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Vintage Vs. Modern Sewing Machine! 6 Important Deciding Factors

Trying to decide between buying a new, used or vintage sewing machine can seem confusing. Is newer always better? Is that old machine all “used” up, or “up” for another 50 years of useful service?  Are all “oldies” goodies?

This article will streamline the process by breaking down the comparison to six important factors and will explore each one. These factors are:
  1. Features
  2. Durability & build quality
  3. Repair and maintenance costs
  4. Price & value
  5. Environmental & economic impact
  6. Personal preference

It’s important to define the term “vintage sewing machine” for the purpose of this article. This would be a machine made at least 30 years ago which is more likely to have metal drive components and less value engineering. Just because a machine is an “oldie,” doesn’t automatically make it one of the “goodies.”

So, for the sake of this comparison, let’s further define the term to apply to the quality machines of days gone by, not the sub-par models.

Features:

Without out a doubt, new machines can have more features than vintage machines. Some new machines have computer controlled systems and advanced electronics that make it possible for them to do hundreds, if not thousands of fancy stitches. The needle positions can be adjusted incrementally in fractions of a millimeter.

Instead of tapping the controller, or touching the hand wheel, the needle can be raised by touching a button or two. These are just a few of the features available on some new sewing machines.  

But, these features do come at a price, and I’m not just talking dollars even though some new  machines cost several thousands of dollars. In order to get these whiz-bang features you have to sacrifice simplicity of design.

You know the adage, the more there is, the more that can go wrong. Intricate electronic circuitry, motherboards, firmware, software, etc… make all these features possible, but also become an additional component to potentially fail or malfunction.

On the other hand, often a very basic function is left out completely on a new machine. For example, many of the under $1,000 new machines have no presser foot pressure adjustment. This basic feature goes back to machines of the 19th century and helps fine tune the fabric feeding for a wide variety of fabrics.

Even though it is a very basic adjustment feature it’s commonly not available on new models. Consumers are mesmerized by the fancy embroidery stitches which are seldom used and overlook the more basic elements, and so modern sewing machine companies prefer to market a machine that will grab a consumer with a “wow -look-at-all-those stitches” reaction.

So, in a choosing machine, you need to look at what features you really want and need verses which ones just seem “cool“. Beginner sewing hobbiests often think that the machine that they can “grow” into will be jam packed with many features. 

But, In reality, the vast majority of their sewing ends up being straight stitching, and as they sew more, that feature packed, value priced machine with hundreds of stitches will not hold up well under more constant use.

Choosing a machine is also a matter of personal taste. Some people prefer the straightforward design, basic interface, and full user control of a vintage machine, while others prefer the preset functions, and technologically advanced controls of a computerized machine. 

I am constantly working on adding more sewing machine reviews, to offer a more in depth view of the various vintage sewing machines. You can see these sewing machine reviews here. 

Durability & Build Quality:

This is easy to assess. A quality vintage machine is made with higher quality components, better overall build quality, and will outlast any new machine on the market today. I routinely sew with machines that are 50, 60, or even 70 years old (and more), that perform as well today as the day they were new.

These machines were built to last not years, not decades, but generations. A quality, vintage machine is an heirloom piece to be enjoyed and used well after that new, computerized machine and it’s technology has become outdated and obsolete.

You can realistically expect a new machine to provide about 10 to 25 years of service under normal conditions, but when it has died and gone to the landfill, the quality vintage machine will still be sewing along.

Repair & Maintenance Costs:

The potential repair costs of a vintage machine can vary greatly. Has the machine already been fully refurbished or is it attic-fresh? Sometimes, a machine purchased at a garage sale or thrift store may only need a dusting and a few drops of oil to get it going well again. 

However, missing and broken parts, deteriorated wires, etc. are not uncommon at all. Replacing belts and bobbin winders tires is something you can almost count on needing to do. 

As far as the electrical wires, replacing the wires to the foot controller is a relatively simple repair and doesn’t require any soldering, but if the wires to the light fixture or motor are in need of replacement, that will be more involved.

Broken thread guides and missing tension parts and such may not be obvious until you sit down to actually sew with the machine. It takes more than “the stabber thingy going up & down” to create a nice stitch and for all of the functions to operate properly.

As usual, the devil is in the details. For the sake of this discussion, we will compare a fully refurbished, vintage machine to a new one. (like the machines available through Sew-Classic)

A brand new machine will have some parts and labor covered under a warranty for a period of time. The terms of these warranties vary greatly, and some dealers may even charge a bench/diagnostic fee to look at a machine, even under warranty.

Once you get beyond the warranty coverage, certain repairs can get costly. $400 or more to replace a motherboard is not uncommon. This type of repair is not DIY project and you are left with few alternatives when this sort of thing happens. Newer machines have lighter duty components which can break easily if care is not taken. 

