Sewing Machine upgrade worth it?
October 23, 2008 10:28 AM   Subscribe

"Gift" of a sewing machine upgrade - do I want it?

My husband wants to get me a new sewing machine for my birthday. I think $1000 is not out of his price range.

I've been using a Kenmore Mini Ultra for several years now, and it's been pretty good to me. It seems to do the basics - regular flat cotton and slightly thicker fabrics - just fine. It has three stitch lengths, a zigzag, a buttonholer and a hem stitch that works only ok (or maybe I'm just not good at it). With only one tuneup, it's been very reliable.

However, we now have a baby and I've been trying to sew her a lot of clothes, and discovering some limitations. Cotton jersey - essential for onesies and shirts - is giving me problems. And I'm thinking little chiffon skirts for future fairy costumes will be a downright PITA. I'd like to sew all our jeans too, but I'm not 100% sure this machine will do the thick layers of denim gracefully.

I'm pretty darn frugal, so it's hard for me to justify spending all that money (it's my money too) when I have something that already works okay. What can you tell me about the more expensive machines? What do they provide - besides fancy embroidery patterns that I don't need - that could justify the cost? What do you get for all that money?

And yes I've read all the threads on which sewing machine to pick, but if any of you wanted to mention your favorites here too, I'm listening. :)
posted by GardenGal to Home & Garden (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: My mom upgraded from a Singer to a Pfaff about 15 years ago. She doesn't sew very often these days, but the machine is still excellent condition. And my personal opinion of the machine? It's AMAZING!

A few months ago, I was able to use it for the first time as I'm finally old enough (mid 20s now). I was simply constructing linings for one purse that I had made and one that I bought. Well, this sewing machine did an incredible job. Having not used a less expensive machine, I cannot compare, but the features it has were really handy for my project: easy access reverse switch; option to keep needle down in order to turn fabric at corners; plenty of stitches to use.

The Pfaff has handled everything mom has thrown at it - she made my and her clothes for many many years and the machine never complained. I'd say it was well worth the price, and certainly something worth handing down to your daughter when she's old enough to sew herself.
posted by at 10:53 AM on October 23, 2008

Sounds like a nice gift to me, especially if you envision more sewing in the future. I have an (albeit less expensive) Pfaff and I love it. Yay for German engineering! Here's a good place to look for some recommendations and reviews.
posted by villain extraordinaire at 11:45 AM on October 23, 2008

A lot of sewing-machine stores will let you try out the floor models. Why not bring in some denim, jersey, and tulle and see what you think? Try a hemstitch, maybe try a serger while you're there. In the stores near me, the staff is usually friendly and helpful even if you're not ready to buy.
posted by wryly at 12:00 PM on October 23, 2008

I'm a bit of a sewing neophyte, but unless you're going for a truly industrial machine, I don't see why you'd spend anywhere near $1000. I got a really great refurbished Brother brand computerized sewing machine for around $150. Check

However, I think a sewing machine would be a GREAT gift. Having it around constantly reveals new uses for it. My clothes, curtains, dog costumes etc. will never be the same.
posted by raygan at 12:04 PM on October 23, 2008

Best answer: Thirding a Pfaff, from a third generation Pfaff owner. The machines are totally worth the money. I think they may still be the only manufacturer with integrated dual feed, which prevents fabric from puckering. For heavy materials and very light materials, it makes a big difference. Go to the store and try one out. Check our the Husqvarna to, they are also another really good brand. I'm not a fan of the computerized stuff, just a really good machine. If you buy one of the top sewing machine brands and spend some dough, it will be the last machine you own. Just bring it into the shop for a tune up once a year.

I bought a used Pfaff 10 years ago, I spent probably $600 and it's a champ. My Mother had her Pfaff for close to 30 years, until she upgraded until one of the fancy computerized ones. My Grandmother also had two (she upgraded like my Mom did when the kids were out of the house).

Alternately, for that kind of dough you could by a nice mid-quality sewing machine AND a serger.
posted by pokeedog at 12:12 PM on October 23, 2008

Best answer: We did the exact same thing last year - I had bought a Singer as a birthday present to myself about 5 years ago, and while it did the basics, I had grown beyond it. My husband offered to buy me a machine for my birthday, and we went with a Husqvarna and I absolutely love it. FWIW, my mother has a Pfaff and she loves hers too.

As mentioned above, a lot of stores have floor models that you can try out. I am notorious for looking at things far beyond my need when it comes to technology, so having someone walk me through the different machine capabilities, and to let me sit down and try them all was key. I stepped down a few grades, and then lucked into a floor model sale. I think I made the money back in a few months (but I sell some of my sewing) and it's been worth the upgrade. Easy button holes, no limits on fabric thicknesses (I've been doing upholstery and curtains for friends lately) and it's been super easy to line knitted items (my Singer would try to eat anything that looked like a knit). It's been really user friendly, and it also does some "neat" things that you might find useful when sewing for your daughter. I just taught a friend to sew a few weekends ago, and she commented on how easy it was on my machine versus her Singer.
posted by librarianamy at 12:20 PM on October 23, 2008

My mom says the best machine she ever owned was a Brother, and she hates the machine she has now, which is a White. I have a Husqvarna-Viking entry-level machine, and if I had $1000.00, I'd spend it on one of their top of the line ones. My machine, for the money, is as good a machine as I could ask for.

