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

Sewing Machine FAQ

SEWING MACHINE REVIEWS - file updated 7/30/94

by Vivian T

This FAQ contains reviews of many different sewing machines, some of the reviews came in response to a question about purchasing an inexpensive machine, other comments have been gleaned from daily posts on Quiltnet. I have tried to group comments about the various brands together. I have no conection to any dealers or manufacturers.


My first suggestion would be to save your money a bit longer. I have not priced machines in a long time but I can't imagine that you would be able to get a machine of the quality you want for the money you have set aside. My first machine was one my Mom bought me at a garage sale. It was an okay machine but I always had annoying problems with it. Then I got one for a few hundred and it was okay as long as I wasn't real particular about quality. It jammed a lot and the lint seemed to build up quickly and cause problems. Finally, I was able to buy a great machine and I realized that I was a good seamstress. My problems had been the machines, not me as I had always thought. I began turning out fabulous things, all because I had a quality machine. If I were in your shoes I would go look at the bottom of the line models of the high quality companies: Viking, Bernina, New Home, Pfaff and Elna. Take a variety of fabrics and some little ready to machine quilt things. Test drive them and ask a million questions. How much is a walking foot for machine quilting? Will a little foot fit for machine piecing? How much is that? What is the waranty and specifically, what is covered? Get educated and take your time. I know you are excited but you will live with this machine for a long time. The wrong purchase can really turn you off. Have fun deciding.


I bought my "bottom-of-the-line" Kenmore around 15 years ago for, if I remember right, $179. It does forward and backward and zigzag. I have NEVER had to take it to a mechanic. I have to check the tension every day I sew, and sometimes adjust it mid-seam. It's very easy to clean lint out of (I use a nut pick). I have quilted crib quilts and wall hangings with it. It makes lovely buttonholes if I make 2-3 practice ones first. Its 1/4" is not marked, but a magnet block shoved hard against the feed dog marks exactly 1/4", which is a lot better than the electronic 1/4" on a top-of-the-line Bernina I sewed on last fall (it was actually 3/16", which even now causes me trouble). I read about other QuiltNetters'fabulous machines, and drool over the descriptions, but for the life of me I can't justify replacing my little Kenmore. Thoughtlessly even tension is not worth $800!


My machine was well rated by "Threads" magazine: it is a Kenmore (translation sears) model with a 5-digit model number. If your local Sears has machines in the store, it will be the one that has 24 stitches and a large "24" on the front. I think it is a fine basic machine, cost about $300, but admittedly does not do all the things I would like.


At least look at the Sears, Kenmore sewing machines. These are the machines my mother, sister, and I had the best luck with in the price range you are talking about. I haven't looked at their machines in several years, so I don't actually know if they currently have a machine under $200.00. We didn't like the one Wards machine that we ever had and other than that we had a couple of little heard of brand machines. The brands you never heard of make a person a little nervous just because you can't ask how they worked for other folks. Some of them have proven to be excellent machines though. Good luck, and happy sewing!


I've had 2 Kenmores (Sears brand) and been happy with them. I've heard that they went through a bad spell a few years ago, but that was "between machines" for me... the first is is about 12 years old; the second is 1 year old. The new one I have is a little over your budget -- it's a 36-stitch electronic -- but it's been a dream to sew on. I was also quite happy with my 12-stitch... I basically just outgrew it. Good luck!


I do a lot of custom sewing and often review available sewing machines so that I can answer questions. Personally, in that price range I would look into a Sears Kenmore. I, again personally, would never intentionally buy a Singer. Brother makes a fair machine in that range. The thing that I like about the Kenmore is that it will shift from a couple of layers to many layers without protest. An ability I find important in machine quilting.....I do much of my regular sewing on an industrial Brother.


