It seems that I am not the only one here who takes great pleasure in tracking down and acquiring vintage sewing machines (and derailing other threads) and although most of us just take it for granted that a sewing machine sews, they are really a marvel of precision engineering and design, and the good ones will last just as long as a vintage Raleigh with nothing more than regular cleaning and oiling.
Historically, they did as much for women as the bicycle as it freed them to have more leisure time (like bicycle riding) and pursue other employment options, prior to the introduction of home sewing machines it took 14 hours to make a shirt and 10 hours to make a dress by hand... because of this most people only owned a few outfits and there was no industrial scale manufacturing of clothing.
The sewing machine made it possible to make a shirt or a dress in under 2 hours and the mass production techniques used by those early giants were copied by other emerging and existing industries and created others to support what was one of the largest industries before bicycles and automobiles.
I learned to sew when I was very young as my mother was a seamstress and made a good deal of our clothing, she recycled the hand me downs, and clothes got mended until they were only good for being used as patches or quilt pieces.
I just inherited my mom's last good machine which she stopped using over 10 years ago, she passed away several years ago at the age of 83 and even after she became a nurse she continued to sew as it was her favourite activity... this is a late 1960's Bernina and these are considered to be some of the very best machines ever made.
What most people think of when they think of classic sewing machines... this is a 1948 Singer (model 99k) that I just gave to my great niece who is 9 years old. It is not as ornate as some early models but was one of the most popular and successful machines ever made as it was just that good and it was compact which made it a good portable.
My Kenmore is tucked under the table... it is almost 40 years old and is an exemplary Japanese made machine that will easily sew the canvas and light leather I picked up for making bicycle gear.
Nice thing about these older machines is that they just work and work very well without the aid of computers, complex electronics, and as of yet they have only made it as far as using aluminium and to my knowledge there are no carbon fibre machines and they shift manually with a mix of indexed and friction.