Friday, August 15, 2008

Sewing Machines

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!


Knitting Mom said...

I agree that a Kenmore is and always has been a great machine, but I've had Bernina machines for about 20 years now and they are awesome! Once you learn a bit about it and play around with it, I think you will love it. I have recently bought a high end Brother embroidery machine, and it embroiders beautifully, but it doesn't sew like my Bernina. In fact, that used to be their slogan, "Nothing sews like a Bernina...nothing." That's one time a slogan is absolutely the truth. Of course, many people don't want to put so much money into a machine. In that case, the Kenmore is a wonderful alternative.

Darling Petunia said...

Knitting Mom, thank you SO MUCH for your take on it!

Stephanie said...

I just wanted to say thank you so much for taking the time to explain all that to me. I really want a sewing machine and after looking at your darling blog and some other sewing ones, it got me even more excited. However, like I explained in my previous comment, I had no clue what kind to get. There are so many different types and being completely inexperienced I have no clue what is really needed... I also don't want to spend an arm and a leg for something that I'm so unfamiliar with. But after reading your post, I couldn't be more comforted. I feel much better about not having to spend hundreds and hundreds of dollars on my first sewing machine. And it'll be much easier to try and convince my husband to get me one that way too! :) Sorry to drag on forever, but I just wanted to say thank you. I was so excited that you even asked your mom and other readers about it too. Hopefully I'll be able to get one soon...then I'll express some feelings from personal experience!! :) Thanks again, you're great!

Anonymous said...

Chiming in - in praise of my Viking. It was my 16th birthday gift from my mom and dad and I've used it HARD for about 18 years since. It's been in the shop twice and that only in the last year or so. I think it deserved a vacation. Admittedly it is not computerized (I don't really want a computerized machine.) and is a more basic model, but to echo you, Darling Petunia, it does everything I want it to do. My only frustration is that lately I've been sewing some heavy denim and it doesn't do as well with that. It needs a bit more coaxing. So, I'd love to hear about a machine that sews heavy duty.

Darling Petunia said...

Stephanie, it was no problem, and I even found out something I didn't know (about my mom using her first machine to make maternity clothes). Thanks again to Knitting Mom and to Susie for their opinions as well!

Rita said...

I spent two years as a sewing machine technician and I've sewed on EVERY sewing machine out there.

My personal favorite is the Pfaff. Their basic models are workhorses and some of them can sew up to 10-14 layers of denim without even breaking a sweat. Their embroidery machines are glorious.

The one major problem with newer Kenmores that I ran into was their body is made from a composite fiber-like material. The screws that hold the body together go INTO that material. If they break in any way, you might as well toss your machine even though the mechanics of it are still fine.

The Brother machines are nice, they have amazing embroidery versions.

I personally sew on a Janome, but it's only because I can't afford to upgrade to the Pfaff that I want. My mom has a Pfaff sewing machine and it's beautiful. I have a Pfaff serger that is almost 20 (?!) years old and it still sews amazing. I try to keep them maintained on a fairly regular basis.

And there you have the caveat with ANY sewing machine. Please please please please please take your sewing machines in to get serviced every couple of years. In the same way you wouldn't let your car go for years and years and years without servicing it, you don't want to ignore your sewing machine. You prolong the life of your tool by investing in good maintenance.

As with any appliance you buy, you get what you pay for. Be prepared to invest a few hundred dollars into a good machine and it should last you a long time.

Hope that helps a bit :)

Sheryl said...

I'm a bit late to this party, but I have to say that I'm another Kenmore fan. I would agree with your mom - the ones that I've used have been very solid, uncomplicated, and user-friendly.

A couple of years back I gave my 10 year old Kenmore to my daughter when she moved out of state (she was sewing at the time, and I wasn't.)It's a great, basic machine, and she uses it all the time.

I recently started sewing again, and acquired an old (early 1970's) model Kenmore from a garage sale for $10.00. It was in pristine condition; all I had to do was clean a bit of lint out of the feed dogs and give it a good oiling, and that thing purrs like a kitten. It's a great machine!

It's all metal and you could use it for a boat anchor, and just does straight, zig zag, and blind hem stitches (oh...and buttonholes.) I don't need need it to do more than that. Also, it was simple enough that I was able to figure it all out, even before the manual came (I had to order one.)

I would recommend that Stephanie take a look at some garage sales and thrift stores; you can find some great sewing machine deals there.

The Cute & Adorable, Yet Ever So Humble, mE said...

OOOH I just got rid of a horrid Singer and purchased a Bernina Activa 240. I LOVE IT! It's a smooth sewing machine. It's also a machine that I am not likely to grow out of in the next several years. I researched machines for a while and finally decided on the Bernina. My mother in law has one that she bought the year before dh was born and it still runs marvelously over 37 years later!

Glad I stumbled on this blog... loads of good information and fun reads.

Inky Smiles!

Darling Petunia said...

Thanks to everyone who left input on this question. It's been very interesting to read the different opinions! I must say, the Bernina is growing on me, although I was too chicken to try it for buttonholes yet!