My Ancient Toyota Sewing Machine

The Button Box Lynn Knight

First things first, the winner of my The Button Box giveaway is Ciao Linda. Do read the 157 comments about buttons – there are some lovely stories there.

Whilst my Bernina is being serviced, I have done what I swore I’d never do – returned to the deepest, darkest crevices of my under stairs cupboard. The cursing was violent and imaginative. Ella hid under the bed.

So, say hi to the first sewing machine I owned as a sewing blogger – an ancient Toyota that I inherited from a little old lady via Freecycle.

Did you know…

  • The first Toyota sewing machine was built in 1946.
  • The founder of Toyota, Kiichiro Toyoda, wanted sewing machines that were both functional and beautiful.
  • They are known for their strong motors.
  • Mine is a Model 401A.

toshiba sewing machine

This is a very basic machine, compared to my Bernina. There’s no seam guide on the throat plate so I add a strip of masking tape to mark where the edge of my seam should line up for a 15mm seam allowance. I have to peel back this tape every time I want to change the bobbin.

toyota throat plate

Talking of bobbins, this machine is contrary. It doesn’t take a standard bobbin – the hole in the centre needs to be slightly larger than most bobbins – so I’m reduced to only using the brittle, chipped bobbins that came with the machine. Which don’t wind on properly. Which means inserting a slither of cardboard down the bobbin hole whenever I want to wind thread. Keeping up?

toyota sewing machine detail

This machine isn’t as heavy as my Bernina, so it slides across the table when I work.

Yes, she’s quite the eccentric diva. But she’s a diva that lit up her lamp the first time she was plugged in, the aroma of burning dust filling my nostrils. And she sewed straight out of the box. Not bad for a machine that has barely been touched in seven years and must be at least – actually, I have no idea how old this machine is.

I’ll admit, there’s a charm to the purr of a vintage engine. I could almost be tempted to look into buying an older machine that is less eccentric. Almost… Don’t get me started.

What say you? Modern computerised whizz kid or vintage sweetheart? Which sewing machine steals your heart?

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33 Responses to My Ancient Toyota Sewing Machine

  1. Katie M says:

    The first machine I ever owned was a very early model electric Bernina. It’s an incredibly heavy machine, with black laquer finish and gold detailing. It goes forwards and backwards in a straight stitch … and that’s it. It used to belong to my Nana, and I love that old machine. I made my flowergirl dresses on it when I got married, it sewed all the curtains in our first house, I even made baby clothes and cot sheets with it when my first child was born. It’s been superseeded by my lovely new Janome 5124, but it’ll always have a place in my heart … and my cupboard under the stairs!

  2. Anne Frances says:

    I still have the machine on which I learned to sew – a 1939 Frister and Rossman that was a wedding present for my parents. It goes backwards and forwards, that’s all. It is a hand crank machine which later had an electric motor fitted, though finding the right drive belt (being rubber they perish) has proved tricky. It is extremely heavy and uses ‘spindle in shuttle’ bobbins. I have a buttonhole attachment that fits it so I do sometimes use it. It is certainly harder to sew a straight seam with than than with my later Bernina ( a 1970s MInimatic, now with my daughter) and current Pfaff.

  3. Mem says:

    Hello ,just to tell you that it is possible to buy a clear adhesive seam guide that you could stick onto the machine bed . I bought one a few years ago from a company that sells singer sewing machine soars parts . They are in the USA but I can’t remember their name sorry

    • JenL says:

      Clover now makes removable/repositionable seam guides. They look really useful, even when there are markings on the machine.

  4. Eirian says:

    I still love my old Jones sewing machine. It’s off to SewAmazing when I have a minute to be tuned up, but it’s 31 years old, has been dropped, moved countries, moved house, come on tours, and even been run over by the stage manager once. It’s my go to machine when making big costumes, because it is so fast and able to get through thick fabrics far better than my fancy computerised number.

  5. Beth Duffus says:

    I bought a new, basic-model Bernina last year, and it’s great but it chews knits so I revert back to my 1970s Frister-Rossmann to make t-shirts. It’s a great sewing machine but, man alive, it’s noisy! I also have my late mother’s 1950 Singer which weighs a ton. Not sure I’d dare use a near 70 year old electric motor now as it might burn up but not sure if it’s still possible to get such an old machine serviced. Being without a sewing machine would be like being without a car!

