My Studio

choosing a new sewing machine

It’s been a sewless week here at Vintage Modern Quilts. I’ve been doing a bit of hand sewing and crewel to get my creative fix, but I miss sewing. 8 days, 12 hours, and approximately 27 minutes is a long time for a sewing addict to go without touching a machine. That new bobbin case didn’t solve my machine’s problem so I decided to upgrade early. My plan was to wait until I made some money at the Urban Bazaar in October, but if I don’t start sewing, I won’t have much to sell!

So with a notebook in hand, I hit all of the big dealers over the last week and tried out lots of different machines. (Thanks to Sew Mama Sew for the sewing machine guide. It helped me eliminate many machines before I even started shopping.) My wishlist: long arm for large quilts, integrated walking foot, dual thread, knee lift, empty bobbin warning, stitch memory, speed control button, strong needle penetration, start/stop button, needle can stop in up or down position, front-loading bobbin, alphabet characters with upper and lower case, mirror image for decorative stitches, appliqué stitches, separate bobbin winding, built in thread cutter, extension platform for larger sewing surface…

The first machine I tried out was the Elna 7300 Pro Quilting Queen($1199). This machine had almost every thing on my wish list and I enjoyed sewing with it. It came with all of the accessories I would need for quilting and it had a nice case to store them in. The big turn-off for me is that the Elna Quilting Queen is the same machine as the Janome Memory Craft (Elna and Janome are made by the same company). There are a lot of negative reviews for the Janome on the web and I worry that the Elna could have a lot of the same issues.

Day two of machine shopping brought me to the Husqvarna Viking dealer located inside Joann’s (convenient because I always need a few things from Joann’s but also problematic because the dealer doesn’t have in-house servicing). I tried out the Viking Sapphire 830 ($996 base, $1200 with all of the accessories for quilting). I liked the LCD interface and the machine has many of the items on my checklist. The turn-off for this one? Bad reviews all over the web.

So bad reviews + the fact that the machine would have to be sent to Cleveland or somewhere for repairs = Viking Sapphire 830 at the bottom of my list.

The next day for machine shopping was Saturday and I decided to suck it up and head to Bernina and Pfaff. I’d been avoiding both of those shops because I know their machines are top of the line and I was sure I’d fall in love with something that was way out of my price range. (On a side note, that’s a really frustrating part of sewing machine shopping – no prices anywhere! You have to go to the dealers in person, which can be inconvenient or impossible if you aren’t in a big city with lots of choices.)

First up, Bernina…I tried the Activa 230PE ($1149), Activa 240 ($1649), and the Aurora 430($1899 without embroidery unit). All of the Bernina machines were dreamy. The motors purred like a kitten and the presser feet are just amazing. Each machine comes with an accessories box to store the amazing presser feet:

I quickly eliminated the Activa models because they don’t have enough space to quilt anything much bigger than a lap size quilt. The Aurora has more throat space, but it also has a big price tag. I was turned off by the fact that all of these machines only do upper case letters. What good is that? I guess it’s great for monograms, but I would mostly do quilt labels so it’s a big negative for me.

The saleslady demonstrated the embroidery unit on the Aurora and it is pretty impressive. However, the design she was showing me was going to take 52 minutes to create, which told me right then and there that I needed a separate embroidery-only machine unless I wanted to spend a lot of time twiddling my thumbs. (Notice that embroidery wasn’t even on my wish list. Those sales people are good.) My overall impression of Bernina was very good. The machines are made in Switzerland and they’re….well, luxurious. If I could have doubled my budget, I probably would have taken home a Bernina.

As for Pfaff…I tested the Pfaff Creative 2170 ($3200 on sale), Pfaff Expression 3.0 ($1259), and the Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.0($1900). The Creative 2170 was fun to play with but it was out of my price range. And honestly, I think it’s geared more towards embroidery, not quilting. It would also be an awesome machine for someone who does a lot of fine apparel sewing.

The Expression 3.0 and 4.0 are very similar except for a few features that only the 4.0 has: thread snips, automatic presser foot lift, electronic thread tension, electronic knee lift, and bobbin thread sensor. Plus, the 4.0 has more programmable memory and decorative stitches. I loved sewing on the Pfaffs and I loved the space on the Pfaff Expression machines. They really are a quilter’s dream.

And finally, Babylock…I tested the Babylock Quest ($1499) and it really is a very nice machine. Solid and heavy with all of the features of a good quilting machine (large throat, knee lift, speed control, variety of presser feet). The base of the machine is powder-coated metal, which I though was quite nice. The drawback: many functions were manual, which I felt didn’t really jive with the nearly $1500 price tag. I’m also not very familiar with the brand so I wasn’t ready to plunk down so much cash for a machine that I wasn’t in love with.

Now I know you’re all dying to know….which one did I choose? After sewing on a Pfaff and a Bernina, I knew I had to have one of those two brands. Ultimately the high price tag and the relatively small sewing space made me choose Pfaff over Bernina. Some other quilters’ issues with tension on the 4.0 combined with the high price tag led me to choose the Pfaff Expression 3.0. I gave up the knee lift, but I’m more comfortable with manually setting the tension and the price point of the 3.0 is awesome for a Pfaff machine.

More tomorrow on how she does in real-life sewing situations! I also have to think of a name for her…

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