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sewing machine - what to look for
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Jeffrey McConnell
sewing machine - what to look for on 03/05/2011 11:25:54 MST Print View

So I'm ready to jump on the MYOG train. I have zero sewing skills, but I have a mother in law and grandmother nearby that can help. I need some guidance in finding a sewing machine. What brands do I look for and what basic features does it need to have? It seams like a lot of you have older singer machines. I'd be totally down for checking out good will for a machine, but I need to know what to look for in one. How much should I expect to spend on one? Is it better to just buy a cheaper new one?

I'll probably start out with some stuff sacks and a flat tarp. I'm really interested in learning how to make a pack. Anyway, thanks for the help.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: sewing machine - what to look for on 03/05/2011 12:05:21 MST Print View

Does your mother-in-law or grandmother currently have a machine? Old is good in this case. You won't need anything more complicated than possibly able to do a zig zag stitch. I paid $25 for my latest machine at the thrift store. It's like brand new, Score!

Jeffrey McConnell
yes on 03/05/2011 12:09:22 MST Print View

They both have machines, but unfortunately my car was totaled recently so my ability to travel is severely limited until we settle things with insurance. Luckily, I'm working from home right now. Sounds like checking out garage sales and good will is the right thing to do.

John Donewar
(Newton) - MLife

Locale: Southeastern Louisiana
Re: sewing machine - what to look for on 03/05/2011 12:19:57 MST Print View

Hi Jeff,

Metal gears and construction would be the first priority. A straight instead of an angled presser foot mount would be nice.

As far as stitches go you want a basic straight stitch, forward and reverse stitching and either zig zag or the ability to do button holes.

The button hole/zig zag stitch would give you the ability to bar tack.

Zig zag stitching is helpful with binding elastic edges of mesh pockets on packs.

As far as price goes watch the paper and garage sales. Keep your eyes and ears open and a really good machine can be had for $75.00 to $100.00. Ask around and you may find someone who just wants to get rid of one because it isn't being used and is just taking up space. Even if you find one for free take it to a sewing machine repair shop and have it cleaned, adjusted and lubricated. It is worth the money!

If your machine doesn't come with a manual, download one off of the internet and keep it handy.

Another person's trash can be a MYOG treasure for us!

Brands to look for are but not limited to Singer and Necchi among others.

Check out this thread to see what machines some of us are using.

Party On,


Edited by Newton on 03/05/2011 12:23:32 MST.

Jason McSpadden
(JBMcSr1) - M

Locale: Rocky Mountains
re: sewing machine-what to look for?" on 03/05/2011 12:20:44 MST Print View

I am by no means an expert but I have made a quilt, tarp, stuff sacks, and a pack. I think it is helpful to realize that you may not pick the right machine for you the first time. I think it takes a little experience in finding out what you like, what works for the projects you have in mind, etc. I am pretty much a "bottom dweller" searching craigslist for cheap but good sewing machines. I haven't spent more than $35.00 on a machine. I've had an old "White" brand that had just about every stitch known to man, I still have a portable Viking, but my favorite is an old Singer 15-91. I really love it. It is just a straight stitch machine but it is easy to use, smooth, and I can really see what I'm doing with it. Sometimes machines with a big sewing head require you to bend down to see what you are doing--the Singer is more "open". (At least I think so.) MYOG is a challenge for me, I'm a slow sew-er, but it is a challenge that I enjoy and it really has helped me dropped my base weight.

Good luck!

Sarah Kirkconnell
(sarbar) - F

Locale: In the shadow of Mt. Rainier
Re: sewing machine - what to look for on 03/05/2011 13:50:50 MST Print View

I have sewed on many machines in my lifetime - from a cheap $100 Singer to a pricey Pfaff to commercial machines and so forth.

No matter what any one might say a good portion of how things turn out depends on the person sewing, not the machine. Yes, a good machine does help but it isn't everything!

A clean, well maintained machine, good quality needles and thread + a smooth hand and foot when sewing are the most important things!

Joe Clement
(skinewmexico) - MLife

Locale: Southwest
sewing machine - what to look for on 03/05/2011 15:37:22 MST Print View

Call sewing machine repair shops until you find one where the owner has been doing it about 50 years, then see what he has for sale. They will usually have something the picked up cheap, then cleaned, repaired, and checked out. Usually a good price too. Tell them you're looking for a 1950s vintage Singer or Pfaff.

Rob Bouchard
Angled foot on 03/05/2011 16:11:10 MST Print View

I've seen comments that say to stay away from an angled foot(like the one a bit above) but nobody says why and I'm curious? Singer 403A and 401A look like nice machines...

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: Angled foot on 03/05/2011 16:18:56 MST Print View

I don't know why other than the fact that accessory feet for that style are hard to come by. Probably a non-issue for most here. Good, strong machines.

