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Sewing Machine FAQ

When looking at machines for purchase, it's important to sew on the machine yourself. In fact, insist on this when you're talking to the salesperson. Be sure to plan ahead before heading off to the sewing machine store (or shopping online) -- i.e. know the kind of sewing/embroidery projects you're interested in doing. You may want to take pieces of fabric, or whatever you plan to sew on, with you. Do not let the salesperson do the sewing on your fabrics.
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1) Explain to the salesperson what you are interested in, what the problems are with your current machine (if any?). top of page

2) If the salesperson immediately takes you to the most expensive machine in the store and this was not your intent, be firm and insist upon seeing a machine more in your price range. You may well end purchasing a machine that's outside your price range, but that should be your decision and not that of the sales rep.

3) Let the salesperson give you a demo and make sure that when you sit down you can see what the salesperson is doing. Sometimes salespersons have a canned demonstration and they go too fast -- they try to make it flashy and impressive, but the demo may be more technique rather than what the machine is capable of doing.

4) Ask your questions and then ask to sew on the machine yourself. If you don't have fabric pieces, ask to test sew on real fabric, not the stiff demo cloth that most sales reps use. Your own swatches are better because, you can carry the same fabric around to the different shops, and truly have an accurate comparison.

5) If you try something on a fabric (your did bring in you own, right?) and it doesn't work properly -- i.e. using a machine with a lot of embroidery stitches -- you generally have to stiffen the fabric, use a tear-away type of product. Decorative stitches generally look nicer using 100% cotton thread and not necessarily as nice using cotton-wrapped thread. Check out the thread.
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6) Contrary to what a salesperson may say, swear to, etc. There's no such thing as a sewing machine that has an automatic tension adjustment. Remember: when using a regular sewing machine (as opposed to a serger) there is thread on top of the seam (your top thread - when threaded goes through tension system of some kind) and the bobbin thread. In machines with a bobbin case, the tension is still adjusted by adjusting that little bitty screw on the side of the bobbin, there is no one, etc. that jumps out and automatically adjusts this little screw. You must. The machines without a bobbin case (so-called drop-in bobbins), also have a tension adjusting device. There may be some "automatic" mechanism to adjust the top tension.

7) The stitching quality of a particular machine depends on a number of things (a) the machine, (b) needles, (c) thread, (d) tension, (e) sewing technique, and (f) the operator. All of these items are important. A good machine is wonderful and can make sewing more rewarding. You can hear it and see the results, between a good machine and not so good machine. top of page

8) If you are looking at the high end machine, for example Elna or Pfaff , be aware that both companies have a line of machines that are of a different quality than there top line. Top line of Elna is made in Switzerland, top line of Pfaff is Germany. The other line is either made in Japan or China (not that these are necessarily bad, but they are not the top of the line, the line that gives the brand its reputation). For example, New Home is a Japanese built machine, they may have other lines that are built in either Taiwan or Korea. When it comes to sergers by these companies, it's most likely their sergers are made in either Japan or Germany/Switzerland, but for sergers, this is okay. The original home-use sergers came from Japan, they had the original technology.
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What about used machines?

You may be able to get a used machine in very good condition. There are some users who trade-in machines because they don't have all the latest fancy gadgets, etc. Most shops will make sure that the used machines are in tip-top shape for selling. Make a list of your requirements and your questions before going to a store, so that you won't get caught up in the heat of the moment and buy something that does way more than you need it to or forget to ask something that could turn out to be important. Be sure that the store will service the machine as well as sell it. Consumer Reports recommends not purchasing an extended warranty from the store - they say it's one of the biggest wastes of $. Many major credit cards offer an extended warranty on purchases made with them. And finally, don't be afraid to ask what may seem to the salesperson to be a silly question. A sewing machine is a major investment and you have a right to have every t crossed and every i dotted before you shell out money. top of page

More suggestions:

