My Piece of Sewing History

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Guys, it happened – I bought a vintage machine! This is my 5th sewing machine (one I got when I turned 18, one I bought in Japan, serger and coverstitch). It’s the first that isn’t remotely justifiable, though – which i think means I officially collect sewing machines!

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I just happened to log onto Kijiji and do my usual “sewing”search – and *blam*, there she was, posted just a few hours before for $45. Can you believe I didn’t snap it up right away? Thank goodness my husband told me to buy it, even though it’s unpractical. It’s beautiful, and that’s enough!

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It’s a little bit rusty and the leather cord that drives it has snapped… but it was threaded from the previous owner (an elderly woman who used to sew professionally in a mill in Yorkshire before moving to Canada), so I figure it must be in working condition.

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Thanks to plenty of help from sewists on Instagram, I’ve had fun investigating the machine’s history. Did you know you can email Singer with the serial number of any Singer sewing machine, and they’ll tell you when it was made? I thought this one was from the 20’s or 30’s, based on the manual that came with it, but nope –

It was made on June 23, 1913!!! 

So basically, it could have been the cool new toy at Downton Abbey in Season 1. (Yes, there are better ways to measure history, but it turns out that the big news on June 23, 1913 was a chemical spill, so that’s less fun!)

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It came with a whole bunch of accessories and feet – one day I’ll figure out what they all do!

In the mean time, I’m just going to enjoy the sense of history and continuity, and how damned pretty it is!

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Do you own any vintage machines? Would you if you could? 


26 thoughts on “My Piece of Sewing History

  1. This is so beautiful. I had a vintage handcranked Singer machine that belonged to my grandma. I say “had” because it was stored at my parents house and my dad took it to a charity shop during a clear out without telling me. I didn’t find out for months, so had no hope of getting it back. 😦

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    1. Oh how sad!! We had my granny’s 1940’s machine until about 5 years ago, when my mom sold it to someone for $30 just before I got really into sewing. Nooooo!!!!

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  2. Vintage machines are just so beautiful! My friends clubbed together and bought me one as a christmas present. It’s from 1908 so it doesn’t have a motor so it sadly doesn’t really get used. When I have my own house I’d like to have it as a decorative feature though.

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  3. Mine was made on August 14, 1958 – it was my MIL’s and she got it when she got married. You know you can also find all of the manufacture dates online (Scott found them for me so I cannot tell you how to do it). This machine is beautiful – I love the idea that it would have been the iPhone for the Downton Abbey crowd! My fave part is the table.

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  4. I have a Singer 127 like yours. Mine’s not quite as pretty, though. It needed quite a bit of cleaning, oiling, and some rust polished off, but now I can sew on it. I even made a baby quilt with it! It’s amazing how well those machines hold up. Nothing these days is built to last, but if you keep those old machines oiled and stored in a dry house, they’ll likely be in good working order for another hundred years.

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  5. I have the same model that I “inherited” from my mother. I actually learned to sew on it when I was a little girl, but it’s in terrible shape after sitting under a leaky roof in an abandoned house for the last 15 years or so. I rescued it a year or two ago and it’s been sitting in my garage ever since. Someday I’ll fix it up and move it inside, but it’ll never look as pretty as yours without new paint and decals. Enjoy it, it is certainly beautiful!🙂

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  6. Fabulous find. I had one like this that belonged to my maternal grandmother. The only difference was that the end plate on the machine had brambles ( – in Scottish, blackberries in English) engraved on it. I lost it (and almost everything else I owned) in a particularly nasty break-up and have grieved for its loss ever since. I had fixed it up and it ran like a dream. They have the best stitch quality of any machine I have ever used. How lovely that it has found a loving forever home. Xx

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  7. Wow Gillian, what a great find!

    I have an old Singer treadle that my Mom bought me as a surprise (she paid $12) at a second hand store for me when I was 11 years-old (I’m currently 57), even though at that time we had an old featherweight that I used constantly. My Granny began teaching me to sew when I was just a little tot, so I’ve been stitching most of my life. As an aside, my Gram turned 100 in May and she still sews (mostly quilts now)!

