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Choose The Right Machine

What should you consider when purchasing a machine?


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YOUR NEEDS & CONSTRAINTS


Choosing a machine can be a anoverwhelming experience if you are not prepared in advance. There is a vast array of features and prices on the market. What is right for you? The following list should help you make the right decision. Make notes as you read the article, and take your notes with you when you shop for your machine.

Budget
Do you have a price range you must adhere to? There are several very good, basic machines that are quite reasonable. For general sewing one of these will be fine. Most come with a variety of stitches including zig-zag, straight stitching (including basting), buttonhole and zipper ability etc. Read the section below on "features to consider".

Purpose
Will your machine be used for sewing apparel? Quilting (piecing and / or machine quilting)? Embroidery? Heavy work such as leather coat making? Do you want your machine to be able to make special edges such as serged edges or rolled hems? One, basic machine won't specialize in everything. High end machines include more features, but they might be out of your budget range. It is important to know what you will use the machine for; then choose the machine that most closely fits your list of requirements. To get the best embroidery functions, you might have to give up some quilting functions, for example.

Experience Level
If you are just beginning I recommend that you start out with a basic machine. It will take a while for you to become comfortable with the machine. Sewing is fun, but takes concentration and practice when first beginning. If your first machine is extremely complex you might become a bit overwhelmed. With experience, a new machine with greater capabilities can add more possibilities - keeping your sewing experience challenging and fun.

Comfort Level For Learning (technical skills)
If you hate all things "technical" you might want to stick to the more basic machines - much less to learn. If you are seeking more challenge, the new computerized models have excellent help screens and books available, and most dealers offer classes, so don't be intimidated. If you are not comfortable with your machine, however, you run the risk of "allowing it to collect dust". "Fancy" machines make sewing easier as they allow many techniques to be carried out flawlessly at the touch of a button, but I have seen amazing items created on "old fashion" machines as well.


FEATURES TO CONSIDER


Bobbin Winding
How easy is it to wind a bobbin? Can bobbin be wound when the machine is still threaded (a very nice, time saving feature)?

Double Spool
Can the machine handle twin needles and double spools (or 3 spools) - nice for top stitching.

Dual Feed (or walking foot)
Fabric feeds from the bottom, causing uneven feeding of layers. Your seams are lined up at the start and then are "off" by the end of the seam. Pfaff takes care of this with Integrated Dual Feed (IDT system); other machines make use of a walking foot. This means the top and bottom layers are fed at the same rate which prevents bunching up or uneven ends. This is especially important when sewing long seams (such as drapes), lightweight fabrics or through many layers (quilts).

Embroidery
Many basic machines have at least a few embroidery stitches. True embroidery machines have much more ability to create truly outstanding embroidery. Do you want to design your own pattern on the computer and then stitch it to your item? Do you want a library of patterns to choose from? What size of embroidery do you want to create? How many colors?

Free Arm
A free arm allows sewing around an object, such as stitching the hem of a sleeve. The sleeve or other circular item can be pulled over the arm; a flat surface would not allow this. Most machines have the ability to provide a free arm.

Pedals
Pedals are used to operate the machine. Some people prefer a foot pedal, while others like a pedal that is up by the user's leg. Would you rather push your leg to the side (against the pedal) or push a floor pedal with your foot? It is a personal choice.

Quilting
Do you need to machine quilt large quilts? Does the machine have a large workspace (or accessories to assist in quilting)? Perhaps you need a long arm quilting machine with frame (see quilting machines below).

Tread Cutter
Most machines now have a thread cutter. Mine is behind the needle holder; I pull the looose thread end across the back and it cuts my thread.

Zippers, Buttonholes
How easy it to perform these funcions? Is the buttonhole process automated or do you take it through the steps manually (usually 4 steps)?

Accessories
What accessories come with the machine? If not included, are they available?

Presser Feet - A few to consider
felling foot: felled hems are strong and used for jean seams
applique foot: has an open area in the back allowing the heavy applique stitching to pass through
pintuck foot: for heirloom sewing
cording foot: stitches over cording or pearl thread to create a purl seam
ruffler: easily make closely or widely spaced pleats or ruffles
1/4" quilt foot: this presser foot is only 1/4" wide - a necessity for accurate quilting
free motion applique: a round opening with guides allows free motion quilting

Lights
Lighting is very important. Where is the light located? Is it easy to change the bulb?

Auto Thread Cutter
Many machines have a thread cutter behind the presser foot arm. This is a time saver.

Stitches
You will need a variety of stitches such as straight stitch, zig-zag, and stretch. Stretch stitches are designed for stretch fabrics. If you topstitch or sew a seam onto a stretch fabric using a straight stitch, the stitching will break when the fabric is stretched. This is prevented with stretch stitches. There are a large variety of stretch stitches that are now available on most machines, including the overlock stitch, which creates a nice, finished edge. If you have a serger, you will most likely use that machine for your overlock stitches and seam finishing.


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