Instructables
Picture of Old Sewing Machines are Hidden Treasures!
Old sewing machines are an undiscovered TREASURE! They are very easy to learn on, hard to break, easy to maintain and can be purchased cheaply or are sometimes even FREE!

Old sewing machines are great to learn on for people from 12 years old and up (and younger if supervised carefully!)

Using one of these old sewing machines is the best way to learn to sew inexpensively.

With a little cleaning and learning you can be sewing your own awesome creations in just hours!

This instructable will show you some basics about old sewing machines and tell you places to look for more information. Are you ready to sew? The treasures are all around you!
 
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Step 1: Where Can I Find These Great Machines?

Picture of Where Can I Find These Great Machines?
I love http://www.craigslist.org for finding old sewing machines, but you can also find them in second hand shops and garage sales and sometimes even in a family member's closet :)

Look for a machine that doesn't have a lot of damage and always ask for the electric cord, foot pedal, owner's manual and all the accessories. Sometimes you might not get all of these things but the foot pedal and electric cord can be hard to track down so I never buy a machine without them.

Ask to plug the machine in and make sure it works. If you have to test it manually by turning the flywheel, remember to turn it toward you (counter clockwise).

It is nice to get a lot of accessories with your machine but you don't need them to learn with. Just the basics will work fine for most sewing.

You can bring some scraps of fabric and some thread with you to test the machine. If the owner has the machine threaded, keep the thread on so that you can see how it is supposed to be threaded (if there is no manual).

If a friend or family member is giving or selling you the machine, ask them for a few lessons!! Offer to do something for them if they will teach you :)

If you can watch video on the internet, this page has good information about the differences in sewing machines and what the parts are called: http://www.quilt-video.com/sewing-machine-tutorial/
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Cann0n9 months ago
I have a Kenmore 12 (1978) and I love it. Nothing is plastic. The only issue is the bobbin winding wheel is rubber and has a flatspot. I need more practice before I venture into designing suits.
Kittykylie11 months ago
I have just bought an old Alfa challenge of my mother in law. Just gotta learn not to put my foot down to the floor!
Covo5 years ago
I have an old Elna (handed down of corse) that works but needs constant adjustment, slips when it starts, and often tangles. Can anyone advise if it is worth fixing or using the above techniques to purchase a used one.
jeanicrowe Covo2 years ago
Have you tried a good cleaning? Make sure it is spick and span inside. If that isn't it, its probably the timing. Timing is easy to do with instructions. I would look on the net for a site on timing.
Don't forget to oil the machine after cleaning! You can find the directions for oiling in the manual-and always use colorless sewing machine oil, not multipurpose or even naturally tinted oil. Sometimes cleaning removes too much oil, especially as lint and dust tends to soak it up. Running an older machine without fresh oil is similar to running your car without oil...

If the machine is the least bit noisy, try oiling it according to the manual (too much oil can get into the thread and fabric you're working with). Machines will often skip stitches*** when it needs oiling...try not to let it go that long though.  For occasional sewing, oil at least once a month.  A trick to make sure that fabric won't get damaged from stray oil, before rethreading the machine remove the needle and "stitch" a paper towel for a few inches.  Don't oil a machine with any thread or fabric in it.



***Note: skipped stitches can also be caused by a needle that needs replacing.  A good guideline is a new needle every project or at most every 3 hours of sewing time.  Going longer makes your sewing sloppy even if it isn't readily apparent at first. Don't wait for something to go wrong before changing the needle. 

