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I need a sturdy reliable machine. Help!

gfam | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

Help me find a new machine!  I would like a new reliable machine that handles heavy fabric well, auto. button holes,  and a good zig zag for a professional finish to edges on the inside.  I don’t want all the bells & whistles.  Very simple is better for me.  I have sewn for a long time & want something sturdy enough for my kids to learn on too.  I am starting a home business where I will be sewing on twill & denim a lot!  I have used the old reliable Singer 401 forever, which I love,  but want an auto button holer.  Mine always turn out terrible!  Oh, & I don’t want to spend a fortune!  Thanks for any advice!  Now I’m off to do some searches.  Thanks for any suggestions.  My main goal is a professional looking straight stitch, good zig zag & will handle denim & many layers of twill ok all on a sturdy machine. 


Edited 2/23/2007 4:57 pm ET by gfam


  1. mainestitcher | | #1

    If you're going into business, you might want two machines.

    1) An industrial machine for most of your stitching

    2) a second machine for the buttonholes. 

    I don't know of any machine that will finish the inside edges as well as a serger.

    I have a Bernina 950- I wouldn't recommend one, it doesn't do well on heavy fabrics. 

    I have a Singer 31-15 that will sew most anything, but no zig-zag or buttonholes. 


    1. gfam | | #2

      Thank you for the suggestions!  I just don't want to spend huge bucks until I am sure this business idea is going to take off.  An industrial machine sounds expensive though I haven't priced them.  I am just trying to get ideas of a sturdy machine with my previous requirements.  Thanks again!


      1. Susan -homedecsewing | | #3

        Hi when I started my biz I had the same problem , back then  Viking made a machine with a'' power drive'' and it was metal. but the new ones are plastic and don't have that feature. You could still go with a good used one that does have buttonholes, zig zag. I wish I had not traded in the 1st one I had. I now saved the last as a spare when trading up.I now have 6 machines . industial Phaff with walking foot, 2vikings, 2 sergers, and a blindhemmer. all but the Phaff are portable, so I can move them when I need to use the Big table. Good luck

      2. thehat | | #5

        you could try the auction house or ebay or the paper they sometimes have industrail  machines or talk to  a person that repairs machines or  he might have one or tell you about where to find one it is just a thought

  2. User avater
    wghmch | | #4

    Talking about modern machines, and using "sturdy" in the same sentence, creates an oxymoron. It just isn't going to happen with today's machines. Your 401 has spoiled you, and could probably go on spoiling you for another 20-30 years. Do yourself a favor and buy a good buttonhole attachment for the 401, and your investment should be in the range of $10.Bill Holman

    1. gfam | | #11

      Bill, I missed your post!  You made me laugh!!  :)  Thanks!  Maybe I'll look into that.  I didn't know they had one for the 401!

      Thanks for the giggle. :)


      1. User avater
        wghmch | | #14

        "I didn't know they had one for the 401!"By the thousands, Donna. You just have to be sure it is the slant version, that will usually be in the pink "soap dish" box or the earlier maroon plastic box. An example is ebay #220083481831.Personally, I would recommend going over to "see" the hobbyists on the Wefixit board <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/wefixit/> and just mention that you are looking for one. Your odds of finding someone you can trust are higher, and some of these people have multiples laying around. The 401 will virtually run forever, and those old buttonholers work great.Bill Holman

        1. gfam | | #15

          Bill!  You are the best!  Now can you recommend  a place to get mine adjusted & cleaned in Colorado Springs??  Ha Ha.  I bought this 401 at a yard sale for $10 & it still had the orginal "paper" bobbin in it.  You could tell it had never been used.  I took it in to get adjusted & cleaned b/c who ever had it buggered up the tension good.  They told me these "old" machines weren't worth fixing and I should buy a new one!  HA!  My mom has gone through thousands of miles of thread on hers & she would argue with that!  I  would love to find a reliable place to have it serviced!!  I am so excited about the button holer too!  Thanks for fixing me up with that! 


          1. User avater
            wghmch | | #16

            The people on Wefixit or Vintage Singers <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/vintagesingers/> would tell you to do it yourself, Donna, but if that's "not your thing," I know that there are people on those boards from Colorado, and maybe they could steer you. By the way, the 401s came from the factory with a metal bobbin in them. I know, because I sold a lot of them when they were new.Bill Holman

          2. gfam | | #17

            That's good to know about the bobbin.  The attachment case that came with it had these weird almost paper like bobbins in them.  Regardless, this machine had no wear anywhere on it. 

            I've changed out the oil pump on our 1985 jeep so I could definitely do the cleaning & adjusting myself, I just don't know how.  :)  I already joined the wefixit & will check out the second group as well. 

