Comparisons and overviews

My evolving sewing crew – 4th edition

These machines are installed in my sewing room and are being used all the time. Each machine has its own unique set of functions which are needed in different situations, so although “all the time” does not mean 24/7, it still means that these machines are needed regularly and should be ready, willing and available all the time.

My sewing crew is evolving, I am on a quest of perfection. See the previous edition.

I have now given up on round bobbin machines for straight stitch: there’s too much fuffing and fiddling to get the tensions exactly right, and it is still not good enough on difficult fabrics. Why bother when I can get perfect stitching with vibrating shuttle machines without any fuff at all. ๐Ÿ™‚ And since the majority of my sewing consists of straight stitch and overlock, those are my main machines. I now consider zig-zag machines to be specialist machines, along with utility stitches, chain stitch and embroidery.

As usual, space is limited, so I need to find a combination of machines that would cover my needs with the smallest number of machines, as well as minimal diversity in types of bobbins, needles and foot fittings. In a word, it is a multi-variate optimisation problem. ๐Ÿ™‚

My machines are all vintage, except one overlocker. See why that is.

Some of the machines have their own pages. Just click on the name to see them.

You will notice that many of my machines are placed in simple plastic cases instead of nice period wooden ones. This is because these cases have a surrounding edge so they can be lowered into a cut-out in a table, see photo below. This allows me to swap out flat bed machines quickly and easily – just unplug and lift out. I also fit them with the same type of motor so they could all use the same plug!

Straight stitch machines

The low tension straight stitch machines, cylindrical transverse shuttle and vibrating shuttle, class 27 long bobbins, low shank feet. For difficult fabrics and jersey, lurex thread and free hand embroidery. Exceptionally quiet and delicate.

These machines can sew all sorts of fabric, including cobweb-fine silk, crรชpe and satin, fluffy wool, loose knits, slippery PVC, denim and leather. Their stitches stretch with the jersey. They are my ultimate weapon against uncooperative materials.

Long bobbin machines do not require any foot pressure to form a stitch. This means that they never skip stitches (truly, unless the needle is too short or set incorrectly). It also means that they can sew on uneven thicknesses such as when going over a (very) thick seam or when the material is much thicker on one side of the needle than on the other (e.g., when top-stitching) – this is where round bobbin machines require compensating feet.

1914 Bernhard Stoewer’s Serata VS2, Germany. Set up for medium to light fabrics, in particular dense thin fabrics as this is what I’ve been sewing all summer. Comes with a second needle plate for heavier fabrics – to use in winter. ๐Ÿ™‚

1908 Jones Medium CS “Queen Alexandra”, England. Set up for heavy duty work – it has great punching power – went through a 1mm thick flat steel bone when I was edging a corset recently. Never mind sewing leather – we can sew steel! ๐Ÿ˜ฎ And yet it can also sew fine cotton lawn with the same setup and the same perfect stitch.

1910 Clemens Mรผller’s Veritas VS2, Germany. Set up for sewing jersey with extra low tension. Gives 40%-50% stretch depending on the fabric.

1902 Singer 48K cylindrical TS, Scotland. Old style spring-driven feed is exceptionally gentle, so ideal for particularly delicate fabrics such as loosely woven chiffon and finest habitue silk (silk, not polyester), but also great for free hand embroidery and quilting. It gives 60% stretch on the finest jersey, too.

1902 Singer 27K refurbished in 1950s, Scotland. Shiny! ๐Ÿ˜€ Just a great old Singer, currently without a designated speciality.

The overlockers

1970s New Home 743 Knitlock by Juki, Japan, 4-thread. It just works, a perfect finish every time, without any knob twiddling. It does 3- or 4-thread overlock, that’s it. I haven’t got the accessories for the rolled hem, and resetting tensions for the flat lock is too tedious, so I just stick to overlocking.

2010 or so AEG 760 by Juki, China, 4-thread. This overlocker is built for fine fabrics and it does a fantastic rolled hem. I use it predominantly with 3 threads because that’s what you use with fine fabrics!

โ€‹2017 Singer Heavy Duty Ultralock 14HD854 by Juki, China, 4-thread. This is the modern machine in my collection which I bought new (with 10 years warranty). It is of the same basic design as the other two Juki overlockers, but built for medium to really heavy fabrics. It also has all the necessary accessories for doing rolled hems and 2-thread overlock. ๐Ÿ™‚ A good updated version of a time-proven concept.

Zig-zag and utility machines

โ€‹

โ€‹1950s Haid & Neu Primatic, Germany – straight stitch, zig-zag, fancy stitches with cams, forward-facing vertical oscillating hook, class 15 bobbins, high shank feet.

