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Living Car Free Do you live car free or car light? Do you prefer to use alternative transportation (bicycles, walking, other human-powered or public transportation) for everyday activities whenever possible? Discuss your lifestyle here.

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Old 12-28-07, 01:28 PM   #1
Heyduke
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Sewing Machines - What to look for & What to spend???

Hey Pholks,

(Tried searching the LCF forum but got nothing.)

Does anyone in the LCF forum sew/repair their own clothing, especially cycling clothing, with an actual sewing machine? I'm looking at buying one since I've been relying heavily on a woman I work with to do my repairs. I will not sleep with her (smile) and so by the time I buy her 6 or 8 lunches a year, I probably could have bought a used sewing machine and gained the knowledge/experience for a lifetime of DIY clothing repair needs. My questions after all that:

1) What features do I look for?
2) I would much rather buy used and am comfortable doing so but what RED FLAGS would I look for if buying used?
3) Price depends on brand, newness, and features I understand but for no-frills sewing/repairs, what can I expect to spend? I'm seeing anywhere from $80 - $100 on CL, but I don't know what I'm looking for. I'd rather hold out for something less expensive but don't want junk either. I've done really well with CL in terms of bikes, parts and accessories but I'm lost when it comes to sewing machines.

Any direction is much appreciated!
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Old 12-28-07, 02:13 PM   #2
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No fancy features for me, just simplicity, reliability and durability. Janome 405.

Sewing is just another skill and sewing machines are just another tool. Very valuable for a single guy to know the basics.
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Old 12-28-07, 02:27 PM   #3
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I do my cycle clothing and bag/pack repairs by hand, with a needle and thread and glass of beer. What are you doing to your clothes that you need a sewing machine to repair?
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Old 12-28-07, 05:51 PM   #4
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I don't know what price to expect for used machines, but I can't imagine you should pay more than $100 or so for a good used machine.

For basic sewing and repairs, avoid machines with lots of attachments and fancy stitches. All you need is a good straight stitch and zigzag, but a handful of extras like stretch stitch, satin, and a buttonholer are also handy. Avoid smaller "half-size" (or whatever name they market them under) models, these are not only entry-level but they are far less sturdy, reliable, precise, or powerful than full-size machines. They don't have enough power to sew through thick or layers of fabrics, like hems of jeans or messenger bag straps.

Check if there is a sewing class offered at a local store or school, and what kind of machines they use. They are generally very sturdy, basic machines and can be had for reasonable prices, even new retail.

If you're looking at a used machine, check all the contact points for wear. There are a LOT of them, but most are visible by opening the front or side panel. These are the places where metal parts touch other metal. The only regular maintenance a sewing machine needs is oil on the moving parts, basic cleaning, and keeping it properly adjusted (tensions, etc.) and it will run forever. There will be visible wear on the moving parts if the machine has been neglected, it will make clicking or whirring noise, though noise might just mean it needs to be lubed.

ETA: for what its worth, my machine is a Brother Pacesetter. It was a gift from my parents several years ago, and it's a champ. I use it quite a bit for making clothes, alterations, and repairs. It's not strong enough to do really heavy duty sewing, but it had no problem sewing straps on my mess bag. It's really precise, too, which is important for thin or stretchy fabrics.
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Old 12-28-07, 06:10 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by Heyduke View Post
Hey Pholks,

(Tried searching the LCF forum but got nothing.)

Does anyone in the LCF forum sew/repair their own clothing, especially cycling clothing, with an actual sewing machine? I'm looking at buying one since I've been relying heavily on a woman I work with to do my repairs. I will not sleep with her (smile) and so by the time I buy her 6 or 8 lunches a year, I probably could have bought a used sewing machine and gained the knowledge/experience for a lifetime of DIY clothing repair needs. My questions after all that:

1) What features do I look for?
2) I would much rather buy used and am comfortable doing so but what RED FLAGS would I look for if buying used?
3) Price depends on brand, newness, and features I understand but for no-frills sewing/repairs, what can I expect to spend? I'm seeing anywhere from $80 - $100 on CL, but I don't know what I'm looking for. I'd rather hold out for something less expensive but don't want junk either. I've done really well with CL in terms of bikes, parts and accessories but I'm lost when it comes to sewing machines.

Any direction is much appreciated!
Hello Heyduke,

Perhaps I can help you in your quest in finding the right sewing machine for you. I have sewn both personally for myself and others and even in the fashion industry here in Southern California at one time. I have made clothing specifically for cycling/active use (just finished a top for cool weather today, in fact) and bags for the folding bikes (a must have for any folding bike user). I have a example of things I am offering now for the general cycling and noncycling public at my Flickr site at:

http://www.flickr.com/photos/world-of-folding-bicycles/sets/72157601331380862/

And the sewing machines I use now for these projects are the very simple household domestic ones from White (see the Creative Projects set for a peek at the machine in action). I recommend to buy a new one, rather than a loaded down used one, with only the features of straight, zig-zag, buttonhole, and reverse stitches built in the machine from a major company (Singer, White, Sears Kenmore are some examples). You get a limited warranty and some chance of lasting for years longer. Buy from a dealer that garentees to take it back if it does not work, sewing lessons or demostrations are a plus. Focus on quality rather than price only. And last but not least, do plan to take some lessons on sewing. Even the basics covered are enough to make you that much more independent (and not dependant on someone else's whims).

Let me know what you decide to do.

