Is It The Machine, Or Is It Skill?

Remember the commercial, “Maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s Maybelline”? I asked Jim to pull my antique Singer 401 out of the cabinet and give it a good lube and oil for me, because I struggle to get it back in its cabinet when I take it out to lube the underside. I haven’t sewn on it in a couple of years, and so it needs to be used.

It got me to thinking about how much I love my modern Bernina machines. I adore my 740 with the dual feed, but I feel like I can come close to the same results on my non dual feed 430 by reducing the presser foot pressure… but can I really?

Am I skilled enough to compensate, or does the machine truly make me a better seamstress?

My vintage Singer certainly has far less features than my 430, which has far less features than my 740, so I think I’m going to challenge myself and see if my piecing has the same standards on the old Singer as it does on my 740.

But surely some modern inventions do indeed make us appear more skilled. Needle up/down offers a level of control that didn’t exist in the past, and what about the ability to move the needle position right and left in super small increments?

We’re all familiar with the old adage, “it’s a poor carpenter indeed that blames his tools” but don’t good tools actually contribute to a better product?

I’d love to hear your thoughts! Do you think the more advanced sewing machines give you more skill?

CJ Tinkle

This Post Has 13 Comments

  1. Karen Hartley

    I see so many people that love their vintage machines. However I’m not one. I love my modern with all the bells and whistles. I have trouble with a consistent 1/4 seam and can’t ever seem to get my tension right on the older models. I enjoy the variety of stitches on the newer machines and use them often. I know for me the modern machines make me a better less frustrated sewer. I think the improved tools came about as they are needed to save time, effort and waste. I know I wouldn’t do as much as I do if I had to use scissors to cut my fabric. My hands just don’t cooperate. Love my rotary cutter! I do admire the traditionalists that create with vintage machines, they are true artists, but for me modern all the way!

    1. tinksquared

      I’m with you Karen, in preferring modern machines and tools. However, I don’t see how the tool makes one more or less of a true artist. Creating comes from the soul, and it’s going to happen regardless of the tools used.

  2. Janyce R

    I am not sure modern machines give you more skills. However, I am convinced they allow you to use your skills in ways that are not as easy on vintage machines. Which may or may not matter to an individual. I much prefer using my modern machines. But then again, there is nothing quite like a spin with my vintage White 363 that I learned to sew on, or my Bernina Record 930. For me the 930 has a huge advantage as it has a knee lift.

    I also think it is much easier to teach children to sew on modern machines as they are more similar to their everyday life experiences. I especially like being able to use a machine with a start/stop button with young children as it takes one piece of coordination out of the equation. In my experience that helps. It’s easy to add the foot pedal after the basic sewing skills are more comfortable.

    I love all my machines, but much prefer the modern ones

    1. tinksquared

      I too much prefer modern machines. And I am dead in the water without a knee lift to control the presser foot.

  3. Diane Obernesser

    I think the newer machines make it easier to sew. I really like the knee lift, needle down & repositionable needle. I don’t take advantage of all the decorative stitches on my newer machine. I’d have to say that I haven’t sewn on my old Singer in years, but it’s nice to have.

    1. tinksquared

      I definitely think the newer machines make it easier… hence my pondering if it’s us, or the machines? 🙂

  4. Mary

    I have a 1953 Singer with a 1/4″ foot. I think that my piecing is as good, or better than with my Bernina 560, which spends most of it’s life in the shop. I just don’t have room to have the Singer out all of the time. That said, I love the needle up, needle down option of the newer machines, as well as the automatic thread cutter. Those are probably the biggest reasons for me to love the newer models.

    1. Julia

      Modern technology does make, not only the task of sewing easier, but many of our tasks are made easier with modern technology. But, I do feel that creativity comes from deep within our souls. Without the desire and the creativity, no fancy, modern machine is going to make difference. Just my opinion, for whatever that is worth. ☺️

  5. Hilary McDaniel

    I’m over the quaint older machines. I refuse to give up needle up/down or the knee lift. I think what improves the ability is based on the enjoyment and less frustration of dealing with aged machines. People can wax nostalgia all they want. I don’t need the aggravation. 😆

    1. tinksquared

      Curious, if you were on a really tight budget, would you choose a cheap modern machine over a solid vintage? The nice thing about the old machines is that they run forever and are easily self maintained.

  6. Susan

    I love my little featherweight. It has a great straight stitch but there are times when I need a zigzag or need to move the needle over for a zipper, then my Bernina is the best. So if I have to haul a machine somewhere like a retreat and all I’m doing is piecing, it’s the featherweight every time. I have to say I love your reds. It seems every time you start a project like this, I end up buying a FQ pack too. :-}.

    1. tinksquared

      LOL you know for years Susan, people have been telling me to make something different, step out of my comfort zone… for years I did that! Now I am unashamedly making nothing but red quilts! I don’t care even a little bit if it’s boring, red makes me happy :).

      I am not a featherweight fan myself. Been there, done that. They are fussy machines and not what I would consider a rock solid vintage. I know most quilters love them. For portability, I’d rather have a 301. For simplicity and flawless stitching, a 201 or a 15-91. For more stitches, I love my 401. But in the end I far prefer my modern Bernina’s.

Your feedback is always welcome! If you have a question, I will respond to it here.