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Researching new machine purchase

xSoCalGal | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on


I am new to this site. I am the owner of a 25-y o Singer that I am ready to pitch out a window!!  I have owned it since it was new, and have been sewing longer than that. I am finally going to break down and replace it, and so far have looked at Berninas, and plan on checking out the Viking and Janome dealerships tomorrow. I really like the Bernina Activa 200 series. Do any of you know the equivalent models in the Viking and Janome line, and which brand do you prefer, and why? I sew mainly kids’ clothing and home decor items (window treatments, bedding etc). I am not interested in quilting or embroidery, but like the range of decorative stitches for embellishment I’ve seen on the Bernina. TIA for any info you can give me!  🙂


  1. ajnachakra | | #1

    Hi, I too am an X SoCal Gal. I live on the central coast of California now. You?

    I am also researching new machines. I currently own a Bernina Activa 130.  The Bernina is a wonderful machine. I love it, but it's a no-frills model and I am wanting some bells and whistles like thread cutters, decorative stitches, etc. Please report back what you learn in your research and I will do the same. There are not a lot of sewing centers around my area to go test drive machines.


    1. robbi | | #2



      Can anyone offer advice on a sewing machine which will sew on light weight slippery silk without puckering.  I wish to make a professional silk blouse, slip, nightgown, dress.  I have tried the Kenmore, and Janome but the blind hem stitch, zigzag, overcast stitches all pucker.  I have tried various stitch widths/lengths, feeders to no avail.  Any analysis you know of would also be helpful.  Thanks.  Robbi

      1. orchid_2010 | | #3

        I just bought a Brother NX400 a month ago and it is amazing -- it sews everything beautifully, from lightweight fabrics to heavy nylon webbing (fixed my son's backpack strap, and it plowed right through four layers of strap with perfect stitches!) I also sew delicate fabrics for doll clothes and it does a lovely job on these, too.  Has LOTS of bells and whistles for a good price. Hope this helps.

        1. robbi | | #6


          Thanks for the info on the Brother.  If you are willing, will you share the purchase price with me?  Also, I am in CT and do not find a sewing machine dealer in the neighborhood selling Brother.  How do you think I can find a dealer who will let me try out this machine.  I always want to try before I make a purchase.  Robbi

          1. orchid_2010 | | #9

            Although it retails for about $1000, I got mine from a local dealer.  He had them on sale for $699, but another dealer in a nearby county had the same item for less, so I negotiated and he dropped it to $599.  It is a steal for the features it has -- a knee lift, gobs of feet, 294 stitches, etc.  I have sewn for 30 years and do a lot of detailed work -- elaborate doll clothes, girl's apparel, etc.  Plus sewing on boy scout patches, fixing backpacks and replacing zippers on jeans -- it does everything really well.  I love it.

            I tried Pfaff, Bernina and Viking, too, and although they all make lovely machines, I just couldn't afford the features I wanted -- it was several thousand dollars for any of those machines with the features I was looking for.

            The Brother NX200 (400, and 600 -- same machines, more features) also ranked very high in Consumer Reports -- and was named as a best buy.  I have to agree. =)

      2. HeartFire | | #5

        Robbi, There was another post about this same topic - sewing silk, that I replied to, I don't know if you saw it, but sewing very fine sheer fabrics has more to do with the needle, thread, stitch length, & throat plate then the actual sewing machine. in a nut shell, for sewing fine , sheer fabrics, you need a very fine needle (sz 60 or 65)that is new, and a sharp point - not ball point), fine thin thread - metler makes a 60weight cotton thread, or Tire silk thread is good- NOT DMC - a shorter stitch length than usual and a straight stitch throat plate. The combination of these factors should give you a very nice seam no matter waht sewing machine you have. Think about sewing this sheer fabric with heavy thread like jeans thread, a big fat needle and a long basting stitch, you can see why making things shorter and finer will improve the sheer fabric

        1. robbi | | #7

          Hi Judy,

          I live in CT near New Haven.  There are a few sewing machine stores in my neighborhood which I will contact tomorrow to see if they have a variety of sewing machines to try; if they sell used sewing machines; if they give lessons.  Is this the best way to find a sewing machine which will sew on lightweight, silky fabric? 

