This is a compilation of QUILTNET postings about purchasing sewing machines. All comments are the OPINIONS of the person who posted the message......................

Purchasing A Sewing Machine FAQ

From: Carolyn

When looking at machines for purchase, it is important to sew on the machine yourself, in fact, you should insist on it. You should plan ahead, and when you go to the sewing machine store, know the kind of things you are interested in doing. Take pieces of fabric, or whatever you plan to sew on. Do not let the sales rep do the sewing on your fabrics.

1) Explain to the sales rep what you are interested in, what the problems are with your current machine (if any?).

2) If the sales rep immediately takes to the most expensive machine in the store and this was not your intent, be firm and insist upon seeing a machine more in your price range. You may well end purchasing a machine that is outside your price range, but that should be your decision and not that of the sales rep.

3) Let the sales rep give you a demonstration, make sure that when you sit down you can see what the sales rep is doing. Sometimes the sales reps have a canned demonstration and they go to fast, they make it flashy and impressive, but the demo may be more technique rather than what the machine is capable of doing.

4) Ask your questions and then ask to sew on the machine yourself. If you do not have fabric pieces, ask to test sew on real fabric, not the stiff demo cloth that most sales reps use. Your own swatches are better because, you can carry the same fabric around to the different shops, and truly have an accurate comparison.

5) If you try something on a fabric (your own) and it does not work properly, for example using a machine with a lot of embroidery stitches, you generally have to stiffen the fabric, use a tear-away type of product. Decorative stitches generally look nicer using 100% cotton thread and not necessarily as nice using cotton-wrapped thread. Check out the thread.

6) Contrary to what a sales rep may say, swear to, etc. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS A MACHINE THAT HAS AN AUTOMATIC TENSION ADJUSTMENT. Remember, when using a regular sewing machine (as opposed to a serger) there is thread on top of the seam (your top thread - when threaded goes through tension system of some kind) and the bobbin thread. In machines with a bobbin case, the tension is still adjusted by adjusting that little bitty screw on the side of the bobbin, there is no one, etc. that jumps out and automatically adjusts this little screw. You must. The machines without a bobbin case (so-called drop-in bobbins), also have a tension adjusting device. There may be some "automatic" mechanism to adjust the top tension.

7) The stitching quality of a particular machine depends on a number of things (a) the machine, (b) needles, (c) thread, (d) tension, (e) sewing technique, and (f) the operator. All of these items are important. A good machine is wonderful and can make sewing more pleasurable. You can hear it and see the results, between a good machine and not so good machine.

8) If you are looking at the high end machine, for example Elna or Pfaff (there are the two machines I own, so biased), be aware that both companies have a line of machines that are of a different quality than there top line. Top line of Elna is made in Switzerland, top line of Pfaff is Germany. The other line is either made in Japan or China (not that these are necessarily bad, but they are not the top of the line, the line that gives the brand its reputation). For example, New Home is a Japanese built machine, they may have other lines that are built in either Taiwan or Korea. When it comes to sergers by these companies, it is most likely their sergers are made in either Japan or Germany/Switzerland, but for sergers, this is okay. The original home-use sergers came from Japan, they had the original technology.

From: Christine

I just wanted to add a few notes to the great suggestions that Carolyn gave about test driving a sewing machine. You may be able to get a used machine in very good condition. There are some users who trade-in machines because they don't have all the latest fancy gadgets, etc. Most shops will make sure that the used machines are in tip-top shape for selling. Make a list of your requirements and your questions before going to a store, so that you won't get caught up in the heat of the moment and buy something that does way more than you need it to or forget to ask something that could turn out to be important. Be sure that the store will service the machine as well as sell it. Consumer Reports recommends not purchasing an extended warranty from the store - they say it's one of the biggest wastes of $. Many major credit cards offer an extended warranty on purchases made with them. And finally, don't be afraid to ask what may seem to the salesperson to be a silly question. A sewing machine is a major investment and you have a right to have every t crossed and every i dotted before you lay out $$.

From: Sylvain

Here's a few additions/suggestions I'd like to make:

1. it doesn't matter how much you pay for the machine (back to this is a bit...): you have to feel comfortable using it. If you think you have to fight with the machine, your sewing will suffer (and dwindle)

2. I matters a lot how much you pay! You tend to get what you pay for (more so for a sewing machine than for a car, IMO). Don't feel you have to buy the top of the line. Of course that top machine is a dream (better be for around 3000$!). It's also an addition on the house... You can get very good machines starting at 300-400$. Going the cheapest way may not be the best.

3. Try contacting prospective dealerships ahead and find out what their 'quieter' times are during the week. By visiting them at 'slow' periods, you have a better chance of getting them to spend time with you.

4. In addition to bringing your own fabric (recommended pre-washed, ready to sew, just like the real thing), try to get some 'play' time with the machine(s). My dealer let me play for as long as I wanted. I got to figure out how to use the machine, which afforded me a chance to evaluate how easy it was to use in general.

5. Test drive on some real applications: buttonholes (that's a real test!), thick layers, thin or sheer fabrics, vinyl, 1/4 in piecing, you name it.

6. for 4 and 5, bring your own thread. You'd be surprised how many dealers only have 'rayon embroidery' to thread their machines with, because that's what they use to demo the embroidery stitches (catchy marketing), because that's what they like to show off (selling a reliable buttonhole is not exactly 'sexy'). Don't let the dealer tell you thta the machine really stitches well, it's the flimsy thread that's failing it... This will give you a chance to test drive bobbin winding, insertion/removal in addition to upper threading.

This seems like a lot to go through to by a machine. But I can's blow 1500$ without convincing myself it's on an educated guess at least... And if you enjoy sewing, then it's all play...

From : Bakul

I found the best method to buy a new machine is go to the store and try it out. I have always found the salespeople eager to show how the machine works. In fact, a sales person just spent over an hour yesterday showing me machines. I ended up buying a New Home 8000. I wouldn't suggest any of the electronic machines by Singer as they like to be repaired alot. However, their basic machines are alright. I don't know of where to buy used in your area but suggest looking in the phone book as many places will take used machines in trade, re-condition them and then re-sell them. I wouldn't suggest mail order as you don't have easy access to service.

From: Marina

When I bought my electronic machine, I also checked out several.
--and I finally figured it out--all of these computerized machines can do the SAME THINGS. They ALL have preset stitch length and width that you can override. They ALL let you stop with the needle up or down. They ALL can automatically set tension for different fabrics. These similarities are not so obvious when you are shopping, since you don't know the machines that well, but they are there. Test it out--write down a list of the stuff that the first machine does, and ask the various salespeople if their machine does it too.

Moral: all these machines are Good Machines. They all do what they say they will. None of them are lemons. Some cost a lot more, and you may decide that having a great dealer is worth the extra money (I have only been back to my dealer once, to get an extra presser foot, so it wouldn't be worth it for me). Free classes may be worth it--altho they ain't free if you pay more for the machine!

So now I have boiled down "shopping for a machine" to three rules:

1. Don't buy a sewing machine in a department store (like Sears)

2. Don't buy a sewing machine that is "on sale" for a limited time and you have to make a decision right away. (they don't want you to shop around).

3. If you can't afford a good new machine, don't buy a cheap new machine-- at least try to find a good USED machine. (I haven't done this yet but one used Pfaff is worth ten new Kenmores any day :-)

IMHO and YMMV, as usual.

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