Monday, February 27, 2012

how to Buy a Sewing Machine

good morning

Thank-you SO much for your feedback on sewing machines.  Although it can be overwhelming at times, hearing from so many of you drove home a few key concepts:

1.  Everyone has different needs and different experiences.  Maybe 4 people LOVE sewing machine X, but 3 others say they had nothing but problems with the exact same machine.  My thought is that there are "lemons".  Sewing machine X may be a wonderful, reliable machine if assembled properly.  But, due to quality control issues or maybe because it was dropped a few extra times between China and the states, sewing machine X may be your worst nightmare.  This is the only logical explanation to me when people I know and respect report opposite experiences with the same machine.

What do you do about the possibility of lemons?  Well, if you buy in person, you can try out the machine you'll be taking home to see how it performs in store.  And, if you have a local dealer you can rest on the warranty for free repairs within a year of purchase in most cases.  Many dealers will also let you trade up for a different machine if you decide the one you purchased is awful.  In contrast, if you buy from Ebay sight-unseen, even a new-in-box machine may mean lots of trouble... or not.  It's a gamble that way.  You can save lots of money on Ebay, but that machine is yours.

2.  Consider buying used.  So many of you suggested I buy a used machine so that I could invest in a higher quality machine than my budget would allow if buying new.  Smart!  Since many dealers do allow trade ins, they may have a few used machines to consider.  You might also find used machines locally through Craigslist, which would allow you to try before you buy.  Especially if you decide you want to own a Bernina, used is a great way to go as testified by many, many commenters.

3. The best way to compare machines is to test drive!  I'm so glad that you all pointed that out.  I wouldn't have thought to take the 2 hour drive to Charlotte Sewing Center to test drive machines if you hadn't suggested it.  For anyone else trying to sort out which  machine you want, I cannot recommend highly enough that you go test drive.  It's worth it.  So worth it!  Bring a selection of sewing samples, from simple piecing to bulky seams to quilt sandwiches for straight line and free motion quilting.


and then I Went Shopping...

On Friday I left my kids with my mother-in-law and journeyed with my mom to Charlotte to spend the day shopping.  Priceless!  I also took my broken Kenmore along to Charlotte Sewing Center, where Mr. Bill repaired the machine while I shopped.  My mom called him the sewing machine wrestler.  It was impressive to see him at work!  This guy is serious and good.  Seriously good.  I won't be taking my machines anywhere else.  There were other people at the store on Friday from my hometown (2 hours away) and Alabama (8 hours away).  His store has a reputation for buying and for repairs.

Bill aka Machine Wrestler

After combining your comments on SOS Sewing Machines with my own research, here are machines of interest:

Juki TL98Q ($1000)
Juki TL2000Q ($865)
Viking Sapphire 835 ($1000)
Babylock Serenade ($1300)
Pfaff Ambition 1.0 ($800)
Pfaff Expression 4.0 ($2100)
Janome 1600P ($800)
Janome Memory Craft 6600 ($1500)
Janome Horizon ($2800)
used Bernina?

Many of these are above my spending limit of $1000, but perhaps I would buy them used or on Ebay if I really fell in love.  Also, it seems wise to shop a little bit above your limit to make sure that you don't want to save until you can spend more.  Some key new features for me are:

*Dual feed/built-in walking foot.  With my Kenmore I found that most projects were improved by using a walking foot.  Without it, if I was piecing long sashing strips I would see that the top fabric was not keeping up with the bottom fabric as they feed through the machine.  As a quilter, I also need a walking foot for quilting and binding.  With a separate walking foot I cannot use other feet (like a quarter inch foot) in conjunction with a walking foot.  Plus, separate walking feet are NOISY.  I am also hoping that a built-in walking foot will be more effective. 

*Large harp space.  The space under the arm of the sewing machine and to the right of the needle is called harp space.  I want to buy a machine with at least 8" to make quilting easier.

*Good for Free Motion Quilting (FMQ).  My Kenmore had tension issues when I FMQed.  A higher quality machine should do better.

Some features my Kenmore has that I wouldn't want to do without:  needle up/down, speed control, accessory tray, good lighting, needle threader and free arm. I could imagine not having as many stitch options or auto buttonhole, since I could rely on my Kenmore for those rare occasions.

taking notes

So, Charlotte Sewing Center represents Pfaff, Janome, Babylock and Viking.  Juki's website listed the store, but it turns out Bill had just sold his last Jukis weeks before.  He won't be restocking Juki because it's not selling well in comparison with the other machines that do more than straight stitch.  I was bummed because a lot of you really love your Juki.  Most quilters only use straight stitch.  Juki's are semi-industrial machines with long arms that are reported to be great at FMQ too.  Bummer.

Charlotte Sewing Center also didn't have the Viking Sapphire.  There were quite a bit of mixed reviews on this machine in your comments, so it was not a strong contender for me.  I don't recall that he had any non-embroidery Vikings, actually.  I didn't end up trying Viking or Babylock.

Sewing Machine Comparison  

at Charlotte Sewing Center

These are just my personal experiences.  I recognize that any issues I had may be a result of user error or of a faulty machine.  I brought lots of samples and took notes as I went.  Here are my thoughts in the order I tried them...