Also, another good habit to get into is to brush out lint whenever changing the bobbin.
MargueritaM (author)  winterwindarts1 year ago
Great reminders - Thank you!!
jeanicrowe2 years ago
I have a treadle machine, a treadle converted to electric, one of the first electric models, a singer from the 50's, a Kenmore from the early 80's and two fairly new brothers. My oldest works just as well as my newest and I get to burn calories pumping that treadle! While new machines have great features like auto stitching (no foot pedal) and lots of fancy stitches, for plain old straight seam sewing they are work great. A dirty machine won't sew-the thread will bunch up, it will skip stitches and sometimes none of the stitches will lock. The very first thing you should do is take off the bobbin plat, remove the bobbin and give that machine a good cleaning with a soft brush. Get all of the dust, lint and thread out. If it still doesn't sew, it is probably out of timing and on older machines that is pretty easy to do yourself. I have a book on timing sewing machines but I bet you can find instructions on the net. Those two things will usualy fix ny old macine as long as the motor works and the inner gears aren't frozen.
I'm 14 years old and I'm a guy this past summer I got a 1951 singer machine for 20 dollars ad I am mad because I can't figure out how to thread it
which thread? The upper bobbin or the bobbin under then needle and foot/guide?
Lardyvegan2 years ago
I recently cleaned up my grandma's Singer 315, given to me years ago after she passed, and after paying 99p for a replacement bobbin pin, and a few pounds for a dowloaded manual, I think I'm good to go!
I'm looking forward to learning to make clothes and cosplay costumes (my daughter is an anime junkie!) and maybe even some Steampunk style outfits for myself.
Glad to see the old machines are held in such high regard! :)
Love your handle! It's just TMI, and that's what makes it fun. My first machine was singer flatbed portable made in brazil--with about 25-35 cams that did everything but scour the kitchen sink. Bought an external (used-estate sale) singer buttonholer that worked perfect on my first two men's shirts. Then it was a fancy Pfaff Hobbymatic, and from there, my first (like mom's last) Pfaff 1222e. It was stolen shortly after I bought and refurbished a Pfaff 1471 Creative, with IDF (integrated dual feed--[both upper and lower feed dogz--too cool]) Right now, if I need to use anything more than that, there's a friend in Fresburg that has Pfaff industrial in his upholstery shop, and we've got an industrial machine at school as well.
MargueritaM (author)  Lardyvegan2 years ago
Good for you! Thank you for sharing your story too - yes, many people treasure their old sewing machines. Welcome to the group :)
As luck would have it, about 3 years ago I found a Pfaff Creative 1471 at a St. Vincent's thrift in my zip code (ok, Redwood City).
The machine was in the back, and hadn't been priced. It didn't have a manual ($5 to download a printable PDF file, or, $15-ish to snag an immaculate printed original! It had a working electronic pedal, but needed a Radio Shanty $8.90 power cord.
The machine 'as-is' was priced at $25. At home, and plugged in, the '888888888888' across the electronic display said, "I need a new brain." That was a no-brainer. SamTrans-to-BART-to-a 10 minute local busride, and I was at a Pfaff dealer in Walnut Creek that had a rebuilt chip for $235-ish. Student discount: no labor charge (Canada College Fashion); the machine was ready in an hour, so I upgraded it's lighting system with a $45 improvement. Hey, it's that baby, and my 1958 (flawless!) Singer featherweight! That's all for now. kurt
Goodhart2 years ago
I can attest to the problems that can arise from too much or too little tension....broke a few needles and even bent the lower bobbin in the process. Going too fast (rushing the material through) was probably another reason I broke the one needle *sigh*
OH MY GOSH!!! I was just looking around and came across this because I saw your Singer Model: 347 (at least I hope that's what it is). I just got two sewing machines. The first went up in smoke the second I pressed the pedal; it was old, simple, and i didn't like it anyway and after all I have a running Singer treadle machine in it's cabinet as an antique. The other was a Singer Model: 347 and I LOVE IT!!! I oiled it up and it runs great. The first thing I made was an 8x8 inch square quilted block. It's just 16 little squares stuck together in a simple pattern haha. The second thing I made was a simple pin cushion. I haven't read this article yet (for fear of loosing this loooong comment haha), but could you please reply with any comments of your own on your machine? I would love to hear more!
MargueritaM (author)  XysflightchampX3 years ago
Hi,

I got that Singer either free or for less than $50 and after cleaning it thoroughly and running some test fabric through it, I gave it to a young mom (a friend of my daughter's) who is teaching her daughter to sew. They only had one sewing machine and my daughter thought it would be nice if they had two - one for the mom and one for the pre-teen daughter.