  6. Gilly Anderson says:

    Why is it we all have an ancient machine under the stairs? I must admit to a truly ancient bernina that comes in its own suitcase, weighs as much as a small car, but doesn’t actually work (she has serous tension issues that are beyond my ken!).
    However, my 1978 pfaff has only just been usurped by a shiny new, all singing, all quilting, deep throated (seriously!) version that does everything… apart from sew over multiple layers of denim etc. So the 1978 still has pride of place in the sewing room, and is currently employed churning out a cover for the pouff.
    There’s room for both old and new in almost every sewist’s life isn’t there?

  7. Cherry says:

    My mom’s 1908 treadle machine still works just fine and does a beautiful straight stitch. It was bought for her second-hand by my father when they got married in 1946. I learned to sew on it as a child, and made most of my clothes as a teenager using it. Eventually I inherited it, had the woodwork refurbished, and gave it pride of place in my living room. I still use it occasionally out of nostalgia, but default to my modern Bernina for most things.

  8. I’m definitely in the you must have one of each camp. I love my new but very basic Bernina, but there’s a time and a place for my featherweight too. It is terrific to have both out when sewing jeans. The featherweight set up for topstitching as the stitch is terrific and no rethreading. Also you can’t beat the buttonhole attachment.

  9. Martha Reed says:

    Sticky notes (post-it) work great for seam guides!

  10. Debbie says:

    My first machine was my first purchase as an adult: a 1976 Montgomery Wards machine. I sewed clothes and lots of curtains for our apartments and our first house. That machine was used until 1990 when I struggled to keep the tension in check. My next machine was a floor model 1120 Bernina, purchased in 1990 and this is my faithful machine to this day.

  11. Allison says:

    I had a solid state Kenmore with like 10 basic stiches when I first got married. It weighed about 20 pounds but it was a monster!!! Denim, pinch pleats, it did it all. The stitches were changed by a locking gear system when you turned the wheel and I finally wore the little gears right down to nothing. The Bernina I have now is nice, but just doesn’t handle heavy fabrics well.

  12. Vintage sweethearts always steal my heart! I have a modern machine that is (so far) reliable, but there is nothing like the vintage machines!

  13. JustGail says:

    while the tape is on the plates, cut it so you don’t have to remove it. Or buy a seam guide that uses those to holes to the right of the plates to fasten on.

    I have an almost vintage computerized machine but have been sewing mostly on the truly vintage all metal tank Necchi that was my Mom’s. I love that there are no computer bits on the Necchi to wear out or get fried by power fluctuations. But sometimes, I just need some of the capabilities of 4-way stitching or fancier stitches. Then again I also have several straight stitch only 1950s or earlier Singers. So I’m firmly in the camp of having options.

  14. LinB says:

    I would never bother with anything but a good mechanical sewing machine, myself (much less to go wrong on them) so I mostly look for vintage all-metal machines. That said, I bought a decent Janome Quilter’s Companion at a thrift store eight years ago, and it is now my everyday machine.

    Somehow I ended up with a 1914 Singer treadle machine, with original manual and sales receipt. Have never made time to open it up and play with it. That should be my New Year’s resolution this year.

  15. Trudy Newbould says:

    Your Toyota looks very similar to the one my mum had & I first started sewing on when I was in my late teens & early twenties – only hers was bright orange and metal so pretty heavy! I made loads of exciting things on it. I also have a green Bernina that was made in the ’60s and goes way too fast for accurate sewing, but I couldn’t bear to part with it when I finally had a brand new one for my birthday last year. I guess machines are just like friends and they all have their part to play in your life.

  16. redsilvia says:

    I suspect the Bernina 1080 and 1210 I use, which are from the early 1990s would be considered vintage.. Of course they work perfectly, still! Your Toyota is quirky, maybe just a bit too quirky for a sewist with limited time, no?!

  17. Megan says:

    Definitely an older machine is the best. As long as it does a zigzag and a straight stitch that’s all I ever need. I never use the fancy embroidery stitches, I prefer to do that by hand so a zig zag for days when the overlocker isn’t at hand a nice straight stitch and a buttonhole stitch all you need. I like a machine that feels sturdy too, I don’t move it often but the ones you can lift with a finger and are all plastic just don’t look like they will stand the test of time.

