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Topic: Sewing machines, a buyers guide  (Read 45529 times)
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SpottedFrog
« on: December 18, 2007 05:30:19 PM »


UPDATED 12/ 19/ 07 **Bumping for relevence**

So the craftopedia is down for a bit, but I figure we can start here & when it is ready get our lovely mods to move it.

I do not pretend to know everything about every machine, or even everything about my own machine, I look for good commentary from you other experienced folks which I will incorporate into the original post with proper credit Smiley

I do know how to recognize a good machine, and I'm a pretty good comparative shopper. Smiley

Begin:
Buying a sewing machine is like buying a car, your level of skill, mechanical needs and budget dictate what you get in your machine. Sewing machines vary in price and quality much like cars. Bernina = Mercedez-Benz, Janome = Toyota, Kenmore = Buick, Pfaff = Volvo, Viking/ Husqvarna = Volkswagon. (Ok, most of the countries didn't line up perfectly, meh)
Knowing the reputation of the brand you are looking at, as well as recent reviews of quality  for the specific model is important. If it's a good machine you will be using it a lot, if it's a poor machine you will not get far fast.

Some people have Hyundais and love them, some people wouldn't be caught dead in them. The middle of the road brands of Singer and Brother sort of fall into the Hyundai category.

So, to use the analogy above, would you rather have a gently used Mercedes? or a brand new Yugo?

Would you buy a car without driving it? Why buy a sewing machine someplace you can't try it out?

When you buy a car from the dealership there is an assurance of staff who can maintain your car correctly, any time down the road, same goes for a sewing machine store/ department within a store. Walmart has no service department, nor does Target. (don't get me wrong, I shop at both frequently, but not for sewing machines).

Like automotive companies, most sewing machine companies have levels or classes of the same thing. Or like Kenmore* & Husquavarna are divisions of larger companies that manufacture all kinds of stuff. Many Sewing exclusive companies have huge numbers of products, accesories and specialized optional components.

* The Kenmore name is owned by Sears, they actually choose products from other companies that meet their standards and make a deal to put Kenmore on the front. It's still good stuff and has the Sears reputation & service to back it up.

So Nitty Gritty:
Never sewn but want to learn how- what should I buy?
This is what you need from your machine:

- straight stitch
- zig zag stitch
- reverseable stitching (most have a button or lever to do this, it's not a setting)
- a light on the machine
- bobbin winder
- foot pedal
- sturdy enough body that if it gets tripped over while sitting on the floor an adult's shoe won't crack the housing
- solid/ well placed footing or base so the machine does not rock or slide while sewing

Sewn some, learning more, want to do knits/ bags/ delicate garments/etc.

You now need all of the above and:
- a stretch stitch
- a zipper foot
- a button hole function
- an applique or other wide foot
- a walking foot if quilting is a goal
- ability to drop the feed dogs if quilting is a goal

Brands that are generally considered good used:
Singers over 15 years old (American built models)
Kenmore
Bernina
Viking/ Husqvarna
Janome that are less than 10 years old (Japanese built models)
Pfaff

Country of origin & general statistics on service:

Bernina: Switzerland, has US based service company for big repairs. Excellent warranty. Many Authorized Dealers around the US, if you want a new one  it's worth looking into these official stores. Pretty much the Mercedez of sewing machines, parts don't come cheap but they last so long you don't need to buy parts very often. Last sewing machine company world wide that is still owned & run by the original family. Budget line is called Bernette, seen as low as $US 199 on sale.

Pfaff: Germany, does not have US base for  large repair service. Many Authorized Dealers across the US. Excellent warranty. Many put Pfaff in the same category as Bernina, a hair cheaper than Bernina. If Bernina = Mercedez, then Pfaff = Audi. Budget lines are Hobby and Smart.

Viking/ Husqvarna: Sweden. {need more info} Budget line is called Huskystar.

Janome: Japan, does not have US base for large repairs. Many Authorized Dealers across the US. Much younger company than most, but like Toyota and many other Japanese brands, have quickly established themselves as reliable machines. Budget lines are Florals and Gem Gold.

Singer: Until 19XX(eighty something?- need more research) American, still owned American but now produced elsewhere.

White: American. Has been around nearly as long as Singer. Long reputation as being good sturdy basic machines, does not manufacture as many higher end or fancy machines. Does produce Sergers and commercial machines as well.

