Tell me about your sewing machine. Or the sewing machine you yearn for.

I’ve been considering the prospect of upgrading from my cheapo Singer tabletop model. I’m really not into machine embroidery or machine quilting, I don’t need a lot of computerized features, I’ve never even used the buttonholer (although I guess it’s nice to have a few features just in case). What I want is something reliable, easy to use, and sturdy that can handle a wide range of fabrics for high-quality basic sewing. And I want to keep the price under $500.

So how do I find out what machine would be best? Well by golly, there’s bound to be somebody on the Dope who has an informed opinion! So please tell me why you love your sewing machine and why I should have one like it. And just for fun, if you’ve got a “dream machine” out there from Bernina or BabyLock or somebody that literally would cost more than your car, confess your crush here too!

bumpity bump?

I’ll draw the question to your attention again this once, and if nobody has any contributions then I’ll just go on dreaming about sewing machines on my own. :frowning:

Hi, Kimstu - I don’t have a lot to add, but I have two sewing machines - both are cabinet models, one is VERY very basic (no buttonholer or nothin!) and the other I’m not sure - I’ve never used it. It was given to me by a friend who didn’t want to move it. It is currently serving as a catchall in my dining room. I’ve stopped sewing at all since my son grew up - I kind of miss it.

I take that back - I have THREE! The other one is my grandmother’s antique one (treadle) that she brought over from Sweden when she came over here. That’s refinshed, doesn’t work, and is holding my monster candle and phone and answering machine in my living room.

As to machines I’d LOVE to have, I always thought a serger would be great to have, but again, my sewing was mainly stuff for my son (his stupid halloween costumes would end up costing like $70 by the time I was done :D) and now, the only sewing I do is the occassional button back on a shirt, or something like curtains for my front door window that involved a TON of stich-witchery.

What machines are you looking at?

Oh Lord, I think I’ve waxed poetical about my Bernina 1008 a few times here and there.

I love it, it’s entirely mechanical, it’s built of actual metal interior and exterior bits, and it’s a breeze to sew with. Lots of extra foots available, and easy to interchange them, needles, and thread/bobbins. I’ve sewn every weight from tissue to upholstery leather with it, and it’s plowed through everything with never a problem.

I bought it right after college before I turned broke, and I am ever so glad I did, because there is no way in hell I would ever be able to afford it now. It’s probably going to be my main workhorse machine for the rest of my life.
I also have three working Singers of varying 1950s-ish vintages that I sew on occasionally, a treadle Singer from my grandmother, and a whole heap of pre 1900s machines from various companies that don’t actually work. One of my really side hobbies is working on them and seeing if I can get them up and running again. I think they’re beautiful machines, and I like to tinker, and I get them for super cheap at fleamarkets or yard sales when people don’t know what they have.

Start looking for a refurbished trade in. A lot of hobby sewers will trade in a machine to get a newer model, just like trading in a car. You want to find a machine that’s been completely checked and serviced and has a guarantee.

I have a Bernette 90E that I bought a few years back, and I love it. However, the cost was above your price point, I believe I paid something like $900 for it, on sale.

Don’t be too quick to dismiss the machine embroidery. If and when I get another machine, I’m definitely springing for at least the machine letter embroidery capability. Many times I’ve wished that I could do machine embroidery with my current machine.

I have a total of three sewing machines in the house right now, and one serger. I need to get one of the machines and the serger to the shop, to get them serviced. My mother went into a nursing home, and has Alzheimer’s, so I got her machine and serger, and there’s still another machine that I’m getting, as I’m the only one in the family who still sews. That last machine is an old, old White. It doesn’t zigzag, it doesn’t even do backstitches. It can only sew forwards. But this machine is incredibly reliable. If all you want is to do a straight stitch, this is the machine you do it on. It used to be a treadle machine.

Oh, and I’ve heard great things about the Singer Featherweight. They’re old, but apparently they do very well.

I’d rather have a Featherweight than ten of the sub-$100 disposable machines. Featherweights do one thing - straight stitch only - but they do it very well.

The absolute cheapest machine I’d advise anyone to get is the Brother CS6000i. Amazon sells if for about $160. It does buttonholes and is pretty novice-friendly. Fans of metal guts and bodies will not like it though - the needle is probably the largest piece of metal in this machine. We have one and have given one as a birthday gift to someone we like. It’s inexpensive and simple, but not foolproof or rugged.