My new machine (new, 2 yrs ago) is a Kenmore (=Sears) 24 stitch model, which Threads Mag. named as the best "workhorse" machine for quilters, under $300. It has a 5-digit model number, and a big "24" on the front panel. I don't know about the lower end machines-- they do make less expensive models--whether they are the same basic machine, but with fewer stitches or whether they are different basic machines. However, I love mine. Sure, I would like to have some of the features of the computerized Elnas, Pfaffs, and Berninas. But for $300, I am real pleased with its durability, quality of stitch, etc. If the 12 stitch machine is basically the same as the 24, but with fewer stitches, I would say you might be real pleased with it. TEST DRIVES are real imortant. I took fabric, pins, etc. and sat there for 45 minutes, putting it through its paces. The only thing you don't get a good feel for is how loud it is (different room) and how much it may make YOUR table bounce.


I have a Kenmore 30 (about two years old now) and I have so much trouble with tension and the bobbin thread that I want to scream.

I did exactly the same thing, only I bought a $200 White.

If I remember correctly, White makes Kenmore machines so this makes alot of sense. BTW - I also have a Kenmore, but have only tried machine quilting once on a small wall quilt. It worked ok, but I have had tension problems on other projects. The bobbin tension seems to have a mind of it's own.


I have taken two machine quilting classes and, in all honesty, would probably never (or very rarely) hand quilt if I had a sewing machine that did a decent job. I have a Kenmore 30 (about two years old now) and I have so much trouble with tension and the bobbin thread that I want to scream. I am so sorry that I did not "investigate" sewing machines before I bought this machine. I was just starting to quilt and ran out and bought the first thing that was on sale (this machine was about $400).


I had a very cheap Kenmore, ($200 new) that had the same problem. I finally sold it for $50 and bought a new electronic for $1300 (New Home 7500) and love it! So what if it took me several months to pay for it?

If you have not taken your Kenmore in for adjustment, try that first. I did and it did not work for my machine, but you might be luckier. Sometimes the bobbin case gets "bent" for some reason, if that is replaced it may solve some of your problems. Otherwise, sell your machine and buy a better one--sometimes you can get a good deal on a used Bernina, Pfaff, Elna, White, etc. The used sewing machine dealers in your area are in the yellow pages. Sell your machine to someone who only needs to sew on buttons once in awhile :-)


I did exactly the same thing, only I bought a $200 White. Big mistake, but after one frustrating year, I bought a used Bernina 1130. Boy, life is good now. And this was after doing a lot of hands on research for the right machine. It really does make a difference what machine you use to machine quilt with.


I have a Bernina 930. Every good thing you have heard about Berninas is true. No, I don't sell them, but it is one product I would feel comfortable selling. I have had my machine 10 years. It was the top of the line model at that time, and retailed for about $1500. It is a mechanical machine, they were not making computerized machines back then. I have never had any and I do a lot of sewing on it. I sew a small amount of clothing and mending for my family on it, but I primarily use it for machine piecing and quilting. Every top machine quilter uses a Bernina; Debra Wagner, Harriet Hargrave, Sue Nickels, and many others. Unlike a Pfaff, you do need a walking foot for straight line quilting, and this costs around $65, I think. It is not a standard accessory with the machine. The tension on the machine is very even and trouble-free. The knee lift is essential to me. Industrial sewing machines are made with this feature, and there's a reason. It saves you lots of time- you don't have to constantly be lifting the presser foot lever every time you reposition your work. I think this is very important for both machine quilting and if you ever do any machine applique. It takes a little while for some people to get used to, but it is definately worth it. For these reasons, I recommend a Bernina. Do not get the lowest priced models, which do not have the knee lift or automatic needle down features. But you also don't need the top of the line computerized machine, unless you have the money. I have looked at the 1630, and it does have some niceties that my machine lacks. It has been the first model of Bernina developed that has made me consider getting a new one, but I'm not ready at this time. There are some mail order discounters of Berninas, but you will not get the same service or education from your local dealer if you purchase your machine elsewhere.


I bought a Bernina 1130 (now discontinued) last summer. I bought the machine after it had been used at a quilt show. While I have no true guarantee that it wasn't used prior to the show, I did get a fairly good deal ($1200 with accessories, etc). You might want to look into it. I highly recommend the Berninas if you're even remotely considering machine quilting. Two machine quilting "experts," Harriet Hargrave and Caryl Bryer Fallert, use and recommend Berninas. The knee lever, dropped feed dogs, and different feet provide a great machine for quilters. Good luck - I know they're expensive, but we usually get what we pay for. I had a fairly new Kenmore machine (less than 2 yrs old), but I couldn't use it to Machine quilt at all; although, I was happy with it in other respects. The Bernina has a much better stitch (and the ability to lower the feed dogs!).


