Idiot-proof hand-held Sewing machine=fact or rubbish?
December 9, 2006 1:11 AM   Subscribe

Good gift/Bad gift? So I thought that this year I'd get this same item for my son, my daughter, my adult niece and a couple of neighbourhood strays too. I know for a fact that that they'll be tickled that it's not another flashlight or safety kit... The item? A handheld battery operated sewing machine. (I can't seem to link it to the product) These recipients are not handy people but I think that we can, all of us, use this from time to time to fix stuff around the house? 1: in theory, do you think it's a good idea? 2:do these things actually work? It almost has to work on it's own. Idiot-proof. Very simple for us to use - did I mention that we are not handy people? (though not a weighty topic, I searched unsuccessfully to see if these machines had ever been discussed here) Thanks!
posted by lois1950 to Home & Garden (14 answers total)
The gift should be something fun and enjoyable, not something to be used for maintenance of a household.

Frankly, I doubt any of these people would appreciate this gift unless they've already expressed interest in it. Especially if any of these people are children. You didn't specify ages besides your niece.
posted by grouse at 1:16 AM on December 9, 2006

I have one of those. Yeah, it's really handy to have around, since I tend to be slightly crafty but really clumsy. But it's not really THAT idiot proof. I only knew how to use it because I took a home ec class in school. But yeah, if you know the fundamentals, you're ok.

That said........ no. You'll become one of those people that are known for crappy gifts. "Wow..... a ....... sewing machine.... how nice. Thanks!" And mentally, they'll curse you. So no.

If all else fails, give out gift cards to stores and restaurants. When I was younger (and now, even), I looooooved getting gift cards. That way, I could actually get what I wanted without faking enthusiasm.

The cards will work for strays too, I think. Just pick a generic place. Fridays, Starbucks, Walmart, Target, etc and so on. Even McDonald's has them. Cheap and easy to get.

If you want something "nicer", try getting a gift Visa/MC/AMEX. I think it costs under $4 to get the lowest AMEX denomination of $25. Gift cards totally have a bad wrap - they're the perfect gift.
posted by damnjezebel at 1:25 AM on December 9, 2006

Warning--some gift cards, like from AMEX, totally bite, now. We had one (for a particular mall chain) that was horrible. You weren't allowed to charge more than was on the card, 'cause it was like a credit card, none of the cashiers knew how to deal with it, there was no easy way of getting the balance, there's a account fee if you don't use it after a while that eats away at the balance... It was kinda sucky. Not all cards are created alike.
posted by RikiTikiTavi at 1:32 AM on December 9, 2006

If you're talking about something like this or this, the answer to the question "Do they work?" is a qualified "yes." Yes, they do "work" in the sense that they do produce stitches in light weights of fabric, for certian kinds of jobs. Generally, they produce a single thread chainstitch, which is a perfectly adequate stitch for many purposes, but which will readily "ravel" if the single thread is simply pulled from the finishing end (one generally tacks over the ends of a seam to make this harder to do).

Such devices have little feed power however, and are best thought of as "basters" more than "sewing machines." You need a fair amount of dexterity to use them for making a length of seam over a few inches, and they won't work at all on many kinds of fabrics (velour or other piled fabrics, jersey knits, heavy denim, microfiber, etc.) due to feeding issues.

I doubt they would make a good general purpose gift for "not handy people" in that people who are not handy would never develop the practical skills to correctly thread the devices in the first place, or to employ them for their limited range of purpose. Why not give these people something like a USB keychain drive?
posted by paulsc at 1:40 AM on December 9, 2006

Based on paulsc's description of what the capabilities of the machine is, you might ask yourself: just what would you be fixing with the thing? Plain old needle and thread might be just as effective, yeah, and more useful for small repairs like darning sweaters and sewing on buttons (don't forget your shanks for thick stuff!).

The gift of learning to sew by hand is pretty useful in my opinion. But I sure wouldn't have been interested in it before turning 22 and realizing on my own that it'd be useful. I think maybe useful gifts are only really appreciated by people who would be using them all the time.
posted by Mister Cheese at 2:44 AM on December 9, 2006

This is a terrible gift. Get people what they want, not what you have decided they should have.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 6:37 AM on December 9, 2006

Terrible gift, terrible product.

