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Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Buying A Sewing Machine: Testing Machines

When you head to a dealer to test machines, be prepared. Bring a pen and paper - and a brochure printed from the internet. I recommend creating a spreadsheet with the machines listed in a column, then columns for pricing, features, feet, etc. This spreadsheet will give an at-a-glance overview. If that's too much, you'll still want to take notes.

If you are nervous, take a friend...whose job is to talk you out of going over your budget!
  1. The very first thing to pay attention to is how you are treated. The dealer should be nice and genuine. You should feel comfortable and welcomed - tell them what you are looking for - and they should start you there. If they try to up-sell (sell you something out of your budget), GET OUT. Some dealers sell multiple brands - so you can test out a lot of different machines - but he/she shouldn't push you to a particular brand. You need to decide! So practice saying, "That's not what I'm looking for" and "I think that machine is more than what I need." Trust me. I know way too many people who spent a lot of money on a machine that they can't handle.
  2. The second thing you want to do is ask about the warranty for the machines. Along with warranty information, question their service agreement - often stores will offer free service (cleaning and oiling) for a specified number of years. You can also ask how much service usually costs. Some dealers will have a "trade-up" program; this means that if you use your machine for less than a specified period of time (like 6 months), you can bring it back, return it, and apply the cost to a new, more expensive machine. Also ask about lessons. Most dealers give free owner lessons. Some even have subsequent classes so you can learn more about the machine - these may have a fee.
  3. Look around the store and start with the most expensive machine you are willing to buy; test it out...then work your way down in price. If you start at the lowest price and work up, you'll probably keep going and end up out of your price range! Plus, this will help you figure out what you can and can't live with.
  4. Note the features and accessories that come with each machine, along with the price. One often over-looked feature is the light. A good light can make or break a machine. Can you actually see to sew?!
  5. The dealer should give you sample fabric to sew on. Most will have you sew different weights (so a sheer all the way up to denim). It's important to think about how you'll use the machine. If you plan on making totes and purses or home dec, you'll want a machine that can sew through several layers of fabric. I've seen dealers fold denim several layers.
  6. Watch how the machine feeds the fabric - it should feed evenly and not pull the fabric to the right or left. You should have a consistent seam allowance. Listen to the machine - it should sound smooth. The machine should not hesitate, especially when you are sewing thick fabric.
  7. Try different stitches - straight stitch, zig zag, decorative stitches, buttonhole, etc. Try the stitches that you use a lot. 
  8. Wind a bobbin and put it in the machine. How easy is it to do?
  9. Thread the machine. Does it thread easily?
  10. Use the machine in a way that you would use it. It should feel comfortable. Can you find the buttons and knobs? Will it be easy to learn where everything is? 
Don't be shy about asking questions and test-driving the machines. This is an investment and you want to be happy with your decision.

This should get you started on your journey. Tomorrow, we'll go over what to do once you make your decision.

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