I have a Burnette 440 - the cheaper end of the Bernina series - and I really like it. It's not electronic, doesn't have super fancy stitches, but it has enough for a simple quilter like me! It runs about $450 new, I think.


I personally love my brother machine, it has about 20 stitches and quilts very nicely. the cost about 2 years ago was under 160, and i've seen them here and there for about 175-195 depending on the extras. mine does the 15 stitches an inch, as well as the fancy stitches like swans, ducks, tulips and others which always makes for interesting quilting! but i also like my singer for the stright stitches and for just making the blocks.


Just don't buy a Brother... they are made from all plastic parts and I understand that you can't get parts to repair them when needed. They come from overseas, I guess.. as to lots of reliable products, but still this one is a problems, I guess. My suggestion it that you purchase from someone like J. C. Penneys, or Sears, because they have a range of machines... all price ranges and they stand behind their stuff. You can take it back if you just decide you don't like it a year later...not that you would want to do that, but.. that's how sure you can be that you'll be satisfied... I vote for Penneys, but I'm not sure that Sears may not have a better selection... IF you go through a sewing shop, you'll pay lots more for the same features..


I have a 'white' machine. I think it is a very basic machine. You can use any singer sewing foot, or any generic foot. I bought mine about 2 yrs ago at a house of fabric. It is light enough to take to classes and does not have alot of fancy parts. I use mine often and it has been great.


My sister and sister in-law both bought a white about 15 years ago, because of the cheaper price. My mother who has owned a Bernina (and loves it, and still owns it and now she has a Viking even better) went and tried out the Whites, thought they were O.K. price being a big factor, (you get what you pay for) Looking back now she will not sew on my sister's machine, when she goes To Wyo. to visit her she packs her own machine. The thread on the Whites seem to slip out of the tension arm, frequently, leading to a lot of rethreading and messed up stitches. We all went and tested these machines, but we did so gingerly not putting our foot all the way down as we do when straight stitching a quilt. Just a thought, perhaps they have changed through the years.


Colleen--my advice is to go to a dealer of good machines: Bernina, Pfaff etc. and look at their used can get more machine for the money.


Don't buy a Singer made after 1970 or thereabouts. I would suggest looking at used Berninas, Pfaffs and Elnas. New Singers make wonderful boat anchors, but they aren't good for anything else as fas as I'm concerned.

Owner of one boat anchor Singer and one gorgeous Elna.


Berninas are very expensive and very over priced. Look at the Viking 400. I think you will find it is what you are looking for. Also it is under $1000.00 and is computerized. I got one a month ago and love it.

When I started machine piecing and quilting a few years ago I used my almost 20 year old Viking 1630. The darning foot worked really well for freehand quilting. I purchased a walking foot which helped with long straight quilting lines. When I decided to 2 years ago I again bought a Viking because of the long time excellent performance of the brand. (she did have some intial problems but dealer &mfr took care of them) The Viking #1 has more features than I use. The lower price ones should work just as well for piecing and quilting. The needle up/down position is myfavorite feature. Viking also offers a true 1/4" presser foot and a walking or even-feed foot as accessories. Dealer service has been very good - a big consider ation for electronic machines.


There is no one best machine. Berninas are very popular. But also respected are Elna &Pfaff and Viking. I have a Viking and I cannot recommend it too strongly. It is fabulously engineered. Any machine in the line will produce perfect stitching. The difference in the models is just the features. So, take you time selecting. If you buy a good machine, it will probably be the last machine you get so choose carefully. Take a collection of fabrics to use. The dealers have very stiff stuff that they demo with and you will never use anything like it. Read lots of reviews and comparisons and ask lots of questions. Be sure to buy from a dealer that will fix to quickly when there is a problem.

