Friday, January 8, 2010

Decisions, Decisions - Which Sewing Machine to Buy?

The very first thing I purchased, after I graduated from high school, was a brand new Singer sewing machine in the cabinet. The payments were $18 a month and I was terrified to owe someone $300. Back then, in 1973 the Singer Store occupied a space in the mall, with bolts and bolts of fabric. The only credit card I had was Singer.

Call me a domestic N.E.R.D.

I had that machine - the basic straight and zigzag machine - til 1980, when it suffered a serious mishap and needed to be replaced. My husband bought me a new Singer and I used it to make maternity clothes and baby blankets and window treatments and doll clothes and little jackets for my son. It was the basic straight and zigzag, no bells or whistles, but nobody's machine really had much extra back then. My Mom sewed on a Singer so I would never haveconsidered anything else.

I sewed on that machine for about 25 years, til 2005. When I joined a quilting group, never having quilted in my life, I realized my machine sounded like a train coming through Grand Central Station and theirs all sounded whisper quiet. I cashed in the past 20 or so years of non-Valentine Gifts and asked my husband for yet another machine. I went with a Pfaff because almost every single person in the quilting group used them. I'd never heard of them and was shocked that they were so expensive. I traded in my old Singer and a serger that had been little used, and brought home a Pfaff Creative 2025. I don't remember exactly what I paid for it, but it was somewhere between $600 and $800, even with my trade ins. It's a wonderful machine, very precise and a dream to quilt with. I only recently realized I'd been given the wrong manual and have now forked over $55 for the right one! It likely does many functions I wasn't aware of, but without the manual it's hard to say. That machine is tucked away in Texas and I'm looking forward to rediscovering it, finding out what it can do.

In spite of the cost, it was still a very basic Pfaff with no extra features. No fun stitches, no alphabets, etc. With a Pfaff you are paying for the engineering of the machine and I would have had to pay well over $2000 to get one that did much extra.

The next machine I bought was a Janome Jem Gold for $300. My Pfaff was expensive enough, and heavy enough, I didn't want to carry it to and from weekly quilting, so I bought this 'portable' Janome. Janome is known for precision sewing, but this machine did even less than my Pfaff did. That's the one I just sold on Craig's List this past week. The woman who bought it is an accomplished seamstress and quilter and was delighted to buy it. I'm now down to two machines, one in PA and one in TX. One Pfaff, one Brother.

Some of you asked me about various machines so I thought I'd share here what the girls in our family sew on.

My daughter, Sarah sews on a Brother CS60001 (see it here) . She purchased it on the internet and is very, very happy with it. It's computerized and comes with 60 stitches and many extra bells and whistles. It can be purchased now for about $175 and I know she just recently recommended it to someone as a good way to go. She does everything on this one machine - sew and quilt.

About a month ago I bought our other daughter, Leslie a Singer Confidence 7463 (see it here). Loved the name since that was just what she needed, as a new seamstress. I bought it at Joann's (they never honor coupons for machines.) for $199. Singer is a great machine and I wouldn't hesitate to recommend them. Leslie's machine is computerized also, offers 30 stitches and was a great choice for her - enough to allow her to be creative with projects without being overwhelmed with too many buttons and settings. There are a number of beautiful stitches that come with that machine, and it sews fabulously. This machine offers plenty of extras without being intimidating.

I wouldn't necessarily go with the least expensive Singer or Brother out there. You tend to have a lot more trouble with tension issues with the least expensive machines. My thought is it would be worth saving up the extra $50 to $75 and getting more machine and less headache. The least expensive machines will also not offer much more than the absolute basics and for that extra $50 to $75 you'll get a machine that should keep you happy for years to come.

I'd never owned a Brother but decided, after Sarah's good experience with one, to check them out. I've sewn for 47 years, and didn't want something I'd outgrow quickly, so I chose the Brother PC 420 PRW. It's a computerized machine, only available online (see it here) . I paid $499 for it, with free shipping. I went through Amazon who went through Allbrands. When I accidentally had it shipped to the wrong address (always fun the week of Christmas!) they were wonderful to deal with over the phone. I've since gone back and spent another $125 to buy three more feet, an extension table and bobbins. One of the feet is a side cutter and I'm thinking that will serve as a serger function for me, without the need for an additional machine. Another is the 1/4" foot, vital to piecing a quilt accurately. It was worth the additional $12. If you aren't interested in quilting, you'd likely be happy with this machine straight out of the box for $499.00

My Brother offers almost 300 stitches, but about 100 of them are three fonts of alphabet - none of which are large enough to do a lot with, but enough to make something pretty. If you're looking for a true embroidery machine this isn't it, but then a true embroidery machine will run you closer to $2000 and up. It also has the needle up / down function, thread cutter, and I'm already in love with it. I spent several hours with some muslin and red thread, making a swatch book of all the stitches it would do - such fun!

