Mostly wonderful sewing discussion

“Singer is the Cadillac of sewing machines”. Said nobody ever.


Yeah. Singer is… ok-ish.

Bernina machines are great to use, and durable. Husqvarna and Pfaff are up there.


Well, a century ago maybe. Although then they would have said “the Packard…”.


Ok, so what’s your lowdown on sewing machine brands?

Enquiring minds, and all that.


Seriously. I’m pretty familiar with the sewing world. Outside of old mechanical machines like the 221 (which is a brilliant little machine), basically nobody uses Singer machines unless they can’t afford something better.

For a top-end machine you’re going to use something like a Bernina which will cost about 10x as much but it’s also 10x the machine.


Exactly: the Cadillac of sewing machines. Well-known brand, but nothing worth the price.


Singer is certainly the oldest name in sewing machines. But their reputation has been damaged by the influx of these extremely inexpensive machines.

For some reason people think that if they buy a plastic $60 machine that it will do everything they remember their grandmother’s sewing machine did. They don’t understand that machines built 80 years ago were massively overengineered, and they had both horsepower and rigidity to spare, meaning they could hem a dress as easily as they could sew leather to sailcloth. They get the machine home, and are disappointed by its limits; then blame Singer. They really should blame themselves for being so naive.

If you need power, and don’t need fancy stitches, used sewing machines are readily available for not much more money than these. If you want super reliable, try for a 60’s or older machine that doesn’t offer anything other than straight stitches.


Singer used to make good machines back in the day but now it’s basically the low end of the low end. Plastic parts, unrepirable, and not very precise. If you’re just going to be doing basic repairs they are fine but I’d argue you’d be better off with a well-maintained used hand-me-down if that’s all you want.

Baby Lock, Husqvarna, Janome, and Viking round out the mid range and then on the top end you have brands like Bernina and Pfaff. (I’m speaking purely to consumer grade sewing/embroidery machines - things get much more murky with industrial grade machines and other specialty sewing products.)

Sewing machines are a lot like cameras. Having the most expensive one isn’t going to magically make you more skilled, but it also isn’t going to be an artificial limiter. With a cheap one you can still make good stuff but you’ll likely be fighting it every step of the way.


Right? I look at all the old Singer 221/222 (aka featherweight) machines that Singer made from the 1930s-1960s. Those things are absolutely bulletproof. Incredibly simple to repair and maintain, and basically impossible to break. If the motor is in good shape, it can sew through your hand if you’re careless. It’s no wonder they have developed somewhat of a cult following.

For a while we had a few that I would play amateur technician with, and I was amazed by their simplicity and clever engineering. I have heard stories about 221s where the mechanicals were literally welded together by rust that were brought back to life as good as new.


That is useful! Any idea of the vintage around which one should look if so inclined? (And thank you!)


I picked up one of those old treadle-type Singer machines years ago. It took two men and a boy to carry around. I’m guessing it dated from the 1920s, because the decoration on it was all Egyptian themed. When I took off the side panel, the levers and connecting rods wouldn’t have been out of place on a tractor.

When my daughter got interested in sewing, a couple of older ladies gave her their machines that they weren’t using. She got a Bernina and a Pfaff. Our friends who sew are crazy jealous. :grin:


Once you go Juki you will never go back. Their presser foot and walking foot are the jam-a-lama.


I’ve got a singer 99K and it is difficult to lift (cast iron) I don’t use it that often so the downside is it rusts and then the tread snags particularly on the thread tensioner.

I hear the 201 is pretty good. Last made in the 1940s, though.

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The 1950’s saw the best of the home cast iron machines. These may be Singer, or one of the postwar Japanese brands, like Sewmor, Domestic, New Home or Brother. Absolutely solid, with precision parts, and with normal maintenance and service, should last a few more lifetimes. (Watch our for frayed insulation and have unsafe electrical wiring replaced.) If you can find one, you’ll be happy. The 60s saw cast iron machines with plastic body shrouds, but are still mechanically sound.

The 1970s, 80s and 90s saw adjustable cam controlled zigzag and other patterned stitches, more structural body plastics, lower powered and cheaper motors, nylon gears, and less reliability. They may still work fine, or may be in constant need of repair. The 2000s saw microprocessors and electronics running the internals; don’t be in a hurry to buy into those.

And if your needs are modest, such as sewing simple cottons in straight stitches, and closet space is at a premium, why not look at the specials in the Boing Boing store? They are very light weight, and not expensive.


Bernina is ready to cash in on your enthusiasm


Good long-arm quilting machines will cost as much as a new car, but chances are if you’re in the market for one of those, you’re doing it professionally. And the Bernina 800 series are crazy expensive and totally not worth it unless you’re doing a lot of embroidery. The step-down 700 series gives you far more bang for your buck in my opinion.

Vintage machines can be a blessing and a curse. You really need to do your research. There’s a ton of Japanese-made clones made in the 60s and 70s that are easily found in thrift stores and garage sales for really cheap. They will do basic zig zag stitches, are well built, and if taken care of will work really well. The problem is that no sewing shop will want to repair them without charging an arm and a leg. If you are somewhat mechanically inclined you just need to make sure it’s oiled regularly and you need to tune it every so often. You basically be rolling the dice with one of these.

Absolutely. I was trying to repair a 1970s vintage Viking with a plastic cam stack that’s notorious for breaking. You can get replacement parts on the Internet but these things typically aren’t worth the time and headaches required to repair them.

If you want a good vintage machine that will be reliable and that shops will be willing to repair, high end machines from the late 1980s which are semi-computerized like the Pfaff 1475 aren’t cheap ($500 range) but are super solid German-built machines. They are far better than newer machines in that price range.


My great-grandmother taught me to sew on a treadle Singer when I was about 9 years old. It was given to me when she passed a few years later. In a fit of stupidity, I sold it in the early '70’s. I wish I had not done that and added an electric motor to it instead. But, I have an Singer now that I bought in 1968 and it has been a good machine. Only in the shop once because I tried to do something the machine was not built to do.


Still four to five grand for a 720.

I have a 330. Not so many toys on that one.

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Yeah, I never said it was cheap!

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