How To Buy A Used Sewing Machine

Sewing machine presser foot

Being green and being thrifty often coincide. This is definitely true for large purchases like sewing machines. Just like with cars, people don’t always wait until a sewing machine has completely worn out before trading up to a new one.

But unlike with cars, you don’t have to worry about the gas mileage on an older sewing machine! So whether you’re looking for your first machine or trading up, buying used can be the way to go.

Although some dedicated partisans would have you believe otherwise, there is no “best” brand of machine. Your goal is to find one that you’re comfortable with and that does what you want it to do. With that in mind, here are a few tips to keep in mind when shopping for a used machine.

First, find a repair shop you like. This may seem like putting the cart before the horse, but trust me on this one. The shop may very well have used machines that you could buy. Those machines will be in good working order and may come with a warranty.

Even if this isn’t where you buy, though, you’ll need to get your “new to you” machine serviced first thing and you might as well find some friendly people who can take care of it. Even if a shop only sells one kind of machine, they are usually more than happy to service other machines in the hopes that you’ll come to them when you want to buy an upgrade. If you don’t know much about the shops nearby, ask around.

Second, know your brands. Different sewers have likes and dislikes among the major brands, and they’re usually more than happy to discuss them ad nauseam. You’ll find out pretty quickly that there are some brands which are universally respected and some that have a bad reputation. Knowing the big brands will help if you’re shopping at garage sales and the like. You also want to know which brands your repair shop will service.

Of course, some folks have great experiences with machines that are not respected brands. Then again, you could end up like a friend of mine who was a beginning sewer. She struggled with her cheap machine so much that she stopped sewing. It turned out that the presser foot was made of cardboard and painted with metallic paint. That thing was never going to work properly.

Third, know what you want to sew in the next few years. If you have visions of gossamer curtains or PVC pants, you want a machine that can handle that. This is another place where knowing your brands and their strengths can help. You might also want to talk to a few veteran sewers to determine what kind of accessories you’ll need to do that kind of sewing.

Finding a great used machine for $100 and then spending $100 on parts because the previous owner lost all the feet you need is a drag. If you’re just starting out, though, don’t feel like you have to get a machine that does everything. You can always trade up later once you’ve mastered the basics.

Fourth, test drive the machine if possible. However, don’t be put off if the stitches are a bit out of whack. You may find an older machine by a good manufacturer, but that doesn’t mean it’s in top form. After I drove my mother’s 1960s aqua Singer across the country in a U-Haul, it chewed up everything I put in it because I didn’t realize it needed to be serviced. (Mom, I’m sorry, I was young and stupid.) Slightly funky behavior may be the thread tension, it may be the needle, or it may be the thread, and these are all easy to fix. If there’s a burning smell, though, or sparks, you should steer clear.

When you find a machine, if possible, do a quick check with your repair shop or Google to get a feel for how easily you’ll be able to get replacement parts for that model. My mother’s Viking has been a great machine, but it’s hanging on for dear life right now because one of the crucial parts is plastic and it’s cracked. There are no replacements available. But don’t pass up a good older machine if you can’t get this information, because one of the great things about older machines is that they’re more metal than plastic. Which explains why they’re so darn heavy.

For more advice, check out How To Choose A Sewing Machine by Erin on her blog A Dress A Day.

[Image by Iwan Beijes.]

Written by Skye Kilaen

Skye Kilaen began sewing at an early age and eco-rabble-rousing shortly after that. Many years later, someone finally told her that there are books about how to make quilts. Life was never the same. In fact, she spent more on her sewing machine than her car. Bringing her green and crafty passions back together, Skye is now happily discovering ways to create beautiful and useful objects using thrifted and sustainable materials. No, that's not just an excuse to visit Goodwill more often. Honest.


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