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sewing machine for a beginner


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#37 amateursarto

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Posted 09 November 2009 - 04:51 PM

i'm sorry Kelley, i meant the 31-15 not the 15-91. the 31-15 is bigger than what's pictured above.
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#38 Kelley

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 05:42 AM

I would guess you're looking for one that's been electrified (which understandably seems to be mounted in a sturdier and more modern table) instead of purely treadle-operated ?

#39 Kate XXXXXX

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Posted 10 November 2009 - 09:07 PM

I wrote This essay for the domestic home sewist just starting out. Some of the comments may be useful for those working in a domestic setting.

While I have been sewing professionally for about 13 years, I do only work part time, and I rarely do runs of more than half a dozen in any one style (I think 16 junior bridesmaids was my largest order) for a customer. On the whole, domestic machines of the better built variety serve me well. This is not to say that I wouldn't pop out and order a nice new Bernina 950 if I had the space and the floors to stand it.

I would like to make some additional remarks in reply to some of the comments in this discussion.

Modern high spec domestic machines from the better manufacturers are usually pretty tough and reliable. The ones built for embroidery as well as general sewing are built to work long hours doing tough stuff (embroidering on Polartec 300 or leather is no mean feat. Nor is stitching out a design several yards long). While I don't do embroidery, I do have a fairly high spec Husqvarna electronic wizard that was their top of the line non-embroidery machine when I bought it 10 years ago. After 10 years doing far more than the average domestic sewist, it still works as if I'd bought it yesterday. And I get it serviced once a year. I book it in, drop it off, and week later I get it back, all bright and shiny inside and out. Between times I do clean it regularly and drip a single drop of oil on the shuttle where the Old Sewing Machine Guy who services it showed me, as he thinks I hammer the poor darling more than any of his domestic customers.

I do have a whole collection of machines, old and new. I love them all, from the 1889 Adria Saxonia treadle that uses an obsolete needle type no longer made (and which is a restoration project, and will go to a collector of such things when I have finished with it) to my Bernina 1150MDA serger/overlocker. I have a couple or three Bernina ex school machines (two 707's and an 807) that Haringay students have failed to kill in their 40 years, and which still sew perfectly. I also love my old back Singers, both the table top and treadle machines. One thing I will add to the thoughts on this type o machine is this: if you have a table top model, and want to use it for more than occasional straight seams, try get it a table with a lift in it so that the machine bed is on a level with the table, like a treadle or an industrial, and you can pop it up for free-arm work if the machine has a free arm. The one big disadvantage of these machines is the small area of the flatbed. My Husqvarna and Bernina domestics have 'quilting' and extension tables, which increase this area to one more able to service larger and heavier projects such as huge bridal skirts , coats, cloaks, and curtains.

On the matter of sergers: if you are just starting or think you may only use one occasionally, the Brother 1034D is very good for the price. I use this one for the free arm and as a back-up machine. I recently lugged it to Germany and back to make a wedding dress, and it seemed to thrive on it.

The Bernina 1150MDA I use as my main serger/overlocker is a bit more than twice the price (currently round the 575 mark), but in a direct comparison, I can easily hear, see, and feel where the extra money went. It's faster, smoother, quieter, and bites through the fabric more easily. And it grows roots on the bench when you put it down! It doesn't move.

Strictly speaking, a tailor may have far less use for such a machine than a dress maker. I work as a dress and costume maker, with a far wider brief and range of fabrics than the average tailor, and I find it invaluable. But I do like it for finishing the seam allowances on trousers and half lined jackets. I don't always have the time for Hong Kong finishes, and they can be a little bulky on finer fabrics.

All in all, if you are working in a small home environment, making for yourself alone or a small number of people, one of the heavy domestic machines may suit you better than a commercial or industrial machine. But as with anything, test drive before you buy.

I have enjoyed reading the entries in this thread, and seeing how different people see their work and their sewing machine needs.
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#40 rs232

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Posted 23 January 2011 - 09:29 AM

Does anyone have experience with Mercury machines? I'm thinking of picking up the Mercury equivalent of the Singer 20U. I understand JC's concerns about the 20U, but I'm only doing one garment per week. It's too much for my domestic Janome, but I need the zigzag for shirt buttonholes. I'm having to disassemble mine every month now; it's falling apart from overwork, so annoyingly I can't just get a 591 and rely on the domestic for zigzag (I'm going to sell it).

#41 rs232

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Posted 25 January 2011 - 08:20 AM

Trying to find a Singer 457, and not having much luck at all. Bleh. I really don't want a Mercury/Kaixuan/etc Chinese knockoff.

Edit: Found someone who has a Bernina 217. Opinions, anyone?

Edited by rs232, 25 January 2011 - 11:30 AM.


#42 rs232

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 01:55 PM

Had to drive 9 hours (return), but got the 217. Faaantastic with thick waxed nylon thread and jeans. I'll have to get some finer needles to try on shirts and trousers. Didn't realise that it didn't have a backtack function, so I'm currently starting seams by winding it back manually a couple of stitches. Does anyone have any better ideas?

#43 jcsprowls

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Posted 29 January 2011 - 02:56 PM

You lean your leg against the presser foot lift and move the fabric back and forth as the needle travels up & down.

Edited by jcsprowls, 29 January 2011 - 03:09 PM.

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#44 rs232

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Posted 30 January 2011 - 07:51 AM

Oh, now that's clever! Thanks JC, you made my day.

