This is the story of how I came to own four sewing machines, and how I sometimes want to throw one of them out through the window.
My first sewing machine was a Pfaff Select 3.0. This machine has served me well and has been completely hassle free except for user-induced malfunctions every now and then (for which this machine holds no responsibility). It’s been sewing through everything from flimsy chiffons and silks to eight layers of heavy denim (this was the number of layers I managed to fit under the presser foot). I loved my Pfaff and became a Pfaff convert the day the salesperson in the sewing machine store introduced us.
I read about basic mechanical sewing machines before entering the shop. At the time I only made teddy bears, and I needed a sturdy machine that would handle thick fabrics. The only stitch I planned on using was a straight stitch. Computerized machines scared me, and price was definitely a factor. The Internet told me that Janome Easy Jeans fit the bill. So I went into the shop and asked to see the Janome. What I didn’t know at the time was that the salesperson was a Pfaffist, a Pfaff missionary. He told me politely that the Pfaff was a better machine, praising the integrated dual feed system (IDT), which certainly comes in handy. He then demonstrated the Pfaff and then the Janome with a walking foot attached to show me how quiet the Pfaff was compared to the Janome (it also cost about 40 % more than the Janome). Then he told me about how the Pfaff was used by professionals and was German made (my machine says “made in China”) and that Janome was a lesser brand, made in Taiwan from what sounded like less solid parts. I ended up with the Pfaff and didn’t look back.
I was a happy Pfaff convert and missionary, mentioning the machine and praising the brand whenever I could. And recommending people to stay clear of anything Janome. Whenever I saw someone recommending Janome I considered this to be because they weren’t familiar with the much better Pfaff machines.
When I started sewing clothes, I quicly found my four-step buttonhole lacking. This was especially true when I made one-step buttonholes on the school machines I worked on the year I attended a sewing course. In this course I also discovered a need for having a serger in my sewing room.
I started to look at different sergers. At school we used Janome sergers, which I didn’t care for, as the stitch quality was not the best and I never seemed to manage the threading of these machines. I didn’t consider the fact that these machines had sustained heavy use from users unfamiliar with sergers for many years before I entered the classroom, and just figured that the salesperson who told me to go with Pfaff was right – Janome clearly did not build quality machines. This is the reason why I never considered Janome when I bought my serger. I read about the Pfaff sergers, finding that many reviewers did not care much for them.
I read a bit about coverstitch machines, deciding I wanted this feature as well despite never having coverstitched anything before. The annoying four-step buttonhole and the feeling that I’d somehow outgrown my Pfaff made me scared to buy anything without as many features as possible crammed into one serger. Then I set out to try sergers, having decided I wanted to look at Juki and Viking Husqvarna. I never considered Pfaff, Janome or Elna (Elna being Janome made). The Brother dealer was too far away, and what did a printer company know about sewing anyway? Besides I’d read some dreadful stories about cheap computerized Brother sewing machines. Singer never entered the equation because of their history of making cheap plastic machines in the 80’s and 90’s (my mother owned one of those, and sewing on it was never a pleasure). Bernina and Babylock were out of my price range, and Juki made their overlock machines anyway. They also made the higher end Viking Husqvarnas.
I didn’t like the stitch quality on the Husqvarna combo machine, and frankly, I find the computerized thread tension settings on every Husqvarna I’ve tried is a bit off. Thread tension is something I don’t want my machine to choose on my behalf. Then I met the Juki MO735 and fell in love (or so I thought). I could get a discount if I bought a machine previously displayed in the shop (but never used), and I jumped on this deal way too soon, without trying all the other sergers I wish I’d played with before buying my Juki. It serges beautifully, making lovely rolled hems and even stitches on anything woven. And the shop where I bought it is a missionary site for Juki as they import the machines themselves.
I went home with my Juki and loved having a serger which was quiet, sturdy and had the added option of coverstitching. Then I tried to thread it for coverstitch, and found the manual to be lacking. It certainly wasn’t good at explaining serging either, but here I had some little experience to guide me. Coverstitch was new to me, and this combo machine did not make it easy, I tell you. The result was that I didn’t want to touch the machine again for months, and ended up forgetting how to convert it back to serging before I needed to serge a seam again. Much hassle, and I finally managed to thread it right again, happily serging away once more.