In the $500 budget, if you want new, take a look at the Viking Emerald 118. We got one for a friend a couple of years ago, and they’re tickled pink with it, even though it is green. Think it’s selling for about $400 now. It’s “electronic” but not computerized, so it’s fairly free of gee-whiz stuff to break.

If you’re thinking of buying used, there are a gaggle of Singer Touch & Sew models, all of which are generally dependable beasts, but like any other sewing machines, all of them can suffer terribly if not maintained properly over the past decades. It is getting hard to find shops that will happily work on them, but if you’re mechanically inclined, patient and a bit courageous, you can fix them yourself as parts availability is still good. I just revived two T&S machines this past weekend - ping me if you want to hear more about that.

Dream machine?
We’ve got a bunch of basic home machines here, so I’d like to add an industrial walking foot like the Mauser (formerly Pfaff) 1245. I still terribly regret getting rid of my Pfaff 545 nearly 20 years ago.

For embroidery, we’ve got a Babylock Ellageo, but would like to upgrade to the Enterprise, which is a 10-needle machine with a 14x14" hoop.

One of my good friends worked for a while at a place with really nifty industrial sewing machines. After hearing him go on and on and on over the course of a few years about how awesome they were, I got him to ask his boss if I could stop by and use one to see how it went.

Man, that sucker freaked me the hell out and back. I know intellectually there’s an adjustment curve, and I knew it was going to be much faster than my home machines, but damn. I still have nightmares about that thing eating my fingers.

(And no, I didn’t hurt myself or ruin anything, but I do have the feeling that my blood pressure was a good 20-30 points higher while I was working with that machine.)

I have two old Singers - a treadle model that was electrified at some point, and an early electric that my mom bought used when she was pregnant with me in 1953. I use my mom’s to do pretty much everything: new sailcovers for our boat, repairing window screens, making epic pirate costumes, upholstering the loveseat, fixing the dogs’ collars, hemming jeans, you name it.

I LOVE that machine - I can usually fix it myself when something’s wrong, I can keep it properly oiled and I know from memory how to do everything that needs to be done (like hooking up the buttonholer and adjusting the bobbin tension).

I do wish it would overcast and do stretch stitches, so I might eventually get a newish machine. I’ll probably still use the old Singer though!

Ooh, this looks great, thanks everybody! I’m now seriously wondering if I can afford to upgrade past the $500 mark, but I really don’t think I can.

I’m also a little chary of buying used, though I know there are some great older machines out there. Hell, my mother’s old Singer belonged to her grandmother, and still works just fine.

But really, what I want is something that will do basic stitches and not break. The metal machines are intriguing, although I guess I like the lighter weight of the plastic for portability.

I’m leaning toward the Singer brand just because I’ve been a satisfied customer in the past. I know I want something better than the really low-end $150 or less (even though the one I’ve got in that category has overall worked quite well for me). And I know that I’m not even considering any of the fancy machines that literally could rival the down payment on a house.

I like to do hand sewing, particularly for embroidery and quilting, so I don’t need some kind of automated stitch wizard with patented sleeve-setting attachment and whatnot to do all sorts of things that I could do more quickly myself by hand. But I do have occasional sewing projects with materials that range from pleather to denim to cotton knits to tissue-weights, and sometimes you just need to sew a long seam or put in stitching smoothly and quickly.

I probably don’t want something that goes incredibly FAST like one of those industrial machines, I’m happier with more control over my work. A good built-in light is important too, I’ve heard that some of the mid-range Singers have a problem with that.

Basically, as you can tell, I don’t really know my ass from my elbow when it comes to the sewing machine options of this modern world, I just know that I’m looking to drop a few hundred bucks on something that will make me VERY unhappy if it isn’t working right. So I’m feeling a little nervous about the decision-making process.

ETA: Wow gotpasswords, Babylock Enterprise? Holy hell, will you look at that, er, baby. LED colored thread spool lights?! The what fuck. :eek:

I recommend a dedicated sewing machine store, not a fabric store that has a sewing machine department or a WalMart or a little sewing machine repair shop that sells a few models on the side. One like this. They have a physical store where you can try out anything and knowledgeable staff to work with you. When I bought my Juki about 4 years ago, I spent two hours trying different machines. The salesperson explained why I didn’t want a more expensive, very well known brand (coughSinger*cough) that had recently gone downhill. However, their problems may have worked themselves out by now.

