If you have ever faced the frustration of trying to set a small sleeve into a jacket, you will love the idea of the first free-arm sewing machine! Elna sewing machines have a special design intended for use in sleeves, pant legs, and other rounded items. If that sounds amazing, you will need to investigate Elna sewing machine models and find out what happened to this unique company!
The Elna Number 1 was the first domestic sewing machine model to use a free-arm design. First sold in the 1930s, this innovative machine launched the Elna company and propelled it to success during the mid 20th century. Today, the Swiss craftsmanship and solid metal parts in these vintage machines make them valuable tools for home sewers.
In this article, you will learn where Elna machines came from. You will discover which models remain the most popular today. Finally, you will find out if Elna still exists!
History of Elna Sewing Machines
Dr. Ramon Casas Robert created a prototype for the first Elna sewing machine in 1934. This sewing machine used an innovative free-arm design.
A free arm sewing machine has a unique design that leaves a part of the bed sticking out instead of resting flat on the surface beneath the machine. This allows easy access for sliding a sleeve or pant leg close to the needle.
Despite the brilliant invention, Dr. Robert’s plans to launch a sewing machine business stalled out. The Spanish Civil War erupted, forcing him to flee the country. Fortunately for the future of Elna sewing machines, he ended up in Switzerland!
Dr. Robert and new Swiss business partners formed a company they called Electrina, though the name was later shortened to Elna. Just before 1940, Robert established his company by joining a gun manufacturing company. The Swiss company Tavaro had experience manufacturing complex mechanisms because of its work making guns.
By 1940, Tavaro and Elna launched their first machine, the Elna 1. This machine had a great reputation due to its useful design and its remarkable Swiss craftsmanship.
Though the Elna 1 sold well at first, WWII broke out and interrupted the company’s plans for global production.
In 1948, after the end of the war, the Elna 1 finally got exported for wider sales. It remained in production until 1952. The company continued to create, patent, and sell several innovative machines. These included the Elna Supermatic and the Lotus series that sold well into the 1960s.
What Happened to Elna Sewing Machines?
Tavaro owned the Elna brand for quite a few years. In the 1970s and 80s, the company launched a line of computerized Elna machines. This led to heightened global sales, but unfortunately, the good times came to an abrupt end in the 1990s.
Like other European companies at the time, Elna found modern global markets inhospitable. Consumers got used to mass-produced, accessible products. Many old-fashioned factories that had focused on quality over quantity had to close down.
Increasing production costs and decreasing demand for domestic sewing machines struck double blows to Elna. Tavaro’s manufacturing processes could not keep up with the times. In 1995, the company declared bankruptcy.
Is Elna the Same as Janome?
Janome bought the Elna brand name in 2006 after Elna declared bankruptcy in the 1990s. Elna as a company does not exist anymore. That said, Janome offers a strong line-up of Elna-brand machines.
Buying Elna also benefited Janome. The Japanese company gained access to the excellent European design team operating out of Switzerland. Of course, the Elna brand still brings in revenue or Janome would not continue to sell so many Elna models today!
Modern Elna sewing machines still have their roots in Switzerland, where new designs are created. However, all production takes place in several East Asian countries rather than at a Swiss factory. Of course, like most modern machines, new Elna machines do not contain solid metal parts anymore.
It’s a sad fact that new sewing machines trade complexity for durability. You can’t count on a new model lasting for more than a decade. A vintage machine will likely last for more than a century!
Does this mean Janome and Elna machines are the same today? Janome markets and sells the Elna models, but every model has its own unique features. You can expect an Elna sold by Janome to provide a high-quality sewing experience just like any Janome model.
Elna Sewing Machine Models
Over the years, Elna markets a number of quite extraordinary sewing machines models. All Elna models, including the modern machines still sold today, have Swiss designs. Many vintage Elna models also had groundbreaking features that made them stand out from other sewing machines at the time.
You can see the fascinating development of these creative ideas in the timeline of Elna models below!
Early Elna Sewing Machines
Though it took a decade to get it out into the world, the Elna 1 set the tone for the Elna brand as a whole. It had a compact size and a unique case designed specifically to fit its special free arm.
Because of its intense green metal casing, you may sometimes see this model called the Grasshopper, too!
At the time, many industrial sewing machines in factories used a concept like a free arm, but only to sew one specific thing. A shirt factory might have machines made especially for sewing shirts, for example. The Elna 1 took this idea and turned it into something that the average household sewer could use!
On top of this, Dr. Roberts took his creative idea to the Swiss gun company Tavaro. The company used its specialized Swiss factory to create a high-quality, precision sewing machine.
