what brand sewing machine?

casiDecember 27, 2010

Hi! I haven't been here for awhile. I'm a 3yr newbie...been working on my first quilt for 3 yrs! I told my husband last week that I was going to get it done THIS YEAR! Within 5 min. of saying that, my bobbin ran out of thread and when I went to re-wind....my 20+yr old Singer sewing machine broke! So, I still will not get my quilt finished. I took my machine into a repair shop that specailizes in all makes but the lady said if it was a gear issue, that they can't get any gears....so I will be shopping. What do you quilters recommend? I don't intend to do the "quilting" per se....just want to make quilt tops and small item crafts.

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I have a Bernina and a Viking. I had Singers, including one I had for 30+ years before them. There was nothing wrong with the Singer I bought in the mid-60s. I just was sick and tired of looking at it and tired of having to drop in cams for everything but a straight stitch. But I understand they're no longer made the way they were back then so the durability of mine might not be what you'd find today.

It had (don't know if Singers still do) the most convenient bobbin arrangement I've ever used. You could wind a bobbin in the housing which is to say you could have a new bobbin wound and be sewing again within 90 seconds. And you could screw apart the bobbins to empty one fast. It was fantastic and I don't know why both of those features didn't become industry standards.

Of the two machines I currently use I LOVE my Viking and that's what I'd buy again. It's smooth and quiet. Nothing ever goes wrong with it. It's straight forward and it's a work horse. It has a convenient drop in bobbin and it's in a clear housing so you can see when you're approaching the need for a new bobbin. The manual is clear and helpful. Who ever remembers how to do everything you might need for the occasional eyelet or other random application? Changing most specialized feet is fast and convenient.

Mine is about 8 years old. There are probably features added on newer machines. But, other than a threader (and possibly some embroidery) I can't think what else I'd need. I love my Viking!

Most folks would say Bernina is the way to go. It is precise but it's also hopelessly complicated with the worst operator's manual ever written. It came with a DVD demo but that's written exclusively in Windows format so I couldn't view it on my Mac. Everything on a Bernina is automatic but everything comes with a learning curve from locking stitches at the beginning and end of your work to patterns that begin and end with full patterns to the threader that I didn't even bother to use for the first year until I forced myself to repeat and repeat and repeat the movements to learn to use it.

I also despise the antiquated bobbin-in-a-bobbin-case which loads vertically under the removable sewing table and is next to impossible to negotiate without removing the table every *#% time. If that's not inconvenient enough, you have to take care to insert it so that the bobbin unwinds in a clockwise (I think; I'll never remember) direction which is opposite of the way you load it into the case when you're looking into the case. This isn't intuitive and there's no self-correcting mechanism as there is on the Singer and Viking. But a compensating feature is that you can wind a bobbin while you're sewing.

And mine (maybe I got a lemon) is extremely hard on thread. I have to clean the bobbin race every 4 hours or so. But I've been pointing this out to the dealer that sold me the machine since the week it was new and they think this is simply how it is so it may be fairly typical for Berninas even if it is not in my Viking or Singer experience.

Changing most specialized feet is fast and convenient. And Bernina has (expensive) feet to do almost everything but start dinner. I have a foot for felting objects into fabric.

Finally, I bought the Bernina for the self-regulating FMQing feature. It too comes with a real learning curve. Basically, I decided if I had to learn how to use that I might as well learn to FMQ without it.

The good features of a Bernina are the On/Off button that keeps the machine moving at a constant speed and the knee operated foot lift. I don't know if they're available on other machines.

A good feature that some machines have (not Bernina or Viking to my knowledge) is a built in even feed or walking foot but both machines come with feet to accomplish that operation. Prob is, the feet are so bulky that they get in the way of some things. And, of course, you have to stop what you're doing and change feet and this is one of the ones that take some jiggering to install.

There are a lot of wonderful machines I've never used but that's the experience I can share.

I hope you find the right machine for you at the right price.

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 12:14PM
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imrainey gave you some good advice! The Pfaff machine is the brand that has the built-in walking foot, but if you plan to mostly make quilt tops and send them out to be quilted, you won't be needing a built-in walking foot.

Brands that I would recommend: Bernina, Viking, Pfaff, Baby Lock, Janome.

Sit down and think what it is you want a sewing machine to do for you: do you want to piece quilts = might want a 1/4-inch piecing foot and the ability to move the needle position; do you want to monogram some crafts = stitch card or alphabet programing; do you want to applique = zig zag stitch and ability to control the size; hem jeans = ability to sew over thick fabrics, etc. etc. The "needle up/needle down" feature is very helpful when doing applique and other stitches.

You would be sooooo much better off to go to shops that sell machines and "test drive" the models you are interested in than if you ordered online or from a catalog. It is very helpful to have a salesperson take you through the steps of threading, programming, sewing, etc. and to have a shop with classes and service when you need it.

Of course, all the bells and whistles up the price, so you need to decide what your budget is to be. You might want to look at used/refurbished models that are in good working order. Many quilters trade-up often, sometimes without putting much mileage on their older machine.

Come back to us with more questions if you have them.