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For the Sewing Machine FAQ and everyone's general interest, Viking makes a machine that actually quilts! It is the new Viking 500. I've had mine for 2 weeks now and I highly recommend it if you are looking at computerized machines. It took a little fussing for me to get the spool in the best position and the tension right (ignore the manual when it says the quilting stitch needs higher tension.) It also takes my Big Foot for free form quilting. The quilting stitch is made by using the nylon thread on the top and machine embroidery thread on the bottom. This stitch pulls the bobbin thread to the top and makes a small stitch. They are not as close as you would get by hand, but they are as small as good hand quilting. This stitch leaves more thread on the back of the quilt than with regular machine quilting, so I would recommend making the color of the backing fabric the same as the thread you want to show on the front. I wanted black thread on the front and used black backing fabric and it is not noticeable at all. This stitch is very difficult to remove, so practice before you venture on to the quilt. The machine also has a 1/4" foot that can be used with this stitch to outline stitch. Its primary purpose is piecing. You can not freeform stitch and get this quilting stitch, so you are limited to straight lines and gentle curves (anything you could do with a walking foot). It also does an invisible applique stitch with the push of a button and a crazy quilting embroidery stitch. It can do letters, numbers, flowers, leaves, ect. My previous machine was a Viking that I bought in 1980, which never gave me any trouble. I hope to have the same carefree time with this one.


One of the best machines available is not made anymore. It is called a Featherweight. You can often find one at flea markets, etc, and occasionally in quilting publications' classified ads. It does only one thing, a straight stitch, but what a beautiful stitch. Best of all, sometimes you can find them for under $100.

ELNA I bought an Elna 8000 in June at the Creative Festival here in Maryland. I absolutely love it. I'm afraid I was spoiled by taking two quilting classes at G Street Fabrics and using one of their Bernina machines. They very craftily use one of the high end Berninas in their classes. I'll bet that at least 50% of the people who take classes buy a new Bernina from them. My Elna has a seperate 1/4" foot which I am still getting used to-it seems to be a generous 1/4" and I'm used to a scant 1/4", but this is getting easier to compensate for. It has an alphabet built-in, I scoffed at the idea of ever using an alphabet for anything, but I think it would make an interesting label for the back of my quilts, so I may try it. It has a wonderful buttonhole gizmo. It took awhile to figure out how to use it correctly. (I think the instruction booklet was written in Swedish and then translated by a non-native English speaker, it has some very strange sentence construction which leaves me puzzled at times.) The buttonhole attachment will measure the first button hole and reproduce it exactly as many times as you want. I hated the buttonhole built into my Singer, and the attachment I bought for it wasn't much better. Not only can I tell the Elna to leave the needle down if I want, I can move the needle left and right-it has little stops that mean I can move the needle consistently the same distance. Until I got the 1/4" foot, I just moved the needle over two stops to the right and used the edge of the standard presser foot as a guide. It comes with a bobbin cover plate that has guides for inserting elastic, etc. Many of the features that I love about the Elna are ones I use for clothing construction. Before I got quite so heavily hooked on quilting, I made most of my own clothes and many shirts for my husband. I need to take a breather on some quilting things and get a wool suit made for myself and some polar fleece pants and a jacket for my husband. I looked at a few machines before I purchased the Elna. Basically, I would have bought a Pfaff, Bernina or Elna. It depended on the price I could find them at. I happened to find the Elna before G Street had one of their mega sales, so I bought it instead of the Bernina. I recommend getting the sewing machine fact sheet from Sew News. You should be able to find an issue at your fabric store if you don't subscribe yourself. I can look up the info in a back issue and post it to you another day. It won't rate the machines, but it will compare their features and give you an idea of what each one offers. Consumers Reports did an evaluation of some of the more expensive computerized models, sometime within the past two years I think it was. It took me about six months to finally take the plunge.


