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What to look for when buying that First Sewing Machine!
For you ’sewing-newbies’ here are some of the details on a sewing machine that you need to know about right away. As we progress we’ll learn more of the individual functions and their uses. For you ’sewing-sharps’ this might just be a refresher…
Your sewing machine is one of the most important pieces of equipment you’ll need to invest in. Here is a bit of help in selecting a good and sturdy machine, that should last you for many years.
Name-brand ???? Does really not matter. Naturally just like when you get used to driving a Ford or a Chevy and you’re satisfied with it you’re apt to buy another one, next time you’re buying a car. Same goes for buying a sewing machine.
First off you will need to determine what you're mainly going to be sewing . If you’re going to just do a bit of mending and a small décor project here or there you really don’t need to invest in an industrial strength 5000.00 dollar computerized sewing/embroidery machine with all the bells and whistles. However on that note, there are a few features some of the machines have, that are not absolutely necessary but sure can come in handy.
There is an enormous variety of name brands, models and types of sewing machines available, for all applications and for every budget.
This is my opinion and I always suggest the same to my first time sewing students. For sewing regular wear-ables and light home deco projects the basic machine that has a zigzag stitch, a built-in button-holer and a few decorative stitches will suffice.
However be forewarned if you’re planning on
doing heavier sewing also such as jean shortenings, or an occasional
reupholstering job the small plastic featherweight machines that you can
buy for a 100 bucks at Walmart or on Ebay might not have enough
strength. In that case you’re better off buying an older than 20 year old
Singer, Kenmore, Brother... The older type of
machines have mostly metal parts and stronger motors. (To be truthful, I'm 100% convinced that an older sewing machine (20-30 years old at least) will be a better machine than the little plastic thingys you find on the market today for any home sewer. (Sorry, little plastic thingy manufacturers)
In many ways buying a used sewing machine is the same as buying a used car. If you stop in and the machine is in immaculate clean condition either the person actually cared for the machine or just really didn't use it much at all. In either case that might be a good bargain. If the machine you're looking at is worn out looking, it might just be worked in BUT (there is always that little word but...) chances are that the machines is pretty well past it's prime and the parts are worn out and possibly not worth the money.
Here is a true story out of my life --- In '74, when I was expecting my son, my first baby, I bought my first new sewing machine, a domestic, basic Kenmore 'on time' from Sears . (It featured a straight stitch, zig zag, buttonhole and 7 dial up deco stitches and sold for 129.99). I loved that machine, it was my pride and joy and I used it every opportunity I got. It was a really strong machine much better than I expected as far as power went. I made many wedding and christening gowns, plus quite a few re-upholstering jobs for my friends and their families . Shortly after separating from my husband, I opened a small sewing/tailoring shop in '81, here I used the Kenmore as my main power-horse. That baby could go through 6 layers of denim without hic-upping even once. For 5 years that machine was used daily from morning till night.
Even though eventually I bought other sewing machines it was always my favorite and the one I went to if I needed perfectly perfect stitches. When she started to get a little tired I set her up as my button-holer only because she made the nicest buttonholes ever on either fine, medium or thick fabric. Till this day I have not found another machine that will do it like that baby did. My $7500.00 dollar industrial machine (a Yuki) doesn't come close to the easy handling that, that first Kenmore had.
A domestic sewing machine is just not made for that type of 'abuse'. By the time I decided to move her into retirement she would only sew nice when her insides was all filled and gummed up with lint and fluff. If she was clean, her worn out innards cluttered, clanged and creaked like a Sherman tank.
Why I told you this whole long litany is because, if I had been so inclined as to sell that sewing machine, even after the many years of service she still looked great. She had a few spots of worn away paint, a few small chips here and there, she didn't have the signs of old age on it, none what-so-ever. Unfortunately that poor baby would have been a very bad bargain for you to buy (unless you only wanted to sew buttonholes) while she was all caked in with lint, dust and fuzz.
In this busy, busy but expensive world of today a lot of people decide they want to learn how to sew, they go out and buy a top of the line machine (because the sales people want to make their commission) They use it twice then set it aside for five years. Next big house cleaning they put the machine into the garage sale with all the other unused goodies from around the house.
This type of deal mostly can be a good bargain. However here are a few pointers you have to consider BEFORE spending your money. After all even if you spend only 25 bucks on a sewing machine, it's too much if the sewing machine is only usable as a boat anchor.
Here is a sketch so it will be easier to explain what parts you will need to look at:
- Make sure that the machine is free running--- by that I mean--- move the side or balance wheel (#12 in the sketch) round and round, if it moves free and doesn't give the sounds as if it's slurping or grinding, the innards are not rusted or ceased up.
- Lift up the machine so you can look into the underside check if there is any rust showing. (if the machine was kept in a damp basement for seventeen years chances are it is a boat anchor and quite useless for sewing. (now if your Dad, hubby or big brother is a handy fellow he might get this machine cleaned up if you can buy it for a few dollars, but only if it's surface rust otherwise it can only be used for parts... )
- Have a look at the needle or throat plate (#4 in the sketch) if there are many deep needle marks on the throat plate chances are that the timing is slightly off... (in most cases the repair shop can quite easily fix this). But at any rate you should consider getting a new needle or throat plate as the needle marks could snag fine fabric. Another reason for these needle mark could also be that the sewing project done by that particular machine were too heavy and the fabric bent the needle which then hit the plate and in most cases broke the needle (like the seam allowances of jeans for an example)
- At a garage sale chances are you won't be able to test out the machine or the stitching but you can ask, some people are quite forthcoming and they will pull over an extension cord and you can at least see if the machine parts spin and turn freely and are not ceased up.
