Sewing Tools: Your Sewing Machine

It’s the tools that make the job easy. As you do in your fabric choices, you should buy the best machine you can afford. That does not necessarily mean expensive, but it does mean you need to shop.

It was my college years that taught me this lesson. When I entered the Apparel Design major at my school. I needed my own machine. I could no longer borrow my mother’s machine, since she was a 4 hour drive away. So, I popped over to the local Sears and picked up a Kenmore for a reasonable price. Why not? My mother has been sewing on a Kenmore for years. Great little machine!

My new machine held me in a reign of terror for a couple of weeks until, in a fit of rage—thread stuck in my teeth, needle-holes in my fingernails, and foot control cord trailing—I unceremoniously shoved it back in its box and motored it back to the store for a refund. Probably had half-filled bobbins trailing my car as well!

The red still not drained from my eyesight, I then immediately stomped over to the Bernina shop, demanded their top-of-the-line, and clutching my credit card, waved my still-trembling fist in their faces, desperate for them to complete the transaction and end my pain. Which they did—happily. That machine cost me $999, back in 1982. It held me in a financial headlock well beyond my college years, but still, I had no rage for it. It was (and still is) a dream to work with. It became my partner. I could sell it now for what I paid for it. Why did I pick Bernina? They were the only machines in the costume shop that always worked. If they held up to that abuse, they were going to perform well for me.

My work always seemed to be neater, tighter, and polished. I got better grades, more ooohs and aahs, and probably more awards, all because of that Bernina 930 and what it could do. Really. Aside from perfect tension and great stitch quality, there was a foot for everything. You need the right tools to make good work. It’s just a daunting task to try to make welting with a zipper foot. This is what others had to do, while I quickly zipped off perfect, professional welting with my nifty welting foot.

What’s the moral of the story? The moral of the story is that you should go shopping and look at the current options out there before you buy your machine. Sewing machine companies often change hands, and as a result, their standards may not be what they once were when last you shopped. Go out and look, and buy the best machine you can get. I highly recommend buying a used machine from a reputable source. You can get a much nicer machine used then you can new. Used is a great deal.

I never understood some of the customers I served back when I was a sewing machine mechanic the first time around. They would buy the cheapest machine because “that was what they could afford.” As a mechanic, I would offer up really beautiful used machines with a glint in my eye, because I knew what I had in my hand: A real deal. Heck, I had worked on it. I knew it was a dream machine. Alas, more than one customer would roll her eyes at me and say ”It’s a gift. I would never buy a used machine as a gift!” To which, the virtual gift receiver in me would weep at the loss of a really great lifetime friend, and wilt at the sight of the cheap, but new machine. I knew that I’d MUCH rather have a nice used machine, than a cheaper new one. Wouldn’t any sewer?

So, Shop. If you do, you may actually not be so angry with your first purchase that you storm off and buy the absolute top-of-the-line, when a clearer head would know that a midrange, even a top end used machine would serve just as well. I still don’t regret that purchase.


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