First forays into Vintage Sewing. Help!

Above is my Grandmother’s beautiful Singer sewing machine. I am hoping to start learning to sew and make my own clothes and home furnishings.

I know that my Grandmother said that It had something wrong with it but I am not sure what. How can I diagnose that myself?

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

18 Comments on “First forays into Vintage Sewing. Help!

  1. Hmmm, I’m not sure how you could diagnose the problem yourself – would your grandmother be able to tell you if you asked? I would suggest taking it into a sewing machine repair shop if there is one in your city – also, sometimes (I know in my city at least) you can find people on sites like Kijiji that can do sewing machine repairs for a decent price as well. Is the machine electric? I know it has a hand crank (so cool!), but if it has wiring that *could* be the problem, or it could be a problem with the stitch. Have you ever tried using it? Threading the machine and sewing on a scrap piece of fabric (which you can do even without it being plugged in, if it is an electric machine) by turning the hand crank can show you if there seems to be any problem with wonky stitching or anything like that.

    If you don’t have a copy of the manual for this machine, you can download a copy from the Singer website right here:

    It could help you figure out and troubleshoot some problems the machine might have, particularly if they are related to the machine’s stitching. I definitely recommend reading through the manual, because it could help you diagnose the problem. 🙂

    By the way, I haven’t gotten to say yet, but your machine is beautiful!! 99K’s are really lovely machines and I believe yours is from the 1950’s, which is so awesome! Your machine uses standard 15×1 sewing machine needles, so you can still get them very easily at fabric stores, from brands like Schmetz. 🙂 You can find some cool info about this model here:
    They’re really nice machines!

    Oh, you may also be able to find videos on Youtube where people fix or refurbish 99Ks! As well as videos on how to use them, or that at least show them in use, when I searched “Singer 99k sewing machine” on Youtube a whole bunch of videos popped up, so you might be able to find something helpful there. Also, the Pattern Review message board has a whole section for sewing machines and there are a lot of very knowledgeable people there who might be able to help or give you some good advice. 🙂

    Also, Elena of Vintage Sewing Machines ( knows a LOT about vintage sewing machines and writes excellent posts on fixing them and is incredibly helpful and kind!

    I hope that this helps!! I’m really excited for you! 🙂


  2. I am very sorry to be a wet blanket, but if you are not familiar with these older sewing machines, it will be very hard for you to determine what is wrong with it, if anything. That said, those old Singer machines are true workhorses and they will run forever if they are properly maintained.

    Keep in mind that even if there is nothing wrong with the mechanical parts of the machine, the odds are that it will need to be cleaned and oiled. In addition, the belts which make it run may be worn or so old they are disintegrating. But all is not lost. There are still a few good Singer sewing machine repair folks around, and most of the parts can still be acquired. An Internet search on a key phrase like “singer sewing machine repair” should turn up some repair shops in your area, hopefully with reviews to give you an idea whether or not you want to do business with them. If that machine has been sitting around for any length of time, it needs a tune up and a lube job as well as new belts. But a good repair person can also help you to understand how to use that machine, so it will be worth the effort to find a good one.

    Sadly, Singer sewing machines are no longer made in the US and the newer machines cannot hold a candle to one of those good old machines like yours. However, those old machines are much harder to use than modern sewing machines, so if you are determined to become a seamstress, you might want to consider buying a new machine. If so, please do your research first. Personally, I prefer the New Home brand, but Viking, Pffaf and Bernina are all good brands. Just be sure to check out their strengths and weaknesses so you get a machine that will suit your purposes as well as your budget.

    If you do decide to buy a new machine, some dealers may give you some money if you trade in your old Singer. But they will not repair it and sell it as a used machine. They will break it up and scrap it, because they do not want those old machines out in the world, they are just too reliable, if you know how to use them. If you do decide to give up your grandmother’s machine, sell it to a collector who will take good care of it and ensure it has a long and happy life!

    If you want to know more about your grandmother’s machine, look to see if it has a number plate attached to it. If it does, you can use that number to date it. The International Sewing Machine Collectors Society has a database with all the Singer numbers. You can find it here:

    You do have a little gem of a sewing machine, even if it is old and will need some TLC in order to be used again. Congratulations on that!

    Good Luck!!!




    • Don’t worry about being a wet blanket! All advice welcome. My gran has used it within the past 2 years so it is not so old and not used. I believe it is only something small that may need tinkling with.
      I wouldn’t trade it in for a new model, even if I can’t end up using it, it looks so darling in my house!
      I may however buy a new mechanical one to start my endeavours and then use this one once I know what I am doing.
      I am kicking myself as I went to a car boot sale where someone was selling an electric mini sewing machine for a couple of pounds!


