It's high time I came clean about something.... I have a new sewing machine! Yes, actually, I've been sewing on it for about a month now since I wanted to use it extensively before giving you my thoughts. Did my projects give me away?
When I went shopping at Charlotte Sewing Center the Pfaff Smarter 1100 Pro emerged as my favorite machine. It was a close call with the Pfaff Expression 4.0, which was out of my price range. When the owner made me an offer I couldn't refuse, I decided to buy the Smarter right then and there. Although I had considered looking for a used machine, it felt good to buy a machine with a warranty from someone I wanted to work with.
Pfaff Smarter, how I love thee. Let me count the ways...
*9" harp space. Quilting the baby quilts I don't even notice that there is limited harp space. With Oodalolly, which was large, quilting was truly comfortable.
*Quilting table. Bill included Pfaff's "quilter's toolbox" which includes a large clear table for my machine. Adore! I find myself far less fatigued when quilting with a table. Plus, it looks very official, don't you think? wink.
*Automatic tension adjustment. So far, this really works. I've free motioned two projects, plus done various tests, and the tension on the back has been perfect each time, even when quilting loops!
*Dual feed. Like all upper end Pfaff's, this machine has dual feed. A little black lever pulls the fabric through from the top in conjunction with the feed dogs. You can easily disengage dual feed, but I never do. It's there and I don't have to think about it. It works well. And, now it is SO much quieter when I sew.
*Knee lift. The knee lift is a metal lever that rests beside the knee. I press my knee slightly to the side to lift the presser foot. This is such a time saver. I love being able to hold onto a project while adjusting the foot. Seriously. use. this. constantly. Would not want to go without this feature again!
*Semi industrial. The Smarter has certain made-to-last features like a separate motor for bobbin winding, a vertical rotary bobbin (which is nothing like cheap vertical bobbins), more metal parts and the set up to use thread spools or thread cones.
*Needle up/down foot pedal tap. Didn't know about this until later. Love it! I'm a fan of the needle up/down button. My new machine has a button on the face of the machine, but you can also control needle up/down by tapping the foot pedal. Anything that allows me to keep my hands in place saves time.
*Automatic thread cutting. This is not a "must have" for me, but it does save time and thread. Pushing the button trims the thread to about an inch from where I've stopped sewing. This is particularly handy when quilting since it can be hard to get under a quilt to trim the bottom thread tail manually. I still prefer to chain piece to save time and thread, even with an auto cutter. The Smarter chain pieces beautifully.
*Extra wide needle position. This machine can adjust to make a wider stitch than average. The flexibility is nice. Next time I'm doing dense straight-line quilting, using a wider stitch width will help me make my lines just a tad farther apart, thus saving some time.
So, yes, I am thrilled! But, no, the machine is not perfect.
First off, the Smarter I brought home was flawed. The auto thread cutter usually didn't work. It would often unthread the needle whenever I used it. Because the problem happened immediately and Pfaff stands behind their products, Bill at Charlotte Sewing Center verified the malfunction and gave me a brand new machine. Happy camper! My new Smarter works perfectly. And, as an aside, Bill says this is only the 2nd Smarter with which he's ever seen a malfunction of any kind.
One feature I don't like is the low bobbin sensor. I'd rather just sew until my bobbin is emptied all the way. The Smarter warns that the bobbin is almost empty and stops sewing. You can start sewing again, but it'll stop again. It's a go/stop thing that's frustrating and probably not good for the machine. I guess I need to get used to wasting some thread.
But there's one more thing that's annoying. Sometimes I'll be merrily sewing along when my machine will give a warning beep. The screen shows that there is a problem with the upper thread. I'll stop sewing and find a mess on the underside of my stitches for about 3" where the thread is all snarled and the sewing is not right. It must be ripped out. At first when this happened, I would rethread the top thread completely to fix the problem. But when it happened more than a handful of times (remember, I've been sewing on it for a month), I started investigating. It is my belief that the problem is a tension problem that is caused by the fact that I only use the knee to lift the presser foot just barely enough. I rarely lift the foot to the true "up" position. I believe that the auto tension adjustment gets thrown off by all this sewing without lifting the presser foot to allow it to correct itself. When I remember to occasionally fully lift the presser foot, the problem disappears.
Just this week I was working on Aria's Easter dress skirt. I settled on a simple patchwork design, which means there are lots of seams in her skirt. As I don't have a serger I would usually go back over the seams with a zigzag stitch after normal straight-line sewing to overcast the edges against fraying. But it occurred to me that the Smarter probably has a stitch that does both at once - the straight sewing and the overcast.
In fact, there it is as option 7 in the most commonly used functions on the front of the machine. When I selected option 7, the display showed me which foot to use.
See, it's that funny looking drawing slightly to the right with the number "3" beside it. I had no idea that there is a special overcasting foot. But I found one that looked like the drawing and had a "3" on it in my accessory bin.
Lo and behold it does an awesome job of overcasting without pulling on the edge of the fabric, which helps me maintain an even seam allowance! At that moment, I was very grateful to have such a "smart" machine, hehe.
This is how the underside of the patchwork skirt looks now. Very tidy and ready to withstand lots of washings!
Another cool stitch on the front of the machine is this triple stitch (option 3) that makes each stitch more pronounced. I used that function when quilting all three baby granny quilts! It looks just a little bit like hand-stitching.
Ok, there you have it! For more details on the Pfaff Smarter Pro 1100 and the other machines I tried, see my original post about shopping for machines. If you have any questions about the Smarter, do ask!
******Update October 2012*******
Unfortunately, I've been having problems with my machine. The automatic tension adjustment stopped working mid summer. Since then I have to manually adjust the tension every time I turn on the machine or change stitches, even just to achieve a simple straight stitch. Sometimes even with my adjusting, I can't get a proper tension. Also, the needle threader broke. And the automatic thread cutter often unthreads the machine when engaged. I still use the machine for quilting, because I enjoy the large throat space. I've also become addicted to the knee lift. But, at this point I am very disappointed with it's overall performance. Sorry to bear bad news!