If you're in the market for a new machine I'd go to a larger Joann's, that offers a sewing machine section, and take a few for a test drive. Try out more than one brand, and beware of anyone who pushes one brand on you. If that's not possible then I don't hesitate to recommend any of the three I've listed here. I bought my Brother online, untested, but went on the two dozen reviews of it that were listed on Amazon. Whatever machine you choose, be sure to look it up on Amazon and read the reviews before you purchase it. Don't be steered wrong by one negative review - read a dozen of them to get an overall view.

The only other thing to consider - if you are a quilter or quilter wannabe, you might choose one of the Singers or Brothers that has the extended area between the base of the machine and the needle. Any of these other machines will likely make you gnash your teeth if you attempt quilting anything bigger than a twin bed quilt. If I piece anything larger than a twin, I'm going to hire someone to quilt it for me.

And if anyone out there has a different opinion, or machine to recommend, please jump in and let us know!


Valerie said...

My husband bought me a Brother PC8500D (a combo sewing/embroidery machine) as a surprise for Christmas several years ago. I have a New Home and an Elna, but this Brother sews circles around them. I LOVE IT! I'd buy another Brother without hesitation.

Of course, if I ever get back to sewing heirloom baby clothes (once I get a grandbaby to sew for!), I may have a different opinion.

Karen said...

Thanks for posting this! It's very informative and SO appreciated!! You can tell I've always sewn on old hand-me-down machines--I never knew there was such a things as a side cutter foot! Having a serger has always been a huge dream of mine, but I'm with you--with that foot, it seems you would have both in one machine!

Happy Sewing! Love and blessings, Karen

Robin said...

My husband gave me a Singer sewing machine for my 20th birthday and I can't even imagine how many miles I sewed on that sweet machine. It was very basic - no bells or whistles at all. My oldest daughter has it now and it still runs like a charm. I invested in a Bernina Quilter's edition about 3 years ago. I paid more money that I should have for it but I justified it by knowing I would use it to sew 10 bridesmaids dresses and 5 flower girl dresses. I love it! I had to take classes from the store to learn how to use it and it does more than I will probably ever know. I figure it will be my second and last machine. It is quiet, runs like a fine-tuned engine and has never once given me a bit of trouble. My favorite part of it is the Stitch Regulator which enables you to quilt with perfectly spaced stitches. You can quilt as slow or as fast as you want too.
I am kind of looking for an old Singer featherweight - more for fun than anything else.

pendy said...

My mother bought a Pfaff when I was an infant (we were in Germany); that was 1952. She sewed anything and everything, including pinch pleat lined drapery, on that machine for more than thirty years! She then bought another Pfaff with all the bells and whistles and I inherited the old Pfaff, which I used for about another ten years; it weighed a ton. She's upgraded again, but it's a Pfaff as that makes about 58 years she's been a Pfaff 'girl'. She also has a serger but sold her smocking machine (I don't even know what that is called!) when my kids got older.

I need to do a blog post on her sewing....I have pictures of a lot of the things she made for my kids. Here's a bit about my mama, by the way:

Linda said...

I'm so glad you brought this up Bev. I am not a seamstress - not at all. However, I really want to do some machine quilting and would like to just get a simple, basic sewing machine. I have a little one I bought about thirty years ago at Sears and the tension has never been right on the silly thing no matter what we do with it.
Any recommendations for a good, basic, dependable machine (actually I'd love one that just magically sewed lovely things for me, but I guess that's out of the question!)?

Linda said...

I just found your blog from cruising on Boomama's. Funny how you are talking about sewing, since I write a blog on alterations. I am so happy to hear of some success stories concerning Singer sewing machines. I didn't have much success with them myself. I own a Bernina that is 26 years old now. It's a 930 Record and is not computerized. You can still get them on the internet for about $1,000. I know that sounds like alot, but it's a workhorse...all metal parts and I have never had a problem with it all these years, which I think is amazing. It doesn't have bells and whistles either, but I wouldn't trade it for anything. If we ever have a fire, it's the first thing I'll grab!

Just Another Ordinary Miracle said...

Well I am not much of a sewer, but do have a Brother monogramming machine and love it. That's about all I have to offer.

I also nominated your blog for a Lemonade Award. Don't do these often, but thought you well deserving!