Vintage Sewing Machine – Heavy Duty Industrial Strength

Does this post title sound familiar?  It should if you’ve looked at ebay listings in search of that perfect vintage sewing machine.  While searching for a sewing machine part, I came across an interesting trend on ebay that I am sure has been going on for a few years.  I just realized this may be the reason for the most popular e-mail question I receive, “what vintage “industrial” home sewing machine do you recommend?”

Buying a used sewing machine can be overwhelming to those that are new to sewing and unsure of what to look for in a machine.  It does not help that many online sellers on ebay and other venues are taking advantage of the growing interest in vintage sewing machines and are misleading potential buyers with their listing titles and descriptions.

Many sellers claim that their machines are “Industrial Strength”, “Industrial Duty”, or “Heavy Duty Industrial Strength” sewing machines when in reality, what they are selling are basic domestic sewing machines.

There is nothing “industrial” about a home sewing machine.  Some vintage sewing machine sellers are getting really creative with their descriptions and I do not appreciate the misleading terms they use.

Of 307 listings based on a general search for industrial sewing machines, 101 home sewing machines were labeled as “industrial” somewhere on their title and/or their description.  I came across a twin of my Singer 185J sewing machine on this list and apparently this 3/4 sized sewing machine is an industrial.  What a joke.  Hey, if any of you own a Singer 15, a Singer 503A, or Pfaff 230, per these sellers descriptions you own an industrial machine.  🙂

What’s the difference between a home sewing machine and an industrial sewing machine?  I am not an expert on any sewing machine but here is a very basic breakdown.

  • Domestic Sewing Machine – Portable, can do a variety of sewing applications and can handle many types of fabric.

    Kenmore 1040 Zig Zag

  • Commercial Grade / Professional Grade – Portable, not intended for constant production work, meant to handle more than a home sewing machine, sews approximately 1000-1500 stitches per minute.
  • Commercial / Professional Sewing Machine – not intended for factory production output, sometimes found in dry cleaning and tailor shops, sew up to 2000 stitches per minute.

Bernina 950 Tacsew

  • Industrial Sewing Machine – highly specialized – usually do one task only but do it very well such as buttonholes, straight stitching, or sew bias strips, extremely fast (5500 stitches per minute) or more, some industrials may be slower, these machines are used in large factories for high production output.  Some are designed to handle only lightweight fabric while other industrial machines can handle very thick fabric.  These type of sewing machines have large motors and the machine heads are installed on a table weighing about 100 pounds or more.  Many also have a hefty price tag.  The following are a few photos of what true industrial sewing machines look like.

RIMOLDI Multi Needle & Cover Stitchers; 529-oo-2MD-06 Overlock

Mitsubishi LS2-1380

juki industrial sewing machine

Singer Industrial Overlock/Serger

Ebay sellers especially love to post pictures of their sewing samples such as 8 layers of denim, 6 layers of vinyl, 4 layers of leather, etc., etc.  Of course these vintage sewing machines can handle sewing through multiple layers of a variety of fabrics.  You usually have to use a special foot and needle, adjust presser foot pressure, tension, use special thread but it is not a good idea to sew thick layers of fabric like this or leather on it regularly as the motor on the machine may eventually wear out from such use.

So you need to sew leather because you just designed your line of handbags and need to start production?  Invest in a sewing machine designed to sew leather; it will last for decades.  A “Heavy Duty Industrial Strength Vintage Singer 185J Sewing Machine “, also known as a domestic home sewing machine will not cut it.

If you are considering buying a vintage sewing machine, know what you are looking at and do not be fooled by the wording of the listing.  Do some research on the machine you are considering and ask yourself some questions like what do you want to sew, what features do you want the machine to have.  If you want a durable, cool, retro-colored machine with basic straight stitch sewing, 2 to 4 step buttonhole, some zig zag stitches, maybe a few specialized stitches with cams, then a vintage sewing machine may be the right choice.

Need more features than this?  You may need to look at a modern sewing machine and sadly, I know nothing about them. 🙂

Any thoughts on the clever marketing term “Vintage Sewing Machine – Heavy Duty Industrial Strength”?  Please share.

5 thoughts on “Vintage Sewing Machine – Heavy Duty Industrial Strength

  1. An excellent post. Thank you! You are absolutely correct. I’m sure they will handle much more than the modern ‘home’ machine, but still should not be abused by sewing things it was not made for. Have a great day!

  2. I have also noticed sellers using the term “Featherweight” inappropriately because they know Featherweights are considered desirable.

  3. What a nightmare when I was trying to buy a vintage machine on eBay. One would be a 99 and industrial strength, and another one would be a 99 and vintage, sews good. I knew (know) nothing about sewing machines, and was so frustrated. I wanted something that would go forward and backward that a first time person could use to sew my suede necklaces. One day I went to newly listed and there she was, the Green Goddess. It was truly love a first sight. It had a buy it now price, so I did a quick search, found your blog and went right back and hit that button. The next day I saw another 185J in 1/2 as good a shape for $30.00 more, and sure enough it was industrial 🙂 I think it’s borderline fraud for them to throw these terms around. Cheryl

  4. Hi,

    I am one of those who is wanting to sew remnant and used upholstery leather into tote bags. I’ve tried sewing on a Bernina 1330 (all metal) home sewing machine, but alas it won’t sew the top seam where there are 4 layers of leather at points.

    So I am trying to understand if I need an industrial machine and if so, how do I know what is truly an industrial machine and not just a heavy duty home machine? I see some home machine with 1.3 amp motors. What size would a true industrial machine have?


    Any response is appreciated!


    • Hi Ginny,

      A true industrial sewing machine would not be portable. It would come with its own table and a huge motor attached under the table. If you look at this page on my blog page, the Consew and Rimoldi are industrial sewing machines. All the others picture there are portable home sewing machines. My Rimoldi can sew 6500 stitches per minute while home sewing machines range from 1000 to 1500 or so.

      An industrial sewing machine that is designed to sew leather can be quite expensive. Some vintage sewing machines can handle sewing on leather but if you do it too often, the motor will eventually burn out.

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