Monday, June 30, 2014

Tah Dah! My New Toy!!!!

Here it is...........
My new Bernina 580

     Well, I have been talking long enough!!!  After much thought and deliberation, I have decided on the Bernina 580.  I did look at other brands.  Janome was a close 2nd, and I may still get a used one, just so I can become more familiar with their quirks, which will help me when I am teaching.

  •  I have a dealer that is close and supportive.
  • It is more computerized, which was one of the reasons that I decided to get a new machine.  Learning how to utilize this machine will help me to be a better teacher in my construction classes.
  • It has 11 needle positions, which is a must for me.
  • It has my favorite feet (and of course NONE of them come standard with the machine, but what can you do?!)
  • Long stitch - yes!!!! (I am doing a fist pump here).  I LOVE this stitch, and it is worth it to me to go to this model to make sure I have it.  No second guessing for me.
  • It does 'My' kind of sewing well.  Yes, it has wider feed dogs and feet, but I ordered the 5.5mm throat plate when I ordered the machine, so that will not be a problem
  • It will grow with me.  It does have an embroidery unit, although I probably won't use it for more than monogramming, at least right away.  If/When I do get into machine embroidery, this will keep me going for a while!
  • Has a knee lift, which is a plus.
  • Even though this was not a requirement, because it is a brand that I am familiar with, the learning curve will be a little shorter.
     All in all, even though it took me a while to make my decision, I am glad that I waited and was thorough in my research My machine has all of the things I was looking for, and then some.  I know that I can look forward to many hours of sewing and creating and exploring and learning on this!

     I hope this group of blogs has been helpful, especially if you are looking for a new machine.  No matter what brand you are looking at or end up with, this process is the same.

Happy Stitching!
P.S. (Perfectly Stitching)  We are still stitching away in Santa Barbara, enjoying each others company!  Hope you can join us sometime!

                                          Hills in Santa Barbara - one of our views.

                            A view of the ocean.  If you look hard,
                            you can see one of the Channel Islands
                            in the background. 

Sunday, June 29, 2014

'My' Kind of Sewing'!

      What is 'My' Kind of Sewing'?

     The sewing machine saga continues!  My new sewing machine journey has taken me about 2 years, as I researched, test-drove, and thought about what I wanted.  As I left my last post, I started to look at 'My' Kind of Sewing.  Sewing machines all do basically the same thing.  Using a lock stitch and a straight or zigzag stitch, they attach 2 pieces of fabric together.  Easy peasy.  But the devil is in the details, as they say!

     Yes, I want my machine to do straight and zigzag, but I also want it to do a lot more!  And I want it to do it the way I need it to!  My background is heirloom sewing and smocking, as well as what I consider "fine construction" (French seams, piping, detailed oriented construction), so I am not interested so much in the machines decorative stitches.  I can count on one hand the times I have used them on my 1530. 

   The things that I DO care about, however, matter.  

     I want a machine that I can control the needle position.  My 930 had 5 settings:  dead center, 2 to the left and 2 to the right.  My 1530 is even better - 11 settings:  dead center, 5 to the left and 5 to the right.  For me to go back to a single position or even 5 positions would be a deal breaker.  Having an adjustable needle position with a wide selection makes my sewing life so much easier. 

                                 Needle position to the left

  • Having these choices enables me to get up close when I am applying piping.
  • When I am working with lace insertion, I can adjust the needle position to accommodate the size of my lace header.
  • When I am rolling and whipping, I can adjust my needle so that my zigzag is hitting right against the seam line.
  • I can adjust my needle position SLIGHTLY while still using my 1/4 inch foot
  • I can use it to sew a 'scant' 1/4 inch or 1/8 inch

                                                                   Edgesttich foot

     Next, I want a machine that has feet options.   As I said earlier, you don;t have to have a lot of feet options, but they do make things easier.  In the garment industry, not only do they have feet options, they have machine options - machines that are made specifically to do one particular thing (cover stitch, blind stitch, buttonholer, binder).  Especially since I have already gotten used to having feet options, this is a necessity.    I have 4 favorite feet that I use all of the time and most of the machine brands make a version of at least 3 of these.  There are also many feet that I don't have - I either have not learned how to use them or don't have the need for them (yet), but the options are still there.