  3. Oh! And by the way, if you ever decided that you wanted to convert it from a hand crank to an electric/foot pedal operated machine, it’s actually possible to do yourself! There are kits you can buy online that have motors and foot pedals. I haven’t converted a machine from hand crank to electric before (I’ve not be lucky enough to get my hands on a hand crank model yet!) but I have converted a treadle (non-electric machine) into an electric before and it was so much easier than I thought it would be and took almost no time at all. I wrote about it a little here:

    I was able to swap the motor and foot pedal (which are attached) from one machine (that had major problems I wasn’t able to fix on my own) and attach it to a machine from the 1910’s. It was easy and a lot of fun and turned out to be a matter of of unscrewing the motor from one machine and screwing it onto the other! It seriously felt like magic when it actually worked. 🙂

    These vintage machines are a lot of fun to play around with and so beautiful to use. 🙂 I’m so happy you have one!


      • Aww, that’s wonderful! I think it’s really beautiful that your grandmother passed her beloved machine onto you, and being able to carry on her legacy is a wonderful thing. 🙂


  4. One more comment – (and I hope I’m not stepping on any toes here!) but I don’t personally find vintage Singers all that difficult to use. Newer machines have a lot of bells and whistles in comparison, but in my mind nothing beats a vintage machine. A lot of the fancy features in modern machines often go relatively unused by a lot of seamstresses and they definitely are not built to last the way that vintage machines do (especially anything pre-1960-1970). If you want a bunch of fancy stitches, or the ability to do a zig zag stitch, for example, they can be great, sure, but since you are just starting out I think trying this machine first won’t hurt – it will give you a feeling for what sewing with a machine is like and how you like it, and you can do plenty of things with a straight stitch machine like your 99k. People used them for the longest time, from the absolute beginner to the professional seamstress, these were machines that people used for decades and are fine for learning on. In fact, as long as you get it working, I’d recommend using it before spending a lot of money on a new machine, as they can be quite expensive, especially if you don’t know if you’re even going to like sewing yet. If you decide you like sewing but find vintage machines a bit hard, you can certainly invest in a new machine, but there is nothing wrong with using this gorgeous machine. 🙂


    • I am going to try with her first. I actually live directly across the road from a craft shop that does sewing lessons. May take her along there. I am a teacher so will have the summer holidays to get going. How exciting! Thank you so much for your help. Xx

      Liked by 1 person

      • That sounds perfect! 🙂 And how lucky to live right across the road from a craft shop! I’m so envious. 🙂 Oh! And you should check out the Craftsy site, by the way, they have some short sewing classes you can try for free to get a feel for things. 🙂

        And you’re seriously so welcome, and thank YOU! I was having a rough day, but chatting with you cheered me up a lot and made my day! 🙂


      • Awww I am so glad I have cheered you up in some small way. My mum has terminal cancer and I think having a goal of learning this machine will keep my mind off it all! xx


      • Oh no, I’m so sorry to hear about your mum. *Huge hug* I lost my mom to cancer a number of years back and remember all too well how hard and heartbreaking it was when she was ill. I know there’s nothing I can say that will make it any easier, but if you need to talk to someone who has been through this, I’m here for you. ❤ And I hope that your mum starts to improve, I'll be keeping both of you in my heart and in my thoughts. Lots of love to you, sweetheart. ❤

        Liked by 1 person

  5. The 99 is a great machine. Old machines are not harder to use than modern ones – they are easier to use because they are simpler. Your 99 only does straight stitch, no zig-zag and no fancy stitches, so there are also no stitch selection knobs to get confused with. I would suggest to take out that manual (or download one from the Singer website) and just start working through it. Thread her up, wind a bobbin, try sewing, may be clean, oil and adjust the tension (it’s all explained!) – and you will soon discover if anything is wrong. Don’t worry about attachments just yet, stick to the simple straight foot – there’ll be plenty of time to get into that later.
    Good luck! 🙂


      • Don’t worry, you won’t break her. 🙂 You will get conflicting advice because it’s a matter of personal preference. Some people prefer the robust feel and simplicity of old machines, whereas others prefer computerised machines. But as you are only just beginning, why not start with the 99 – she’s certainly much better than the mini machine you saw at a car boot sale – and I can say it without even knowing what it was.

        Don’t be afraid to break her – you won’t. Like I said, try working your way through the manual – it is written so as to get you started.


      • Thank you Elena. My experiences to follow. Hopefully I can make some beautiful garments which I will be able to share with you all…maybe a pillow case to start? they are easy right?


  6. The sewing part of most pillow cases is pretty easy, but that is almost the last step. The most important thing is to measure accurately before you cut the fabric, IF you are making a custom pillow case to fit a specific pillow. However, if you are making a pillow case to fit a standard bed pillow, that should be pretty easy. Just be careful to sew straight seams so that you will have straight edges when you turn the pillow case right side out. Though it may seem like a simple project, there are a number of things you can do to sew a pillow case that turns out well. There are lots of tips to be found online. Have fun!

    BTW – If you have not worked with a lot of fabric, you may not know that most fabrics these days are treated with formaldehyde, which can irritate skin and even sensitive nasal passages. It is a good idea to wash any washable fabrics before you start working with them. That way, not only will you pre-shrink them, you will also protect yourself and your family from any issues which the chemicals in the fabric might cause. Better safe than sorry.

    So glad to hear you are keeping that lovely little machine and continuing your grandmother’s legacy.



    Liked by 1 person

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