- The rule of thumb when buying a used car at the side of the road is that for every dollar you spend you should expect to spend the similar amount on repairs and clean-up etc. The same goes for a sewing machine that are offered at garage sales. With other words if you're buying a sewing machine for 50.00 dollars chances are the sewing machine repair shop will charge you that same amount for a tune-up and re-settings.
- On the other hand if you go straight to the sewing machine repair shop, they often have refurbished or secondhand models on sale. Most of these are trade-ins from sewers that are upgrading. These are already repaired, fine tuned and set up, ready to sew up a storm with their new owners. These machine will cost more than the garage sale finds but... best of all these machines will be in good working order and may also come with a short term warranty.
- When buying a used machine make sure it has the extra tools, basic attachments such as extra presser feet (#2 on the sketch), usually in a small little box included. The two most important presser feet that you will need are the all-purpose or zig-zag foot and the zipper foot. The original owner's manual would also be very helpful. Don't forget the foot pedal or control... and if this is lost it could cost you up to $60.00 to $80.00 for a replacement.
- Adjustable free-armed or flat sewing bed... again this depends on what you're going to be sewing. If you're planning on doing a lot of quilting the flat bed machine will be better for you. If you're buying a machine to mainly do mending on clothes the free arm machine is the one for you.
- Another thing to consider when buying any type of sewing machine new or used is the space that you have in your home. If you have a spare room in which you can set up a sewing corner then the sturdy wooden cabinet model might be okay. Most of these cabinets are built to include a storage pit which allows you to recess the machine when not in use. However if you're going to use the dining room or kitchen table then the portable table top style will be more convenient.
- Talk to sewing friends and family to find out what some of the universally respected brands are (I know I said at the beginning of this hub that it makes no-never-mind which brand you buy but (again that silly little word) some machines do have a better reputation than others. Also when buying a used machine at a garage sale it is helpful to know what some of the big names of sewing machines are. Knowing this will help when you're making the decision to buy. If it's a common name like Singer, Janome, Brother, Pfaff, Euro Pro, Bernina, Viking, Elna, White. Husqvarna, or Kenmore etc you're guaranteed to find replacement parts easier and at lower prices than for an obscure machine no-one has ever heard of... (again that doesn't mean that a solid machine with an unheard of name won't make a great addition to the family) Many years ago I bought a leather sewing machine by the name of Ugra, my repair shop had never heard of it and worst of all we couldn't even find sewing machine needles for it. Eventually we found some needles (as thick as roofing nails) that are made in Belgium that work for this Russian made machine. This machine was strong enough to sew many layers of hard leather even shoes.
Some great basic features to look for:
- easy bobbin winding
feed dogs (great for mending or free hand embroidery)
- a variety of needle positions ( great for top stitching)
stitch width and length
- a variety of stitches such as: straight stitch, zig zag, buttonhole (or satin stitch) a stretch stitch is necessary when sewing knits and a few decorative stitches.
- easy reverse stitching button
- free arm (to make stitching in small openings easier)
- flat bed table needed for machine quilting
- needle threader (great for old eyes)
thread cutter (time saver)
- built in light (good light that shines onto the presser foot)
- an on/off switch, so you can turn off the power rather than just unplug the machine.
Shop around when you're buying a NEW sewing machine!
If you're going to take the plunge and buy a new machine rather than a used one again talk to some friends or to the people at your fabric store… Everyone has an opinion of what makes a good sewing machine. MOST IMPORTANTLY KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU"RE GOING TO BE SEWING WHEN YOU GO MACHINE SHOPPING. Keep in mind most of the sales people are on commission--- the bigger the price of the machine the more money they will make off you.
Shop-around, sit in front of them and try them, or ask for
demonstrations of how to use them. Don't buy the first machine you see. Just like a car some machine are comfortable right off the bat some are not. Usually the sewing machine stops offer free lessons of how to use their 'species' of machines especially if they're the loaded computerized models that need a pilots license and graduate school diploma to operate. (I'm just kidding) None of these machines are quite that complicated. BUT there is that little word again... as a beginner sewer you won't recognize what some of the uses really are and you could get frustrated with a machine that has just too many functions for it's own good.
However if you really feel you need to have the top of the line machine make sure you take those lessons and don't be shy about asking explanations until you are comfortable with all the gidgets and gadgets on your machine. These lessons may mean the difference between knowing how to use your new helper or just having an expensive dust collector. Also remember that should have proper Warranty and service on a new machine. The going average is 25 years on the machine head, 2 years on parts and 1 year on labor.
With proper upkeep a good solid sewing machine CAN last a lifetime if you're careful and choose the right machine. To keep your machine working just right remember to get it serviced after every 300 to 350 hours of sewing or every two years. Keep your machine in a location with regulated temperature so that it stays dry and clean. The garage, attic or cellar are NOT suitable. What I mean by this is that the machine should be kept inside so that it doesn't warm up then cool down then warm up again and thus get condensation etc. on and in it. After every couple of hours of sewing brush out the lint, fluff and thread shrapnel (use a vacuum and/or use a C02 can of condensed air, you know the kind you can get for cleaning computers and keyboard etc.). Oil your machine regularly at least after every 30 - 40 hours of sewing.
If you know you're not going to have time to sew for the next few months... give the machine an extra good cleaning AND oiling. Place a scrap of fabric between the presser foot and the feed dogs... (this will catch all the extra oil).
When shopping for a sewing machine have an idea of what you will be using it for. (The sales person will ask…and if you hmmm and hawww they will convince you that you just can’t do without the computer-aided functions) As each feature adds to the cost of a machine check them all out but don’t buy any that you’re sure you will never use.
Your goal is to find a sewing machine that you’re comfortable with and that will do what you want or need it to do.
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