Finding a New Sewing Machine... the Saga

Oh. My. Gosh.

I never realized how hard it would be for me to choose a new sewing machine when the time came. This might be a really long post...

I've owned three sewing machines in my life (not counting my Singer Serger), ranging from antique to pretty high-tech (so I thought).

My mom bought me my first machine, a used light green 1957 Elna Supermatic, for Christmas when I was four years old. This thing is made of cast iron and weighed more than I did at the time, but I adored it and it's what I learned to sew on. My mom has a matching one in tan that her parents received as a wedding gift brand new. Mine is in need of repairs these days (mom's is still working great!), but I have talked to a local Elna dealer who said he'd love to try to fix it for me.

This is not my machine... I have my mom looking for a photo of me with it!
 
When my husband and I moved into our first apartment, he bought me a Singer Curvy for my birthday. It was definitely a tech upgrade for me, based on what I had been using! It's been my backup machine for years now, and it seems to be working well lately, despite having a few mechanical issues in the past. I use it mainly for quilting, since walking foot attachments for Singer machines are much more affordable than Husqvarna ones ($20 vs $120...), and it's definitely my go-to workhorse when I need to sew odd things (FYI: sewing machines don't like to sew duct tape). It tends to go through just about whatever I need it to, even if it complains a bit. One con: it's pretty noisy.

This IS my machine. And no, it doesn't actually have a fuzzy knob. lol!

A hand-me-down Husqvarna Platinum 950 E has been my main machine since my mother-in-law gave it to me several years ago. It was a top-of-the-line computerized embroidery machine when it was new, probably 10 or 12 years ago, and definitely the most "advanced" of my collection. I noticed about a year ago that a few of the buttons weren't working very well, and finally brought it in last month when it seemed like I couldn't adjust anything at all with the buttons. Unfortunately, the part needed to replace the button panel is no longer in production and the service guy couldn't find one anywhere. I guess I should have taken it in when I first noticed the symptoms... lesson learned. The Platinum has had its last ride after many, many miles. :(

Also not my photo. This is what it looked like in its heyday.

Which brings me to the dilemma at hand: finding a new machine.

How has technology advanced so quickly in the last 10 years?!?! I'm finding that you don't even have to know how to sew to use some of these new machines... and frankly, it kind of freaks me out. I'm sure I would get used to the machine doing absolutely everything for me, from raising and lowering the presser foot to cutting the thread, but it just seems like a huge loss of control to me.

I was hoping to keep my budget in the $500-800 range, but I quickly realized that would be difficult. There's definitely a price gap in the market; machines are either cheap ($200-400), basic and flimsy, chintzy and plastic-y, or really pricey ($1200+) and way more techy than what I need. I really just want a large work area with good lighting, a straight stitch, zig-zag, and maybe one or two other stitches (who needs to stitch a row of little bicycles into anything?!), and a nice, solid feel that gives me confidence that the machine can handle whatever I throw at it.

Of course, I started by trying out a bunch of Husqvarna machines, since I'm familiar with them and the sales lady is extra sweet at our local Viking Sewing Center. I tried several machines there, including the latest Sapphire 930 ($1,399) and the Jade 20 ($599).

I so wanted to love the Jade; the color and styling is pretty cool (probably more important to me than it should be...), it sews very nicely and feels solid, it has a fair variety of stitches, and the price was right, but I just didn't like the amount of work space and the lighting was terrible. Also, I found it really odd that the shape of the machine, while edgy and futuristic-looking, really blocked my sight and made it hard to see what I was doing.


The Sapphire is truly lovely, once you get the hang of all the crazy extra gadgets. It's got great LED lighting, 10" of work space and oodles of stitches (i.e. the little bicycles...), and honestly, it should for $1,400! They do offer 18 month 0% financing, and she was willing to sell me the floor model for $1,200 and throw in the extension table (or a walking foot, since I need one and they're usually $120) for free, but I just couldn't justify the price for a lot of stuff I likely wouldn't use. I was also a little scared by the fact that it has the same type of button panel as my Platinum- how long will it last?! Don't get me wrong- I absolutely put my name into the drawing to win a free one! I even embroidered my name into the slip of paper with the handy alphabet stitches... :)

 

Feeling confused and hoping it was just Husqvarna with the price gap, I decided to check out Julie's Sewing Center and Green Bay Vacuum & Sewing to see what Pfaff, Brother, Juki and Elna had to offer.

