Apart from Penny's excellent FAQ which she already posted you to read, I
would recommend not buying a machine from Ebay unless you get a promise
from them to pack it right according to these instructions:
and even then I would be cautious.
There's a nice guy in Chico, CA (NAYY) who sells older Singers that have
been reconditioned (not all of them do zigzag, but the 400 and 500
series machines should), and you can see his stock here:
Other than that, call local sewing machine stores for older models (I
got mine for $129 -- it has 25 stitches plus four-step buttonhole and
8-10 specialty feet and I wouldn't trade it for anything) or look in the
classifieds of your local newspaper, because lots of people sell older
machines (well, at least around here they do) for $50 or so. Or if your
budget is extremely slim you can haunt all the thrift stores in your
area -- the ones in my area often have nice machines in cabinets for
cheap (read: $5-$50) -- but do try these out as well to make sure they work.
My girlfriend wishes a good, simple sewing machine for Christmas but
unfortunately my budget doesn't seem to be enough for a new one. I went to a
specialised outfit and all they had were big computers with sewing as an
Could you reccomend a machine which is really solid, precise, with a couple
of sewing patterns (straight, zigzag, etc) that would be a good buy on ebay?
Thanks a bunch!
A featherweight from Graham Forsdyke is always a good bet, expertly
shipped and ready to use. No zig zag, but he can sell you a
buttonholer. Machines are priced to include 4 day shipping from
England. His website is
They are a
small and very portable and very resellable machine. (I have one from
him, and love it). Another one which is excellent, straight stitch
only, is the Singer 201. Do not buy any new Singers. Big question
is, what does she want to do with it? I like hand cranks and treadles
myself . . .
I would agree that Graham is a great source for good
Featherweights, both the 221 and the free-arm 222. There
is a zigzag attachment (actually several kinds) that work
on the FW, but it sounds like Andrew is looking for
something more in the nature of a 401, 403, 503 Singer -
an old, solid, zigzag machine. There are also the old
Pfaff machines, which are built like a tank, but
unfortunately, weigh nearly as much. They introduced the
zigzag before Singer did, as I recall. Singer didn't
think the domestic sewer would want or need a zigzag,
which we now know led to the downfall of the company.
Sometimes one can be lucky enough to find an old Bernina,
Husquevarna, or Elna machine, but when dealing with the
old machines, you need luck on your side - first to find
them, then to make sure that they are in good working
order. Spare parts can be scarce. Thank goodness for
You got that right. Funny thing is, the more I sew, the more finished
my work becomes - that is, french and flat fell seams instead of
zigzagged edges. And I love the attachments. Handwork is preferred
because of the grace of it all. I have a Janome 8000 - fun but too
complicated at times - hand crank 99, treadle, featherweight, and the
60s Viking I learned to sew on as a child, that has a few quirks and
stinks of cigarettes from Mom, but the memories keep it around . . .
On Mon, 24 Nov 2003 12:20:40 -0800, Me
This is what I am looking for - names and numbers for a good, old,
no-nonsense, built like a brick, lasts forever, machines.
I have cautiously phoned the PFAFF dealership here in Mannheim (I live in
Germany) and they told me that "to get something good I need at least 500
Euros". That, unfortunately, blows, stabs, and tramples my budget (I am
thinking more in the region of 150-200 Euros).
So, as far as I understood:
Pfaff (which models?)
Bernina (which models?)
Husquevarna (which models?)
Elna (which models?)
Thankyou so much for the help, you are being a great support.
With your budget and location, the best thing to do is ask the local
dealers what they have in the price bracket, and test drive them! You
may not find Singers of the vintage and type we love to recommend
(almost anything built before 1964!), so it's best to go with a more
My personal take on this is to look round 2 or 3 dealers if you can, and
look for machines that are:
Not to old and scruffy: denotes hard use and/or careless owner
Solid! Not too much plastic in the construction: plastic skin on a
metal chassis is fine, as is full metal jacket
Runs smoothly, sounds solid: no odd rattles or vibrations
Easy to adjust: tension works well, feet easy to change, and stitch
selector in good working order...
A reasonable selection of feet!
No worn patches on the cables...
Good stitch selection: doesn't have to be extensive, but look out for:
straight/zigzag, easy buttonholes (automatic or semi-automatic [4 step
is fine]), blind hemming, 3 step zigzag. Anything more is icing on the
For make, you have our favourites in the list above! And a few years
back I did very well buying a Viscount (now Silver Viscount) for £75.
