The Sewing Place

Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)

Roger

Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« on: March 02, 2017, 20:33:52 PM »
Oh my Days! Apparently I have something to offer in the way of advice about vintage machines so here we go:

Here are some (very rough) guidelines around selecting a older sewing machine, which I tend to follow. I'm not going to review or help you ID machines here, there are plenty of sites that will, this is just to try and help you ending up with a nightmare rather than a dream machine :)

Sources:
Ebay: it's good there's a lot of machines the sellers are usually very transparent about what they're selling but it's a premium market!
Gumtree: the sellers are often clueless and you can get a bargain but caveat emptor!
Auctions: my local auction is amazing for its descriptions... 'singer sewing machine in bentwood' case was a 48k... but there's unidentified gems to be had and I like that I can go to the presale viewing photo anything I like and research it.
Charity shops, carboots, jumble sales etc: they generally either think they have antique worth hundreds or junk.

I prefer gumtree or my local auction and ebay for oddities or specifics.

 :button:  What is a machine worth? They're always worth whatever someone is willing to pay to own it.

 :button: Avoid snap decisions... Don't worry about walking away from a machine there's lots of them out there! Realistically you'll probably save yourself a headache.

 :button: many of these machines are reviewed online or at least identified or have an upload of their manual.

 :button: check the needle type of the machine! Some machines don't take standard ones a if they're not still made they will run out one day(Singer 320, 319 and 306 I'm looking at you!).

Rough guidelines:
These are seriously rough but can help you gauge what you're looking at:
Arcane looking classic handcranks: are probably late 1890 to 1920s.
Classic looking black sewing machine handcranks or powered 1930s-50s
More angular designs still metal but in a wider range of colours green, beige, brown, cream, gold and some blacks, 1950s -60s
Metal with some plastic 70s
Plastic exteriors 60s+

 :button: To gauge more accurately look for serial numbers for the brand online.

 :flower: As a guideline I avoid electrical machines from pre 1950s... pre WW2 wire cores were solid and insulated with natural rubber and often not layered the wire coding was different too and the standards very loose compared with later machines.  :woof:singers from this period often have exposed live terminals and these are more or less impossible to make safe. (except the 201k2)

But the handcranks and treadles of this period are gorgeous works of art! If it's a shuttle machine (long bobbin and a boat thingy) make sure it has one with it because you may never get another.

1950s+ post war Germany had invented early plastics and these made electrics much safer, standards had also improved!

Where was my machine made?
1880s-1960s most were made on the continent (Singer UK, USA, Germany, Italy) Necchi: Italy Elna/Bernina: Switzerland, Husquvarna: Sweden, Lada/Cresta Czechoslovakia, and Pfaff, Anker, Adler, Durrkopf: Germany. These machines are very tough and generally largely metal.
Late 60s and 70s machines were made in Japan, the quality is still very high but expect some plastic parts these machines are often cheaper than the prior group.
Late 70s+ Taiwan then China... quality reduced plastic quantity went up in an effort to make the machines cheap.

What to look for:
Is the machine rusted? I'd avoid it, it could have seized all the way through, got into the electrics. All in all a bad sign.
Is the case in a water damaged state? Be concerned
Is the metal showing through the paint? A little along the front shows a machine that's been used. If there's a lot of metal showing its been used a lot. To some degree it's personal preference, but if you're collecting condition is king!
Does it have a manual and or accessories? These can save you a lot of effort on identification and replacing the accessories, and make maintaining and sewing on it easier.
Does it have the plate that fits into the bed below the needle? If the answer is 'no' walk away replacing them can be tricky
Is it stuck? Not necessarily a bad thing most 1800s-1960s machines can be freed easily with patience, cleaning, oil and warmth...
Is it grotty and dusty? Not a problem this can be cleaned up.
Smells of cigarettes? My pfaff smelt like it had smoked a 40 a day, a good clean, and use and it doesn't any more.
Needle bar is bent(not a slant shank): (yep check this) don't bother it's not worth the hassle!
Plastic case/on the machine these are likely to be more difficult to get going.

Is my machine industrial, semi industrial, or for home sewing
?
Unless your machine has an engine like a small beer keg, it's for home sewing regardless of what they say on a well known auction site.
The machines were built tougher, there are tales of singer demos of 15ks where they would sew silk, denim, wool, canvas and finally a tin can without adjusting it. But you wouldn't sew tin cans every day...
In the 1800s-1960s clothing was woven fabrics built for warmth, because central heating, home insulation, and the like didn't exist, so they are designed to handle heavier warmer fabrics than today, so a denim crotch seam shouldn't be an issue, a little light leather or canvas likewise, but I wouldn't make a saddle on them. 1960s forward the fabrics became closer to modern fabrics.

Straight stitcher: 1800s-1950s fabric was woven and didn't stretch so zigzag and stretch stitches weren't necessary but these straight stitchers are easy to use powerful and produce incredibly neat stitching when set up right.
Swing needle machines:1950s forwards more stitches became available initially zigzags and blind stitches, but then more options and also 'cams' plastic disks that could be inserted into the machines to produce more stitches.

But how many stitches do you need? I think a straight stitcher is a fantastic thing to have because the stitching from them is gorgeous and most sewing is straight stitch, but I love the 1950s machines for their beautiful quaint stitch patterns, my 70s F+R has mad patterns, including ducks!

How much is servicing worth?
Straight stitch only: usually between £25 a £45 is not unreasonable
Multiple stitch patterns: usually around £75.

