Remember Your First Sewing Machine?

Nancy Zieman's First Sewing Machine | Sewing With Nancy

Remember Your First Sewing Machine?

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Nancy Zieman's First Sewing Machine | Sewing With Nancy

What is the first sewing machine you owned? That’s the question I posed earlier this month, via this blog, Facebook, and Pinterest. Enjoy the selected responses below, plus a spotlight on one of my followers.

Note: The photo above features my mom in 1954 with her first sewing machine, a Pfaff 130. (Isn’t she cute!) This was the machine I used when I first started to sew, which are now proudly displayed in my office. 

What is the first sewing machine you owned?

Here’s what you are saying:


“In 1969, I was a secretary living at home, and my fiancé was a college junior. Knowing money would be very tight after we got married, I saved up for a simple portable Singer zigzag because that’s what my older sister had. It had a little swing-out door showing how to thread the machine, plus it made buttonholes with the flip of a switch instead of the hateful buttonhole attachment we used in junior high home ec class. I stitched up my wedding dress, as well as many dresses, jumpers, skirts, pants, maternity clothes, baby and toddler clothes, Halloween costumes, banners, quilts, curtains, toys, gifts, table linens, and holiday decorations. That beloved little Singer survived the marriage. I sold it only when it became too heavy for me to lift and carry around.”—Jane McLean, Belfast, ME

Sharing is Caring

“My first machine was a Montgomery Ward Signature. It was metal and extremely heavy, with the cams to make decorative stitching. My sister and I shared the cost ($99) and we shared the machine. The problem was, I lived in a three-story walk up and carrying that thing was just too much! My sister finally bought her own—thank God. I have moved on to bigger and better, but my cousin is still using that machine!”—Barbara Evans, Beaumont, TX


“My father gave me a Paragon treadle machine when I was seven and he was going into WW II. He wanted me to help him by ‘turning collars’ on his shirts, which was not unusual in those days of recycling white shirts. That was a big job tearing out all those stitches and putting in the collar ‘just so’. My reward then was to be learn to sew and take Singer Sewing classes. The challenge was to keep the treadle flowing evenly, but I learned. When he left, he warned me new needles were not easily available, so I was to be careful. I used the same need for two years–how different from now when we are able to purchase new needles with specialized points. By the time I was in junior high I was permitted to stay after school and use the electric machines at school, after which I was given a wonderful Singer 201 by my grandfather!”—Dorothy Martin, Rockville, MD

Simple Embroidery

“In 1955 I started working part-time at a small town post office and used my first pay check to purchase a sewing machine.  It was from Sears Roebuck and came along with about ten cams that could produce some simple embroidery stitches. I used this machine to make baby quilts and clothes for myself and my five children until 1988 when I retired. At that time I purchased my first of several Janome machines.”—Audrey Moore, Timberlake, NC

Dad Looks Great!

“My first machine was a very heavy portable Kenmore sewing machine. My dad worked for Sears and he took me to the sewing machine department while the gentleman showed me all the new features of the machine. Dad would use my machine later to sew buttons on his work shirts. It didn’t matter what color thread was on the machine! One of his shirts had a different color thread for each button!!! I was 16 when I got this machine and it went to college with me where I studied home ec. education. I had learned to sew on a White treadle machine, which had been motorized. I still have both machines and I’m in my 60s.”—Susan Lamborn, Paradise, PA

Built to Last

“My first machine was a White 905, circa 1982. I knew nothing whatsoever about sewing, but figured I would like it because I’d been crafty since very young, but had never learned to sew! I was 23. The sales lady asked what type of sewing I did, and I said ‘None, but I’m going to learn. What can I get for $300?’ She insisted I return each evening, and spent the next several weeks teaching me to sew, for free! She wanted me to love my investment. The White had eight stitches, but had all metal parts, and she stated that the machine would outlast my great grand children! It sewed like a champ for over 25 years. Probably one of the very last all metal machines.”—Mary Ehrhardt, Baton Rouge, LA

