Sewing Machine Blues

A couple of weeks ago my sewing machine broke. I was in the middle of making half a dozen sashes for some dancer friends and had a deadline. I was sewing away and heard a loud clunk, so I stopped. On closer investigation the timing has got out of sink and the needle wont go down it seems because the bobbin casing is in the way.

Luckily immediate crisis was averted as one of the dancers leant me his machine and I got enough sashes made in time (although there’s still a couple left to finish on the never ending pile that I’m supposedly working through rather than adding to). I thought about getting my machine fixed. It’s been fixed before and there’s a repair shop about a mile from my house. It’s a Singer Tempo 60 that I’ve had for nearly 20 years. My mum bought it for me as a birthday present, to stop me using hers I think. I’m pretty sure it was second hand. The more I thought about it I realised I wanted a new machine. Unsure of how to suggest buying a new one I started discussing a new one with my husband and he suggested buying one.

So I set off for my local sewing machine shop, with my mum in tow as she fancied a nose and a second opinion is always welcome. The shop had lots of machines and probably half a dozen in my £100-£200 price bracket and many more besides. The man in the shop was busy showing expensive quilting machines to someone, fair enough. I waited politely and peered at the machines and got confused by the ones not labelled with a price and the floating promo flyer that seemed to be for a machine they didn’t have. There wasn’t much space and mainly we loitered awkwardly. It’s hard to choose a machine by looking at it, they all look fairly similar.

Eventually the assistant paused in trying to persuade his other customer the complicated virtues of a machine (she didn’t sound convinced that she needed them all) to ask what I wanted. That’sveasy, namely a machine, costing £100 – £200, that does straight stitch, zig zag and buttonholes, as that’s at least 95% of what I use my machine for. He briefly showed me a £250 machine, without even acknowledging that it was out of my price range and seemed completely uninterested in mentioning any of the others I’d been peering at, stated it was “simple” and that I should definitely get this one. Then he went back to his sale.

I peered at the machine a bit more and another assistant materialised. I told her my criteria and she also firmly stated without hesitation that I should get this one, a £250 Brother (I forget the model number), which she also called simple. I pointed at the other machines in my price range on another wall and said that I’d read good reviews of Janome machines online and she pointed to a more expensive and complicated looking Janome and said it was equivalent to this, but this one was better. The others she didn’t mention. I said I didn’t like the look of the lcd screen on the Brother, I’ve never felt the need of an lcd screen to select stitches and surely this is just one more thing to go wrong. I was told that they never go wrong and that dials are more likely to break as they’re moving parts.

At this point I was feeling a bit cheesed off. Why did they stock half a dozen machines that were apparently so bad as to not be worth mentioning even when directly asked? What was so brilliant about this one that they both considered it the only choice worth mentioning? Could it be it had a greater mark up or comission or that they had too many in stock? Would an lcd screen really last 20 years? And why all this fixation with telling me how simple it is? I have never struggled to use a sewing machine, they’re all pretty simple. I didn’t struggle to use the computerised one that they had at my school. I think maybe on this point I was being touchy and by simple they meant basic, but they don’t say basic because it makes the machine sound bad and cheap. Trouble was by emphasising simple they made me think that they thought I was an idiot who would struggle to use a sewing machine.

Anyway I agreed to try the machine. Which was an odd experience. As well as a pedal it can also work with a button to start and stop it and there was a speed control too. So she didn’t plug the pedal in. Which meant I was trying it without a pedal and with her sat by my side. Neither of which I liked, especially not the button start/stop. (It’s not exactly time consuming to plug a pedal in). Anyway it sewed well and had a special buttonhole foot that you put your button in and it makes the hole just the right size, which I have to admit is pretty cool. She told me it had a strong motor and demonstrated sewing through several (6?) layers of fairly thick fabric on it easily, which I also liked. Then she gave me a glossy flyer for the model to take away. It didn’t mention the motor she’d gone on about anywhere.

I left the shop unhappy. I’d wanted to buy a new machine but I didn’t feel I trusted them. Also I’d wanted to part exchange my old machine (this shop being the repair shop too), because I don’t want to throw it away, but they don’t sell 2nd hand machines so that wasn’t an option. Oh, and the assistant told me that if I get a machine from them I get a half price class on how to use it and the class is 6 hours long! She neglected to say how much it would cost. Six hours on how to use a sewing machine? There may well be some things I would learn in that time but I doubt I’d be learning for the whole or even most of the 6 hours. I hope I’m not being arrogant but I (admittedly some time ago) took a GCSE in textiles and that involved competently using a sewing machine. Plus with small children 6 hours is a big time commitment to make. Even midweek it would overlap at least one of drop off and pickup times. She mentioned they’d tell me which threads etc I need to buy so I’m sceptical they’d just try and sell me more stuff.

So, I went to my local independent sewing shop to buy a machine and came out annoyed and not wanting to buy one. And worried that I was being churlish and it really was hands down the best machine.

Then I got distracted by Portia over at Miss P telling us about bargin overlockers at Lidl. I was tempted. Very tempted. But I didn’t get time to pop in straight away and that gave me time to realise that an overlocker without a sewing machine is not much use. So I reluctantly gave up on the idea. I hope they do them again next year (Lidl often do) and I realise and get chance to get one.

Any way, I did no more and did some more sewing on my friends machine.

Borrowed Janome

Borrowed Janome

And then I had to give it back. So now I’m machinless again and thinking of more sewing projects all the time. I don’t know if I should get my old machine fixed, either as an interim measure or to sell for the price I fixed it. Get a treadle machine, but I don’t think they do zig zag and where would I get it serviced. Oh and where to keep it.

Then today I went in our John Lewis and discovered that it has a small, unstaffed, haberdashery department and sells sewing machines. I had a question about whether the automatic buttonhole on one worked like the one I’d seen demonstrated and I found an assistant who didn’t know so rang a store with a larger haberdashery department to find out that it did. They also told her that any of their £99+ machines have motors strong enough to deal with upholstery fabric.

And now I find that I instinctively trust the opinion of someone who works for a chain store and that I have never met over the opinions of two employees of my local independent shop. This is wrong!

So, tonight I paid £1 for a months trail membership of Which and read their sewing machine report. And their best buy was a Janome. That they sell in John Lewis. For £220. I think I saw it in stock today. And the John Lewis website has great customer reviews for it.

I think I may be popping back in tomorrow…

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