Is a 70s sewing machine vintage?

I sew with an Elna TSP. It was my mothers, purchased early in her marriage, so probably 1975-77. (This website suggests the series it was part of was made in 1971-78). I love this machine and it’s the only one I’ve ever sewn with.

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Around the traps this week I saw another sewist refer this exact machine as a ‘vintage’ machine, in not exactly glowing terms. And another sewist refer to using a similar machine and how crazy that it was to change the bobbin tension with a screwdriver. Well I have to say I am rather offended on my dear old machine’s behalf. Vintage? Really? When I think of a vintage sewing machine I think of my grandmothers old black Singer treadle that had been converted to electric, which was sadly sold or given away when I was a teenager and did not have the foresight to claim it. I wish I had it now!

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My Elna however is a modern sewing machine in my view. It is a very heavy metal bodied machine with mechanical not electronic stitch control. To make buttonholes you use the buttonhole foot and go through a series of steps changing the stitch settings for each part of the buttonhole. You can do a no-turn buttonhole but get much better results turning the fabric around the needle. You do indeed adjust a bobbin thread tension with a screwdriver – it’s not that hard. It has quite a variety of fancy stitches.

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I’ve been happy with the Elna, but I do admit that I have thought of upgrading my machine. Additional features that I would be interested in are: needle up/down, presser foot pressure adjustment, and a fully automatic buttonhole. It seems like an awful lot of money to spend for a few features. I would never sell the Elna, because it was Mum’s and she’s no longer with us, and also because it would be so handy to have a second machine. I’d love to have one for seams and one for topstitching so that I didn’t have to keep rethreading the machine all the time.

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I’ve used the machine far more heavily than my mother did. She gathered a lot of crepe paper with this machine. Mum made us a lots of fabulous costumes, and also lots for school shows and the ilk, but they did tend to be the crepe paper and cardboard variety more often than not. I had the machine serviced when I took up sewing seriously a few years ago and it’s still going strong.

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It seems that Mum purchased some additional feet, and looking through the manual there seem to be lots of stitches, feet and features that I have yet to explore. But vintage? not really.

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18 thoughts on “Is a 70s sewing machine vintage?

  1. I’d call a machine like yours vintage, because it has a weight and heft and structure you won’t find in a modern machine of similar capabilities. The style and substance are different. (My modern machine, brand new five years ago, has probably very similar features to yours, including the screw on the bobbin. But my machine is a lightweight plastic thing that vibrates across the table as it runs and can’t handle heavy material well.) basically, I’d say it is vintage, in a good way. πŸ˜‰

  2. I don’t mean vintage in a bad way. My mum still sews with her Elna and has done for 37 years. It’s the machine I learnt on. It has survived being dropped and even had glue put through it instead of oil. I gave it a run when I visited recently. Still sews like a dream but its not my machine so takes a bit of practice. I upgraded a few years ago from an Elna to a Pfaff expression 2.0. This machine is beyond awesome!! Highly recommended. L x

  3. If the machine works the way you want it to, and you love it, then it doesn’t matter. In our family, we have a couple of old Singers, one an early electric with a knee paddle instead of a foot peddle, as well as some more modern machines, including one overlocker. For a long time, I preferred the knee paddle Singer over the others because it was more reliable – a simpler mechanism with fewer issues. Living with the daughter of a dress maker and sewing shop owner taught me the value of regular services, so these days they all run well, but the lighter, more modern ones seem to have more issues overall. Age and quality over modernity for me!

  4. I love this post Claire Emily. I have a Toyota sewing machine (it’s a 6600 or 6602 or 7880) which as far as I can work out comes from the 1970s. It took me quite a bit of playing around to sew knits on it but now I’m quite proud to be making it work without having to buy an expensive new machine. Knowing you are creating your wonderful knit clothing on a 1970s machine feels very supportive to my own projects.

  5. I, too, have an Elna TSP. I just use it for mending, and it is very reliable. At the time, I could have bought a new machine, but wanted this one, being as it could sew through jeans and heavier materials. I only get annoyed with it, when the tension of the thread is not equal. Then I can rethread it, and it works once again. It still has plenty of years to run for me. So it was a good buy.

  6. Pingback: Stretch jeans, camisole tops and moving to Seattle! | accidentlykellystreet

  7. Hi! I found your post googling for how to sew buttonholes on my Elna TSP. From the pictures it looks like we have exactly the same machine. However, I don’t have a manual for mine and I’m trying to figure out how to sew buttonholes. Is there any chance you could send me a picture of that page? I’m totally stuck! Thank-you!!

  8. I have and still use an Elna Supermatic which dates from 1965/1967 which is a fabulous machine and was also my mothers. Mine has cams that go in the top to increases your range of stitches. I would like to ask though, does this machine have the capability of doing a stitch for stretch fabrics (not zigzag) as looking for a second machine to use at my daughters – interstate. Prefer not to purchase a new one, plastic doesn’t float my boat, eventhough they are metal inside. Many years ago, I was advised by a salesperson at a sewing centre (re my machine) , “to never sell it – keep it”.

    • Hi Chris, the Elna TSP does not have a lightning bolt stitch that modern machines have for stretch knit fabrics. However I sewed knits very successfully on this machine using either a straight stitch and stretching the fabric as I sewed or a narrow zigzag. I also used the multi step zig zag or multi step curve stitches for decorative knit hems and that worked very well. I had no trouble sewing knits with this machine.

  9. Hi ClaireEmily
    I, too, have an Elna TSP that belonged to my mother. However I did not receive the manual with it, though remember she did have one. Thank you for the photos you have put up of the manual as I found this post googling buttonholing for an old Elna. If you ever get a chance would love more images of the manual. BTW I had my machine serviced a while back and asked if I should upgrade, the guy said no way it was a good machine.

  10. I have both an Elna SU (from the 60s) and a TSP (same as yours). I bought these specifically (the TSP quite recently), I strongly dislike the modern machines, the vintage ones are made of sturdier stuff. My mother has an SU that she’s been sewing with daily for over 40 years, with servicing and your own home maintenance (regular oiling and cleaning out and build up of thread etc) these machines just keep going – modern ones are made of plastic and are using computerised components instead of mechanical (unnecessarily in so many cases) which means if something goes wrong you’re more likely to be told that it’s cheaper to replace the entire thing. I don’t want to ever downgrade to a ‘modern’ one.

  11. Hello all,
    My dear machine just like hers has a broken hook catch underneath and the repairservice said they could not find another one. I am so sad, it was my first purchase when I was out of college. I have everything for it including the box for attachments that slides over the free arm. If I could find one just like it I could try a 3-d Printer to make the broken part. It is plastic. If not if anyone wants the manuals etc I have them. Best to all,

    • I repaired my beloved Elna TSP with parts bought from another TSP from eBay. It’s great knowing I have spare parts handy. Don’t give up on it. It’s a brilliant machine – lovely and solid.

      • Great me too would you happen to have the little lever cover that lifts the top off? Or any original feet?thanks Gwen

  12. Hi Kelly
    I have several of this and others Elna and Berninathey are vintage but in the best way they are perfect and hold their value and are sought after for stick quality they hum the other machines sound like chaff cutters compared to these Swiss made wonderful pieces of machinery. Glad you are not parting with your mums and hope my kids do same when I am no longer here😘

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