January 8, 2013

Reviewing My Sewing Machines

I just added a new toy to my sewing machine arsenal, a Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist.

I'm trying NOT to spend money, but here was my quandary: My normally dependable and lovely machine is a Kenmore 19606. Although I've always wanted a Bernina or a Viking, I've been too practical to go for the top-of-the-line anything. I've used Kenmore machines since I bought my first one at age 18.

The 19606 is my best Kenmore to date, but after awhile it developed a small but significant problem. The bobbin winder quit working. Before I realized that I could buy a portable bobbin winder or previously threaded bobbins, I took my machine to Sears to have it repaired. Sears sends all sewing machines to a special place, and getting it back requires patience and time.

By the way, I knew exactly what was wrong with the machine and what part I needed, but taking the machine apart was far too risky. I included a diagram with the machine, showing Sears exactly what was wrong, but Sears gives no discount for my research. When I got the machine back,  the bobbin threader winder worked but the machine's perfect stitch had been altered when it was cleaned.

Unfortunately, I put my machine away for awhile. When I used it months later, I realized that although the bobbin winder worked, it would only fill the bobbin 1/3 of the way before sticking.

At this point I bought a bobbin winder. I also bought several filled bobbins with either black or white thread. Don't do this. After years of sewing I recently realized that having the same weight thread on the top and the bottom is essential for a perfect sewing stitch.

When I decided to become a serious doll clothes designer, I bought a Serger. I like to finish the seams properly in anything that I make, and using a regular zig-zag stitch adds bulk to the seams. First, I bought a Brother Serger 1034D that is a lovely machine but difficult to thread. The instruction booklet and the accompanying DVDs were limited. I eventually threaded it by finding some instructions on YouTube. But even with instructions, threading the machine was a pain in the behind. Since I'd always gotten by with conservative machines, I finally splurged and purchased a Baby Locke Imagine. This Serger threads itself, and it's easy to use.

I take that back:
A Serger can be intimidating (as I describe in my previous posts Don't Be Afraid of Your Serger and More on Using a Serger). There is no Baby Locke store close by. However, I am due some free classes from the distant store. I figure that when I sojourn to this distant store, I'll take my Kenmore sewing machine and have a Baby Locke repairman work on it. I need someone who has the genius touch of a grand piano repairman.

Last year I bought my granddaughter a toy sewing machine. She wants to learn how to sew, and her interest couldn't make me happier. (My long term goal is to make doll clothes patterns and matching little girl dresses. And I am having fun.) The toy machine called Sew Fun by Alex was a piece of garbage so I bought a basic $100 Kenmore machine with a decent stitch. The speed of the machine can be adjusted for a little girl who needs to go slowly. My six-year-old granddaughter sits in a booster chair and puts the foot pedal on a box. The only place I find this little machine right now is at eBay.

I had been doing my own sewing on my trusty Kenmore 19606 and using my portable bobbin winder. Unfortunately, I somehow bent the sensitive structure that holds the needle. I'm afraid that if the Sears man adjusts my machine again, he'll make it worse instead of better.

Have I mentioned how important it is to have a dependable sewing machine?
If you're reading this blog, you probably understand. I don't want to stop what I'm doing to take my sewing machine to an unknown entity, so I've been using the little Kenmore machine that I bought my granddaughter. She isn't ready to sew without supervision so the machine is stored at my house.

Unfortunately, even his machine is causing me grief. Kenmore uses a removable housing unit for its bobbin on some of its machines. I detest this style of bobbin holder because the thread gets jammed, and everything gets stuck, creating a hole in the fabric.

This morning while I was working on a beautiful piece of fleece, I was having difficulty stitching a narrow hem without the foot slipping and making my straight line crooked. I checked the needle and stitch requirements for fleece, and everything I was using seemed ideal except for the behavior of the little machine. Although this machine does have a nice stitch, it has some problems: In addition to the bobbin chamber jamming, the floor of the machine--that surrounds the free arm--slips off in the middle of sewing. When I sew with just the free arm, the bobbin compartment flops opened. I've come to the conclusion that my granddaughter needs something better--eventually. I don't want the machine to contribute to the frustration of a typical "newbie."

What's the first thing a non-sewing person says about sewing? "I don't  have the patience." When my granddaughter comes to visit, she practices machine stitching by following some lines that are drawn on paper. We've been planning on making some doll clothes, but last week I told her that we will begin with a simple skirt for her. (An imperfect seam will have less impact on a larger garment). She says, "When I'm eight or nine, in a couple of years, I can make my own skirt then..." and I say, "No. You can do this in a month or so." She has the cutest little frame; she would look cute in a gunny sack. A skirt with an elastic waist will do.

After the little Kenmore ate a hole in my fleece, I said, That's it! I looked for a local phone repair service again, not to fix this machine but my wonderful Kenmore model 19606 that walks and talks and crawls on its belly like a reptile. Alas, nothing new. The local Vacuum and Sewing Machine Repair place doesn't inspire my confidence. I'm not going back to Sears. My next stop is Baby Locke on the other side of the Altamont Pass, but it's pouring rain, and I'm one big sissy.

Light Bulb Moment: I look at Amazon and find this beautiful Singer 9960 Quantum Style. I don't need another expensive machine. In fact, I don't need another machine at all! I need one that works, period. There's no such thing unless I wait a couple of weeks, and I can't wait. The good news is that out of  134 customer reviews at Amazon, 108 give this new machine five stars. I read detailed reviews by experienced seamstresses and many of them have several machines. The price on this was $330, and with my Visa reward points the machine is $300, plus tax and $4 for overnight delivery.

Stay turned for the review of my new machine.

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