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Monday, October 29, 2012

A Basic Sewing Machine Primer

When it comes to sewing machines there are probably almost as many choices out there as there are stars in the sky.  Well, not that many, but there sure are a lot of them.  Whether you are thinking about buying your first sewing machine, or just your next sewing machine, there are so many options and so many things to consider that it can all become overwhelming quite easily.  So we are going to get down to the basics and walk through what really matters in a sewing machine.  I am not an expert in the field of sewing machines by any stretch of the imagination, but I have 3 decades of experience in what works, and perhaps more importantly, what does not work, when it comes to putting a sewing machine through its paces.  So I am here to share my knowledge and experience with you.

There are three basic types of home sewing machines; mechanical, electronic,  and computerized.  All home sewing machines will fall into one of these three categories, and each has its benefits and its draw backs.  Which one is best for you depends entirely on what you want to do with it.  I happen to have at least one of each type, so I am using my machines as examples.  

I do not have a "favorite" manufacturer, I have 10 sewing machines (including two embroidery machines), and 3 machines called "sergers" (which we will talk about later), and there are 9 different manufacturers represented among them.  I have found that the quality of today's new machines is more often determined more by the country of manufacture than by the name on the front of the machine.  If you can find one still made in Europe, buy it if you can.  To the best of my knowledge no one makes home sewing machines in the USA, I know there are a couple of companies who manufacture long arm quilting machines which are made in the USA, but they are the only ones I am aware of. 

Every article or post I have ever read about buying a sewing machine stressed the importance of buying it from a dealer who offered classes on its use.  And while I can certainly see the value in that if you are the type of person who would actually take the classes.  I am not one of those people.  I am much more comfortable just taking it home and figuring it out by myself. 

Okay, let's start with the mechanical machine.  Just like the name sounds, it is all gears and rods inside.  The best ones will have metal parts, inside and out.  All older machines are mechanical, the electronic and computerized ones are all relatively new in comparison.  This is my main mechanical machine below:

<<< Front Loading Bobbin Case

As you can see from the pictures there are limitations with the number of features on a mechanical machine.  There isn't a wide choice of decorative stitches, and it certainly won't thread itself!  But it is a work horse.  If you want to sew through heavy or thick  fabrics this is the best type of machine to use.  Sewing through denim, upholstery fabric, even some leather is absolutely no problem for a good mechanical machine.  That is why I have one.  I have been pretty brutal to some of my sewing machines with the projects I have put through them, and I have killed more than one over the years.  Having a dedicated machine for my heavy duty sewing needs has proven to be a really good idea, and this one is a work horse.  Something else I want to point out is where the bobbin is on this machine, that's why I added the 2nd & 3rd photos above.  This is called a "front loading bobbin" and it can be a real pain in the neck.

The next type of sewing machine is the "electronic".  This is probably the most commonly sold type out today.  They can have a much wider variety of decorative stitches than the mechanical machines, but they are generally much wimpier in return.  The machine below is a fairly cheap one my husband bought me at Target. 

This is my "Baby Brother".  It is light weight and portable and does a decent job of sewing most items.  I do NOT advise trying to quilt a King sized quilt on it, but it can be done.  There is no foot on the machine at the moment, I stole it for use on a different machine.  Many of my machines have fairly interchangeable feet, this is a great advantage when it works.  Just be careful when trying to use feet from different brands, make sure the needle doesn't hit the foot, other than that, if the foot fits, use it.  That's what I do anyway.

This machine has a "drop in bobbin" which is much easier to use than the front load one above, if you put it in right.  Most electronic machines today also have automatic button hole features which are totally awesome if you are wanting to make lots of buttonholes. Any cheap electronic sewing machine will fit the needs of the average home sewer.  I saw one today online at Walmart for $40 that actually looked like a fairly decent machine for simple hobby or beginner use.

Now, if you ever want to get "serious" about sewing, you can venture into the wonderful world of "computerized" sewing machines.  This is my main sewing and quilting machine pictured below.  She is a Viking/Husqvarna Sapphire 855 and I Love her dearly!  The reason I Love this machine has nothing to do with it being computerized though.  

The top picture shows the the most wonderful feature of this machine - all that room between the needle and the body of the machine!  Also know as the "throat space" this is one of the most valuable features in a machine for quilting.   The other greatest feature is the needle threader, this is an option I HIGHLY recommend whenever possible.  It makes life so much easier!  The second picture shows a close up of the control panel and the third is a close up of all the various decorative stitches the machine can make.  I rarely use those, but they can be fun to play with.

Speaking of fun to play with, there is a special type of computerized sewing machine called an "Embroidery Machine".  Again the variety of these available is becoming overwhelming, and I will probably do a few posts specifically for these machines in the future.  But for now, below is a picture of my "Big Brother", the largest of my embroidery machines.  It has a 6" x 10" embroidery field, and can be used as a regular sewing machine in addition to doing embroidery.

  I think that covers the basic differences between the types of sewing machines.  I am sure there are lots of details that I could add, and maybe I will write up more detailed posts later if there is an interest.  If you have any questions, feel free to ask. 

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