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Sewing Machine Opinions

Hobart, IN

Hello -
I'm contemplating the purchase of a new sewing machine. My current one is 25 year old Viking 620. It's been a decent machine except for reverse stitching (I literally have to pull the fabric through) and edge stitching. Seems like feed dogs are the weak point to me on this machine. I do mainly basic sewing of clothing, make buttonholes, just started blind hemming. I'd like to maybe do a little quilting (nothing extensive) and might like to have a few more decorative stitches (that's all on cards these days?). Looking for something priced mid-range and that will perform well and not be too fussy. I'd rather have a workhorse (like sewing denim well) than one with a gazillion bells and whistles. Can anyone give me some pros/cons about what's out there these days? I would really appreciate all opinions.

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

I have a Viking Rose that I really like. Have had to have the feed dogs replaced, but that is the only repair in 12 years.

I also have a Bernina QE which I do like for doing free motion work. It is noisier & requires more care than the Viking.

A couple of my friend's have Janomes which they are very happy with.

And a Kenmore is always a reliable machine. I've had mine for almost 40 years & it still sews perfectly.

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

Here's a link to an old thread where we were discussing machines: http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/1188826/

Hobart, IN

Thanks so much for that link. It's easy to get confused with all of the PR and am really hoping to get more opinions from experienced sewers.

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

Buying a sewing machine is like buying a car - personal preferences.
You might be able to get a good deal on a used/trade in machine. Usually there is nothing wrong with them the owner just upgraded.

Hobart, IN

Wish I could test-drive a sewing machine like a car. :)
Bought my DD a Brother for Christmas several years ago and the lower thread/bobbin is a real nightmare, almost constantly tangling. She's hardly used it because of that. Couldn't find anything online about a possible model problem so I'm urging her to take it in for a look-over.

(Karen) Traverse Cit, MI(Zone 5a)

My Bernina was new in 1985. It's still runs like a charm. On occasion I have to take it in and have a repair done. I'm talking maybe once in 6 or 7 years. To me it's worth it.

You might want to have your machine tuned up and see about a repair to the feed dogs.

One other thing, all repairmen are not alike. We moved to northern Mi last year and I found the best Bernina repairman I've ever seen. Living in the Detroit area, I couldn't find one I trusted. They were there, however.....

(thunder)Wildwood, FL(Zone 9a)

my sewing machine shop just closed :( not sure what I will do for cleaning and service now??? guess I will have to get the hubs to do some online research, and see if he can figure out what my machine will need for maintenance.

you should be able to test drive any machines you are looking at, any of the shops I went to when I was last looking offered "test drives" even encouraged you to bring in your own samples of fabrics, if you wanted to. thin, thick jeans, leather, etc...whatever you wanted to try.

Hobart, IN

siliolegma - we have a couple of sewing machine repair people in the area but the one I usually go back to (perhaps for convenience) comes to my local Joann's store.
barefootT - I will have to keep the test drive thing in mind once I narrow down the very large list of possibilities. Good winter project.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

It's helpful to post your budget when asking this advice. Many manufacturers have high end and low end products so you can't go by the name. Brother is an example. Brother used to make mostly budget end machines but now high end shops carry high end Brother machines while the chains carry the cheaper Brother line. The reviews are miles apart.

A computerized machine, one that has programs on cards as you mentioned, will be expensive for what you describe as your sewing needs. There are non-computerized machines with loads of stitch options.

As for quilting... are you looking for a machine to do piece work and assembly or actual quilt stitching? You can get a machine that is good for piecework and assembly but is not so good for quilting. My Bernina QE is great for piecework but the lack of space in the throat makes moving large pieces unwieldy. My ancient Singers work best there. For general sewing I love my Bernina QE but no Bernina is cheap and neither are the attachments or repairs. Fortunately I've found mine to be a workhorse and problem free. Aside from general sewing, the machine has handled heavy drapery and upholstery construction.