Jeffrey McConnell
what other places on 03/07/2011 14:26:16 MST Print View

So I've checked out the good will stores and thrift stores in the area and no sewing machines. I did find a Singer 500A at one repair shop but it was $250, which is a bit more than I want to pay. Most the other shops don't seem to have older machines. Is it worth looking on ebay or am I likely to get ripped off? I'm also going to keep an eye on craigslist. Any other places I should look?

Edited by Catalyst on 03/07/2011 14:31:49 MST.

David Bolduc
(boldav47) - F
Sewing machines on 03/07/2011 20:03:37 MST Print View

I've seen quite a few nice all metal geared machines (1950's) in my local Craiglist in the $30-$75 range in the last few weeks. I even picked up a like new Singer 401A that I couldn't pass up recently. However, I will warn everyone that there is usually something wrong with these machines, which is why they are being sold. The good news, though, is that I've always been able to get a machine working after a thorough cleaning and oiling along with adjusting the timing. Service manuals for the more popular machines like Necchi, Kenwood and Singer can be found online by looking in various sewing machine forums.

Eddie Rivera
(eddieruko) - F
craigslist is great on 03/07/2011 20:07:11 MST Print View

A recent MYOG convert I've learned quickly the lessons mentioned above (not the machine, but patience, practice, and more practice). I've had luck finding both older antique-like Singer machines (ca 1930s) to more "recent" 70s machines on craigslist. I lucked out and managed to get the table with my JCPenney machine (all metal) for $30. A manual with it would be great, but there are a number of sites that have them for purchase (might want to check out the model first). If you've never sewn before, I was a total newbie, the manual is a great resource. As for other features, I do wish my machine had a free-arm to tackle hems on sleeves, pants, or stuff sacks whose instructions you follow suggest to do the hem last... I was able to get by using some handy circular sewing. Good luck and enjoy!

Javan Dempsey

Locale: The-Stateless-Society
Re: Re: Angled foot on 03/08/2011 07:14:27 MST Print View

Em.. Slant shank presser feet are easy to come by, you can buy all the basic ones at any Jo-Ann's or Hancock or order them all over the internet, so I don't get the argument.

95% of all the quilts I've made have been sewn on Singer 301As, or a 500A. For the money, you simply can't beat the 401A and 500A, they do everything, and they're nearly indestructible. Almost anything can be serviced by technically oriented operator.

For my money, you couldn't pick a superior "heavy duty" home machine. By Singer's account, the 500A is the best machine they've ever made.

edit: Just wanted to mention that I bought my 500A on ebay, and it's still going very strong, even though I abuse the hell out of it daily. I've found 3 301A's at thrift stores so far, ranging from $15 to $55, depending on whether or not they were in cabinets. However, where I used to live in GA, they prices were much higher, so it just depends.

Edited by jdempsey on 03/08/2011 07:24:10 MST.

Piper S.
(sbhikes) - F

Locale: Santa Barbara (Name: Diane)
Re: sewing machine - what to look for on 03/08/2011 09:12:56 MST Print View

Try estate sales. I got an older Pfaff in excellent condition for only $35. The woman who had owned it had taken excellent care of it and it had even been serviced a few months prior. It had notions and the original instruction booklet in English and German. From what I understand, older machines are better than newer ones because the moving parts are metal instead of plastic, and that Pfaff machines in particular are sought after for being able to sew anything and that they come with a walking foot built in. I have yet to try silnylon or verify this myself. I wouldn't know what a walking foot looks like, but that's what a quilter told me about Pfaffs.

Jeffrey McConnell
Good advice on 03/08/2011 13:50:45 MST Print View

Thanks for all the advice. A lot of the craigslist machines I'm seeing are around $200-$250! I live in OC, CA area though so I guess its normal that everything is more expensive here. I think I'll just have to be patient and look around. I may go for a 500a on ebay and then have it checked out at a repair shop.

Tohru Ohnuki
(erdferkel) - F

Locale: S. California
Re: Good advice on 03/08/2011 16:51:49 MST Print View

I went looking around on the la/oc craigslist for a mechanical sewing machine recently and saw a few at the $100 price range that looked reasonable. I think much more than that and it has to be pristine condition or they're asking too much. It's rare to see anything for $50 that isn't either junk or really cheap.

The degree of bargainage is proportional to amount of time/research/hassle you can tolerate...

Joe Newton
Found an old Singer 15 clone (Japanese HA-1) on 07/10/2011 08:42:47 MDT Print View

Found one of these at an estate sale for 25.00. Man said he would hold for me for a day or two. The machine is in very good condition. Best I can determine these do straight stitch only but do have full reverse and all metal innards and an metal body. The thing must weight 25 lbs. Mint green with chrome parts. Anybody have any opinion of these machines. Thanks in advance for any info.