Sewing Machine Advice – Part 2

Hey everyone!  Are you ready for some more sewing machine advice?  It’s time to do a recap of my previous post, Let’s Talk:  Sewing Machine Recommendations.

Sewing Machine Advice, Part 2 @ The Crafty Quilter

First of all, I appreciate the feedback from everyone who commented on the original discussion.  It was really interesting to hear about your sewing machine experiences.  Some of you had your own advice to offer and it was great food for thought!

Out of the 36 people who commented on the original post, 23 of you {admitted to} having more than one sewing machine (all the way up to 5 machines).  Here’s the breakdown of current machines you own: 14 of you have one or more Berninas, 10 of you have at least one Singer (mostly “vintage”), 7 of you own a Pfaff, 5 Janome, 5 Brother, 4 Viking, 2 Juki, 2 Babylock, 1 Kenmore, 1 White and 1 Necchi.  Four people commented about how much they love their mid-arm machine (which is a sit down machine for free motion quilting – between a longarm and a domestic sewing machine).

sewing machine parts

A common feature that many of you are looking for in a new sewing machine is a larger harp (throat) space for quilting.  That seems to be one of the main reasons for buying an additional machine or upgrading to a new one.  The other reason for upgrading is the need for a better machine with more features.

Many of you agree that it’s hard to fine ONE machine that does it all.  It seems one machine is great for piecing and another one for quilting.  And then you need another one for embroidery and one to take to classes!  That’s four reasons to buy another machine.  You have my permission to tell your husband that “Julie said so”!  I’m just kidding (sort of).  I hope you don’t think I’m in the sewing machine retail business.  I’m not, and I think if you have one machine that you’re happy with, then that’s all you need.  Someone (Melissa) said that the best machine is one that is loved.  I love all of mine!

Personally, I found that the more I became familiar with quilting and the more techniques I tried (applique and FMQ for instance), the more features I wanted from my one sewing machine.  Then I started acquiring new machines and learning what was good and bad about each one from those different stand points.  I also have the advantage of playing with lots of different sewing machines from my students.

Sewing Machine Sampler made by Julie Cefalu
Sewing Machine Sampler made by Julie Cefalu

I’d like to share my own sewing machine advice with you.  This is a list of things I would look for in a new sewing machine and it’s geared toward the quilter.  The following list is divided into two sections:  Necessary Features and Luxury Items.  It wasn’t easy deciding what was a necessity and what was a luxury.  Consider this line very gray!

Necessary Features

  • A reputable dealer with a good service record.  Having access to classes, follow-up care, a good service technician and helpful employees is SO important!
  • Good stitch quality.  It should sew a nice, balanced straight stitch smoothly and with good tension.  The stitches should be even and the fabric should be flat (as opposed to “puckery”).
  • Needle up/down feature.  This allows you to stop stitching with the needle down so that your work doesn’t shift or move on you.
  • Good even-feed system or capability.  This means that you can purchase a good walking foot or that it has a good IDT (integrated dual feed system) in place.  I could write an entire article on walking feet.  They aren’t all created equal!  I also think that the IDT is not enough.  I prefer the ability to add a separate walking foot, but that’s just my preference based on my own experience so far.  Bring a quilt sandwich and test out the system.  Check for puckers and even stitches (front and back) when using the appropriate walking foot or even feed system.
  • Capability to disengage feed dogs for free motion quilting .
  • Automatic needle threader. These can be “finicky” and I often hear that they break or need to be adjusted.  (Perhaps a measure of machine quality?)  Make sure you learn how to use it properly. When your eyes get old, you’ll be thanking me.
  • Blanket stitch.  If you ever decide to do applique, this stitch is a must.
  • Chain piecing ease.  I’m saying this because I had a machine that just wouldn’t chain piece well.  When I would feed the next piece into my machine I had to lift the presser foot and shove it through.  It was a constant struggle.

Luxury Items

  • Knee lift or hands free presser foot.  I LOVE my knee lift for being able to lift my presser foot and then use both of my hands to position the needle.  I find this very helpful when doing applique, stitching in the ditch, top stitching and free motion quilting.  I don’t like machines that automatically raise and lower the presser foot with NO manual presser foot lever.  It’s very “fiddly” to get the needle where you want it (as Edith put it).
  • Automatic thread cutter.  You just push a button and your thread tails are cut!
  • Large harp space.  This is the space between the needle and the body of the machine.  For quilting large quilts, it’s nice to have room to fit all of that bulk.
  • Presser feet and ease of use.  How easy is it to change presser feet?  I do this frequently and I appreciate a system that allows me to make a foot change quickly and easily.  Also, most sewing machines are smarter than me, but I like knowing that it’s possible to figure things out on my own without getting another college degree.
  • Speed control.  This adjusts the speed that the machine stitches and it’s really useful when you’re free motion quilting.  More control, less speeding tickets.
  • Free arm.  This creates a small peninsula around the stitch plate/bobbin case area for sewing sleeves, bags, or circular objects (yes, there are other things to sew besides quilts).
  • Mirror image button.  This allows you to create a mirror image of any stitch which comes in handy for decorative stitches.
  • Stitch adjustment ability.  What I mean by this is the number of adjustments you can make to the length and width of decorative stitches.  Some machines have a governor on how much you can adjust the length and width of your stitch.  For example, when I choose a blanket stitch, I like to be able to choose anything from a .1, 1.4 or 4.6 stitch length and/or width.  Some machines only allow .5, 1.0, 1.5, etc. increments.  This is directed to those of you who like to do applique or thread embellishing.
  • Presser foot pressure dial.  This determines how much pressure the presser foot is putting on your project.  When I’m doing FMQ or applique, I like to lessen the amount of pressure so that things flow easier underneath the foot.  When I’m doing piecing, I like more pressure to keep more control under the foot.

