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Refurbished Vintage Sewing Machine Cases

Posted by James Wolfensberger on

Refurbished Vintage Sewing Machine Cases

Anyone familiar with vintage sewing machines likely knows the look (and smell) of the old carrying cases.

An old sewing machine case

These old cases were covered with a contact paper with fibers, sometimes intended to resemble leather. Hiding underneath that often-worn exterior can be some gorgeous wood grain.

Stripped cases

It can be time-consuming to remove the original covering. Some cases respond well to a little bit of water to soften the paper, but many do not - plus you may agree with us that introducing water to these cases is less than desirable. It can warp the wood.

I've offered a tutorial in the past that included reconditioning the handle, removing the fabric/paper, sanding and wood repair, and finishing - for that tutorial I used a vintage Singer 99 case. This video demonstrates removing the old covering. If you try this yourself, please be careful when using a blade.

When the old exterior covering is removed, we're left with this ugly surface and a lot of debris:

Stripped Case

The dimpled surface is the old hardened glue. This must be sanded away. If you attempt this yourself, please use a respirator or quality mask to avoid breathing in the dust from the glue.

The Glue

A well sanded case is ready for stain and a polyurethane top coat. Patience and care are needed to obtain a nice finish. I sometimes combine stains to create multi-tone finishes. Using other techniques varying light and dark, I sometimes emphasize the grain for an exotic appearance.

Case with exotic grain


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A fully finished case

It is important to keep in mind that the original fiber/paper covering provided strength for the case. A stripped and refinished case has now lost that original reinforcement. This is fine as long as don't actually carry the case by the handle - most collectors will tell you to never do that anyway because the construction of these cases typically exceeds 50 years old. With that in mind, I sometimes reinforce cases with oak ribbing.

Oak Ribbing



It isn't always necessary, depending on the original condition of the case, but I often replace the hardware.

New Handle

When I replace the hardware, I also reinforce the latch area. This is a bit tricky because I have to allow the proper clearances so that the machine rests properly in the newly refurbished case.

The latch area.


Quilter's Stash Box


Occasionally - not often - I come upon a case that has panels that are not wood with a nice grain; they are a cheap pressed composite board. Without a nice wood grain to finish, I've used paint but applied techniques to make the painted area appear more "wood-like" or distressed. On this case, I also applied a water-slide image of a Luna Moth:

Luna Moth Vintage Sewing Machine Case

I've used other methods, such as creating a distressed design to suggest a case has been left outdoors with a summer theme.

Case with a distressed design.

With this next case, I allowed a watery turquoise acrylic to stain the deep portion of the grain before applying a polyurethane.

Turquoise vintage sewing machine case

A Necchi case, before and after, for a client:

Vintage Necchi Sewing Machine Case


Now What?

There is only one feature-length documentary on the subject of vintage sewing machines. Have you seen Still Stitching?



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3 comments

  • Can this be done to a Featherweight case, as well? Nothing has gotten rid of that funky smell, yet. This sounds
    Like a great idea!

    Peggy on
  • Doug, my personal approach is that if the case is not clearly manufacturer-specific, and it’s one of the standard cases and it’s in poor condition, I consider it a candidate for refinishing. With that said, I’ve even done the Necchi case for a customer as shown in the article. I don’t believe these cases have significant value, particularly when we keep in mind that many of the Japanese and Singer machines sell for $10-50 with these cases included. I think it’s largely a question of taste and perspective. Folks even refinish the coveted Featherweight cases when they are very damaged. Best of luck!

    James on
  • Gorgeous work, and, I’ve a question. Your thoughts on when it is better to simply leave the case alone, appreciating the patina on a 50 year old piece of work vs strippping it all of and giving it one of your lustrous finishes?

    Doug Stephens on

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