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Sewing Machines with Plastic Parts - Will they last?

by Dori M
(Minneapolis, MN)

I love my machine, a Brother C6000, but wonder how many years it will last.

My old Singer, straight stitch from the 1950's is still running smooth and perfect after years of use, as it is all metal.

The new machines have a lot of plastic in the body, and are computer run, so I doubt that 60 plus years from now someone will still be using this machine as a workhorse. But, for the price, it is a fine machine out of the box.

Julie's Comments:

I used to wonder about this, too.

When I got my first new machine in the mid-90's (a Viking #1+) there was a product called Sewer's Aid, a liquid silicon applied directly to a spool of thread to make the thread glide through the machine more smoothly.

I can remember watching a PBS sewing broadcast (probably 'Sewing with Nancy') and being told to put the silicon on a Q-tip instead of the spool. Then tape the end of the Q-tip to the area of your machine just above the needle—all because silicon and plastic parts weren't good for each other.

Luckily, I've never needed to use Sewer's Aid and never had to test the validity of this warning.

Since then I've, once again, bought a new machine (Viking D1) and inherited a newer Viking SE from my mother.

And I'm not so worried about the plastic parts anymore for several reasons.

Upgrades, upgrades everywhere...

Just like personal computers and cars and cell phones, we are constantly wooed by newer upgraded models of the things we already have...

...and we're buying them...

...without much prodding.

I, like you, think by it's very nature, a sewing machine with a computer in it WILL become obsolete before it wears out. If nothing else, but because the software and computer parts themselves change so fast.

Plastic IS Durable...

...or should I say indestructible.

We worry these days about all the plastic in landfills that will take forever to decompose. It just doesn't fall apart.

In all these years the only part that has actually broken on my sewing machine is the foot pedal. I dropped it. Now if it had been metal, like the olden days (I'm 50, so I do remember back that far!) I don't believe it would have cracked.

I had it replaced anyway. But that's all that's broken in almost twenty years of sewing on machines with plastic parts.

It's cheaper and lighter...

...which means we can have more machine for fewer dollars. Lighter parts reduce shipping costs and that saves us money, too.

Many of us, who could only afford one machine, purchased an embroidery machine. I am grateful for the plastic parts inside of that baby. I can't even begin to imagine how heavy it'd be if it was all metal. And IT was the machine I took to classes, retreats and bee for the longest time.

My first machine was a Singer, too, a Slant-o-matic, that was originally my mother's from the late 50's. I've still got it, and it still runs/stitches just fine. Quite frankly, it will probably survive me.

But if truth be told, I love all the bells and whistles my newer machines have. I know they reduce the time it takes to complete a quilt top (...that pivot function is the cat's meow!)

So if the plastic parts mean I can quilt more, then I'm all for it!

Readers, what do you think about the plastic parts of your sewing machine. Do they make a difference to you? Good, bad or indifferent? We'd love to read what you think.

Just use the 'comment' link below to share!

Dori, thank you for sharing your thoughts.


Julie Baird

Comments for Sewing Machines with Plastic Parts - Will they last?

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Hawaii Rusting Parts
by: Amaparo

I live in Hawaii and have a Pfaff metal machine that keeps rusting up. I'm looking for a sewing machine that is mostly plastic, so I don't have to keep getting my machine fixed!

Thanks for any advice!

@Anna and her 9960
by: Da Taz

I own a 9960, and it's been six months in, and my machine works phenomenally well. There are a couple of people I've heard complaints from people about this particular issue, and the thing I've gotten from what I've read is that their paticular model was the "first edition" 9960 released in 2009. This model was one that the had an issue with the thread cutter mechanism, if it failed, could not be repaired. This machine also had some complaints about threads constantly breaking. I honestly have never had it happen on mine, which is a second edition. This edition, the thread cutter was replaced on it with a model that could be repaired (if a blade dropped out of it's holder, an Exacto knife blade could be used to replace it. It also had a redesign of its internals for threading I read someplace, so that particular defect seems to have been addressed. I'd contact Singer and have a chat with them about what's been happening. I'm betting if you did, you might get some sort of explanation from them. Just do yourself a favour..don't contact the actual Singer company, they'll give you some BS answer. This website has a bit more customer service going for it, and they might be able to halp you with figuring out the issue. They helped me out when I couldn't get a service manual for my 9960. One little point of interest for our machines...they are not Singer machines at all. They are built by the Happy Japan Sewing Machine Company. Their machines are actually well built and engineered. I hope this helps out Anna. Let me know what they have to say, I'd be curious to know. All I can tell you is that I've had nothing but quiet, solid performance out of mine, and love it.

Plastic vs Metal gears
by: Da Taz

There are those that SWEAR that brass gears are the best of the best. While that might well be true, how many of you with those old tanks have had a motor seize up or a machine suddenly just lock up.

This guy has. He had an old 50's model White with the cams you popped into the top.

Well, one fine day, while zipping through a seam, the machine literally just seized. When I had it taken in, the main drive shaft had literally deformed when two brass gears decided enough was enough and came to a "crashing" halt.

My machine was oiled and greased correctly, and only two months prior to boot.

What "Metal" heads don't take into account (especially those that gun a machine pedal like I do) is that metal can and will heat up when under duress. If under enough duress, those metal gears can and will seize once the oil and grease drips away from the heat of being run too hard for too long.

In short: if your machine isn't industrial, and you don't take exquisite care of an all metal machine, you will break more than a gear. Trust and believe!