Every few years I hear from a museum here in Atlanta. I have designed and made textile exhibits and costumes for children for about ten years. The exhibits open here and then travel to other museums throughout the U.S. and Canada. I think they've been to Mexico too. Anyway, I get the costumes and soft sculpture back between exhibits when they need repair or replacement. The Bernina QE has handled almost all this sewing. As far as Berninas go, this is not a high end one.

Longboat Key, FL(Zone 9b)

to that point I have just purchased a Brother high end computerized embroidery/quilting/ utility sewing machine. For trial run, it is a CHARM. As I have a high end Janome (work horses on the market) as well, this brother is closer to todays technology. Janome lacks computer friendliness with newer computers.One can work around it but sorry I paid or all the bells and whistles. Singer featherweight is good for piecing. Janome 8080 made for Sears is simple 80 stitch options something like 20 yrs old, she is my sweetheart.

ohh but this new brother is so devine.

Marietta, OH(Zone 6a)

did you get one of those new V Brothers, Helene? If you did, I'm sooo jealous! LOL ♥

Hobart, IN

Ah - that explains the disparity on Brother reviews that I've read over the years. And of course I bought DD a Brother from a retail chain. She did finally take her machine in to her local fabric store last week where they sell and service machines and found out that it cannot use those "universal" bobbins that she has. I hope the fix is that simple!
I had never heard of the Janome brand until this thread but then I hadn't been actively looking for several years. I'll have to do some research on that one.
I'm hoping to find a good machine for under $1000 - less is better for my budget. :) I don't think I'm up to doing actual quilting unless it's a small piece. I know I would need a lot of throat space for that. I'm thinking I'm looking for something sturdy, reliable functioning (ie my problem with reverse stitching mentioned earlier), can handle a wide range of fabrics without bogging down (the toughest probably denim) with the versatility of some decorative stitching. I like the idea of computerized embroidery but not sure that I would make a lot of use of that option. It might be fun to have if the upcharge isn't too great.
I'm liking all of these comments!

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

Janomes are good machines but seem to be very regional and not many dealers.

I test drove the new Brother at the Houston Quilt Show. IT was SWEET & they were selling it for a BIG discount so they did not have to take it back with them. Sure was tempting but I already have more machines than I can use in a day!!!!

A good rule of thumb is "the heavier the machine the more metal parts it has. The more metal parts, less to wear out."

Hobart, IN

I guess a new machine would be my main one (unless I keep my old Viking for some reason). I do have a 25-yo Singer 4-thread serger that I use sometimes depending on what I'm sewing although I sometimes use both on the same project. If I ever replace that one, I sure hope sergers have become easier to thread as this one's nerve-wracking.
Qwilter - like your rationale about metal construction.

(Karen) Traverse Cit, MI(Zone 5a)

I have a Singer serger of about that vintage. Mine is a 14U234. I've never had a bad time threading it. It is color coded. Usually I can just tie the ends of the new colors to the old and run the machine to thread them through. However, I do take it completely down for cleaning and then have to start from scratch. As I said though, it's not difficult.

Hobart, IN

Off topic (sorry) but do you vacuum your serger or blow it out? As my eyes get older, getting the thread through all of the little apertures is sometimes trying for a sometimes impatient person like me. Mine is model 14U64A. It's also color coded for threading.

Marietta, OH(Zone 6a)

my old machine I hit with the canned air first, then use a lint brush to clean all the leftover packed lint out. The newer machines they recommend NOT using the canned air, as it can blow lint up inside and make problems. I also have vacuum attachments for cleaning my keyboard, handy for the machine also.. I don't have a serger (yet), so don't know what they look like underneath.

(Karen) Traverse Cit, MI(Zone 5a)

I have an attachment for my vacuum that has miniature tools. Works great for cleaning.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

I make my husband thread my Serger or else I cry. Even swear. It was purchased as a refurbished machine, when I got my Bernina, and seemed such a deal at the time. I'd never get one again that was not self threading.

