Choosing the Right Sewing Machine

Meet my new sewing machine, Pfanny, the Pfaff. 🙂 She is a Pfaff Creative 3.0 machine.

She followed me home from the store the other day. Did I need a new sewing machine? No, I didn’t need one, but it was a bit more than a want, if that makes any sense.

Then why get one?

I was happy with my Brother Innovus VQ3000, called JP, after my brother who died several years ago (sensing a theme here?) I bought the Brother machine a little over three years ago because I wanted the extra long throat space it provided. It made machine quilting much easier, has a lot of great features and sews really well. But now that I have my longarm machine, (Nikki, a Q’Nique 21 pro), I no longer needed all that extra space. And as much as I liked using the Brother, it’s a big, big machine and I have a small sewing room.

It was too heavy (and expensive) to bring to retreats or classes. I started bringing Clementine, my 1949 Singer Featherweight, when I needed to bring one. While I love Clementine, she only does straight stitches and sometimes I need to do a bit more, especially if I’m doing machine applique. I thought about downgrading from the Innovus to a less expensive machine and then I remembered how much I enjoyed it when I had a machine that also did embroidery. And I had an idea. It was time for another sewing/embroidery machine!

Choosing a sewing machine

There are so many options now that buying a sewing machine is almost as intense as buying a car. Seriously! Did I want to stay with Brother? Did I want to go back to Husqvarna? What about another Janome sewing machine? I loved my Janome that I had before the Brother. I knew I couldn’t afford a Bernina, but they have a lower level brand – did I want to try that one? And what about a Pfaff?

I learned how to sew on a Pfaff sewing machine. My mother brought hers over from the Netherlands in the late 50s and we had to use a transformer to plug it into our outlet. It was a basic machine that didn’t have a zigzag stitch. I remember it was green and it weighed a ton. I wish we still had it.

So I started my research.

Researching sewing machines

If you’re not sure what kind of sewing machine you want, it’s important to know what you want your machine to do. For example, I knew I wanted a combination embroidery/sewing machine and I knew my budget. So that narrowed things down somewhat. And I knew there were other must-haves (for me). Some of my must-haves are not important to others, but things like an automatic cutter and a pivot lift (the foot rises a bit so you can turn your fabric) were features I had gotten used to and didn’t want to lose.

So what do you need from your machine? Does it have to be light enough that you can move it when you need to? My Innovus weighed a ton, which meant it’s not a good option for someone who sews on the kitchen table and has to move the machine every time they need the table. Do you want an extra-wide throat for the space? Is a knee lift important? Do you want a drop-in bobbin? Is the lighting on the machine bright enough for you? Do you really need a machine that has 250 built-in stitches? If you’re not sure of what you want or need, ask friends who have machines about what they like, what they don’t like, and what features they wish their machine had.

Once I knew what I wanted and could afford, I went to store sites to see what they sold. I took note of the machines in my price range and started Googling for reviews. and I went to the manufacturers’ sites to see all the details. I also searched some online sales sites and local Facebook market pages. There was a great machine for a seemingly great price in Ottawa, a two-hour drive from me but only a few minutes from my daughter. I zoomed with the owner to see the machine, but ultimately decided against buying it.

Back to the drawing board.

Visiting a local dealer

Not everyone has a local dealer and they must depend on online shopping, but if you can try different machines in person, you should. Some features you think you must have may not be what you want after all, and some features that you know you want may not be available on the machine you have in mind.

I went out to a local dealer and looked at various machines within my budget (and a few above!). I actually felt quite stressed because this purchase wasn’t a must – and the idea of spending money on another machine made me anxious. But I ended up finding this great Pfaff, sold used. The new price was considerably above my budget. The used price was dead on. So I bought it.

After the purchase

If you buy a sewing machine from a local dealer, check to see if they offer classes on how to use your new machine. Most, in my experience, will offer an hour introductory class as part of your purchase. If not, you need to decide if you can learn how to use your machine on your own or if that might be too frustrating for you. Many of today’s machines are more complicated than the ones from decades ago, which can make them difficult to master for some. But, this is where YouTube is your friend. Most new machines have great YouTube videos to teach you about their different features. For example, the Creative 3.0 machine has about 80 videos, each around 3 minutes or so, with some a bit longer. When I watch instructional videos, I often speed them up to 1.5 speed, which makes them even shorter. And each video covered one aspect of the machine. It was invaluable.

Learning how to use your machine

I’ve read stories of people who have bought machines and then never used them because they were too scared. If you buy a machine, there’s no point in having it if you don’t use it, right? So, take a deep breath, unbox it, read the introductory part of the manual and then set it up. Watch videos, read more of the manual and go for it. Unless you drop it or try to make it do something it really can’t do, chances are that you won’t break it.

Take your time, don’t get frustrated – although that can be easier said than done.

In my experience, most problems are usually caused by the user. It could be that the machine isn’t threaded properly or there is a missed step. Facebook has tons of groups, many of which are dedicated to specific brands of machines. Those are great places to learn about your sewing machine and how to fix problems. But, please, search the groups before you post a question. It’s almost guaranteed that you are not the first one to experience the issue and it’s already been explained. The group members are usually very generous with their help, but if you search first, you can avoid cluttering the group with a question that was already asked many times. I’m not saying don’t ask! Just check first.

Sell or trade-in your old sewing machine

Over the past 30 years, I’ve traded in and privately sold a few machines. Trading in is convenient and drops the price of your new machine, but what you gain in convenience, you lose in money. Several salespeople have advised me to sell privately if I can. When I bought the Innovus, I was offered a $500 trade-in for my Janome. I sold it privately for over $1K.

So, you need to decide what is right for you.

And now it’s time for me to get to know Pfanny better. Until next time!

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