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.

Re-painting a Vintage Sewing Machine

So you want to re-paint an old sewing machine do you?  Some of you e-mailed me wanting more detailed information on how to do this so here we go.

I am sure there are many other ways and products to use when re-painting an old sewing machine but here is how I painted one of mine and the products I used.

Original ugly color

The machine is a vintage Edison Zig Zag sewing machine; not a great looking machine.  It took me about two weeks from start to finish working on it few hours everyday.  It was hard and tedious because I had to take a lot of the machine apart and strip the paint off of it and its parts.

I did not do anything to the bottom of the machine so some of the old color is still there but not visible when the machine is on its base. I used masking tape and plastic to cover most of the machine. I also used pieces of toothpicks and q-tips inserted into the various holes throughout the body of the machine to prevent paint from getting in there.

I used Jasco brand paint & epoxy remover and a stripping tool to strip it, then I sprayed it with primer (for metal), then I re-painted the machine with Rust-Oleum Painter’s Touch Ultra Cover 2x Coverage spray paint in Colonial Red. (Warning: stripping paint can expose one to lead.) I made sure to do this outside in a well ventilated area using goggles, a face mask and gloves. I also used a large box to spray in to prevent paint from flying all over my patio.

The knobs and other items I was unable to remove, were either covered with plastic or a piece of paper towel then wrapped with masking tape or just covered with tape, you can also use painter’s tape.  The tape was wrapped from behind the knob towards the front of it to create a sort of bubble.

If you notice on the photos where the machine has been sprayed with primer and/or sprayed with paint (but not finished), the machine appears to be puffy on top and other areas and that is because I filled the inside of the machine with paper towels. I did this in case there was any paint seepage when spraying the machine. I ensured that the knob areas on the inside had extra paper towel pieces there too.

In order to get a smooth, non-drippy paint finish you need to thoroughly remove all existing paint including the original primer coat on the machine (see photo for blue primer on my machine).

In addition, one needs to be patient and let each coat of primer and paint dry. I pretty much followed the instructions on the cans regarding how to spray and the number of coats.

Much better!

I also forgot to mention a couple of things:

  • I decided to use the paint and epoxy remover gel on the machine because sanding it off (as noted on the spray cans) would have taken longer, in my opinion.  I did sand off the final patches of stubborn primer and paint.
  • Once the machine and its pieces were stripped, I cleaned all with a slightly damp sponge and then dried every piece thoroughly with a towel and let it all sit outside and air dry overnight.

The materials probably cost me $35 or less for the epoxy, primer spray (1 can), spray paint (1 can) and stripping tool.  Sending my machine out for re-painting was not an option because I have read it is really expensive (above $500) AND I was unsure if I would keep this machine.

Although my paint job is not perfect I am pretty happy with the results.  This machine found a new home recently but I definitely want to paint another!

Pink Atlas Deluxe Straight Stitch Sewing Machine – A Review


  • All Metal Gears
  • Side Loading Bobbin
  • Reverse Stitch Lever
  • Built-in Front Beam Light
  • Telescopic Spool Pin (Top)
  • 1.2 Amp Motor
  • Pretty Milkshake, Mid-Century Pink Color
  • Low Shank Foot
  • Drop Feed Knob
  • Self-Adjusting Automatic Bobbin Winder

The pink Atlas straight stitch sewing machine is one of my favorite machines in my collection.  These sewing machines were built in Japan by Brother Sewing Machine Company and sold in the states as a badged sewing machine.  This means they arrived here without a name and who ever sold the machine put their name (badge) on it.

Atlas nationally advertised guaranteed quality on their products and their sewing machines were advertised in Good Housekeeping Magazine.  The “Guaranteed by Good Housekeeping” badge guaranteed that if a product was not as advertised in the magazine, legitimate complaints would be taken care of by replacement of the product or refund of the purchase price to the consumer.

