The first time you walk into a store to buy a sewing machine almost always causes a severe case of sticker shock. New sewing machines can cost thousands of dollars, and not every home sewer can afford to shell out these big bucks. If this describes you, you may want to consider buying a used sewing machine!
Buying a used sewing machine can be a sound investment. Used sewing machines cost far less than new models and can last for decades longer than modern models if given the proper care. Depending on the condition, age, and brand of the model, used sewing machines can hold their value for many years.
In this article, you’ll discover twelve key tips for buying the best used sewing machine for your needs. You’ll also learn what brands and models might work best for you. Finally, you’ll find ideas on how to track down a good deal on used sewing machines online.
Pros and Cons of Buying a Used Sewing Machine
Buying a used sewing machine may be a sound investment for you, but there are pros and cons to purchasing any second-hand item. Ultimately buying any used item is a bit of a gamble because you may not get an option to return the product if it doesn’t work.
That said, buying a used sewing machine can have some awesome benefits!
First, what’s the main reason to check out local thrift stores, yard sales, or your Facebook community page? You want to get great deals, of course! You can save a lot of money buying a used sewing machine.
Think about this for a second. A new Bernina 880 costs over $16,000! On eBay, you can find a used Bernina 880 for anywhere from $2,000 to $10,000.
Now, not every sewing machine costs as much as a Bernina. But if your budget is a couple of thousand dollars, you could choose between buying a not-as-nice new machine or a classy used model of a stellar manufacturer like Bernina. You end up with more machine for your money if you know what you’re doing and buy a good used model.
Plus, buying second-hand sewing machines is an environmentally-friendly choice. If you feel strongly about reusing and recycling, vote with your dollars and consider buying used!
Finally, it is not always the case that old sewing machines work just as well as new, but, indeed, older models often have better craftsmanship and longer lifespans than today’s sewing machines. In some cases, buying an older machine is a better investment because these machines will last longer than new models!
Now, all that aside, you do want to go into this purchase with your eyes open.
The major downside to buying a used appliance is that you often don’t know how its previous owner treated it. Maybe a nice, elderly lady named Bertha used it a couple of times a week and made sure to have it properly cleaned and maintained every year. Or maybe it rusted in someone’s attic for 50 years and you just bought a clunker.
You can take some steps to avoid buying a dud, but there’s always going to be some risk that your used sewing machine will have a short second life.
Secondly, you will almost certainly have to put in more time cleaning and repairing a used model than a new model. This might just mean a little careful oiling and watching a few Youtube clips to make sure everything runs as it should. Or it could mean lugging your purchase to a nearby store for expensive repairs.
Finally, most of the time, buying used means you get no warranty or return options. Now, if you buy from a dealer or from an online seller who offers free returns, you might find a loophole in this generalization. But most of the time, buying used means you take what you get.
Tips for Buying a Used Sewing Machine
If you want to make an informed decision about your used sewing machine purchase, you can learn what to look for and what to avoid as you buy a sewing machine. First and foremost, you should always ask yourself, does it work, and what kind of sewing can it do?
Let’s take a look at the twelve most important ideas to consider as you look for a used sewing machine.
1. Choose a Machine Based On Your Sewing Needs
This may seem obvious, but you should narrow down the selection pool to focus on the kinds of sewing machines that support your particular sewing needs. To do this, you should first select a particular sewing machine model that offers the features best suited to your type of sewing, then search for a used model at an affordable price.
For example, if you like quilting, you want to look specifically at quilting machines, not just generic sewing machines. If you run a small business selling tote bags, you may need an industrial serger for sewing lots of overlocked seams.
This is an area where buying used can really help you out because specialty machines usually cost a lot. If you want an embroidery machine, a quilting machine, or a serger, buying new may not fit your budget. But you might find the perfect model for sale from a second-hand seller!
2. Pick an Easy-to-Use Model
If you’re a new sewer or even an experienced sewer trying out a particular machine for the first time, you should consider looking for an easy-to-use model. Key features you should look at include whether or not the machine has a front-loaded bobbin, whether or not it’s easy to thread, and what kinds of reviews previous users post about this model.
Of course, if you’re a long-time sewer and you want a more challenging machine because you understand how it operates, go for it! But in general, to avoid frustrating yourself, buying a machine with simple, easy-to-understand mechanics will make it easier for you to set up, use, and maintain your second-hand sewing machine.
3. Avoid Obvious Flaws
You might roll your eyes as you read this section, but no matter how obvious it seems, make sure you don’t buy a machine with any obvious flaws! No matter how good the deal, you’re wasting your money if you buy a machine that doesn’t run.
If you can inspect the sewing machine in person, check it over for rust, oil stains, cracks, and bent or broken parts. Better yet, get permission to try out the machine and listen for weird noises.
