So, what I didn't tell you is that my sewing machine broke last weekend.
Yep, in the middle of all that Oodalolly, my machine completely jammed up. Wouldn't sew a stitch. Panic! It's just a cheap Kenmore (made by Janome) $230 machine. I've used it like crazy for over 2 years and never had it serviced (cleaned it myself). Apparently I didn't oil it correctly because my repair man says it sounds like the gears are stuck. This machine has served me well. I always use a walking foot, always! But, it definitely holds me back from free motion quilting... which I do want to do. Technically. I mean, I'm pretty lazy about trying FMQ, but I think that's due in large part to my machine's poor capabilities.
Anyhoo, my initial thought was to replace my Kenmore with another low-end-but-slightly-nicer machine, that I would feel comfortable letting Aria use (must have speed control!) and would be able to travel with. Then, I should also buy a much nicer machine that has more than a paltry 6" of space under the arm and maybe even a better feed system. Reasonable.
For starters, I borrowed my mother-in-law's new, mid-range Janome to finish Oodalolly. It has a delay with the foot petal and some other issues, so I didn't exactly love using it. Meanwhile, I ordered a $300 Janome from Amazon. (I deserve the "tsk, tsk" for not buying it from my local dealer, but 2-day shipping and the good price won me over.) Yesterday I was sewing with my new machine, not much impressed with it for simple piecing. Then I tried to sew a seam to hem Liam's flying geese curtains. Check out the results...
I'm sorry to expose you to such an ugly picture.
And, yes, I used a walking foot! The machine is only sewing through 3 layers of quilting cotton, plus one layer of microsuede lining. The microsuede is sandwiched inside the hem, so the machine isn't contacting it. After lots of testing, I determined that the machine didn't like that part of the wide walking foot was passing over the fold of the hem on the underside. That "ditch" of a terrain made it absolutely incapable of sewing this pass.
After switching things up and finding a way to sew that hem stitch (not so attractively) I began topstitching along the top folded edge of this curtain, where you see the green pin. The machine struggled to move over the slightly bulky seams at the tips of the flying geese.
So, yeah, I don't plan to keep it. I sew over rough terrain all the time and want something that can keep up.
At this point, I'm planning to have my Kenmore repaired and stick with it as a basic machine. I'd like to use this moment as the catalyst I need to research a nicer machine in my budget. But, researching a machine is a nightmare! I hate how the dealer's websites don't display pricing (they have their reasons). In my area, there are only Janome, Babylock, Bernina and Singer retailers.
I'm not really considering a Bernina for price reasons. Janome has a good reputation, but their cheapest model with a built-in walking foot is $1500, which is out of my range. I'd like to spend $1000 or less. All other Janome models would have the same feed system as the machine I have (Janome's "7 Piece Feed Dog"). Do those of you with recent Janome's love the feed system? Do you have to use a walking foot? Do you know what I did wrong?
So now I'm drowning in the possibilities without even knowing prices. Babylock has some fancy machines like the Serenade that have a dual feed system and almost 9" under the arm, but sounds like they are out of my price range. The Babylock Symphony also sounds promising, but no idea on the arm space or price. I don't really hear people recommending Babylock. Thoughts?
I know that the Pfaff is considered a reputable brand. The closer dealer is 70 miles away, but sounds nice over the phone. He recommended the Ambition line, which has dual-feed and 8" under the arm starting at $800. I've heard Pfaff's can be picky about the thread you use. Otherwise, this one sounds promising.
What about a Juki? This one has lots of room...
SOS! I'm looking for recommendations or "steer clear" warnings. To sum it up, I'm imagining a machine with an upgraded feed system (built-in walking foot or dual feed) that has 8" or more space under the arm and is a good investment for quilting, free motion included. It doesn't have to have a million stitches because I can use my Kenmore for zigzags or stretch stitches. I'd like to spend in the $800-1000 range.