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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
I'm just starting my first quilt and having a fabulous time. I'm taking a class at a local sewing shop and I am really enjoying it. However, I don't have a sewing machine. My daughter got a starter Singer last year, I'm borrowing a machine from the shop for my class. I've tried doing some stitching on my daughter's machine and got very frustrated, very quickly. I'm willing to put some money into a good machine, especially if it will hold its value somewhat so that if I decide its not for me a couple years down the road I can sell it and get some money back. I'm planning to sew home decor projects, curtains, quilts, fun projects, and maybe a little bit of clothing here and there.

Here are my questions:

I love the idea of embroidery, but a sewing/embroidery machine really ups the price. Will I use the embroidery features? Did you get a sewing machine and eventually upgrade to one with embroidery anyway?

What are the must have features that vary by brand? For example, the Husqvarna features a foot that raises up and down automatically depending on the height of the fabric, the Janome features a knee switch to raise and lower the foot, etc.

I'm aiming for a top- or almost-top-of-the-line amateur model, do you have any suggestions?

I'd love to hear any thoughts or advice, my mother never sewed, and I've never completed a sewing project before (but then again, I've never really tried). My kids are growing up and I now have enough time to devote to a few things here and there and I've wanted to sew for years.
 

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No advice from me, I'm afraid. I was never any good with a sewing machine, although my mom started teaching me to use them when I was young. I was constantly breaking the thread and sewing up the wrong ends of everything.  ::)
 

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I have a Husqvarna Designer 1 that I've had since 2002. I don't really use the embroidery as much as I thought I would, but it is fun to do home decor--embroidered napkins, pillowcases, etc.  It's been awhile since I got mine; I don't know if there are still any models where you can add the embroidery later.

Any top machine is going to have the basic qualities you want in a quilting machine--ability to drop the feed dogs for machine quilting, needle down when stopping, quarter inch seam or foot.  Some people swear by the knee lift, I've never missed it, even before I got a sewing machine with the foot that raises automatically.  You want it to be able to quilt over several layers without shifting.  With the D1, I don't use a walking foot (also called an even feed foot), although I think there is one for the D1.

Janome, Bernina and Husqvarna are the three big names that pro quilters use.  I'm only familiar with Husqvarna.  More than the individual brand, you want to buy from a shop who will stand behind the machine with service and support.  Find out the shops that are closest to you and what they sell.  Go to them, ask them to demo the machines for you, see if they will let you stitch a bit.  You want to buy from a shop who will answer any questions you have and have a good service program.  Some shops have a repairman on contract, some send them out.  Some will offer classes with the machine.

Choosing the shop that offers the cheapest price for the machine you want is often a false economy.  At the shop I worked in, we didn't have the cheapest prices, but we would spend as much time as needed to make sure the customer got the right machine for them and to make sure they could use it.  We had people come in who had bought their machines from somewhere else and then couldn't get the time of day from that shop.

That's off the top of my head.

Betsy

 

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I have used my moms new Bernina which is the one with embroidery. Its really nice, but super expensive. She uses it to quilt all the time and I have used it to quilt also.
I am actually inheriting her older Bernina to sew with they are really good and hold up great over time.

I know Jenoma's(spelling?) are really good too. I have a hello kitty one by them and I love it. It was my sewing machine for while I was in college.
 

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I have used both a Bernina and Pfaff. I prefer the Bernina but you can't beat the Pfaff walking foot for some projects. The top of the line Berninas might have the walking foot, too, as the patent expired for Pfaff, but I think they are very pricey. I use the knee-lift lever allll the time on my Bernina.

Regarding embroidery, I tried that and had a lot of fun for a while but now I could care less and will probably be putting my older 4x4 machines on sale with ebay. I just got tired of changing the threads out all the time.

As said before, the store selling the machines should be factored in, the camaraderie of fellow sewers, the ability to have questions answered, classes to get you excited etc might be the deciding factor in choosing one brand over another.

Set up a sewing kit with the fabric you will be using and try out diff machines using the same fabric-- maybe make a 9-patch or more complicated square, outline with a blanket stitch, zig-zag satin stitch (I think Bernina excels at a beautiful satin stitch). Then go home and compare the stitches, how you liked the machine etc. I know people like the Janome but they drive me batty, so you may just get a like or dislike for a particular machine that is your own unique reaction.