            I think I buggered up the tension or something in my attempt to adjust it.  It's just not sewing the same great looking top stitch that I remember my mom's doing.  And the bottom thread is tangling in the bobbin "flywheel" (is that the right term?) and breaking occasionally.  I'm wondering if I have a bad bobbin, it doesn't seem to sit snuggly in the case.   They are the bobbins that the store that tried to get me to toss the machine sold me so I'm not sure.  It has three big holes & one little hole on each side.

            Thanks for your help!


            Edited 2/23/2007 6:27 pm ET by gfam

          3. User avater
            wghmch | | #18

            There ARE a lot of bad bobbins for that style, Donna. They have rough edges where the center spindle comes thru, and they catch the upper thread as it slides under the bobbin case.On the 401, you need to frequently remove the bobbin case and clean the track that rides on the rim of the hook, especially where there is an indent that tends to pack with lint and cause symptoms similar to what you've described. I believe that the files of Vintage Singers will give you a mountain of information about servicing your 401.Bill Holman

          4. gfam | | #19

            Any type of bobbins you recommend Bill? 

            It WAS full of lint!  I'll go to those files you recomend!

            Thank you again!


          5. User avater
            wghmch | | #20

            "Any type of bobbins you recommend"Old ones! You're confusing the 401 with those new ones. <G> Actually, the 66 bobbin system which the 401 uses, has also been available in plastic for many years. Personally, I still prefer the metal ones, because the weight keeps them seated better, but if all your metal ones had the rough spindle, the plastic ones are an option. If you lay a bobbin on the table and drag a moderately taut piece of thread across the surface, you can usually find any rough centers.Bill Holman

          6. tmorris1 | | #32

            gfam have you bought a new machine yet? The janome has an overlock stitch that looks just like a serger. I have the Decor excel which has a one step buttonholer that measures to the button size, overlock foot (which can be slow but is still quite effective) and a couple of others, drop in bobbin (like your singer,) and enough power to sew jeans easily.
            I tell everyone that I meet about this machine, because it is such a great no bells and whistles machine, had a reasonable price, and was everything that I needed to sew confidently.

  3. Cherrypops | | #6

    Hi gfam,

    You are making a great beginning by asking here.

    I would like you to visit all the major brands websites, to see what they have on offer.

    I would then advise you to take note of what is said here, there will be many opinions, but you will be the final decider.

    Read past discussions regarding machines. There is a lot of valuable information by our experienced members.

    I would then go to a sewing machine dealer. Have a look, ask to see the machines in operation, ask as many questions you need to.

    This is never a quick and easy decision.

    You'll be right............CherryP

    PS: I have a Brother Star 140E and a Bernina 800DL overlocker/serger. Very happy with both.



  4. billsgirl | | #7

    gfam,   I agree with Cherrypops,  read and inquire, and test.  I can reccomend the Singer 20u. It is a semi-industrial machine.  It is in an industrial type table but is not quite as fast as some of the ind. mach. are.  I have had mine for about 30 yrs. have replaced the motor once.  I also have an ind. serger and blind stitch. Since I am not good at adjusting, I have always had them worked on by someone who came to the house.  They are very hard to find today tho.  The 20u will sew just about anything.  I would draw the line at boat covers tho.  They might balk at them.      ....sharon

    1. gfam | | #8

      Thanks for the suggestions.  The names & models is what is especially helpful to narrow my search!   With 4 kids at home, my time is limited!


      1. twoimps | | #9

        I agree with the other replies, you will most likely want more than one machine if it's for a business, and even for home use if you do a lot of sewing. 

        I suggest you look at industrial models that have both a straight and zigzag stitch and can be used with a buttonhole attachment.  Buttonhole machines may be too pricey unless you'll recoup your investment.  To do finishing I recommend a serger as it sews, trims and finishes the seam in one step.  You can do the majority of the garment construction on a serger and use the regular sewing machine for small areas and curves. 

        I bought a Juki serger for home use and it's a workhorse sewing thru thick fabrics easily.  Juki primarily makes industrial style machines for home use and has some reasonably price models.  True industrial machines are huge with separate motor units, tables, etc. and usually do only one function - straight, zigzag, buttonhole, etc. and are expensive.  Prices vary greatly and there are great deals on the internet so it should be easy to comparison shop.  You can get some great equipment without leaving the house.

        Good luck!

        1. gfam | | #10

          I don't think I want a serger.  The sewing I am doing I need to have the seam left open, not serged closed.  I want a sturdy machine that does a professional looking straight stich & zig zag and will handle heavy fabrics well, like denim & many layers of twill.  I think I'll forget about the auto button holer for now.  Just straight & zig zag.  I am happy with my Singer 104 ( oldie but goodie) but it's starting to  break threads etc.  But it can almost handle everything I do.  Thanks for any suggestions! 