  18. Robin says:

    Hhhmmmmmm… my backup machine is a recent vintage, it is a portable and mostly plastic Singer I replaced about 5 years ago with another portable and mostly plastic machine that is very versatile and so far very dependable as well. My nostalgia for vintage machines is tempered by memories of my dad’s collection (hoard) of dozens (70 or so?) of antique treadle machines, some motorized. As a child, I desperately tried sewing on one. The frustration was traumatic, honestly, as the tension was not right and could never be right, there was not a way to fix one up for myself. In that herd were some rare Howe machines, which I could appreciate even as a youngster from a distance, but the pathology of all that is such that I just don’t go there. Sorry, not all memories are good! If I had someone near me I knew who was interested in sewing (as in, would give my little backup a good home), I would part with it for free.

  19. Olivia says:

    I have my mum’s (grandmother’s) Frister & Rossman hand machine, circa about 1912. It made my mum’s clothes and it made all the clothes for a family of five, it’s made bridesmaid dresses, Nativity costumes and fancy dress. Despite only having straight stitch forwards and backwards, it has made acres of curtains, and it can tackle fabric that my Janome baulks at like canvas. I had it serviced a few years ago and it runs like a dream, and even if it only gets used once in a while, you’ll prise it from my cold, dead hands!

  20. Heather says:

    I have a new Bernina and a Featherweight 222k (bought 10 years ago before the prices went bonkers). I use the Singer just as much as the Bernina, the Singer has a tiny free arm which is brilliant for getting into hard to reach places, and is perfect for toy making – I am in the middle of Christmas sewing 8 Luna Lapins and their beautiful but very time consuming wardrobes, I have only used the Singer for that.

    • Laurpud says:

      I long for a Featherweight…

      • Heather says:

        I have bought 5, Singer Featherweight 221s this year in house clearance auctions. I have instructed my brother who clears houses for a livingto always buy anything in a Featherweight case if it is less that £50.00. I clean them up test them and sell on EBay. Sometimes I am cobbling them together because something is missing like the foot pedal. Really good fun but my dining room can look like an episode of Steptoe!

  21. Laurpud says:

    I have & love vintage (1901 Frisster & Rossman hand crank, my Precioouussss) & my 2 year old Brother, with all the fun bells & whistles. My 17 year old White makes a great doorstop, although I have let my granddaughter use it, because it still runs. My hand crank is great for making stuffed cars, with her very precise stitching, & my Brother is wonderful at making clothes

  22. Linda Hinds says:

    wow! I won! how do I get in touch with you to give you my address?

  23. Ronja says:

    I have a vintage Elna Supermatic. I love it so much I bought another one when the first one died.

  24. My Mum had two Singer treadle machines when I was tiny and I hate to say that I used to pull them to bits when I was a very small child. I got my first proper modern Singer machine when I was about 7 and it was really temperamental so I stopped sewing. When i got to my teens I completely refurbed one of the treadles and used it to sew curtains and patchwork quilts for my student flats. I have got a modern fancy electronic machine and a serger but for day-to-day sewing I tend to fall back onto one of my vintage machines. I have a few lovely vintage Singers from a 66k to a 2-300 series, but I use my vintage Necchi Leila the most. Perfect stitch quality and super strong. I have a few other machines stashed away waiting to be refurbed. I still lament the loss of my treadle and are on the lookout for a replacement one. Xx

  25. Jacqueline says:

    I took my 2 old sewing machines to a local homeless charity who said they don’t actually sell or use them with their clients. However they are picked up be another charity who sends them out to women in Africa to make their own clothes and clothes to sell.

  26. Terri says:

    I too have an ancient Toyota machine … my 21st birthday present (ahem) 30 odd years ago. The plastic is turning yellow and I’m not sure I trust the buttonhole programme, but it’s doing fine since I rediscovered sewing about a year ago. One day so suspect something will break and be irreplaceable but until then it has a certain sentimental charm!

  27. Jo says:

    Just lavishing in the world of my new computerised sewing machine. I must say it is fabulous on so many levels and I sold my Toyota and a weaker Brother to buy my new ‘Big Brother’ but I am pleased with my choice. Hope Bernie is OK! Jo xxx

  28. Heather says:

    I just finished my last ever project on the Brother I got for my birthday in 1996 -not exactly vintage, but over 20.

    The machinery is willing, it’s barely even ever broken a needle, but the casing is weak, and the plastic table wobbles like nothing else. Got a new computerised machine this week and have absolutely no idea what to do with my old one.

    I will miss it so much. Despite all the whisky new features on my new machine, my brother was such a perfect uncomplaining workhorse.

  29. Sarah says:

    I have the Pfaff my mom bought herself while stationed in Germany in the early 80s. It’s sewn EVERYTHING from duffle bags to my wedding gown. I’m going to have to give it up one day, but I’m hoping that day is a long time coming.

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