Elna: German? Less popular in the US, I think more popular across Europe (chime in please, sisters across the pond Smiley ). High quality, non-beginner machines. Harder to find Authorized Service in the US.
{{ will come back to this soon!}}

** So I did some research, no wonder everybody looking is asking about Brother & Singer, that's all I could find with prices attatched!! The market is flooded with Singer & Brother machines, every discount wholesaler on the net has dozens of each! Which really should speak for itself, if those machines were selling in the original stores, there wouldn't be so many at the second tier sales places, right?
« Last Edit: February 03, 2014 07:37:33 AM by HSG - Reason: Added image » THIS ROCKS   Logged
jerryleetypes
« Reply #1 on: December 18, 2007 08:07:35 PM »

Great post! If only people will actually refer to this they will save themselves much frustration!
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citizengeek
« Reply #2 on: December 19, 2007 07:40:30 AM »

Elna and White need representation, but I don't feel qualified to do either.

I just got a White zigzag 167 sewing machine from the 60s that has a kicking 1.3 amp motor and appears to be bulletproof.  It weighs at least 40 pounds and can sew through 7 layers of denim like it's going through silk.  It's a workhorse.

My serger is a Kenmore label made by Elna.  Identical to one of their models, definitely from the same factory lines- but it cost half what the Elna costs.

Brother seems to have a lot of variation in their machine quality.  Some are mid-range, some may even be more deluxe, but mine is a cheap Wal-Mart version and it's totally a Pinto or Gremlin.  The thing practically bucks itself off the table when I go any speed and because of the overall bounciness leaves slack in the line.  It has a great blind stitch, so I'm keeping it for now and working SLOWLY.

Wal-Mart gets name brand manufacturers to make specific cheap-o models for their stores, so traditionally good brands don't always represent quality there.

Pre-deep discount stores like WM, manufacturers set a wholesale price for a machine- let's say $75 and the resellers bought them and then sold them for say $150.

Now giant discount chain's buyer goes to the manufacturer and says something like "we'll pay $22.37 a machine and not a penny more." 
Manufacturers say "ACK! That can't make anything decent- can you go higher?"
Discount seller says "we're the biggest retailer in the US, I guess you don't want to work with us.  Do you want us to do to you what we did to Rubbermaid?" (http://www.usatoday.com/money/industries/retail/2003-01-28-walmartnation_x.htm)
Manufacturers then make dishonorable decisions (like offshores factories with abysmal labor policies) and produce poor products made from terrible materials (*lead in toys, plastic parts that wear out almost immediately*).  And then the buyers feel like they're getting a great deal on something that's not worth owning and won't last.

Other discount chains sometimes buy the end runs of products- so the big bullseye might be selling you something that has been discontinued in production that didn't sell well for the maker or something from the smiley face school of manufacturing.
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jerryleetypes
« Reply #3 on: December 19, 2007 08:42:31 AM »


Manufacturers then make dishonorable decisions (like offshores factories with abysmal labor policies) and produce poor products made from terrible materials (*lead in toys, plastic parts that wear out almost immediately*).  And then the buyers feel like they're getting a great deal on something that's not worth owning and won't last.



Hopefully the moderators of this forum won't get too upset that this topic has turned somewhat political, but this is something that seriously needs to be addressed, especially on a forum such as this that's devoted to d.i.y./handmade. Companies like Walmart are steering our country toward another great depression. I'll try to keep this relevant to sewing machines Wink... I realize the temptation to buy a sewing machine from giant discount stores is great, and everyone likes a good bargain, but these products are junk! I live in Indianapolis, Indiana and I can go to a thrift store on any given day and find a vintage sewing machine that will surpass the quality and performance of anything you'll find at Walmart, Target, online bargain store, etc. and almost always for less than $20! Seriously, the market is flooded with vintage sewing machines. You just have to do a minimal amount of research to know what to look for. Craigslist is another great source for vintage sewing machines. eBay can be a really great source if you can find a seller who specializes in vintage sewing machines. Also, call a sewing machine repair shop and ask a technician what you should look for. Nobody is going to know more about sewing machines than the people who repair them, and if you show a bit of interest in vintage machines those old repair guys will talk your ear off. Companies should take pride in the products they manufacture. They should strive to make the highest quality products possible. If these companies can't fulfill those basic requirements then we as consumers should send a strong message to them that we don't want thier junk!
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SpottedFrog
« Reply #4 on: December 19, 2007 12:06:49 PM »

Well, I tried to not get into specific about any particular retailer. The point I am trying to make is:

Some things are better bought in person. There are all kinds of things I have no hesitation about buying on line, sewing machines aren't one of them. My machine is my partner in creation.