In 1952, the Elna Supermatic hit the market. This model also featured a bold green metal casing. Like the Elna 1, the Supermatic challenged the sewing machine status quo. It provided an entirely new feature: automatic reverse feed stitching.
The name “supermatic” comes from the term super-automatic. This refers to the Supermatic model’s special central cam drive that enabled a new method of stitching.
Of course, like the original Elna 1, the Supermatic also provided a useful free arm!
Variations on the Elna Supermatic offered additional modifications. These models often come in a paler green metal casing or a brown casing with a red logo. They have a cam disc ejector rather than requiring a special tool to lift cams in and out of the machine.
Vintage Elna Sewing Machine Models
The 1950s and 60s saw a series of highly successful Elna sewing machine models.
The Elna 3, also known as the Zigzag or the ZZ, had automatic zigzag stitching. It also had many features that characterized Elna machines, like the free arm and knee control. This model features the larger, boxier design that became popular in the mid 20th century.
Though the ZZ sold quite well from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s, the Supermatic Star series stole the show. Launched in 1964, this series ran through the early 1970s.
The Star series featured a new thread release mechanism that improved thread tension and ease of sewing. A few of the early Star models had a few problems with loud noise caused by lint build-up, but these issues were resolved in later Star models.
Star series Elna models also had six built-in stitches. This automatic process made sewing go much faster. The home sewer did not have to pause to switch cams for every different stitching pattern.
The Star model released in 1968 included the first-ever electric foot control, too! Sadly this series did not feature a bright color like the earlier Elna models; it had a plain, square cream casing with a pale blue-grey top.
The Elna Lotus series ran from 1968-1978, right up until the advent of computerized sewing machines. Once again, the Lotus offered something never seen before. This model featured a compact domestic sewing machine with a built-in case that folded out like flower petals!
This lovely little machine also had a built-in accessory box located on the top of its casing by the handle, another innovative feature. Today, you see handy built-in compartments in many sewing machines, but it was unique at the time!
It’s hard to mistake the Lotus because of its one-of-a-kind unfolding body design. It has a cream casing in lightweight aluminum, comes in a small size, and has dark grey detailing.
In the 1980s, Elna released a computerized sewing machine, the Elna 5000. While this model incorporated thrilling new technology at the time, it doesn’t hold its value today. 1980s electronics don’t hold up as well as the old-school solid metal parts of mechanical sewing machines!
Modern Elna Sewing MachinesIf you want a fancy, high-class Elna machine that does offer computerized features, you can check out the Elna website or Janome’s website. Today, Janome sells a wide range of Elna models. These include beginning to advanced models as well as quilting, embroidery, and overlock machines.
Perhaps the most charming of these is the modern take on the Lotus model. Like the original, this little guy comes with a fold-out carrying case, though it also features computerized components.
Speaking of modern, cutting-edge technology, the Air Artist model provides the last word in modern sewing machines! This embroidery machine allows you to operate the embroidery machine wirelessly through an app on a smartphone or device!
This fancy setup means that you can create a design in the app or use any of the 260 preloaded designs for your embroidery project.
The Elna eXcellence line offers couture-level, advanced computerized sewing machines. These models have a stitching speed of up to 1200 stitches per minute. They also offer more than 300 stitching patterns and professional-grade components such as the foot and needle plate.
What’s the Best Elna Sewing Machine?
The most famous vintage Elna sewing machine is the iconic Lotus model with its gracefully unfolding outer case. You can see one at the New York Museum of Modern Art because this machine marries artistry with functionality so beautifully! You can’t go wrong with the simple, beautiful precision of this compact vintage sewing machine, either.
Modern Elna machines get rave reviews today as well, of course. But in terms of vintage Elna machines, you have to know what sewing machine functions you want to pick a favorite.
The Supermatic was the first fully automatic domestic sewing machine. It did things no sewing machine had ever done! Constant innovation is what sets the Elna models apart from many other sewing machines made during the mid 20th century.
If you want to go old-school, the Grasshopper has simpler features but a remarkable solidity. And, of course, it has that cute green metal body!
You can count on the precise internal workings of any vintage Elna model due to its careful Swiss design. The solid metal construction of vintage machines made before the 1970s will last forever, too.
Old Elna Sewing Machine Manual
If your vintage sewing machine does not come with a hard copy of the manual, you will need to find a copy to know how to thread and operate your machine. You can often find free digital copies of sewing machine manuals to download or search eBay and other online stores for hard copies to purchase.
Do you really need this user’s manual? You absolutely do need it! Sewing machine manuals provide crucial information for operating any sewing machine safely.
