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Mechanical or Computerized Machine?

cycler1729 | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

Recently my 20 year old workhorse mixer broke and I replaced it comparably but the difference in “modern technology” is unbelievable! At the lowest speed it has 10 times the power that my old mixer had at it’s highest speed!
So I began to think about what improvements there must be in sewing machines as well.
I don’t know how old my machine is but it’s minimally 20 years old and is getting temperamental. I’d also love a big selection of stitches. So I’ve been looking for a replacement and I’m really not sure what the difference in quality of sewing is between a comparably priced mechanical or computerized machine?
Specifically, I’m looking at the Brother CS6000i or XL3510. They each offer many, many stitches and what I need and they are highly rated.
My concern about a computerized machine is that if something happens I’ve got to take it to the shop but most of what goes wrong in a mechanical machine is easily fixable.
Your thoughts, please?


My two favorite things in life are libraries and bicycles. They both move people forward without wasting anything. The perfect day: Riding a bike to the library. —Peter Golkin


  1. Ckbklady | | #1

    Hi there,

    I'm sure you'll get responses cheering for modern technology, but I put my vote in for the dinosaurs. If it were me I'd get the 20-year old machine tuned up or even "go older". I hope my plea for the aged machines doesn't waste your time - I have some actual suggestions at the end of this note! :)

    I have 19 sewing machines ranging in age from 1887 to 1973, and there isn't one of them I would replace with a new machine, especially a computerized machine. On all 19 of them I haven't spent enough to cover a new computerized model. I like both using machines I'm not afraid of breaking and using machines that are so solidly built I couldn't break 'em if I tried!

    I don't want speed from my machines (although I can get speed if I want it - my 1961 Necchi Miranda and my 1950s Pfaff 130 rival the speeds of industrial machines). I am more interested in stitch accuracy, ease of control, solidity and reliability. I can tune, clean and repair my machines with little skill and no expense. Parts and accessories are still made for most of my machines today, or are cheaply had. I haven't spent any money at a sewing machine service center in decades.

    My concern about modern machines is their lightness, the speed with which they become obsolete and their cost to repair, tune up or "reboot" them. I fear they'll become the next item to clog landfills, like the constantly obsolete desktop computers we all use (and on which I am writing now). My machine's parts are simple, solid and clearly stand the test of time. They stitch the straightest, smoothest lines you've ever seen and many came with boxes of cams to make decorative stitches, which I had little use for, but I notice sure is a big selling feature of computerized machines.

    I watch the sewing shows on Saturday morning on public television more because it's good company to see others sewing while I'm doing the same. I notice that many of the hosts use computerized machines, so there must be great public interest in it. That's terrific - we need sewing to flourish as a craft. I am grateful that I have the luxury to see computerized machines in action and to use my dear old workhorses.

    I just made a lined silk charmeuse skirt last week with my 1897 Frister & Rossmann handcrank, which takes modern needles, sews the finest, slightest, smallest stitch imaginable, uses no electricity and makes almost no sound. I paid $50 for the machine on Craigslist, and merely needed to wipe it down and download (thank you, technology) a free manual from a historical sewing machine collectors' site online. When I use it and the others I feel connected to past, present and future. I wouldn't trade that for all the sewing software in the world.

    But you sound like you want something fresh and new, and would, unlike me, use all those decorative stitches. You want to hear from the tech-savvy folk here - not the dinosaur fans! :) I bet they can advise you well about the two Brother machines. I know that the Threads site has been working on a machine comparison page, and you may also want to look at the reports at Patternreview.com.

    I wish you happy sewing with whichever machine makes you smile!


    1. cycler1729 | | #3

      Thank you for your thoughtful response! I guess that I asked because I am like you and love the older machines and wanted to be told that the computerized models are unreliable!My biggest issue is about tension and stitch length - my current machine
      has limited options and since I use a lot of knits I think that the later machines offer better choices for those.

