Wednesday, August 21, 2013

How Many Sewing Machines Do I Really Need?

1955 Singer Featherweight 221
I would like to welcome our new granny to the family, weighing in at 12 pounds!  It's the best little vintage portable out there. I'm not a quilter, but I tend to like machines that have strength, speed, and a solid straight stitch.  This little vintage baby has all three.

I had been eyeing one of these machines for a long time. I didn't want a refurbished one, or one that had several owners before me. I wanted a Featherweight with some known history. I found this machine in pretty good shape. The original owner is 90 years old and retired from sewing. Her daughter inherited the Featherweight along with an older Kenmore. The daughter barely knows how to sew except the occasional mending task. Last month, she decided that she really didn't need this little lady.

It came with all the foot attachments, extra bobbins, the original oil can, and a button hole maker. The foot pedal is in excellent condition and does not show any fraying. The box that houses the machine is in good shape too. It's not as shiny, and the gold scroll on the bed is worn down. But it's okay. I probably paid a little too much for it...and I guess that's okay too because I got to test it before buying, and met the owner's daughter in person.

I virtually met a kind man named Ian on Craigslist selling a refurbished Singer 301, which is the big sister to the Featherweight, and is a more powerful machine. Ian also refurbishes Featherweights and sold a few in his day.  He gave me enough information about what to look for in a Featherweight, in regards to quality and pricing to make my decision. One interesting thing he said was that the pricing for these machines have really come down, and we should be able to pick one up between $200-300. After looking on eBay, where prices ranged from $200 and up, I thought it would take awhile for me to win a bid for under $300. Plus, who knows what kind of condition they're in. I paid $275 for mine, so it was within the price range.

I have toyed with the idea of repainting it, and getting the gold scrolling redone as well. I love the idea of refurbishing it to its original glory. But right now, I'm more concerned with learning how to clean, grease, and maintain what I've got. If it's too pretty, I might not want to use it. I might just have to run over to my studio in a minute and polish this little lady some more. I'm still giddy about the purchase.  I plan on bringing the Featherweight to my sewing meetings. But maybe I should test run it a bit longer to make sure I am comfortable with the speed.

Singer 301, the upgrade to the Featherweight. This gal weighs in at 16 pounds, and is still considered a portable machine. It also came with a really cute case that resembles a vintage suitcase. I might have to pick up one of these one day for the fun of it.
How about my other sewing machines? I own six machines if you count my two sergers.

After purchasing my Featherweight, my husband asked me why I needed another machine, that essentially did the same thing as my other four machines. Well, I guess for the same reason why he has multiple laptops and handheld devices...that's why.

I also own a really light weight Pfaff Smart sewing machine that I bought from a friend for $100. It was never used, and I thought it would be a fun machine to give to one of my daughters. Both have shown mental interest and one even accomplished a quilt two summers ago, but nothing since.  There's just a lot of talking going on but no sewing.

This Pfaff Smart is not a very strong machine, but it has all the basic stitches a person needs to make a garment. It's not meant for heavy duty sewing either. Because there is a drop-in bobbin, I don't expect the stitches to look as good as my Bernina. Drop-in bobbins are great for embroidery and such, but they don't have strong straight stitches. I learned this after switching from my drop-in old Kenmore to my current Bernina which has a vertical bobbin insert. I know the new embroidery Bernina machines also have a drop-in bobbin. The new Bernina 300s and 500s models are constructed like the classic Bernina.

I was told by the Bernina dealer that these machines were made by Janome for Pfaff.
I know they are all plastic, but it's really the light weight that I wanted. This is also around 12 pounds.
Writing about vertical bobbins verses drop-in bobbins is a great segue to my Bernina 1130. This is not a Bernina classic. The 700-800 models were really Bernina's prime mechanical machines with vertical bobbin inserts. I know this because my older sister had an old 800 that she loved and made every thing with. Bernina still makes a basic mechanical straight stitch, and something to consider if a person wants a basic machine without any electronics. This means you won't get the automatic buttonhole function. But that's really the only thing you're missing.  It's also a lot cheaper than the other Bernina machines, with a $1,200 price tag. These models are called 1008 "Classic Series." The name says it all.
1008 Classic Series Bernina.
Photo borrowed from
The 1130 (and 1030) was Bernina's first attempt at the electronic age, starting with the automatic button hole maker...a tool they still use on today's modern machines. There's also a little memory capacity, and the ability to mirror the few embroidery stitches. 

These machines are still being sold somewhere between $650+ on eBay. I was insulted when my local Bernina dealer told me it's time to upgrade from my old machine. Why? The new 300 or 500 series don't stitch any faster. They are all still moving at 900 stitches per minute. Sure there's a few more embroidery stitches.  If I really want embroidery, I would get an embroidery machine. I have tons of foot attachments for my old gal, and it's still in near perfect condition since the day I opened the box new 20 years ago. It's also one of the easiest machines to use. It has a genius yet simple threading system, and the lighted keyboard is easy to read. There is no confusion about what stitch you're setting.  If any of you are looking for a good machine without too many bells and whistles, consider an older Bernina model without the drop-in bobbins. You will never regret it. 

Bernina 1130 are all metal and are heavy. Not a machine to lug to a class.
Okay, okay, should this pretty lady ever break down to the point of no return, I would consider purchasing a Bernina 350. To me, it's pretty identical, except for the price: $2,000+. 
Bernina 350 Model
Photo borrowed from
My main sewing machine is really my Juki TL98E.  It's an older model but has all the same features except automatic needle threader and speed control.  These machines are a pain to thread (you have to thread from left to right). I love the speed of this machine, and the new ones are not faster. They all operate at 1,500 stitches a minute. Only machine faster is an industrial. I had one of those too, and sold it because it was difficult to maintain and move around. You can pick up used ones like mine for less than $400. What a steal considering what kind of workhorse these girls are. These are also metal machines with a vertical bobbin insert. This equates to "heavy."

I feel guilty to admit that I love this machine more than my Bernina simply because of the speed and the automatic thread cutter. It also sews through jeans, sequins, and vinyl without too much problem. My 1130 gets finicky with really thick fabric. My daughter made her entire first quilt on the Juki, and she did some freehand embroidery on it. Many quilters stretch these Juki machines and attach a long-arm quilting unit to it.

Juki attached to a Grace long arm machine.
Photo borrowed from Fiber Reflections Blog
One thing I don't like about the Juki but I've gotten used to is that the arm bed is not adjustable down to fit into sleeve holes. It's not a deal breaker either. For those clothing sewists out there, don't turn your back on this machine. It's not just for quilters. Brother, Janome, and even Singer make single stitch models similar to Juki and in the same price range. With the exception of the Brother machine, which has gotten some pretty good reviews, I'm not sure about the other two brands. Pfaff and Bernina have ones as well, but we're talking about more than twice the cost.

Here are all my machines (not including the Featherweight and Pfaff) set-up at my sewing station.
One big happy family!
Happy Sewing!