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Shopping for a sewing machine

MaShuqa | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

Request advice on sewing machine purchase.  Sew belly dance costuming, dancewear, and evening wear.  Need a machine that can sew: beaded trim, sequin trim, silk chiffon to lycra stretch, to heavy fabrics with buckram.  Would like a machine that has the following features: self-threading, drop in bobbin, stop/go button – in addition to the foot pedal, presser foot that creates a handkerchief hem for chiffon and silks, has overlock serger-like stitch.  What machines and models do you recommend.  I have looked at Baby Lock – but this company only made sergers 25 years ago when I purchased my simple off-brand mechanical sewing machine.  Sewing machine prior to this last one was a very small portable Singer machine.

Please send recommendations for shopping.  Thank you. Ma*Shuqa




  1. stillsuesew | | #1

    Are you looking for a serger or a regular sewing machine? With the right feet you should be able to do much of what you want on either. If I was making form fitting lycra outfits I would be doing it on a serger.

    Edited 9/18/2009 10:26 pm ET by stillsuesew

  2. MaryinColorado | | #2

    For the handkerchief hems, a serger with a 2 thread rolled hem will do the finest one.

    I prefer sewing knits on a serger too.  One with coverstitch capability creates beautiful finished seams and professional looking hems.  Or you can use the overlock function just to finish seams.

    I love my Husqvarna/Viking Huskylock 936 serger/coverstitch machine and have owned it for around 12 years.  It is very stable and a workhorse.

    For the other techniques you mentioned, many sewing machines will do these functions well with a presser foot specifically for beading/embellishing/or a trimfoot...they are all nice accessories to have. 

    Good luck in your search.

  3. sewsandy | | #3

    Thought this venture would be more fun. Turning 50 and have wanted a "good" machine for about 30 years. Lately have not done much sewing but would be interested in crafting, quilting and garment sewing. Seems the best advice is to pound the pavement which is easier said than done as I live in a rural setting. did find a sewing machine compaarison chart from Threads that is quite comprehensive but maybe a bit outdated. A start anyway. Good luck with your search.

  4. alotofstitches | | #4

    My old and new Berninas fit the bill.  I sew a big variety of fabrics and both machines handle all of it well.  As for the handkerchief hems I use an edge-stitch foot (#10 new Bernina) for the narrow hems and am VERY PLEASED with the results.  I do prefer that hem over the 2-thread serged hem.  The serged hem works well for veiling but is not good for sheer fabrics like chiffon, georgette, etc.  If you can't afford the new Berninas then look at the older models.  I have the old 830 and the 10 y/o 170E.

  5. kswolff | | #5

    Hi MaShuga,

    As luck would have it, I designed and made costumes for both student and professional belly dancers for many years. Most of my work was a variation on the traditional construction techniques since I was learning as I went and never liked the way traditional bra and belt sets fit, felt, and the closures used. If you attended any of the Belly Dance festivals in North America it's likely you've seen some of my work (well, we are talking 10 to 15 years ago to be honest). Sorry, I digress..... all of the techniques and then some that you are describing are more than a little familiar to me so here goes my 2 cents -

    1. Just about any standard sewing machine will sew beaded trim, sequin trim, braids, and appliques. For the most part they will require changing the pressure foot to one that will allow the trim to flow under it and not get caught. Sequin trim is one of the easiest if you make sure you sew it on with the sequin overlap orientation facing toward you. That way they just slide nicely under the foot. You'll also need a slightly heavier needle to pierce the sequins or to have the fortitude to push the beads out of the way of the needle as you are sewing instead of hitting them and breaking the needle or the beads.

    2. Silk chiffon can be a challenge since the seams will often sort of bunch a little when finished. That you can take care of with a tiny zig zag or a knit stitch to allow some give when the garment (circle skirt or harem pants for example) is on the body and draping. Depending on how persnickety you are about seam finishes on these types of garments, I would sew the seams with a shirt tail (rolled edge) hem foot. Just run both edges of the fabric together through the foot as though you are sewing a standard seam and you get a beautiful finished seam with the raw edges enclosed and it's much easier and faster than a french seam. You need to take your time with this and it takes some practice but the finished product is well worth it. I use this on my own chiffon blouses and dresses as well.

    3. Lycra and any other stretch fabric (for practice belts, choli tops, tie-front tops etc.) the serger is definitely the way to go. Fast, stretchy stitches, and beautifully finished seams. These fabrics are pretty forgiving and with the fabric and stitching both having stretch the fit for each body type is much easier to accomplish.

    4. Heavy fabrics and buckram can also be sewn on a regular sewing machine but once again you'll need a heavy needle or they will be breaking quite often. My needle of choice was a denim needle. I'm assuming this combination of materials or at least the buckram is for structured belts, bras, maybe arm & wrist bands, and head decorations. In order to keep your fabrics from trying to escape as you sew (or pucker and make little pleats) and will have several layers in the construction you would want to baste the underlining to the buckram, then your fashion or outer fabric to that and then sew them together with a regular stitch (still a little longer than a standard stitch since there will be quite a bit of bulk.

    I did this work for about 10 years and learned many tricks and figured out easier ways to accomplish finished professional costumes without compromising the workmanship. The machine I used was a Viking which I purchased about 25 years ago and is still going strong. It was one of the first computerized machines available at the time and I would not change brands for anything. You don't necessarily need a very upscale or expensive machine but no matter which branch you choose, check out the specialty feet available for any machine you're considering. I would absolutely purchase from a dealer with good customer service and perhaps their own on-site repair facility. Buying from someone on Ebay or on Craigslist may get you a good price but in the end you may end up with a machine that will cost you more in repairs. If you can develop a good relationship with the dealer or store, they will usually be very helpful if you have questions or problems. Many of them even offer a free class or two on how to use the machine if you purchase it from them.

    Probably a lot more information than you expected but it's not very often that someone posts a question that I have particular experience in and there are not many of us who have done just what you are asking about.

    Best of luck!

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