One Sewing Machine- Two Countries

“My first machine was a Bernina 707—it was the same as the one I used in high school home ec class. My parents gave it to me as a wedding present in 1969 and it served me well until 2006, when I learned to quilt and wanted a few more features. It’s now being used in Nicaragua! Of course, I replaced it with another Bernina—the 440 Quilter’s Edition and I love it and all the special things it allows me to create!”—Barb Herreid, Nekoosa, WI

Love of Sewing Goes Full Circle

“My first sewing machine was the Singer Featherweight. My mother was given this machine as a gift when she was a private duty nurse, but it was my father who taught me to sew. My first project was an apron I made for a Girl Scout project when I was about 10. I can still remember my father guiding me through that project. He was a very talented man who frequently remodeled our house and did his own repairs on his police uniform and any other item that needed it. I went on to college to major in home economics, now called family and consumer sciences. I taught middle school and high school for 35 years and now I teach apparel construction at the same college I attended as a student. I still love to sew and quilt as much as I ever did. And, I still have that Featherweight along with two other sewing machines and a serger. I just got an embroidery machine that I can’t wait to try out. My life has definitely been influenced by my love of sewing!”—Mary Ann Pinney, Franklin, NY

A Great Investment

“My first machine, 53 years ago, was a Singer, in a cabinet and with a knee control. My mom bought it at a house auction for $45 and was not even allowed to open it first. At home, we discovered it was almost brand new. It only had forward and reverse but it sewed everything I needed it to do from clothing for me and my children, curtains, crafts, and more. To this day, many machines later, it still made the best buttonholes with the buttonhole attachment. Because of it’s ease of use and great performance, it instilled a love of sewing in me, which is still strong today. I just turned 70 and there is no stopping me now!”—Chris Ranick, Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada

Singer Treadle Machine | Nancy Zieman | Sewing With Nancy

Model T to Spaceship

“My first sewing machine was a turn of the last century Singer treadle machine. I bought the machine for $15 with my Christmas money from a  neighbor who had gotten a new electric machine. It was used all through junior high and high school, and I still have it. Now I use a top of the line computerized sewing/embroidery machine. I have moved from a Model T to a spaceship.”—Jean La Clair, Moncks Corner, SC

Thank you, Spiegel.

“I won a Spiegel sewing machine by entering a contest in local newspaper in 1960, when I was 12 years old (now 68). It was the first electric sewing machine in our family’s house. I learned to sew on a Singer treadle machine. It seemed very innovative at the time, but it was a very basic machine by today’s standards. I left the machine with my mother when I grew up and left home. She used the machine until she passed away in 1994.”—Ruth Hurley, Jarrell, TX

A Collection—Starting with a Treadle

“When I turned 21 I had a job, and my first purchase was an ELECTRIC Singer sewing machine. It only did a straight stitch and reverse. I had heard of other machines that did a zigzag stitch, but I didn’t think that would last. Since then I have had an Elna, two Baby Lock’s, a Bernina 930, a Janome, and now a Bernina 880. I started out with my mother’s Singer treadle machine when I was about 11. My mom would thread the machine for me before she went to work. I made most of my clothing through high school with foot power. “—Isabel Olsen, Libertyville, IL

Sew With Nancy

“My first sewing machine was Viking 990 that I still have today because I can’t part with her. I sewed lace bridesmaid dresses, Cabbage Patch doll clothes, fur teddy bears, and my husbands first quilt. When I babysat my three nieces for the weekend, I would rent a Sewing With Nancy video and watch it with them. To this day they will say, “Sewing With Nancy— pressing with Joan. It makes me smile. Keep up the great work to keep our craft alive.”—Robin Hessefort, Waunakee, WI