This machine is temperamental, and as I found out, doesn’t want to sew medium weight rib knit cotton. No matter what I do (tension, presser foot pressure, cutting width, differential feed, stitch length), the machine stretches the fabric. It sews wovens perfectly, and also handles bathing suit materials and other thin and/or slippery knits, but my favourite at the moment – the cotton rib – it simply cannot do. An extensive online search found that this is due to a construction fault. The problem originates in part from the combo package with added coverstitch, which means having three feed dogs instead of two, with the left (extra) feed dog pulling the fabric away from the needles. The other part of the problem is the multipurpose foot, which is wider than a regular serger foot and has slits where you can add tape and ribbon as you serge. Good in theory, but not well executed, as Bernina and Juki owners have resorted to installing matchsticks into their serger feet. I tried this as well, but it didn’t solve the problem.
The last couple of weeks I have once more tried my hands at coverstitching, which made me just hate the machine all over again. I never should have bought such an expensive machine, let alone a serge-and-cover-combo. After much hassle, I’ve finally gotten a decent coverstitch out of it, thanks to hours trying different settings, a massive online search and JLX2 needles. I’m on the fence as to whether I’m selling the machine.The coverstitch looper has to be threaded from the back of the machine and along the left side, and the schematics and explanations are just not good enough for someone on my basic level of understanding such a machine. I’ve started reading owner’s manuals on coverstitch machines and see now that a stand-alone coverstitch is so much easier to thread than this combo. Time will show if I buy one or not, but I’m leaning towards a coverstitch with a bias tape binder attachment which looks so fun to use!
Enter my third machine, the Janome MC6300 Pro. This machine moved in with me after my search after a machine that did a good straight stitch and a beautiful automatic buttonhole. After buying the Juki, I was biased toward this brand, and checked out the HZL300 and HZL600 (which are really expensive here in Norway!). Then I started entering sewing machine shops asking to be shown the machine which did the best buttonhole. I read a lot online, and I found that the Janome was on sale. I never expected to be a Janome owner, as I still believed the crap about them being a lesser brand etc, but this machine and I bonded instantly. I got to play with it and the manual at the shop (if the Juki was not my best buy, I certainly learned my lesson!), and then the machine went home with me the same day. I still love this baby, and just looking at it makes me happy.
My third round of sewing machine gazing really made the concept of sewing machines as a religion hit home. In every shop the salesperson would show me their favorite brand, their religion. Whether it was Juki, Pfaff or Viking Husqvarna, they all praised “their” brand as the highest power to be. Me? I’m a sewing machine geek, I love reading about them, looking at them and playing around with them. I’m certainly biased toward Janome after my last shopping experience, but all the big brands have their strengths and weaknesses. After what I’ve read during the last couple of years, I’m cautious about the PVS (Pfaff, Viking, Singer) company as I’ve read a lot of lemon reviews. Still I try to keep an open mind, as my closed mindset is what led me to the serger-cover-combo fiasko (at the price level of the Juki I want the machine to do everything well!). And I’ve come to understand that I very well could be one of those five-machine-owners, as I really like planning and actually buying new machines. However I recognise that sewing machines, and especially brands, are certainly a widespread religion.
And what of the serger? I mentioned I was living with four machines at the moment, didn’t I? Enter my new Elna 664Pro. I went about and tried sergers in multiple shops, ending up at the same shop where I found my Janome. I tried the Elna and the Janome 644D, which are both made in the same Japanese factory. In the end I went with the Elna, which has all the seam settings built into the machine – just roll a wheel, and the correct setting pops up. I love the simplicity of this machine, and look forward to taking her for a spin. The fact that the machine is quiet and cost about 20 % less than her Janome sister didn’t hurt either.
I very much hope I will have an ending to my serger woes, as I didn’t try to get the best serger ever made this time around – I tried to get the best serger for me.