#45 jrhillma

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 12:32 AM

I have been reading this thread (and many others here) and am wondering if anyone could suggest a good sewing machine to cover a variety of uses. Primary purpose would be alterations (trousers, shirt length) and sewing/tailoring trousers/skirts, but I would also like to be able to, say, sew a leather watch band or belt. I've read a review of the Pfaff 1142 that specifically states they had no problems going through five layers of denim and then onto a leather belt, so perhaps that's a reasonable choice. I don't really know, though. FWIW, this is a hobby endeavor, not a money-making, put-food-on-the-table business. Thanks!

#46 amateursarto

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 01:05 PM

i'm sorry Kelley, i meant the 31-15 not the 15-91. the 31-15 is bigger than what's pictured above.


to kelley and others, i found a 31-15 about one month ago, and it's a beast! Alex (A Tailor) has been kind enough to give me some insight regarding use of the machine and i have to say, it's as durable as anything i've ever seen. it runs quietly and sews a beautiful straight stitch, both on top and underneath. i plan to give it a thorough overhaul and cleaning after i make a few shirts and my own suit, and i also plan to repaint it and have the letters reapplied. i got it for $125 at a consignment shop and the owner told me her aunt owned it previously. she got it from a convent where it was used to make much of the nuns' clothing. when i picked it up i asked if i could plug the machine in and run it. the owner's husband was eager to oblige and he plugged it in and began mashing the foot pedal. there was no cloth beneath the presser foot and the needle bore through the whole in the needle plate and broke! Later at home i found the tip of the needle-- it pierced the sheathing on the cord which powers the motor. I removed it, repaired the sheathing, plugged it in, and it's been humming along ever since. the original price of the machine was $200, but the shop owner was really motivated to sell. i can see why older singer machines are so highly sought--they are great machines. now if i can only locate a source for simanco style (high shank) felling feet, then i will be good to go.

pete
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#47 jcsprowls

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 03:06 PM

There are no industrial felling feet. You have to do it manually. It's not hard, though.
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#48 Hedges

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 03:57 PM

I use this 4mm high shank felling foot on an industrial machine.
I'm still getting the hang of it, but the results have been pretty good so far.

#49 amateursarto

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Posted 19 February 2011 - 04:33 PM

There are no industrial felling feet. You have to do it manually. It's not hard, though.


yeah i do it manually, but if a foot were available, i'd like not to do it manually.



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#50 jcsprowls

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Posted 20 February 2011 - 01:22 AM

Hedges has a good point. Grab that while you can. It's also a good price.

FYI: you can also finagle one by pulling the pigtail off a scroll hemmer.
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#51 P.T.

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Posted 11 March 2011 - 03:53 PM

I tried a variety of felling feet and never got a good result. Instead, I've gotten pretty good at just sewing them manually. What I do is do the first pass with a regular foot. Then fold manually and hit it with a little spray starch and an iron. Then do the second half of the seam with a quarter-inch raising foot. It's kind of slow, but gets perfect results every time for me with a 1/2" on the long side on the first pass.

I also close the body and sleeves separately and insert the sleeve after they're both closed now. This just makes everything easier. Though getting over the join was one of the biggest problems when using a felling foot. Maybe I'll revisit them later.

Edited by P.T., 11 March 2011 - 03:54 PM.

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#52 jcsprowls

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 01:22 AM

I disagree about sleeve setting. Felling the cap in the round would be significantly harder than felling it flat then joining the underarm in one pass.

I don't cut a 1/2" seam and stack it into 1/4" seam. You could. That's probably more right than my way. I cut 3/8" seams on both top and underside pieces because if I form a french seam on my single needle, it's really a 3/16" seam that I'm using. And, that same shirt pattern can be sent to the factory with double-needle chainstitch lap seam.

IOW: one pattern can be fabricated and constructed in a number of ways.
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#53 P.T.

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 08:00 AM

I appreciate the explanation. Remember, I'm just some guy who sews his own shirts in his house. I've only made maybe 15 finished shirts since I got the hang of it.

That said, I mostly like setting the sleeves after they're closed because it's easier to handle. There's a lot less opportunities to distort the fabric or unravel the ends (annoying with oxford cloth). You can close body right after assembling it, then hem it right there. Also, you can finish the sleeves before attaching them, meaning you don't have to drag the whole shirt around when you do it. The second pass on felling the side seams is easier because there's less sewing inside sleeves. Then once you're ready to insert the sleeve there's no opportunity for confusion with orientations. I actually think it's easier to tell what's right and wrong side and front and back at every step in the process. You just grab it and go. Plus, my pattern has a little ease in the sleeve which is annoying to sew with the shirt open but is just effortless when it's closed. It's also easier (I guess) to match the pattern at the yoke, especially when the sleeve needs a little easing. And the whole shirt stays to the left the entire time you're inserting the sleeve.

Of course I was also using the method Coffin describes in his book to insert the sleeve on an open shirt, which I've since learned is not the best by far. Like, for example, he says to iron down a 3/8" fold on the cap of the sleeve--sewing down a 1/4" fold is so much easier. And I'm guessing no one attaches the sleeve from the center like he says to, either.

BTW if anybody reading this is wondering how to do this the way I'm referring to, Mike Maldonado sells a "shirt construction" video set for $25 on his website that shows it all very well. Here's a link: http://mikemaldonado...&products_id=15

Edited by P.T., 12 March 2011 - 08:02 AM.


#54 jcsprowls

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Posted 12 March 2011 - 08:12 AM

Flat-felled shirt sleeves should not have ease. If you removed the ease, you'd find out how much easier it is to sew.
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