Pfaff Ambition 1.0

This was the machine leading the pack in my mind, so I tried it first.  With 8" of harp space and built-in dual feed a $800 price tag, it seemed like a good buy.  The Ambition handled the exact same bulky drapery seam that had tanked my Janome days before with aplomb.  In fact, all of the Pfaff machines couldn't care less if I was sewing through thick or thin fabrics, bumps or not.   The Ambition does not have these nice features:  knee lift, auto thread cutter, auto tension adjustment.  When I FMQed on the Ambition my work showed tension pulls from the back.  It wasn't as bad as what happens on my Kenmore and possibly changing the tension would fix it.  I didn't ask Bill to help me with that.

For the price difference, I did not try the Ambition 1.5.  At $200 more you get more stitch functions and a bobbin sensor to alert you when its running low.  Neither are important to me.

Pfaff Smarter 1100 Pro

Pfaff Smarter 1100 pro

I had not considered this machine, but Bill had it set up with a lovely, huge extension table.  Like all upper-end Pfaff's it has built-in dual feed that feeds from the back with a black arm.  Dual feed can be disengaged if desired.  It works with 6+ presser feet, including the 1/4" foot.

testing on bulky seams

The Smarter a semi-industrial machine, which means it's made with more metal than other Pfaffs and has other built-to-last features like all metal rotary vertical bobbin and a 2nd motor for bobbin winding to reduce wear on the main motor.  For $1500, it has a 9" harp, a wider stitch width than non-industrial machines (nice for spacing straight line quilting), two thread spool or cone holders and a ton of stitch functions.  I could feel that it sews faster than other machines too, with 1100 stitches per minute.  It was easy to tell that the machine was stronger since it doesn't vibrate when sewing.

Pfaff Smarter 1100 pro

Smarter also has some features that are nice "extras" for me:  auto thread cutter, low bobbin sensor, and knee lift.  Only when I tried the knee lift I decided it was a MUST for me.  Wow, does that save time!  The knee lift allows you to lift the presser foot hands free.

room to Free Motion!

When I free motioned on Smarter the thread tension on the back was perfect.  That's because this machine has auto tension adjustment, which senses how thick your fabric is and adjusts tension accordingly.  You can manually adjust tension if desired.  The Quilter's Toolbox for this machine lists at $250, which includes the extension table, FMQ foot, several 1/4" feet and other feet.  Always ask the dealer to throw in accessories when you buy.

Pfaff Expression 4.0

Expression 4.0

This is Pfaff's top-of-the-line for quilters with a 10" harp space for $2100.   Of course it has dual feed and all of the features of the previous Pfaffs. In addition it has Auto Pivot.  This is fun.  Really, really fun.  When you stop sewing on this machine the presser foot automatically lifts and the needle stays down.  Those two things in combination means you can easily turn when quilting.  I tested this out with some concentric squares on my quilt sandwich and then couldn't stop.  I started doodling in geometric shapes.  SO FUN!  I could see how this alone will sell the machine.  However, this machine did vibrate a lot as I sewed.  Also there is a little dip in the work surface just before the bobbin area that has been reported to flip seam allowances, causing mayhem.  I could see how that could happen, though I didn't have the right materials to test it myself.

I did not consider the Expression 3.0 (cheaper) because it has no knee lift or auto pivot.  

Janome Horizon

I was very excited to try this machine.  It's so pretty!  With a 11" harp space, it's huge.  The Horizon has lots of features, so I'm going to focus on what it didn't have that I had appreciated so far.  It did not have auto pivot, but costs $2800.  The machine seemed to sew a tad quieter than the Pfaff's, but it did vibrate like the Expression.

Janome Horizon

It did have a knee lift, but it was WAY to far to the side.  Here's how far I had to move my leg to reach it.  Ouch!  (edited to add:  The knee lift is straight up and down when you go to press it, but I had to press it that much to really clear the foot presser from the fabric.  In contrast, the Pfaff knee lift starts out angled in so that when you press it, you go to about vertical for lift off.)  I asked Bill if the knee lift was adjustable; it's not.  For control you want to center your body in front of the needle while you sew.  With this machine, I just wouldn't be able to use the knee lift. That was a big downside since even just a little sewing yesterday showed me how much I would enjoy that feature.  For comparison, this is how far my leg has to move to the side with the Smarter:

love the Knee Lift!

Unlike the Pfaff's (which invented dual feed), the Horizon has dual feed built into the main foot.  Pfaff's have a separate black lever for the dual feed that reaches down in back of the foot.  The Horizon foot that has dual feed is called an "Accufeed" foot. This foot is extra wide and only available in normal and in the 1/4" foot (about $30).  So, really... it seems more like a walking foot that comes standard than built in dual feed?  It's kind of a matter of perspective.  Anyways, I started off wanting to chain piece some fabrics.  Here I'm feeding them into the machine...

feeding...

And, the Accufeed foot is causing problems.  This foot has a gap in the center that opens and close as it pulls the fabric through.  My seams consistently bunched up in that gap over and over and over and over again.