      1. Ralphetta | | #4

        My computerized machine is nearly 20 years old and I've had no repair problems at all. I hadn't planned to buy a computerized machine because embroidery, etc., wasn't a priority but when I compared, the quality of basic stitching on my variety of fabrics was much better than any of the other machines. Tension has never, ever been a problem. Tension problems with my previous machine had me screaming and frustrated almost all the time. This has been reliable and I've never regretted the investment. I think you can get comparable machines for about a fourth of what I paid. I have no idea if all current computerized machines would hold up as well as mine, but i find it hard to believe that there aren't some that are just as dependable as it has been.

        1. cycler1729 | | #7

          Thanks - it's so hard to decide because it's one of the higher cost items to replace and I'm hoping that this will be the last one that I will need to buy. I will definitely keep my old machine (although where will be the question).The computerized machine does seem to be better for tension issues - it drives me insane constantly adjusting and it never being quite right!

      2. Ckbklady | | #6


        I doubt that computerized machines could be that unreliable, or they wouldn't be so popular. So much for that, giggle!

        I hear ya about the knits options. You may want to keep in mind that many machines older than yours were made at a time when knits sewing was all the rage (late 60s - late 70s) and have lots of stitch length and width (zigzag & stretch knit) adjustments available. I zip through finicky bamboo knit with my 1973 Bernina.

        I've always wanted to mention that I love the quotation in your footnote - it's so true. I can tell that I'm doing exactly that today to pick up library holds, and there's not a computer book on the list! LOL


        1. cycler1729 | | #8

          An amusing note about that quotation - someone on the CooksTalk forum saw it and said that she works in the same library as the gentleman from whom I "borrowed" the quote!I LOVE libraries!

          1. Ckbklady | | #9

            Wow - small world. I love, love, love libraries too - I can't enter one without thinking of Jerry Seinfeld's monologue about the wonder of a place that says, "Here, take this book home and keep it as long as you want, because if you keep it 'til it's overdue, we'll charge you what, ten cents??" LOL What a rich world we live in to have such a service.

            I test drive sewing books by ordering them at the library first. I used to think that would keep me virtuous, but nope - my shelves are bulging anyway.




          2. cycler1729 | | #10

            I do that too. The big branch of the NY Public Library has a huge sewing/knitting/handcraft section - almost a whole floor and almost anything you might want for almost any craft (although the most popular are checked out most of the time and there's usually a wait for a reserve) - but no Threads! I've seen that posters mentioned being able to get issues at their libraries so it's odd that in NY they don't offer it.I also love the inter-library loans for sewing books. Such an unbelievable resource!

    2. Cityoflostsouls | | #11

      I noticed this week that the quilting show on Saturday morning (the name?) is using the new TOL Bernina which is priced at $14000.  It doesn't seem sensible to be showing this machine to that audience as unless you sew for a living I don't believe there are too many people willing or able to buy this machine.  I sew with Bernina but not in this price range!  I don't understand their marketing ideas.

      1. decoratrice | | #12

        14,000 for a machine?  What are they smoking?  My Viking 940 was just out when Bernina was introducing computerized.  I opted for it and have never been sorry.  It has no cams; adjustments are handled by electric servomotors (whatever they are). That puts it somewhere between mechanical and computerized. It is almost infinitely adjustable in every dimension, has all the decorative stitches I want, and the tension and presser foot adjustments are wonderful for free-motion stitching and other fancy moves.  It even handles belting leather.  I'm with the sewing machine collector--look for a tried and true older model.  I have a 1919 Singer that I'm restoring--it basically just needs a thorough degumming from decades of oil.  Good luck in your quest!

        Edited 9/1/2009 10:25 am ET by decoratrice

        1. Cityoflostsouls | | #13

          I have an 830 and a 165 both Berninas.  I'm definitely not looking for a new one-I just thought people would be interested in knowing Bernina had come out with this!  I guess they sent me the cd because I must have listed myself somewhere as a Bernina owner.  Lets see if its a success or breaks the company.  I wonder if the other manufacturers try to keep up.  It's so big it would not fit into a lot of sewing rooms and what would the cabinet cost?  The cd is fun to play with.