I researched machines pretty intensively about the time Bettypauze got her used machine. I was looking for something newer than my four very old Singers to keep at the cottage. After trips to several dealers around town, the local fabric shops and the big box folks I was beyond confused. Most of the dealers in my area who formerly carried Janome no longer carry the brand and have nothing good to say about it. These were the same people who were touting the machine side by side with Bernina five or so years ago. The local Joann's is now carrying Juki and Janome. What's with that? Then I ran across this article which was a real eye popper. http://www.evidently.org/2007/02/too-much-information/ Maybe you all have seen it? I was so turned around after that that I decided to keep my old machines as back ups unless another Bernina fell in my lap for almost free. :) Really...I began to wonder if it might be best to buy cheap machines for real basic stuff and with the expectation that they self destruct.

All this said, what I like best about my Bernina is the machine goes up and over, as well as back and forth, over fabric mountains. It does lots of decorative stitches but I stick to the finishing stitches. I am not interested in machine embroidery since I love hand embroidery. My machine is electronic as opposed to mechanical. I love the ease of use and that it is self-regulating for the most part. I have always been a little nervous about that because I like to break my machines down several times a year for maintenance. That's my version of becoming one with my machine. Can't do that with an electronic machine.

If I needed to choose a new machine tomorrow I could not say, after all that research, what brand let alone what model, I'd choose. Probably another Bernina in the $1,000 plus column and a not as well rated Brother in the under five hundred dollar category. However, the $1,000 plus Brother machines are getting a large fan base. Anyway you look at it a sewing machine is an investment. A "cheap" one is not only still expensive but you are stuck with the choice. Remember after you read the link that just because a company once made a great machine does not mean they still do. If that was the case we could talk about Elna which is formerly a brand I loved.

Hobart, IN

Kizmo - thanks for clearing that up for me. I had just heard something recently about NOT using canned air but don't remember any specifics being mentioned.
silio - Wow - gotta get me some attachments. I think DH has one of those computer vacuums but wondering if it's strong enough to get the job done?
Maypop - thanks for posting the link to that article! Read it and now I know why I get (easily) confused.

(Karen) Traverse Cit, MI(Zone 5a)

Cindy I'll bet they are the same thing. Mine has a mini crevice tool that is great for getting into tiny places. It's the one I use the most.

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

Laurel - great info.
My Viking is a true workhorse and just purrs along no matter how much I abuse her.
I remember the Singer my mom gifted me. One day, after sewing for 4-5 hours I noticed my foot was hot. I burned out the foot pedal. At that time we had a tech "on wheels". He was a good guy and brought his shop to you. He was nice enough to give me a couple foot pedals from machines he had for parts. Then a month or so later, I wore out all the internal gears. Then I gave him that machine & the foot pedals back and went back to using my 20 y/o Kenmore (that weighs a good 20 lbs).
Next time I'm at the LQS I need to see if there are any good repair guys around. The Bernina needs a tune-up.

Hobart, IN

I did notice that the foot pedal on my Viking is getting a little wonky. I think a wire somewhere is getting loose since I would press on the pedal but the motor wouldn't start. Once I jiggled it a bit, it worked fine. Perhaps an omen (to buy a new machine)?
It is amazing (especially after reading that article) that there's such a wide range of prices on machines. And here I thought I was getting such a good deal on buying DD's Brother at W*.

(Karen) Traverse Cit, MI(Zone 5a)

Foot pedal probably needs new brushes, not a biggie repair wise.

One thing, regardless of price, a good machine will hum and not sound rattle-y or grind-y. I really don't know how to explain the noise, but a good machine will have a nice solid sound.

Longboat Key, FL(Zone 9b)

the one thing with Janomes, they are loud. They are heavy.

Brother has a machine at the distributors that is for quilting and utility sewing. Has about 11" throat space. If i had a choice I would look at that a bit more closely.

I fell in love with the one I bought. Laura Ashley 5000,not realizing I will never ever use all that this machine offers.I have an exceptional memory and I know I will never ever remember all the motions needed for many of the features that are with each stitch choice.