This list is meant to be a starting point and not necessarily the “definitive” guide.  I included ideas that were shared by comments from the original post as well.  If you have anything else to add, please chime in.

Sewing Machine Advice Part 2 @ The Crafty Quilter
Free Motion Quilting on my Bernina 440 QE

I have a few more thoughts about shopping for a new machine.

  • Do your research. Test out as many machines as you can.
  • Bring a quilt sandwich to test straight line quilting and free motion quilting.
  • How does the machine sound?  How does it feel?  It should feel comfortable and have a smooth sound when stitching.
  • How does it handle thick intersections such as what you might find at the center of a pinwheel unit or a thick bag project?
  • Make sure you’re comfortable with the dealership.  Do they care about you or do they just care about making a sale?  Many offer trade-ins and the ability to trade up at a future date and apply the full value of the original purchase price to a new machine.
  • Do they offer free classes on learning how to use your machine?
  • Know your particular needs.  Do you need it to be portable?  How heavy is it?  Do you want to do custom embroidery?  Do you make king size quilts?  You see where I’m going with this.
  • In general, you get what you pay for.  BUT, a high price tag could mean a quality machine with a strong motor and good stitch quality OR it could mean a machine with lots of features, bells and whistles that you may or may not use.
  • If you’re buying online or used, know what to look for and/or ask a knowledgeable friend for help.
  • Buy what you can afford.  Save up your money if necessary.  Don’t be afraid of spending good money on a good machine if it means better quality.  However, if you’re just starting out quilting and you don’t know if you’ll like it or continue down that road (silly you), look for a dealership that will allow you full trade-up value.  Or just borrow a friends until you’re crazy addicted like the rest of us!
Blanket stitching on my Bernina @ The Crafty Quilter
Blanket stitching on my Bernina 440 QE

I hope that you found this information helpful.  I know that sewing machine advice is everywhere.  You can decide for yourself what rings true for you.  If you have any questions, please feel free to ask.  Someone will have the answer!  Thanks for making this a constructive discussion!

Julie

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About Julie Cefalu

Hello! I'm Julie and I love to quilt, craft, read, garden, hike and spend time with my family.

25 thoughts on “Sewing Machine Advice – Part 2

  1. I enjoyed all the comments from all the ladies. They all had a lot of information that was helpful to me, and Julie you are the best. I so enjoy your news letter. I, too am new to quilting, and love all the helpful information . I recently moved from the northern Calif., where we had a GREAT Independent Bernina dealer , who kept up on their training, and her husband did all the repairs and was wonderful about helping you out and keeping your machine running along. Ginger has the quilt shop, and was equally helpful. I bought my Bernina from a friend for $100 dollars, if you can believe it, and Ginger, who also collects Bernina’s has one of every model, except mine. She has expressed to me that she would like mine as well. Someday I might get another Bernina, but one thing I have come to realize, like Gayle, you can collect sewing machine’s; just don’t get rid of any!!

  2. You are so right about where one buys the machine. I bought a Bernina 530 a year and four months ago. I bypassed my local Bernina dealer and went to one offering a better sale price an hour’s drive from me. This dealer also sends their sewing educators to Bernina training. My sewing instruction was individualized, giving feedback on ways that I can improve, which has been beneficial to me; far better than the local dealer.

  3. Hi, i wonder if you could help me?. I have inherited a jones 865 sewing machine, everytime i try to sew on it the cotton ends up in a knot in the bobbin compartment. Its the cotton from the spool at the top thats knotting. I appreciate any advice.
    Many thanks

  4. Thank you Julie, for the information. I have always wanted a Bernina since I took a Stretch and Sew class in the 80’s and could kick myself for not investing then. I say this because recently I am taking a Irish Chain quilt class at a local Quilt shop and the shop has Bernina’s. What a help this B 380 is!! I am so wanting one and will be budgeting for it this YEAR….LOL

  5. In 50 years I’ve only bought two new sewing machines—a Singer 500A in 1964 and a Bernina 1230 in 1991. I’ve picked up a few more vintage Singers (models 221, 301, 99, 15-91) over the years. They sew beautifully. I can’t justify the expense of a new top of the line Bernina, which costs as much as the first house I ever owned! I haven’t looked at the prices of other brands.

    I rarely use fancy stitches and I have no interest in machine embroidery, so the machines I have now, especially the Singers, will last me for the rest of my life!

