Wednesday, March 28, 2012

the Pfaff Smarter

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?

Pfaff Smater 1100 Pro

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...

Pfaff Smater 1100 Pro

*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.

Pfaff Smater 1100 Pro, quilting table

*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!

Pfaff Smater, auto tension 
front/back 

*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!

 Pfaff Smater 1100 Pro

*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.

Aria's Easter dress skirt

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.

Pfaff Smater 1100 Pro, quick functions

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.

Telling me what 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.

overcasting

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.

Pfaff Smater, overcast stitch

This is how the underside of the patchwork skirt looks now.  Very tidy and ready to withstand lots of washings!

Pfaff Smater, triple stitch

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!

56 comments:

  1. I have an old Pfaff expression and it snarls up on the back if it has not been threaded with the foot up. Even rethreading the needle it will still snag.... Take the cotton all the way out of the 3 thread guides - nearly back to the bobbin.... And re thread - this works for me.

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  2. ha! I never knew what that nr 3 foot was for! Figures I find out in the week that I am expecting my overlocker to arrive lol!
    I am totally jealous of your machine Rachel!!

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  3. oh, to have a 9'' throat! My Pfaff (tiptronic 2030) has approx. 6.5'' - 9'' would be heaven!
    My Pfaff's overlock stitch has straight stitching on both sides (so it would take longer than yours I'm sure), but I DO have that #3 foot and have never used it! Will have to try it out!

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  4. I don't have a Pfaff, but do have the triple stitch on my machine and LOVE it. I use it for topstitching too!

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  5. PS- I use it when I make dolls using a TINY stitch and I don't have to worry about stitching the seam more than once to keep my stitches from pulling.

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  6. Congrats on the new machine! What a fun purchase:)

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  7. Wow. Machine envy!

    And I also use the triple stitch in place of stitching a seam twice, mostly in garment sewing, for added strength (bottom of zipper, under arm seam, and crotch seam, mostly).

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  8. So lovely to read about another Pfaff machine and to hear how it compares to my QE4. The low bobbin sensor annoys me too, I just press the button once and it carries on so its easily fixed. One thing that I find helps is using Aurifil threads (orange spool think its 40wt)as its so much thinner the bobbin only tells me when its low when its actually very low (as in just 5 cm or so is left). I never thought of using the triple stitch to make my machine quilts look more handquilted so thanks for the tip! Looking forward to seeing how you get on with the smarter in the future Dana:-)

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  9. huh. i will have to look for the straight stitch/zigzag on my machine. i'm sure it has it--i just don't know what all the stitches are for!

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  10. Congrats! It's got to be fun to play with a new machine! My Pfaff is currently in the shop. I'm hopefully getting it back today after 7 weeks! At 5 years it's now an 'old' machine, and they had to order multiple parts from Germany, consult with them about a possible problem, etc. I have no idea what happened, but my motherboard and some other mechanical part just stopped working...at the same time. Weird, huh? Funny that I'm spending about half the cost of a new machine for my 'old' machine. It'd better last another 5! ;D Anyhoo, I'm really happy with the Pfaff brand. I hope you have success with yours! :)

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  11. So glad you like your new machine. I am actually a Horizon owner and love it too. All except for the completely and totally useless knee lift which is too far away to be of any benefit! Isn't it fun to sew with a new, wonderful machine! I'll have to look and see if my machine has a triple stitch. Could be very useful.

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  12. Sounds like a nice machine...thanks for the review...it has given me food for thought.

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  13. Congratulations on your new machine! I'm surprised the dealer gave you a replacement when the cutter didn't work properly. All it needed was an adjustment to the Fetcher, an inexpensive adjustable part. Yes, you are correct that your upper thread problems are caused by not lifting the presser foot into the "all the way up" position. If you don't do that, the tension disks are still squeezed shut and the thread can't get in. When you raise the foot all the way, the disks open so the thread can go between them. Make sense? Enjoy your new baby!

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  14. I love the straight/zigzag stitch you describe. How useful is that! It sounds like your new machine is almost a perfect match! Your loopy FMQ is lovely, too!

