Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Need a new machine? In search for perfect stitches, taking the first steps!

Bernina Active 145 S - 2003 nice button holes

the journey begins.

With older technology leaving and newer technology making great advances, these questions still come to mind: Do we still sacrifice some stitch quality for a computerized machine? Is the stitch quality improved by using a dedicated sewing machine without any provisions for embroidery included?

The first step in the process is to assess your own sewing needs which includes machines and types of sewing you are planning to do: garment, quilting, home dec and/or accessories.

The second step is to take an inventory of current equipment. Be brave and pull those sewing machine kids out of the closet and add them to your list. How do the lists compare to your present and future plans?

Write up sales ads for the closeted sewing kids right now. You will use the money for future investments and the closeted kids need to be appreciated and used daily!

The third step is preparing practice fabrics made of content that you normally sew on and test them first on your best sewing machine.  Bring the same practice fabrics to the sewing stores for auditioning potential machines. Regarding budget, remember that new machines come out in the fall and those who love to own the latest and greatest begin selling machines in May. A lightly used machine may truly be the best solution.  Someone's Ovation was my Evolution :)
Type faster mommy!

Join me in the process!

Step One: My own history of machine acquisitions. The Bernina 1230 was traded in for a 180, a lovely swiss made Bernina which made embroidery awkward to start the embroidery process and did this loud burping sound before beginning any sewing stitches.  It was very slow to load a embroidery design with an hour glass across the screen.  The embroidery stitch quality was very nice, but the sewing stitches were not as fine as the ones on my previous Bernina 1230. In fairness, I was told at the time of purchase that to add embroidery there would be a trade off. It was all so new!

Bernina Activa 145 S 
I quickly, that same year, looked at other less expensive but nicely made machines from Japan that offered embroidery. The Brother 8500, I later traded for the ULT and Babylock Ellageo which all loaded designs quickly. The screen interface felt easier to navigate.  These machines embroidered beautifully and the sewing stitches were nice for the dollars invested.

I "rationalized" that a back up for my sewing needs should "Nina" get sick was "vital". Imagine ballerinas without tutus at the dance troupes and worse! Some stitch quality and sewing feet options were sacrificed but the ease of embroidery made these machines winners.  Embroidery was to be my new interest. I began sewing on the 180 and embroidering on the Brother and Babylock machines.  I was happy. Sound familiar? I never sewed on the embroidery machines until Nina actually needed a repair, one year later.  The sewing was fine but I wasn't scrutinizing the stitches because I knew Nina would be home shortly. I was satisfied and felt the machines provided a lot for the investment when comparing feature to feature for embroidery.

I purchased a small Bernina Activa 145 to take quilt piecing classes and could use some of the 180 optional feet.

In one decade I went from my favorite 1230 to an Armada of Machines to cover all the features I missed in my quest to add embroidery: 180, 8500, ellageo,  ULT, 145S are a sampling of what I owned.

During the same decade, manufacturers that had produced my earlier machines began transitioning some of the lines from Switzerland to Thailand and Japan to China.   I missed sewing and I moved up to the Ellisimo (Brother Quattro equivalent) as it had many sewing features added. My 180 was obsolete for embroidery. The Ellisimo and Quattro machines were introduced and both were equally nice. I had found a lightly used machine at a show. Bonus, it would be upgradeable!  That's all old history but it reveals flaws in my original thinking/shopping process.

Step Two: Evaluation of Current machines with past, present and future needs yet to be made: Babylock Ellisimo (embroidery/sewing), Brother 655 (professional stand alone embroidery machine), Activa 145 (portable sewing), Babylock evolution (serger).  The distance of the arm matters to me. The harp on my Activa 145 is very small which makes it impractical for my current sewing needs and for tomorrows, too.  I will sell it to someone who wants nice stitches and for piecing and taking classes on garment sewing. Translation: No Closet sewing children allowed without guilt.

Step 3: Make a stack of fabric samples that you tend to sew on.  to stitch and compare with your best sewing machine in your current inventory.  I want to do it all and my sample pack is extensive. Be fair to your machine before stitching the samples, check this bulleted list.
  • Stitches always look better when you keep your machine clean and oil where indicated by the manufacturer on a regular basis. I clean mine after every garment completed.
  • Fresh needle for the fabric also provides that perky clean straight stitch with each new project.
  • Make sure that the threading is done securely through the tension system and same for the bobbin.
  • Stitch the samples and bring extras to the dress rehearsals at your local dealers.
I don't recommend internet purchases unless you do not have a good dealer within traveling distance. Dealer support in your area is invaluable because you may need classes, accessories and help when learning a "new to you" machine.  Dealers do sell traded machines and are helpful in most instances. It is fair to ask a dealer with a trade in, what is the condition of the machine and whether they as a dealer maintained the machine under the previous ownership.

Off I went:

ULT/elageo Book covers both
Research Question, do we still need to compromise seam lines for embroidery? Here are some of the responses by sales people I have received: hooking system, needle bar, off shore production, and consistently flawed needles was my personal favorite. Hmmm, apparently embroidery needles don't suffer from this.

I studied as they pointed to the needle bar and could see their thoughts, I studied the bobbin casing and hooking mechanisms as they explained the process both pros and cons. 

A fan on Facebook said it best, my idea of a lovely stitch may not be the same as your idea of the perfect stitch.  But I am sure all of us can agree on that a nice straight stitch is pretty on top and on the bottom without "wobbling" thread.  So that is my barometer for selecting a lovely stitch. Straight is preferred. Consistent smooth stitching whether angled or straight is a must.

 I would really like to know who has a sewing machine purchased after 2012 that they can brag about? Go to post of 4/17/2015 and brag on about your machine to be automatically entered into a drawing.  Details in that post.

There are plenty of awesome embroidery machines...  I am in search of perfectly sewn straight stitches!

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