Vintage Sewing Machines

The handmade items sold by Houston and Scott are created using mid-century era vintage sewing machines. Each machine in the collection has its own unique story.

photo of Sewmor 620, sewing machine c.1955 from the Houston and Scott vintage sewing machine collection
Sewmor 620, c.1955

Houston's grandma Bonnie sold sewing machines new in the 1950s in Tulsa, OK. She specifically remembers selling turquoise Sewmor brand sewing machines and ever since Houston learned that little detail had been on the hunt for a turquoise Sewmor. Well, he found one, but it was 4 hours away in Harrison Arkansas! Normally that would be too far, but the lady selling it had a whole booth in an antique mall full of vintage sewing machines she had lovingly serviced and restored. We felt like we could trust her when she said the Sewmor was in perfect condition and ready to go. So we decided to go on a road trip to nearby Branson for a fun weekend, stopping to pick up this beautiful Sewmor 620 along the way. She did not lie, the Sewmor is MINT! 

The exact year of manufacture is unknown but we know it was in the mid-1950s sometime. While this is a rebadged Japanese machine it is a rare exception to the rule in that research has revealed it was manufactured by the Janome factory! We have even seen one (and only one) red 620 actually badged as a Janome. The 620 is a straight-stich only machine, no zig-zag or anything else, only reverse. But with its narrower foot and feed dogs and super powerful motor it has turned out to be a very fast and precise machine and is able to do absolutely beautiful quilting much nicer than my other machines. The narrow feed dogs also play very nicely with my zipper foot and make zippers a breeze. 

photo of Pink Universal sewing machine made in 1959, from the Houston and Scott vintage sewing machine collection
Pink Universal, 1959

Manufactured in 1959, our pink Universal DOM-B sewing machine might just be our favorite. One of the millions of rebadged machines from Japan, we don’t think anyone has been able to tease out exactly which factory made this machine. It can stitch 23 different decorative stiches using its internal cams and also has manual zig-zag and semi-automatic buttonhole functions. It is the heaviest and quietest of all our machines and has the largest and most “free-feeling” handwheel. The weight and the follow-through of the mechanism makes it feel like a very luxurious piece of equipment built to last a lifetime. 

Houston first found this machine advertised on Facebook Marketplace. At the arranged time at the QuikTrip between Sapulpa and Sand Springs he looked into the trunk of this grey-haired man’s Buick and saw a dirty, seized, beige-y pink sewing machine, a plastic Brother sewing machine that looked like any generic yellowed desktop printer, and a small mound of accessories from about 4 or 5 different sewing machines. He almost walked away, but something about that pink machine just seemed special, and the old man seemed desperate to get rid of the junk in his trunk. The old man offered the whole lot for $35, Houston said he'd pay $35 to not take the whole lot but rather just the pink machine and its accessories. Of course the old man agreed and after digging through the mountain of feet and attachments Houston found what he thought was correct for this machine and off he went. 

The machine was seized. The needle would move about half in inch up or down and that was it. It took several days of cleaning, oiling, soaking, working, finessing, etc., but with much patience Houston slowly got every single last function to work exactly as it should. This machine has exactly 1 plastic piece inside it which is in fantastic condition, the rest is all metal. And there was not 1 spec of rust or corrosion anywhere in this machine, it was simply stuck from non-use and gummy old hardened grease. We also found the owner’s manual online and were able to confirm it indeed has every single original accessory as well as the original accessory box it came with new.

Photo of Elna Supermatic sewing machine, made in 1962, from the Houston and Scott vintage sewing machine collection
Elna Supermatic, 1962

 The Elna Supermatic is a Swiss built machine which debuted in 1952 and was the very first domestic sewing machine to offer fully automatic stitching. While many sewing machines could produce decorative stitches, for example our pink Universal, they always advance the fabric forward at a set, constant rate and what is “automatic” is the swing of the needle back and forth. What made the Elna revolutionary was its ability to automate not only the swing of the needle back and forth, but also the feed of the fabric forwards and backwards. Because of this the Elna Supermatic could stitch designs far more intricate than the typical zig-zag machine and it took competitors the better part of a decade to catch up. 

For greater flexibility the automatic stitch designs are on cams called “Elna discs” which snap into the “Elnagraph” (cam reader) on the top of the machine. (Think of an Elna-disc as a music CD, the stitch pattern is the song.) Elna also had the good sense to use the same “Elna disc” system for about 20 years on multiple models and came up with dozens of decorative and functional automatic stitches. While they are no longer produced new, Elna discs are still readily available on Etsy and eBay. Just recently Houston wanted a blanket stitch or something similar and was able to buy a blanket stitch Elna disc on Etsy for about $15. (The only ones you will have hard time finding are the jumping dogs and ducks because they are SO CUTE! The sailboat is hard to come by as well.) 

Our machine in particular Houston found on Facebook Marketplace but it was in Ardmore, OK about 3 hours away. He originally had his heart set on a green Supermatic from the 1950s, not a later beige one. But, by 1962 when this one was made, the Supermatic had already been in production for a decade and received some very minor improvements over the years including revisions to the case, knee lever, and Elnagraph, all of which are favorable. Also, ours would come with a good selection of original accessories and Elna discs as well as the original accessory box and owner’s manual. So we set a time with the seller and made the trip to Ardmore.

We pulled up to a really nice, large, two-story brick house with a huge matching brick detached garage and workshop. The seller invites us through the garage back to the shop where he has the machine set up and there are like a dozen towering marijuana plants under grow lights taller than we are all over this garage! We had never seen anything like it in person, it was like a legit operation with equipment and everything! The characters you meet buying things on Facebook… Anyway, the seller had oiled the Elna and it was sewing a straight line, but he didn’t know how the Elnagraph was supposed to work and/or couldn’t get it to work. Thankfully he didn’t mess with it too much more when he couldn’t figure it out, they can be difficult to repair. After we got the machine home Houston was able to clean and oil further and adjust the Elnagraph properly. After much fine-tuning with the smallest screwdrivers in the world she finally started working correctly and now Houston can tease out even the most intricate automatic designs. She is quite finicky but amazingly capable when you finally get it right!

Photo of Dressmaker sewing machine, circa 1961, part of the Houston and Scott vintage sewing machine collection
Dressmaker, c.1961

Growing up, Houston was very crafty and creative and around the age of 8 his grandma, Dootie, along with his mom Sheila began teaching him the basics of hand sewing and embroidery. Not too long after his other grandma, Grandma Bonnie, along with his mom started teaching him the basics of a sewing machine. When Houston was around 13-14 his mom and Grandma Bonnie bought him a modern Singer sewing machine as he took a Home Ec class in school. He went on to alter clothes, makes drapes and pillows, he even made tacky little purses with leopard print fur and beaded fringe for the women in his life!

Fast forward to present times and Houston still had that Singer he got in high school and it was performing poorly. He had promised himself at some point that the next time he had a legitimate sewing project come up he was going to seek out and invest in a machine he truly loved. After moving in to our new house we wanted to make new pillow covers for our feather throw pillows to match the living room furniture. Then it dawned on us, this is the chance!

After scouring Facebook Marketplace for over a week Houston finally settled on this green Dressmaker, made in Japan we're guessing in the early 1960s. It came a from a guy in Sapulpa, Oklahoma who inherited it from his grandma. He said she was using it until her death a couple of years ago (around 2018). After some cleaning and oiling it turned out to be a very nice machine with a blind stitch setting as well a semi-automatic buttonhole and zig-zag. Smooth and quiet, powerful and precise. We were even able to find a copy of the owner’s manual from a Facebook group!