A hotly debated topic in vintage sewing machine circles is whether it is appropriate to describe these old machines as "industrial strength."
Some folks insist that using "industrial strength" is NOT appropriate. Others (myself included) feel it IS appropriate.
I confess. I use "industrial strength" to describe the machines I test and sell. And I've received my share of nastygrams from the folks that disagree.
Why the debate?
What exactly does "industrial strength" mean?
"I don't know what that means." --Dr. Temperance Brennan, "Bones" TV show
First of all, it's important to understand the difference between an industrial (or commercial) sewing machine and a household (or domestic) sewing machine.
Industrial sewing machine example
Industrial or commercial machines are larger than household models.
They are typically attached to a table that may be up to 6 feet wide with a large motor mounted in the base of the table.
These machines are designed to sew huge pieces of fabric at very high speeds for 10-12 hours a day. Some even have a self-oiling feature.
By comparison, household machines are smaller and are not designed for high-speed, high-production sewing. The differences are obvious. Therefore, when I review or advertise a vintage household machine I am well aware that it's NOT an industrial or commercial sewing machine.
So why do I describe them as "industrial strength?"
Because these household machines are capable of sewing the very same materials that industrial machines sew.
Let's look at the dictionary definition of industrial strength:
"Marked by more than usual power, durability, or intensity" - Merriam Webster "Extremely strong, durable, or concentrated" - The American Heritage® Dictionary of the English Language
"Much stronger or more powerful than the product normally available to use." - Cambridge Dictionaries Online
"Used to describe such products as cleansers, lubricants, and stepladders, suggesting that they would be effective in hard use environments." - WhatIs.com
By today's plastic-happy, "throwaway" standards, the old vintage metal machines stand out as having "more than usual power." The majority of household sewing machines on the market today are made from plastic, cheap metal, and rubber belts. On the other hand, a vintage Singer 15-91 is solid metal with high-grade steel gears and a direct drive motor. It is unquestionably "more powerful than the product normally available to use."
Because of this, I believe that it is entirely appropriate to use the words "industrial strength" when describing an all-metal, gear-driven vintage sewing machine. Many buyers don't have the space for a 6-foot table and industrial machine but they want something that CAN do the work of an industrial machine every now and then. That's why these old machines are so popular.
Sellers should take care, though, to clearly state which type of machine is being offered. If you are using the words "industrial strength" be sure to explain that it's still a household/domestic model and NOT an industrial/commercial machine. A little education goes a long way toward avoiding misunderstanding.
Bottom line? Whether you call the machine "heavy duty" or "industrial strength," there is nothing like an old vintage sewing machine for quality and durability. They just don't make them like they used to!
Happy Sewing! Barbara OldSewinGear...dedicated to helping you get the most out of your old sewing gear.
OldSewinGear is the collaborative effort of retired repairman Gary and daughter Barbara. We love old sewing gear and enjoy sharing what we've learned in our vintage sewing machine adventures. We are located in Roseburg, Oregon.