1. You have to feel comfortable using it. If you think you have to fight with the machine, your sewing will suffer (and dwindle) top of page

2. You tend to get what you pay for. But don't feel you have to buy the top of the line. You can get very good machines starting at 300-400$. Going the cheapest way may not be the best. top of page

3. Try contacting prospective dealerships ahead and find out what their 'quieter' times are during the week. By visiting them at 'slow' periods, you have a better chance of getting them to spend time with you. top of page

4. In addition to bringing your own fabric (recommended pre-washed, ready to sew, just like the real thing), try to get some 'play' time with the machine(s). Your dealer may let you play for as long as you want. top of page

5. Test drive on some real applications: buttonholes (that's a real test!), thick layers, thin or sheer fabrics, vinyl, 1/4 in piecing, you name it. top of page

6. For 4 and 5, bring your own thread. You'd be surprised how many dealers only have 'rayon embroidery' to thread their machines with, because that's what they use to demo the embroidery stitches (catchy marketing), because that's what they like to show off (selling a reliable buttonhole isn't exactly 'sexy'). Don't let the dealer tell you that the machine really stitches well, it's the flimsy thread that's failing it... This will give you a chance to test drive bobbin winding, insertion/removal in addition to upper threading.

This seems like a lot to go through to by a machine. But one can't spend $1500 without convincing him/herself it's on an educated guess at least... And if you enjoy sewing, then it's all play. top of page

A sewer comments:

I found the best method to buy a new machine is go to the store and try it out. I have always found the salespeople eager to show how the machine works. In fact, a sales person just spent over an hour yesterday showing me machines. I ended up buying a New Home 8000. I wouldn't suggest any of the electronic machines by Singer as they like to be repaired a lot. However, their basic machines are alright. I don't know of where to buy used in your area but suggest looking in the phone book as many places will take used machines in trade, re-condition them and then re-sell them. I wouldn't suggest mail order as you don't have easy access to service. top of page

A sewer comments:

When I bought my electronic machine, I also checked out several.
--and I finally figured it out--all of these computerized machines can do the SAME THINGS. They ALL have preset stitch length and width that you can override. They ALL let you stop with the needle up or down. They ALL can automatically set tension for different fabrics. These similarities are not so obvious when you are shopping, since you don't know the machines that well, but they are there. Test it out--write down a list of the stuff that the first machine does, and ask the various salespeople if their machine does it too.

Moral: all these machines are Good Machines. They all do what they say they will. None of them are lemons. Some cost a lot more, and you may decide that having a great dealer is worth the extra money (I have only been back to my dealer once, to get an extra presser foot, so it wouldn't be worth it for me). Free classes may be worth it -- although they ain't free if you pay more for the machine!

So now I have boiled down "shopping for a machine" to three rules:

1. Don't buy a sewing machine in a department store (like Sears)

2. Don't buy a sewing machine that's "on sale" for a limited time and you have to make a decision right away. (they don't want you to shop around).

3. If you can't afford a good new machine, don't buy a cheap new machine-- at least try to find a good USED machine. (I haven't done this yet but one used Pfaff is worth ten new Kenmores any day :-)

YMMV (your mileage may vary), of course.

What is a serger?

"A serger is a sewing companion for the traditional sewing machine. Also known as an overlock, it can stitch, trim, and overcast in a single motion. A serger streamlines the construction process through convenience and speed. A serger can sew up to 1700 stitches per minute whereas the traditional sewing machine sews from 700 - 1100 stitches per minute.

Sergers can do wonderful things within the construction process, but they are a companion and can't replace the traditional sewing machine. Sergers work well for making finished narrow seams, rolled hems, blind stitched hems, and overcast seams. Sergers alone can produce garments that only require those applications such as basic t-shirts, swimming suits, and table linens. But, sergers can't do everything a sewing machine will do, such as install zippers in "inside" areas."

Source: University of Nebraska-Lincoln

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Learn More About Sewing....