Sewing Memories

“My mom and grandfather joined together and bought me a used 1960ish basic Singer machine in a basic cabinet for my 12th birthday. I believe that they saw something in me way before I saw just how much I would enjoy sewing. I used that machine for nearly 20 years. I bought a used Kenmore with more than 2 feet and two stitches, but I refinished the original cabinet, put my Kenmore in it, and donated the Singer to charity. That was 25 years ago, and I still have the Kenmore in my cabinet. I dream of a fancy sewing, embroidery, and quilting machine, but I love my cabinet given with the love of two people who left my life way too early. My Mom passed away less than a year later after giving me the gift, my Grandfather five years later. I will always have it, because they saw in me what I didn’t yet realize. I still miss them and wish I could do mending for them today.”—Pamela McCandless, Auburn, IN

Treadle It

“I am not sure of the brand of my first machine, but it was a treadle. My mother used it for many years. When I was about five she taught me how to “treadle it” and I became hooked on sewing. We progressed to portable and cabinet machines throughout the years and now I have one of the “computers,” as I call it, with combination machines. The memories of the treadle machine are wonderful. I am now 70 and have never gotten tired of having some type of sewing, quilting, or embroidery project going. “—Dorothea Maxey, Sun City West, AZ

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Sewing It All

“My first machine was a $49 Kenmore. When I stopped working, at six months pregnant, I was alone all day and made my first maternity clothes. I used that machine for many years of curtains, tablecloths, and children’s clothing, but I was never a quilter. When my children joined 4H I helped make a Log Cabin quilt to raffle, and I was hooked. I encourage sewing as a budget asset, creative outlet, and social outing with other sewers.”—Harriet Wetherell, Plano TX

Less than $100

“I received a 616 Singer for Christmas in 1964 from my husband. It was a total surprise. I had been renting a machine for $5 a month. The next Christmas he gave me a Danish modern walnut desk for it. I sewed on it for 30 years. It was still good in 1995 when I upgraded to a Janome 8000 embroidery machine. I had sewn for four children on the Singer and truly loved it.  The machine was less than $100 new. In 2013 I paid over $13,000 for a machine.”—Marie Dutro, Paradise, CA

Saving Paychecks

“My first machine was a Sears Kenmore sewing machine that I bought from my boss’s wife. I started a part time job as a retail clerk; volunteering to call customers when their order was in.  I would ride my bike into town when I received the call that freight was checked in. When school started in the fall, I asked the owner if he wanted me to get a work permit. So, I saved my paychecks to buy the used machine; my mom didn’t want me using her machine. I didn’t own any blue jeans until college because I couldn’t wear jeans to work, which was after school; I learned to make skirts and matching vests with my machine. I still remember that fabric, plaids and solids that matched with a white backing on it. You will laugh but I still have some of that fabric in my boxes of fabric in the basement; I can’t bear to part with it. I made my first quilt with the scraps from all those outfits, which my younger daughter claimed as hers. But, now it is machine embroidery and quilting that I love to do when I have time. Maybe making clothes will be another avenue when I retire, since I have so many creative ideas that I want to try.”—Debbie Smith, Otsego, MI

Over 50 Years a Stitcher

“I learned to sew on my mother’s Singer treadle machine, and I purchased my first sewing machine after I graduated from high school—it was a Singer 401A. I am 75 now, and I’m still proud to own it. It has sewn children’s clothing, draperies, and slipcovers, in addition to my own wardrobe. It is my “go to” machine when my Babylock Ellegante is busy with embroidery.”—Marie Hansen, Sublimity, OR


Girl Scouts

“I learned to do some hand sewing when I was a Girl Scout in the 1960s. When I went into middle school and fell in love with sewing, my dad scraped together enough money to buy me a Singer sewing machine. I made clothing for my mother, my sister, and myself to save us precious money. It was also important to do mending of clothing for our family of six. When I got married and had two sons of my own those mending skills still came in handy. I taught my daughter-in-law to make curtains for my grandkids. Fifty plus years later, I still enjoy sewing when I can and I enjoy making purses, pillowcases, and more for gifts. Now, I am hoping to start teaching my grandkids to sew too! “—Arleen F. MacCallum, Wilton, NH

