if the needle moves up and down when I turn the hand wheel. If it doesn’t it’s usually one of two things. The machine needs cleaning and oil as there could be years of lint, dust, and old oil in there. Or it’s in bobbin winding mode. The silver-colored insert in the hand wheel determines which mode the machine is in. If you turn it away from you the machine is in sewing mode. If you turn it toward you the machine is in bobbin winding mode. Sometimes it’s been many years since the machine was used and this is hard to turn either direction.
Are all the pieces there?
As I have previously stated I typically don’t find machines with their power cable but those are only about $10-$15 and can easily be found online.
What about a foot pedal? Or maybe the machine as a knee pedal. What do you use to control it and is it there? If not you’ll need to replace those as well.
I look to make sure that the bobbin casing in is in the machine. It might not have a bobbin in it, but those are easy to find. You can usually get a bobbin casing too, but they can be pricey depending on the sewing machine model.
What about the thread peg? It’s the post on top of your machine to hold your spool of thread. Yes, you can get replacements, they are just nice to have. If the machine doesn’t have it, it doesn’t stop me from purchasing it. Just make a mental note.
Does the tension assembly seem like it’s all there. My 221 featherweight didn’t come with the numbered knob which makes it hard to tell where the tension is. It can also be replaced.
Is everything that was pictured in the listing present? I bought a machine from a Facebook listing. In the photos it was in a table with a ton of extra accessories. When I showed up she had already packed it all up for me. I gave the machine a once over and we loaded it in my car. I didn’t realize until the next day that I was missing two boxes of accessories, including a buttonholer, that had been pictured with the machine, but weren’t in my table. I tried contacting the seller a couple times, but she never responded. It’s not like I make a lot of button holes. It just would have been fun to have.
Most pieces can be replaced. It’s just good to know how many things the machine will need because even though they are little they can add up.
Does your machine need some items?
I have bought replacement cables from Amazon. And replacement parts for my featherweight at the Singer Featherweight Shop. There is also Sewing Parts Online. They have a lot of items, but I have not purchased from them so I can’t say anything about the quality or customer service.
Hopefully, this post helps you get started shopping for a vintage sewing machine. If you have any questions that I didn’t cover please ask them below. I want to make this as comprehensive as possible.