In Praise of Vintage

..and why I hate many modern ones.

It seems that at least twice a week I see a new reason to be grateful for my vintage machines.

While I wait for my infant offspring to grow large enough to attend pre-school and allow me some regular sewing time I am feeding my habit by being a regular contributor on a sewing machine forum.  The cries for help are both frequent and worrying – it’s not the questions that alarm me, but the validity of the answers.

Things which ought never to be a problem somehow are and that makes me so annoyed on behalf of their owners because I see a host of sad sewing machine owners, many of them new to their hobby, ending up so subjugated by their tetchy machines that they spend more time trying to appease them than use them.

This in turn can prove to be such a disincentive that the sewer is forced out of their interest by the downright tetchiness of their wretched machine.  In their modesty they are much quicker to blame themselves and their own inexperience than their machine – even when we the more experienced sewers see otherwise.

Even if it is their fault, it’s usually a small and honest mistake which any decent machine would forgive and get on with instead of hurling itself into a hissy fit of thread knots before breaking the needle, pinging the broken piece up into your eye before burying its own down into the depths of the bobbin case which jams it up entirely, lassoes the thread around the hook, pieces of which thread penetrate the most unfathomable crevices and just as a finale, throws the timing out.*

* Ok, maybe my imagination is running a little wild here but not by much.

I often finish a piece of advice with the semi-playful observation that I am now going to go and stroke and kiss my lovely machines (inferring that they are delightfully trouble-free, which is true; they are).

Sewing machines have just become too complicated for anyone’s good…apart from the manufacturers who use all of this extra fuss to bamboozle us into believing that they are in some way worth their eye-wateringly high price tags.  Now I’m not against paying high prices – the early sewing machines often cost many months and in some cases years’ wages – but unlike their modern equivalents these old ones were made to last and had a beautiful lockstitch – surely the most basic of all sewing requirements – so is it really so unreasonable for me to expect you, the manufacturer to please give me that before you start baffling me with all this faff and gadgetry?

I get really annoyed on new sewers’ behalf that so many of them will never have sewn on a machine with a decent lockstitch and so don’t even know what they’re missing.

I…want…to…sew.  I’ve enjoyed a very rewarding career in computers, thanks and I don’t need or indeed want to revisit that with my sewing; especially as I don’t have, as I had then, a talented and enthusiastic team of experts giving me back-up.  I don’t want to sit there poking and squinting myopically at a touch-screen, one hand on the manual or, worse still, staring at the machine squatting in sullen unresponsive blankness and wondering whether it’s the screen that’s failed or the electrics… or finding some impenetrable error message displayed which I can’t cancel and which means I have to call the helpline only to waste 30 minutes finding that it needs a trip to the mechanic, waste another 40 minutes arranging this with the mechanic, poking around in the loft trying to find the original packaging, boxing it up and then finding and arranging a courier and then maybe waste another fourteen days waiting for it to come back fixed with a note saying there was a half micron of lint which had settled on a sensor somewhere and now I’m so terrified of getting a repeat that I barely dare use it in case I’m using the wrong thread.  So I need a second machine in case this happens again and that will cost me yet more money still and what guarantee do I have that it’ll be any better than this one…and now I’m utterly paranoid.  Why can’t I just have a machine that lets me sew?

Repeat this as a mantra and believe it:

I don’t need sensors to tell me when my bobbin thread is running low: I have eyes and I have common sense.

I don’t need automatic thread cutting: I have scissors.

If I must trade seven scruffily stitched alphabets for a decent lockstitch then so be it: I know which one I’ll use more.

I will cope without automatic threading, the decorative crocodiles and the bicycles.

I need a good, fully adjustable stitch, tension which is easy to adjust and calibrate and to use any old thread I like, top or bottom, whether it matches or not.

I can sit down at my Singers, thread them up and go.  I can set the stitch length exactly as I need it, tighten the thumb screw to the left of it and happily throw the lever up into reverse and then push it back down again, assured that it will stop in exactly the same place as it was previously set.  Now that’s cleverness I can use.

And did I mention I have the attachments to do buttonholes and blind stitch too?

I’m now going to go and hug my machines again.

Copyright of the blog owner 2010

4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Gerry Hook
    Jul 21, 2014 @ 16:38:49

    Just read your comment on our vintage machines, thanks to Bonnie K Hunter/Quiltville blog.

    There are three Featherweights and a Model 15 living with me
    Love their reliability

    Enjoyed this post



    • Offspring
      Jul 21, 2014 @ 16:45:22

      Thank you so much! I admit I’m overwhelmed that so many people have enjoyed it; I reread it myself this morning when I became aware in the sudden spike in traffic and confess I giggled over it – I was on quite a rant that day! I still love my machines passionately and the infant referred to in the post (now six) takes an interest too – the 28k being his favourite. I really must write some more posts soon – I have new machines to rave about and so many vintage sewing books to review that the shelves are groaning. Thank you so much for stopping by and leaving such a nice comment. 🙂 xxxx


  2. Tammy Liddell
    Jul 21, 2014 @ 13:07:09

    lol.. I happen to agree with you. I don’t need all the fancy computerized stuff to make quilts or to do any sewing. I do love my vintage machines. Matter of fact my newest machine is from the “80’s” a Janome Harmony. Basic machine. I also have a Bel Air 600, a Gritzner Treadle, a White Rotary, and just gave my oldest daughter my Singer 99.


    • Offspring
      Jul 21, 2014 @ 13:21:34

      I gave my 99k to my sister-in-law for Christmas and she’s thrilled with it! Such a useful and pretty little machine; she keeps it out on the table ready to tackle any little running repairs which arise. She has a lot of horses, a lot of dogs and a lot of mud so really needed a nice solid machine capable of repairing horse rugs, dog bedding and dog coats. Wonderful mschines! 🙂 xxx


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