  2. diday | | #2

    Keep your jewel maintained and ready for use. If you invest in one of the newer computerized models there will be a learning curve and you may not be able to do something as quickly as with the old one until you gain the experience.When a part broke in my old Kenmore zigzag, Sears said parts were no longer available and they just junked the machines they couldn't service. Took it to a Singer dealer who advertised sewing machine repair; they said they could fix it, lost the broken part, then couldn't fix it. I decided I would not buy a new machine from that business!Invested in a Pfaff machine and all the feet available and love it but found what I described in the first paragraph. I have the owners handbook and smaller book that came with the machine but the indexing leaves a lot to be desired. Very time consuming to learn all the new stuff. Need lots of time to play!

  3. regatta | | #5

    My Bernina Artista 180 is over 10 years old - I have had no problems at all with it. It is my 5th machine (in 50 years) and the best by miles (or should that be kilometers).  I have an embroidery module for it as well.  And there are a myriad of feet available for the new machines

    Every time I sew everything works perfectly and it is a joy to sew with - please don't write off the computerized machines without having a good look at them.  (and keep your old one as well if you can -they come in handy if you ever teach any of the next generation)

    Kind Regards  -  Marika.

    Edited 8/28/2009 6:08 am ET by regatta

  4. gailete | | #14

    I have several old non-working mechanical machines that someday when hubby is bored he may try to fix. I have a computerized Janome 6500 and a Janome 300 (machine embroidery only) and had picked up an old mechanical Kenmore at a yard sale. The Kenmore does okay for the straight stitching, but I like decorative stitches. Tried twice to get a Pfaff on ebay and ended up with a fiasco both times, then ended up getting a Janome 9000 for $400 (including a scan n sewPC set up and 4-5 memory cards). I had had one before that I sold to get what was my current configuration of separate sewing embroidery machines. But I discovered I had lost many of my favorite decorative stitches. I knew the 9000 had the stitches I liked. I knew how it worked when new and my new but used 9000 is every bit as good as the 9000 I had originally was. It has plenty of decorative stitches, and has the embroidery function if wanted. With some people here having up to 20 machines I realize there shouldn't be the need to mention why I wanted more than one machine but I will. Having the 9000 downstairs is great for piecing quilts in between stirring things on the stove or other spare bits of time. I have almost an entire children's quilt pieced in odd moments and after being chronically ill for years, I have learned to use and not waste spare minutes, otherwise I wouldn't get anything done. The other machines are upstairs in the sewing room.

    I love computerized machines and as I showed the price I paid for a fairly modern machine with extras thrown in is a great price for what all I can do with the machine if needed. I don't want to have to worry about setting tensions, etc. The Kenmore I have that is mechanical is going to the first good home I can find, since when I have tried to use it (even after a trip to the repair shop), if I try to sew anything but the straight stitch, it will jump into a different stitch whenever it feels like or something jiggles loose. I can't trust it. Nor do I have any presser feet for it than the one it came with. As I learn more and more to use different presser feet and utility stitches, my sewing has vastly improved and has grown easier.

    1. cycler1729 | | #15

      Thanks - I've been feeling unable to justify a new machine when my old one is still working - although I think that it (she?) knows that I've been looking - it sewed better today than it has in months - but then I see how many some of you own and I think that 2 isn't excessive!I finally decided to look outside of Brother and I saw the Janome 2139 which has everything I'd want in a machine - not sure if it's computerized, though. The only ones available are refurbished through licensed Janome sellers or one new one at twice the cost.What do you think about a refurbished machine which has a long warranty from a reputable seller?

