25 September 2008

I got a new sewing machine

Back in the mid 1970s, my mother spent an ungodly amount of money on the very first electronic sewing machine. It cost about $1200, and was the Singer Athena 2000. Evidently it was the machine to have. As someone on a sewing message board told me, "I remember when she came out and was the absolute last word in a machine in her day. So revolutionary." I was 5 or 6 years old when Mom got it, and I even used it a little bit growing up - enough that I actually knew how to thread it, though I can't claim to have learned to actually sew.

Mom upgraded to a used Bernina when I was in my late 20s or early 30s, and I just couldn't understand why. What was wrong with the Singer? But, I wasn't going to complain, as she gave me the Singer. It sat around for years - maybe six years - without getting much use ... I think my husband and I dragged it along on two cross-country moves before I ever gave sewing a serious try. But, it came with a sewing table/cabinet and every conceivable accessory (Mom was an avid and talented seamstress), so I was hesitant about replacing it.

I started sewing, and have been sewing somewhat more seriously for about two or three years now. I've made a couple of nightgowns, three capes and Halloween costumes, a dress, and a shirt for my daughter, a bathrobe for my husband and several doll quilts. I've also made valentines for my kids - my daughter got a small puffy heart-shaped pillow, and I made heart-shaped juggling bean bags for my stepson (made from red, white and black bandanna fabric with hearts and flaming skulls).

But the Singer was giving me problems. First, it really handled slippery flimsy fabrics poorly, and to date, I've made two Halloween costumes out of that sort of fabric. Skipped stitches, distorted decorative stitches, you name it. It also had a terrible tendency to suck any kind of thin fabric down into the throat plate, despite using the appropriate needle, and a straight-stitch throat plate (for those of you who don't sew - the throat plate is the small metal plate under the fabric, with a hole in it. The needle goes up and down into that hole. A straight stitch plate has a tiny hole not much bigger than a needle. It's maybe 1 mm in diameter, and it's harder for fabric to be pulled down in there. An all-purpose plate has an oblong hole, maybe 8 mm across, to accommodate stitches like zig-zag stitches, where the needle comes down on the left side and then the right).

Then after 30+ years of often heavy use, the machine was no longer reliable. It would suddenly refuse to stitch anything without forming horrible knots, suck ALL fabrics down into the bobbin area, and jam, and nothing I did - from changing needles, threads, fabrics, and re-threading would make it work. So I'd haul it up to my sewing machine repair guy, and he'd tinker with it for a few minutes for free, get it working again, and I'd go home to start sewing again. This happened three times in a row, right at the beginning of new projects. My repair guy is a nice man, but frankly, I had to drive 30-45 minutes each way, and I was getting tired of it. He also warned me that if the circuit boards went bad, it would be either very, very expensive, or impossible to repair. The boards aren't made anymore, and haven't been for years, so repair guys collect the machines to use for parts. Repairs to that part would run in the hundreds of dollars, if they could be made at all.

A year or two ago, I had asked at a local quilt shop what kind of machines they recommended, and they had given me an unhesitating and wholehearted recommendation for a Janome, just about any Janome. She felt they were reliable and easy to use. I had never heard of Janome (pronounced Juh-NO-mee), but I found out later that they were a Japanese company. I was interested in a Bernina of course, as lots of people (including my Mom) consider them the Cadillac of sewing machines. But the Swiss-made Berninas that I could afford were either new and the lowest end mechanical models, or used but so old, they didn't have the modern features I wanted. My mom's machine was a used Bernina 1130, and it was a nice machine that I could have been quite happy with, but even a 20 year old model like hers (it was made in the mid 1980s) now retails for around $1000. That's just too expensive for me at this time.

When my Singer finked out AGAIN, a friend loaned me a $70 Brother purchased at Walmart. It wasn't a great machine, but frankly, it handled the slippery, flimsy fabric FAR better than my high-end, but old machine ever did. Like night and day. But it was loud, and had none of the more modern features that I wanted. I didn't put it through its paces, but I doubt it could handle multiple layers of heavy fabrics well. That was the last straw. I had found out what a joy it was to sew on a good machine (my mother's 20-year-old Bernina), and then when a cheap machine handled a fabric BETTER than the Singer did....

So, I did some research on Janomes and liked what I saw. No one really had anything bad to say. I also saw a model called the Janome HT2008, which was quite flexible - good for nearly any kind of sewing project - quilting, home decor, and clothing, and had plenty of modern features, and 50 stitches both decorative and utility. The average price paid was around $350.

The next day, I went to my repair guy, and brought him my machine, which he again tinkered with and got running again. I asked him point blank, "Can you make this machine reliable?" And he said "You can keep it running for a few more years, but no, not really." And I said "so what's the equivalent machine in a new Janome? And he said, "look at the heart machine." He didn't have any used machines that I wanted that were in my price range (they were all too expensive!), so I tried out the "heart machine." It's a Janome HT2008 (the same model I'd read about the night before). The HT stands for "Heart's Truth" and it's a limited edition machine meant to raise awareness of heart disease in women. I tried it out, and bought it on the spot. It was $350, but Kurt gave me $30 in trade for the Singer. To put the price in perspective, I saw one new Janome that retails for $8000. I also get unlimited free lessons on how to use the features the machine offers (I've had two lessons so far).

