A vintage Singer sewing machine – why would you want one?


Scan of page from 1929 Singer sewing machine brochure

So in 1929 “You cannot afford not to have one”.  Hmmm.  We’d say the same applies today, but then I guess we would.


When I was pedalling up the lane yesterday, I was greeted by one of the regular doggie-walkers.  Luckily the brain was working well, and I recalled that this lady had once mentioned in passing that she makes curtains.  For which you need a sewing machine.  So I stopped to tell her about the blog.

I was glad I did, because I now know that some modern machines don’t have foot-pedals, and that the reverse facility on some of them is a button you push to make it do one stitch backwards.  Best of all though, I now appreciate what fun and games are involved when you’re sewing big heavy curtains with your friend’s modern lightweight plastic machine, which she’s lent you to do a rush job while your vintage Singer’s at the mender’s and which just won’t stay put on your table while you handle the work because there’s no weight to it.

Only last week, I’d mentioned the blog to the nice lady who does the alterations in the local dry cleaner’s, and it became apparent that not only would she be a lot happier working with the treadle machine she learned her trade on, but also that it would do a far nicer straight stitch than the modern domestic zigzag machine with which she currently spends her days.

And now I’ve just been scanning a 1929 Singer brochure for a blog post which is in the offing and I noticed the above blurb, which set me thinking – if somebody’s minded to buy a sewing machine, how might you persuade them to consider a vintage Singer?  We’ve never thought about this before, but …

[Right, I’m back after the pair of us just spent the best part of an hour playing midwife to Alice and her egg.  In case you’re not up to speed with egg-bound hens, the problem is that something’s gone wonky with the production of the egg so the poor thing can’t actually lay it, and consequently looks very sorry for herself indeed.  The treatment, such as it is, involves suspending the patient over a bucket of boiling water such that her chuff gets nice and warm and moist but she can’t get her feet in the hot water (which, as you may imagine, is much easier said than done), and talking soothingly to her while Nature hopefully takes its course, as it did just now. We think.  And at this point readers of a sensitive nature will no doubt be greatly relieved to find that I’m leaving the matter there and returning to our normal programming.]

Whenever we sell a machine, I always ask the new owner why she bought it, and the answers we’ve got so far range from “I can relate to an old mechanical sewing machine.  I can’t relate to modern electronic ones”  to “I like the idea of using what Mum used and having a machine I can pass on to my daughter” to “Cost-effectiveness” to “I don’t want a sewing machine that’s smarter than me”.

So the questions are

1  If you use a vintage Singer, why not a modern machine?

2 If you don’t use a vintage machine right now but you’re hankering after one, what’s the attraction?

We’d love to see what you think, so why not leave a comment now under this post and tell us?


7 responses

  1. well, I’m very late to the party here, but noise is a factor. I had a plastic Janome that was so loud I had to be in a different room than the rest of the family, and when you have two young sons…..well, you don’t get much time to be closeted away.When I took it back to the store, they said that’s what a sewing machine sounds like. I clearly remember napping on the couch while my Grandma sewed right next to me, and never even noticed the sound of her machine. A treadle or hand crank can be used while watching TV, or more to the point, when the now teenagers are, and I overhear some fascinating things when they and their friends forget I’m there…..of course, the ability to do my own repairs and maintenance is also a huge factor. I do like history, as well. I sold the plastic wonder and have been quite happy with my flock of Singers.

  2. Greetings from the other side of the planet, Jenny. Nice to have you aboard 🙂


  3. I am slightly late to the game (just discovered this blog today and absolutely love the info and the wonderful style of writing) but wanted to leave my comment too. I do most of my sewing on a 201K-3 from 1951 because it is so solid and reliable and I can service it myself. I did have a modern Singer that was a wedding gift in 2006, and I thought I needed all the bells and whistles, but it turned out the bells and whistles were mostly unused and the machine itself was a crappy piece of junk that could hardly sew through cotton. The last straw was when the plastic handwheel snapped off. When I phoned a repair shop to order a new part, the person I spoke to told me to just throw the machine away and buy a new one as that would be easier. I was so disgusted with the attitude of, “You should just accept crappy machines and buy lots of them,” that I went online and bought a vintage one instead (for less than the cost of a new plastic handwheel), and have never looked back.

    Just cleaning and oiling my 201 and watching how all the parts move together brings me great joy. I can see exactly what is happening and why. Can’t say that about a computerised machine!

  4. Hi Constance and thank you for that 🙂 You’re not the first person who’s told us they find using a vintage machine is easier as well as more enjoyable, but it’s nice to see somebody else using the word “motorectomy”!

  5. I have bought a few vintage Singers for a hobby/collection, not to actually use, as my sewing in the past has been strictly repairs and replacing zippers….but my Grandmother was a professional seamstress and used a beautiful black and gold Singer, and so I really love the look of them. Then, I found that it is SO much easier to sew on a vintage machine, that I’m actually starting to use them…and ENJOY using them!! I have a 99 handcrank,which my grandchldren are learning to sew on, a 66 treadle, a 237 beige Singer like the one my mother had and that I learned to sew on and that has had a motorectomy and is now a zigzag treadle, and a 201k treadle. I hope my daughter and daughters-in-law learn to love them as much as I do, as I would love to pass them on to family members. They are a delight to sew on!

  6. Gosh Bianca, in one comment you’ve pretty much summed up our feelings too!

    Thank you for your thoughts and for taking the time to write that 🙂

    Sid ‘n’ Elsie

  7. I currently sew on a Singer Stylist 513 (made in Scotland c. 1970s), I like it because it has a reverse button and built in zig-zag-but I am having a lot of trouble getting the ‘flexi-stitch’ feature to work, and my local Singer mechanic (in his eighties and retired from one of the Singer factories) says while the Stylist was a great machine, those fancy features weren’t always all that. He also says the bobbin gear is the only plastic part on the machine-guess how I met the local mechanic? 🙂 I also have a Singer 449.

    However, I am most excited to finally own two lovely real vintage Singers, a 1917 Singer hand crank 99, and a 1933 treadle Singer 66. I bought them from charity shops, for the purpose of making them them my primary sewing machines. I can’t wait for my husband to bring them in from his work shed so I can get started! No fancy features here to drive me mad, just the loveliest straight stitches ever formed. I’ve seen my friend’s machines at work and can’t wait to get going with mine.

    The first reason I want to use these off-grid machines is because they are so simple yet sew so beautifully. And there is something romantic yet highly practical about using what amounts to a functioning antique.

    The primary reason I chose these two models is that bobbins and needles are the same type used today by the basic machines. I love that I can go down to the shops (or online) for new needles and bobbins then go home, insert the items into a nearly 100 year old machine and sew away.

    Also, ease of learning to use the machines due to the wealth of information available was the second big reason to choose those particular models. Finally (and of course most important) the reliability of the machines-these were built to last several lifetimes, and apparently with care, they do! I anticipate very little disappointment or frustration (oh ouch I am ashamed of the erm, venting I did the last time I tried to get the ‘fancy features’ on my 513 to work with me!).

    I will contacting you via email regarding the attachments set (‘Godzilla’), I feel with that tool box in my workroom I will be able to sew just about anything I want to sew on my 66 and 99.