So, I can't tell you a lot about it. I didn't really use it, I just made sure that it ran well and then bought the supplies (bobbins, needles, etc.) and gave it away. I DO know that it is a very nice, reliable machine and I am really sure that the pre-teen who has it will be using it for a long time :)

I am thrilled that you love yours!

Marguerita
Typogoddess3 years ago
when i was in seventh grade, i bugged my mom and she brought out her 20 lb. Singer UltraStitch 10. It had ten stitches, constantly ate my fabric, and had a habit of making NOMNOMNOM noises... but i learned from it. My brother sewing machine is due tomorrow. 80 bucks!
MargueritaM (author)  Typogoddess3 years ago
Hurray!! What are you going to sew first? Clothes, household items, quilts?
polly755 years ago
Love your instructable! A member of the Treadleon group (dedicated to people powered machines) posted it on the list. I have a Vintage Italian Necchi group on Yahoo--come join us and find out about the wonderful Supernovas and lots more! We think they're the Cadillac of sewing machines!!

http://groups.yahoo.com/group/necchisewingmachineclub
I love my old Necchi Supernova! Last week it was too cold to go up to the garage where my industrial machines reside so I set up the Necchi in the lounge room(with wood fire heater). The Necchi sewed up the canvas gaiters (in places up to four layers of canvas!) like a little trooper ; never missed a beat/stitch!!! And it only has a 0.3amp motor.
MargueritaM (author)  polly755 years ago
Thank you for the invitation :)
Great Instruct! I,ve been sewing for 20+ years with machines and hand methods! I sure appreciate the quality construction of the older machines!  Just don't have room to collect them! I do have an industrial machine(Consew 7360) I bought new 8 years ago, because home models aren't  powerful enough to sew garment-weight leather on a daily basis! I used a Necchi(made it Taiwan) I got new in the mid-'90s from one of those "school overstock" sales that pop up at hotels around the country. It served me well for a  while, until I got more serious about  the finer art of  leather hats! I love the industrial unit, would be very hard to use any home-sized ones(they feel like toys in comparison!) BTW, my Consew has electronic speed control and needle positioning ( Perfect for the detail work on my hats).
The older ones are definitely awesome. I have a late 40's model Singer that I call 'Megachunk'... It got that knickname after I was boasting to a friend how it would go through leather... So I sewed together two pieces of plywood with upholstery thread and it didn't miss a stitch!
Allan Wells4 years ago
Thanks Marguerita for this instructable. This may sound like a dumb question but what is the technique for bringing the bobbin thread up to the top of what you're sewing? This would save me having to backstitch as I could then just tye off the threads with a reef knot.
MargueritaM (author)  Allan Wells4 years ago
Hi Allan, I have a video about bringing up the bobbin thread on YouTube here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KDERq4I7l-Q I hope it helps :)
Thanks Marguerita, You are a really good teacher. Very concise and clear. I'll give this a go sewing my bushwalking gear. Regards, Allan
Allan Wells4 years ago
I found it nearly impossible to get an industrial machine to go slowly until just recently when one of my Grade 3 students (9year old) at School told me, ' Mum just puts my sponge ball under the pedal to slow hers down'. Works a treat!!! A length of shockcord tied to the pedal and the kneelift shaft works just as well. When it comes to domestic machines my old Husqvarna 2000 has a reduction gear which you activate by pulling on the bobbin winder gizmo. It reduces sewing speed by one fifth but at full motor power. I wish all machines had this feature or something similar.
Allan Wells4 years ago
So true about old sewing machines, especially the ones with metal gears! My mother bought an old 1950's Necchi Supernova machine at a garage sale for $8.00 and gave it to me as a joke. The wooden base was broken. The base took about 10minutes to repair. It is an awesome machine and so easy to maintain! I also have a couple of Husqvana 220's and a Viking 2000 machine, all of which are well made and sew well but their 'Achilles heel' are the nylon drive gears which eventually shatter and render the machine useless because Husqvarna have not supplied/stocked the gears for many years. I had to learn to manufacture replacement gears myself using silicone moulds and polyurethane. For canvas and leather I use two old industrial machines on got on ebay for the grand total of $21; a Singer 491 and a Pfaff 260. They are awesome machines but oh so fast. A relative gave me an old but lightly used Empisal machine from the early 70's ( at a guess) which works well but does have a plastic drive gear. My advice for new sewers is look at ebay or garage sales.
MargueritaM (author)  Allan Wells4 years ago
Thanks so much Allan for your story! Great advice too :)
SeaSkyShore4 years ago
I certainly agree that older machines are better than newer by far.  I recently acquired an old White Sew & Serge (late 70's) from my mother and I am in love. It is a dream to sew with and so easy to maintain!
ddlearns5 years ago
Another common problem is that the needle is inserted into the machine backwards. Be sure the flat side of the needle shank is facing the correct way for your machine,
Remember, kids: The pointed end goes DOWN. ;-)
MargueritaM (author)  ddlearns5 years ago
Thank you so much for that tip!
A few years ago I bought a brand new low-end Singer (the cheapest model they make) - it turned out to be an absolutely terrible machine, breaking needles left, right, and centre and constantly needing to be rethreaded (and the tension problems - ARGH!). After some damp weather the foot plate started to RUST (I kid you not) I ended up not using it at all and giving up on sewing. A few weeks ago a friend of mine gave me an old Singer (from the 70s, I think) and it runs like an absolute DREAM! The only time I have to rethread it is when I change colour, and I haven't had a broken needle yet. Older machines are AWESOME! Now I sew all the time and I love it! One tip is to always check the website of your machine's manufacturer - the Singer website, for instance, has threading guides for their machines (though they charge you for their manuals). I'm sure other manufacturers do the same.
 Platy, if your Singer is breaking needles, it could be out of time.  My mom's ancient (from the 1950s, IIRC) Singer would get out of time every couple years, and we'd have to run it to the local sewing machine shop, where they would re-time it.  That one died completely in the late 1990s, after 40 years of non-stop use (literally--mom was the go-to lady for prom dresses, alterations, and general mending).  She has a Necchi now (2nd one--the firs drowned in Katrina), and loves it.
Yeah, the thing you have to remember about Singer is that somewhere around the 60s or so Singer cut back on (and eventually quit) making sewing machines and sold off the rights to the name to various foreign manufacturers. A Singer machine today isn't really a Singer at all... just a useless paperweight with the Singer name & logo stamped on it.