This is my main zig-zag machine which also does excellent straight stitch. It sews all sorts of fabrics beautifully, from fine to thick and heavy, but not jersey (the stitch is not flexible). It sews with double needle without pulling together the stitches. It can disengage zig-zag for a true straight stitch. It can make delicate rolled hems and fantastic manual buttonholes. I have twelve cams with utility and embroidery stitches, so this machine covers most of my needs that go beyond straight stitch and overlock. And because it does a good straight stitch too, it is my machine of choice for those projects where I need to switch between straight stitch, zig-zag and utility a lot.

1960s Lada T132 (a.k.a. Sewmaster), Czech Republic – free arm straight stitch, zig-zag and fancy stitches, forward-facing vertical rotary hook, rotary bobbins, low shank feet Pfaff fitting.

This is my free arm machine, as well as a general helper. It has true straight stitch with a special locking straight stitch cam, and a large selection of fancy stitches with Singer flat Fashion Disks, as wel as its own – it is the same cam type.

There is an extension table that would make it into a flat bed machine, were it not for the very high rise from the table top – 10cm. This makes for uncomfortable sewing. But this is what makes it into a really useful free arm! Luckily I came across a sewing table for free arm machines that fits it perfectly – oh joy! ๐Ÿ˜€ 

1969 New Home 580 by Janome, Taiwan – straight stitch, zig-zag, stretch stitch, satin stitch embroidery with cams, side-facing vertical oscillating hook, class 15 bobbins, high shank feet.

Excellent lockable true straight stitch and zig-zag, very stable with the side-facing hook. Delicate feed that can be dropped to half height for fine fabrics and jersey giving 20%-30% stretch in the stitch. Does really nice satin stitch embroidery and comes with 30 cams. Powerful enough to sew heavy wool, yet delicate enough for chiffon. An excellent all-around machine.

This is a machine that doesn’t sound all that great on paper with its old-fashioned mechanism, but it is great in practice. It requires careful adjustment though because these machines seem to have been put together by monkeys, but once you’ve gone through every screw and joint and set it right, they become truly excellent. They give the most stable stitch on the widest range of fabrics.

1970s New Home 609 by Janome, Japan – straight stitch, zig-zag, stretch stitch, chain stitch, built-in utility and embroidery stitches, forward-facing vertical rotary hook, class 15 bobbins, low shank feet.

This is my second free arm machine, and it too has a good arm which makes it for uncomfortable sewing with the extension table. But it too fits into my table for free arm machines! ๐Ÿ˜€ (Almost fits, hubby needs to adjust the table slightly.)

This is mostly a utility machine. It has excellent useful stitches, so typical of Janome – they really put thought into their stitch pattern design. Zig-zag is fully disengaged for true straight stitch, and needle is centered independently of zig-zag or fancy stitches. Stretch stitch can be applied on every pattern, and can be adjusted.

Chain stitch on this machine is done with a special adapter, and the result is far better than on Singer or on Jaguar. Janome chain stitch is properly tensioned, the conversion is easy, and when stitches are skipped, the chain is not interrupted, you just get one long stitch instead of two short ones. Since chain stitch unravels easily, this is of crucial importance! This is almost as good as a dedicated chain stitch machine.

Chain stitch machines

Single thread chain stitch is the original knitted stitch, so it is perfect for sewing jersey and knits because it stretches exactly like the fabric. Many sewing machines have fancy stitches that are supposed to stretch with the jersey, but most of them are too wide for sewing seams, and not always suitable for sewing jersey. In addition, some sewing machines come with a chain stitch kit, and indeed I can use this on Haid & Neu Primatic. Yet, none of that works as well as a dedicated chain stitcher, although Janome rotary comes close…

1950 Essex Mk1, England, motorised – single thread chain stitch machine. For light and medium fabrics, a flexible stitch for jersey and a pretty looped stitch for decoration. Small enough for sewing sleeves! And so far the best chain stitcher of them all. ๐Ÿ™‚ 

Specialised fancy stitch machines

Well, they were all meant as general purpose sewing machines with fancy stitches, but I find their harp space too small for most sewing tasks. However, they have some very interesting and useful fancy stitches, so rather than trying to find a machine that could do it all and have a large harp space without taking up half of the room, I decided to keep a few specialised machines that I particularly liked. They have different fancy stitch mechanisms with unusual possibilities. Unusual in modern machines, that is. :-)โ€‹ 

1955 Necchi Supernova, Italy – straight stitch, zig-zag, complex embroidery with 3-tiered cams, side-facing vertical oscillating hook, class 15 bobbins, high shank feet.