          You recommend the fine needle, fine thread and 'straight stitch throat plate as the most important elements.  Just what is the throat plate?  How is a straight  throat plate from other 'throat plates'?  Do the sewing machines for try-out have different needles/throat plates/thread to use to verify their machines sewing ability?  What questions should I be asking of a sewing machine retailer?  Thanks for the info.  Robbi

          1. HeartFire | | #10

            When you go to test drive a new machine, bring your own fabric samples with you. Machine dealers have a tendancy to demo the machine on what is aptly called "demo cloth" its a very stiff canvas. So bring some silk swatches with you, the dealer should be able to provide a sz 60 needle and the finer thread.
            The throat plate for a machine that does a zigzag stitch has a wide opeing to accomodate all the positions of the needle, so it has a larger hole where the needle enters it, a straight stitch throat plate has only a tiny hole - less fabric can get pushed down in it when the needle goes in. - clear as mud??? if not let me know and I'll try to explain better

  2. juliamae | | #4

    I own a Bernina 1630, which I think is no longer made, but I have seen them for sale on eBay. I have loved it from the start, with one exception--any sewing maching needs a built-in even-feed feature. I do have a Bernina walking foot which works well for that, but it is a devil to attach. As you said, the variety of utility, stretch and decorative stitches is enviable, and I love using them, even for heirloom stitching. It is programmable for specially designed stitches, a plus and fun!

    I own a small sewing business and have sewn hundreds of miles of thread on my Bernina. I do not ever regret buying it, even though it was very spendy at the time. I love it! After five years of use, it has paid for itself many times over. It is not a heavy-duty machine, but it does have a low-gear setting which lets the machine sew more slowly with less risk of breaking thread or needle.

    Edited 3/2/2005 3:35 am ET by juliamae

    Edited 3/2/2005 3:36 am ET by juliamae

    1. amyL | | #13

      I was wondering what kind of small sewing business you have?

      1. juliamae | | #14

        I've been a sew-er all my life. So when I retired ten years ago, I decided to make little girls' dresses, mostly because I have four, then small, granddaughters. But, as the dresses accumulated, I decided I had to do something with them. None of my granddaughters' mothers liked the idea of dressing their girls in frills and lace. They preferred the lean clean lines of contemporary kids' clothing, which I couldn't stand. Our town, like so many others, holds a weekly Saturday Market in our main park, with space available for vendors. So in summer of 1996 I got my goods together, along with change and records book and headed for the park. I sold a surprisingly large number of my dresses and rompers for little girls. Since then I have done one or another Saturday Market each week, or month, every summer. It is surprising that people in a redneck town such as Bend, and Sisters close by, would buy something like my dresses.
        Along the way, I have also tried renting spaces in boutiques in Oregon, Washington and California. The markets paid better, though. I also printed one of my patterns and have been selling them for about five years mainly in quilt shops over the country. And at times I added casual but cute ladies' dresses and accessories, such as hats and purses. Most of my items smack of patchwork, and since I am a quilter, also, I always have scrap fabrics around. I just work out of my basement, where my computer and my Bernina 1630 are, as well as my peace and quiet. When I leave the workspace, I just go upstairs and close the door.
        This is getting too wordy for the question you asked, but, in short, I just sew in my own space, using fabrics I like and patterns I like, mostly ones I make up and draw out on gridded pellon or Christmas wrap. I should publish more of them, since people keep asking me if I have other patterns. My business is small, so there are no large fees, little overhead, and low taxes. Oregon requires only a certificate from the state in order to do business, no real business license.
        So, Amy, there you have it. I am really flattered that you should ask me about my business, and as you can tell, I love talking about it.

        1. amyL | | #15

          Thank You for the information. I loved it all!! I live in Portland, OR, not far from you it sounds like. I too love sewing childrens clothing, that is how I taught myself to sew about 17years ago. (My girls are 15 and 18 now) Just two days ago I loaded up on more little girls dress patterns, very feminine, from a local thrift shop (49 cents each) that had not even been used. I can't wait to start sewing them even though I don't know what I will do with them. I do plan to donate a christening gown I am making at the moment to my kids former Catholic grade school auction. It seems strange that I have this need to do this but I figure there is a reason that I do not know about yet and they will go somewhere where they will be appreciated. What is your pattern line called? What do you charge for your dresses? Keep in touch. Thanks again for your response, it can never be too wordy for me. Thanks, Amy

          1. juliamae | | #16

            Hi, AmyL,
            How great to find a kindred spirit so close to home! It seems as if you and I got started in this love of little dresses just about the same way. Sewing frilly dresses for little girls is something I had always dreamed of doing and just started on sort of a whim, although I had sewed for my two daughters as they grew up.
            My charge depends on the complexity of the dress and the amount of work and expense I put into it. So they range from about $20 to $50, more for special orders. You'd be surprised that people will pay that much for hand-made things, but I always think, Well, you can't get it at Wal-Mart. And there are those who say out loud that the price is too high.
            I have found that the thrift shops and antique shops can be great sources for patterns, especially the vintage kind I like. I once found a 1919 Butterick girls' dress pattern at St. Vince de Paul for 50¢.
            Now I have a stash of vintage patterns of all types, with one from 1898. I have found some on eBay, also, but they are usually too spendy by the time the auction ends. I got started with that when an aunt of mine died in her 90s and left me her patterns, after sewing all her life, mostly for herself, since she had no children. They were mostly Vogue, Advance, etc., from the 30s and 40s era, just my size, too. I love them!
            I'm sorry about the demise of Daisy Kingdom, where I used to buy a big load of fabrics from their sale room at least twice a year, when my husband went over for his Medical School (OHSU) meetings and reunions. Also have a daughter and son-in-law there. But with Daisy gone, we don't go so often now.
            Well, as I told you before, I do love to talk. It is really good to hear from you, Amy.

