Sewing Machine Meme

Yesterday afternoon, I drove over to my local Creative Sewing Center and tried out new sewing machines. I didn’t buy one, because I’d been advised to try them out, get all the information, and then go home and think about it. I used the rest of the afternoon to try and find negative information about either of the models I was looking at. I didn’t find anything. Not a single complaint. Consequently, I feel pretty confident about my decision. We’re going back tonight to buy it (and I’ll tell you about the new one later).

Since I’m getting a new machine, and it’s still Sewing Machine Month over at Sew, Mama, Sew!, I thought I’d do this meme for my current machine.

What brand and model do you have?

Singer 5160, factory refurbished, purchased from Singer May 2008.

How long have you had it?

13 months.

How much does that machine cost (approximately)?

With tax and shipping, it cost $114. Let’s just say, you get what you pay for.

What types of things do you sew (i.e. quilting, clothing, handbags, home dec projects, etc.)?

I sew clothing (with limited success so far), quilts, and the occasional home dec project (I really like making pillowcases for some reason).

How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get?

Some weeks, I get in several hours, and some I get none. It’s rare, but there have been times when I’ve had a big project and it gets a dozen or more hours of use a week.

Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name?

I passionately hate my machine (which is why I’ve not done this meme until now). It has had tension issues since the very beginning. It has been in for service twice, both within the first 6 months of owning it.

What features does your machine have that work well for you?

It’s a really basic machine, so it does straight line sewing well (unless it’s having a bad day, in which case it doesn’t even do that). The special stitches are out of the question because of the tension issues. With my walking foot, it actually quilts quite well, and I have been pleased with that.

Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine?

The afore-mentioned tension issues. On newer sewing machines, you can only adjust the top thread tension (the very old machine I used to use had top and bottom adjustments). In order to make a secure stitch, the tension on the top thread has to be at the very highest setting it can possibly be. The stitch length also has to be relatively short. Forget about using special stitches (zig-zag anyone? no), different thread in the top and bottom, sewing down elastic, or looking at it wrong.

Usually, when I’m having a tension problem, it is because the thread falls out of one of the places where it’s supposed to be. It has a favorite place where it likes to do this. Unfortunately, due to the nature of said issue, the problem only appears on the underside of the fabric, so you can sew quite a distance before realizing the problem. And then you have to rip out stitches.

Last week, it decided that the $40-worth of fabric I was using to make my shower curtain was not worthy of sewing, and despite being threaded correctly etc, would not sew a seam. After ripping out stitches for the second (or third? I forget) time, and not wanting to do damage to said valuable fabric, I declared my hatred for the machine and vowed to get a new one. (Yes, it really was as dramatic as I’m making it sound. It is really frustrating to want to finish a relatively easy project and not be able to. It was ridiculous, and I didn’t want to deal with its crap anymore.)

Do you have a great story to share about your machine (i.e., Found it under the Christmas tree? Dropped it on the kitchen floor? Sewed your fingernail to your zipper?, Got it from your Great Grandma?, etc.!)? We want to hear it!

No funny stories. My Singer has been used to make a lot of great projects, including ‘s quilt for his big-boy bed, several mini quilts, and lots of pillow cases. There have been a few successful clothing items, though more often there are fit issues (the last jacket I made was about 4 sizes too big, while the pants I’d made from the same pattern fit perfectly). I’m looking forward to sewing more clothing with my new machine, mostly because some of the features it has will make it much easier to sew curved seams and really take my time to do it right.

Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?

Absolutely not. In fact, I wouldn’t recommend any cheap Singer (though I know that also purchased a factory-refurbished Singer and hasn’t had problems with it). It is a tolerable machine if it’s only going to get used a little bit, or if you’re trying out sewing to see if you like it. But if you know what you’re doing and plan on using it a lot, just shell out the money for a mid-level one (currently $4-600). It’s important to note that Creative Sewing Center doesn’t sell any low-end machines, and they didn’t have any Singers that weren’t embroidery machines (which are much more expensive and appear to be much sturdier).

What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine?

Reliability, reliability, reliability. My new machine is being purchased at Creative Sewing Center, and they stand behind all of their machines. The one-year warranty is through them, not the manufacturer, and consequently they only sell the good stuff. (They also provide free lessons for the entire time you own the machine, which is pretty cool. And after your warranty is up, they will still service it, just not for free. They’ll service machines not purchased at their stores, as well. I wasn’t really looking for features (everything I wanted would be available on all the machines, with the exception of a lock stitch, which was not that important), but a machine that will last me several decades.

The two machines that I’ve been comparing have virtually all of the same features (a Brother and a Janome). They both have much smoother movement than my Singer (which shakes the desk it’s on when I use it too fast), and can be operated completely without the pedal. I love that the stitch speed is controlled by a dial on the machine and not my foot. They also have a needle up – needle down button, which is nice. The Brother has a few more features that provide more flexibility, which is why, in the end, I’ve decided to go with it (more decorative stitches, automatic threading, automatic tension, automatic buttonholer, option to use the pedal to control the speed or just use the buttons). Both seemed very hardy machines (we sewed through 6 layers of denim with no problem whatsoever).

Do you have a dream machine?

Right now, I’m dreaming of my new Brother Innov’is 80, though I haven’t actually purchased it yet. I’m mildly intrigued by sergers, but since my clothing ventures have not yet been very successful, it wouldn’t really be worth the investment. I’m not interested at all in embroidery, which adds a lot to the price of a machine (more features = more expensive), so I’m pretty happy with what I’m looking at in my price range. If I wanted to go up several hundred dollars (or cross the $1000 threshhold) there are other brands to look at and more machines, but as of yet I can’t come up with a good reason to do so. I’m guessing that anyone who sews for a living, or makes all of their family clothing or something could find great value in a more expensive machine, but that’s not me.

Let me just add that shopping for a machine at Creative Sewing Center is a dream. I walked in and was the only customer, and the woman who helped me was nothing but patient and explained everything. She knew all of the machines well, asked all the right questions, gave great advice (both about the machines and what to do post-purchase), and was totally OK with me not buying a machine after spending an hour with her. My only complaint is that they don’t have a website, but she told me they are working on getting an email system set up so they can send out newsletters electronically instead of via the mail. (Also, they sell and service vacuum cleaners, so if you’re in need of one of those, it’s one-stop shopping!)

Edited to add: I actually purchased the Brother NX-250. Prices changed on Monday, so for $10 more than I was planning on spending, I got a full-size machine with a lot more room and power. And I love it!

2 comments to Sewing Machine Meme

  • a

    ACTUALLY, I have tension issues too. I also have had problems with the thread magically falling out of place. BLECH!

    I’d love a new machine like yours, but I don’t use it enough to justify the expense; nor do I earn enough at this point. Maybe when I graduate….

  • I didn’t know you had the same problems I do. So annoying, isn’t it?

    It is hard to justify spending that much on a sewing machine, but I do spend several hours a week (sometimes several hours a day) using mine. After making a couple of quilts, it gets easier to realize you need a better machine. Plus, I keep thinking that if my machine were more reliable, I’d make more clothing for myself. That hasn’t happened yet, but I dream….