Accufeed bunching fabric

Even though Bill was busy, I called him over to show me what was going wrong.  He gave it a new needle.  She would sew without bunching if you started in the center of the fabric or a long ways in from the top, but every single time either Bill or I fed fabric for a 1/4" seam starting even a 1/2" in from the top, the fabric bunched.  Wouldn't even keep sewing either because the bunching jammed it up.

bunching on Janome Horizon

Perhaps a potential fault of the Accufeed foot design itself? It seems impossible that everyone has this problem (which would completely prevent chain piecing) because I know many love their Horizon, so I feel like the foot at the store must be defective. 

Janome Memory Craft 6600/Janome 1600P

Unfortunately, Charlotte Sewing Center did not have other upper-end quilting Janomes.  However, the 6600 ($1500) has the same walking foot as the Horizon - the Accufeed - and the 1600P ($800) would have required a separate walking foot.  I've heard good things about these machines and would have liked to try them. 

Babylock Serenade

This machine was at the store, but I didn't end up trying it. I was pretty much there all day and was starting to tire out!  At $1300 it looks a lot like the Ambition, which runs $800-1000.  In features it's somewhat between a Pfaff Ambition and their Expression.  Could be worthy of considering. 

Bernina Artista 635

Bernina 635

The last machine I tried was this Bernina.  Bernina's are the only machines still made in Europe and mostly of metal.  It's heavy and it doesn't vibrate.  Bill is selling this used machine for around $2300.  It has a very, very small harp space (as small as my Kenmore).  And, this is the case with ALL Bernina's except their most expensive machine, the Bernina 8 series (820/830).  The 8 series have gigantic 12" harp space, but retail around $10,000 new.  Even purchased used, a Bernina with harp space is out of my price range. 

So, that's the story!  Nope, no "answer" just yet.  Shopping in person was a GREAT IDEA and as a bonus my old Kenmore is now working like a dream.  I highly recommend Charlotte Sewing Center to anyone in the area!

90 comments:

  1. Wow, what a day you had!! I'm curious if you tried sewing on a quilt sandwich on the Ambition 1.0, as that's where I ran into trouble with the one I had.

    So excited to find out what you decide, eventually!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I did try a quilt sandwhich with crossing lines, but didn't have trouble. Maybe if I was doing larger spaces between lines (like you did) I could have? But, overall, the dual feed seemed to work well to me on all Pfaff machines that I tried.

      Delete
  2. I'm glad to see my machine on your list (Juki TL98Q). I brought this almost 2 years ago and I love it. Yes it lacks fancy stitches, but the bigger harp and the incredible results from it's straight line stitching is worth the trade off. I got my online @ http://www.allbrands.com/products/abp26707.html.

    Good luck on the sewing machine quest :) looks like you are doing your research!

    ReplyDelete
  3. Sounds like you like the Smarter! Unfortunately, now i do too....

    ReplyDelete
  4. I am really looking forward to your decision! I really need a new machine but have no idea what to get. You are the first post in a long while ( and I follow a bunch of quilting blogs) to cover this. I really appreciate it! =)

    ReplyDelete
  5. Such a great review- so glad you had a productive trip! That is where I got my machine (Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.0) and love it. :) Good luck with the decision!

    ReplyDelete
  6. It sounds like you really liked the Smarter. I did want to comment on the Horizon though. It does have the auto tension setting, and that is not the correct placement for the knee lift. It will go in more than one way. My knee lift bar is straight up and down along the side of my leg. Good luck in your search. Having a machine you love and are comfortable with really does make a difference.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Well, the knee lift is straight up and down when you go to press it, but I had to press it that much to really clear the foot presser from the fabric. In contrast, the Pfaff knee lift starts out angled in so that when you press it, you go to about vertical for lift off.

      Delete
    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

      Delete
    3. Rachel, I just checked out the knee lift on my machine (I don't use it because my desk is too high to easily reach it) but on my knee lift there is a screw that you can adjust to twist the starting point of the lift (so you can make it angled like you described with the Pfaff). You can kind of see the adjustment screw in the picture of you using the Pfaff machine. My Horizon came with a screw adjustment like that, but it looks like the knee lift you're using on the Horizon in the picture doesn't have it for some reason? I know that's not the only thing keeping you from liking the Horizon but I did want to let you know! :)

      Delete
    4. Thanks, Holly! I wonder which is the current model? Probably the store's but you never know. Well, there's a good question!

      Delete
  7. Thanks for this AWESOME review! I really want a new machine with more harp space and some of the features you mentioned. Excited to hear more!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I agree with the previous poster. You have got me interested in the Smarter. Sounds like it is a great machine for quilters.

    ReplyDelete
  9. Here's a little secret....the Pfaff Smarter is the exact same machine as the Singer Quantum L500 (exactly. The one difference is the Blue front panel) but the singer generally runs $500-$600 cheaper.....Something to look into!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I had a Singer quantum for 6 months. If you dont count the 2 months it spent in the shop. I had 2 replacements before i demanded a refund. It is fine if you dont want to straight line quilt, but the IDF does not feed evenly and you cant attach a walking foot.

