Someone named Stephanie asked about sewing machines. Stephanie? Are you out there?
Hmm, so what do I have to say about sewing machines? Well, my first machine was the one all the way to the left--a really basic Kenmore. I'd just moved to California, no longer had access to mom's machine, and just wanted something for making stuff like pillows and simple curtains. It didn't have a lot of features, but it was fine for simple projects like that.
Once I got into making clothes, my mom offered to upgrade me to a new machine. We still weren't sure if this hobby was going to stick, so we had a price limit of about $250. She is a BIG fan of Kenmore machines, so we went straight to Sears. If you look at the Sears website, my machine is the lower end computerized machine. I have been very happy with it. It has all the features I need, without a lot of bells and whistles that I'd never use. My mom's machine, on which she sews endless amounts of doll clothes to sell, is a step up from mine, and she also has no complaints. They're very straightforward machines. They still have all the features, but they're user friendly.
So what features did I think I needed? Well, the computerized stitch selection. Automatic buttonholes. Horizontal bobbin. And it sounds dumb, but I really like the one-touch needle up/down button. I don't use most of the 110 stitches, and I've never used the automatic needle threader.
Okay, I just called my mom to see if she had anything to add. She said, "You know what? I've had a Kenmore sewing machine for forty years. Grandma bought me my first machine when I was preganant with YOU, and the first thing I made with it was maternity clothes." I pressed her for details on what she likes about them, and she mentioned ease of operation, "They're self-explanatory." She also said, "The service is GREAT. You just drop it off at Sears. I kind of hate to say it, but they're almost trouble-free. And I use them HARD." So there ya have it, folks.
Now, the machine on the right. That's my mom's Bernina (Activa 230 Patchwork Edition). The Bernina that intimidates her. I brought it home with me to see if it's really as complicated as she thinks. So far, I've only used it to make two bags, so I don't have a lot of experience with it. It is a bit more mysterious, I'll agree with that! Oh well, it can probably do a million things I'll never want to do, anyway.
Right off the bat, there were some things I didn't love about it. The sewing "table" or whatever you call it is very narrow. It comes with an auxiliary piece you can snap on to make the table larger, but then you can't get at the bobbin. The bobbin isn't a lovely horizontal bobbin like I'm used to, either. My mom called it "very old fashioned." Um, what else? It doesn't have the needle up/down thing (as far as I can tell, anyway), and I really miss that. Overall, it just isn't as self-explanatory as my Kenmore. I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to reverse! I could see the little U-shape embossed on there, but didn't realize it was a button. Whose dumb idea was that?
On the positive side, it does have a good, solid feel, and it seems to run like clockwork. It seems to have a finer variation in stitch lengths/widths. I ran it through a bunch of different decorative stitches, one after the other, without a hitch. I'm sure it's a fine machine, but it retails for somewhere in the neighborhood of $1300, and that's overkill for me.
For more information, Pattern Review has an area for sewing machine reviews. I also invite any blog readers to chime in with their experiences, because I am certainly no expert! I hope that helped some!