Why use a 70 year old sewing machine?

When it comes to sewing machines, it's hard not to want everything. Today's plastic wonders offer computerized embroidery, stitching in all directions, wind-in-place bobbins (a feature from the 60s actually), multi-font monogramming and every imaginable stitch pattern. Most people are going to spend 99% of their time sewing straight stitch, but isn't it nice to have a machine that can automatically sew a row of little ducks if you ever need it?

It's hard to argue with that logic until you realize that all these features involve deep mechanical compromises. Not only do more complex machines tend not to do the simplest things as well, all those extra tiny moving parts wear faster and break more easily. To keep costs down, most of those intricate parts are plastic. Look hard and long at the shiny new sewing machines in store displays and ask yourself how long you really expect those machines to last before something breaks or needs expensive service. How many fancy plastic-geared machines wear out and end up in a landfill before ever once sewing a row of little ducks?

When my wife Camilla first took up machine sewing she did what many people do. She looked for an inexpensive machine that 'did everything'. She read reviews, asked friends, and researched online. Eventually she settled on a all-in-one Brother machine which went for about $300 at the time. It had lots of fancy stitches. There weren't actually any little ducks, but there were quite a few others.

For a year or two the machine worked well enough with occasional use. Then, Camilla took to sewing with great fervor and the machine increasingly skipped stitches, ran hard, stalled easily, and generally behaved more and more poorly as time went on. I found myself spending alternating saturdays disassembling it to clean, lubricate and realign the various plastic bits inside. It would behave reasonably for another few weeks, then I'd find myself spending another saturday afternoon looking for ways to coax the worn nylon innards back into operation. Was it really time for another $300 machine after less than three years of sporadic use?

Camilla also noticed that she never used the 'fancy' features. She occasionally used (and really liked) the buttonholer but not the zigzags or ornate stitches. We discussed buying her a new semi-industrial machine, something featureless, heavy-duty, and capable of sewing in a straight line without endless fuss. We also discussed looking for an older all-metal machine because I couldn't recall my Grandmother having this kind of trouble with her old Singer.

While visiting my family over Christmas, my mother took Camilla bargain hunting at a local thrift shop while I stayed behind. Camilla phoned me from the shop, "Is a Singer 66 a good machine? It looks like it works. It's $15." After a quick Google search, they brought the 66 home, complete with original cabinet.

The machine needed a new cord, a new belt, and a new bobbin winder tire, the typical needs of any vintage machine that has not been maintained in some time. The new parts added about ten more dollars. It was otherwise in excellent mechanical and cosmetic condition, and has been sewing perfectly since.

The 66 gave Camilla exactly what she actually needed all along: A bulletproof straight stitch machine that never complains. It doesn't matter what you feed it or with what you thread it. Press the pedal and it sews. After 71 years, the all-original mechanism shows no noticable wear. It could easily last another 100.

The lack of little ducks hasn't really come up.