      Delete
    2. The Singer Quantum L500 APPEARS to be the same as the Pfaff Smarter and the Babylock Serenade, but they are built to different standards. As per Laura, the IDF on the L500 does not feed evenly. I also had problems with tension, automatic thread cutter, noise, and most everything else. I gave up on it and tried the Smarter ($1399) and the Serenade ($1299). I have had a Pfaff with IDF in the past, but decided on the Serenade, mainly because of so many more decorative stitches. I was happy to pay the extra money to not have the problems. Sharon - ssauser@dishmail.net

      Delete
  10. I have the janome horizon and I use a scrap of fabric to get going...it seems to work for me. I don't love that, but it is so nice and easy to sew with. I had a kenmore in college and pretty much quit sewing because it was so bad. I upgraded to the janome 3120 prior to the horizon. I have been very happy with both machines and it was important to me to buy locally. Also, my knee lift is not that far out. My goes straight down like the other one pictured. It is still a bit far from me, but I think that is due to the size of the machine. A machine for every need! We are so lucky to h ave so many choices!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, we are lucky! I updated the post to clarify that the knee lifts don't start as pictured, that is just how far they have to be pressed to lift clear. Sorry for the confusion.

      Delete
  11. I love that you are sharing your findings with everyone! Like Angie said, the Horizon does have auto tension and the knee lift can be adjusted. Also, I've found that the accufeed system is of course awesome for straight line quilting, etc, but for things like piecing I don't find it necessary to use (and I only rarely run into the issue you posted about the fabric bunching). I never really feel like I need to use accufeed while piecing even long strips, whereas I definitely needed that with my Kenmore.

    Can't wait to see what machine you choose!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, that's good feedback. I updated the post about the auto tension. My mistake! Thanks for the correction. I heard the same on Flickr - someone who doesn't use the Accufeed for piecing. It's a little clunky to change back and forth since you have to change the foot ankle too. But, I know some people also have 2 machines and may use a different one for piecing vs. quilting.

      Delete
  12. Interesting! I have the Janome 6600, and yes, I don't use the knee lift b/c it is so far away. Maybe if I was taller it wouldn't be a big deal. Like Holly said though, I don't need to use the accufeed foot to piece, and I only use it for quilting or when I am working on something with a lot of layers (like a bag). You get fast at changing it, and it doesn't bother me.

    Also, my first machine was that same Kenmore! I couldn't believe how easy it was to quilt after I got the 6600. The harp space and how easy it was to FMQ wasn't even comparable to my experience before!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ok, so I'm not the only one who doesn't "fit" the knee lift, LOL!

      Delete
  13. Very good post-- thank you! So much information is summarized very clearly. The Pfaff Ambition 1.0 is still on the top of my list, but i am very glad to learn of the issues people have had so i know what to check on & discuss when i am ready to purchase. I agree with your thoughts on lemons/quality control. There is not much we can do about that since almost all machines are made in China now.

    mary/Sy Lake Quilts
    (i am not trying to be anonymous, but some blogs seem to have issues with the browser i use & this is the only way i can post.)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Wow. I thought I got in deep when researching machines, but you my friend, win the prize! You might consider a second career at Consumer Reports? =) Glad you are back in business with the Kenmore!

    ReplyDelete
  15. It sounds like you had a very productive day! I know you'll find just the right machine. I'm impressed that Bill fixed your Kenmore so quickly!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Interesting read! I have a knee lift for my machine that I've never actually tried lol Maybe I'll try all those wee features at my lesson with it a week on Saturday (and we'll gloss over the fact that I've had the machine 5 months already ;o) ) The auto-pivot is a great feature though, which I have used, and I also love the auto bobbin sensor and auto thread cutter, all handy wee time savers.

    Good luck with your ongoing hunt!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Katy - good info! Yes, you should totally use the knee lift! It looks funky, but it's awesome.

      Delete
  17. Sounds like you had a lot of fun. The only word of caution I have for you about buy machines on Ebay and not from a dealer is service. Especially Janome. There are horror stories all over the internet about the poor service from the head offices. If you go through a dealer though, no issues.

    The Janome Horizon had a lot of issues with their foot and sent out a replacement to owners of the machine. Perhaps your dealer didn't have the newer foot on? I do know that many are happy with that machine and just as many are disgusted with it. But like you said, for every machine you will find lovers and haters.

    I did look at the Janomes when I was buying too but the motor was the turn off for me. I need to be able to sew through 4 layers of denim and bulky things. Janome has never had good motor power.

    Have fun making your decision. Sewing machines really are so personal. You find what you like that that's that. I personally love the knee lift too, I use mine all the time.

    Heather

    ReplyDelete
  18. I love my Viking Sapphire 870. I've had it for probably two years. Huge harp space, auto-pivot and also auto-presserfoot raise and lower when you start depressing the foot pedal or raise up on the foot pedal. I can't begin to tell you how spoiled you'll be with just this one feature!!! No knee lift needed.

    I did plenty of FMQ on it before getting my longarm. I cut a custom hole into an IKEA table to fit the machine in so I have the equivalent of a big FMQ table.

