Back to the Shop

I generally don’t spend much time talking about sewing machines on this blog.  I have one, I use it, it’s a tool for getting the job done.  I much prefer talking about the projects I do. So it dismays me to turn this blog into an ongoing saga of the problems with my sewing machine.

Since my last post, I’ve discovered a few more things about the machine post-tuneup. It has to go back to the shop.

I mentioned before they recalibrated the stitch length, which is good. But, they did something to the backstitch. Backstitches are now really short. So if you use the auto-backtack feature, it does three long stitches forward, three tiny stitches back, then stitches forward. Previously, forward and back stitches were always the same length. That’s probably something I could live with, because I generally don’t backstitch that often in my general sewing.

But I discovered a bigger problem while working on my yellow shirt last weekend. I had finished everything except buttonholes and button attachment. The machine had been going along fine except for some skipped stitches and a thread nest, both of which could be due to the too-small needle I was using for the thread.

That was when I discovered the machine can no longer stitch buttonholes.

It just stitches in place without feeding the fabric (cotton shirting). I’ve tried to resolve the issue with various combinations of thread, needles, tension etc. etc. I checked the instruction manual twice, to no avail. I tried lowering the pull lever both ahead and behind the post on the buttonhole foot. Nothing worked. This machine has never had problems with buttonholes before the tune-up.

So, it goes back to the store today.

I’m starting to worry that this machine may never be fully usable again. I’m not going to go into a round of trips to the sewing machine shop – this machine frankly isn’t that expensive to justify the hassle. But I still want it to be useful and functional, if only as a secondary machine. I hate waste, especially at the scale of an appliance like a sewing machine.

The Brother Dreamweaver

I had mentioned before that my thoughts have been turning towards a machine upgrade for the past several months.  Those thoughts have become a lot more serious all of a sudden.

Last week, while picking up my machine, I took some time at the sewing dealership to try out the Brother Dreamweaver.

Brother has three members at the top end of the Dreamweaver family – an embroidery-only model (the VE-2200), a sewing-only model (the VQ-3000), and a combo model (the VM-6200D).  I am personally interested in the sewing-only model, which is Brother’s top-of-the-line sewing-only machine.  I actually tried out the combo machine, because that’s what they had set up in the shop.

The killer feature of the VQ-3000 is the MuVit foot.  This is Brother’s answer to the “dual-feed” gizmos you find on machines from Pfaff and others, that feed the top layer of the fabric as well as the bottom.  The MuVit foot works differently from competitor’s offerings: it looks like a giant walking foot, but it offers a little conveyer belt that grips the top layer of fabric and pulls it through the machine.  It’s big advantage is that the top-layer speed is adjustable straight from the front panel of the machine; in that respect it works very similar to a differential feed on a serger.  It’s big disadvantage is that like a walking foot, it is its own presser foot. You can’t use it with different presser feet the way you can with Pfaff’s IDT and clones.

I tried two test tasks. The first was edgestitching the collar points and stand on a dress shirt. I used a scrap shirt I had previously sewn (puckered interfacing ruined the collar and cuffs, so I recycled it into other projects).  I wanted to see how well the machine could feed the fabric when pivoting on collar points and other places where there’s bulk, and the full garment isn’t underneath the feed dogs.  The machine was set up with the MuVit foot and it was engaged during the test.

I have to say the experience was quite pleasant.  The machine didn’t encounter feeding difficulties when pivoting and turning at those extreme areas. The machine feeds and sews quite smooth, which made it easy to get a straight, precise line of stitching for edgestitching around the collar stand. And the stitch quality was very nice.

I did run into one piece of bulk, where the front band of the shirt joined the hem at the bottom.  This stymied the feed on the machine regardless of whether the MuVit foot was engaged. A “hump jumper” gadget eventually allowed the machine to get past the bulky bit.

The second test was with the zippered hoodie sweatshirts I had made on my PC-210; getting that machine to stitch down the front zipper evenly was a challenge with the bulky fleece. I used the samples I had prepared to try out welt pocketing for this challenge.  The MuVit foot wasn’t engaged, because I used a standard zipper foot and MuVit isn’t compatible with it.

The Dreamweaver plowed through the same task like a hot knife through butter. I was able to attach the zipper with straight seam lines and no skipped stitches.  I tried it twice, with both halves of the zipper. The first time I simply pinned the zipper in place.  The second time, I didn’t even bother with pinning or basting and still got a nice result.

Everything was good until I asked about the price.  The price they quoted sounded like the suggested retail, which kind of put me off.  This is a nice machine, but in some ways it’s overkill for me and I’m not sure I’ll get my full value out of the purchase price.  And my experience with the dealer over getting my current machine serviced will factor heavily into any purchasing decision.