As far as maintenance cost with a new machine, again, this becomes something that requires professional servicing. There are many parts on the new machines that don’t require the owner to oil or attend to, but instead, they require that the machine be professionally serviced on an annual or biannual basis depending on usage.

The plastic covers cannot easily be removed and often no instructions are provided for this in the manual. So, in order to properly maintain your new machine, the manufacturers generally recommend that it be professionally serviced once a year under normal conditions. 

If this maintenance service isn’t done, it can even void the warranty on some new machines.  

The average cost for this maintenance service ranges from $80 to $120. This is not covered by the warranty, but many dealers and retailers sell service contracts with a new machine. The cost of these contracts range from about $100 to $500 dollars, and the terms vary. 

So, just to maintain your new machine, you can easily be looking at a $400 to $600 expense over a 5 year period. Because of this, many people simply roll the dice and forgo the maintenance on their new sewing machines.

It’s also common for people to see new machines as disposable items. When it breaks, they just buy a new one.

For the refurbished, vintage machine, purchased from a reputable seller, you shouldn’t have any expenses to get the machine up and running properly, but there is usually no extended warranty period either.

The good news is that these machines are well built and have already stood the test of time. So, major repairs are highly unlikely.

As far as regular maintenance for vintage machines, this can easily be done by the owner. It’s simply a matter of removing dust, lint and debris and oiling and lubricating the machine as outlined in the manual. The manuals for these vintage machines do a very good job of explaining how to go about maintaining the machine.

At the time these machine were made, it was expected that most people would prefer to do this themselves. The covers are simple to remove and the parts that need to be cleaned and oiled regularly are very accessible. This maintenance should be less than a 15 minute process- start to finish as long as it is done with some regularity. 

However, you can still take your vintage machine to the local shop for maintenance service if you prefer not to do it yourself. With proper care, your vintage machine will provide many years of service free from major repairs or expenses.

Price & Value:

The prices of vintage machines are all over the map. Sometimes they can be found sitting on the curbside on garbage day, at a thrift store for $25 or sell for thousands of dollars on eBay. Condition, market demand, marketing, location, etc… all factor into the selling price.

New machines range from about $80 to $10,000 plus. Obviously, the $80 machines are highly value engineered and essentially disposable. The machines costing thousands of dollars have many complex features and often require special classes even for an experienced sewer to operate them to their full potential.

There can be some hidden costs with vintage machines if you purchase one that is in that “attic-fresh” condition. First consider the time that is invested in hunting down the machine you want, then factor in the fuel and other expenses incurred in the “hunt”.

Once you find that attic-fresh machine, you will need to either refurbish it yourself or have it serviced by a professional. This could range from just the cost of a few drops of oil and a few minutes wiping away dust to hundreds of dollars in labor and parts costs depending upon the approach and condition of the machine.

When considering the purchase of a refurbished vintage machine, take into account the type and quality of new machine could you get for the same amount of money. Almost always, you will get a better quality machine for your dollar when you go with the vintage machine even if you are not inclined to do the refurbishing yourself. .

Environmental & Economic impact:

Purchasing a vintage machine over a new one is the environmentally friendly choice. Making the most out of what is already here rather than manufacturing a new item is a no brainier. The amount of energy & resources required to manufacture and transport your new machine far exceeds that which is required to refurbished a vintage one.

No sewing machines are made in North America anymore. The vast majority of them come from China and Taiwan, and some high end machines are assembled in Europe from components manufactured in Asia.  

Many vintage machines were originally manufactured in the USA as well as Canada, Europe or perhaps Japan. If your refurbished machine is a “Sew-Classic” machine, it was totally refurbished in northern Ohio by a hardworking, citizen of the US (me). When I outsource any labor, that is done locally as well.

So, your money goes directly into the US economy. (you can’t say that about any new machine)  Hands down, a vintage machine is a great choice for both the economy and environment.

Personal Preference:

Buying a sewing machine is a very subjective process and a matter of personal choice, but I do hope this analysis of vintage verses new machines will help you find the right machine for you. Individual needs, desires, taste and preferences must all be taken into account.

What is THE right machine for one person may not be the perfect fit for the next. When it comes to buying a vintage machine, there are many people that would like one but, they don’t have the time, desire or inclination to hunt it down and refurbish it themselves. A Sew-Classic machine is an excellent option in this situation.

No fuss, no muss- it’s much like buying a new machine. It’s delivered safely, straight to your front door, fully serviced, guaranteed with full after sale support ready for you to enjoy for many years to come. 

There are others that enjoy trudging through every thrift store in town. They happily devote entire weekends to wandering through multitudes of garage sales, and then want to take on the challenge, investment of time, elbow grease, money, parts hunting and skill needed to repair their attic fresh find.

There is no right or wrong way. It’s simply a matter of personal preference. 

-Jenny

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