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A newbie Question

Melaniebourg | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

I’m new to this whole thing and am actually trying to find the right machine for me. I found the chart made by thread magazine, and found it very usefull.. but.. being new at this there’s a few things that I don’t really get.. so I’ll write down my questions and maybe some wiser people than me can answer those they have an answer to ok ?

1- Buttonhole.. some machine have a 1 step automatic.. others a 4 steps manual.. and some 4 steps automatics.. I’m a clueless sort of person when it comes to figuring out mechanical-electronic stuff.. so if I want the easiest which one would it be ? do I loose on the quality of the button hole ?

2- presser feet… I’m gonna work on clothes.. and simple home stuff (light curtains.. maybe one day bedsheets table clothes and the like) They have presser feet in there that almost do the laundry and fold it.. if I have buttonholes.. and zipper stuff.. is that enough? the blin hem and satin stiches and stuff is it necessary ? I’m gonna work with silk when I get good enough.. (I luv silk pyjamas and boxers) so does that make a difference ?

3- Adjustable feed dog… what’s that ? is it necessary ?

4- stitches, I wanna be able to work with regular clothe fabric, with denim, with stretch and with silk.. what stitches do I look for ?

I won’t work with all of that right at first, but I want my machine to last me as long as possible as I’m living in California.. so free money isn’t raining.. *rolls eyes* nothing’s cheap in good old Bay area..

Thanks for any answers given.. I really greatly appreciate any help in my search for knowledge and wisdom.. heheheh seriously, any help is mucho appreciated..


  1. rjf | | #1

    Willow, I'm using a 40-year old machine so I probably shouldn't be giving you answers but the most important thing (to me) is a nice even stitch that stays nice and even.  So that probably means a heavier machine and I'd sacrifice some bells and whistles for it. 

    I think you need to go to a store where you can try out the machines.  Try everything and take your time.  It's a little like buying a car......sometimes you know right away "This is the one".                        Keep us informed                  rjf

    1. Melaniebourg | | #3

      Very good point, thanks you for your answer :o)


    2. poppyqlewis | | #5

      I sew with an elderly elna (from the late 50's which even I can't believe) which I love. I wish it had a buttonholer which would make many identical buttonholes, but the buttonhole instructions are really good and I've practiced plenty so its OK.

      I would go to a large shop where people trade in thir decent older machines for the (expensive) ones with all the latest technolory. A friend recently did this, acquiring her first serger at a bernina dealer that had several really decent ones. At a good price too, compared to my new serger. They also had lots of regular machines, at all price levels, many hundreds (thousands) of dollars cheaper. The store offered warranties too.

      Good luck and happy sewing!

      Edited 11/6/2002 1:04:25 PM ET by POPPYQLEWIS

      1. carolfresia | | #6

        POppy, I have a friend who did some research and then purchased an old Singer buttonholer attachment, which she uses on a 1980s-vintage Elna. She swears by it, and says it makes really professional-looking buttonholes. You might look into this yourself. The attachments are sold on eBay frequently enough--though I can't tell you which ones fit what machines.


        1. poppyqlewis | | #7

          thanks for the info. i'll start looking!

  2. carolfresia | | #2

    Hi, Willow,

    Let's see if I can answer your questions.

    1. Buttonholes: every buttonhole consists of two parallel rows of satin stitch, and a bar tack (more satin stitch) at each end. So theoretically you can make a buttonhole with any machine that has a zigzag stitch. But most machines offer a special buttonhole feature that sends the machine through the steps automatically.

    A 4-step manual buttonhole feature has three separate settings (right side, left side, and bartacks); you have to switch through the settings as you make the buttonhole, and also, you have to manually size the buttonhole. That is, you have to stop the machine when the "lips" are the correct length.

    A 4-step automatic buttonhole works more or less the same way, except that it includes a special sizing foot, which you stick your button into, and it will create the correct size of buttonhole for your button (within reason--you always have to test this first, because a very thick button needs a longer buttonhole than a thin one with the same diameter).

    A 1-step automatic buttonhole uses an auto-size foot, and moves through the four parts of the buttonhole with the push of just one button. This is the easiest kind of all. However, it is not always the best! I have a machine with a 4-step manual-sizing buttonhole feature that makes very nice buttonholes; it's a little more work, but they look good. And some of the 1-step auto-size ones are not so hot. Test buttonholes before buying the machine, and be sure to ask the dealer to show you how to make adjustments in the density of the satin stitch on both the forward and backward parts of the stitching.

    2. Presser feet: a zipper foot is extremely useful, and you'll want a zigzag (also called general-purpose) foot--these are pretty standard with almost any machine. If the machine has the auto-size buttonhole feature, you'll need the foot for that. From there on, extra feet are not necessary for most sewing tasks, but experienced sewers will usually agree that some specialized feet do make certain tasks much easier. An edgestitching foot will enable you to keep topstitching really nice and even; roller feet, Teflon feet, and even-feed (or walking) feet can help you handle tricky fabrics more easier as well. There are a number of books and articles that discuss the use of the many specialty feet available; take a look at these before investing in lots of feet at first. Once you get sewing, you'll get a better idea of what you need and want.

    3. Adjustable feed dogs: This means you can lower the feed dogs (the toothy metal bars beneath the presser foot, which feed the fabric through the machine and under the foot). Once you lower them, the fabric no longer moves, so you have to push or pull it. If you want to do free-motion embroidery or quilting, you'll need to be able to lower your feed dogs, so you can move the fabric back and forth and side to side. I hardly ever lower the feed dogs for any ordinary sewing project, but it's fun sometimes to mess around with free-motion stitching, so this can be a nice feature to play around with.

    4. Stitches: a good straight stitch, a zigzag stitch, and probably some sort of overlock, blind hem, and stretch stitches will see you through almost any utilitarian sewing. Another handy stitch is the multiple-stitch zigzag (3 straight stitches in a zig, then 3 in a zag). Many machines offer variations on the overlock, a selection of stretch stitches (though I usually use a narrow zigzag for stretch fabrics), and some decorative stitches, which are not essential for most clothing construction but will allow you do some embellishment if you like.

    THe good news is that you can get almost everything on this list for under $500 if you shop wisely and spend some time talking to the dealer. If he/she doesn't want to cut you a deal on the price of the machine, look elsewhere, or try negotiating for free accessories (extra presser feet, bobbins, etc.), or additional lessons.

    Have fun!


    1. Melaniebourg | | #4

      :o) Thanks for taking the time to explain all that, I understand the whole thing a lot better now :o)


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