Second hand sewing machines – Are they are good deal?

Machine à coudre Toyota d'occasion

The market for used sewing machines is huge nowadays. And like many other products, it can be worthwhile to spend time and energy to find the diamond in the rough, the one that’s exactly right for your needs and at the right price.

At the same time, buying secondhand will always entail a certain amount of risk. Unless you really know and dismantle the machine, it’s hard to assess in what state it really is.

So: pro or against used sewing machines? Find out in this article!

And if you don’t have time to read it all, here’s the summary with the points to remember:

The pros

1) Sewing machines from the past and from today aren’t that different

Sewing machines have evolved very little in recent decades.

Obviously, they have changed a lot in terms of the materials used, the addition of electronic components, new options, and so on. but basically, the way they operate is still the same.

That’s why older models have no structural weaknesses compared to the novelty of the year.

And if you do not absolutely want an electronic machine, old and even vintage models can do the trick. Moreover, often these machines (say that date from before 1985) tend to be of very good quality.

Indeed the machines of yesteryear were made to last. Before the advent of low-cost, globalization and China as the workshop of the world, sewing machines were often manufactured in Europe and the United States with a sincere willingness to offer a solid and sustainable product.

Read how Singer’s good name stopped being a token of quality through the years.

Plus vintage is cool 🙂

2) The mechanics are reliable and, at worst, easy to repair

Inside mechanism of a sewing machine

A priori, there is no reason for a good sewing machine to stop functioning.

On top of that, if something goes wrong it’s not that hard to open the machine, have look and try to fix it. The mechanics are quite simple.

So if you are able and willing to get your hands dirty, buying an old used machine and restoring it is a great way to get a better machine than anything else today (I’m exaggerating, but barely) for a fraction of the price. This is the kind of business we like!

3) Buying secondhand is respecting others and the planet

It’s always good to remember: buying a secondhand product is a way of:

  • not financing a company that subcontracts its production to countries where the workforce sometimes has a status closer to that of slave than worker
  • fighting against overconsumption and the ever increasing production of waste.

The cons

Obviously secondhand sewing machines also have their share of problems. So be careful and read the following before rushing into what appears to be a good deal!

1) Used machines are not recent

Old sewing machine

HEY DON’T GO, I SWEAR I’M NOT TAKING YOU FOR A MORON!

I know it’s stupid to say, but it still needs to be mentioned: buying secondhand means buying a less recent model. Therefore you can kiss goodbye to computerized machines and the super beautiful models that we see in all showcases.

It’s not the end of the world but it’s a factor to take into account.

2) The remaining life of the machine may be very short

As mentioned earlier, old sewing machines were made to last. More recent ones were not.

With the evolution of the market, durability isn’t what it once was. Nowadays, sewing machines (and many other products for that matter) often have a lifespan of only a few years. This is especially true for cheap and entry-level models.

The life of a machine also depends on how it has been used and how it was taken care of. Both these things are very hard to know when you buy a secondhand machine from an owner you don’t know.

For instance, if you buy a recent machine, say from 2015. If the owner hasn’t properly maintained it and has used it extensively, you could very well be buying a machine already very worn out and close to giving out, despite its young age.

3) Old models are generally less pleasant to use

If we are not going to get a recent model, then to ensure a good quality, one could simply buy a machine produced before 1985 (or somewhere roughly around then – the crossover from durable to less durable models can’t be pinpointed exactly though it’s somewhere in the ’80s.)

Right?

Yes, except that these machines are heavy, difficult to transport, and you will have trouble finding tutorials on the internet for these models. Don’t even think about the instruction leaflet that will have been lost years ago (long before anything was available in PDF on the internet). You will also have to accept that it may be missing parts and some accessories may no longer be available for sale.

Vintage Singer sewing machine

In the past we had quality, but today it’s hard to do without the ease and flexibility of the world and its modern products.

4) Buying secondhand always involves a financial risk

First of all, forget about any warranty.

Secondly, when buying secondhand you’ll need take your responsibilities. Meaning that all hidden defects will be your problem, you don’t have any recourse against anyone. I say “hidden defects” because unless you’re very knowledgeable about sewing machines and perform an in-depth review of the machine, it will be hard to know what’s really under the hood.

Then you have to realize that a secondhand machine at a very competitive price can quickly prove very discouraging if you then have to pay a few hours of labor to a specialist to restore and adjust it.

Vintage sewing machines, in particular, often require more or less deep restoration before use.

To conclude

Finally, as with many secondhand purchases, buying a used sewing machine is often a matter of luck. Sometimes it’s good, sometimes not.

It’s up to you to see if you want to try it.

Yes? Then check out our tips for good buy.

No? Then opt for a new model and no bad surprises. Our buying guide helps you choose.

Still, it wouldn’t hurt to first check if there’s a bargain to be found from someone you know or a secondhand site. You never know!

5 tips for buying a good used sewing machine

These tips are intended to mitigate the potential cons previously stated, to minimize the risk of a bad purchase.