                                                 Long Stitch

     Another thing to consider is the stitches that I actually DO use.  I don't use a lot of decorative stitches, but there are some stitches that are more than just a straight or zigzag but not decorative that I do use, and they are not on all machines.  One of the stitches that I love is called the Long Stitch.  (I call it the skip stitch).  It is NOT a basting stitch.  When your machine sews, it looks like it skip every other stitch - the feed dogs keep moving, but the needle does not come down.  This is a wonderful stitch to use for gathering - it makes very consistent gathers that look almost like pleats.  On my machine (top picture) it is in the top row across the stitch screen.  The second picture is the close up of the selection square.
     I have this stitch on my old 930 and on my 1530.  When I started researching new machines, about half way through, I found out that Bernina had stopped adding this as a default stitch to their machines.  After getting some negative feedback from owners, they have added it back in, but only to the higher machines.  Hmmmmm....  I really had to think about this.  By the time I found this out, I had already pretty much decided on a machine, but alas, it did not have this stitch :(.  what to do?!  I had to think about how important this stitch was.  How much do I use it?  Will I second guess myself if I get a machine without it?  Back to the drawing board.

     How does it sew, especially on the fabrics and with the techniques that I use?  This may seem to be an obvious consideration, but you would be surprised!  TEST the machines with the type of fabric that you use.  Remember that the sewing machine dealers want their machines to perform at their peak, so their sample fabrics and the stitches they demo with are going to look good!  You want to bring in scraps of your own fabrics, laces, and embroideries so you can see how the machine sews with 'your' kind of sewing on 'your' kind of fabrics.  
     Many of the newer machines have a wider foot.feed dog base to accommodate the wider decorative stitches.  For 'My' kind of sewing, this is actually NOT a good thing.  The wider base, combined with very lightweight fabric can wreak havoc with your heirloom sewing techniques, chewing up your fabric and leaving fabric less than finished and pristine.  Do I have other options, and is their a fix?  Turns out that yes, there is!  A throat plate that has a 5.5mm opening for feed dogs (same size as the older machines) can be used.  This will give the fabric more control as it goes under the foot, leaving me with a roll and whip to be proud of.
     ***** A special note of thanks to Kathy Pizza of Heirlooms Forever, in Tupelo, MS.  She is a Bernina/Brother dealer and was my sounding board, FULL of information!  If you are near, stop by.  She is wonderful! *****

     Finally, I had to think about how this machine would grow with me.  
As I age, one thing I have learned is never say never!  I used to say I would never do machine embroidery - no time, not my thing, I like handwork, etc.  But when I get to the point where I have grandkids and they want me to make something that is embroidered ................................  I also wouldn't mind the ability to monogram towels, etc.  So I had to think - do I want that capability, to either be able to do machine embroidery now with the machine that I get, or do I at least want to be able to add that option later?  A good machine these days is a major investment, and as I have had my machines for 30 and 20 years, chances are, this could be the last machine that I buy.  Is it worth it to spend more to get a machine that will grow with me, or should I get what I need now and then go through this again if/when I am ready for more?  If I do decide to get the 'more', how much 'more' do I need?

     Well, first of all, can you tell that I am a list person?  I am an engineer, and very analytical, so this is just may natural thought process.  Can you see why it took me a couple of years to decide?

     Tomorrow, I will finish up this thread and let you know what I decided on!

What I really hope you get from all of this is that there is a machine for everyone, and there is a lot of thought that goes into choosing the best machine for YOU!!!

     As an aside, I am up in Santa Barbara at our sewing weekend with my SAGA chapter.  Wish you were all here!  It is beautiful, the weather is perfect, you can hear the machines humming and smell the irons and we are having a wonderful time.  Really, when you can sew at all hours and someone else feeds you three times a day, how can you not have a great time!

