Buying a Sewing Machine at a Thrift Store

Posted in: Meet Your Machine, This and That — By on December 29, 2010 8:12 AM

I just made my annual thrift store tour when I went to visit my parents for the holidays. Every trip we visit about 3-4 thrift shops on the 4 hour drive. And what did I find on my tour this year, but a Singer 290C sewing machine in excellent condition for a steal I have been looking for just this type of machine too. There were two other machines at another store, but they were overpriced and missing a lot of parts, so I left them there.

This brings up a good question – What do you look for when you find yourself in the aisle of a thrift store looking down at that vintage sewing machine trying to make the decision on whether or not to buy it?

You want your machine to be as complete as possible. What I came across was kind of the perfect scenario (lucky me!) The machine had a manual, foot pedal, and all the accessories that came with it when it was sold.

Having the foot pedal is a major bonus because you can plug it in and try it out in the shop. It should turn on (if it has a light and it works even better, but these are easily replaced) and run fairly smoothly. Keep in mind that you’ll want to oil it when you get it home – who knows how long it might have sat in the basement or in the back of the closet before you got to it. Also when testing be mindful of what presser foot is attached and which stitch is selected – you don’t want to damage anything before you buy it.

Basically, you’re looking for:

  • the manual – You can find this online usually so it’s not essential, but it’s great to have right off the bat.
  • accessories like presser feet or button hole attachments or cams for decorative stitching on older machines – Presser feet are usually inexpensive and easy to find, but other accessories might be trickier to track down.
  • the original foot pedal – depending on the machine, it might need to be replaced, which can get pricey. It’s also great if the original is included and you can test the machine before you buy it.
  • bobbins – These are also inexpensive and usually easy to find, but it’s nice to know what kind to look for.
  • bobbin casing – If you don’t know what you’re looking for this might be a hard one to spot. You can probably replace these parts too, but it’s obviously better if they are included.

If you can check off most of this list and the price seems right, then you should buy it. If it seems like they are asking too much, you can haggle, but it might be better to leave it behind – you’re trying to save money by buying at a thrift store. If you’re really unsure, skip the thrift store and buy a second hand machine at a sewing machine shop. You might pay more, but they will show you how to use it and will have already cleaned it out and oiled it.

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1 Comment

  1. Marisa says:

    I just bought a sewing machine at a thrift store, and thought it was as complete as it needed to be, but there were cams missing. I didn’t even know what the cams were, or that I should have looked for them. You might add that to your list of items that would make your machine complete.

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