My Experience and Skill Level
I grew up with my Mom and her Singer. There was not a week where I did not see my Mom sew. The Singer brand was comforting when my husband surprised me with a sewing machine in 1995. Unfortunately, the honeymoon between the sewing machine and me was over pretty soon. Despite my husband paying close to $250, my Singer gave me tension issues and horrible snags near the fabric feeder area/bobbin area. I thought to myself that sewing couldn't be this difficult. However, I was not motivated to sew because each time I did, I was looking at problems with both tension and thread jams. Naturally, my sewing was infrequent, and I was wishing that the problem was not the machine but the amateur user. Many years later when my mother's sewing machine broke, I gave her mine. She told me that the machine was faulty. Soon after, I renewed my interest for sewing and went ahead and bought a bottom of the line Singer. Recently, I gave my Mom my second sewing machine because my mother finally broke the first machine. At this point, I wanted to have one at home. And the holidays are just around the corner, and I wanted to start early with my projects.
The Different Places to Purchase A Sewing Machine
It has been awhile since I searched for a sewing machine. I started with Amazon, but when I started reading the reviews, they were all so mixed for machines on the lower price range. There were numerous people who received "lemons" and had to return them, wondering why they received the defective ones while others raved favorably about their machines. I concluded that I could not make a purchase without trying the machine. I was not going to fiddle with sending a merchandise back. Although I was leaning toward a Juki or a Janome, I also wanted a top loading bobbin this time around. I noticed that Juki's were a little bit more expensive than Janome's but both were manufactured in Japan. Nevertheless, I ruled out Amazon.
In my area, there are only JoAnn Fabric Stores. However, I checked their stock, and they carried only Brothers and Singers. I decided that I wanted to venture to something more reliable and less disposable. I knew that my mother-in-law has a Pfaff that is still going strong, but I didn't know what model at that point. I noticed that Hancock Fabric carries Janome, and there was one that fit the bill, a Janome 5812. There were two problems. First, the closest Hancock Fabric was over 70 miles away, and the next one was 95 miles away. That wasn't the bigger problem. I learned that although Hancock Fabric carried it exclusively, it wasn't on sale. It was listed at $179. I would never buy anything at full retail price. I checked a number of online coupon places and learned that coupons covering sewing machines at Hancock Fabric are infrequent. The general discount coupons for all purchases excluded sewing machines. Was I going to wait for a sale or a better coupon?
My friend wanted to lend me her Elna, but it wasn't the same. I prefer not to borrow. But my curiosity peaked. I started noticing that there were a number of great sewing machine brands such as Elna, Pfaff, and Bernina.
I decided that my decision to purchase a sewing machine will be decided by destiny. How? Well, if the price of the Janome 5812 came down to $129 like it did in January 2012, then I would be willing to drive there and buy a modern day series. However, if I locate a good used machine, then I would be equally happy.
As I learned from my research, these vintage sewing machines were for home use, but were built well enough for industrial use. Back in those days, one of these good brands was build solid. As I found out quickly, the term that seamstresses or sewing machine users like to describe their machine was "workhorse." And, I really wanted to own a workhorse that would last my lifetime.
There were only two ways that I knew where I could acquire a used or even "vintage" sewing machine: Ebay or Craigslist. I also read from others that Ebay had heightened prices because of the bidding frenzy. At one point, I saw a Kenmore 158.10301 going for $10. I started bidding up to $20.50, and then I lost the bid. I was swept up by the excitement, but not really thrilled had I won. It was not exactly what I was looking for, and although it was used, it wasn't one of the better brands. The only reason that I even entertained bidding was that it was a good for local pickup, and no shipping was involved.
I learned that Kenmore had different manufacturers make its sewing machines. Looking at a new Kenmore model which is now being made under the Janome brand, I also noticed that the warranties were not always the same as the original brand, although some are. However, I also learned that Pfaff made the Kenmore 48, and so owning this would be essentially owning a Pfaff. However, the one that I bid was Kenmore made by White and manufactured in Taiwan.
There were some good prices on Ebay for Pfaffs, but the shipping price and the inability to test machines that cannot be returned just was worse than buying a new sewing machine on Amazon. Again, this may be a good purchasing opportunity for someone else but not for me, especially when I prefer not to pay for shipping. I also noticed that the bidding frenzy could have escalated the price to a level of unreasonableness.
The other option was Craiglist. This is the classifies online, and you can try the machine before purchasing. The items range from new in a box to used. I went to Craigslist for Los Angeles and did searches for Bernina and Pfaff. The one thing I noticed were people who acted like semi professional dealers who hid under the auspice of "owner." They bought up old sewing machines and cleaned up and then resold them like "flippers" for sewing machines. What I learned from one of them was that they were no better than car dealers. One advertiser said that the sewing machines were $70, but then the description showed that it started at $70. On the phone, the seller said that if I were ready, then I could call him back because $199 was on his low range. I didn't tell him that he had falsely advertised. I couldn't believe that he would insult me when I innocently read his false advertisement. My husband said that this was a "bait and switch" technique. Either that or he was really lazy, and what he should have done was issue different advertisements for each model that he had. Of course, he was a collector, and he didn't want to put out but put one free advertisement. Maybe my husband hit it on the nail.