When I was learning how to drive, my father insited that I read Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance. It has colored my view of all things mechanical ever since. The premise of the novel is machines have personality because they are created by humans. When we interact with the thing while considering it's personality, we achieve our goals involving the thing more quickly and with greater satisfaction because we truly understand it.

Think of those used machines on Craig's List as a bunch of Grannies waiting to teach you how to sew Smiley Yes, they will make you start simple and go slow, but you'll learn.
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smarmyclothes
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« Reply #5 on: December 19, 2007 02:12:27 PM »


Hopefully the moderators of this forum won't get too upset that this topic has turned somewhat political, but this is something that seriously needs to be addressed, especially on a forum such as this that's devoted to d.i.y./handmade. Companies like Walmart are steering our country toward another great depression. I'll try to keep this relevant to sewing machines Wink... I realize the temptation to buy a sewing machine from giant discount stores is great, and everyone likes a good bargain, but these products are junk! I live in Indianapolis, Indiana and I can go to a thrift store on any given day and find a vintage sewing machine that will surpass the quality and performance of anything you'll find at Walmart, Target, online bargain store, etc. and almost always for less than $20! They should strive to make the highest quality products possible. If these companies can't fulfill those basic requirements then we as consumers should send a strong message to them that we don't want thier junk!

I agree with this on so many levels! 
During a late night, semi-sewing-emergency, I made the mistake of buying one of those cheapo machines, and I will regret it until the day the nearly worthless thing dies, and I have an excuse to throw it out!
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citizengeek
« Reply #6 on: December 19, 2007 02:35:46 PM »


I live in Indianapolis, Indiana and I can go to a thrift store on any given day and find a vintage sewing machine that will surpass the quality and performance of anything you'll find at Walmart, Target, online bargain store, etc. and almost always for less than $20!

Hey, jerryleetypes!  I live in Evansville and my awesome "new" White is a Goodwill find.  My ace seamstress friend (she's been TEACHING sewing since the 50s) found a $15 cabinet she wanted for her vintage machine.  The White 167 was inside, so she gave it to me!  I payed $15 to have it checked for problems by a local repairman.  Turns out the knobs are somewhat stiff because the machine's practically mint.  Lots of happy dancing!

I apologize to everyone for the political nature of my post.  It just seems so strange that a single brand name is no longer consistent in quality, and I wanted to explain why it occurs that certain retailers have lesser products of a respectable brand name.  I've been reading lots of economics books lately and I tend to be an over-explainer. Sorry if anyone is offended.  Didn't mean to hijack discussion.
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smarmyclothes
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« Reply #7 on: December 19, 2007 05:05:42 PM »



I apologize to everyone for the political nature of my post.  It just seems so strange that a single brand name is no longer consistent in quality, and I wanted to explain why it occurs that certain retailers have lesser products of a respectable brand name.  I've been reading lots of economics books lately and I tend to be an over-explainer. Sorry if anyone is offended.  Didn't mean to hijack discussion.

I don't think it was a hijack at all!  The more information we have, the better consumers we will be!  Plus, I think a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that just because its a Singer (or insert whatever brand you want), it's a good machine, and the truth is... a good machine depends on a lot of things.  What was true 20 years ago doesn't necessarily hold true today.
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bunnicula
« Reply #8 on: December 19, 2007 06:23:20 PM »

Thanks for this guide. I have been thinking that I might want to try my hand at sewing, but I didn't know what to look for in a machine for someone who has "never sewn but want to learn how". Does anyone have any specific brand/model suggestions for someone who simply wants a basic, inexpensive machine to learn on?
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ziabox
« Reply #9 on: December 19, 2007 06:51:09 PM »

This is a great post! Thanks for posting it.
How about a post like this but for sergers and overlock.
I've been looking for info on serger/overlockers but i don't seem to find answers to the questions i have. Something like this is would be very helpful.
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