  6. Thanks for all of the helpful sewing machine information. I am curious what your thoughts are on the Bernina 750QE? Do you think it is worth the $$$$ or is the 440 a better choice?

  7. Hi…brilliant post on machines. I actually think your dealer is most important. I have bought all my machines with the one shop, mainly because I trust them and the service I have received is second to none. Hence I always had Pfaff machines and love the IDT…so have nothing to compare this with.

  8. Not many quilting bloggers take the time to pass along all the little things you learn along the way. And those little things add up to a lot of helpfulness. Thank you so much for sharing your advice, Julie!

  9. Very interesting post! I have always been a very thrifty quilter, and realized many years ago that purchasing quality would save me money in the long run. I purchased my Bernina 1020, new, in 1990. At that time it was their top model without computer. I still love it and use it for most anything. Last year I purchased a used Juki TL 98E from a private party, and I love keeping it set up for FMQ. It has a much larger throat space and runs like a champ. I still prefer the Bernina’s walking foot for some reason, but I primarily quilt with Mr. Juki. It is a treat to be set up for two projects at the same time. My advice for sewing machines is to clean clean clean after every bobbin. I have had very little need for a dealer over the years and both of these machines are reliable champs.

  10. I have a Bernina 180 and am wanting to get into free motion quilting. Since I don’t have a walking foot for this Bernina, I was wondering which presser foot would be better for learning. There are 3 different ones offered and I am at a loss. #44C #29/29C or the Stitch regulator? I am not a new piecer but I have not tried to machine quilt and am fascinated by the beautiful quilting I have seen. There is even a stipple stitch on my machine. Any help from free motion quilters would be appreciated.

  11. Great post! I have a Bernina 440 QE and love it. I chose this machine because it was highly recommended by my first quilting class teacher. I believe the only thing I wish I had from your list is the auto thread cutter. My most fav options on my Bernina is the auto needle threader and needle up/down feature that we’re not on my old Viking. Could not live without either of these now!

  12. Hi Julie,

    Your post on how to purchase a sewing machine was GREAT! As a former sewing machine dealer I’m going to give you an A+++. You covered all bases from walking into a dealer’s store all the way down to the finite details of the machine. Thanks for mentioning that one should check out the credibility of the staff and owner before the purchase. Last but not least the owner should provide at least 3 free sit down shop classes on how to use their new machine. Nancy

  13. Thank you for a splendid package of information. I have Bernina 440 QE as well, and I’m ever so happy with it after 7 years of successful use. Out of curiosity: what makes you say that IDT isn’t “the road to paradise”? It is the feature I didn’t take into consideration when purchasing my Bernina and have had some afterthought at not having it. I’ve never sewn with a machine that has it, just envied others 🙂

  14. very good tips, seems I am lucky my bernina has all the features mentioned except pressure foot control but think that is automatic. I find all those fancy stitches are not what I want or use though.

  15. Thank you for the wealth of information. I appreciate all of it. I am definitely looking for another machine to add to my Janome and Singer.

  16. You gave some excellent tips to use when shopping for a new sewing
    machine. One other consideration I might add would be regarding the
    presser feet. Some machines have better presser feet for certain
    applications than other brands. Also, one should be shown how to put
    on the various attachments. Some of them can be hard to screw on, such as the foot for free motion quilting (on my Pfaff). Also, when
    upgrading to a better machine,you might want to stay with your current brand because of being able to use a lot of the feet you already have.
    Julie, which of your machines has the best IDT? Do you also use a
    walking foot with it?
    Thank you so much for all your helpful advice.

  17. I have really enjoyed both parts of this blog, there is definitely a lot to take on board when buying a sewing machine. I have two Janomes and I love both of them I have also had an old singer and an older Bernina which I now regret selling it was an 830
    Julie thanks again for all your hard work bringing information to us out here in quilter/sewing land
    Gayle

  18. Great “inventory” of things to consider when buying a sewing machine! Using similar criteria, I have always ended up with a Bernina (since 1980) and I own 4 of them. They are everything I could ever want in a sewing machine and more, especially the stitch quality and the fact that tension is not a problem ever. That said, being so happy with Bernina, I have not tried any other brand since that year. No need to do so!

  19. I think the very most important thing is the dealer. How the dealer operates can tell you a lot about the machine company as well. Good companies want great dealers. I am a Viking owner and although I love my machine, since the Viking merger with Singer, the company does not support the dealers by helping with costs at quilt shows so therefore, you don’t see Viking at most shows anymore. My dealer at one time had fabulous classes and brought in Viking educators. Since Viking basically made their educators independent educators with no real ties and no insurance, etc., the dealers need to get dealers to bring them into their stores independently. With the liss of a regular salary, most are now working for other companies.

    My dealer no longer offers classes as often in my area. His second shop over 90 minutes away offers more, but driving from Delaware through Philly and to the NJ border at night is too much.

    Every machine has its good qualities, it’s not great things and the stuff you really want, but the dealer makes the difference. When I can afford it, I am trading for BabyLock!

  20. I love how neat your applique stitches are……how can I get mine looking like this…..I have a Brother XL750 or something like that……please help!

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