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Garage sales shall provide

I’ve mentioned before that I’m not exactly an optimist or a believer in positive thinking. But there is one area of my life where all I have to do is set something in my mind and I can be amazingly sure that serendipity will provide. I’m talking about garage sales.

I cannot believe the number of times I’ve fixed some item in my brain only to have it turn up at a garage sale within a few weeks — even if it’s an item I’ve never seen at a garage sale before. Really tough items might take six months or more. But If I need something and need to get it inexpensively … there it’ll be.

Case in point. This week I was working on my grab-n-go kit, and several people had made suggestions I wouldn’t otherwise have considered. Friday I spotted a SALE! sign, followed it and got:

Bug-out bag items from a garage sale

  • Wool blanket — $0.25
  • Rain suit — $0.50
  • Six bicycle hooks — $0.50 (for hanging the kit for earthquake stability)
  • Bag of candles — $0.50 (mostly for home prep, but some for the kit)
  • Rolling cart — $2.00 (not as good as the golf push-cart that was suggested; but hey, two bucks, and it’ll do to strap all my stuff together and make it mobile until some fabulous yuppie backpack turns up)
  • 14 assorted bungee cords — $1.00
  • Knee pads — $1.00 (not for the Bug-out bag, but I’ve wanted a set for household construction work)

I also scored this old sewing machine for $10, complete with all original accessories and case.

Vintage Pfaff sewing machine from garage sale

If you hunt garage sales you know that old sewing machines are plentiful and hard to move. Nobody’s much interested in them these days unless they’re really new, full-featured and dirt cheap. Or maybe antique, beautifully decorated Singers or something else with collector value. Even those often go for shamefully low prices. (I passed up a mint-condition beauty, complete with cabinet, for $75 a few months ago; had it been a treadle type I’d have bought it.)

But this is a Pfaff. And in my NSHO (that is, the opinion of somebody who rarely sews these days but who used to design and make all her own clothes), old metal Pfaffs and Whites (yes, made by the same people who built the big trucks, later made by Huskvarna) are the best electric sewing machines ever. (Here’s an eBay seller trying to get $300 for one, not in as good a condition or as complete as mine. Not likely to get anywhere near that.)

I brought it home, gave it a drink of oil, plugged it in, hit the foot control, and it purred like a satisfied tiger. Take a look inside. Is that a beautiful machine, or what? I think you can safely say, “They don’t make ’em like that any more.”

Old Pfaff sewing machine with top off -- 2

Old Pfaff sewing machine with top off


  1. EN
    EN March 27, 2011 3:09 pm

    Good pick-ups. Particularly the sewing machine. And the reason I read you is that you’re not a believer in BS, commonly known as positive thinking. I choose reality and it never fails to make me happy. Miserable people are always talking bout positive thinking and being optimistic. It allows them to do stupid things and cover their bad choices with philosophical fluff.

  2. Kent McManigal
    Kent McManigal March 27, 2011 3:12 pm

    I picked up a treadle Singer VS2 (built in 1891) a few years back at a yard sale for $30 bucks. It was prettier before my time in PA where everything I owned either rusted or mildewed, but it is still a nice functional piece.

    I love yard sales IF I have something in mind that I am looking for. If not, I can’t really get into going to them.

  3. Standard Mischief (dot) com
    Standard Mischief (dot) com March 27, 2011 3:51 pm

    I got less than lucky w/ my first garage sale sewing machine. it needs to be timed, I think. I haven’t had time to dig into it.

    I don’t know that much about machines, but mine turned out to be a “singer model 15 clone”, which came in a huge assortments of privately branded badges. I’m going to guess yours is the same.

  4. Claire
    Claire March 27, 2011 4:00 pm

    Standard Mischief — Have you tried just giving it drops of oil in the right places? (If yours didn’t come with a manual that tells you where to apply oil, just check online, where every sewing machine manual ever made probably still exists.)

    In the 1960s (and maybe late 50s), there were a fair number of cheap and often deceptively branded sewing machines. That era is called “the golden age of sewing machines” because every woman had to have her own (and all manner of features, many of them total overkill, were added constantly). Rip-off artists and knock-off manufacturers abounded. For instance, at that time, Pfaff made a model called the Fair Lady, and rip-off dealers sold a knockoff called the Fair Lady (implying it was a Pfaff, but without the Pfaff branding). Does yours have the Singer brand? Or something else?

    Mine is definitely a Pfaff original from Germany and constructed to last just about forever. Needle packets and original equipment list are from Germany and in multiple languages. Haven’t been able to pin down its manufacturing date yet. One source says it could be as early as 1946. But I seriously doubt that. 1951-1955 is my guess. Definitely pre-1960; by then, Pfaff machines were losing their industrial look and becoming more “streamlined” and more pleasantly colored.

