I’ve become a little obsessed with vintage sewing machines. I love them. There are sewing machines out there covered in gorgeous decals that are 100 years old and yet STILL WORK. They are simple enough that a regular person armed with a screwdriver and some high-quality sewing machine oil can take care of them and keep them running. And the machines were mass produced enough, and are unpopular enough, that many can be purchased for not that much money. Singer Featherweights, which was my first machine that I bought back in May, those are popular with the quilting crowd and can run over a thousand dollars. But pretty much anything else can often be purchased for under 100 dollars, maybe a little more if it comes with a nice wooden cabinet. Honestly, if I’d known then what I know now, I probably wouldn’t have gotten my beloved Featherweight and would have stuck to less popular models.
I’ve learned a lot since May. I lurk on several vintage sewing machine groups, poke around the internet for blogs and videos, and generally research sewing machines like they are the new special interest of mine that they are. I’ve already got three sewing machines and one overlocker, too. There is the 1941 Singer Featherweight, which is the machine I use the most. Then in July I inherited my late mother-in-law’s Singer Stylist from the 70s. I took it into a shop and had it tuned up, and now it is my trusty zig zag machine. The overlocker is a relatively newer machine that I bought over Marketplace from a local sewist who had upgraded to a fancier model. (Even in the vintage sewing machine forums, people will tell you to stay away from vintage overlockers.) My last machine I’ve only had for a couple weeks, and I’m so in love.
It is a Singer 66 treadle machine from 1923 with Red Eye decals in near pristine condition. It was made May 28th, 1923 to be exact and I am already planning to throw it a 100th birthday party when the time comes. I got it off Marketplace too, from a woman who got it as a gift in high school. She assured me it still sews, and that she sewed on it for years. I haven’t tried sewing on it yet. Instead it lives in our dining area and looks gorgeous, and I admire and pet it many times a day. Once I finish my current jacket project, I plan to clean and oil the 66 and learn how to use a treadle. Tentatively, I plan to sew up some new curtains for my husband’s home office on it. (The curtain plan is firm, but I reserve the right to chicken out and sew them on the Featherweight instead.) This machine, it has brought me so much joy. I’m not sure I can exactly explain how much, or why.
I paid 150 dollars for it, cash, which seems a ridiculously low price for so much joy. Back 100 years ago, such a machine would have been a real reach for a middle class family. It would have been a necessity for most too. People sewed because they needed to back then. But it would have been expensive enough that most would have had to take out a loan to pay for it. The machines were durable and beautiful, in part because they were so expensive and because they generally lived in people’s main living spaces. Singers became very popular not because they were the best, but because they were headed up by something of a marketing genius. The company invented the concept of buying something on layaway, and people would take home their new machine and then send a check to the Singer shop each month for years to come. I like to wonder about all the families that owned this machine before me. I like to think how beloved and admired and useful it has been for almost 100 years now.
Our new house only has so much space, and I’ve promised to stop acquiring machines for now. There are others I would like. In particular, I’d love to have another Singer machine with an original hand crank to power it. Or another treadle with a fiddle base from the 1800’s. Or one of the original all metal Singer zig zag machines instead of the Stylist I have now (which has plastic parts that will someday break and may not be replaceable). Though my husband says seeing the Stylist each day makes him happy because it reminds him of his mom, so I’ll probably never actually replace it.
My little stable of four machines makes me happy. Each has a use and each is lovely in its own way. This past weekend I finally got up the nerve to practice on the overlocker, and, oh, that was fun. I’ll write more about that another day. For today, I’ll wrap this journal entry up, and get back to my jacket project, which I’m doing entirely on the Featherweight. The Featherweight is going to need a good cleaning and oiling once this project is finally done. I’m looking forward to the task.