    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 2:58PM
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I'm surprised I rarely see Elna mentioned. I have the Elna 6300 and love, love, love it. It's a long ways from new, but it has more features than I'll ever use. This machine gets a real workout but never has a problem and sews like a dream.

The best advice though is to try out several machines in the shops, talk to the dealers about what you want/need/expect and set a price you are comfortable with. If you want to spend $300-400 I'm sure you can find a machine that will work for you at that price: don't let anyone talk you into $3000 if that's not the machine you need! I spent many years and made lots of quilts on a $99 Kenmore. Of course, I like the fancy Elna better but for piecing fabric you don't really need fancy (unless you want it!).


    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 5:53PM
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In between the $300 & $3+ thousand is where my budget was this past summer. I bought a Juki Excel HZL-F600 and LOVE it! Juki is the world leader in industrial sewing machines, and the HZL is their line designed specifically for home quilters.

The walking foot is not built in, but no problem to change it. It does have a lot of decorative stitches, but I've found I only use a few on a regular basis. And it has a nice high, deep throat for maneuvering your sewing.

The free motion foot came with my machine, and I've just started learning to use it. There are also feet for applique, piecing, zippers and lots of other applications.

I bought it because it seems to be the best built machine in the approximate $1000 price range. Kate is right. See if you can find someplace to test sew with one. I found a local dealer and offered to buy from him if he could come close to an online deal I found. Unfortunately, he couldn't but he was glad to get a new fabric & service customer (should I ever need it).

This model also has phenomenal buttonholing features. Though that isn't a feature that's of primary importance to me, it's nice to know how versatile they'll be when that need arises.

My machine prior to this one was a Kenmore I bought in 1974. I, too, got tired of changing cams, and it was going to need major service work to keep it going.

An excellent resource I used to make my decision was the sewing machine section of patternreview.com. You can look up real users' experiences with many, many different models.


    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 8:09PM
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Ahhhh....yes....Juki and Elna are two other recommended makes of sewing machines.......just forgot them......


    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 8:34PM
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Lots of good advice. I have a Jamome and Baby Lock and Feather wt..Singer. I have owned Singers and Kenmore machines in the past. I don't think you would have beat Singer in its day but that has gone by the boards so to speak. I love my Jamome and believe they make good machines but more to the point I think that having a reliable dealer who sevices your needs is even more important to have when you need them. I believe teresa suggested trying out different machines and that is advice I agree with completely. There are many good low end machines that will meet your needs, price isn't always a guide post to quality. Jayne

    Bookmark   December 27, 2010 at 9:16PM
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Thank you all for the very good advice. I loved my singer. It did a lot of fancy stuff that I never learned how to do. The winding the bobbin in the housing thing that Imrainey spoke of is something that I always took for granted; my daughter said she couldn't find another machine with that feature when she was shopping a few yrs ago. I think your suggestions of trying some machines out is a good idea.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 3:23AM
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I see you got lots more good advice!

The things I'd add are that haunting the various shops after the new models come out mean that you could get a very good deal on even high-end machines that people traded in. There's also a dealer in my area who will let you try out a machine at home for 24 hours when you get serious. How's that for accommodating?! (Kingdom Sewing in Van Nuys for anyone in Los Angeles.)

In my opinion the walking foot is important for even quilters because you can save real money doing simple quilting with it if you aren't an accomplished FMQer.

Any machine will work just fine on heavy things like denim if you get yourself the marvelous notion known as a Jean-A-Ma-Jig . You insert it before and then after the hump and when the presser foot can move across that seam on a level plane it will create smooth stitches with no effort. (Said the short round girl who always has to alter the crap out of her jeans.)

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 12:18PM
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I agree that you should go to different dealers and ask to test them out. Another thing you can do is if you have a reputable sewing machine repair shop in your area, ask them. Of course they might try to talk you into one of their used ones, but I would hold off on that if that is the only thing they want to discuss. I was told by a guy in my area who has worked on all kinds of machines for years that if he was buying a machine for mainly quilting, he would go with a Juki. I have a Viking Emerald and a very old Kenmore. I had a fuse blow in the new Viking within only 2 hour's worth of sewing and it was out for repair for 2 weeks, but since then it has been fine. The biggest problem is timely customer service AFTER you have purchased the machine, they are all over you when you are out shopping but they disappear when it's time for help afterwards.

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 7:15PM
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The service part of the whole thing is something to think about but my problem is that I'm about 1 1/2 - 2 hrs. away from any sewing machine dealer/services. I'm still waiting to hear if my Singer can be repaired. I hope the fact that I inquired about the new machines doesn't sway them to tell me that mine is irrepairable! Although I'm kind of getting excited about maybe getting a new one!

    Bookmark   December 28, 2010 at 7:40PM
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They were able to fix my machine! In a way I was disappointed....the idea of having a new machine, but it was only $146 with 90 being labor. The lady said that in it's day, my machine was top of the line. So I am going to go for awhile with it....may learn how to do some of the stuff that it does, that I never learned how!

Thanks for all your input!

    Bookmark   January 4, 2011 at 7:54PM
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