Happy Stitching,

Saturday, June 28, 2014

So many choices, so little sewing time!

The search begins..........

                                  Bernina 930, my first machine

     For me, this has been a looooooooong search.  My main machine has been a Bernina 1530, which I have had for about 20 years.  It has served me well, and more importantly, I know how to make it do what I want and what I need!  It still runs well (although it is probably time for a cleaning), so why am I thinking of a new machine?  I hate to admit this, but with all of the features, stitches, and capabilities that my 1530 has, (it was the top of the line at the time), I don't use most of them, so why bother?  I can straight stitch and zig zag with the best of them!

     It started several year ago (a reminder - I mentioned that this was a long search).  As I travel around the country and teach, more and more of my students had newer models of machines.  As we would work on machine techniques in class, I could not just spout off an answer on how to do something, because the machine technology was changing.  In the beginning, it was only 1 orf 2 students, but as time went on, most of the students had some type of computerized machine and I was unfamiliar with them.  

                               Bernina 1530, my current machine

     ***Let me make a note here - for most machine techniques, the only thing that is really required is that you have a machine that can do a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch.  That being said, the more options you have with your machine - the feet that are available, the needle positions, etc., - the easier it can be to accomplish the particular technique you are trying to do.  Practice always helps, but having options with your machine can help as well.  ***

      As a new machine now was a want and a need, I started doing research.  There are the 'standard' better brands of sewing machines - Bernina, Viking, Elna, and Pfaff. In addition, there is the old familiar, Singer.  In the last few years, there has also been a few brands that have emerged on the scene, giving everyone a run for their money - Brother, Babylock and Janome, as well as Juki. 

 A few tidbits - Juki has always had a big industrial machine presence, as well as for home sergers.  You don't see many of their home swing machines, but they are out there.  Brother is big in the industrial sewing machine world as well.  Janome bought New Home brand (remember that name?) and also owns Elna.

     So many choices!  This is not a decision that I was going to make overnight.  I didn't NEED to have a new machine right away, so I could take my time and check the machines out - sew on them, look at reviews, and ASK QUESTIONS from sewists that use them.

     My first rule of thumb (and I always tell my student this, especially when they ask about my favorite machines) is this:

 You buy a dealer as much as you buy a machine!

Even if the machine can cut, sew, finish and then make dinner, if you don't have a dealer that supports your machine, you are missing out.  Your dealer shouldn't just sell you a machine, they should spend time with you to teach you how to use it to it's potential.  They should keep up to date on new techniques that they can teach you.  They should be able to service it for you!  They want your business and they want to keep your business.   I know that there are a few bad apples in the bunch, but in general they are your friend! 

     My second rule (guideline) is this:   
I don't like to buy a machine at a show, for several reasons.

1.  I want to support my local dealer.  If we don't support them, then they will GO AWAY!!!  I know that you can get some great deals at the sewing expos, but if you call your local dealer and tell them the show special, many of them will match it.

2.  I want someone to teach me how to use my machine.  If I buy at a show, I go home, and I don't have that resource any more.  I can't expect my local dealer to teach me for free if I did not buy the machine from them, so this will be an added cost.  Most sewists are not aware of this, but typically when you buy a machine from a dealer, the machine company gives a credit to the dealer to cover the cost of the classes.  For example (and I am just using round figures here), if you buy a mid-level Bernina, Bernina will give the dealer a $300 credit for 9 hours of classes to teach you how to use your machine.  If you buy your machine at a show, that show dealer gets the credit, not your local dealer.  

     *****  If you do buy your machine at a dealer that is not close to you, ask them to transfer the class credit to the dealer that is close to you (or the one you will be working with)!  That way, you can still go to your dealer (closer) to learn how to use your machine, she will get paid and you don't have an extra expense out of your pocket! *****

3.  I do not want to make an impulse buy.  If I have already done the research, that is one thing, but I do not want to make that kind of decision on an impulse.