Let’s go!

1) Take the machine out for a spin

I really urge you to try a machine before buying it. This is by far the most important advice I can give you.

Obviously, it only holds for machines in working order. And that you will see before you buy.

More often than not, the seller understands and accepts the request, but still be prepared to fight a little. I often see sellers who, without necessarily being in bad faith, want to close the deal as soon as possible and are irritated if a potential buyer takes some time.

Don’t let yourself be pressurized!

Remember to ask beforehand if the machine is ready for use (for example if it is equipped with threads and a needle). If not, bring them. It is also your responsibility to bring the fabric (try several materials and thicknesses).

2) Play detective

It’s time to take out the old trench coat and the magnifying glass and go into full Inspector Gadget mode!

Inspector Gadget

The only way to know the real state of a sewing machine is to disassemble it, but even with the most patient seller that’s hardly realistic. So you have to do what you can.

Start by doing an external examination of the machine. It’s a bit basic but be on the lookout for rust and mildew, and see if there are signs of shock that would suggest internal damage.

Simple scratches on the hull should not worry you, but they are an argument to make if you want to negotiate the price.

Used Singer sewing machine

Then comes the moment of the 1001 questions.

“Where does the machine come from? Was it your grandmother’s? How long has it been since you last used it? Has it always been stored in this closet? Why are you selling it?”

Don’t hold back. On the secondhand market, it’s normal to inquire and a seller who refuses to answer or is impatient to make you stop asking questions should make you wary.

Finally, look around to find out how the machine was used and stored. Does the seller look like a careful person? Is the home in good shape? Has the machine been kept in an outdoor shed or indoors? Use all the clues you have to learn more about the history of the machine.

Be careful if the machine has been stored for a long time in a damp place and / or subjected to strong temperature fluctuations. If so, don’t buy it.

3) Check the accessories and spare parts

Ideally, nothing will be missing.

However, if you buy a recent machine with missing parts, it’s not that big of a deal. You should easily find everything online.

The real problems arise when you are purchasing an older model. Think about it and do some research before you commit!

4) Take out the calculator for the additional expenses

This point has been addressed in the financial risks: when you buy a secondhand sewing machine, you sometimes have to go and have it checked by a specialized repairer.

There is also the cost of any missing parts, as just mentioned.

And a used machine will necessarily last less time than a new one, which means that you will have to depreciate it much faster.

However, I don’t want to paint an unnecessarily dark picture because, honestly, if you choose your used machine well you usually gain from a financial point of view.

I just want to draw your attention to these small things to consider in addition to the purchase price of the machine, the potential hidden costs that can make the deal less attractive than it seems.

In general, personally I never buy anything used at more than half the new price. And that’s when the product is in impeccable condition!

5) Buy in the right place

I’ve heard that we remember the first and the last point of a list the most. So my first point (test it!) was the most important tip, and here’s the second point to remember… Be careful where you buy it!

You have 3 possibilities to buy a secondhand sewing machine:

  1. Directly from someone else

    This type of purchase is often the result of an ad found on the internet.

    We all know these ads. It’s a great way to buy but entails various risks, as already mentioned). This is the most common method.

    I’ve already given you a few tips for purchasing a machine this way.

  2. In a shop (whatever kind of shop)

    Storefront of a sewing machine shop

    Whether it’s a physical or an online business, an exclusively secondhand shop or not, a general retailer or one specialized in sewing machines, it’s all the same.

    What binds them is that they offer verified and revamped machines sold under warranty or at least with a minimum of support in case of problems.

    This is a good solution to mitigate the risks (which are maximized in the case of a sale by an individual) but it implies that the machines are sold at a slightly more expensive price.

    Another disadvantage: the choice is typically very limited, which makes it harder to find THE model that meets our needs (and it would be silly to choose a model just because it is available).

    Nevertheless, here at HobbyCouture we’re big fans of this way of buying. We like that good balance of risk and price and always keep an eye out for secondhand deals on Amazon.

  3. At a flea market

    Finally, sewing machines can quite often be found at flea markets. I am very VERY skeptical about this.

    Even if it seems like the same thing at first sight, buying a machine on a flea market is quite different from a private sale with a private individual.

    First, because it’s rarely clear if you’re dealing with a professional or not. In the best case, it’s someone who inherited an excellent machine and put it on sale without realizing its real value. In the worst case, it will be an experienced junk dealer who knows how to put the pressure on to make you buy a machine that’s worth peanuts.

    Secondly, because at a flea market you really don’t have enough time to carefully think about the purchase. Between the moment you see the machine and the moment you make a decision, you have very little time to research and discuss with the seller.
    It is also highly unlikely that you’ll be able to try the machine.

    That’s why I urge you, if you see a sewing machine for sale at a flea market… keep walking!…

    It’s just not worth the risk. Unless you have high confidence in your own ability to gauge the quality of the machine in minutes, it’s better to move on.

Leave a Reply