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  15. Awesome! Congrats! I have a Babylock that has the alert for low bobbin. I know there is a way to turn it off on my machine(don't know what it is, as I kinda like it...LOL).

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  16. Looks like an awesome machine! I was gifted a new Juki F600 last year and am still trying to convince myself I like it..

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  17. The overcasting foot is the best thing ever! With my machine, it's the "J" foot. I looooove it. I also use it to edge fabric before washing, so much less gathering and whatnot.

    Dealers are great--I am so glad you test drove and went with a dealer. My dealer is great too :)

    Re: the auto cutter. Would you believe I wore out part of that feature on my machine? Mine has a bit of velcro to hold the cut end. I used it so much I stripped the velcro, so the machine could not re-find the bobbin thread. Funny ;)

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  18. Congrats on the new machine - I'm still learning my Babylock Serenade and working through some quirks like the low bobbin warning being falsely triggered when there is too much light from afternoon sun. Since it's a laser in bobbin door and the see through extension table doesn't block it out, I have to turn my blinds. Crazy troubleshooting to figure that one.

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  19. Thank you for mentioning the triple stitch! I still have stitches I haven't tried on my machine (Viking Emerald) and that is one of them! I had wondered why I would want multiple stitches right next to each other... now I feel a bit silly for not having tried it out! ;-) New machines are so much fun!

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  20. It sounds like a really great machine!
    I have a new Viking Design and, yes, the annoying bobbin low beeping.....I do like you and press the pedal a few more times until the thread is completely gone.
    The first time it beeped at me, I jumped!

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  21. OH, that's what those stitches do. Very handy to have that explained. I probably should have tried them sometime.... Watch out for the quilting table, you'll end up using it all the time. I know I do, even for simple piecing. I didn't take it to a sew-in day, and couldn't figure out why I was unhappy sewing.

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  22. You just convinced me to find the knee-lift thingie that came with my machine and try it out. I've never used it, and now I want to.

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  23. Congrats on the new machine. I am truly jealous. I have a Pfaff Synchrotronic 1229. I got it about 28 years ago. It works great (shhhh, I don't it to hear me) I have never had a problem with it. I think there are stitches that I have never used. I see all of the new machines and I just wish. Mine was considered really fancy back then. Good luck with your new machine and have fun!!!

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  24. I'm with SandyB but my Pfaff is only 20 years old--a Creative 1470, I think is the number. The low bobbin light quit working years ago, and about 10 years ago I did have a new motherboard put in. Still cheap compared to a new machine. So easy to clean, only takes one drop of oil. Still runs like a champ. And with the attached walking foot, I can sew over anything.

    The only thing I can't figure out is if I can really attach the FMQ foot I found on line. The ad said it would fit, but now that I've got it I don't see how.... walking foot dealie is in the way.

    Hope you get as much enjoyment from your new machine as I have!

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    1. You do have to disengage the dual feed foot to be able to put the free motion quilt on, I think. See if you can lift the dual feed back and away.

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  25. Very nice. I went to an instructional class on the Janome 7700. Sounds like it has some of the same features. It was very nice to sew with. All of us got to complete a small project that showed off some of the stitches.

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  26. Regarding the low bobbin alert - I have that feature on my Bernina, and the sensor doesn't work if I open the bobbin case door, which I do as soon as the alarm goes off. I just cancel the alarm and keep right on sewing until my bobbin is empty. The open door is my reminder that my bobbin is low. Works for me - you might try it and see if that works on your Pfaff.

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    1. Thanks, Kathy. I will definitely try that!

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  27. Congrats on your new machine! When I read your original post, I took your list of machines, and went looking. I didn't try out any Pfaffs (no dealer near me), but I wound up buying a Janome 6600, which looks *very* similar to your new machine, and has many of the same functions! My dealer let me take it home for a week to use it before I paid for it, but I went back after 5 days of sewing to pay for it, because I loved it! Sewing is fun again! This is the first good, new machine I've had in many years. I bought a Singer Futura 920 in 1974, and it lasted almost 30 years, until my son's cat did something unspeakable in it! I bought a replacement cheapo Singer a year or so after that, and I was so sick of fighting my machine every time I wanted to quilt, that I was ready to look for a new machine when I saw your post!

