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Vintage Elna Swiss sewing machines

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Vintage Elna Swiss sewing machines
For those with an interest in vintage sewing machines, the clear fore-runner of collectible sewing machines is the Elna: the pioneer of modern sewing machines. The Tavaro company of Switzerland began to manufacture Elna sewing machines in 1940, and the company has been going strong since that time.

Elna machines are renowned for the innovative features, their reliability, their quality, and their ease of use by even the most unskilled operator. Older Elna machines function by means of a cam system which allows the quick addition of new stitches by simply dropping in a cam with the key for that stitch. This makes the stitch capacity of Elna machines easy to expand.

Identify your Elna model

Elna #1

Affectionately called the "Grasshopper", the first model of Elna was produced from 1940 to 1952. The small green machine has a free arm and knee lever, and came in a black or green metal case. It's a very sturdy basic machine that does a mean straight stitch.

  Elna #1

Elna Supermatic Elna Supermatic

The Supermatic series was produced from 1952 to 1977.

Elna Zig-zag Elna Zig-Zag

The Zig-Zag series was produced from 1956 to 1977.

Elna Automatic Elna Automatic

The Automatic series was produced from 1959 to 1973.

Elna Special

The Special series was produced from 1966 to 1977.

Elna Lotus Elna Lotus

The Lotus series was produced from 1968 to 1980.

Elna Top Special (TSP)

The Star Series Top Special was produced from 1974 to 1977. Its body is white and ochre, and it comes with a blue metallic case. There are 14 built-in stitches to select from, and it comes with a foot control.

Elna Elnita Elna Elnita

The Elnita series was produced from 1976 to 1980.

Elna Air Electronic Elna Air Electronic

The Air Electronic series was produced from 1978 to 1982. All machines are white with white accessory box. A plastic cover was also provided, as was a foot control.

Elna Stella

The Stella series was produced from 1980 to 1989. All machines are white with dark brown side panels that function as a protective case. A foot control is included.

  • TSP Air Electronic: 8 built-in stitches.
  • SP Air Electronic: 4 built-in stitches.
  • Zig-Zag Air Electronic: Straight and zigzag built-in stitches only.
  Elna Stella

Care and use of your vintage Elna

Basic Elna maintenance

If you are used to using a modern electronic machine for your sewing needs, keep in mind that these old Elnas are different. They are fully mechanical machines that will need to be oiled regularly, and they also need regular (read: yearly) maintenance by a certified sewing machine specialist to run in optimal condition. With proper maintenance, even a 60+ year old machine can work like new!

If you cannot find a qualified specialist in your area to handle the maintenance of your machine, you may be able to acquire the repair manual for your model to deal with the maintenance yourself. This is however not advised unless you are handy with machinery.

Threading your Elna machine

Unlike most modern machines, a vintage Elna is not marked with a needle-threading guide. Fortunately most vintage Elna machines have a similar threading technique. Follow the instructions in this video to get your machine threaded, then make adjustments to the tension as needed.

Tip: Always use a good-quality thread with your Elna. Cheap thread is linty and will harm the machine if used for an extended time.

Elna cams: how to use

Most vintage Elna sewing machines use a cam system to add stitches to the machine. These cams are small black plastic discs that can be dropped into the cam feed to use that particular stitch.

Once your cam is set up, you will be able to use whatever stitch that particular cam is designed to do. This makes the vintage Elnas almost infinitely expandable so long as you can find the cams for sale.

When you are done with that cam, press down lightly on it and it will pop up for easy removal. The oldest machines require a special cam removal tool, so be sure that is included when you purchase one.

Embroidery on your Elna

The easy to use cam system makes a vintage Elna a treat to use for embroidery.

If you are new to machine embroidery, I would suggest acquiring a guide book to walk you through the ins and outs of how to machine embroider on an older machine. The basic principles are the same for many older mechanical sewing machines.

Where to find a vintage Elna sewing machine

When buying and selling vintage collectibles, bear in mind these two factors:

As to where to go, try any of the following:


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