Plastic of was usually lubed with petroleum. Petroleum would over a couple of decades literally eat through that old plastic, and the gears would start to disintegrate; fall right off the metal sleeve they were molded to.

What all of the metal fans aren't getting is that these plastic parts can fail, of course, but are rarely ever a catastrophic failure. The sleeves on ALL plastic gears are made of...wait for it...METAL.

The newer nylon gears (not the cheap eBay Chinese garbage), while not indestructible, are a lot tougher than you think. I ran an old Singer Elegance with replaced nylon gears, and that machine took a ton more punishment than my old White ever did.

Even when I finally sent that poor old (ceramic bodied, I had no idea) machine to it's reward, those gears, the ones I drove the living daylights out of...were still perfectly intact, lithium grease and all!

A lot of these new "Heavy Duty" machines are absolute garbage (read...Singer, Brother, etc). The plastic engineered into them is engineered to break, and break easily.

I bought a Janome HD3000, and it has plastic gears. What makes it different is that same plastic is a much higher grade of nylon, and it's in all the correct spots. So, if I were to sew a tent on one (I've done an awning on it...thick impregnated canvas and nylon construction), and that machined took it like a champ.

Would I recommend anyone do that? NO, of course not. You are better off with an Janome H9 or a Juki industrial, maybe even a Sailrite machine. they're purpose built for stuff like this And...they also have plastic gears in them. It's all in the quality of the gear, and how that nylon was engineered into the machine.

Nylon absorbs vibration a whole lot better than brass, making a machine quieter. It also doesn't heat up under stress. Yes, you could crack it, or even damage a tooth on it, but that'd be one helluva feat if you did (on a quality machine, not that Singer or Brother "Heavy Duty" junk. You can also forgo greasing up a nylon gear entirely, and it will run and perform wonderfully.

IF you were to overstress your main gear shaft on a metal machine, you'd seize it, and likely need a very expensive shaft replacement.

On a nylon with metal sleeve secured to a polished steel shaft, if the machine were to go into that same state of failure, only the gear would suffer, and that is a lot less money to shell out for a fix.

So...metal is great, and it can last a lifetime (and beyond) if treated nicely and given proper, regular servicing.

Plastic of old...fifties to early eighties plastic...not great, but these machines only failed after two to three decades of service, and not through the operation of the machine, rather, the material used to lubricate those gears.

Modern quality nylon gears will last and last, just like metal gears, when subjected to favourable conditions such as sewing, servicing, etc. They, if they fail, won't take the most expensive part of a mechanism with it when it does go.

Older machines are wonderful, but remember, all metal with brass gears, when they fail, it's an expensive to impossible repair depending on the damage and age of the machine.

Metal gears cannot fail, therefore channeling any failure to the first weak link that failure encounters...which is usually the shaft they're attached to. Older metal machines also corrode inside, and often require a machining of their shafts to smooth out any corrosion pitting, scratches, etc.

There are always pros and cons to any mechanical tool or device. Plastic might go kaboom, metal could go kaboom...but which do you think would cost more if either went into said state of kaboom.

Just my two cents.

Singer Quantum 9960
by: Anna

I had my Singer for 6 months and for some reason the thread kept breaking. I tried everything and finally took to repairman. When he opened it it had a large groove where the thread was rubbing and catching. He said he had never seen anything like it. He put metal plate over groove. Now 6 months later its starting again. I can't afford another machine. I'm broken hearted. Has anyone else had this problem?

Give me industrial or vintage over new plastic anyday!
by: Melinda

I think an industrial sewing machine or vintage gives you much more value over today's sewing machines. The vintage machines can still make buttonholes. I really do like zig zag functions on sewing machines, but starting in the 60s is when machines started incorporating plastic gears and parts. And unfortunately, they break! I suppose these machines are fine for a hobbyist, but honestly I prefer stitch consistency over numerous fancy stitches.

Each to her own, but plastic is not for me
by: Anonymous

As someone else commented, plastic might last forever in the sense that it isn't biodegradable, but that doesn't mean it stays "put together" forever. It breaks, melts, cracks, and warps. And while I can understand someone enjoying cheap, plastic machines for all the stitches they offer (if that's your thing), I'd never consider using one for serious garment construction, quilting, or other sewing that requires a good, solid, heavy-duty machine. For piecing you need a perfect straight stitch which is best done on a straight stitch machine. For quilting, you need a machine that can handle bulk and heavy layers. Try this on a Singer 15-91 installed in a cabinet and you will be sold. It won't bounce, budge, move, or hesitate while sewing your heavy quilt. It has a generous harp space, a vertical bobbin (excellent for FMQ) and it is about the "heavy-dutiest" domestic machine you could ever use. Sorry, but no plastic machine of any kind can match it for performance and it goes without saying that no plastic machine will EVER last as long as a cast-iron or aluminum vintage machine with all solid steel gears. For me a few fancy stitches I'd rarely use aren't worth the trade-off if I had to choose only one machine.

I don't think so!
by: Anonymous

I sew exclusively on all metal vintage machines. While it is true that plastic has the advantage of being lighter, the aluminum cast machines aren't really much heavier but are MUCH sturdier. But the main problem with the plastic machines isn't that plastic doesn't last forever - theoretically it does, but not necessarily in the form you wish it to be. In other words plastic (or nylon) sewing machine gears wear out and become non-functional. Eventually they need to be replaced. Plastic knobs, dials, and other extraneous pieces snap off and can't be replaced. That just doesn't happen with all metal machines. That is why sewing machines built prior to the 1960's are decades old and still work perfectly.

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