  5. Pat
    Pat March 27, 2011 4:41 pm

    That’s a substantial-looking sewing machine, Claire; you got a good deal. Is it an “industrial”-type sewing machine, I wonder. Also: does it have a publishing date on the documentation, or a serial no. you could look up?

  6. Claire
    Claire March 27, 2011 5:07 pm

    Thanks, Pat. It certainly resembles Pfaff’s industrial models of the era. at the same time, it’s a portable and came with a manual informing me that my dreams have just come true. ๐Ÿ™‚ Probably meant for home use. I don’t find a serial number; if it’s there, it’s well hidden. The only clue as to its date(other than its overall design and construction) comes from a sticker on the back from the store where it must have originally been purchased. The sticker is partly torn away, but I can see that the phone number is the old-fashioned type. No area code and a prefix with letters, not numbers. The typefaces on both the sticker and the documentation also look early 50s vintage.

  7. Pat
    Pat March 27, 2011 5:51 pm

    According to Wikipedia, Ma Bell set up Area Codes in 1947, and started using them in 1951. I was around when it changed over, but donโ€™t recall details โ€” except that I hated math, and thought the longer numbers would be harder to remember.

    But the sewing machine was probably made before 1951, and judging by the style of it, Iโ€™d say around 1950. They were still making products for endurance and practicality then, not for looks. And yours even has an extension for cuff and hem sewing! It was probably state-of-the-art then. (My grandmother was using an old Singer with foot pedal.)

  8. Standard Mischief (dot) com
    Standard Mischief (dot) com March 27, 2011 7:01 pm

    Yea, unfortunately it looked like it test ran fine, came with all the accessories, motor worked, etc… No needle though.

    Got it home, found a “clone 15” threading vid on youtube, and discovered the needle hits the bobbin thingy. Timing is off.

    Too bad as I have a stack of clothing that needs a quick stitch or hem (that’s about all I’m good for, sewing wise).

    Since searched up “Pfaff”, what a score you found!

  9. Claire
    Claire March 27, 2011 7:17 pm

    Standard Mischief — Damn, that’s too bad. I hope you got a heck of a deal on it and that the timing is something you or a local handyman can fix. And thanks, yes, and old Pfaff is a cool find.

    Pat — Nice detective work! Your guess may be better than mine. But yes, this machine has more of a post-war utilitarian look than a late-1950s “consumer society” beautification. 1946 seems too early because even though the Pfaff factory got back to full speed amazingly quickly after World War II, I don’t think they were exporting machines to the U.S. until much later. 1951 seems to be the first date they sent one with that cuff-and-hem arm to the U.S. Happy 60th-birthday, sewing machine. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  10. MamaLiberty
    MamaLiberty March 28, 2011 6:29 am

    I am having a serious attack of sewing machine envy… that’s beautiful, Claire.

    In a fit of total damn foolishness about 15 years ago, I bought a new “Brother” sewing machine and totally stupidly gave away my 25 year old “Riccar” machine that would even sew light leather! Riccar was the last machine I know of to be made with all metal gears and parts. The Brother is stuffed with nylon and plastic.

    I plead total temporary insanity.

    I’ve never found anything at a yard sale worth the time it takes to drive around – but I may have to start looking at some just in case I might find an old machine like this. The “Brother” has about all it can do to sew ordinary fabric and I’ve got a whole bunch of draperies to make. sigh…

  11. Mike
    Mike March 28, 2011 7:09 am

    Claire that sewing machine is awesome. It will last forever come hell, high water or even EMP. Just in case you are interested here is a link to a site that specializes in finding garage sales.


  12. Matt
    Matt March 28, 2011 7:24 am

    Great score on the BOB items and that sewing machine. My Mother sewed most of my sisters clothes on a Kenmore machine, that still runs. My wife also sews and my adult daughter has taken an interest in relearning since she has a new daughter. We don’t have a sweet Pfaff like yours, but our small town does have two sewing-machine/vaccuum repair services. They do their own work (no shipping out), warranty work, and know how the items are supposed to work. They’ve rebuild on of our two and keep the second one well tuned.

  13. Claire
    Claire March 28, 2011 8:49 am

    MamaLiberty — My sympathies indeed. I can see why any seamstress (or seamster? LOL) would be tempted by a new machine, but yep, this is definitely a field where the oldies are the goodies. I hope you end up finding a gem at a garage sale. I know garage sales are an acquired taste, but once you do start finding things you want … oh boy.