My husband was supportive of my search and at one point drove the entire family to Temecula to look at a Bernina Bernette 50. I quickly learned that people could be greatly dishonest on Craigslist. The seller pretended that she didn't know anything about sewing machines and that she would rely on my experience. I was optimistic until I noticed that the machine did not have a foot. I would have been less likely to drive halfway between Los Angeles and San Diego had I known. I was equipped with a manual online. Even without a foot, I noticed that the front loading bobbin area had a problem. I had never had a jam of the bobbin case with my Singer, and in one attempt, the bobbin case jammed. Then, I noticed that without a foot, I could see that the thread was jamming in the bobbin area. My family was patient, and we were there longer than I wanted to be, but I had to leave the machine in the same condition that I found it. In the middle of the visit, she showed my daughter the angels that she made with wine corks, and she even mentioned that she kept her mother's vintage Singer. I could tell that she was far from honest. Anybody who sews can fiddle with another sewing machine. The least that she should have known was a missing foot. I walked away disappointed, and my husband left the two angels that she wanted to give to the kids. We felt that we should not be taking anything that she sells for a living, when we didn't buy anything. The terrible feeling didn't go away. I researched and found that the machine retailed $89 in 2002, and she was selling it incomplete for $125 with a cute but old portable wooden table.
Good Luck or Fluke of Internet Search
My husband called it "sewing machine fever." I caught it badly. I then saw a Bernina 730 on Craigslist. By the time I told her that I wanted to see it, it was sold. I called another person with a Pfaff 230 with the original sewing table and chair for $200, and he told me that someone was on her way in an hour. Then, I wrote a person who was selling a Pfaff 239 with a sewing table for $140. I saw how strong a Pfaff could be on YouTube, but was a little apprehensive about knee pedal. My husband suggested that before I continued with any search, I should talk to my mother-in-law to determine what model hers was. That's when I found out that it was a Pfaff 360.
One last attempt, I went back to the search box on Craigslist for Los Angeles. The weirdest thing was that I entered "Pfaff 360" instead of "Pfaff sewing machine." Why should something different come up on the search? Shouldn't the search term "Pfaff" bring up all of the machines for Los Angeles? What I found out was that the search using "Pfaff" pulled up only the machines in the Los Angeles area. However, the search for "Pfaff 360" pulled up one search in all of the areas outside of Los Angeles area, such as Inland Empire. Something similar happened to my husband once where we acquired from Ebay a large set of Baby Einstein DVDs for the price of just one DVD, whereas his best friend (Mr. Consumer Report) who was a super shopper still paid more for the same set, and was visibly disturbed when we told him about our good fortune.
When I called the person, it was very noisy. After several transfers, the young man told me that the Pfaff 360 was sold. I thanked him, and then decided to start the hunt again the next day. However, my phone then rang. He told me that his mother was mistaken, and that it was still available. I didn't know how he was able to ring me, but I was happy nevertheless. I told him that we would drive out there the next day. The next day, it took over an hour to get to a very dusty town where there were no retail stores of any national brand except Valero Gas Station. It took awhile for the family to find the Pfaff 360, but I reassured them that if it could sew forward and backward, we were interested. Surely, it did that much. Although it was a front loading bobbin, I was able to pull test fabric away from the needle, leaving only one top and one bottom thread. They were still unsure that we were interested, so they showed me the the Embroidery Stitch Wheel, which was in perfect condition. But we didn't know whether the embroidery aspect of this Pfaff 360 worked, and the owner didn't know whether it worked or not. The plastic was still in pristine white, even though white plastic fades within a year or two. And this machine was manufactured in the early 1960s. I also read that people were purchasing these vintage sewing machines without any manuals or wheels. So, after a month's thinking and search, I came to the end of my "sewing machine search" adventure, and I am well-equipped for the holiday craft around the corner.
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formosangirl (author) from Los Angeles on December 06, 2012:
Hi By Lori, it sounds like your mother had a treadle if it is not powered by electricity. Those own cabinetry for sewing machines were pretty cool. Thanks for stopping by.
By Lori from USA on December 06, 2012:
My mother had a great old vintage machine that would go down into or up out of a cabinet that it was connected to, ! It was a medium sort of green color sewing machine, I think it was a Singer. That wooden cabinet was great - and the machine had a foot pedal to start the machine and you lifted off the pedal to stop it.
formosangirl (author) from Los Angeles on July 27, 2012:
Old pfaffs with automatic mechanism will give you this feature. However, some common issues are finding ones that are stuck. Mine was doing a perfect straight stitch until i degunked it. My embridery features need more tlc. I would check out craiglist, a great to find what you are looking for and testing it before purchase.
JSmith on July 26, 2012:
I have an old 50s Kenmore machine. What I really want is a sturdy machine with multiple stitch patterns that will fold nicely in a sewing cabinet.
formosangirl (author) from Los Angeles on July 21, 2012:
Thanks, Teaches12345, for your comment. I am so glad that I went the vintage route. It is surprisingly similar to people who drive classic cars.
formosangirl (author) from Los Angeles on July 14, 2012:
Amyxhere, thanks for your compliment. I am hoping that after some greasing, I will have all of its functions.
amyxhere on July 12, 2012:
I have a 20+ year old Bernina and wouldn't trade it for the world. Great article.
Dianna Mendez on July 09, 2012:
My sister would totally agree with you on this, formosangirl. She still has an old sewing machine that she uses and will not consider updating it.
formosangirl (author) from Los Angeles on July 07, 2012:
Gingerka, the old Kenmores are well-made. Thanks for your comment.
gingerka from Colorado on July 07, 2012:
I have an old Kenmore sewing machine and it works great!