     So now that I have given you food for thought about where to buy a machine, the next thing to think about is what does it need to do?  I have already talked about the reason for this whole thing to start with - I need an up to date, computerized machine, so I can be more familiar with what my students are using.  Just as important, I need it to be able to do 'my' kind of sewing!

     I will have continue in my next post - see you soon, and 

Happy Stitching!

Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Sewing Machine Saga

         Eeny Meeny, Miney, Mo..........
                The Search for a new machine

Over the next few days, I will be posting about my sewing machine search and giving some interesting tidbits as well.

     I have sewn for years, much longer than I care to admit!  The catch phrase of the day seems to be 'sewist', (although that term has not caught up to the dictionary yet, as spell check still tells me that it is not a word!).

     When I was 8, my mom got a brand new Viking sewing machine for Christmas, half from my dad and half from my Nanny (grandmother).  Her big project was to make curtains for our house.  As we moved about every 2 years, this would be an ongoing project!

    My Great-Aunt Renie was visiting and while my mom and Nanny worked on curtains, Aunt Renie taught me and my brothers how to sew on mom's old sewing machine.  We started out making bean bags - I bet my mom went through 20 pounds of dried beans that week.  My brothers soon tired of it, but I kept at it.  The first garment I made was a jumpsuit with long pants and long sleeves (Hey this was the early 70's - jumpsuits were IN).  The fabric was horrible - beige with stick chickens in black and white all over it, but it was in my mom's stash and there was enough yardage for what we needed.  It had a zipper up the front (Aunt Renie helped on that) and 2 pockets.  I thought I was stylin', and I sure wish I had kept it!

     My mom continued to sew, but was a functional sewer, not a creative sewer.  She sewed for a purpose (curtains, school clothes, etc.), not really for fun. When I started looking for a sewing machine of my own, she was the one who told me you really buy a dealer, not a machine.  We did not have a Viking dealer that was close (5 moves later), but there was a Bernina dealer that was about a half an hour away..................  and that was the beginning!
To be continued....

A little background on the sewing machine

     While history has made Elias Howe the 'father' of the sewing machine, in actuality, there were several sewing machines in play before Howe came on the scene.  The first machines (as far back as the mid 1700's and then early 1800's) were actually embroidery machines.  Several iterations by several different inventors focused on the chain stitch design - one Paris inventor who made a machine to stitch gloves was run out of town by the glove makers themselves, convinced that this new machine would destroy their jobs!

    Walter Hunt, an American, also designed a sewing machine in 1834,  What made his different was that the sewing machine needle had an eye at the pointy end (earlier versions had a needle with points at each end and the eye in the middle).  Having the eye at the end, piercing the fabric and catching the bobbin thread made a lockstitch instead of a chain stitch.  History has that he did not want to get lynched by the tailors, whose livelihood this would threaten, so did not pursue this any further.

     Elias Howe had worked as a mechanic, repairing looms in the mills.  Several different takes on this, but we know that a friend invested in him, and he was granted a patent in 1846 for a lockstitch sewing machine.  The fabric was fed in vertically!  He held a contest - sewing machine against 5 tailors and of course, his sewing machine won.  Again, tailors, afraid for their livelihood, chased him out of town.  In 1850, he saw Isaac Singer's sewing machine (and from the little I read, "Isaac Singer was a mechanic, an actor, and one of the most foul-tempered bigamists in antebellum America." - from What's in a name, 10/12/11 by Kimit Muston).
     By this time others had come up with other similar versions of the sewing machine and Howe made money off of patent royalties.

Who Knew?!!!!

     Sewing machines sure were a boon for the home sewer, and that is still true today!  While I am a true lover of hand stitching (as in embroidery), I don;t know that I would choose to do as much garment sewing if I had to put the garments together by hand.

Hope you enjoyed this, and 
Happy Stitching!