    Believe it or not, the treadle became my “travel” machine LOL! I spent nearly every weekend with my grandparents (simply because I adored hanging out with them) while I was growing up — my Gramps would put my treadle and my Gram’s treadle in the back of the truck and we would head off to their rustic (with no electricity) ranch in the mountains. I had countless wonderful weekends & school breaks sewing there. During winter we sewed indoors, but when the weather was pleasant we sewed in the shade of some big oaks. And we pressed with one of those old heavy irons that sat on top of the wood stove to get hot. LOL, that tale makes me sound ancient, doesn’t it? I truly had an absolutely idyllic childhood and sewing on my treadle alongside my Gram was a big part of it :D!

    I still have the machine, though it has been refinished and is so spiffy looking that it’s not apparent that it had such a rough and tumble past😀. I haven’t used it for years, but my (not really a sewer) sister uses it from time to time.

    I had no idea that the manufacture dates were available from Singer — thanks for that info Gillian, I’ll be checking that out!

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  8. Beware, Gillian. Its a slippery slope! I have my (new!) regular machine, serger, and coverstitch all of which I use at least once a week, but then I also have my old machine, a vintage electric singer, an antique treadle singer, and a vintage electric zig zag that I haven’t gotten working yet. Its a good thing I live by myself! I love your new treadle and its inspired me to take another look at mine. I oiled and cleaned it when I first got it but I need to replace the leather belt (I even have a spare so there is really no excuse). I told myself i needed the treadle because what would I do if the power went out? Not sew? I don’t think so!

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  9. While I appreciate vintage machines, I do it mostly as a piece of art. I like my modern machines and would probably never sew on a vintage machine, I wouldn’t have the patience to learn. And if I wouldn’t use I won’t buy one. That doesn’t mean I can’t appreciate to look at other’s machine, but I doubt there will be one in my house, I want to get rid of things I don’t use, not add more.

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  10. It is very beautiful! I’m so glad you purchased it and gave it a loving home. It’s fascinating that you were able to find the manufacture date too – what a fantastic service offered by Singer!

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  11. I love it! I have the same model but newer (1920 something) and without the decals. You scored a deal!! You can purchase a new leather strap. Can’t remember where I ordered mine but I replaced it and my machine works just fine. I’ve been tempted to sew something simple on it but haven’t done it yet!

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  12. I have a beautiful Singer treadle with the lotus pattern, that my grandma was going to get rid of!
    It now lives in my spare/sewing room and I love it, but sadly am rubbish at treadling!

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  13. What a beauty. You won’t be disappointed if you try and topstitch with this old girl! My husband’s paternal grandmother gave me her Singer 201 from 1948 before she died. It’s really cool and has some fun quirks–like the ability to work when the light is not on…I’m always having to check to make sure it’s unplugged so that none of my tiny crew sew their fingers (my Dad did as a kid on a similar machine of my Grandma’s). I do very much enjoy the quality of the straight stitch. I don’t always thread it up when I’m making jeans, but I haven’t been sorry when I have because the topstitching is perfect.

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  14. You can find a booklet on the Singer Co. website on attachments. Look under the manuals section. I have a few oldies, one from 1894! The machines I use daily are Singers from the 1950s-1970s. Totally gear driven, no electronics and amazing stitching!! Enjoy!

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  15. Cool! I actually just worked on a play (I’m a stage manager) that was about a seamstress in 1905, and so we had a functional treadle machine that the main actress used onstage that looked just like this! A very nice sewing machine repair man came and replaced the broken belt and taught us about it – you have to use that lever on the lower wheel to remove the belt from the lower wheel to lower it into the table, and then line up the belt and pop it back on when you set it back up, I had no idea! (That’s probably why your belt is snapped, someone put it into the table without releasing the belt.) He also mentioned that at some point Singer started putting a sort of port on the side to allow people to electrify the machine later if they wanted – yours might be too old for that, but if there’s a little door on the right side you might be able to electrify it. (I actually learned to sew on a converted treadle that my mom still uses, but ours is from the 30s.) Or you could learn to use the treadle, our actress learned from youtube videos. And our wardrobe supervisor took home the machine after the show ended and she is using it, she says it’s a totally different and very zen way of sewing. Anyway, it’s gorgeous!

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  16. Oh my gosh, what a beauty! Man Friend bought me a vintage Singer when I first started sewing, thinking that I could use it as a sewing machine table, but I had to part with it when we moved apartments- just couldn’t find the space! One day I hope to have a pretty girl like this!

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