If you google an image of a Brother Citation you will see great similarities with the exception of the bobbin winder which is on the top on the Citation.  Another machine almost identical to the pink Atlas is the Brother Deluxe Sewing Machine; the difference with this one is the tension unit which is on the side instead of on the front like the Atlas.  I believe the pink Atlas series came on the scene as early as 1956 and my machine might date to 1957.

My machine came with its original pink foot control and with its original case but the case was destroyed in transit during shipping.  This was the fault of the seller and their flimsy packaging but more on that in a future post.  Luckily the sewing machine survived but it still makes me angry that I do not have the original case.  If anyone out there has one, I would love to have it, please e-mail me.  I found the pink base on ebay.

This is an all-metal gear driven, straight stitch mechanical sewing machine.  The Atlas is very simple to operate with its straight forward design, minimal knobs, and levers it is great for beginner sewists.

My machine came with its original pink foot controller; here is a photo of it if you are looking for one for your pink machine.

The feed dogs on this machine can be dropped for free-motion sewing or drawing.  This machine  has a reverse stitch lever; handy for fastening a seam.  You just lift it up all the way for reverse stitching.  It uses Class 15 bobbins and Standard 15×1 needles sizes 11 through 21.  To replace the needle, you slide it up as far as it will go with the flat side toward the balance wheel.

The stitching on this pink beauty is very nice and consistent.  I apologize for the lack of a photo of the stitches but I will have to update this review with one very soon.

I came across a machine like this one from a seller who was the original owner and was selling all the original goodies that accompanied her sewing machine.  Her listing included a box of Greist attachments with its manual, a sewing machine manual, foot controller, and the carrying case.

The box of attachments included:

  • a cloth guide
  • zipper foot
  • cording foot
  • scissors cutting gauge
  • gathering foot
  • quilting foot
  • narrow hemmer foot
  • edgestitcher foot
  • binder foot
  • ruffler foot
Since low shank machines are very common, feet and accessories can be easily obtained.  If you already have a low shank sewing machine, you could use those accessories on this machine.  I have used feet from other machines such as a roller or teflon foot and they worked just fine.
Here are some close-up photos of some of the machines features.

The built-in light is a front beam light that illuminates the work at the stitching point only which reduces shadows while stitching.  The Atlas has a telescopic spool pin which can be lowered when not in use.  No more broken, bent, or lost spool pins!

A good, strong motor is best especially for sewing heavier fabrics.  The Atlas has a 1.2 amp motor which can handle sewing silk to denim fabric and even plastic.  I have sewn lighter weight leather on this machine a few times and the machine did not miss a beat.  I just made sure to use the correct foot, thread, foot pressure and stitch length.

I have also sewn cotton, wool, and voile without any trouble.

According to Atlas, the machine has a specially engineered hook and race for “Jam-Proof” central bobbin action. This just means that when thread gets into the race assembly, the thread will simply break and not jam.  The thread should be swept out of the race by turning the balance wheel.

Like many vintage sewing machines with all-metal gears, this machine is weighty; 30 pounds plus.  This is a full-sized machine; take a look at the following photos to get an idea of the dimensions.

The size of the bed of the machine is approximately fourteen and 1/2 (14.5) inches.

As mentioned on the features list above, this is a straight stitch machine so if you are looking for decorative or buttonhole stitching this machine does not do either.

I have mentioned in other reviews that a vintage low shank buttonholer attachment could work just as well on this low shank machine.  There are also vintage zig zag attachments out there on the web for sale that may be used.  I have a small collection that can be viewed here on my Vintage Sewing Machine Attachments page.

Look at the neat decals on the machine!  The decals spell Atlas on the machine, notice the S?

If you had purchased this machine in the mid 1950’s, you would have paid $219.50 for it and I am unsure if this price included taxes.  Probably not.

I think this is a beautiful sewing machine worth picking up if you can find it at a reasonable price.  There are other really great straight stitch only sewing machines out there by Kenmore, Singer, and many other brands I do not currently own but why not have one that is pretty enough to always have out on display?!  ♥