    Mike — Hadn’t even thought of EMP resistance, just general durability and capability to handle heavy materials. Good point, though. Thanks for the garage sale link. I’d be surprised if anybody in my local area listed their sales there, but it’s a cool concept. For the short time I lived in an urban area and “did” garage sales, locating the best sales and planning a route to hit the best neighborhoods earliest was always a big deal.

    Matt — Your town has two repair shops??? OMG, I thought such things barely existed any more. I see sewing machine repair advertised online, but haven’t seen a local repair store in years.

  14. Barbara
    Barbara March 28, 2011 8:50 am

    Back in 1969, I purchased brand new a Singer portable for $88 on a payment plan. It does basic sewing as well as blind hem, zigzag and has a switch to lower the feed so I even can attach buttons. I’ve never had any real problems with it other than having to replace belts now and then. I have purchased a newer machine, one of those fancy multi thread machines, but nothing has really replaced my old Singer. It’s heavy, made of metal, and will last, with care, forever. Or as long as I can get parts for it.

  15. A.G.
    A.G. March 28, 2011 11:20 am

    On a similar note (but having nothing to do with garage sales or sewing machines) is the documentory “Moog”. Featuring genial genius Robert Moog, he goes into several “law of attraction” type bunny trails when discussing his inventions and their artistic uses. An interesting flic for other reasons as well for fans of either music or technology of the 1965-1985 era. For fans of both, you will be in geek heaven. Available as a download on Netflix.

  16. WolfSong
    WolfSong March 28, 2011 1:10 pm

    Stunning score on the sewing machine!

    I have to agree completely when it comes to the older metal models. I have 2 vintage machines that are used darn near every day around here! My everyday use machine is a Domestic portable, that I am the 2nd owner of…my aunt bought it brand spanking new in the 60’s.

    My pride and joy though, is an old Singer industrial model. I can sew boot leather on it without any problems. Found it at an Estate sale, where I paid $75 for it.

    The only thing I’m missing is a good treadle machine, in case the power ever goes out, and I still need to sew something.

  17. Scott
    Scott March 28, 2011 2:00 pm

    If you ever experience EMP(from whatever source) that will damage something that electrically simple,the entire grid will be shot-a motor and a carbon- pile speed control(I went over my grandmother’s sewing machine once)is about it from an electrical standpoint(maybe a light). Some years ago,sans manual, I went over my grandmother’s sewing machine,de-gunking it with brake cleaner(she’d gotten waaay to happy with the oil)re-assembled, lightly oiled it,and it ran just fine..despite being around 60 years old.
    With minimal maintenance, it’ll last nearly forever. The downside to many newer appliances is you can’t really maintain/lubricate repair them-when they fail,that’s about it. I have a little fan that’s from the 1940s-two drops of oil once a season,and one replaced cord/switch. Total cost? $4.00. I’ve had it since the late 1970s. Garage sales are like treasure hunts..

  18. Teresa Sue
    Teresa Sue March 28, 2011 7:32 pm

    Great find on your sewing machine, Claire! You will love it!! I picked up an old pre WWII Pfaff at a garage sale about 5 years ago. Paid 35 frn for it, took it to the Pfaff dealership in Spokane and they tuned it up for me and it has been the best machine I have ever had. It is h.e.a.v.y., but it just purrs. I also have a treadle that works like a charm too. The new machines are either plastic “disposable” machines or ridiculously overpriced computers that all you do is push buttons.

  19. Claire
    Claire March 28, 2011 7:53 pm

    Wow, lotta sewing machine connoisseurs around here! WolfSong and Teresa Sue … good finds, yourself. (And Teresa Sue, I know what you mean abut h.e.a.v.y. Yegads.)

    Scott … Brake cleaner? I’ll have to remember that, just in case. Unlike some of you lucky folk, I doubt I have anybody within 50 miles who could service an old sewing machine (or any sewing machine, for that matter). If it ever comes down to that, I’ll be on my own.

    WolfSong, good thing you and I don’t live in the same neighborhood, because if we both spotted a treadle sewing machine at the same time, we might have to fight each other for it. ๐Ÿ˜‰ I understand it’s amazingly easy to convert an old electric machine into a treadle type. But the original ones are so beautiful, as well as so nicely functional.

  20. gooch
    gooch March 28, 2011 8:50 pm

    Nice Finds Claire. {thumbs up}

    So now that you have a Pfaff does that mean that I can quit trying to find a way to send or ship you the White that I have been holding for the last three years ? [remember the convoluted shipping plan I had mangled together ?]

    I think I remember telling you that the cabinet got crunched when I got T-boned in Waco but the machine itself still works. [I even kept the “knee lever” from the crunched cabinet]
    I have since found another cabinet in a nice blond wood but the White doesn’t fit it … sigh

    Oh well I guess it will go at My yard sale this Spring.