I have two Singer model 401's that are amazing machines... and one I got off of Craigslist for free, in the original Singer cabinet. The other I bought off of eBay with all the accessories and "fashion discs" in the original wooden carrying case for under $100. Both were easy to clean up, are easy to maintain, and sew far better than any modern machine I've ever used (and that's saying a lot since I've owned a few top of the line computerized machines that professional seamstresses & tailors have lusted over)
MargueritaM (author)  platypusymphony5 years ago
Great advice, thank you so much for sharing your story and tips!
Faynilla4 years ago
i love old machines. hardly considered buying a new one.

I happened upon a 1922 singer sewing machine at a yard sale for $15.00!!!

it worked and is awesome. i dont think i will ever buy a "New" machine.
UlrikeHaupt5 years ago
Ah, old reliable faithfuls. The best stitches and silent work come from the straightstitch Pfaff 12 I inherited from my grandmother. VERY sturdy cast iron tread base. Where the non electronic Empisal Pacesetter fails the Pfaff still goes through layers of fabric not missing a stitch. Actually I learned to sew on my mother's Pfaff 360 (or so) during the sixties and I was definitely younger than 10. But then I had watched her doing it for ages already. And sitting on the treadle, using the wheel as 'steering wheel' I must have driven thousands of virtual miles. Of course that was when I was still small enough to fit under the cabinet. :) Thanks for the great instructable
MargueritaM (author)  UlrikeHaupt5 years ago
Thank you for sharing your sewing story and experiences with these great older machines :)
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