It's got lots of great features, which you can read about it here:
Janome's web page and Brochure.

So then I took it home, a bit nervous about what Chris would say. We usually talk to each other when making big purchases like this, and I hadn't talked about it with him at all. While it wasn't exactly a whim, it wasn't far from it! But he was really great about it. He felt that it was a good thing for the household to have, and so the household paid for 1/2 of the machine, and the rest is coming out of my allowance (we both get some money each month to spend as we like). He then gave me a wicked look, and handed me a stack of jeans he'd been saving for at least 6 years and asked me to patch the holes in them. Gulp. I couldn't well refuse since a) I have the time, and b) he really was great about me buying the machine, with money so tight.

I still have the cabinet that came with the Singer, and I'm currently using it with my Janome, which fits in the cabinet perfectly. However, I don't have a bolt that fits the bottom of the Janome, and one would have to be special ordered in the right size and threading. If I did that, I'd just drill a new hole in the bottom of the cabinet. No problem - it wouldn't even show. But, as I don't have a bolt, I can't collapse the machine into the cabinet when not in use. The cabinet has a platform that's below the surface of the table, so that the machine sits down below a bit, with the sewing surface itself flush with the table. Then, when you want to put the machine away, you lift up on the platform to release it, and it tilts down at 90 degrees, and the machine dangles on its side underneath (see why a bolt is needed?). Then you flip the extended table surface up and then down on top of the hole. It's open on the underside though, so if you crouch down under the table, you can see the machine.

This is a problem for two reasons:
  1. I have a cat named Squeaky that LOVES thread, and he will, if I leave the machine out with thread on it, grab the thread and spiderweb it all around the room, and also try to eat it. That's a health hazzard for a cat, and he's already been rushed to the vet once, to have his hind legs untangled from the thread he'd dragged out (he was OK, fortunately). But he was so freaked out, biting and scratching, that I couldn't release him by myself. The open bottom is unacceptably insecure, as it doesn't keep the thread out of his reach.
  2. The machine (like most sewing machines) has what is called a "free arm". You can take part of the base off, which makes it really small. This is great when hemming pants or cuffs. You put the fabric tube AROUND the base of the machine. I do use that feature. On the Singer, I had to collapse the sewing surface to access the free arm, but because the machine was bolted in place, I had to lift up the front panel of the cabinet, collapse the machine's surface, and then sew with my arms OVER that front panel, reaching behind and below it. It was like sewing in a hole. It was a pain in the butt. I suppose I could have unbolted it, and lifted it up to the top surface but that's a huge hassle, too.
Mom's new cabinet has a "lift". You push down on the platform supporting the machine and it lifts up on some sort of hydraulic mechanism, rather than swinging or tilting up. And it's got three positions - Machine fully below the surface of table, Machine partially up, so the sewing surface is flush with the table, and all the way up, so you can access the free arm. The cabinet also fully encloses the sewing machine when not use, protecting it from kitty curiosity and fur. I want one lots and lots, but it's another $350 for a cheap one, and I'm making do with the old one for now.

I'm terrified that somehow someone will hit the mechanism that releases the cabinet platform, and the machine will fall through, but I doubt it's likely. And to put the machine away, I have to either lift the machine up and out of the cabinet, and then collapse the cabinet and store the machine on the floor, OR I leave the cabinet open, and cover the machine with a hard plastic sewing machine case that I bought. I do the latter when I'm just going to pausing for a short time to keep Squeaky from the thread. I'll pack up the machine in the case, and fold up the table, when I'm on one of my longer sewing hiatuses.

I've been sewing on it for nearly a month now, and I really, really like the machine. It's quiet, far more powerful than my old machine and a joy to use. My only negatives are that I find the markings on the throat plate hard to interpret (all Janomes have this same problem - it has both centimeter and 1/8th inch markings, and it's hard to tell which is which), and the machine doesn't have adjustable presser-foot pressure (the one and only feature the old machine had that this one doesn't). I'll get used to the former, and the latter mostly doesn't matter. I didn't change the pressure all that often on the old machine either.

Oh, did I mention the Janome has a darning stitch? You use with the buttonholer, and it darns holes pretty nicely, and I've (as promised) repaired several pairs of Chris's jeans with it, and the repairs are nearly invisible. But that's a subject for another post!


Mary said...

Great post but Chris owes you for the mending (he can dig it up out of HIS allowance!) Ha! Just kidding!

Cathy Weeks said...

LOL - I'll pass it on, but I doubt he'll go for that.

catspec said...

I think of mending as another way to recycle and keep things usable. When I visit my son and grandbabies I always have a pile waiting for me! If something is just beyond fixing I tell him, and we toss it, but lots of times I can fix things. :)) That's another thing about sewing - it's not jsut a hobby, it is useful.

Sarah Laird said...

Very great story! I've been looking into buying a Janome The Heart Truth machine from a gentleman online.. I couldn't find a price or much information about it.. But this story nailed it on the head! Thank you!
PS.. I also am having problems with my Singer 😣

sam said...