This is a heavy duty embroidery machine – the project book suggests you embroider your shoes and handbags to match your dresses. ๐Ÿ˜ฎ It is smooth and powerful, and works well on all fabrics of substance – but not on satin, chiffon or jersey. However, it is excellent for dense but lightweight fabrics like Oxford weave shirting. It also works well on jackets, coats and quits. The patterns mainly use short stitches with high density, so loose woven or fine fabrics easily become stretched out. Some patterns can be set to use longer stitches, but they are fairly few.

The Supernova can do half a million different patterns by combining the cams and varying machine settings, but none of them are proper utility stitches. Necchi brought out separate utility cams later to cover this shortage, but the stitches are nowhere as good as those made by traditional machines, and having to switch direction so frequently does not agree with the machine (loud banging is not a good sign!). So I don’t force it and use as intended – with original cams with smooth movement. Luckily, I have a few other machines for the utility stitches. ๐Ÿ˜‰

1963 Vigorelli Fantasy, Italy – straight stitch, zig-zag, up to 17mm wide embroidery with large “wheel” cams, forward-facing vertical rotary hook, rotary bobbins, low shank feet.

The maddest embroidery machine ever! ๐Ÿ˜€ It moves the entire central section left and right to produce that wide embroidery ribbon, while the needle can do its own zig-zag movement. Impressive! Oh yeah, the feed moves back and forth too. ๐Ÿ™‚ 

Contrary to Necchi Supernova, Vigorelli Fantasy is a fine worker. It has nylon gears, so I would not use it on tough materials. But on the plus side, it has massive feed dogs and equally massive feet which, combined with rather low foot pressure, enables it to embroider fine and slippery materials – with only a minimal shift in the pattern. Fantastic for embroidering jersey!

But like the Supernova, it doesn’t do utility stitches, although straight stitch and zig-zag is very nice indeed, also on difficult fabrics.

1986 New Home Memory Craft 6000 by Janome, Japan – straight stitch, zig-zag, utility and embroidery stitches, forward-facing horizontal rotary hook, class 15 bobbins, low shank feet for 7mm wide zig-zag.

This is a computerised machine with two alphabets, three types of buttonholes and many lovely stitches. It has manual controls too, making it even more interesting. Oh, and there is a free arm, although it is not really free enough for serious use.

This is another one of those machines that looks pretty modest on paper but proves to be really great in practice. It has very useful stitches, very well thought through. I would call it “long stitch embroidery” because most patterns are made up of long sideways stitches rather than of short sequential ones – perfect for fine fabrics and jersey. It is in many ways the opposite of Supernova. This machine also has special stitches for free hand silk shading – wow! And it can handle a good range of fabrics, too. A typical New Home. ๐Ÿ™‚ 

1990s Pfaff Creative 7510, Germany – straight stitch, zig-zag, utility and embroidery stitches, forward-facing vertical rotary hook, rotary bobbins, low shank feet for 9mm wide zig-zag.

In many ways this Pfaff feels like an upgraded Memory Craft – it has more utility stitches and buttonholes, a better way to combine letters and patterns, and more intricate decorative stitches. It also has Pfaff IDT which is an added needle feed but not quite a walking foot, and a wider zig-zag. It’s a great machine, and buttonholes are unsurpassed thanks to a special underfeed attachment.

So why am I keeping the old Memory Craft as well? Stitches and fabrics. As similar as the two machines appear at the first glance, their stitches are different and the way they treat fabric differs radically. Memory Craft has a rather gentle feed, which means that the pattern may slip if the fabric shifts or stretches easily. But with a long stitch pattern, it can handle delicate, loose woven and knitted fabrics, and it’s great for free hand work.

Pfaff on the other hand has a strong feed, with or without IDT. This prevents the patterns from slipping but it is too rough for delicate or stretchy materials. I have so far not been able to use embroidery or even utility stitches on fine fabrics without them getting chewed up and pulled into the bobbin case. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ But give it a thick edging to embroider, and Pfaff is your best friend! It is also excellent for dense fabrics, thick or thin, and even for leather, if you dare (mind those resin gears!!).

13 thoughts on “My evolving sewing crew – 4th edition

  1. Elena,
    I do find it interesting that you now seem to have all long shuttle machines as straight stitch only machines. I find long shuttle machines slower to thread, so I like being able to fill a round bobbin and just chuck it in a machine. I’m not sure how much you use zig zag capable machines for straight stitch work?

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    1. Dan, I find it takes exactly as long to thread long bobbin machine as a round bobbin machine. It also doesn’t take any longer to get the bobbin into the bobbin winder, etc. ๐Ÿ™‚ Long bobbin machines make a better stitch – they make a perfect stitch. I find it takes a lot of fiddling to get nearly as good a stitch on round bobbin machines, and on some fabrics it is not possible at all (e.g., jersey). I just don’t see the point to bother with round bobbin machines at all. And no, I don’t normally use zig-zag machines for straight stitch, except in those projects where I have to switch between straight stitch and zig-zag or embroidery a lot – there it makes sense!

