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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Buying A Sewing Machine: The Goodies!

Machines have a lot of features - some you'll use and some you won't. I've done an informal poll of my friends and students and found that they love the following features:

  1. Needle Up/Down: The needle will end up or down - you determine what you want. No more turning the hand-wheel to move the needle!
  2. Automatic Needle Threader: I can't live without this! Thread your machine, then use this feature to thread your needle!
  3. Needle Position: With the push of a button, you can move your needle to the right and to the left. It makes sewing a lot more precise!
  4. Front Loading OR Drop-in Bobbin: A front loading bobbin loads from the front of the machine. I have found that this bobbin maintains tension better but it's cumbersome to change. You can't see it once the little door is closed. A Drop-In Bobbin loads from the top; you can see it as you sew. This means you can easily check the amount of thread that remains. But thread has been known to slip out of the tension. 
  5. Lights: Machines come with a light, but not all are the same. Some will mimic sunlight which makes seeing your sewing a lot easier!
  6. Extension Table: Although these can be purchased, some machines come with an extension table. You can find large ones at your dealer or at an online source like Sewing Machines Plus.
  7. Decorative Stitches: In addition to utility stitches (straight stitch, zig-zag, blind hem, etc), many machines have decorative stitches and alphabets that can add an artistic element to a project.
  8. Feet: Most machines come with a standard set of two or three feet, but many include additional feet and attachments.
  9. Buttonhole Foot/Attachment: This varies on most machines, but you want an attachment that makes putting in a buttonhole easy. Ask for a demo when you go shopping. 
  10. Scissors: Some machines will cut the thread for you. Yes, you read that right. Push a button and you're done! 
  11. Knee Bar: A knee bar attaches to your machines and allows you to lift and lower your presser foot with a push of your knee. This means that your hands are free to hold your project! I use mine so much, I have a bruise on my knee. A favorite among quilters.
  12. Foot Pedal: Press the back of the pedal and your needle raises/lowers; press the front and the presser foot raises or lowers! More hands-free sewing!
  13. Dual-Feed: Dual feed is a feature that allows the foot to work in conjunction with the feed dogs - so it pulls the fabric through the machine from both the top and the bottom. So, when sewing thick or multiple layers you don't end up with a bottom layer that is uneven with the top layer.
  14. Stitch-Regulator: A stitch regulator is a feature/foot attachment that makes free-motion stitching a lot easier. Freemotion is when you drop the feed dogs and you are in control (quilters often do this to quilt). Here is a great example of freemotion stitching with additional information on feet. And here is an incredible blog that features different designs - The Freemotion Quilting Project.
  15. Easy to Access: You'll want a machine that is easy to take apart to clean. You should be able to get your hands and fingers into places to take screws out.
  16. Magnifying Glass: Some machines come with a magnifying glass attachment. As my eyes age, I find this more and more attractive!
  17. Machine Embroidery: Some machines sew and embroider - dual duty! Watch the video below to get an idea what an embroidery machine does - this machine is plugged into a computer. WARNING - You may want to turn the volume down =) And if you are wondering, that machine with the embroidery unit cost about $3300 (in my area). Bernina no longer makes the 440 QE.

Any other favorite features? Tomorrow we'll look at what to expect when you test a machine!

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