Sometimes you can get a good deal on a used machine at the stores, people trading up, etc.

Research forums maybe:
http://artisanssquare.com/sg/index.php?board=9.0

Good luck! and Happy quilting.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
Oh, thank you guys so much, this is just what I need. It really does seem down to Bernina, Pfaff, Janome, or Viking/Husqvarna. I'm really conflicted on the embroidery. I think I'll start without and if I can justify it, move up later. Probably. Maybe. I need to go out again tomorrow and look some more.

The sewing industry is incredibly perverse, what with not allowing online selling, not all dealers having a technician for warranty service, etc. It sure makes it difficult to research! I found a cute blog post outlining all the mergers and acquisitions amongst the various brands as well as the retailing standards in the industry in case anyone else is interested. It was entertaining!

http://www.evidently.org/2007/02/too-much-information/
 

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Once you've narrowed your choices down in the shops to three or four models, check out the online user reviews for those models too.  There will be specific features mentioned that may be poorly designed (even on the high-end models) or just somehow not ideal for you, and reading what people say about them who have been using those specific models for a while can help you decide.

I use a 30-year-old Singer (first generation of electronic sewing machines!) and a 20-year-old Pfaff (with embroidery), both great for different things. 

 

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If you will be doing projects such as car seat covers, outdoor shade cloth, etc., it is also handy to have an old and dependable machine that might only sew a zig zag and straight stitch but that can handle those materials that you would not want to put in your good machine.
 

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Susan in VA said:
I use a 30-year-old Singer (first generation of electronic sewing machines!)
So do I! It was my husband's grandmothers. After I inherited it, I took it in for a cleaning. A good friend owns a sewing machine business in my hometown. He told me not to ever sell it unless I gave him first dibs because I could never buy a new one as nice as it! I can sew anything on it, even leather!

Sorry hsuthard, I really don't have any advice. My friends store has all the machines out for the customer to try. If you have a place like that local, that's where I would buy.
 

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Annalog said:
If you will be doing projects such as car seat covers, outdoor shade cloth, etc., it is also handy to have an old and dependable machine that might only sew a zig zag and straight stitch but that can handle those materials that you would not want to put in your good machine.
As someone with 10 sewing machines, I certainly recommend more than one machine. However, my Husqvarnas can handle leather canvas etc and some outragious number of layers. The pressor foot height on the Designer 1 auto adjusts as it sews to the height of the material being sewn so it goes right over heavy seams. But definitely something to ask about if you think you'll be doing that.

And a sewing kit is a good idea!

Betsy
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
Why is it that everyone I know who sews doesn't have just one machine? It seems like two or three is the minimum! Lol. I guess I'm getting a late start. My husband has twelve guitars and ten amps, so at least in his eyes a few sewing machines would be modest. :D

I went this morning to look at some Pfaffs. they have a brand new line out, the Ambition series. I really liked the Ambition 1.5 model, as well as the Expression Quilters Edition 4.0 (which was twice as much). I'm off to check out Bernina this afternoon, this is starting to be fun!
 

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sebat said:
So do I! It was my husband's grandmothers.
Wow, that makes me feel old.... ;D I bought mine when I was 21. At the time I was doing a lot of work with sequin bands and the needles kept breaking on the sequins. After going to buy more needles for about the third time one week, the owner of the Singer shop suggested I look at the new Singers because they had slanted needles (as far as I know still the only brand to do that) which, instead of hitting the sequins straight on, would kind of slide over them and go in at an angle. I looked. I fell in love with the brand-new electronics. I brought a sequin band to the shop that afternoon to test it out, and promptly traded in my old non-electronic machine to make the new one slightly more affordable -- I figured I'd almost make up the rest in needles I wouldn't have to keep replacing. ;) Then ten years later when I went back to the U.S. it was worth it to me to have the motor replaced (for different electrical specs) rather than getting a new machine.

sebat said:
He told me not to ever sell it unless I gave him first dibs because I could never buy a new one as nice as it! I can sew anything on it, even leather!
That's nice to hear! And here I thought I was sitting on a dinosaur that only I liked.
 