I had an Elna for over 20 years and was completely happy with it. However, I started having trouble threading the needle, I even went so far as to remove the needle, use my needle threader, then put it back in! It gave me many years of faithful service. But what I liked about it originally, was the nice quiet purring sound the motor made when sewing. I had bought a Singer, then took a class where they used Elnas, and that Singer made so much noise and sewed so much worse, that I bought an Elna. NEW HOME

I looked at Bernina's, Pfaffs, and Vikings. The top of the line electronics only--then I saw the New Home which has the exact same features but costs a lot less. (if you have a New Home dealer in your area, check it out!) I've been very pleased with it, the satin stitch fooled the rabid Bernina owners at a recent quilt retreat (they tend to be very "clannish" :-). It has all the special presser feet you can every imagine using, but they are also cheaper than Bernina feet (which are much bigger and clunkier to carry around, too). I use the built-in embroidery stitches a lot more than I thought I would, too. Free motion machine quilting is a lot of fun and it's so easy to lower the feed dogs on this machine. Also, a clear cover on the bobbin case makes it easy to check and see how much more thread is left on the bobbin. I can wind a new bobbin without unthreading the machine, that saves time.


I have a Pfaff. I decided what I wanted in a machine (needle threader mostly) and then I went shopping. I could have accepted the Viking, Bernina, or Elna. But the Pfaff has a needle threader attached to the presser foot bar, and the others were separate from the machine, and I figured it would be 2 weeks before I dropped it and stepped on it or one of my dogs chewed it up! Put it through its paces before you buy it!


I absolutely LOVE my machine!! (Big Drool, Pant) The faq came out before I had my Pfaff. So thats why I ain't in it!

As I don't have the specs memorized I can give you a rough guesstimate on it. The Pfaff 7550 comes with over 500 builting utility and decorative stitches, including 5 monograms. It has Maxi stitches up to (I believe) 40mm wide. Favorite stitch for machine quilters is #16. It is a mock quilting stitch that really looks like hand quilting. -- Use monofilament in the top and use a color thread in the bobbin that you want to show on top. I don't know the settings for tension but you reduce the bobbin tension quite a bit. the stitch takes (I think) 2 steps forward and then one step back. with this back step it pulls up the bobbin thread and secures it. then it repeats the motion so you have a "quilting stitch" and a space, etc.....

The creative designer is great! You do have to get used to the size difference You can save any stitch you design or you can save a group of or edited version of any of the built in stitches.

I haven't tried the Software yet, I was waiting for them to correct the Windows interface. With that you can design stitches up to 60mm wide! That is BIG. It can accept input from any graphic source (scanners, programs, etc). But I'm not sure of how detailed it can get. With practice, I'm sure it will be dazzling!


From: Anne
Subject: Re: Sewing Machines
Date: 24 Jul 94 10:09:40

Qriginal Question:
Does anyone know how the top of the line BERNINA, PFAFF and VIKING computerized machines compare?

This question comes up all the time, and of course the owners of each kind of machine think theirs is the best. Quilters are often fans of Berninas, claiming that the stitch quality is superior.

Although I don't have the money to buy any of these machines, one day when I had some time to kill I went to the Quilting Bee (a fine quilting store in Mountain View, CA) and tried some machines. I tried the top-of-the-line Bernina and the Viking #1.

I was quite unimpressed with the Bernina. The user interface was atrocious. It has a track ball controlling cascading menus, and there are two buttons (labelled something like ENTER and OK, or two other confusing names) that you sometimes have to push. There's a very confusing small screen, with a display; it also has a cursur which is hard to find. I asked the salesperson to show me how to make the machine stitch my name. Neither of us was able to succeed in doing this.

The Viking #1 had a user interface that wasn't quite as bad. The salesperson could demonstrate it (in fairness, I must say that she owned a Viking #1) and after a few minutes I could get it to do things too. A lot more choices were visible on the front panel at one time than is true for the Bernina, and the small screen's display was considerably clearer. I liked the fact that when you selected a stitch, the machine would automatically set the tension and stitch length and tell you what foot and needle to use. You could override any of these choices.

These machines cost thousands of dollars. For my money, I would want a decent user interface, and I don't know why the sewing machine companies don't hire people who can make them. The Bernina, in particular, could serve as a textbook case of a horrible user interface. [I know, I know, horrible user interfaces abound, and it's hard to make good user interfaces. That's still no excuse.

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