Garage sale-ing is one of my favorite summer activities, and it also happens to be one of the best ways to score an old sewing machine. Look around at any messageboard post or article where someone has asked about the best qualities of a sewing machine, and I guarantee you’ll find several people that swear by old all-metal machines. I learned to sew on a 1960’s Kenmore that was my mother’s. I still have it, and it still runs (though the tension’s a little off, 100% the fault of one of my cats).
So during a garage sale cruise this past summer, my boyfriend and I stopped at a house not far from our own, and I spied a mysterious suitcase….
A garage sale-ing rule of mine is to always, always, ALWAYS open mysterious cases and boxes. You never know what kind of kickass treasure will be within!
Inside the mysterious case was pretty much what I had expected…. an old, heavy-as-an-anvil sewing machine. So, even though the people running this particular garage sale were kind of creepy and more than a little rude, sucks to their aunties, because I picked up this gem for $35!
It wasn’t until I got home that I realized this was a straight-stitch machine, meaning it ONLY does a straight stitch. But wait! Mine came with a hilarious little add-on contraption that actually does make a zig-zag. Instead of moving the needle back and forth, like a regular zig-zag machine, this little attachment grabs onto the fabric, and moves the fabric back and forth. Quaint and amusing, but not exactly practical, or the kind of thing I imagine would work well with knits.
Feeling a little disappointed that I’d probably just bought 50 lbs of uselessness, I checked Ebay to see if there was any possibility of selling this thing. It turns out, this particular Singer (Singer 301), and it’s “little sister” – the Singer Featherweight 221 – can fetch $150-$300 and sometimes more on Ebay! Color me excited. After a little research, I learned that the reason these machines are so highly sought is because they’re gear driven instead of belt driven, which makes them capable of handling incredible thicknesses of fabric.
I took a bunch of pictures of the machine, even wrote most of the listing information, and then our power went out, and we had no internet for a week. And as I’ve mentioned before, I get a little preoccupied sometimes… my projects occasionally have a tendency to sit around for a looong time. So I kind of forgot about selling it for a while, and it sat in the corner all lonely-like.
Once my attention refocused on selling the sewing machine (which was ohhh… November!), I thought about the hassle of shipping such a heavy piece of machinery. Huge pain. I convinced myself to give it a test run. Use it for a few days, and if I decide that it’s just not for me, I’ll sell it.
Well, it didn’t take long… this thing is INSANE. It runs so smooth and so FAST, I really have to work on pacing myself or the machine can totally get away from me. It balks at… well, so far, nothing. Layers and layers of fabric and twill tape and zippers, and this thing runs like a hot knife through butter.
Needless to say, I decided to keep her. And because I need a machine that does a zig-zag stitch, that means I also had to keep my craptastic $100 plastic Singer.
Which brings me to the rest of my sewing family. I’m almost embarrassed to admit this, but… there are now more sewing machines than people in my house. Actually, if you include my sergers, there are more sewing machines than living beings in the house. 4 standard machines, 2 sergers VS. 2 people and 2 cats.
In fairness, several of the machines are not in use.
On second thought, maybe that actually makes it worse.
Lets just hope my machines never develop brains and decide they want revenge after the countless hours of abuse I’ve put them through.
Either way, by introducing you to my machines, I might give all of you that think about someday owning a sewing machine (or those of you looking for an upgrade) some ideas about what to look for.
My first machine, the aforementioned Kenmore. She’s pretty in pink! Her model number is a little confusing- The manual says 47, the back of the machine says 605. Who cares, she’s my pretty lady. Meet Andie.