    I also like how the machine speed increases as you depress the pedal more like driving a car.

    Hope this helps. Let me know if you have any questions about the Viking Sapphire 870 :-)

    ReplyDelete
  19. Based on alllllll your info I now want the Pfaff with the knee lift :) Larger harp space will be key in my next machine, but I think I'm still a long way from buying one.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Thank you for sharing all your info about the machines you tested. Good luck with the continued search. :)

    ReplyDelete
  21. oh, I also love my cut button and auto bobbin sensor.

    If I was making this decision again right now, I would try the Juki that crazymomquilts (AmandaJean) has, the high end Babylock, and the Janome Memory Craft that people rave about. I'd compare them to my Viking. I don't need fancy stitches but I do need: needle down, good tension/straight stitch, and throat space.

    ReplyDelete
  22. yep, gotta love those pfaffs. Mine is a 2025 and was only about $500 as a floor model. Hope you end up finding something you love! I must say, your search is incredibly thorough!! I am impressed

    ReplyDelete
  23. Fantastic post! I read every word! Look forward to seeing what you choose...I, too, am in the market for a new machine and I hadn't considered the Pfaff... hmm food for thought.

    I think you are right about test driving them...I could see myself doing that at the next big Quilt show here.

    ReplyDelete
  24. I love my Pfaff. I have been using a 2038 in the Expressions line for 3 years now and couldn't imagine sewing without it. I don't quilt too often and when I do, it's only a baby blanket so I wasn't looking for quilting features, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE the IDT feature, needle up/down, and how smooth and strong the sewing is. It sewed like a champ when I sewed through upholstery fabric when I reupholstered my couch. And having a dealer nearby to service is priceless! Good luck with your search!!!!!

    ReplyDelete
  25. I must chime in with everyone else ... Thank You!! for posting this. Purchasing a machine is such a daunting task and you can read yourself silly on Amazon and Consumer Report-ish online reviews. I am new to quilting (though not to sewing) and I am having such fun. But I already see a new machine in my future. I am using an inexpensive Brother machine I purchased a while back and it's doing what I need it to so far, but I know that statement won't be true for long. I'm dying to see what you end up choosing and I hope you will continue to report back about how well you like it and its features. Again, THANKS!

    ReplyDelete
  26. Wow - that was a great summary of the comments and a wonderful description of your experience! I especially love that you included prices!!! It is so hard to shop, as you said in your SOS post, b/c no one lists prices!! It's also amazing that you found a sewing store that has all those different brands under the same roof! goodluck picking. in the meantime, it's nice to know that your kenmore is back up and running! =)

    ReplyDelete
  27. Ha! I had to laugh at the title your post after your last one! Nice that you got your old machine repaired and running well! Thanks for the leg work on the machines it will definitely come in handy later!

    ReplyDelete
  28. Great post! I got a Simplicity e-mail today and thought of you.
    http://www.simplicity.com/c-768-sewing-machines.aspx?utm_source=bronto&utm_medium=email&utm_term=Image+-+Sewing+Machine+Sale+at+Simplicity.com&utm_content=sunniloveaffair%40aol.com&utm_campaign=Sewing+Machine+Sale+02%2F27%2F2012

    ReplyDelete
  29. You did some serious research! I am looking into overlockers at the moment and I know I will not be able to decide until I am at the shop testing them out. It is the only way to really know what you like. Good luck with your decision!

    ReplyDelete
  30. I'm another person that's too small for the Knee lift on my Horizon so I removed it for fear of pulling an inner thigh muscle trying to use it properly (I wonder if I "bulk out" by eating cake...Hmm :D)
    I only really use the Accufeed for quilting, if I do use it for piecing I use a scrap of lead fabric first. I know it's not ideal but it's a pay off for the other features I do really like.

    ReplyDelete
  31. It's so interesting to hear about your shopping experience! Thanks for sharing all of the details. I logged onto Bernina's site and drooled over those 8 series machines. Yikes.

    ReplyDelete
  32. What a great post, Rachel! Thanks so much for sharing your experience with all these machines. I hadn't thought much about a knee lift before so I'll have to keep that in mind when I look for a new machine.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Thoughtful review...I was going to comment the other day.have you considered an Elna? I think these are unsung heroes in sewing machines...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I haven't considered Elna much. Again, it's a dealer issue. But, it's helpful to know that Elna is made by Janome. You'll find similar technology there.

      Delete
  34. So glad you had a good sewing machine shopping day and that your Kenmore is now working again!

    The Pfaff Smarter will be my next upgrade I think. I really liked it when I went get my Ambition, but did not have the extra $500 it would have cost at that time.

    Of course, in the year that I will be saving up for my next upgrade I might change my mind. :)

    ReplyDelete
  35. Wow, did you have a productive day... and what information you assembled! Good luck with your final selection...