I’ve been very satisfied with my Juki HZL-e61. I can’t remember how much it cost, probably in the $400-$500 range. It has handled everything I’ve thrown at it, from chiffon and silk to wool tweed and faux fur. The only complaint I had was the buttonholer kinda wimped out when I used it on two layers of tweed plus interfacing, but I was using it too close to the seam allowance and it was catching two extra layers of tweed. My fault, really.

You probably don’t want one of the new Singers. I’ve heard a lot of people complaining that they just don’t work very well, for whatever reason.

The thing about the refurbished machines is that someone else has taken the hit on depreciation. Since you don’t want all the bells and whistles and the very latest in whizbang, buying a new machine, even a basic machine, might not be the best bang for your buck. If you really don’t like the idea of buying used, though, you’ll be happier with a new machine. I’m just saying that you should think about it, that’s all.

While they likely won’t appeal to the OP as much as more modern machines I simply love my working antiques.

At work I use an Adler 30 industrial machine that is at least 100 years old (we aren’t quite sure how old). I can sew anything leather up to 3/8 of an inch thick, and the presser foot swivels 360 degrees which is heavenly for tight spaces. It’s an industrial sewing machine, intended for working on footwear and leather. Since I’m a cobbler it’s what I need. Just straight stitch, can’t even reverse (you swivel the foot 180 degrees to go backward). Entirely treadle powered (at one point it was electrified, then the mod was reversed) but that’s a plus, as you can go real fast if you want or really really s-l-o-w. Downside is that it’s powerful enough that if you tug at the wrong moment the needle hits the footplace instead of engaging bobbin thread and that downstroke is forceful enough the needle doesn’t bend or break it shatters into multiple pieces. Also, it will tear up delicate fabrics but then, it’s an industrial leather sewing machine.

At home I have a Singer treadle machine from 1910. Just forward and reverse. Sews everything from lace to leather.

At work we just got another treadle machine/working antique - well, it will be another working antique when I’m done with it. One of the downsides of working with the antiques is that you sort of wind up doing repairs yourself. Parts are still available for all these models, they take standard needles, but a lot of repair shops don’t seem to want to deal with them or even know what the hell they’re doing. The “new” Singer we got was supposedly repaired by a shop but they didn’t oil the treadle mechanism, just the “sewing machine” (idiots, the treadle is part of the machine, it’s the “motor!”), didn’t put on a drive belt “because you’re going to electrify this, right? But we don’t do that, you’ll have to put a motor on yourself”, and used the wrong type of shuttle hook in the bobbin compartment. Oh, and they didn’t clean all the lint and thread out of workings, basically ignoring anything that wasn’t around the needle mechanism. I dug out a couple decades of lint and thread, oiled the sucker up (including the treadle - people really forget there are moving parts under the working platform), pried out the wrong part, ordered the correct bit, made a new drive belt, and hooked up the treadle to the drive wheel. Once we get the missing parts in and installed she’ll be a sweet machine.

No, we don’t want to electrify our treadles. For what we do we don’t need speed, we need some precision and the ability to drive through leather.

Anyhow, they sure are durable. The Adler has, as near as we can determine, been in continuous use since it was first purchased (needless to say, the original owner is gone). I’ve had my home singer for 25 years now, and clearly was used prior to my acquiring it as it had the usual thread/lint accumulation. It wasn’t just an ornament in someone’s living room. It’s 102 years old this year.

Wow, this is awesome, but very daunting. I feel like a recent divorcee just starting to look at internet dating sites and overhearing a bunch of people talking about celebration plans for their upcoming thirtieth and fortieth wedding anniversaries. I want one like that, one that will last for all those decades of contentedly appreciating its qualities and adjusting to its quirks and admiring its reliability! But how on earth do I go about finding one like that? How do I know the one I think is perfect for me won’t turn out to be crap?

Thanks Lynn, I will definitely pay some more attention to the option of buying used, and you’re right that a machine that’s worked well for a long time is often more trustworthy. And I agree with Sandra too that a dedicated sewing machine shop is the place to look if I decide I do want a new one.

Broomstick: wow. Those sound like some amazing machines!