Old Sewing Machines Are Hidden Treasures!




Introduction: Old Sewing Machines Are Hidden Treasures!

Hi, I am a quilting teacher and book author who lives on a budget. I love writing, sewing, quilt...

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!

Step 1: 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/

Step 2: Safety!

It is VERY important to understand that the needle moves up and down fast and you MUST keep your fingers and hands away from it!

If you have to learn on your own, please take the needle out of the machine, take the bobbin out and take the thread off and then learn to use the foot pedal.

Just plug in the machine and learn how to control the foot pedal. Practice going very slowly. A good seamstress doesn't sew at top speed very often! It's okay to sew very slowly. The stitches still form and you will keep yourself safe as you learn to feed the fabric under the presser foot and the needle.

If you can, please get someone with some sewing experience to watch you and teach you. You might even trade - offer to do something for them if they will teach you to sew :)

Step 3: First Things First :)

Before you plug in your machine to use it you need to do a few things and learn a few things. Just like driving - you can't just jump into a car and expect to drive off without learning how to drive and making sure that there is fuel in the tank.

Luckily you don't need a sewer's permit!

It helps a lot to know how a machine works and also how to maintain one. If your machine came with an owner's manual please read it and follow the instructions for cleaning and oiling your machine. This will help you learn how it works and will make you confident about using your machine.

If you don't have the machine manual sometimes you can find your machine's manual for sale on the internet for just a few dollars. Try here if you need to do that http://www.sewingmanuals.com/

If you didn't get a manual, there is a set of 5 videos here you can watch to learn how to clean almost any machine: http://www.quilt-video.com/sewing-machine-maintenance/.

If you can't watch video on your computer, and you can afford it, you can take your machine to a sewing machine repair shop for cleaning. If you can't afford that, it is still easy to figure out if you take the major cover plates off of the sewing machine (wherever you see a screw holding one on) especially in the bobbin area, and just start cleaning out dust and lint with Q-Tips and tweezers. Oil any parts that move except any belts or rubber parts. Test to see if they move by turning the flywheel toward you (counter clockwise).

Sometimes your local library will have books on sewing machine maintenance or there will be a chapter in a general sewing book that teaches machine maintenance.

**new** There is a group on Yahoo.com that is dedicated to fixing up old sewing machines! The group is called WeFixIt

Step 4: Setting Up Your Machine

One of the reasons that you can find these old machine in perfect working order is that they were put in really badly designed cabinets.

Take your machine out of the cabinet and set it up somewhere that is comfortable for you. You should not have to lift your arms or shoulders to reach your machine and the needle should be centered in front of you. Here's a video about sewing machine ergonomics: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hbmQ2riM7Yo

It can help to put a gripper mat or double stick tape on the bottom of the foot pedal so that it doesn't slide.

It is important to buy and use the right parts for your machine. Different machines use different types of needles and different sized bobbins. You need to find out if your machine uses a flat back needle and also the size of bobbin. Sewing stores like local "sew and vacuum" shops and also JoAnns or Walmart sell some supplies but be sure you are buying the right items for your machine. If possible, take a needle and bobbin that is already from your machine with you if you are shopping for more so that you can see that you are buying the right items.

Step 5: Learning to Sew :)

There are many ways to learn to sew. If you like to learn by yourself you can check out books from the library and learn a lot about fabrics, threads, patterns, sewing terms, and sewing techniques.

You can join a group (Girl Scouts, Camp Fire Girls) and ask them to teach sewing classes. You can see if your local sewing sales and repair shop teaches sewing. Your Community Schools might have sewing classes.

There are videos on YouTube about learning to sew - Threadbangers is a popular channel on YouTube for younger people who want to learn to make easy and useful projects.

Step 6: Fabrics, Needles, Threads and More

Your local library should have books that can teach you about different kinds of fabrics. Knowing about different fabrics can help you make the very best sewing projects! You can bring your sewing book with you as you explore fabric shops, learning the texture of cottons, polyesters, silks, rayons and more. You can take your book to second hand shops to help you identify and buy garments that you can re-purpose into new garments.

Threads are different too and it helps a lot to understand how different threads can help your sewing projects.

There are many sizes of needles that are made for special fabrics and threads.

If you can find a book or a teacher that has used many different materials and can teach you about them then you will find your sewing to be much easier!

Step 7: The Three Most Common Problems

There are three things that cause the most problems in sewing. The first is that the machine is not threaded correctly (top thread or bobbin). It's really important to thread the machine the right way. Use the owner's manual for the machine if you have it, or search the internet for instructions for your machine.

The second is the tension. The tension on the top thread and the bobbin can *and SHOULD* be adjusted when you change threads. Your top thread should pull easily through the needle when the presser foot is UP and the bobbin should drop slightly when shaken to test the bobbin tension (if you have a vertical bobbin). Here are some good links to videos about bobbin tension. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bXrK457ENUhttp://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1MaOWct81Fw

The last thing is stray threads. A clean machine is important, free of lint, dust and loose threads in the bobbin area. When sewing you should hold both threads back away from the machine as you begin to sew and bringing up the bobbin thread to the top of your project is a good habit to get into.