Julie's is a  Pfaff, Brother and Juki dealer. I wasn't impressed by any of the Brother or Juki machines that were on display, but the Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.2 had me enchanted. Once again, I think it was a color thing... it's a gorgeous deep plum color. It also has the large work area and bright LED lighting I was looking for, and it has actual individual rubber buttons instead of the weird membrane switch panel that the Husqvarnas have. I didn't spend a whole lot of time with this machine, because once I saw the price tag I knew I couldn't afford to fall in love with it... $2,100!

 

There was also a slightly smaller, less fancy Pfaff machine, the Ambition Essential. It looked great, but I didn't spend any time with it since it was nearing closing time and I felt like I was distracting the sales lady from the other customer in the store. Perhaps I should go back and try it out. The price was just about right at $760.


GB Vac & Sew deals mainly with Elna. Aside from my old green beast, I have had zero interaction with Elna products. I honestly didn't even realize they still made new machines. There were a few interesting examples of some neat innovations, including the Elna Lotus traveling sewing machine; it literally blossoms open like a lotus! And apparently it's been around for a long time.


I was moderately impressed by the Excellence 680 (I think that's the model I looked at...). It had a lot of similar features to the other brands I'd looked at so far; auto presser foot and thread cutting, computerized controls, etc. I think the most impressive aspect of this machine is that it includes EVERYTHING you'd ever need accessory-wise, and they all have a designated spot within the machine's little compartments. This model even had a little do-hickey for making perfect 8" embroidered circles... it's basically a pin that goes into a hole in the work area of the machine, which acts as a compass while the fabric travels under the presser foot. I didn't like that the machine still felt a little plastic-y, and the "turtle to hare" slider for speed adjust seemed really cheesy to me. And yet, it was still outside of my price range at around $1,200.


Friday rolled around and I took a half day off of work to spend some time looking at a few of the other quilting shops in the area. I set my sights on Life's A Stitch, which carries Bernina machines, and KK Sew & Vac, which carries BabyLock; both are brands I have no experience with.

We started at Life's A Stitch, where everyone was really friendly. It quickly became apparent to us that Bernina is the Lamborghini of the sewing machine world; both in extravagance and price. Wow!

I was so, so impressed by their stitch regulator device; it basically makes free-motion quilting effortless! The reason I'm so hesitant to try FMQ is because of the need to sync needle speed and the motion of the quilt below it... this device has a little laser eye that sees the fabric moving and adjusts the needle speed to match so every stitch is exactly the same!

 

My jaw hit the floor a second time when I saw the price tag on the little B 560- $3,500! I have no doubt of the quality of these machines, but there was no way that would be possible for me, even with 48 month 0% financing. Maybe someday... maybe.


Some of the other Berninas were just fun to look at! They're shiny and huge and amazing. And expensive. I thought the 700 series was incredible, as well as the long arm machine.

It's absolutely GINORMOUS!

Life's a Stitch recently started carrying Janome machines as well, which I've heard good things about, but they didn't have many models on the floor to play with yet. Looking at some of the literature they gave me, they also seemed to have that weird price gap right where my budget falls. The M7000 series starts around $1000, and the Skyline series starts at $1200. I'd probably lean towards the Skyline for the work area, while the M7000 series doesn't seem that much different than my $300 Singer Curvy, other than a few added gadgets.


Well, this one IS lime green...

Finally, we stopped at K&K Sew & Vac to check out the BabyLock machines. I have to admit, I think BabyLock is a really corny name. Ha ha. I kind of expected to see cheap junk, but I was rather impressed! They're no Bernina, but many of the larger, more expensive embroidery machines were very cool!

As for basic sewing machines, I almost thought I found the perfect one, until I sat down and used it. The new BabyLock Jazz is pretty much exactly what I thought I wanted. It has a huge 12" of work space and is extremely simple... almost to a fault. I guess there's a reason its nickname is "the Big Easy". I really wanted to like it, but when I went to select one of the 28 stitches available, I realized the stitch selector was one of those hand-turn wheel things with the bubble viewer that goes "doink" when you fall into the notch for each stitch. Ahhh! Talk about backwards in tech! Perhaps I was spoiled by all the fanciness of the previous machines I looked at, but for $1000 I'd just like a few buttons maybe.

 

Oh well... while I didn't find a brand-new machine for myself, I did come across a used one that fit my budget perfectly and had everything (and more) that I wanted... stop back next weekend to find out what I decided to go with! :)

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