The Sisterhood of the Travelling Sewing Machine

A few months ago, I found something special during my regular op-shop rounds. It was a sewing machine: in particular, a vintage New Home model, in the perfect shade of retro teal. With its chrome fixings, tactile knobs and dials and wooden carry-case, it would not have looked out of place on the set of a 60s TV show.

Obviously, I had to have it. However, my recent experiences with the quality of goods at Salvo’s had been disappointing, so I enlisted the help of a volunteer to test the machine. She eagerly obliged, and soon I was set up at a table with the machine plugged in, and thread, needle and scissors in hand.

To an observer, this must have been a comical sight. The table in question was for children and barely reached my knees standing. All 178cm of me was squeezed in a kinder chair, with my knees bent so high I could rest my chin on them, while I clumsily tried to operate this machine. Luckily, the volunteer knew more about vintage sewing machines than I do, and threaded the machine for me.

It worked! As well as could be hoped, at least. The needle went up and down and formed adequate stitches. For $25, that was enough for me, and this heavy beast came home with me.

When I arrived home and set up the machine, problems soon presented themselves. It was gunky, I presume from decades of neglect. The stitches which seemed to form in the op shop soon failed to catch, and I was left with lines of skipped stitches. Never mind – I was in a entrepreneurial mood, and ordered some parts on Aliexpress before attacking the machine with WD-40 and carnauba wax.*

An image of a teal retro sewing machine, set up in a flat bed sewing table.
Set up at home, sans case.

This was a tough job for my poor, weak body, and I soon found myself thinking that perhaps vintage sewing machines were not for me. They just require so much more effort than modern, computerised machines, effort I am unable to proffer. This might be difficult for an able-bodied person to understand, but every knob manually turned, every ounce of strength required to operate a stiff vintage sewing pedal, and every thought process that is more involved than just pressing a button requires energy that I cannot afford to expend.

So my dear New Home machine sat idling in the garage while I decided what to do with it. At the same time, my friend Alyce mentioned she had taken a sewing class and had enjoyed it so much she wanted to save up for a machine. A ha! Serendipity! I offered my machine to her, and it was soon destined for a new home.

Meanwhile, I hoped that the parts I had ordered from Aliexpress would be easy to install, and solve the problem of the unformed stitches. They were, and they did. My purchase, which cost all of $10 and included a set of needles, bobbins, feet (with adapter) and a bobbin case, brought new life to the machine. The bobbin case did the trick, but as the machine was missing a few extraneous bits and pieces, the order made the machine complete.

An image of an instruction book for a retro sewing machine. Cover is blue and reads, instruction book, New Home. There is an image of a retro sewing machine in a green circle.
I found the instruction book online as a free PDF (though some will try to charge $20+ for the scanned manual).

On a recent visit home, Alyce picked up her new, old sewing machine. It now sits in her study, next to her matching teal typewriter. I am glad to share the joy that is creating with others, and hope that she finds she loves sewing just as much as I do.

An image of a teal retro sewing machine, set up in a wooden case on a table.
In its new home.

 

*I can hear vintage sewing machine lovers screaming their disgust. I now know that WD-40 is not at all suitable for cleaning sewing machines, as it strips the machine of any lubrication. I’m hoping that the one clean-up job, with wax applied after, didn’t do much harm to the machine.

Author: Siobhan S

20 something, living in country Australia. Spoonie profile: ME/CFS, dysautonomia, anxiety. All about sewing, knitting and food. Unapologetic feminist and disability advocate.

8 thoughts on “The Sisterhood of the Travelling Sewing Machine”

  1. It’s great that the machine is being used again. It is a decent solid one, and if oiled regularly, will not require a service for many years to come. However, as you noticed, it is heavy to operate. Please do not paint all vintage machines with the same brush. Janome machines are not of the best quality. They are rough and ready, they do make a decent stitch and are reliable but the knobs are stiff, the balance wheel requires a lot of effort to turn and in particular the pedals are very heavy. This is not the best example of a vintage machine. I’ve got machines both much older and a little younger than your New Home, that are as light as a feather in operation.

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    1. That is really interesting! I honestly didn’t know much about vintage machines before buying this one and feel like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. What vintage machines do you prefer? And while I’m picking your brains, do you know anything about Bernina Bernettes? I’ve got a 730 or 740E from 1992, which I suppose is vintage now. I just love how it can sew tricky fabrics like satin with ease!

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      1. Hi, I like simple mechanical machines because I know I can repair them. I’ve had some very bad experience with machines with plastic gears, so I diligently avoid those. This would be anything made after 1970, and I am careful with 1960s machines too. Bernina is a well-respected brand, but it has always been way out of my budget, so I don’t know anything about that, sorry. Any good machine will sew satin, that’s a basic test… 🙂 All of my machines can do it. Have a look at my blog at vintagesewingmachinesblog.wordpress.com. 🙂

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