    ReplyDelete
  36. Viking sapphire - i have heard bad things. I had a singer quantum for 6 months which is a copy of the pfaff. Apparently pfaff have been bought out by another company and the quality isnt there anymore. Not sure about the pfaff but the dual feed on the singer DID NOT WORK! I was using my old Bernette more. You may be better looking at an older pfaff than the newer model. I ended up with the Bernina 820 at less than half the price you mentioned :) yes, lucky lucky me :)

    ReplyDelete
  37. I have a Janome 6600, and honestly can say that I love it for quilting. I use the built in walking foot for mostly quilting, but have found that it helps with accurate curves (found during your curves class!). I did buy the optional 1/4 version of the Accufeed foot, so maybe that helps. It comes with a different plate, so the hole to the bobbin area is smaller, and results in less bunching, and less fabric being sucked down into the sewing machine black hole. I will say that the large harp size is great when piecing. I usually set up the accesory table, even for piecing. However, on the rare occasion that I make something other than a quilt (skirt, bag, etc) I do miss the free arm. I deal with it, simply because 90% of what I do is large quilts. Overall I'm happy with it, and I hope you find a machine you love.
    p.s. - I'm in Charlotte (only for the past year), and now can not wait to go to the Sewing Center - how did I not know about this place before?

    ReplyDelete
  38. I am so glad you made the trip to test-drive.

    Did you look at the manuals at all? Unless you never need to refer to them(I do--I forget things). I eliminated a Janome I was looking at because the manual was so poor, with incorrect directions on how to do things. I also hated my old Pfaff's manual, it was poorly translated from German so the words were all out of order and it was so hard to figure out. Maybe with the internet this doesn't matter so much any more LOL.

    Do Pfaffs have non-metric plates now? In 1987 the one I got only came metric and 4 dealers in 3 states over 20 years could not find a non-metric replacement. It was awful!

    Also--my H/Viking was made in Sweden. It is maybe 5 years old (before knee raisers were on any but the highest-end)? Do they make them elsewhere now?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. According to my dealer, everyone (including Pfaff) moved all production to countries like Taiwan, China and Thailand in the past few years. Since H/Viking is now owned by Pfaff, they're no longer made in Sweden.

      The new Pfaff's do have non-metric plates showing inches, Also I did look at a Pfaff manual and it looked correctly translated. Actually had more details then my low end Kenmore.

      Delete
  39. I have an older (9-12 y/o) Pfaff Tiptronic which I love. The even feed is wonderful, I forget I have in engaged most of the time, another perk is it can be disengaged at any point, even with the needle down.

    I am looking for a starter machine, my budget is $0. I was hoping to be the recipient of charity, hee hee, still searching.

    Cannot wait for your decision, love the process.

    ReplyDelete
  40. I've had a Juki for a few years got it after my Kenmore died. It's a simple hard working machine, not much to go wrong or get fiddled with. And it is very very fast,I love to sew fast! I have quilted 4 bed sized quilts without a problem. I got mine used off of ebay, took a risk but paid off. Negative is that it only does straight stitch.

    ReplyDelete
  41. Good job testing so many models. I made the mistake of not thoroughly testing when I bought my Husqvarna. But I tested several machines thoroughly when I bought my Bernina. I went back for a second day of test driving just to be sure. And I love this machine. I think the key is finding the sewing machine that feels right to you and works like you think it should. Which I think is different for every person. Hang on to that good sewing dealer. A good dealer can make a huge difference.

    ReplyDelete
  42. i own the babylock serenade and i loooove it. i purchased mine in clemmons, nc at sewingly yours. excellent service!!!!! i also own the juki tl98q that i purchased on craigslist for 350.00 and it is fabulous for doing piecing and straight line quilting. man, can that baby fly. i mostly do my piecing on the serenade and i do alot of machine applique so the buttonhole stitch is a must. love the dual feed on the babylock and the fact that i can adjust the presser foot tension easily. i've owned babylock for the last 18 years and i highly recommend them.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Thanks for the info. I may be needing a new machine soon and it's nice to know someone who has done some homework!

    ReplyDelete
  44. Very interesting....I'm curious what the 'auto-pivot' is/does...?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, it's hard to understand without using. But, auto pivot on the Pfaffs means that when you stop sewing, the presser foot automatically lifts and the needle stays down. Those two things in combination means you can easily turn when quilting.

      Delete
  45. Thanks so much for such a detailed posting about your machine trials. You really did a great investigation. Brought up things I hadn't thought of.

    ReplyDelete
  46. The best place to test drive LOTS of different machines is at a national quilt show or Sewing expo. I believe IQA is in Cincinatti in early April, and of course AQS in Paducah KY in late April. When I was looking I went to AQS and was able to try all brands and models I was interested in and the bonus is they usually have show specials. I know it is difficult with a young family but if you can find any sewing conventions in you area that might be an option.

    ReplyDelete
  47. I tried out a Juki at a recent quilt retreat and it was Great. Nothing fancy in the way of stitches, of course, but felt very sturdy and had a huge harp area compared to what I'm used to. Auto thread cutting was like magic.

    ReplyDelete
  48. Sometimes the simpler the better. I have had two Kenmore machines both of which were purchased by my parents as gifts. The first lasted for 25 years to the day of gifting and the motor burned out (had a 25 year warranty on the motor) and my folks decided to give me another new Kenmore. I also have a machine that will embroider and have enjoyed it, but I always go back to my Kenmore for some of the simplest of tasks. Enjoy your new machine when you get it.

