Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Meet my new friend: Riccar Mighty
And tips for buying a thrifted sewing machine

I bought this beauty of a machine, a Riccar Mighty, at Goodwill for only $15! I love finding sewing machines at thrift stores. In fact, most of my machines are thrifted. I find older machines are no comparison to new machines. Quality AND price. 

Things to look for when buying a sewing machine at a thrift store:

  • Overall appearance, is it well maintained. How was it treated in it's former life? Are all the buttons in tact and moving?
  • Power. Does it turn on when it's plugged in? Rewiring a sewing machine is extra $ when you take it to get serviced.
  • Foot pedal. Does the foot pedal engage the sewing machine. 
  • Bobbin winder. Does it spin when engaged?
  • Belt and needle movement. The machine will most definitely need to be serviced, but my rule of thumb (and I'm no expert) is if turning the balance wheel, the big wheel on the side, it moves freely, then it's ok. Not sure how precise this is but it's worked for me.
  • Are all the parts there? Extra accessories are always a bonus! I once found a sewing machine with it original accessories box and all the attachments.
  • Is the presser foot there? A lot of times I find machines at the thrift store that do not have anything on the vertical shaft where the presser foot would be. This also costs extra money when getting it serviced.
  • Is the bobbin case there and in working order? That can cost up to $20 if it's not present. Take it out. Hopefully it has a threaded bobbin inside; pull on the thread. It should have a little bit of tension. If it does not, tighten that small screw. Still no tension? Bobbin case is probably going to need to be replaced.
  • Not all of these are "yay" or "nae" deciding factors but should play a part in your decision to invest in a vintage machine. Because it is old, you never know how much work it will need and sometimes it isn't worth it. Stick to manufacturers you know. 
  • Carry a smart phone? Google the sewing machine AT the thrift store. 
  • Call your repair guy from the thrift store with the make and model of the machine! I called Branum's when I was at Goodwill to be sure they could service this machine I had never heard of before. 
  • And happy thrifting!

What to do when you get a thrifted sewing machine:
  • Take it to your local sewing repair shop, I take all my machines to Branum's. It costs about $60 to have the machine serviced. If you think this is too much, consider the price of the thrifted machine, and the price of a NEW machine that will most likely not be as good as this one. This wins every time.
  • Find out as much as you can about your machine. 
  • Very important: get a manual if possible. Google the Manufacturer; they may have the PDF available for download. Or you can visit a site like this and buy a manual.
  • Get a simple sewing machine repair kit if you machine did not come with one. They are very cheap at Joann's or a sewing machine shop. You will need a brush, oil, small screwdriver, and a few other things. It important to keep your machine oiled and clear of lint from your thread. 
  • Also, a little hint- DON'T USE CHEAP THREAD! It clogs up your machine, especially these older ones. I only use Guterman thread.
  • Find some needles, fabric, scissors, and GET TO CREATING SOMETHING PRETTY!

This machine was a real jem, and I loved it from the moment I saw it in it's puke green case. It was finally ready for pickup at Brannum's yesterday. Crazy thing about this machine, my regular technician has NEVER seen a machine like this before. And he has been working on sewing machines for probably 20+ years! He said he was very impressed with the machine once he got it up and running (it was missing a foot pedal and he hard wired a Singer pedal into the machine). It's flies through fabric! I can't believe how fast it sews!

Amazing attributes of THIS sewing machine:
  • It's Japanese! A very innovative machine for it's time, which I'm guessing is the 1970s.
  • Retactable power cord. I never see this on vintage machines.
  • Electronic. A side wheel controlled the stitch selection and a little green light shows you what stitch is selected. It even makes a little "beep" when you move to the next stitch. 
  • A ton of features. I wish I knew Japanese, I can't find a manual for this machine, because I'm sure the little triangle buttons on the side are something I could use. Maybe with more use I can figure them out.
  • Metal body. You can't go wrong with a metal machine. They don't make em like they used to.
  • The case has a ton of different feet for the machine! Even an invisible zipper foot. I will most definitely use these!
  • An automatic needle threader! WHAT? In the 1970s this was available on machines?! My new Janome has this but I have never seen this on a vintage machine. Those Japanese sure know how to make some sweet stuff.
  • Nice and smooth throat plate (under the presser foot) so my delicate lingerie doesn't snap when sewn. A lot of time they get pretty beaten up with continued and reckless use.
  • And it's so pretty!

The top plate on the machine open up for the spool of thread to sit horizontally and then feed into the machine. This machine thread mirror image of all other machines I've ever seen. The thread goes down the LEFT side first, through the tension control, then up on the RIGHT to the thread take-up lever, then back down to the needle. So funny how it's different from other machines.

See all the different feet?! And a very old Juki card taped to the inside of the machine. Juki is the world's largest sewing machine manufacturer. If you are wearing manufactured clothing, it was likely sewn on a Juki. Brother is a close second. And while everything I find on Riccar says it was an American company, this machine is clearly Japanese. Anyone have any information on Riccar sewing machines?! I'd love to know more about this.

I need to sit down and count my machines to actually know how many I have. It's like a mechanic with tools, you can never have enough, right? I love having a ton of sewing machines! And I will probably continue to get more. I think I'm up to 7 machines now. But not all are currently in my possession. And not all are in working order, but nice to collect. Like my Sterling machine from the 1930s. When I have a house or larger living space it'll be nice to sit on a shelf as decoration someday.

I currently sew on my Kenmore and Singer. And this will be added to the regular rotation. Also, my sister got me an amazing pink Brother from the 1950s I will set up soon! She is getting it rewired and is refinishing the desk for me. What a great sister, eh?

I think I need to start giving my sewing machines girly names, like Mayble, Cindy, Eleanor, and Marla. I get to know them so well and spend so much time with them, I'd like to think of them having a back story and life before me, with a nice lady that made clothes for her husband and children. It's not crazy to talk to my machine when I'm working, is it? Haha. Good. Just checking.

What kind of machine do YOU sew on? Find any awesome machines at the thrift store lately? Share your stories!

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  1. I still sew on the Kenmore I got when I was 12! She recently needed some servicing (mine cost $80 to service), but it was way cheaper than buying a new machine. Plus, they just don't make them like they used to...

  2. Hi I just bought the exact same machine and am trying to figure it out... I found the Riccar website which you can download any manual from but I don't know what model this machine is. Do you have any clue? One thing I absolutely cannot figure out is how to change the stitch!!

    1. I cannot find a manual for this either. Is yours Japanese?
      There are TWO knobs on the side of this machine, and the BOTTOM knob is the stitch selector on mine. It makes a BEEP when you change stitches. Hope this helps!!

      It's threaded mirror image of most machines, but FLYS when you sew with it.

      GOOD LUCK!

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  4. can you please tell me how to use it?