Kenmore and McCalls Started a Journey

“The very first sewing machine that I owned was a Kenmore. Years after learning to sew in home economics classes in junior high, I felt confident enough to buy the Kenmore at a garage sale.  I was in my nesting phase with my first child and wanted to make as many baby items as possible from that $15 investment! I got to work right away and made a complete layette. (Thanks  McCall patterns!) In the ensuing years, along with layettes and clothing; I repaired many torn shirts and pants for my growing family. It was an especially favorite thing to use my sewing machine at Christmas to make holiday stockings and gifts for my family.”—Margaret Graczyk, Maricopa, AZ

Choose a Sewing Machine, not a Car

“When I first went to work after graduating high school I needed some clothes to wear. I didn’t have a car so I rode to work with my neighbor. I took one home economics course and made a skirt in high school. It was then that I found out that I liked to sew. My first thing to save up for was a sewing machine—funny, not a car! I bought a Singer with a cabinet and began my sewing of a lifetime. My love for sewing has only intensified as the years have gone by. Now I can’t hardly make it a week without creating something. A project or two or five has to always be in progress! There is so much joy in creating something new. It is a part of me, whether it is clothing, bags, or quilts!”—Karen Patterson, Riddleton, TN


“I am now 67 but my first machine was in 9th grade. I was the first person to sew in my family for generations. I wanted to sew so badly that my one hour lunch and my study hall were all spent in the sewing class. My first machine was co-owned through a friend. She lived 20 minutes walking distance from me. She got a basic Kenmore machine for Christmas and NEVER used it. Her mom let me walk down almost daily to use the machine. I loved it. I had a hunger to learn more about sewing. I later got to take the machine to my house to use it. Later in life I had the honor and privilege to sew wedding gowns for both of my daughters and my daughter-in-law. My daughters were married a month apart. Yes, the use of that first machine got me headed down a wonderful sewing path in life. I now have three granddaughters who are learning to sew. They come to my house to use my machine. Two of the girls walk to my house. The tradition continues…”—Debbie Hair, Youngwood, PA

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Sewing Machines and Quality Time

“When I graduated from college and got my first job, in 1973, I purchased a Sears sewing machine. I made a lot of clothes, especially baby clothes when our son was born, then costumes for his Halloween outings, and school plays. I used that machine for over 36 years. Almost six years ago my husband surprised me with a Baby Lock Ellisimo and all the trimmings! He has since added to my collection, from Baby Lock: the Evolution serger, Enterprise 10-needle embroidery machine, Destiny, Ovation serger, as well as a Singer sewing machine. Many nights will find us both in the sewing room, with several machines running at the same time. It’s a wonderful way to relax and be together!”—Kitty Sims, Crestview, FL

March Reader Spotlight:

Mary Bryan’s Answer

“When I was planning to be married in 1974, I told my future husband that I didn’t want a big fancy wedding ring.  Instead, I insisted on a simple wedding band.  With the money we saved, I purchased a sewing machine. There wasn’t a name on the machine and it didn’t even have a manual. The base of the machine sat inside a carrying case so that it could be portable and you didn’t need a cabinet. I sewed with that machine for years.”—Mary Bryan, Port Orange, FL

Have you upgraded your machine?

Several times since then. My next machine was a present from my Mother. She upgraded her machine & gave her old Singer to me, along with the cabinet. I was very excited to have a machine in a cabinet. It wasn’t always easy sewing on the dining room table. It was one of the old black ones with the gold lettering on it. I used that until she upgraded again, and she gave me her New Home. Then I bought one of the first computerized Janome sewing machines. I currently sew on a Viking Sapphire which I purchased a couple of years ago.

What types of projects did you first sew?

At the time I was first married, my husband was enrolled in a trade school learning electronics and I was working as a receptionist. So, we didn’t have a lot of extra money. My mother had been a 4-H sewing instructor and taught me to sew clothing, so I mostly made my own clothes. In later years I started sewing home décor projects and am now an avid quilter.

Is the machine still in use?

I’m not sure. I gave it to a friend several years ago who was interested in learning to sew. I don’t think she ever learned to sew & I’m not sure what ever became of the machine.

Do you still own/have any of the first stitched projects?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any of those projects. I don’t even have a picture of the machine, just memories.