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Susan in VA said:
Wow, that makes me feel old.... ;D
That's nice to hear! And here I thought I was sitting on a dinosaur that only I liked.
It was never my intent to make you feel old. Sorry. :-*

He said that all the internal parts were metal and they just don't make them like that anymore!
 

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I have a singer from 1992 and apparently that's like an antique nowadays.  It sews zigzag and straight, with varying lengths of each, and backwards has a button that you push to make it go backwards.  You lift the presser foot yourself, no automatics, and the sleeve arm attachment/disattachment thing is there. 

That's it.  One other feature I love is the NOT automatic bobbin winder.  You have to set your bobbin on top of the machine and wind the thread to it and (I take the needle out for this) set your foot on the pedal and go like crazy and it winds the bobbin.  I take the needle out in case of a misalignment so I won't break anything.  A month before I bought mine, a friend let me use hers for a project and it had an auto bobbin winder, which I promptly broke and paid for.  So I must have it manual.
 

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sebat said:
It was never my intent to make you feel old. Sorry. :-*

He said that all the internal parts were metal and they just don't make them like that anymore!
I don't know about "all the parts" but the Vikings have a solid metal internal structure--salesmen would stand on the sewing machines at conferences and we had a car come through the wall of the shop once and punt a sewing machine across the room--and it still sewed! :D

Betsy
 

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Other brands are Babylock and the higher end Brother machines (NX models and up).

The high end Brothers are basically Babylocks rebranded. I have a Brother NX400 (now it's the NX 450Q) and I really like it. It has done everything I have asked it to, even hemming jeans over those dreaded side seams. It's Babylock equivalent is the Decorators Choice. It has lots of decorative stitches and I love the threading mechanism and the button hole foot. I'm a clothing sewist and have done very little quilting and then only piecing but it is a machine designed with quilters in mind.

I would stear clear of the low end "starter" machines especially Singer. They are not quality built and can be very frustrating to use because they can get out of adjustment easily.


Of course there are always vintage machines. I have several and Love Love Love them. They were built to last without any plastic parts and are easy to maintain yourself and they are just pretty to look at than the modern plastic machines.

I have two treadles that I have actually used.

I have a 1961 Singer 500a "Rocketeer"that is just wonderful to sew on unless I'm sewing knits then it's not good. It has built in decorative stitches. It's actually a sought after machine that goes for up to $500 but I got lucky and picked it up at an estate sale, in a cabinet, for $10!

I also have a 1956 Pfaff 230a which also has built in stitches and it sews beautifully, even on knits. It can also fetch a high price. I have the receipt from it's original purchase and in on April 2, 1956 it sold for $399! I paid $50 at an antique mall. It would be my primary machine itf I had more than one bobbin that fit it. I need to find a Pfaff dealer and see if they still make them. I had bought some on ebay but they were off just enough they won't spin.

I also have a, very coveted by quilters in quilting classes, Singer 221 "Featherweight". It was handed down to me by my grandmother and it is a wonderful little, straight stitch only, machine that makes a beautiful straight stitch. They fetch several hundred dollars on ebay and lots of other places.

 

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Betsy's been pretty tame here.. when I asked her this was her reply:

Betsy the Quilter said:
You're asking me to talk sewing machines, I can go on for a long time. ;D Be prepared.

I have a several year old Viking Designer 1, because I often do embroidery. I also have a Viking #1+, their earlier top of the line embroidery machine. There have been at least three upgreades to the top of the line Viking since I bought mine. Diamond is the new one.

The short answer is that I own a Viking because the quilt shop where I worked carried Vikings and I got an employee discount. ;D The other machine I would seriously consider is a Bernina. Pfaff third, though I believe Pfaff are now owned by Viking. That being said, I bought my previous Viking from that shop just as a customer because I had looked them over and really liked them.

That being said, if the house burned down and I had to start over from scratch, I would still get a Viking. I change feet often and the Viking's snap-on feet save a lot of time. Changing feet is REALLY easy on the Viking. In the quilts I was working on, I would change from a free motion foot to a regular foot to a foot with a flange on the center so I could quilt in the ditch (in the seam) or topstitch next to a seam, to a foot with a flange on the edge so I could stitch an exact 1/4 inch from the edge of the quilt when putting on binding. Bernina used to have screw on feet, I think they may have changed this by now. If they did, it shows that Viking is the leader in the field. ;D Also, it seemed to me that the students with the Berninas fought more with their machines.

