5 Best Vintage Sewing Machines, According to Sewers

Updated March 15, 2022
Senior woman with her grandson working on a sewing

You may be surprised to learn that some of the best vintage sewing machines outperform modern machines at certain tasks. That's one of the many reasons modern sewers enjoy using these older machines. If you don't need or want the computerized features of modern sewing machines, there are some stand-out vintage models beloved for their beauty and durability.

Are Vintage Sewing Machines Better?

Depending on your needs, vintage sewing machines can have some important advantages over modern machines. While they don't have the wide variety of stitch options or the computerized features, there are some ways they outshine their modern counterparts. Here are some reasons modern sewers choose vintage machines:

  • Durability - Vintage sewing machines are made well. These machines have been around for a long time, and they are extremely durable.
  • Heavy-duty build - Many vintage models can handle heavy-duty sewing with ease. If you need to sew a lot of denim, leather, and other heavy materials, a vintage sewing machine could be perfect for you.
  • Simplicity - Some sewers prefer the simplicity of vintage machines over the complexity of computerized models with lots of stitches. Vintage sewing machines tend to be user friendly.
  • Environmental friendliness - Some vintage sewing machines operate without electricity, making them great for using where you don't have power handy. They are a greener choice, as well, since they don't harm the environment.
  • Beauty - In any cases, the best vintage sewing machines are much more beautiful than their modern counterparts. They provide a conversation piece in your home in addition to fulfilling a practical role.

Singer 201: Overall Best Vintage Sewing Machine Ever Made

Although opinions naturally vary among sewers, the International Sewing Machine Collectors Society (ISMCS) reports that many home sewers consider the Singer 201 the best vintage sewing machine ever made. There are a lot of reasons to love this gem of a machine, which regularly sells for about $350 to $500 in fully working, serviced condition. While the Singer 201 can be heavy at about 30 pounds for most models and a bit less for models made of aluminum in the 1950s, it has these major advantages:

  • Quality build - On the Singer 201, the gears mesh so closely that they require only sewing machine oil and not grease. In addition to this precision, the body of the machine and its components are so well made that they rarely require significant work.
  • Easy to find - Singer made the 201 in large quantities from the 1920s through the 1950s. In addition to being popular, this machine was so well constructed that many survive in beautiful condition.
  • Performance - The Singer 201 is a very smooth and fast machine. It sews at up to 1,100 stitches per minute, and it's quite quiet compared to other vintage models. It also has useful features everyone loves, including a presser foot that can be raised up to accommodate heavy materials.
  • Electric and non-electric models - The Singer 201 comes in electric and non-electric models, making it perfect whether you want a machine you can plug in or one you can use off the grid.
  • Easily available parts - Because the model 201 is arguably the best vintage sewing machines ever made, there are plenty of parts available to keep it running. If you need anything from needles to a new motor, you can find it.

Singer 66: Best Vintage Straight Stitch Sewing Machine

Considered by many as the ultimate vintage straight stitch sewing machine, the Singer 66 is recommended by The Mermaid's Den as well as many other home sewers. It's a gorgeous machine with a classic look. It comes in treadle, electric motor, and hand crank models. Singer 66 machines with the "red eye" decals are among the most coveted by sewing machine collectors, as well as home sewers. Treadle versions in good condition regularly sell for $1,500 and more. Other styles sell for around $200. These are some of the great features of the Singer 66:

  • Durability - Like the model 201, this machine was incredibly well made. Gearing is precise and rarely requires repair, and the case and body are solid and beautiful.
  • Easy to find - Although the "red eye" decal machines are highly sought after, there are actually many versions that are affordable and easy to find. Thousands of these machines were made, and because of the quality construction, many are still running.
  • Versatile - This machine came in treadle, hand-crank, and electric versions, making it a good choice for any situation.
  • Useful features - The Singer model 66 has lots of useful features, including a top drop-in bobbin and a portable design (for non-treadle models). It also offers precise sewing of heavy duty fabrics.
  • Many parts and attachments - This machine can use any low-shank Singer parts, including a variety of attachments for ruffling, darning, and more. It's also easy to find sewing machine replacement parts because there were so many of these machines produced.

Kenmore 30 Stitch: Best Vintage Zigzag Sewing Machine

Singer isn't the only sewing machine brand to consider. Old Kenmore sewing machines can also be great. If you need a sewing machine that can do a zigzag stitch, the Kenmore 30 Stitch is highly recommended by sewing blog The Crafty Princess Diaries. Produced in the 1980s, these are affordable, high quality machines. You can find them in good condition for around $100 to $200. They also have a number of features that make them desirable:

  • Quiet - For an electric machine, the Kenmore is very quiet. There's almost no vibration as its sewing.
  • High quality - These machines were so well made that they work decades later with little need for repair.
  • Versatile - In addition to sewing a great zigzag stitch, the Kenmore 30 had 30 stitch patterns. This is enough to complete many projects but isn't overwhelmingly complicated.
  • Portable - This machine is light for a vintage model, and it has a handy carrying handle.

Singer 281-1: Best Vintage Sewing Machine for Leather

The Mermaid's Den notes that no vintage or modern sewing machines for domestic use will easily and neatly sew through three or four layers of leather, but the Singer 281-1 is as close as it gets. It can sew through at least two layers of standard leather and possibly more layers of thin leather. It can also sew through at least six layers of vinyl. This is an industrial Singer machine, made through the 1960s. It's extremely heavy, so if you buy one, it's definitely best to look locally. These are some of its great features:

  • Fast - When sewing regular and heavy fabrics, this machine can sew at an incredible 6,000 stitches per minute. It has no reverse feature, but you can simply turn your work and sew back over it.
  • Heavy duty - The Singer 281-1 was made for industrial sewing, and it can easily sew through many layers of fabric.
  • Durable - This machine was incredibly well made. You can also buy replacement parts for anything that needs work.
  • Easy to find - Although you need to buy locally, there are lots of these machines around. You can easily find one.
  • Affordable - These machines often sell for under $100 in good condition.

Singer 15: Best Non-Electric Vintage Sewing Machine

Vintage sewing machine collector Cheryl Warren considers the Singer 15 one of the best vintage sewing machines you can find, especially if you want one that isn't electric. Although the Singer 15 came in an electric version, there are plenty of beautiful hand crank and treadle models on the market. They sell for $300 to $500 if they're in good condition. Here are some reasons this may be the ideal machine for you:

  • Ease of use - Based on the same design principles as most modern sewing machines, the Singer 15 is easy to use and great for piecing quilts or even machine quilting.
  • Availability - Singer started making the model 15 in 1879 and continued for decades. This means they're readily available.
  • Standard parts - You can find sewing machine parts for the Singer 15, since they use standard attachments and replacement parts.
  • Quality - The quality of this machine is exceptional. You'll find that it requires little maintenance.

The Best Vintage Sewing Machine Is One You'll Love for Years

You may notice that there are several antique Singer sewing machines on this list. Old Singers are coveted by collectors and home sewers alike. Watch estate sales and auctions carefully, since Singer sewing machine values can be quite high. However, if you take your time and watch for the machine you want, you'll end up with a gorgeous and dependable sewing machine you'll love for years to come. Now, learn about vintage White sewing machines and see what you think of them.

5 Best Vintage Sewing Machines, According to Sewers