Sewing for Dummies
Sewing for Dummies by Janice Saunders Maresh

“…covers everything you need to know in an easy-to-follow format…”(Ideal Home, February 2003)

Sewing is fun, relaxing, and tremendously rewarding. It feels great when you sit down and sew something together (and are tickled with the results)! Besides the fun and satisfaction you get out of sewing, this wonderful hobby can also save you money. You can make your clothes last longer when you stitch up your own hems, repair split seams, and sew on those loose buttons. You can save even more money by making your own home décor projects, such as curtains and pillows.

Sewing For Dummies is a book for both absolute beginners and experienced sewers. If you're a stone-cold beginner, you'll find explanations of all the tools and skills necessary for beginning-level projects. If you've had some experience with sewing, you'll benefit from the tips and tricks that might otherwise take years to pick up.

Whether you're quilting, embroidering, mending, or constructing a project, you'll need to know some sewing basics to get you through your projects. Sewing For Dummies covers all the important sewing fundamentals such as:

* Mastering hand stitches and machine stitches
* Reading a sewing pattern
* Sewing sensational seams
* Hemming a variety of fabrics
* Shaping garments with darts, tucks, and pleats
* Installing zippers, buttons, and other fasteners
* Negotiating sleeves and pockets
* Working with home décor fabrics
* Adjusting projects for better fit and function

Once you've explored the basic techniques, you'll be ready to start some easy sewing projects. This friendly book will guide you through the following projects, and more, with confidence:

* Children's costumes
* Tablecloth and place mats
* Duvet cover
* Fleece scarf, hat, and jacket ensemble
* Teddy bear
* Window treatments
* Creative pillows

Fabric touches almost everything in a person's daily life. Children cuddle up with pillows and soft toys and dress up in costumes for fun. People wear clothing to be comfortable, stay warm, and to be fashionable. People also appreciate and admire handmade heirlooms. When you finish your projects, wear them with pride, play in them, admire your work, and hand them down to your loved ones. top of page

Elissa K. Meyrich is one of the garment industrys true insiders. A designer and mixed-media artist, she teaches her techniques to sold-out classes in New York Citys fashion district at her store, Sew Fast Sew Easy

Sew Fast Sew Easy: All You Need to Know When You Start to Sew by Elissa Meyrich

"With these supplies-or notions as they are frequently called-on hand, you'll be able to complete most sewing projects..." Elissa K. Meyrich is one of the garment industry’s true insiders. A designer and mixed-media artist, she teaches her techniques to sold-out classes in New York City's fashion district at her store, Sew Fast Sew Easy.

Book Description:
Includes three ready-to-use patterns

Reinvent Sewing for the Twenty-first Century!
“Where did you get your skirt?”

Ever want to create your own designer-look fashions? Develop unique accessories or home decor? Even if you’ve never held a needle or used a sewing machine, this guide is all you need. With three simple patterns and easy-to-follow instructions, you can put your own stamp on fashion and step out in style—yours!

You’ll learn:
- Tips and techniques from a fashion industry insider
- How to use your sewing machine to express your creativity
- How to custom-fit commercial patterns for that sexy look
- All about the latest fabrics and the best ways to use them

Plus a glossary of sewing terms makes quick reference easy.

So don’t wait. Use the ideas and simple how-to instructions in this guide, and everyone will want to know the secret source for your fabulous clothes and accessories! top of page

Embroidery Machine Essentials: Applique Techniques
Embroidery Machine Essentials: Applique Techniques (Jeanine Twigg's Companion Project Series) by Mary Mulari
The fourth in the Companion Project series, this guide opens up a whole new world in machine embroidery with applique techniques. Author and applique expert Mary Mulari shares standard applique techniques, as well as her personal techniques not found anywhere else! Beginners, as well as more advanced embroiderers, will benefit from Mulari's advice and learn more about the art of machine embroidery applique with over 20 fabulous projects, included on a CD-ROM. Over 100 color photographs accompany clear, step-by-step instructions for creating gorgeous applique designs using a variety of techniques. The book showcases designs from other resources to inspire creativity and demonstrate the possibilities of the craft. Also featured are a section on using software for editing and creating applique designs, and a resources guide for supplemental information on the craft, where to find materials, and more.