Most problems with sewing can be solved by cleaning and oiling the machine, taking all the thread off and the bobbin out and re-threading the entire machine. Sometimes a thread has jumped a guide or there is the tiniest bit of lint holding things up and that gets cleared out when you re-thread the machine.



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    105 Discussions

    I have a White (brand) sewing maching model 167 which I found at a second hand store for $15!!! It came in a case, really clean underneath, AND with a manual! I have 3 other domestic machines and this one sews and is sturdy just like an industrial sewing machine. It's my favourite to sew with.

    4 replies

    I was given a lovely old White De Luxe machine by an acquaintance who had cleaned it up and tested it. The only problem is that it used to be set in a cabinet, and it no longer has the cabinet! I need to find some sort of base or trick something up so that I can use it. My mother's metal Singer has a plastic base it fits into, but I can't seem to find those for sale anywhere. If anyone can offer any suggestions, I would really appreciate it!

    There's a group on Facebook called Vintage Sewing Machines. There's a guy (I think he's Ray) who makes bases. The group is a great resource. Also keep an eye out at your goodwill. You may find a sewing machine that doesn't work in a case that fits. Repurpose it!

    If you haven't already found a solution--it has been four months-- I recommend googling "custom wooden base for sewing machine." Then search by image until you find someone who makes wooden bases by mail order, or an image you can take to someone who can build it for you.

    I have just bought my first machine. $30. A White 8931. I am delighted with how mechanically sound this lovely device is. Completely free of any 21st century electronic crap, designed to fail and generate sales. Looking forward to learning the machine as I get into my first project, a simple boat cover. I will be saving 600$ on this one project compared to ordering one. ( not to mention eliminating dragging the boat across town to leave with some outfit.)

    Its really good
    information,Thanks for sharing this blog,keep updating more threads, Best sewing machine in chennai

    What do you think of the Sears sewing machine's?

    2 replies

    Sears no longer sells sewing machines. Bernina might be a good machine but how many can afford one? The lower priced models are now made in Asia. I use primarily machines made in the 60's.

    Hi, I used a Kenmore for years and I loved it. For the most part it did everything that the expensive machines did. BUT, I could not get as good results in free-motion quilting with the Kenmore (would would not believe the lengths I went to trying) as I did on a used Bernina that I finally bought.

    Bought a frozen machine? Get some PB Blaster at Walmart or auto parts store and spray it on. Try to move slowly by hand. Do this until moving freely.

    shopgoodwill.com is also a good place. Modern machines are mostly plastic except the Toyota Machines. All metal interior. The Morse machines were made by Toyota.

    ----by all means, test the hand wheel! Someone DONATED a completely frozen Janome 525S to the local thrift shop! Yes, they did! I bought it for the cord/pedal control, which is compatible with my good machines. Spares are outrageous!

    Olga, can you give your honest opinion? I am learning to sew and want a decent machine, which means newer in my mind, but i have fallen in love with an antique supposedly works. Do you think i should go new or old?

    1 reply

    As a guy who taught himself to sew by making a backpacking tent (40+ years ago), I think a sewing machine needs the following: adjustable stitch length and adjustable zig-zag width. It's nice to have a reverse function button or lever, a bobbin winder, and for the thing to be made of metal, as much as possible. If it has these and functions smoothly, anything else is pretty much icing on the cake.

    Hi Marguerita,

    I just inherited an old Singer 347 that looks exactly like yours and I can't wait to try it out! I downloaded the manual as a PDF, but I saw nothing in it that references the little wheel thing with the two stitch symbols above the rest of the control panel. I have no idea what it does, but I heard that the 347 is capable of blind stitching. Is that wheel the stitch selector, or does it do something else?


    2 replies

    Hi Nicole,

    I'm sure you will enjoy discovering all the things you can do with your Singer 347. You may know by now, but just in case, yes, the wheel is the stitch selector. To the left is zig-zag & to the right is the blind stitch. As a seamstress, I used to use that stitch quite frequently for hems. A few tips; once you have the hem marked, iron it in place, I always used a cotton cloth over the fabric to prevent any shine & depending on the fabric, use as much steam as possible to get a crisp professional hem, afterwards cut off the excess length leaving about 1 1/2"- 2" to be the size of the hem, finish the edge of the with whichever method you prefer or appropriate to the fabric. If you'd like more info just let me know, but I don't want to bore you if you know all of this. Happy sewing!

    Hi Nicole, I'm afraid that I gave that machine away, so I can't tell you specifically. I wonder if it's a way to drop the feed dogs for darning or free motion quilting?

    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.

    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!

    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.