    Linda

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  28. Your new machine looks lovely. I also like that triple stitch for top stitching, and used it on most of my curves projects. Your daughter's Easter skirt is coming along nicely and looks cute!

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  29. Congratulations! It's a big purchase, and one we hope to not make too often. I'm glad you're invested in a quality brand and product. Looks like you have exactly what you need.

    Happy sewing!

    p.s. the thread auto-cut can be really useful when quilting - more so than when piecing.

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  30. Wow! Lots of great features on that one. I can see how the low bobbin thing could get very irritating. :)

    Also, I wonder if that overlock stitch is stretchy... It'd be nice to not always have to drag the serger out for sewing knits like swimsuits/leotards.

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  31. Congratulations on your new machine, I hope you have many happy years sewing on her!!

    And thanks for such a comprehensive review of the machine and of the search. I currently have two Berninas, both with nice bells and whistles, (and I love them dearly) but they both have very little harp space. I have been thinking about getting a third machine down the road, and really trying to focus on the features that are important to me, and those I can live without. Your info is very helpful! Super-Duper post!

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  32. Woohoo for new machines!! Don't you just love her?! :) Wish I had "known" you when you came to Charlotte...we could have visited. :) Next time...

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  33. Yay for new machines!! I am looking into getting a new one now, too, after the estimate I recently received on fixing my poor Iris was outlandishly expensive. I hope my purchase turns out as well as yours!! Enjoy!

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  34. Congrats on getting a new machine and on figuring out how to handle a few of its quirks! Do you think it has helped the quality of your sewing?

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    1. Definitely the quality of my quilting. I feel that the extra room helps me quilt as intended without getting stuck in tight places. But, I honestly don't see a different in stitch quality, nor did I see it on the Bernina I tried.

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  35. Yay, glad you found your perfect match, or at least your 'good as you can afford' match!

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  36. About the low bobbin alert on the Pfaff: You can turn this off! I know exactly what you mean about how annoying it is--I couldn't stand it when I first started using my machine. Then, when looking through the manual, I happened upon instructions about how to re-set it. You can turn it off entirely (no beep, no hesitation in the sewing) or you can set it so that it beeps, but keeps on sewing with no hesitation. That's how I've got mine now, and I really like it. I'm alerted to the bobbin being low, but I can continue to sew until the bobbin is all used up (if I'm doing piecing), or I can stop sooner, before running out (if I'm doing quilting). If you can't figure out how to do it, send me a note and I'll let you know how it is done on my machine (an earlier Pfaff model): pgold at knox.edu

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  37. I just wanted to thank you for this post. I read you rather faithfully and always enjoy your content. Today's post, however, was more than just enjoyable- It was extremely helpful. I, too, have a new sewing machine. Its not a Pfaff, but a Brother. As you were describing some of the features on your machine it made me stop and wonder if my machine had those same features. It did in fact! The triple stitch that you used to make the topstitching appear more like it was hand done? I would've never realized that was possible without this post. Same goes for the overcast stitch and the needle up/down foot pedal tap. Thanks again!

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  38. I have a pfaff expression 2.0, which is the same size/shape as the 4.0, but with fewer fancy stitches (that i probably wouldn't use anyway) and about $1,000 cheaper. My machine had a few quirks when I first got it, but once I learned how it functioned and got used to it, I thought it was awesome :) The bobbin case cover does (as you mentioned previously) have the tendency to flip seams, but since I'm conscious of that, I don't usually have issues with it. I'd be interested to know what price range this machine falls into. One accessory that I purchased after the machine was a 'single hole needle plate'. This was very helpful, because without it, the hole, or slit really, that the needle went through sometimes pulled the edges of my fabric down into the bobbin case and caused a snag. The new needle plate doesn't allow that to happen, and it has lots more seam allowance markings than the one that originally came with the machine. You have to change the needle plate back whenever you want to use a stitch other than straight, but that's what I use 99% of the time.

