Top 10 Tips for Rejuvenating Your Vintage Sewing Machine

The best thing about owning a vintage sewing machine is… no, not stitching with it, which is pretty amazing, but repairing and maintaining it. Unlike modern machines, vintage sewing machines need a bit more TLC, but I love this part of working with my machines.

I feel a deep connection with my machine and love learning all its little quirks. This connection is deepened when I clean it, make simple repairs, and oil it. I get a real feeling for how to get the best from my vintage sewing machine and learn when it needs a little maintenance or oiling. (I’m thirsty, feed me). I find the modern machines to be so self-sufficient and it doesn’t feel as much of a partnership when I work with them. I also love the fact that I can do most of the repairs and maintenance on my vintage sewing machines myself: I wouldn’t dare touch the electronics on my modern machine!

Don't forget to oil underneath your vintage sewing machine

Don't forget to oil underneath your vintage sewing machine


There are a few tips that I’d like to pass onto you about working with your vintage sewing machine:

  1. The first tip is to “be safe” when doing maintenance or repairs on your vintage sewing machine. You always want to unplug your machine when doing any type of maintenance. I have heard of cases where machines can start up even though the foot pedal of knee controller has not been touched. You don’t want this happening and accidentally stitch yourself – ouch! So, be safe, and unplug your vintage sewing machine.
  2. You always want to use the proper equipment, materials and tools. Using the wrong size of screwdriver can damage a screw head making it very difficult, if not impossible, to take out screws when you need to clean or oil inside the machine. You don’t want to do that. You want to use oil and not grease in some areas and vice versa in others. Don’t mix these up or you’ll regret it. Get the right tools and materials and your maintenance and repairs will run smoothly for you.
  3. If you have a “new” vintage sewing machine, you want to clean it first before stitching with it. You want to clean it before you oil it. No point in oiling a dirty machine, you’ll just compound the problem. Clean the machine first and then you can continue with your maintenance.
  4. While there are lots of simple repairs that can be done on vintage sewing machines, there are others that might be beyond your abilities. If you know how to do wiring, by all means go ahead and repair any wiring issues with your machine. If wiring is beyond your ability, take your machine to an expert for repair. You want to ensure that some things, especially when they involve carrying an electrical current, are done properly.
  5. Once your machine is cleaned and repaired, you will want to polish it. I like to remove and clean the metal parts first and then clean the machine itself before replacing the metal pieces on it. This avoids getting metal polish all over the machine. There are some parts that may be difficult to remove, so just clean those as best you can and be sure to wipe off the machine body of any metal polish when you are done. Cleaning the machine’s body can be done with sewing machine oil and will need to be reapplied every so often. My favourite part of working with my machines is polishing them: they look so gorgeous afterwards.
  6. Your vintage sewing machine will need periodic oiling. Refer to the machine’s manual to determine the oiling points and remember, a little is enough. Don’t drown your poor machine in oil as it will only form a gummy mess inside. Just a small drop is sufficient.
  7. When winding a bobbin, you’ll need to unscrew the stop motion screw on the hand wheel and engage the bobbin winder. Remember to tighten the stop motion screw again once you are done winding the bobbin so the machine will stitch again. Having problems with the machine not stitching (needle not going up and down)? Check the stop motion screw and I can almost guarantee you that it hasn’t been tightened. Everyone does this at least once…or twiceJ.
  8. This one is really important to remember: don’t run the machine without fabric between the presser foot and the feed dogs. Just not a good thing to do. If you’re putting down the presser foot, there should be fabric underneath it. Enough said.
  9. Always, always, unplug your vintage sewing machine when you are not using it. Most of these machines don’t have on/off switches on them, so if they are plugged in, they are “on”. An accidental touch on the foot pedal and your machine can be off and running, without you to guide it. Avoid accidents and unplug your machine once you’ve finished stitching.
  10. The most important tip I have for you is to use your vintage sewing machine. After all, that’s why you bought it, right? There’s nothing better than creating with your vintage sewing machine after you’ve cleaned it, repaired it and shined it up. Enjoy!
My first vintage sewing machine purchases, a SINGER® 99K

My first vintage sewing machine purchases, a SINGER® 99K


I’ve created a FREE printable guide, The Top 10 Tips for Rejuvenating Your Vintage Sewing Machine, with all of this valuable information that I know you’ll find helpful. Download and print out The Top 10 Tips for Rejuvenating Your Vintage Sewing Machine to use when you are working with your vintage sewing machine. 

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Do you have any tips for working with your vintage sewing machine? Leave your tips in the Comments below.



P.S. Join the private Chatterbox Quilts Facebook group for quilting and vintage sewing machine information.