This holds true whether you have a 1950s mechanical model or a thousand-dollar modern quilting machine!
The modern Elna and Janome websites, unfortunately, do not provide information or support for vintage models.
They offer excellent support for their current models. Understandably, Janome does not wish to take responsibility for models made and sold before Janome bought Elna.
You can find quite a few free downloadable manuals listed here. Once you know the model number of your Elna machine, you can also join an online sewing forum. Online sewing groups often happily share sewing machine manuals when you ask.
Plus, these groups offer a shared pool of knowledge that you don’t want to miss out on!
If you don’t mind paying for a downloadable copy, you can find a good variety of Elna manuals here as well.
You should also know that manuals for some older Elna models come in two parts. The first volume covers the general setup. The second booklet gets into specific processes such as how to operate the cams or how to sew through thick layers of material.
Vintage Elna Sewing Machine Prices
Vintage Elna sewing machine prices range from a mere $50 to about $250. This relatively low price range may come as good news if you want to buy a vintage Elna. On the other hand, you may find yourself scratching your head over the low value if you want to sell or collect old Elna models.
In many ways, vintage Elna sewing machines matched or exceeded the abilities of vintage Bernina machines. When you think about it, Bernina and Elna share some similarities. Both brands feature high-quality Swiss craftsmanship and advanced design capabilities.
And yet Bernina remains a high-end, super popular brand today, while Elna machines have a more niche market. Because of this, vintage Bernina machines can cost several thousand dollars!
The difference in value may lie in the relatively limited Elna production numbers. Or maybe collectors just haven’t caught on to Elna machines’ rare, innovative, interesting line yet!
Unless you plan to resell older sewing machines to turn a profit, the true value of these older models lies in their durable construction. All-metal mechanical sewing machines with a skilled design will run smoothly for decades or even more than a century!
Where Can You Buy an Elna Sewing Machine?
You can often find vintage Elna sewing machines for sale through online sellers such as eBay, Etsy and Goodwill. Thrift stores and yard sales in the United States may occasionally sport a vintage Elna. But this probably won’t happen super frequently because Elna had its roots in Switzerland.
On top of that, most Elna models had a more limited production than a brand like Singer.
That said, keep an eye on estate sales and auctions because you never know! Sometimes vintage 1950s or 1960s models bought back in the day pop up in mint condition. Often only one person owned the machine for the past half a century.
You can generally expect to find at least a handful of vintage Elna models on eBay or Amazon, though. This often includes the Supermatic and sometimes the Lotus, if you’re lucky!
Try to find products that give detailed descriptions about the model number and the condition of the machine. Sometimes you can even find sellers who post video clips demonstrating how well the machine operates!
If you do take the plunge and decide to purchase a vintage sewing machine, make sure you give it proper care right away. You should probably take it to a certified repair technician for a once-over before you mess around with it.
Alternatively, you can clean and overhaul the machine yourself. If you like mechanical things, you may enjoy this process! You can find instructions in the sewing machine manual or look up a Youtube video for more help.
No matter how shiny and nice the lovely vintage machine may look on the outside, you need to check for lint buildup, rust, faulty wires, or any parts that need oiling before trying to use it.
Old Elna Sewing Machine Parts
If you need a unique Elna sewing machine part such as the cams for the Supermatic, your best bet is to search online sellers like eBay or sewpartsonline.com. Here’s the catch, though: unless you know what you need, you may have a hard time searching for the necessary parts.
This is because you typically have to input the specific name of a sewing machine part to locate it through an online store. Generally, you need the model number of your machine as well.
To solve this dilemma, refer to the sewing machine manual that should come with your vintage Elna. If you don’t have a manual, read the section on Elna manuals in this article to find one! This document will offer helpful information about the parts of the machine. It may even provide useful Elna sewing machine parts diagrams so you can understand how the parts work together.
You can also plug the specific model number of your Elna machine into Youtube and see if any other home sewers have tinkered with the insides of that Elna model. This will provide a helpful visual for those of you who like to see things in action!
The first vintage Elna sewing machine was sold in 1940 and featured a brand-new free arm design. Later vintage Elna models continued this habit of innovation, presenting a series of new features such as electric foot controls and the first fully automatic domestic sewing machine. The unfolding Lotus models sold during the 1960s and 70s became the most famous Elna models due to their unique design.
Despite their Swiss craftsmanship and innovative features, vintage Elna models rarely have a high price tag. You can often find them for sale on eBay for under $100. Collectors and home sewers value these special machines for their lovely design and durable construction.
Have you ever used an Elna sewing machine? Did you like it? Leave a comment below to let us know!