Terrible gift - It is a waste of money to get people things they don't want. Why not ask them what they want or get them gift cards to target so they can buy something the want. If your typical gift to them really is a flashlight or something of the sort, I suspect that they'll actually LIKE your gift for once if you do get them a gift card.

Terrible product - I once bought one of those hand held sewing machines because I am not handy and I thought it would be a useful thing to keep around the house. I couldn't figure out how to use it. The thread spools constantly fell out while the thread was going through the machine. It was hard to load and the stitches didn't come out evenly because it was just so darn hard to use.
posted by necessitas at 6:54 AM on December 9, 2006

There are three possible kinds of people who might use a handheld sewing machine:

1. People who do not sew, have no interest in sewing and occasionally need to fix a hem. Hems are not chain stitched (which is all those machines do) and they're generally, you know straight, which is not something those machines do well. I suppose it could be used to fix a seam that's come apart - but that doesn't happen all that much unless your nearest and dearest wear pants that are too small for them. Most clothing wears out rather than simply falling apart at the seams, rendering these things nearly useless.

2. People who do sew and do crafty things. These machines won't do bulky fabrics, they're terribly hard to work with for any length of time, they don't do any useful finishing stitches and they make it harder to sew straight seams. In short, anybody who actually sews would not want one of these, they'd want a real sewing machine.

3. Small children who would like to make clothing for their dollies. This might be fine for some of them, but the machines are probably too large for the hands of most of them.

It's a nice idea for a useful gift - the commercials make it seem terribly useful and all - but it's just really not.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:08 AM on December 9, 2006

As someone who sews, and sews a lot, I wouldn't give one of these to anyone, especially a child or non-sewer. They look like a great way to totally turn someone off of the idea of sewing for all time and eternity. For the same amount of money you could set up a nice repair kit for them - needles, thread, thread clippers, a few buttons, a tape measure etc. It's possible to pack all of that into an Altoids tin or the like. That would make a nice stocking stuffer. You can also buy them for about $2.00 at any fabric store. Gift cards ftw, if nothing else comes to mind.
posted by jvilter at 8:19 AM on December 9, 2006

Thanks everyone. Such good advice here! They're not getting hand-held sewing machines, I can tell you that!
posted by lois1950 at 9:09 AM on December 9, 2006

For the record for anyone else inclined to buy one of these things: I picked up a handheld sewing machine at a liquidator: $5, brand new in its box with instructions and all accessories. Same one as pictured in Paulsc's first link. Took it home, strung it up and spent two weeks, on and off, trying to get the damn thing to work well enough to be of use (note: I'm handy. I use sewing machines to good effect on a regular basis).

The handheld was very fussy about adjustments, additionally, I never got it to sew more than a 10" length before the tension drifted off-setting and snarled the thread. It didn't like most fabrics. The chain stitch it produced was very loose: think "top of a flour bag." It had two speeds: "off" and "finger endangering". It was unbelievably noisy. It ate batteries. It was a complete waste of $5 and I dumped it at Goodwill where it is, no doubt, luring someone else with its promises of false utility.
posted by jamaro at 10:26 AM on December 9, 2006

your son does not want a sewing machine. trust me... i am a son.
posted by tabulem at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2006

There's a pretty affordable sewing machine that Kevin Kelly recommends in Cool Tools. I think it's okay to buy people gifts that you want them to have, but sounds like this particular gift is not very good. Long as I'm opinionating, I think gifts of really good quality small items are better than cheap versions of bigger stuff. If you really like practical gifts, how about really nice gloves from a store with very easy exchange policies.
posted by theora55 at 3:38 PM on December 9, 2006

I bought one of these (the type paulsc linked to) for $2, used, tried it out, and it "works" only in the most technical sense. I would hand-stitch rather than use it, so while the concept is nice (I too had high hopes), the reality is a let down.

So I suggest against. Check out the recent askmefi questions about gift suggestions - there are plenty of great ideas there. Or if you want to give something useful like the sewing machine was supposed to be, check out cool tools for heaps of things that come highly recommended by users as being excellant in real-world use.
posted by -harlequin- at 11:16 PM on December 9, 2006

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