Not sure if I’ve mentioned this here, but I have a “thing” for old sewing machines. It’s ironic because when I was in junior high, my father bought me a used 1963 Singer Spartan, and I turned my nose up at it because it wasn’t one of those fancy 123-stitch variation machines that were all the rage. It just did straight stitch and zig zag and weighed almost as much as I did. These days I adore my Singer Spartan … it sews better than any other machines I’ve had or have, including a multi-stitch Brother machine I’ve since given to my stepmother and (gasp) the very expensive computerized Viking 400 on my sewing table, a machine that can be a little finicky on its bad days.
Besides the Singer Spartan, which I’ve since discovered was made in Scotland the year before I was born, I own a heavy-duty vintage Japanese sewing machine that’s pale gray and cream and weighs about 50 lbs., another Japanese machine in turquoise that needs mucho work, and a Brother 1034 serger that’s a workhorse, even though it’s a modern (re: lots of plastic parts) machine.
For the last several years I’ve been scouring Craigslist for a vintage Singer, ideally the 99 since I wanted a machine that just did straight stitch. Once you’ve been sewing for awhile, you realize all the fancy stitches rarely get used … what’s really important is a flawless straight stitch, and these vintage Singers are hard to beat.
Anyway, yesterday I was sitting at my computer and realized it had been awhile since I trawled Craigslist. And bingo: my first search revealed a Singer 99 in its original case for only $30 over in Concord. It had been listed five days before so I said a little prayer to the Craigslist gods that it would still be available … and it was! This morning, we drove over to pick it up. The gentleman who sold it to me admitted he’d found it at the town dump, which made me ill. Not that it was a dumpster item, but that someone would put such a beautiful piece of machinery in the garbage.
These pictures aren’t the greatest; my resident photographer was irritated I’d dragged him away from a rousing session of Minecraft. But I hope you can see that despite it being found at the dump, the machine’s exterior is in excellent condition: no chips, no scratches, just some minor wear that can be buffed out with wax. Without changing the needle and ancient thread, I sewed through two pieces of leather and the machine handled the job beautifully without any hesitation. I hate to think what would have happened had I tried that on my Viking 400!
The only mechanical problem is the knob for the stitch length is missing, so I can’t change stitch length. ETA: the stitch length is changed by loosening the thumb nut to the right of the red indicator and moving the lever up or down. Otherwise it sews like a dream.
Now and then friends and family ask me, “What kind of sewing machine should I buy? Are the ones at Joanne’s/Walmart/Target good enough?” I usually tell them to pick up a used mechanical machine through a dealer, or if they’re mechanically inclined, to buy one off Craigslist, spending no more than $50 and making sure the seller lets them test it. For most people, that’s all the machine they need. Old mechanical machines are hard to break–your foot will break easier than the machine if you drop it; it’s easy to care for (oil and cleaning are fairly simple, straightforward tasks); and you’ll probably get a better quality stitch than anything you could buy new.
Off to play with my new friend. Hope you’re having a great weekend!