April Share Your Insight Question

April Question: What is your focus when attending a quilt show?

What's your focus when attending a sewing or quilting show? by Nancy Zieman

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  • Genie
    March 25, 2017

    My first machine was a Singer, model name Genie. Weighed 19 lbs and had a built-in handle. Had stretch stitches, a blind-hem stitch and could sew button-holes. My second and current machine is a Bernina 830. Both machines were purchased in the 70’s. The Singer was given to an aunt by marriage who started sewing in her later years.

  • Barbara Kahn
    March 25, 2017

    A little late. My first sewing was done on my grandmother Meeker’s patented 1927 Domestic electric machine. Still have it and two quilts she made using it.

  • barbara gesell
    March 25, 2017

    first a treadle, second a macy’s portable made by Singer.

  • Shirley Lynn
    March 25, 2017

    I learned on my mother’s treadle which I still have and on a featherweight in 4-H. When I was a teen, my parents got me a Singer electric but my mother never mastered it and continued with her treadle. I had 2 other Singers after that and then moved on to Pfaff – have had 3 of those and they’re real workhorses! Also have a Babylock that I use for embroidery and 2 featherweights!

  • Millicent Neidt
    March 25, 2017

    My first machine was a Singer in a cabinet – bought in 1948 on a time payment plan…in those days we made our diapers of flannel. My second machine is a Bernina 900 series – 1979. I have sewn children’s clothes, prom dresses, wedding dressers, drapes, more quilts and wall hangings than I can count…and at age 92 still sewing daily. 10 years ago I bought a little “Black Beauty” (221 model) 12 lb. portable Singer – it is the joy of my life for quilt piecing!

  • Sharon Carbine
    March 25, 2017

    When 10 years old, I sewed on my mother’s trusty black, electric Singer sewing machine – probably a model from 1950-1956. It was fabulous and reliable. Eventually, my mother replaced her first Singer with a newer, fancier-looking Singer. Turned out her first Singer was more reliable than her newer one. To her dismay, she had to take the new Singer for repair routinely. Now, I sew on two reliable, computerized Brother Sewing machines. My home machine is a Brother Innov-ís NX-650Q. My lightweight machine for classes is a Brother XR9500PRW. Love them! I also have a Brother 1034D 3/4 Thread Serger. I have not used it yet. 😀

  • Janis T
    March 25, 2017

    I learned to sew on my mother’s 1939 Singer Featherweight machine when I was 10 years old and used it for all my 4-H sewing projects. Then Mom got a new Singer sewing machine with a cabinet in 1968, and I took the Featherweight machine to college. I still use it from time to time when my regular machine goes in for maintenance.

  • Nancy S.
    March 25, 2017

    I “inherited” my Mom’s Necchi sewing machine that she got shortly after getting married in 1953. I learned to sew on it as a kid (now 63) and was way ahead of my home ec class in 1969! While the rest were learning to make skirts, I was making a matchbox jumper in blue wide wale corderoy. My Mom made all my Barbie clothes and most of hers and mine. We even had Mother Daughter dresses! Remember those?
    I’ve used that beloved machine to make everything including bridesmaid dresses, and even a mother of the bride dress for a friend, and altered my wedding gown for her daughter to use.
    I finally had to cry Uncle and buy a new machine to get zigzag for knits. I bought a Singer 7258 a few weeks ago. Haven’t had time to use it yet, but have bags of new fabric. I’m a BBW and am tired of not finding clothes that fit to my liking. I even found a bathing suit pattern that I can’t wait to try!! But I’ll never get rid of my first love. My grandson has asked me to teach him to sew (you know I am!) and he made his Mom a heart pillow for Valentine’s Day!

  • Susan
    March 26, 2017

    My first machine was a 1978 Kenmore. It’s still the best machine for making buttonholes. I have a Janome now that I love but still go to the old machine for buttonholes.

  • Joan Albert
    March 27, 2017

    I am 88 and still sewing.