If you’re buying online, read the product description carefully and look at the pictures to see how they compare to pictures of a new model.
4. Try Vintage Sewing Machines
In the sewing machine world, newer doesn’t always mean better. Lots of antique machines made over a hundred years ago still run today. Vintage machines, made between 1900 and 1970, often feature solid metal construction instead of the cheap plastic gears and mechanisms used today.
For this reason, you may find that an older sewing machine that can accomplish basic sewing stitches like a straight stitch, zigzag stitch, and buttonhole will fill all of your sewing needs. Plus, many older machines will last for decades with careful maintenance!
Vintage machines also usually have simpler inner workings that you can learn to clean and repair yourself with a little effort, unlike the complex computerized functions of most modern machines.
5. Know the Difference Between Sewing Machines
Speaking of the difference between the sewing machines of years past and the computerized models today, you should educate yourself on the difference between electronic, mechanical, and computerized machines.
An electronic machine is a sewing machine powered by electricity. Ok, yes, pretty obvious! But if you’re looking into antique and vintage machines, this is a key consideration because really old sewing machines were treadle-powered in the days before electricity!
You will also want to make sure that the electric input and cords seem safe, without burnt bits or strange stains.
Mechanical vs computerized sewing machines also have key differences.
A mechanical machine has knobs, buttons, and switches you adjust to control its settings. For example, it might have a wheel you spin to select a straight versus a zigzag stitch. These options are usually pretty limited.
A computerized machine, on the other hand, comes with many built-in stitches made possible by the fancy computer-chip storage that will direct the machine to make a wide variety of precise stitches. Many new machines have touch screens you use to input these options.
All three of these types of machines have their own pros and cons, but the basic difference is that computerized models give you a wider range of options but have very complex inner parts and often a shorter lifespan than older, solid-metal machines.
6. Know How Much to Pay
Your average used sewing machine ranges in price from about $50-$200, though searching for a specialty sewing machine or a high-end brand could easily raise the average price to several thousand dollars. Before you buy a used model, you should do some research and make sure you know the asking price.
Generally, you can get a good picture of current pricing by scoping out Amazon and eBay. Then you can check out local thrift stores or an antique shop with a good understanding of how much you should expect to pay for a particular model.
7. Don’t Buy an Economy Model
If you’re buying a used model to get more bang for your buck, you don’t want to settle for the economy model from any sewing machine brand! Most brands, from Singer to Bernina, offer economy models that usually feature limited options, cheaper parts, and shorter lifespans.
There’s nothing wrong with buying one of these economy models as a novice sewer who needs something simple to get started. But after a year or two, you’re going to need something better. These models rarely make good long-term investments.
If you’re going through all the trouble of researching and pricing out used sewing machines, look for one that both fits your budget and fills all your sewing needs. Find a great machine for less money!
8. Give Refurbished Machines a Try
Refurbished sewing machines may give you a little more security than buying a used machine from a random online dealer.
What is a refurbished machine? Well, when a buyer returns a machine to a place like Joann Fabrics, the store can’t resell that item as if it were brand-new because the product may now have defects. Instead, they market it as “refurbished.”
Sometimes, you can investigate and find out if your local store properly overhauled and cleaned the machine before reselling it. This is a pretty good indication that it should be in working order!
Of course, as with any used purchase, you aren’t getting the assurance of a fresh-off-the-lot buy here. Someone may have returned one of these models because it doesn’t work.
If you can buy the refurbished model with the possibility of returning it, though, what do you have to lose? Just don’t make the mistake of making an as-is purchase with no return option or warranty.
9. Avoid As-Is Purchases
In general, you should avoid as-is purchases when buying a used sewing machine. An as-is purchase means you take what you get and you don’t get to complain about it, even if you get home and realize the machine won’t turn on!
Many dealers and online sellers offer return options for unsatisfied customers. A shop or store might offer a special policy similar to a warranty, allowing you to bring back the item for repairs and cleaning if you run into trouble.
Now, this is not to say that you should never buy used machines from a no-returns venue like a yard sale or your local thrift store. It’s true that this kind of purchase has a higher risk because there’s no option of a warranty or a return, but you can also get the steepest discounts if you want to roll those dice!
But the bottom line is that it’s safer to have a backup plan in case your purchase doesn’t work out, and an as-is buy doesn’t give you that plan B.
10. Check For Replacement Parts
Before you buy a used machine, shop around to see how easily you can find replacement parts for that particular model. Popular brands and still-in-production models will have usually offer easy-to-find replacement parts for used machines. Old sewing machines made by defunct companies may send you on a wild goose chase every time something breaks down.
A new machine will also usually have various tutorials and advice online that you can find easily. Since fewer people use the older machines, you may find it challenging to get parts or advice for working with these products.
You don’t want to find yourself up a creek because you can’t find a replacement needle for your machine!