But it’s still something to think about.

The Alternatives

Here’s some other alternatives I’m thinking about:

  • Bernina 560.  I tried this machine out in June, more thoughts on it in a separate article.  Briefly, nice machine but expensive to own.
  • Juki F600. I tried this machine out at the sewing/quilting expo, and I’m interested to know more. This looks like a great machine with top-end features for way less than the competitor’s offerings.
  • Brother PQ-1500S. This is a “semi-industrial” straight-stitch machine which looks killer for garment production, but can’t be an only machine. I would have to team it up with another machine to provide all the things it can’t do.
  • A vintage machine.  I know very little about vintage machines, and I’m reticent to step into this world.  But I have looked at some Singer Touch & Sew machines on that look identical to the machines I used in high school Home Ec classes back in 1983 or thereabouts. Lots of pluses and minuses to this approach as well.

More on my sewing machine as it develops, and I promise to show some more project work soon.

4 thoughts on “Back to the Shop

  1. Mssewcrazy

    I have upgraded machines a lot through the years especially after getting into machine embroidery. There are two berninas and a computerized pfaff in the mix and several brothers and a babylock multi needle. I also have a janome straight stitcher that is a semi commercial. I don’t really like garment sewing on the newer machines due to the spacing of the feed dogs even if I put the straight stitch plate on. A couple of years ago I got into vintage machines. I always have new cords and a service done on them. Any of the items like boxers or shirts I sew for my husband I prefer using the vintage machines. I started with a 66 but added in a beautiful 201, a 401, all singers and a Japanese pink atlas which is a brother made singer 15 clone. They are all a dream to sew on. I think for most menswear, a serviced one would be an inexpensive addition for you. If you get the modern machine repaired, it could do any of the knit sewing you might wish to do. The one machine of many that I hated and spent many dollars trying to fix was a touch and sew golden 750 I think it was. It was a giant lemon and had plastic gears. Please don’t let one of those be your first vintage just on case you get one of the bad ones. Most all of the old singers and Japanese clones are easy to get parts for and if you get a nice one it might just need a new cord set and a some oil. there is a very active vintage machine group on Facebook. Good luck with your machine. A machine acting up up is a royal pain and is bad for sewing mojo.

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      Thanks for the words of encouragement, and for the warning about the Touch-and-sew. It’s scratched off my list. My thoughts for a vintage machine might also include something along the lines of a Pfaff or a Bernina.

  2. mssewcrazy

    I still own and love my bernina 930. I still go work buttonholes on it as it is the only one here I totally trust to do a buttonhole without putting on an attachment and it probably should be my only machine but computerized machines appeared and then embroidery combos and I kept upgrading and adding to the machine stash. Machines are a lot like cars and lose value fast so I just kept them mostly. I got an early computerized pfaff a 1475 and it is great for fine sewing but I once had to have the timing redone and a service call sewing lots of layers in a quilted tote bag. I hate its buttonhole and would not hem jeans on it after the timing thing. It is a wonderful machine but much lighter than the mechanical bernina or the vintage machines so I don’t use it on heavy things anymore. It is a really nice machine and love the feed feature. There has been so much online about the vintage machines being rediscovered I had to try those and of course a few have worked their way in with the modern machines. I was shocked at how wonderful they work and what powerhouses. I love sewing on them. The little feet and narrow feed dogs are great for menswear like shirts and flat felling. Best of all if you watch craigslist or estate sales you can get them for very little. I don’t want to be without the modern machine features like machine embroidery or stretch stitches on knits but with wovens I am very happy with a vintage straight stitcher. I have started to dislike the wide presser feet and large needle plate openings on my newest machines for garment sewing. I don’t think any one machine has it all going on. I think the older bernina mechanical is the one I’d grab if someone yelled fire as it makes a really good buttonhole for me with never a blip. You can have your cake and eat it too as regards sewing machines. Put your money on a modern one if you want an upgrade and watch for a vintage beauty super cheap or free. The cabinets if it comes with one are very functional as tables and pure joy to open up and sew on.

    1. mportuesisf Post author

      If you don’t mind my asking, you mentioned you have a modern Janome straight-stitch machine, but you still prefer your vintage machines for menswear construction. Why is that so? I’m guessing the Janome SS would have everything the vintage machines have, namely a high-quality straight stitch and narrow feed dogs for easy manueverability through tight curves. And the modern machines usually have conveniences (like knee lifts and thread cutters) the vintage machines do not have.

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