Sure, I'd like to have one of those super spendy modern machines...I want one that has an embroidery module, because that's about the only thing that I don't have in my machines. Unfortunately, I don't have that kind of money to spend. Not all at one time, anyway! So that's just not going to happen. Maybe someday...if I win the lotto. So...what's a girl (or guy) to do? Look to the vintage/antiques. I can get a machine that is 100 times better than any of the less expensive models on the market today.
Let's examine why. The average life span of a new, lower end machine (think big box store machines) these days seems to be about 5 years or less. These machines are going to cost you anywhere from $89 to $500. True, they have extra stitches, pretty ones. How often are you going to use them? If you're quilting, you need the straight stitch, and maybe you'll use a decorative stitch to quilt with. You'll sometimes use a zigzag, or a blanket stitch for applique.
The average life span of a Singer 403, made in the 50's, has not yet been determined! If you discount all of the perfectly good machines from the 60's and before that have gone to landfills because they just weren't wanted anymore, even tho they still worked, you have very few of these oldies that went because they were worn out or broken!
People, I have a machine that is about 132 years old, and that baby sews like a dream! My current favorite is a 100 year old treadle machine that will sew anything I throw at it! Multiple layers of fabric where seams meet are nothing to it. Doesn't even hesitate or moan a bit, just zips right through! Treadles, tho, are a novelty for many and some don't even want to think about making them their "main machine", so we'll examine some e-machines. (electric machines)
I decided to write this blog article because last evening, I decided to make a "truck quilt" for the spousal unit. He asked for one, and if I can avoid denying him anything, I will do just that...and he wants a quilt to put in his pickup truck. I got out some precuts that I've had for awhile, and decided that since I haven't used it in awhile, I would stitch this one on my 1957 Kenmore model 84. This baby has a 1.2 amp motor. It's going to go forever. Well, ok. Not forever, but it's going to sew for a longggggggg time! All metal machine, it's heavy. It's in a "desk cabinet". Very cool cabinet, when I lift the top of the cabinet to slide it behind the desk, it lifts the machine into position. I paid $15 for the machine, and found the cabinet in another thrift store for $20. I forked out a few more bucks for the decorative cams that the machine uses. ($2 at an antique store) So now I have a powerful machine, in a very nice cabinet, that does 18 different decorative stitches. For $37.00, I have a machine that is going to outlast me. This is the Kenmore 84 in the original cabinet that I brought it home in. I switched it to the desk cabinet and took this cabinet to the St. Vinnie's store.
I have a 1950's Singer 403 that I paid $29.00 for in the cabinet. None of the attachments that I have would fit it, as it's a "slank shank" machine, meaning that the needle/presser foot is at a slant to allow better viewing of the stitching as it occurs. Since this girl didn't have any extras, I felt the need to buy some. So I found presser feet at the local Goodwill for six dollars. My friend Cathy had a set of the decorative stitch cams and more presser feet (I got another slant shank machine, a 500A for Christmas that I needed the extra feet for!). I only have to give $25 to Cathy for all of what she sent, and it was a LOT, half for each machine, so another $12.50 invested in this machine. Forty seven dollars and fifty cents later, I have a complete machine setup that once again will last longer than I do, and it will do 21 decorative stitches with the cams I have. This is the Singer 403. Photo was taken right after I got it home, and it's not been cleaned yet.
My point is this. Do you want a machine for it's "status value" or for it's REAL value? These vintage machines are workhorses that in no way deserve to be put out to pasture. They are heavy, all metal machines. They, with a bit of care, will last you more than your lifetime, and will sew a "prettier" straighter stitch than any modern machine. They will zig zag, they will applique, they will free motion quilt AND free motion embroider. They will serve you well, and be more faithful to you than their previous owners were to them.
What to look for when you look for a vintage machine:
Ignore the dirt and grungy stuff on the machine body. That will clean off. Instead ask to plug the machine in and run it. If that's not possible, at least look to see that the cords and foot feed (or knee feed) are there. If you don't want to mess with rewiring, check the cords and wires to make sure they are intact and solid. You don't want to see any cracks or bare spots in the insulation. Turn the handwheel and make sure that the needle goes up and down. Look to see if the bobbin case is there. (that bobbin case can be spendy, if it's missing) Take thread and scrap fabric with you, thread the machine and even if you have to do it by turning the handwheel, make sure it stitches. (If the timing is off, it won't make stitches, and while you CAN time a machine yourself, it can be difficult. You don't want to have to pay to have it done, and besides, when the timing is off, it's usually a sign of abuse of some kind). For pricing? I've been lucky with mine, as you can see above, but if you are patient and watch for it, you can get some real bargains!
Where to look?
Ebay, Craigs List, local papers, thrift stores, yard/garage sales, antique stores, let your friends and neighbors know that you're looking. Keep in mind that Ebay is going to have shipping attached, and these babies are HEAVY.
If you're looking for an update on "The Guy" saga, he seems to have disappeared...most likely will be back with a story of how he almost died. (DO NOT read that as a wish that he did!! In my perfect world, illness or injury doesn't exist, not even for my enemies!) I do know that a machine that he promised would be delivered on Feb. 12th didn't show up. Nor has the money that the lady paid for it. I don't believe that any of the others have gotten their machines either, but I don't know for sure.
Next time, I'll talk about what to look for in an antique or vintage straight stitch machine.