You should also search online to see if you find a downloadable copy of the user’s manual. This essential document will help you set up, use, and maintain your machine, and not all used models will come with the original manual.
11. Make a Checklist of Necessary Parts and Accessories
Another key way to make yourself an informed consumer is to make a checklist of all the necessary parts and accessories to come with your used machine. One of the risks of buying used is that your purchase could be missing basic items that would come with a new purchase as a matter of course.
Consider the basics, like whether the product includes necessities such as the foot peddle and the power cord. But you will also want to find out if the used machine is missing any of its original selection of presser feet, bobbins, needles, cleaning tools, and the user’s manual.
If you buy a vintage machine that used an unusual bobbin size or a unique needle, you may have trouble getting a new bobbin or needle to fit into the old machine.
Finding and buying the right accessories to go with your used machine will end up costing more than you might anticipate if you don’t make sure your original purchase comes with all the necessary features!
12. Get a Machine that Works with What You Have
Getting a used sewing machine that works well with the equipment you already own will save you money down the road. For example, if you already own a wide selection of Singer presser feet, you can reuse them if you buy yourself a used Singer machine.
You can also look at this as a way to fill in the gaps of your current sewing toolbox. If you own a serger, you might want to expand what you can sew by finding a regular sewing machine. Or maybe you have a serger and want to shop for a cover stitch machine to give yourself additional stitching options.
What Are the Best Sewing Machine Brands?
Bernina, Husqvarna Viking, and Pfaff usually get ranked as the best high-end sewing machine brands, while Singer, Brother, and Janome rate highly as reliable, affordable brands for home sewers. Of course, this doesn’t mean other brands are no good! You will also find reviews swearing that Juki, Elna, or Babylock machines are the cream of the crop!
There is a solid argument for trusting a reliable brand as you shop for a used machine. You can often find a wide range of reviews online for any machine made by these prominent brands. This gives you a lot of knowledge to use as you decide what used machine you want to buy.
That said, every one of these brands offers a span of machines that range from economy options to models that come with all the bells and whistles. Remember that you want to buy used so you can get more for your money! For example, if you shop for a used Pfaff, you still want to make sure you do your research to find a high-class model that offers exactly the features you need.
Are Old Sewing Machines Worth Anything?
Most old sewing machines sell for less than five hundred dollars. You can find some collectible antique or vintage models with a high price tag because of their rarity. But generally, an old sewing machine is valued more because of what it can do than because of its resale value.
Depending on the age and condition of an old sewing machine, many pre-1980s models have durable metal construction that allows them to keep running for a long time. You might want one of these models for regular use. They work especially well for sewing quilts or thick material like denim that modern machines struggle to handle!
If you do want to consider the possibility of resale, though, you will want to look into a machine that lots of people want. Reputable brands like Bernina or Husqvarna will probably always have a solid resale market, for example.
How to Buy a Used Sewing Machine on eBay
All of the earlier tips listed above still apply to an online purchase, such as buying a sewing machine on eBay. That said, this kind of shopping means you can’t examine the item in person, so you may want to consider a few additional measures.
First, consider shipping costs. Some sellers offer “free shipping” but jack up the product’s price to make up for it. Others hope you won’t notice a twenty-five-dollar shipping fee before you click “buy now!”
The fact of that matter is that sewing machines weigh a lot, so you do need to take shipping fees into consideration. Some sellers will make a point of mentioning how carefully they ship items. If not, consider asking the seller how they package and ship your product to ensure it arrives in good condition.
Second, find out what kind of return policy the seller offers. If they only sell as-is, you should probably pass. Since you can’t inspect the product in person before buying, you’re running a big risk if there is no return option.
Third, if the seller doesn’t specifically state the machine still sews, message them to ask questions about how long ago the machine was last used. If you’re paying a lot, you could even request a video of how the machine runs!
Next, pay attention to the terms used in the product description. Do you know how “cozy” actually means “small and cramped” in real-estate terminology? Well, online sellers have special language tricks, too!
Terms like “industrial” and “professional” can be misleading. Your best protection is to research the make and model, so you know more about it than the seller!
Finally, know your rights as a buyer! eBay and Amazon both offer certain limited refund options if you receive a product that does not match the product description.
That said, you don’t get to return an item just because you belatedly realize it was not what you wanted. If you didn’t realize that a regular sewing machine can’t do fancy embroidery stitches, that’s on you! So do your research to know what you’re buying!
Buying used sewing machines does pose some risk. You face the possibility that these models could have a short second life. You might also have to dedicate more time to cleaning and repairing if you buy a sewing machine second-hand.
On the other hand, if you follow the twelve steps laid out in this article, you will have a good chance of finding an awesome deal on a reliable used sewing machine to meet all your sewing needs!
Are you looking for a particular brand or model of sewing machine? Leave a comment below to let us know what you have learned as you shop!