You might be surprised to learn that some of the best vintage sewing machines can still outperform modern machines at certain tasks. That’s one of the many reasons why modern sewers enjoy using older machines. Vintage models are loved for their beauty and durability, so if you don’t want or need the computerised features of a modern sewing machine, older might be better for you.
Are Vintage Sewing Machines Better?
Depending on your needs, vintage sewing machines can have important advantages over modern machines.
Durability - Vintage sewing machines were made to last. They’re highly durable, and the craftsmanship that created them is apparent.
Heavy-duty build - They’re designed to handle heavy-duty sewing with ease. They are capable of handling leather and denim as standard, whereas a lot of modern machines require an additional part or needle to handle such materials.
User Friendly - Vintage sewing machines tend to be more user friendly as they don’t have the complexity of modern models. Modern machines are now computerised and can perform several stitches, a feature that some users can find overwhelming.
Beauty and Design - Typically, vintage sewing machines were created with design in mind, making a much more welcome addition to your home than a modern one. They’re decorative rather than bulky without a computerised screen and wires.
Singer 201: Overall Best Vintage Sewing Machine
Overall, the best vintage sewing machine ever made is a pretty big statement, and of course, some people will disagree with us. However, this machine scores highest on the factors we consider to be most valuable in a vintage sewing machine.
The International Sewing Machine Collectors Society also reports that many at-home sewers consider the Singer 201 the best vintage sewing machine ever made. For a machine in fully working, serviced condition, a Singer 201 will typically retail anywhere between £250 and £400, so it is a considerable investment. Vintage sewing machines can also be considerably heavier than modern machines, with the 201 weighing roughly 13.5 kg.
Quality build - The gears mesh so that they require only sewing machine oil rather than grease to keep working. The machine rarely requires significant work or repairs due to the highly skilled craftsmanship that designed and constructed it.
Readily Available - Although it is a vintage machine, it was produced in large quantities between the 1920s and 1950s, meaning it can be easily sourced. It was also so well constructed that many survive in beautiful conditions and require little maintenance.
Performance - This machine has been described as very smooth and fast. It sews up to 1,100 stitches per minute and is relatively quiet compared to other similar vintage models. It can withstand heavy materials like leather and denim as it includes a presser foot that can be raised.
Electric and non-electric models - This machine comes in electric and non-electric models to cater to your preferences. This machine is perfect if you want a machine you can plug in or use on the go.
Easily available parts - Due to its popularity, there are plants of parts available for you to keep your machine working at its full potential.
Singer 281:1: Best Vintage Sewing Machine For Leather
It is rare to find a vintage or modern sewing machine for domestic use than can sew through three or four layers of leather easily and neatly.
However, the Singer 281-1 is as close as it gets. It can sew through at least two layers of standard leather and six layers of vinyl at least. This machine was designed to be an industrial sewing machine made in the 1960’s meaning it’s extremely heavy. If you look to buy one, it’s best to look locally as transportation could be difficult.
Speed - When sewing regular and heavy fabrics, this machine can sew up to 6,000 stitches per minute.
Durability - Like most vintage Singer sewing machines, this machine was built to last. There are also plenty of replacement parts available for any part that needs repairing.
Heavy Duty - As this machine was originally designed for industrial use, it can easily sew through many layers of fabric without the risk of snagging or breakage.
Easy to source - Although we recommend sourcing the machine locally due to its size, there are plenty around, so this shouldn’t be difficult.
Affordable - In good condition, you can expect to pay between £75 and £100 for this machine.
Singer 66: Best Vintage Straight Stitch Sewing Machine
The Singer 66 is recommended by many at-home sewers as the ultimate vintage stitch sewing machine. It has a classic design with stunning decorative embellishments. It comes in three models: treadle, electric motor and hand crank.
It is considered to be among the most coveted of machines by sewing machine collectors and home sewers due to its ‘red eye’ decals and design. The treadle version is considered the most expensive, typically retailing at £1200, whereas other models can be sourced at around £150.
Durability - Similar to the 201 model, this machine was incredibly well made. Gearing rarely requires repair and the case and body are as beautiful as they are durable and sturdy.
Easy to find - Although the “red-eye” decal machines are the most sought after and hardest to find, many other versions of the Singer 66 are affordable and easier to source. When released, thousands of machines were made, and thanks to the quality construction, many are still running and available.
Versatile - This machine was made in treadle, hand-crank, and electric versions to be adapted for any situation.
Many parts and attachments - This machine can use any low-shank Singer parts, including attachments for darning and ruffling. Thanks to the mass production of these machines, it's easy to find replacement parts if needed.
Useful features - The non-treadle model includes a drop-in bobbin and portable design and offers precise sewing of heavy-duty fabrics.
Singer 15: Best Non-Electric Vintage Sewing Machine
The Singer 15 is considered to be one of the best vintage sewing machines available, particularly if you prefer one that isn’t electric. The Singer 15 is available in an electric version if you’d prefer, but many stunning hand crank and treadle models are available. You can expect to pay around £250 to £400 for a model in good condition.
Availability - Singer originally made the 15 in 1879 and continued production for decades, meaning plenty are still in circulation.
Standard Parts - This model uses standard attachments and replacement parts, making it easy to source parts if needed.
Ease of Use - Most modern sewing machines have been based on similar design principles as the Singer 15, making them easy to use.
Quality - This machine requires little maintenance thanks to the durability of its design and the quality of which it was built.
What To Consider When Buying A Vintage Sewing Machine
Once you’ve decided on the sewing machine model you want to buy, there are some tips to consider, especially when purchasing second hand.
- Make sure the machine is fully operational. Try turning the handwheel and check that the needle rises up and down.
- Locate the bobbin and check to see it rotating as you turn the handwheel.
- If you’ve chosen an electric model, plug it in and run a test.
- Check what kind of accessories it comes with so you know if there are any you need to buy separately.
- Check if it has been serviced or if any repairs have been required recently and if they were carried out.
You don’t have to be an experienced sewer to appreciate a vintage sewing machine's solid craftsmanship and durability. Vintage sewing machines can be scored against durability, speed, cost and availability, but the best vintage sewing machine is one you’ll be able to love for years. Old Singer sewing machines are coveted by collectors and at-home sewers alike.
It’s essential to do your research and work with your budget. Auctions can be a great place to purchase your machine, but you may not have the chance to try it out at an auction. Take your time researching the machine you want, and it’ll pay off in the end.
You will end up with a dependable and stunning sewing machine that you can love for years to come. If you’d like to learn more about vintage sewing machines or how to source one, chat with our friendly and knowledgeable team at Singer Outlet today!