(I can't say enough about Vikings. We had a car come though the shop window once and punt one of the machines across the room. It still worked. We sold it as is (the base was a bit warped, it need a shim to not rock) at a good price and someone snapped it up.)

A lot of my past students had Berninas, and they mostly seemed very satisfied. I think Berninas seem more complicated to use than the Vikings, but that might be because I speak Viking, not Bernina. ;D I think either Bernina or Viking will be a good machine for you. It's a bit of the Ford vs Chevy thing. I think they're both good machines. Pfaff pushes its "even feed" (I think that's what its called) which means that the machine works like a walking foot all the time. The owner of our shop, admittedly biased toward Vikings, said that was because the feed without the walking foot wasn't very good. ::)

I'm not very up on current models of Vikings, though, sorry. I would suggest getting one of the top non-embroidery machines unless you want to do embroidery. A lot of the regular machines have decorative stitching. I had customers who thought they would never use those decorative stitches, but they can be quite fun even quilting.

You need to start with what kind of sewing you want to do and what you might want to do with the machine. And of course, what your budget is. Any place you go to look at machines should ask you those questions off the top.

You want to be able to put the feed dogs down for machine quilting, but almost all the machines will do that now. I really like that my machine has a button to push for the 1/4" seam stitch. A lot of quilters use 1/4 inch foot, which Viking has, but I can use any foot now with the 1/4" seam stitch.

Some of the Viking models have what is called the "stitch advisor." You select the kind of seam and the fabric you're going to use, and the sewing machine tells you which stitch to use and what foot works best with that stitch. I use that periodically when I'm doing regular sewing OR incorporating non-cotton fabrics in my quilting.

The best advice I can give you is go somewhere where someone will sit down with you and really go over all the features of a machine. Tell them what you want to do with it, and if they try to upsell you, go somewhere else. We wanted customers to be happy with their machine and come back to us. The owner always tried to fit the machine to the individual. That isn't to say she wouldn't show them a range of machines, but that she wouldn't push the most expensive one.

Find out if the shop you're considering buying from does repairs and service on site or if they recommend someone. Try to get a feel if you have any questions after you buy it, whether they will take time to help you. We had customers come in all the time who had bought their machines somewhere else in the area but couldn't get support afterwards. If there are other quilters in your area, ask them where they bought their machines and if they were happy with the support there.

Hope this helps. If you narrow it down to a particular machine or machines, I'll be glad to give my opinion of the feature set, etc.

Betsy
 

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LOL!  I love my Viking. But people who have Berninas love them and people who have Janomes love them.

I don't see much in that PM that I haven't said more succinctly here.

Betsy
 

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Discussion Starter · #20 ·
I went back to the Viking dealer tonight and looked at the sewing machines without embroidery. My daughter came with me and after about two minutes said, "OK Mom, get that one, let's go." LOL

I really liked the Sapphire 875Q, it does absolutely everything I want: automatic snippers, bobbin sensor, I love the sewing advisor feature (since I don't have any sewing experience, this is wonderful!), 10" harp, start/stop button, self-adjusting tension. Compared to the Pfaff Expression 4.0QE, it's a very close call. The Sapphire seemed loud to me in the store, and not as stable, but that could have been due to the table it was on. Betsy, do you find your Vikings to be loud?

I looked at the Bernina, but it just didn't excite me. And it was really expensive. I went by the Janome store just as they were closing up, so I'll check there tomorrow. Their line contains like 569 different models, and I cannot tell from the website which model would be comparable to the Sapphire/Expression models I like.

I've read good things about the upper-end Brother machines, but haven't yet found a dealer here that stocks them. I visited a couple of dealers that were listed as selling Brothers, but they didn't have any out on the floor.

On a good note, I finally got my DD's Singer working and was able to do a bit of my quilting homework. Unfortunately, it wasn't long before I broke my fourth and last needle. The tension is a mess on that thing, I have the upper tension on 6.5 and had to adjust the bobbin tension as well. The Viking saleswoman suggested I change the thread to something sturdier, and that seemed to help alot, too. Boy, a good machine is well worth it!
 
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