Anything much less than that is going to be too old for service/parts to
be easy, too knackered to be worth buying at all, or just not up to real
work. Don't worry about model numbers too much: they very often had
different model numbers for the same machines in Europe, the USA, and
the rest of the world! Some models were built specifically for some
markets and not available outside that area. I recently found a
particular Husqvarna model number was something completely different
here in the UK from what it was in the USA! And that was a model
discontinued only 2 or 3 years ago!
It's a pity you are too far away to make a day trip to Kent. Here there
are several good shops with extensive used machine ranges within an
hour's drive. I moan madly about it being a fabric desert here south of
London, but we are well supplied with sewing machine dealers!
Singer made some wonderful machines in Germany. The Model
411 or 413 comes to mind. I think one or both is a
free-arm machine, to boot, and I covet one of those.
Old Pfaffs such as the 230 or 360 are good workhorses.
Unfortunately, many of them have been shipped to India
where they are used in factories hooked to a central
motor. They originally ran on treadle or motor, so
they're well suited for industrial use.
I'm afraid I don't know the model numbers for the others,
but I hope someone will chime in with them. You may have
to wear out some shoe leather shopping, but most machine
dealers have some trade-ins they're not real eager to
push, plus resale shops are worth a look. Classified ads,
too. The dealers will make a lot more money selling you a
new machine, obviously, and they feel more secure about
selling those machines in terms of customer satisfaction.
They can't always get parts for the old machines, and
the machines themselves don't have all the bells and
whistles of the new ones.
Don't give up, though, I know that there are good machines
to be found in Germany.
Mine was great - still is! Has a 90 watt motor, as opposed to the usual
60w most domestic machines get, for a start! Does about 12 stitches,
all of them well. Goes like crazy - I've only ever come across one
domestic machine that went faster, and that was a 20 YO Toyota.
It was such a good machine that when I bought the Lily, I gave the
Viscount to my mum. If I hadn't been sewing professionally by then and
wanted more stitches and fully automated buttonholes and a few other
features, I'd still have it.
Nice thing is that it's now only an hour away by car, so if I need to
borrow it back, I can. It's a Viscount 2000, I think... Silver
Viscount are known for their industrial machinery, and industrial
I purchased a Montgomery Ward 100 stitch machine on Ebay about 3 years ago.
This is the best machine I have ever owned. Before this machine I had
purchased new a Kenmore from Sears. The Sears machine is a very good solid
Well, you can always do what I have done to find SMs -- go to auctions. I
did this once, about two years ago, and now I have about 100 of the little
critters taking up major acreage in my basement! Thank God my wife and
daughters are quilters, or else they would think I have lost the remaining
ounces of sense left in my control. It seems my hobby of finding, restoring,
old machines has taken over my senses, but when you find a pristine Redeye,
or a flawless featherweight for the first time, you will know what it means
to absolutely love these old pieces of mechanical steadfastness. I have a
treadle that I fool around on (it straight stitches, so I am safe (lol), and
I find it relaxing to be able to sew without hearing an electric motor
buzzing away in my ear. So, my recommendation is spend time at auctions,
estate sales or yard sales and find your dream machine out there "in the
wild," as collectors call it.
Push the pedal to the metal, and learn to treadle!!
Terry -- a retired Air Force journalist/photographer/editor (go fellow
DINFOS-trained purplesuiters) who now spends many days in his basement
unraveling one loose-loop jam after another!!
I didn't see your original post, Andrew, so I'm clipping it from a
follow up message.
Scour the auctions, thrift shops, sewing machine repair shops, etc for a
good, basic older Singer. A 401 or 500 (the follow up model to the 401)
has plenty of built in stitches to have fun with. I have two 401s, one
was $100, the other $40, both Internet purchases. You can probably find
them used at sewing machine repair shops. These models are all gear
drive, not belts to slip, will sew through anything you can fit under
the foot, and are impossible to kill. =20
"Old quilters never die, they just go to pieces."
If I am correct, you are somewhere in England? Well, here in hte U.S.
getting your hands on a Singer Model 201, 301 (or 301-A) or a 401 is
something wonderful to behold - and work on. They are true tanks, meaning
they run forever, and can tackle just about anything you care to throw under
its needle. These are the machines I look for trhe most whenever I go to
auctions, flea markets, yard sales, or estate sales. I think I have three or
four 301s here, and I know I have two 401s tucked away in my basement.
Somewhere down there, I believe there are four or five 201s -- all waiting
for me to clean them up. right now I'm driving myself crazy trying to get
the timing right on a Singer Golden Touch and Sew (why do I torture myself
like this, I don't know). My goal is to get the lone featherweight (Singer
221) I have into full operation by Christmas -- wish me luck!
Terry -- Machine rich, and sense poor!
Thought: If a stitch in time can save nine, how come mine always unravel at
the most inopportune time!