      1. gailete | | #16

        I've never had a refurbished machine, so I don't really know, but I do know that over the 20 years I have been using Janome machines its been without a problem. Not sure it is as well known of a machine, but I've had a great dealer and the machines themselves (several different styles) were great. I did find while trying to get this other machine and drooling over all the top of the line machines that you won't get everything you want in just one machine. When you start comparing them all, you start thinking that "I wouldn't mind that, or that would be great to have". It finally comes down to knowing yourself and your sewing style. When I bought my 6500 I thought it had everything that I needed until I went to use the free arm and found out it didn't have one--I had one on my previous machine so wasn't thinking about it when I bought it. I also thought it had basically the same decorative stitches that my other machine had until I went to use them and they weren't there. So I suggest, making a list of everything that you consistently use on your machine PLUS the new stuff you want or need and make sure the machine you buy has both. If you will only have one machine and use the free arm all the time, to suddenly find yourself without one will cramp your style.

        1. cycler1729 | | #17

          You're right - I didn't think of that - I was just thinking of what I need now but there are all of the little things that I've always had that I'd think are included.

          The Janome site has a great selection process - they ask what you want (what level sewer you are, how much you want to spend and so on) and then show machines that fit those requirements.  Then you're able to compare specifications.

          Even their lower cost machines offer most of what I'd want. 

          1. Betakin | | #18

            If you like Janome machines ...Janome now heads Elna and you may find that some Elna and Janome models are very similar. Janome also makes the Sears Kenmore machines that usually cost less than a machine with the Janome name on the head. In fact several Kenmore refurbs are now being sold on line with the Janome name on them at very good prices. The feet for the Kenmores are the regular Janome feet that Sears sells on line too at very good prices. Sears now sells Brother and Toyota machines also besides the Janome made Kenmores.

            I haven't shopped in Sears for ages but one of my machines is a computerized Janome made Kenmore and it is a very nice machine that has served me well for years now. I have owned several Janome products including a mechanical Janome Jem Silver that one of my daughters now has for her family and a New Home (Janome) serger that another daughter now has. I own several brands of machines and appreciate the differences in them regarding stitches and features and I'm not loyal to any brand but I do think Janome machines are nice machines no matter if mechanical or computerized.


          2. gailete | | #19

            I know I stuck with Janome because that was the only machine my dealer (right here in town) carried. A couple of years ago she started carrying Berninas. But then you have to see what is compatible and something as simple as having to use two different kinds of bobbins, much less presser feet can be frustrating. I decided it was cheaper to stay with one brand as things can be used interchangeably between the machines. Good thought on the Sears angle. I knew that, but rarely even go to the mall, but might be worth popping in when I'm in the area, to check on prices of a couple presser feet I'm still looking for.

          3. cycler1729 | | #20

            I was thinking about that - I was pricing the feet that I need to update my old machine and I realized that they will cost almost as much as a new machine!  But then - will I need to buy those feet for my new machine as well?  Then I might be better off buying another Brother to be able to use the feet on both.


          4. Betakin | | #21

            Some of the Janome and Kenmore feet are narrower for the front loading or vertical bobbin machines. The Kenmores with the horizontal bobbins have wider feet to accomodate the wide 7 pc feed dog system and wide 7mm stitch. When ordering from Sears I know they do specify on line if the feet are for vertical or horizontal (top loading) bobbins or not. You would not want to order the wrong foot and have it not be wide enough where you would break a needle.

            Two of my machines share the same bobbins..my Kenmore and my Brother Innov-is Q. They can share some feet but not all being both are top loaders because though some Brother models now have the 7 piece feed dogs as the Janomes and Kenmores my Brother Q has a 6 point feed where my Kenmore has a 7 point feed and a few of the feet just don't sit well on my Brother. My Brother and Kenmore came with many feet really and enough where I don't have to interchange between the models but it is so nice to be able to use the same bobbins. Not all Brother models take the same clear bobbin though. Brother has 2 different but similar clear plastic bobbins for their different models.

            My Pfaff and Viking take different feet and bobbins. I just sort of keep all accessories separate for each machine and they both also have enough feet that are needed so I don't need to switch around. It is also easy to tell which bobbins each uses because the Pfaff's are blue or clear..and a different shape..the Viking's are green, though now Viking has the different jewel colored bobbins..and Pfaff may now have them also. I think it might be hard to tell what color thread you have in those colored bobbins though..but they are pretty :)

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