    ReplyDelete
  49. I have the Pfaff Quilt Expression 4 it has some fabulous features but it's horrible at FMQ which is ironic as it's a specialist quilting machine. I also have lots of issues with it when sewing HST's. I had an old Pfaff that was fabulous, after buying this one I would never buy Pfaff again. Itve had way too many problems with it.

    ReplyDelete
  50. Thanks for your review. I would pick the pfaff smarter based on what your comments were. If I need a new machine I will look for a pfaff dealer.

    ReplyDelete
  51. I have two reviews on my blog for the Pfaff quilt expression 4, I have to say, Im very happy with it. Flipping of seams just isnt an issue, im not sure why you would want to sew with the removable storage box on anyway, as Im always using it so it seems silly to keep it on the machine. I used the free quilters toolbox table which eliminates the problem completely. Im sure most people sew without the front box on the machine as thats where all the feet are kept so you need easy access to it, so keeping it on dosnt make sence to me.

    ReplyDelete
  52. I hate that you came all the way here without checking out AAA Sewing in Stallings. I bought my Janome 6600 from her and have been in heaven ever since. I used to think that about my Bernina 1230, but ever since the 6600, my poor Bernina sits in its bag so lonely and forlorn. Whatever machine you get, it will be a thrill!! Your comparison is a great service. Buy the best you can afford, you will not regret it.

    ReplyDelete
  53. So glad your Kenmore is working well. Now you have time to continue your search. Though I do not have a Janome 6600 myself, I have heard and read many good things about the machine. From reading your blog and the work that you do as well as reading other similar blogs, it might be a good machine for you to consider and test. Myself, I have a Bernina 930, Janome Jem Platinum, and a Janome DC 5100 and I love each of them for different reasons. I, too, have considered a Janome 6600, Janome 1600P, Juki TL98Q, Juki TL2000Q should I have a desire to do serious FMQ. If you have a machine such as your Kenmore that has a freearm, then perhaps one of these machines would have the speed and features you are looking for.

    ReplyDelete
  54. I'm not sure if you are aware since you have the Janome 6600 on your list, but list free arm as something you wouldn't want to do without. The 6600 doesn't have a free arm.

    ReplyDelete
  55. I had a Janome Horizon but in the end it went back, even after waiting some months to get the replacement foot they came out with, as it still didn't do a good 1/4" seam without veering off or bunching up. Changing between the two throat plates was a pain with a fiddly screwdriver and I'm tall but the knee lift was just wrongly placed. Got a Pfaff QE4 and it's just brilliant. For chain piecing especially I would never want to be without the auto pivot again - it's like the machine taking a deep breath to let you slide the next piece under. In fact, though the knee lift is well placed I don't use it as I now don't need to raise the foot very often. The throat plates snap on and off. It FMQs very nicely with the Sensormatic foot though it has taken time each time to work out the correct pivot height for the fabric/batting mix. Good luck with your decision - I wish I'd been as careful as you first time round as it would have saved months of anguish!

    ReplyDelete
  56. Rachel, you are so awesome for posting all this information. I wish I could get a new sewing machine too.

    dxx

    ReplyDelete
  57. I'm so glad he got your Kenmore working again! It's always nice to have time to consider your options without needing to jump right in out of necessity...planning for a big purchase is so much better. And I have to say, this was a pretty nice review of machines. I'm not even in the market for one, but you have me oohing and awwing over that Pfaff Smarter and some of it's features! I have never heard of the dual feed stuff since I use really old machines...very interesting. Thanks for sharing!

    ReplyDelete
  58. I dread the day my Husqvarna dies for good. I bought her used and she works like a complete dream for me. I can't imagine finding a better machine for my uses. It is interesting to see the differences that you are finding though. When I go into my local sew and vac store, all I see are fancy machines that would take so long for me to learn how to use.

    ReplyDelete
  59. I finally tracked down a shop that is local(ish) to me & carries both Janome & Pfaff. I'm in Ontario, Canada. I knew the Janome 6600 would cost more than the $1500 price tag I've been hearing about. How much more? How about $2700 CAD. Yep. I felt like crying when I heard. She told me of a machine "very similar", the Elna 7200. It's $1900 CAD. I was really stretching it when I thought I could pull off the $1500. So - back to the drawing board for me!
    *sigh*

    ReplyDelete
  60. This is such a great post Rachel, thanks for taking the time to write it. I really wanted to try the Horizon but there is no Janome dealer near me and of course doing it all in French can be trying. But I see the great importance of trying the machine first and coming prepared to put them through their paces. Might wait until I go home.

    ReplyDelete
  61. I'm so glad I read this post! It got me up off my behind and out the door to go "test drive" some sewing machines. I took your list with me, too! One of the machines I tried last week was a Viking Sapphire 875. I fell in love with this machine almost instantly. It sewed like a dream, and for March only, there is a free package of quilting feet and accessories, worth $320! However, the downside was that this machine was $2100 before tax! Wow. Even stretching my budget, this is out of it. Still...