Really hope this helps you find that machine you can really enjoy and make an heirloom.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2017, 18:36:08 PM by Iminei »
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132

Roger

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2017, 20:39:03 PM »
It's going to need some work when I'm not on my phone :)
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132

Lilian

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2017, 21:57:30 PM »
Great thread to start Roger.  I was holding my breath when you mentioned pre- WW2!  But then the 201k2 was an exception,  Phew!  0_0
Willing but not always able :)


Roger

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #3 on: March 02, 2017, 22:33:18 PM »
Thanks Lillian, I really appreciate you comments, I haven't tried writing a tutorial before.

201k2s don't have exposed exposed terminals but the wiring is often shakey on them, mine was lethal, but a rewiring has fixed that :)

My donor 201 the motor on it is unfixably dangerous because of exposed live parts which are as designed...

I have such a poor record with 201s :)
« Last Edit: March 02, 2017, 22:35:11 PM by Roger »
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132

Francesca

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #4 on: March 02, 2017, 22:37:30 PM »
Step 1: Aquire new house
Step 2: Aquire vintage sewing machines
Step 3: ???
Step 4: World domination

rowe1311

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #5 on: March 02, 2017, 22:48:55 PM »
Brilliant introduction to vintage machines.  It makes me want to go out and increase my collection! 

Lilian

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #6 on: March 02, 2017, 23:24:17 PM »
This link may be useful if you don't already know it.  It is for dating the older Singer machines and gives where it was made too!  :D

https://www.sewshop.com/date-your-machine.html

PS If you click on the letters that your serial number has it brings up a full list.
Willing but not always able :)


b15erk

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #7 on: March 03, 2017, 09:04:23 AM »
Excellent information Roger.  Now tell me how to deal with a chronic lack of space to hide
store my 20+ machines??  :D

Jessie

Jessie, who is very happy to be here!!  :),  but who has far too many sewing machines to be healthy, and a fabric stash which is becoming embarrassing.


Iminei

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #8 on: March 03, 2017, 18:38:27 PM »
Great tutorial Roger...Thank you very much!   :toast:
The Imperfect Perfectionist sews again


Roger

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #9 on: March 03, 2017, 20:33:08 PM »
Thank you!
I'm glad you enjoyed it and didn't find anything too erroneous :)

Might have my PC back by the end of next week :) so I can repair this!
A bit of a vintage sewing machine nut! Singers: 500a, 401g, 48k Elnas: lotus SP & grasshopper, Bernina 530-2 F+R 504, Pfaff 30, Cresta T-132

Marniesews

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #10 on: March 10, 2017, 18:31:16 PM »
Yes, very good introduction, Roger...and I hope that's just what it is. Definitely keen for more...  8) I have two old machines but neither are pre 1970s or straight stitchers. I'm really thinking I'd like a straight stitcher with that perfect stitch we hear so much about - and if it were pretty too...  :vintage: :D

My immediate thought on reading your piece was if the electrics on the pre-WW2 machines may be dodgy, how easy is it to convert one these days? Are there kits available and reliable tutorials? With something like this I'd want the confidence of a recommended tutorial rather than just finding someone who knew more than I do (that's far too easy to achieve).
Aka Jacky F in a former life...

Manuela

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #11 on: May 22, 2017, 03:02:21 AM »
Here a comprehensive guide of most vintage sewing machines Singer ever made, including needle type, neelde bar specifications and whether they were for industrial or domestic use:

http://ismacs.net/singer_sewing_machine_company/model-list/

Those who know me from other fora, know that I'm a huge fan of the old Singer buttonholer attachment (my current favourite is the Autopilot buttonholer).
Here is a comprehensive list of those, most can be bought cheaply on Ebay.

http://ismacs.net/singer_sewing_machine_company/more-on-singer-buttonholers.html

Marniesews

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #12 on: May 22, 2017, 10:11:44 AM »
Having recently bought a 201K-4 and a lovely tin of feet & attachments, a buttonholer is the next on my list. I don't sew a lot of buttonholes currently but my 4-step Bernina 1020 buttonholes beat both of my new Pfaffs hands down for neatness but I've heard so much about how brilliant the Singer buttonhole attachments are that I've got to try one out myself. The autopilot is only for zigzag machines from what I see.
Aka Jacky F in a former life...

Catllar

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #13 on: May 22, 2017, 10:16:42 AM »
Ooo goodie Manuela - another vote for the vintage Singer buttonholer! I've only just found out about them so am onto that like a rat up a drainpipe via Helen Howes - she seems to be the go-to guru in Europe for bits and bobs for vintage ladies!

I was thinking I'd have to replace my modern machine which has thrown its toys out the pram concerning buttonholes and refusers to play until Susan in Mexico suggested the  solution!

I am so glad this forum exists and is so helpful and sharing - love it!
If life gives you lemons, add to gin and tonic !


BrendaP

Re: Choosing a Vintage Machine (for new to hobby folks)
« Reply #14 on: May 22, 2017, 10:20:33 AM »
Thank you Roger, an excellent tutorial :flower:

One thing you didn't mention is Helen Howes' excellent website.
http://www.helenhowes-sewingmachines.co.uk/

The buttonholes for the old Singer machines do make excellent buttonholes.  I bought a red one from Helen Howes for my 201 and then a week later I bought a box full of attachments (found through Pre-Loved) which included a very similar black one and one in a green box with 5 templates.

The box of attachments included a zig-zagger and I have to say that that really doesn't produce very good results.  I think you do need a swing needle machine if you want zig-zag other than in buttonholes.
Brenda.  My machines are: Vera, a Husqvarna 350 SewEasy, Caroline a Singer 201K-3 born in 1940. Also Bernina 1150 overlocker and Elna 444 Coverstitch.
http://paternoster.orpheusweb.co.uk/