Embroidery Machine Essentials: How to Stabilize, Hoop and Stitch Decorative Designs by Jeanine Twigg, Lindee Goodall

Embroidery machines are the hottest trend in home sewing, with over 400,000 machines in use. The possibilities are endless when it comes to embellishing everything from kids’ wear to table linens. This guide provides essential information that goes beyond the basic instruction manual for owners of a home embroidery machine or combination sewing-embroidery machine.

Taking the guesswork out of using a home embroidery machine, this guide covers the entire embroidery process from choosing designs, threads, stabilizers and needles to hooping, design placement and stitching techniques. Simple projects are made easy with step-by-step instructions, allowing readers to experiment with their new skills and embroidery techniques. A handy troubleshooting section helps solve problems along the way. Includes a bonus CD featuring 6 exclusive embroidery designs digitized by award-winning Lindee Goodall, owner of Cactus Punch.

- Includes a free CD with 6 exclusive designs—a $35 value!
- Tips and techniques for stitching decorative designs onto purchased or sewn items
- An inspiring gallery of project ideas


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What our site offers...

Fabric (catalog 1 | catalog 2):
This site contains a spectacular range of fabric, including a large and varied inventory of designer fabric like silk, wool, linen, imported shirtings and Ultrasuede.We also have an large selection of bridal fabric.

We list fabric for dancewear, swim wear, skating costumes, nursing scrubs, rug hooking, draperies, upholstery, slipcovers, tablecloths, pillows, car seats and boat covers. Many of the fabrics, like our vinyl fabric, faux leather (we also carry genuine leather), velvet, denim, eyelet and batiste are also well suited for craft projects.

Most of the fabrics on this web site are highly discounted; many, including designer fabrics, may be ordered at or below wholesale fabric prices.

Sewing Notions:
This site also contains a large selections of sewing notions and other sewing supplies including buttons, trims, appliqu├ęs and specialty items like purse handles and steel boning.

Sewing Patterns:
All sewing patterns on this web site are offered at deep-discount prices. We offer ever-popular Simplicity and Kwik Sew patterns; but we don't forget smaller, high-quality brands like Folkwear, Buckaroo Bobbins, Green Pepper and Jean Hardy.

More Sewing Machine FAQs:

What about sewing machine oil?

This isn't motor oil that you use for your car. It is clear white oil. Be sure to use the proper oil. Refer to your owners manual for the proper spots to oil. Some of the older machines, have these areas marked. Run stitches on some scrape fabric before you tackle your project. This allows oil to escape on to the scrapes, if it's going to, instead of the project you are working on.

Oiling the machine not only lubricates your moving parts, to prevent wear. It reduces the potential for corrosion (rust). Rust forms rapidly with any dampness, even just the humidity in the air. Surface rust can act just like loose sand grain in your machine, and create excess wear.
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What needles should I use?

There's a huge range of needles to choose from these days. But the general rules for usage still hold true. Use sharp points for woven fabrics, ball-point needles for knits and universal points for both wovens and knits. Needle sizes are usually marked with European and American numbers, with the European number first. Needle sizes range from 60/8 (finest) to 120/19 (thickest). top of page

Ball-point/stretch needles have a slightly rounded tip that goes between the threads of a knit fabric--available in sizes 70/10 through 100/16. top of page

Sharp (Microtex) needles have a sharp point to pierce the threads of woven fabric--good for heirloom sewing and quilt piecing. Available in sizes 60/8 through 90/14. top of page

Universal needle points are slightly rounded for use with knit fabrics, yet sharp enough for wovens--available in sizes 60/8 through 120/19.