Others I've heard good stuff about: My friend has her grandmother's Bernina and it's totally indestructible. Old Singers are hard to beat but it's a trade off between that and a newer, computerized machine.
posted by Medieval Maven at 12:25 PM on October 23, 2008

Nthing the Pfaffs. I co-own a shop that teaches sewing, among other things. The other two co-owners are the sewers...and among their many machines, it's pretty much Pfaff for the win. I have a Brother, which is fine, and my mom's got a newer Singer she hates and wishes she'd never traded her metal 30+ year old Singer for... but as the posters above have said, the Pfaffs will do just about ANYTHING and more.

Including getting backed over in the parking lot and yet still working fine.

(Glad *I* wasn't the one to have done that, though...)

If you're planning on doing a lot of stretchy knits, it wouldn't be a bad idea to invest in a serger, though...
posted by at 1:05 PM on October 23, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks, all. Sounds like the consensus is that they just make sewing easier and are nicer to work with.

I've been putting off a trip to the high-end sewing machine store because it's kind of a trek, but it sounds like actually trying one will be the best way to figure all this out. Now, maybe if my husband will agree to watch the kid some weekend so I can go play... :)
posted by GardenGal at 1:10 PM on October 23, 2008

Go try out some Pfaffs, some Husqvarnas and some Berninas and make your decision that way. A nice machine can make all the difference in how much sewing you'll actually do. Keep in mind that as your baby grows, there'll be more sewing to do (larger garments).

I quilt and make clothes on an old Bernina that was one of the first (if not the very first) computer model they made. I bought the machine used-- someone else had upgraded at the Bernina shop and I got her refurbished older machine at less than half new price, and that was about 8 years ago. This happens a lot-- definitely keep your eye out for it.

My Bernie still runs really great. My mom made all my high school formal dresses and quite a few of my other clothes on her old pre-computers Bernina. I had pretty high standards once high school came along, and that machine (and my mother's hands) churned out the best. I'm not sure that I would still have been amenable to wearing the homemade clothes had they been of lesser quality.
posted by weezetr at 1:37 PM on October 23, 2008

Best answer: Yes, upgrading from an inexpensive sewing machine to a new mid-range machine is definitely worth it. You will most likely find that it will do everything your current machine does, only better. Stitches will be neater. It will make better buttonholes. You will have a wider choice of stitches and needle position, and better control over stitch length and width. It will sew jersey and denim and tulle (maybe not all at the same time, but any two of them? shouldn't be a problem).

What you get for the money? A more durable machine with better (mechanically) innards, even without the fancy embroidery stitches.

I started on a cheap Singer, moved to a midrange White (which is a fine machine), then my mother in law replaced her Viking I and I got the "old" machine. It was really an eye opener how much nicer the Viking was than the White, even though the White is certainly better than okay.
posted by jlkr at 3:19 PM on October 23, 2008

Datapoint: my couture professor loves Berninas.

A good, strong durable machine will definitely make your sewing life infinitely more pleasurable.
posted by Lycaste at 7:01 PM on October 23, 2008

I was in a similar position at the beginning of the year. I wanted to upgrade my lower-end sewing machine and had about $1000 budget.

I found that the Berninas, Pfaffs, and Vikings in my price range weren't really worth the money. They weren't as nice as the higher end models (different stitching mechanisms), but I also didn't want to spend upwards of $2500 on a machine with great stitching but also a million features I'll never use. And I didn't want to spend $1000 on a machine that, while better than my current machine, wasn't really worth the price.

I ended up getting a nice serger instead. It picks up where my other machine lets me down (knits, bulky fabrics), but you will still need your regular machine for zippers and buttonholes.

The most important thing is to get one that is easy to thread. The Baby Locks are the best, but too expensive for what I wanted. I ended up with an Elna/Janome , and I really enjoy it. You should try them out to see what you like.

When I do get around to upgrading my sewing machine I think I'm going to look for a used machine. They are simpler but sew just as well (if not better) and are much cheaper.
posted by jenne at 8:22 PM on October 23, 2008 [1 favorite]

I was in the same position as you earlier this year. I needed a machine that was tough because I sew a lot of leather and vinyl and heavier fabrics. I researched berninas, pfaffs, vikings, etc. and the newer machines just didn't have the ability to handle what I would throw at them. So I haunted craigslist for months on end and finally found an amazing 1981 Juki industrial for $65. The seller thought there was something wrong with it and needed it gone gone gone ASAP. There was absolutely nothing wrong with it. The "problem" was the tension being off. So now I have a machine that can sew 5000 stitches a minute and sew through five layers of leather without a hink. It's, um, not portable, though. The machine head alone weighs about 75 pounds. The motor/table is another 150 or so. It's also butt ugly olive drab. But whenever there's a clip on t.v. of the interior of a sewing factory, 9 times out of 10 I will notice that they're using my machine.

Anyway, my next acquisition will be a serger so I can sew knits. But I will definitely not be buying it new. I think older machines have a superior quality in manufacturing that the new machines lack, but then I'm a curmudgeon.

You might find perusing the machine reviews at Pattern Review helpful.
posted by hecho de la basura at 7:37 AM on October 24, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the link, hecho (what a name!) :)

Oooh, a serger. -drool- I notice that Bernina sells a foot for overlock stitching, though of course it might be just as expensive as a cheap serger. Has anyone used this?
posted by GardenGal at 11:55 AM on October 24, 2008

Response by poster: In the end I bought a Bernina, and suddenly my garments look professional. I thought they used to look like crap because I was doing something wrong - oh, the joy! to find out I was wrong. My final opinion? Totally worth it.
posted by GardenGal at 7:42 AM on November 23, 2008

« Older teaching tolerance to a troubled teen!   |   (Yes, someone in Hollywood actually wants to eat... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.