As you can see, Andie was one of Saxby’s favorite lounging spots. He’s a pretty stubborn cat, so he wasn’t always ready to relinquish his position when I wanted to sew. As I attempted to move him out from under it one day, he had one of his patented Saxby panic attacks, and he clutched wildly at anything in sight. Unfortunately, his freakish extra toes allow him a prehensile grasp that would be impossible for most cats. His dumb little pisspaws grabbed onto the wee wire on the tension dial. He held on for dear life, bending it completely and utterly out of shape, if memory serves, he ripped it completely off the machine. I was able to dismantle the tension dial and reform the wire to something close to it’s original shape, but poor Andie was never the same.
She still sews, but the tension is a complete nightmare. I even took her into a repair shop, where I was informed that there was nothing they could do for her.
Okay, that’s not the whole truth. The woman told me that Andie’s motor was nearly shot and it “wasn’t worth it” unless the machine had some sort of sentimental value. I took the machine home without having anything done to it…. Frankly, I was a little miffed that she didn’t even address the real reason I’d brought the machine in in the first place! I had specifically asked about getting a new wire for the tension dial, but my guess is she was trying to steer me towards one of her fancy pants new machines that cost as much as a car.
Someday I probably will have her fixed up, because she does have sentimental value- she’s the first machine I ever used. She’s the machine I started SmarmyClothes with. And, shit, she’s pink!
So Andie’s untimely demise (or close to it) led me to a machine I just like to call Son of a Bitch. The Singer 1120.
This machine was a mistake. It was one of those moments of late-night frustration. I was working on something that needed to be done; Andie, in her sickness, was being a little difficult, and I ran out to the nearest evil megamart and bought the first machine I laid eyes on. Dumb. What should have been a one night stand turned into years of agony.
Son of a Bitch is incredibly temperamental. He doesn’t like more than 2 layers of anything. He hates zippers and the plastisol inks they use on most t-shirts. He’s very picky about needles. His thread holder is horizontal, which I guess is supposed to be nice for portability, but is a pain when you’re someone like me that uses copious amounts of thread and thus buys gigantor spools of the stuff.
Okay, so maybe I’m being a little harsh. Honest, but harsh. Son of a Bitch is not the worst machine on the planet. I’ve had him for several years and he’s still functioning to the best of his ability. For a $100 machine, he’s pretty okay. (Just remember that $35 or less can get you an amazing vintage machine.)
For someone who’s very new to sewing, and maybe just wants to play around with it for a while, or for someone that needs a machine that can be put away in the closet a lot of the time and moved to whatever part of the house is currently being used to sew in, Son of a Bitch wouldn’t be so bad. For someone like me, who sews pretty much everyday, for sometimes 8-10 hours straight, Son of a Bitch is a real you-know-what.
Enter Miss Patti, the Singer 301. Sweet, sweet Patti. Patti is everything that Son of a Bitch is not. Big, mean, and strong. Miss Patti’s one and only drawback is, as I mentioned before, her (albeit amazing) ability to only do a straight-stitch. If you’re someone who works strictly with woven fabrics – particularly heavy woven fabrics (quilters love this thing) – this machine would probably be great for you. If you make dog collars or use a lot of canvas or denim or leather, definitely look into the 221’s and 301’s. If you’re a new sewer and don’t have a standard zig-zag machine, I’d keep looking and come back to this one when you know you’ll really need it.
And finally, my last standard machine, a very vintage Singer Red Eye treadle. This was a gift from my parents after one of their garage sale outings. I don’t have any pictures because she’s still in pieces, but she’s loverly. She’s got all those ornate decals, a walnut cabinet, and that gorgeous wrought iron treadle. Thought she does actually work (and the previous owners even modified her to include a motor), I think she’ll be mostly for decoration. Though I bet she’ll come in handy the next time the power’s out.
That’s all she wrote (for now). I’ll update with some picture of the Red Eye someday- I’m waiting for my dad to refinish the walnut for me. And of course, there’s always a chance I’ll get that Singer Futura embroidery machine I’ve had my eye on for Xmas.
If you’re in the market for a new machine, check out the forum, where I’ve posted more information about picked out machines, and stay tuned for a Buying Guide on the main part of the site!