Denim/jeans needles have an extra-sharp point and stiff shank for stitching denim, heavy faux leather and other densely woven fabrics. Available in sizes 70/10 through 110/18.

Leather needles have a wedge-shaped point to penetrate leather, suede, heavy faux leather and nonwoven fabrics--available in sizes 80/12 through 110/18. top of page

Machine-embroidery needles are designed to prevent thread shredding and breakage when sewing dense designs with rayon, metallic and other embroidery threads. Available in sizes 75/11 through 90/14. top of page

Metallic needles feature a longer eye, fine shaft and sharp point to eliminate thread breakage, shredding and skipped stitches. They also work well with monofilament threads. Also known as Metallica, Metafil and Metallic Machine Embroidery--available in sizes 70/10 through 90/14. top of page

Quilting needles have a sharp tapered point to sew through thick layers and across seams--available in sizes 75/11 through 90/14. top of page

Topstitch needles have an extra-sharp point, larger eye and groove to accommodate top-stitching thread. Available in sizes 80/12 through 100/16. top of page

I'm have stitching problems. How do I diagnose the issue?

If the stitches are looping on the fabric underside it's possible the machine is threaded incorrectly. Remove the thread completely and rethread the machine. Be sure to use good quality thread--don't buy the cheapest you can find. A good thread will help your machine perform better and your projects last longer. top of page

Poor stitch quality can be caused by the needle. Make sure you're using a new needle that's right for the job. Many times machines are taken in for repairs and all they need is a new needle. If you can't remember the last time you changed the needle--it's past time. Needles should be changed at least every eight hours of sewing. top of page

When inserting a new needle, make sure the flat side of the needle faces away from the bobbin area. For example, if your machine has a front-loading bobbin, the flat side of the needle faces the back of the machine. If your machine has a side-loading bobbin, the flat side faces the right side of the machine. Some older sergers require special needles that don't have a flat side. Refer to your owner's manual to properly install a serger needle. top of page

Thread that shreds or breaks can often be traced back to the needle. Use a good thread and make sure the needle eye is large enough for the thread type. Also use the right type of needle for the fabric; see above.

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What is basic machine maintenance and how (and how often) do I perform it?

Start by cleaning the lint from your machine. Remove the throat-plate, using the screwdriver if necessary. Brush out all visible lint with the brush. Many people prefer to use canned air--there is some controversy as to the value-versus-harm when using canned air. Some believe it causes condensation on the machine interior, thus creating an environment for rust. Also, lint can be forced into the machine rather than blown out. To avoid both situations, spray canned air at an angle to the parts you're cleaning and keep the nozzle several inches away from the area to avoid condensation; or simply vacuum the lint out. top of page

Once the machine is free of lint, lubricate it with oil. Most machines should be oiled at least every six months -- three months for sergers. Be sure to follow the oiling schedule outlined in your owner's manual. Only use oil specifically made for sewing machines -- don't use WD40 or other lubricants; they can harm your machine. Refer to your owner's manual for oiling locations -- one drop of oil is enough in any spot. top of page

Some of the newer sewing machines don't require lubricating, so refer to your owner's manual to see if it's necessary. If you own a Singer Featherweight or other old machine, take it to a service professional every couple of years to have the motor bushings greased. top of page

Take your machine to be serviced about every two years. Have the service professional perform a basic service, which includes cleaning, oiling, balancing the tension and a quick once-over of the machine. They should provide a stitch-out of both straight and zigzag stitches to show the tension balance. For sergers you should receive a four-thread stitch-out and a rolled-hem stitchout (leave the necessary plate and foot for the mechanic to use). top of page

Have a complete sewing machine service every three to five years, depending on use. A complete service includes additional checks beyond the basic service. Sergers should get a complete service every three years. top of page

Updated: Friday, 2016-12-30 10:42

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