For instance: needle will always come up to the left, to the left with sts in place, to the middle, to the middle with sts in place. But going into the quilting stitch it also offers to the left, to the middle and to the right. Than there is a reason for each and every choice. Sophisticated yes, But all I want to do is sew,not have to think. LOL.

Cleveland,GA/Atlanta, GA(Zone 7b)

Thanks, Jean and I know what you mean about those old "portables". About the hot foot peddle...my mom got the first computerized sewing machine made, a Singer Touchtronic. About six months later she was sewing and thought the machine felt hot so she turned it off and went to the other side of the house. Next thing she knew, the sewing room was on fire! The fire department had to come. The machine had shorted out. Well it was the late seventies and she had a boat load of polyester double knit in the room. Talk about a melt down and horrible stench! Maybe that's why I hand quilt, like mechanical machines and prefer cotton. lol

Hobart, IN

Helene - I know what you mean about thinking too hard. Heaven forbid when I have to look up something new for a project (like blind hemming).
Maypop - Oh my - melted polyester. As for quilting, I've always intended to learn how by hand. Even bought a great book for practicing those hand stitches. I like having something to keep my hands busy in the evenings in front of the tv. Generally, it's knitting. Hand sewing is kind of soothing in a way.
silio - my serger sounds kind of rattly but it might be all of those loose thread guides, etc.

Hobart, IN

Resurrecting this thread as it is now in the budget for me to get a new machine. Have decided on the Bernina but am looking at 3 different models - the 450, 530 and 710 (although this one is a little more than I'd like to pay). I like the potential for embroidery but the machine also has to handle mundane tasks well. Liking dual feed, pressure foot pressure options, etc. Anyone have any opinions on any of these 3 models?

(Karen) Traverse Cit, MI(Zone 5a)

I am a huge fan of Bernina's. However the last one I bought was in 1985, it still runs like the first day. I would still give the same advice as so many. Test drive them all, and really test them not just a few patches, especially test the options which are important to you. Get the best one you can afford, that does the most for you, because most likely you will have it for a very very long time.
P.S. Heavier is better, more metal. Does it run smoothly? How does it sound? Shouldn't make a clatter noise.

Hobart, IN

Thanks for the tips. I think since I'm pretty sure I'm going for the Bernina, I should go to the shop and test all 3 of them. Yeah, it'll probably be the last one I buy (unless the serger gives up) or so says DH. My Viking is over 25 yo.

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

1 problem with the Bernina is they require occasional maintenance. Every so many stitches a light comes on & you have to take it in to get it serviced. Mine is also very noisy.
But if you have a local dealer, that is good.

Ask about the service fees.

Hobart, IN

Good point about the service fees. What model do you have? I saw that there was some sort of stitch counter on one of the models. Will the sewing machine continue to operate even if the light comes on? I do have a dealer about 10 miles away. Haven't been to the shop yet as I wanted to educate myself a little more first. I'm making a list of things that currently aggravate me on my Viking so that I can check how the Bernina fares.

(Pat) Kennewick, WA(Zone 5b)

Ya, take a pair of jeans to HEM, so you can see them all go over that big welt. THAT can be a pain on some machines. Maybe a quadruple seam of fleece (like I had to last night mending my son's fleece jacket pocket.)

Fleming Island, FL(Zone 9a)

I have the 440QE. It will continue to run but skipping a lube job is not a good idea.
I don't think it ever ran as smooth or quiet as my Viking.

(Karen) Traverse Cit, MI(Zone 5a)

My old Bernina purrs but then it's not electronic.

Hobart, IN

My Viking 620 isn't all that quiet. It does a lousy job on thick, multiple layers, edge stitching and reverse (I have to pull it backwards carefully to lock stitches). It's a real effort to sew anything other than medium weight fabric with straight seams and I currently sew more clothes than anything else. Thanks for the tip, psych, on taking some jeans to sew.

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