    I could sure use some of that good luck on finding a large travel trailer or a small mobile home.
    Maybe this year. (?)

    Stay Safe,


  21. Claire
    Claire March 29, 2011 6:51 am

    gooch — I was remembering that White as I wrote the post. And remembering your complicated efforts to try to get it to me, you sweetie. But it did get all too complicated. I thought we’d actually decided to give up on that effort! If I’ve left you hanging, I truly didn’t mean to. I’ll email you privately, but you probably should go ahead and put it into your garage sale.

    Travel trailer/mobil home karma. Whoa. That’s bigger than garage-sale karma. Does it mean you’re on the move again?

  22. Nelle V.
    Nelle V. March 29, 2011 3:29 pm

    Hello Claire I agree with you on White. I have two White sewing machines from the late 50’s or early 60’s one was free my mom bought it for me at a yard sale when I was in high school the other I bought at an auction for $25 with the cabinet. They are the best machines and definitly built like a truck and still running strong. I will eventually give one of them to my daughter but can’t decide which one might have to be on the lookout for another one ๐Ÿ™‚

  23. Claire
    Claire March 29, 2011 3:47 pm

    Thanks, Nellie V. Your daughter’s going to be lucky to get one of those.

    The very first sewing machine I bought for myself (in fact, one of my very first adult purchases, made when I was about 18) was a White portable. I don’t recall the model, but I remember shopping and shopping for that thing. That was at the time when manufacturers were constantly bringing out new machines with so many fancy features the machines could do everything but tap dance. Even though I was pretty stupid in a lot of ways at 18, I was an experienced seamstress and absolutely knew I wanted a machine that a) was built like a truck and b) had all the features I would use, but only the features I would use (e.g. enough zig-zag capacity to do buttonholes, but not a bunch of fancy embroidery stitches that would never be useful and would only be something to break).

    It was actually pretty difficult then to find the simple, but tough, machine I insisted on. Pfaffs were way, way, way out of my financial league. But the White … that was the machine for me. I loved that thing. I lugged it all all over the country until about 10 years ago, when I left it behind in my ex-Significant Sweetie’s garage, having no room to take it with me and being ready to travel light. Maybe it’s still there, and if so I’ll bet it still runs like a champ.

    Guess I’ll have to ask him. ๐Ÿ™‚

  24. naturegirl
    naturegirl March 29, 2011 8:22 pm

    That rolling cart is almost like the one I suggested – but you got a better deal on yours….

    Home Ec in school always had Singers, so my first owned machine was a Singer….Until the late 80s when I fell in love with a Pfaff (that did the coolest computer programmed stuff)….it was EXPENSIVE, but I loved it….and it held it’s value well, when I had to sell it in the early 2000s (and cried all the way to the post office) it fetched nearly 3/4 of the original purchase price…..

    I’m not much for sewing, even though I can….I’d rather be out playing with the woodworking tools….

    That is a beautiful machine, you scored!

  25. Douglas
    Douglas March 30, 2011 5:48 pm

    Sold my grandmother’s White at a garage-sale for next to nothing. The rubber on the electrical cord had rotted to the point where most of the cord was just bare wires. I searched for a good replacement power-cord/pedal for years.
    The neighborhood held a community garage sale, and I participated to be neighborly and make it look worthwhile to the shoppers. I basically took an hour wandering the house and putting out anything I felt we could do without. We had two working sewing machines, so this one went on display outside.
    It ended up going to a guy with a mending/alteration business, who made a beeline to it the moment he saw it. He was not troubled by the lack of cord and pedal, and know the sturdiness of the machine. I was really happy to see it go to someone who would get good use out of it.

  26. gooch
    gooch March 30, 2011 8:30 pm

    Claire Says:
    March 29th, 2011 at 6:51 am
    {snip – snip}
    Travel trailer/mobil home karma. Whoa. Thatโ€™s bigger than garage-sale karma. Does it mean youโ€™re on the move again?
    – – – – – – – – – – – – – –
    On the move Again ? Me ?
    It’s closer to finally on the move.
    I come from a family of World Class procrastinators didn’t I mention ?

    I am looking at a town of less than 1,500 out in the wastelands [not really] of south Texas. Next best choice is a town of 6,000.
    We’ll see which it is when the move actually happens.
    [Disclaimer: All Readers are Strongly Cautioned not to hold their breath while waiting.]

    I thought weโ€™d actually decided to give up on that effort!

    We gave up on the idea of me shipping the White to you and now see what happens ? You have to settle for a Pfaff.
    I apologize for making you settle for the best on the market.

    Stay Safe,


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