            Edited 4/1/2005 1:48 pm ET by juliamae

          2. amyL | | #17

            I was just at my local fabric store today, Mill Ends, you would love it. The Annex in the store has all kinds of fabrics that would make great little girls dresses. The prices range from $2.99/yard to $4.99.
            There were some great cotton kits for t-shirts or nighties too. I went for one thing, batiste, and came out with all kinds of things. I also found some beautiful silk dioupini in the gourmet remnants section. I was sad about Daisy Kingdom too, but you would be surprised at what Mill Ends offers and they too have sales, rarely, but i believe it's 35% off.
            The ladies there are so helpful and knowledgable. Amy

          3. juliamae | | #18

            Hi, Amy,Whenever we go to Portland, we have a usual route to and thru the fabric stores, going in--first to Fabric Depot from Bend, then to the motel or my daughter's house, then to Daisy K, but that is no longer in business. Next day we leave, passing by Mill End going home. I'm glad you told me about the remnants section and the annex. I have the view of a room in mind, which is probably the remnants room, sort of on the west side of the store, with tables of flatfolds everywhere, reasonably priced. I have gotten a lot of fabric in that store. Sometimes I indulge myself and buy a piece of new, regular priced fabric from the main room. I even found a lovely piece of bridal lace trim at that store when I made my son's wife-to-be a wedding dress in 1996. Reasonably priced. It looked really lovely on her dress, and I was so proud of that dress. I gave it to them as a wedding gift, since it was quite pricey to make, not counting about three months' labor, no charge for that.
            So, Amy, thanks for reminding me of a store I didn't hit the last time I was in Portland. It's worth a special trip just to go there. I used to go there with my daughter, but she is in the throes of anguish over the death of her one-day-old newborn son last October, and we have not been back to see them since. She seems to want to be alone for awhile. Maybe she will get over that feeling someday.
            If you ever go to the Medford/Ashland area, you must go to the fabric shop in or near Phenix, OR, on the outskirts of Medford, just off the freeway. I could give you more specific directions, street names, etc. if you like. We go to the Shakespeare Festival in Ashland every summer for vacation and a reunion with my husband's family, and I always go to that store. It is in a sort of quonset hut building and has the loveliest flat folds of bolt ends of expensive fabric at $3.99 or so a yard, plus a small room full of decor fabric standing up on rolls. If it sounds like I spend too much on fabric, that's right, I do. But if I don't buy that piece I like, someone else might take it!

  3. MegVT | | #8

    If you seek a machine with a built-in even feed feature, then your only option is to purchase a Pfaff.  It's the only machine with the patented Integrated Dual Feed feature, and it's been part of their design for more than 20 years. 

    I've owned a Pfaff 1222E for 23 years, a model (I'm told) coveted by seamstresses.  You can get them on ebay sometimes.  I've sewn fine silks and thick denim seams. 

    Happy shopping!


  4. allenjj | | #11

    I am also a new user and found this site because I was researching machines for a possible new purchase. I have a kenmore that has been a good machine for 25 years when most of my sewing was repairs and some clothes. In the past several years I purchased an old victorian house with 12 foot ceilings so have decided as part of the restorations to look at making drapes and other home decorations. My kenmore has been in the shop twice in 3 months for repairs to the feed dogs and motor which seems to bind on the heavy materials for home decor. I'm not sure if Im going to get it fixed this time or purchase a new machine. Many of the models I have looked at don't mention home decor or heavier fabrics so I'm not sure if they just don't mention them or are not really made to handle them. From other posts on here, I began looking at the Elan Decorator's Touch. Since I have 35 windows to make drapes for, I really want a machine that will work well. I welcome advice and comments.

    1. moushka | | #12

      DH bought me a Janome Memory Craft 6500P for Christmas. It's a wonderful machine, primarily aimed at quilters, but with most of the bells and whistles a garment/home dec sewer could want. It's very fast, very intuitive and easy to use, has lots of stitches, and comes with over a dozen feet (including a walking foot and sensor buttonhole foot). I love it. If you are planning to sew curtains, it has a huge harp (the space to the right of the needle) to make it easier to handle large amounts of fabric. There is a very active 6500P group on yahoo that will give you lots of information on this machine http://www.groups.yahoo.com and http://www.patternreview.com has over twenty glowing reviews. Do check it out. I never would have chosen a machine aimed at quilters, but after reading about it on Pattern Review, and an extended test drive, I'm very happy with my choice. HTH.

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