  • Judy
    March 28, 2017

    Started on my mom’s old Singer. It had a knee lever control. It had to, because she had it sitting on a big old library table, and my sisters and I would have never been able to sit in front of it and reach both the machine and a foot pedal at the same time!
    When I got married I bought a new Singer lightweight and used it for clothing, curtains, etc. for many years.
    Then I started a small business of making tops for women, with my own designs appliqued on them and needed a good solid machine that never got tired and had great looking stitches all the time. That was the Pfaff 1471. I used that until there were no more parts to be had, and I was retired from sewing for a living.
    Had a slight vacation from sewing, and then bought a small Pfaff Passport which I thought I would use for the rest of my days – until fate intervened and I started quilting. Now I have a Pfaff Performance 5.0, and I’m loving sitting at the machine for hours at a time all over again. It never goes away!
    I had a Pfaff hobby serger, which I still have but once it goes, there are no more parts, so I bought a “back-up” machine – a Babylock Evolution. Don’t get to use it enough and need to do more projects so I can.

  • Christine
    March 28, 2017

    My first machine was my gift at highschool graduation. A used Kenmore machine, from their education department. It came with 3 lessons, which were excellent. Being 17, I made it to only 1 or 2 of those lessons. I still have that machine, my repairman tells me it may out live me. (I got it in 1981). It is still quiet, smooth and will sew through silk, tents, zippers on canvas, leather. It weighs 35 pounds!

    It helped me save so much money, I’ve made curtains with gathers. I zig zagged over dental floss to do the gathers, a hint from Nancy. I used mint, and it stayed inside the gathers until the curtains came down. I sewed special clothes for events, when I couldn’t afford to get nice clothes.

    I’ve since got a Janome Jem that is great to take out to classes, or the lake. It’s only 12 pounds, and a Baby Lock serger.

    I’ll never,ever give up that old Kenmore! She’s getting a bit fussy, and I’ve even learned some sewing machine repair in the process.

  • Jackie Woodward
    March 29, 2017

    my first sewing machine was a New Home Treadle. Made most of my children’s clothing. Now have a Bernina over 20 years old but it is a wonderful work horse and has made many quilts and pieces of apparel.

  • Caroline McCauley
    March 29, 2017

    I learned to sew on a Singer Treadle that was bought in the 1920 area,we still have this machine given as gift to my sister-in-law who became an expert seamstress learning on this very machine.My first machine was a Singer 501 slant-o-matic that I wore out sewing everything from curtains to wedding dresses. I know own a Singer feather weight, Brother Pacesetter 8500,Brother 4000D, Brother 5234 Serger, and a Janome Compulock 5 thread serger. I still want a Babylock air threading serger. I do take my hobby seriously and I am thankful for equiptment I am blessed to have but I have not forgotten that it all started about 65 years ago with a Singer treadle machine and a wonderful 4H leader, now at almost 75 years old I watch Sewing with Nancy and continue to learn.

  • Polly Martens
    April 25, 2017

    I started sewing as a little girl on on my Mom’s old green Kenmore. My Mother broke down and bought me my own Singer Touch N. Sew as I entered High School. I wore out her Kenmore she said.
    I used that Touch N. Sew all through High School and college. I used as a newly wed, and rasing my two girls. I finally gave out a few years ago. So I bought a Viking Husvarna Topaz 30. Talk about going into the space age.
    I am now a designer/owner of my own accessories business. So sewing is a special thing for me.

  • Christine Meleg
    May 9, 2017

    I learned to sew on my Mother’s trusty Singer sewing machine. Mom taught me to sew and I sewed some of my clothes with her wonderful teaching. I still have her machine and use some of her sewing notions, but I sew on my own machine a Husqvarna-Viking now on quilts, table runners, homemade gifts. As for clothes? No thanks at this point! But I often think of what my Mom would sew with this computerized machine, she would love it! I am 63 years old and love learning new techniques for quilting, it keeps the brain young!

  • Willie reiner
    February 26, 2020

    Although my first machine is not in a working condition any more, it did live up to the expectations. It was a great buy!

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