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Purchasing a Vintage Sewing Machine

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In “Vintage Sewing Machines Were Built to Last a Lifetime,” I discussed how vintage sewing machines were engineered to be passed down from generation to generation. Many of them still sew beautifully and have many future years of sewing pleasure to give.

But how do you choose a vintage sewing machine, and where should you look for one?

I have purchased many dozens of vintage sewing machines since I started sewing nearly 10 years ago. Most of my experiences have been positive, but I’ve had a few disappointments, too. There are definitely risks involved with buying vintage, but the potential pleasures greatly outweigh them.

Where to look

Vintage sewing machines are easy to find; at one time, nearly every family owned a sewing machine. Here is a list of the best sources along with their respective pros and cons.

eBay

eBay sells everything. Auctions as well as fixed-price, buy-it-now sales for vintage sewing machines like Singer Featherweights, Berninas, Elnas, Pfaffs, Necchis, and Kenmores, take place every day. EBay is a great place to find the model you desire, but there are some caveats. The most significant is that you won’t be able to test the machine before purchasing. Some sellers post a video of the machine in operation, but the majority include only photos and a written description of the machine’s condition.

Another downside is the cost of shipping, which can surpass the cost of the machine itself, depending on weight, distance, and the type of shipping being offered. Old all-metal machines tended to be heavy!

Japanese-made Gimbels sewing machine
This Japanese-made, all-metal machine, sold under the Gimbels name, weighs nearly 40 pounds.

If you’re willing to take the chance—and I have, many times—be sure to review the seller’s feedback carefully. It should be 100 percent positive or nearly that. Find out if…

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  1. Carmela | | #1

    This is a great article. I have six vintage machines. I even have the White machine shown in the article. My primary machine is a 40-year old Kenmore with all the bells and Whistles I got when I graduated from high school, it has served me well and I'm not easy on it. I've collected the others over the years, mostly at estate auctions for virtually nothing. At one auction, I hear my husband bid a $1.00 and thought is was something minor, when I turned around he had bought 3 vintage machines. All of which I've used, one of them was the White machine above. Someday when I have my dream sewing studio to teach, I plan to use these machines.

  2. User avater
    EmKay96 | | #2

    You can download manuals for vintage sewing machines from the various Vintage Sewing Machines Groups on Facebook.

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