    Today I went to a Janome dealer in Princeton. I tried out the Memory Craft 6600, and liked it a lot. The accufeed foot didn't misbehave while I was sewing with it. I tried various stitches, and sewed on my quilt sandwich. What came next was a huge surprise! I told the store owner that I had to think about it, and he asked me if I would like to take home a brand-new machine and try it for a week! And, even though the sale is ending today (it's $1489!), he would give me the sale price at the end of the week if I decided to buy it. All he has is my name and phone number. No credit card, no nothing else - and I'm sitting here staring at a brand new, straight-out-of-the-box Janome 6600 on my sewing table! How cool is this?

    ReplyDelete
  62. This post is great, as I love my PURPLE sewing machine, but would maybe like to get a more advanced one.

    ReplyDelete
  63. I recently bought a Juki TL 2010Q just for quilting. I took a Cindy Needham quilting class and a few ladies had the 98's, which I tried out. Wow. I liked the smooth, powerful feel. Juki has a nice lineup and the HZL F600 is highly reviewed and I thought quite impressive for the price (which is in your budget). I would check that one out. I always look over the machine reviews on PatternReview.com when looking around, they are really helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  64. Replies
    1. Yes, I have actually! I bought a Pfaff Smarter and have shared some of my thoughts on another post: http://www.stitchedincolor.com/2012/03/pfaff-smarter.html

      Delete
  65. Thanks for the great info... This is all so overwhelming to a brand new user trying to find her *first* machine. I've used the goodwill generic I found for a couple projects, and I know I want a better machine to do more, but I don't even know what half the words you use mean! Makes it hard to buy a machine that could set me back a small fortune ( Some of those machines cost more than I make in a month!), especially when I am just a hobbyist, not a quilting "machine" like you! :) Thanks for all the info, though...really helpful.

    ReplyDelete
  66. How do you like the Baby Lock Serenade?

    ReplyDelete
  67. A couple of notes from an admitted sewing machine fanatic (vintage collector, restorer, and user, seller of modern machines, and quilter/clothing sewer, etc..).
    From my SM sales perspective, most problems (upwards of 90%) are usually a user issue. Lack of training (didn't attend those free classes that came with their machine!), never read the manual, bad sewing habits, etc.
    Take all advice/recommendations/complaint posts with a grain of salt. What you did today - visit a dealer and USE machines on the same type of work you do often is the best way to evaluate a machine. They are all different - as you learned!

    As to price point: My mother's 1952 Singer Featherwieght cost Dad $180. In an inflation calculator, that would be around $1500.00 to day. It sews forward and backward, with needle length adjustment - and that was it. we don't expect to pay the same thing today for a car that we paid in 1952. Why do we think a $300.00 machine would be as good?!? If you are an avid sewist, who needs a reliable, durable machine to sew often, budget at least $1,000 for a good machine - a bit more is better.
    And finally -about the "myth" of the "metal-is-better-sewing machine"... it's just that. The only reason most machines no longer have a lot of metal is that it is an expensive material, and really not necessary to the constructions of a well designed sewing machine. Good machines are metal where they need to be, but duratec, nylon, and plastic where it makes sense. Your sewing machine should last you 20 years, but like your computer, technology improvements will cause you to question using it that long! Too much metal just makes it expensive.

    Any machine will bounce a bit if you use it on a lightweight table - one on wheels for example! A solid, heavy table will keep an machine from bouncing around as it sewings... And good ergonomics are essential to comfortable sewing - your hands /forearm should be at a 90% angle from the side of your body... if you have to reach up to sew, your neck and shoulders will ache!
    Thanks for your nice review of your day checking out machines...

    Something

    ReplyDelete
  68. A wonderful review. I am a beginning quilter who could use a boost.

    ReplyDelete
  69. Very useful review. I read it all. I live in Italy and I want to buy a machine for quilting. was interesting to read. The candidates for my purchase are: Janome Horizon 7700 or 8200, Elna Excellence 740 or Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.2. I'm geared more for the Pfaff because it is the least expensive but I find no opinion on it. Does anyone know her?

    ReplyDelete
  70. The Pfaff Ambition appears to be the same as my Singer Quantum L500 which is a total nightmare. It is also a Babylock Q LP or something...

    ReplyDelete
  71. This is two years later and I'm wondering how you fared with your choice? I have a Kenmore 36 from the 1990's and have just begun quilting this year. I need a machine that will accommodate that, but having trouble narrowing it down. I'm not too far from Charlotte so I must go test drive. Still I'd love to hear how it's going now and your recommendations. Thanks.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. While test driving in person and going with a reputable local dealer were great approaches, I did end up purchasing a machine at that time did not work out long term. Fortunately, my dealer stood behind it and made several repairs on warranty. After the last batch of repairs, I sold the machine and moved on. Now I sew on a Juki TL2010Q purchased from Sew Vac Direct. Although they are an online dealer, they sell a wonderful extended warranty. This machine has been faithful and it does free motion quilting like a boss! You can find posts about it if you search my blog for Juki. Good look!

      Delete

Related Posts with Thumbnails