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    1. Thank you! ๐Ÿ™‚ I enjoy using these machines – they are so dependable. And if some of them are a bit capricious (Vigorelli and Necchi), then at least they can do such wonderous and crazy things that all can be forgiven. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I just wanted to let you know that this post, the 4th edition, and also the 1st edition, don’t seem to appear in the listing of “Categories: Sewing Machines – Crew”, at least on my computer.

    You’ve put such an incredible wealth of information onto this blog. But getting around large WordPress blogs tends to be difficult… Category listings only show one or two posts per screenfull, so not good for just “scanning” the blog. As a result, I’m sure I’ve missed some posts that I would find extra interesting. I’ve found this article which lists a couple ways to have a compact listing of all post titles in one place in WordPress: https://www.wpbeginner.com/wp-tutorials/how-to-display-all-your-wordpress-posts-on-one-page/

    Thank you for the work you’ve put into this blog!

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    1. Thanks, Jana, but I have 170 posts – they will never fit on one page. The best way to find articles of interest is either to use the menu at the top or to enter a keyword or two in the search box.

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    2. Hello Jana,
      I had a think about what you said here, and I found that just having a title of an article is not enough to tell what it is about, at least not on my blog. So instead of listing titles, I’ve included an updated and expanded list of categories and removed most things from the menu. I hope this helps. Also remember to use search which scans the whole text of the posts.

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  3. Hi Elena, I appreciate the changes you’ve made. Expanding the list of categories is very good, I think, displaying the topics in a more straightforward and accessible way.

    I’ve also discovered that if I edit the URL to say just “…com/2018/”, I get a listing of all posts in the given year, on one giant page, which is very close to what I had in mind. You see, your blog is like a candy store, and I want to make sure I don’t miss anything, even things I didn’t know I’d be interested in in advance ๐Ÿ™‚

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    1. I’m glad you found something that works! ๐Ÿ™‚ I don’t want to do any programming on my blog really, I don’t use a computer for it – just my phone, and although it is perfectly capable of FTP and all the rest of it, I prefer to keep programming out of my weekends. I do enough of it during the week as it is! So I tend to stick to what is provided by the template. Also, I’m still on a free plan which doesn’t have all the programming capabilities of a paid for plan. But hey, it’s free. ๐Ÿ™‚

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  4. I’ve been wondering what you meant when you wrote “Long bobbin machines do not require any foot pressure to form a stitch.” Without foot pressure, the fabric would lift with the needle going up and no loop would formed at all, would it?

    Then I thought about it some more – round bobbin machines need to enlarge the loop before passing it over the large bobbin, and if the fabric’s friction between the foot and needle plate is less then the friction in the tensioner, then the hook will pull the fabric towards me instead of pulling more thread from the spool. Long bobbin machine needs much less or none loop enlarging, so it won’t ever pull on the fabric. Am I correct?

    So the long bobbin machine needs a little foot pressure to prevent the fabric from lifting with the needle, but much less than what a round bobbin machine needs to prevent the fabric being pulled back…?

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    1. I meant that you can sew with zero foot pressure even on very fine fabrics. You disengage the spring completely so that the only foot pressure comes from the weight of the bar. This is enough to prevent the fabric from coming up. The fabric does not need to be moved in any machine – if it needed to be moved, you could never sew in place, and you can. It is rather the question of what pulls on the thread and rotates the bobbin – where does this force come from? See posts “That elusive flexible stitch” and “It’s all in the head”.

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  5. I use straight stitch most of the time. Sometimes zigzag to tack aonther stitch, but that’s about it.
    So hence my question, with a bit of shame for me not knowning this: but what exactly are ‘utility stitches’?

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    1. Utility stitches are used to create different types of seams rather than just for embellishment like embroidery stitches. Straight stitch and zig-zag are basic utility stitches. Some of the most common utility stitches are these:
      – Blind stitch for making blind hems.
      – Stitched zig-zag, a.k.a. three-step zig-zag, for stitching on elastic and hemming jersey.
      – Various mock overlock stitches for overcasting or sewing and overcasting in one operation.
      – Four-step buttonhole stitch for making buttonholes.
      – Back-and-forth stitch, a.k.a. stretch stitch, for reinforced seams like on trousers or when setting in sleeves.
      – Flat seam stitch for making strong flat seams in fewer steps.
      – Use your imagination for more.

      Utility stitches usually have a simple pattern that is designed for its function rather than beauty. Many utility stitches are also quite decorative. Pure decorative stitches however don’t help with making seams and are just used for embellishment, hence the distinction.

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