A few weeks ago, I got a card in the mail advertising the Quilt, Craft and Sewing Expo in San Mateo, CA. The final day of the show was yesterday, so I hopped on a train headed down the peninsula to spend an afternoon checking it out.
I don’t do any quilting (though some of my ‘craft’ projects use some quilting tools). So I didn’t have high expectations for what I might see.
I saw lots of booths like this one. Quilts everywhere. There were a few craft-related booths, some vendors selling accessories like task lighting, equipment caddies, and ironing board covers. There were some off-topic vendors, like people selling orthotics and foot pillows. But the vast majority of the show was for quilters.
I stopped at a booth selling scissors and tools, and picked up a few set of hemostats to replace the one that vanished somewhere in my workroom. I discovered how useful these tools are for gripping and manipulating threads and tiny bits of fabric, after reading about them in David Coffin’s trousers book.
A New Sewing Machine?
The most valuable part of the show for me was spending some time trying out sewing machines with some of the local dealerships. Several brands were there, including Bernina, Baby Lock, Pfaff, Janome, and Viking.
Eddie’s Quilting Bee had lots of machines available to try. I spent some time doing test stitches with a Bernina 350, a Juki HZL-F600, and a Baby Lock Aria.
Truthfully, I’ve never had much sewing experience on any machine other than my Brother PC-210 PRW, which cost about $330 new from Amazon. Each of these machines was much fancier in terms of price and capability. The Bernina was about $1300, the Juki about $1000, and the Baby Lock was around $2700 (show prices – list prices were higher).
What I noticed about all three machines was that they all felt smoother to operate than what I’m used to. It’s hard to describe; heavy fabric went through as easily as thin fabric, and the behavior of the mechanism somehow felt more consistent. The Bernina especially was the most quiet of the three. The Baby Lock by far had the most bells and whistles, including features to automatically raise the presser foot when you let off on the foot pad to ease pivoting. There’s also an additional foot pedal, and you can assign the foot pedal motions to different machine actions, such as the thread cutter.
To head off anyone’s speculation: No, I didn’t walk out of the expo with a new sewing machine. I wasn’t going to make an impulse purchase that large.
I would want to spend more time researching, and go to the store with an actual sewing project – perhaps a shirt cuff or collar to finish, or some flat-fell denim seams on jeans – to see how these machines behave. Also, the conditions on the show floor aren’t the same as at home, and I think even the desk/table you set the machine on has a bearing on how the machine feels. Plus, my machine has been in use for a while, and after a tuneup it might behave a little more like these fancy, but brand-new machines.
Basically, I’m still unsure these high-end machines would actually make me a better sewist. I’ve run into a few situations where it has been tricky to feed fabric reliably through my current machine, but I haven’t yet done any project the machine couldn’t handle. If these high-end machines make it easier to do precision stitching, for example, or can stitch a buttonhole through uneven layers of fabric (something my machine struggles with), maybe it might be worth considering an upgrade. The Juki buttonhole attachment, for example was a very strange contraption that completely grabs both sides of the fabric (you slide the fabric between two metal plates), and is powered by the sewing machine through its own power plug. I can see how this would produce more even feeding while stitching the buttonhole, but also wonder if this will work with thick fabrics like melton wool or buttonholes in odd places not near the edges of the garment.
Anyway, I’m concerned that trying out these machines, while valuable, may have been a mistake. A seed may have been planted for a costly future purchase.
The Hoodie Project
Progress on the hoodie has been slow, due to a) not enough time at the sewing machine and b) my slow pace of work, brooding over every little step for what seems like hours before taking any sort of action.
The good news so far is that I have the hood serged and coverstitched, and also got the grommets installed for the drawstrings.
I ended up using a hammer to install the grommets. The grommet pliers I bought were intended for much larger diameter grommets. The grommets wedged themselves into the pliers and required vise grips to extract them, destroying the grommets in the process. Glad I spent time on samples.
Finally, I ran into problems installing the zippers into the pockets. This was my first time installing an in-seam zipper, and I also should have skipped some of the pattern directions relating to stitching the pocket bags into the seam allowances before attaching the zipper. The result was a pretty sad looking zipper, with uneven seams on the outside.
Even worse, I discovered that I had matched the front panel pieces wrong – sewing the right front panel to the left side panel, so they didn’t quite match properly. I ended up going back to Fabric Outlet to buy another yard of sweatshirt fabric for a do-over, which I’ll be attempting today.
I’ll describe how that worked – and hopefully have a finished hoodie to show – next time.