          1. twoimps | | #12

            You mentioned wanting zigzag for a professional finish inside.  Sergers are also good for finishing the edges before assembling the item.  I used it for my slipcovers which are washable.  The finished edges prevents raveled fabric and keeps it neat even though no one sees inside.  When making unlined garments I also serge many of the edges before assembly, much easier to work on the pieces instead of finishing the edges on the assembled garment.


          2. gfam | | #13

            Oh Nancy,  that's great to know.  I guess I need to some more looking into sergers!  Can it serge one layer of twill weight fabric neatly? 

            Thank you!!


          3. twoimps | | #21

            A serger sews about 1500 stitches per minute and can trim and overcast in one step, or lift the blade and overcast without trimming.  The time savings alone makes it worthwhile.  Serger thread is also much cheaper than regular spool thread - about $2.50 for a 3,000 yd Maxilock cone.  It's a lighter gauge than spool thread so that it doesn't create bulk when using 3, 4, or 5 threads. 

            The key to finding a good machine is to look at all the models and read the user reviews.  I found that certain brands and features are recommended frequently, don't go by price alone.  I paid under $300 for a new Juki 654DE on the internet.  It has all the features I need: a differential feed, built in rolled hem, and safety power off when door is open to thread or clean.

            Take some samples of fabrics you work with to a sewing machine store and ask to try out the various serger models.  You'll be amazed at fast they are.


          4. gfam | | #22

            Sounds intriuging!  I will check it out!  But how do you control it around curves & corners etc if it is sooo fast?? 


          5. Cherrypops | | #23

            I handle it by lessening my foot pressure on the foot pedal. Hubby books me for speeding!

            And I watch my knife blade not the needles.

          6. twoimps | | #24

            Yes, ease the pressure on the foot control just as you do when sewing and yes - keep an eye on the knife to make sure you don't trim too much off the edge.  You can serge curves but not sharp corners - you'll see why when you see how it's set up.  On a sewing machine the fabric has to be right under the needle for the feed dog to grab it.  On a serger the presser foot and feed area is much longer and it grabs the fabric and feeds it through pretty fast to keep up with the stitching.  Practice on scraps to get the feel of the machine and the foot control.  I'm definitely a lead foot when it comes to sewing.

            You'll love it and never go back to using zigzag to finish a seam!

          7. Cherrypops | | #25

            You are so right! Thanks for adding more important comments. 

            I had a vintage singer, straight and zigzag stitches only. It did the job but when I got my overlocker I was in 7th heaven.

            Depending on what I am making I finish all edges first with the o/locker and then straight stitch with my sewer.

            Have you done decorative stitching on your serger using different thread types ?

            :) CherryP

          8. mainestitcher | | #26

            An industrial straight stitch can be had for not much money.  DH saw mine by the side of the road for sale for $20. (It was the 31-15 Singer) It's not worth anything on a trade-in either, dealer suggested I keep it as a back-up instead.

          9. Cherrypops | | #27

            Lucky you.

            My singer (model ?)is in good order, and will be used to teach my son. he doesn't need bells and whistles at the moment. I upgraded to a Brother, it's all i need.

            I also have a mamylock overlocker. i was told this is industrial. apart from the instructional manual i do not know much about it. It introduced me to the world of serging. but it gave me threading and tension probs. was serviced but not serviced well enough to my liking. So i bought the bernina and all is well.

            Both these machines date back to the 60's(?) and were my mother-in-laws. She still has her mums treddle which still works.

            I'm sure gfam will find the right machine.



          10. gfam | | #28

            Thanks for the advice!  There are so many choices it rather overwhelming!


          11. Cherrypops | | #29


            If you are thinking of a serger in addition to your sewer do a search online for book reviews for overlocking/serger techniques. Don't just rely on the instruction manual that comes with the machine. My manual showed threading and tension and what the 2/3/4/ threads are to look like and the rolled hem, but if you want to know more buy a more informative book.

            I have just purchased 'Sewing with Sergers' Palmer/Pletsch publication. Basic for me which is good for me. Black and white no grand photos.

            Amazon.com has reviews and a few ladies will offer their advice on why they chose certain books.

            Have fun and take as much time as needed.




          12. twoimps | | #30

            I haven't had time yet but did buy some wooly nylon thread to try the edge finishing similar to what you find on the edge of boiled wool garments. I'm reading a book to learn about all the things you can do with a serger and will try them when I find time.

          13. Cherrypops | | #31

            That's great news...I use the wooly nylon in my bobbin when using twin needles on my sewer. Great for hems and necklines on t-shirts. (after the edges are serged)

            Time and practice..two things i lack at the moment.better add patience to that.

            You'll be ok. Thanks for letting me know where you are at.


  5. dressed2atee | | #33

    Hello, I don't know if you purchased a machine yet but I've sewn on a Pfaff for the past 20 years!  It is a workhorse.  I sew for others as well as myself so I highly recommend them.  I own a 2124 now, it also does embroidery.

    Happy sewing

    1. gfam | | #34

      I love the suggestions!



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