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  39. Santa brought me a Pfaff Ambition 1.5 for Christmas and I love it. However, I did have it in the shop recently because I was using my old bobbins in it and it threw off the timing of the bobbin thread. It was knotting, and never really looked "right". Anyhow, beware to only use bobbins made for your machine. It doesn't say that in the booklet, nor was it mentioned to me that something so small could cause major problems!

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  40. Oh, I have the sew plus overcast button on my machine and didn't even know what it was for. Thanks!

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  41. I'm in the market for a new machine. Unfortunately, the Smarter is not available in Australia. I'm hoping we'll be getting it in August when they launch some new machines. I tried the Pfaff Expression 2.0 today and a Janome MC5200. The Pfaff had so much space and I FMQ'd with no problem as opposed to lots of issues FMQ with the Janome. Anyway, my current machine has 18 stitches - No15 is the triple stitch!! Can you believe it!! :-)

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  42. PS Thanks for your posts on this subject. I have been referring to them a lot over the last few days. I've been writing a similar thing based on my findings on Australian machines.

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  43. I was thinking about getting this for my wife. We were between the Pfaff Ambition 1.5 and this Smarter one. Would you no longer recommend this machine? Have you any experience with the Ambition line?

    If we splurge we were thinking about the Creative 2.0, which looks to me like an ambition 1.5 with embroidery capabilities.

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    1. I currently can't recommend it. It's possible that they'll be able to fix my automatic tension adjuster and things will go better. But, I find that unlikely. This is the second auto thread cutter that's broken on it. I just think for the price it should be more reliable. Also the stitch quality is poor. Personally, I'd like to try a big machine with fewer bells and whistles. Something sturdier like a JUKI TL-2000Qi is what I'd like to try.

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    2. Thanks for the quick response. We are still so stuck. I was so determined to get another Pfaff, based on my previous experiences with them long ago. We still might, but maybe not spend as much and get the Ambition 1.0, with none of the sensors. Thanks for all the information.

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  44. I have so appreciated your honest reportage here and in your shopping for your machine post. I have come close to updating my 27 year old Janome (to a sell-out price on the Horizon) but am so glad I didn't. There's a lot to value in an older super-reliable machine but a larger throat and newer features are very tempting.

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  45. Great that you gave an update. I had tested this machine based on your recommendation and wasn't quite sure about it. I didn't like how the demo one was sewing out of the box. Has the dealer offered to address the issues you're having?

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    1. Yes, the dealer has fixed things when I take the 2 hour drive out there to get help. But, problems remain or reoccur.

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  46. Rachel, I am sorry you've had trouble with your machine! That has to be so frustrating. Thanks though for pointing out that overlock stitch! I am just getting into sewing clothing and my machine has this feature too which I am so glad to discover!

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  47. I'm so sorry about the problems you've had with your machine. I'm enormously grateful to you for taking the time to document them so that all your readers can be educated. I have a Pfaff Expression that I've never been very happy with. My needle threader also broke. The main thing I like about it is the integrated dual feed (built in walking foot.) It has a small throat/harp, and it's never been easy to FMQ with, although that's what I bought it for. And the bobbins are tiny. Plus it just seems temperamental and fussy. I definitely wouldn't buy a Pfaff again. I'm thinking about getting a Janome next time. My friend has one and she loves it. Thanks again for relating your experience.

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  48. I am seriously looking to upgrade my little Brother. It has such a small harp, has been a workhouse with no problems. And I sew with it 4-5 days a week. I plan to upgrade the first of the year. So, I have been reading up on different machines. I came across your shopping experience & thought that the Smarter was the machine for me. I then googled the name & up came your review. I was so disappointed to hear that you are having problems. Has it gotten any better? I quilt on a frame with a Juki. It does well. I've been looking at the Juki Exceed 600, too. Has anyone had experience with that machine?

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  49. Hi there,

    Do you have a setting that you can change to tell the machine to use all of the bobbin? Some machines have this feature.

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