Last edited by folder fanatic; 12-28-07 at 06:22 PM.
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Old 12-28-07, 07:40 PM   #6
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My sewing machine is a Necchi and it's served me well. I've used it for clothing repairs and alterations. For those rare times when I need a pannier repair or work done on heavy fabric, I prefer to get in touch with a friend who used to run a shoe repair business. He has the specialized equipment for these kinds of jobs and he's good at what he does.

Whether you buy new or used, start by going to a sewing machine shop and asking a lot of questions. This will give you an idea of what's available and what prices you can expect to pay. If the sales person tells you about a special feature, ask what it means and why you'll need it.

You could also get in touch with the home economics teacher at your local high school. He or she will know about good basic equipment and may even be able to help you find a deal.

Stay away from the machines with a lot of fancy features. You'll pay a lot more for things you'll seldom if ever need.
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Old 12-28-07, 07:50 PM   #7
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I sewed my own panniers and clothing with a Swiss made Bernina Record 930. I would recommend going for a second hand machine, from the period before they were all made in Asia. Particularly if you are going to be abusing it by sewing heavy canvas or nylon.

What ever you end up with, think carefully about the thread you are going to use. I spent much time trying to get the tension right. Some machines don't take kindly to thicker thread. I used "Gutterman upholstery extra" which was a bit stronger than topstich thread, but also slightly thinner, therefore easier to sew.

Here are a few pictures: http://picasaweb.google.com/ollybike/BikeBuilding
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Old 12-28-07, 09:15 PM   #8
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I didn't expect to see sewing machine info in BF, but all the comments here got me thinking about what I might do with a decent simple sewing machine. Thanks to the OP for starting up this thread and thanks to those who offered a lot of useful advice - Happy New Year too!
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Old 12-28-07, 09:32 PM   #9
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I have no personal experience with this, but I myself, if purchasing a used machine of any kind and complexity from anyone, would make sure that the seller had not lost the INSTRUCTION MANUAL.
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Old 12-28-07, 09:40 PM   #10
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We have had several over the years, the two that have hung around the longest are an ancient Singer slant needle 404? and a Husqvarna/Viking. We also had a Bernina(sp) that did pretty well. These machines were all used to sew for a family of 6 plus were used at the local community theater for costuming. I would look for a no frills name brand machine built anywhere but China/Taiwan. Maybe find a local repair shop and see what they have for sale and what they recommend as being dependable.

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Old 12-28-07, 10:19 PM   #11
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I have no personal experience with this, but I myself, if purchasing a used machine of any kind and complexity from anyone, would make sure that the seller had not lost the INSTRUCTION MANUAL.
Instruction manuals can often be found in pdf form on the web.

There's one interesting thing that sewing machines and bicycles have in common. People think of them as durable products that can be repaired and should last forever.
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Old 12-28-07, 10:28 PM   #12
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I have no personal experience with this, but I myself, if purchasing a used machine of any kind and complexity from anyone, would make sure that the seller had not lost the INSTRUCTION MANUAL.
That's very, very good advice! As mentioned, sometimes it's better to buy a new machine...just for the manual and knowing all the bits and pieces are included!

It's a good idea to buy a well known brand in case you need to buy accessories/parts later. Yea, the higher ticket brands are great, but if you're just starting out, <$100 will get you a decent machine, as long as you're not sewing super tough or thick fabrics.

http://www.amazon.com/Brother-machin...8901588&sr=8-1
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Old 12-28-07, 11:14 PM   #13
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I didn't expect to see sewing machine info in BF, but all the comments here got me thinking about what I might do with a decent simple sewing machine.
There's actually a lot about sewing and sewing machines on the SSFG forum. You'll be pleasantly surprised if you run a search there.
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Old 12-29-07, 09:52 AM   #14
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I've had an Elna for more years than I care to remember. Built in Switzerland around 1973 or so, it will undoubtedly outlast me.

The fewer fancy stitches, the better.

And there is an amazing amount of sewing going on in the SS/FG forum.

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Old 12-29-07, 02:25 PM   #15
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If you're just doing normal clothing-type stitches, nothing too heavy duty then you'll get by fine with something like a newer Viking or a Bernina. There are a million cheap Singers from the 70's through the 90's on craigslist all the time (I actually got my Singer for free from there), and I would definitely stay away. We have these little Berninas at school which are just a pleasure to use, they set up very quickly and run very smoothly. I think they only cost a couple hundred new.

If you're looking to make more heavy duty items like cycling bags or whatnot then I would invest in a walking foot industrial machine. Juki is a very common and good brand. These machines might scare you away if you're not familiar with sewing in general but having the extra power and precision will be a better investment in the long run. Right now I'm trying to scrape together a walking foot setup, I'm still learning so if you have more specific questions I would ask some of the other people in SSFG.
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Old 12-31-07, 11:09 AM   #16
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I sewed professionally during the 90's (ran a 15th-17th century reenactment supplier name Syke's Sutlery), and 3000 shirts later I can happily scream out one name: Viking by Husquevarna. I still have three of those machines, an old three dial mechanical from the 60's (model is something like 6080), a 950 electronic from the early 90's, and an electronic 1060 from the mid's 90's - bought new.

If you can find one of those three-dial mechanical machines, get it. They're simple to operate, and more importantly have a build quality and strength just under a commercial sweatshop machine. The machine has a gear-down ability (yes, a two speed transmission) that will sew leather very nicely. My initial introduction into motorcycle clubs was due to may ability to sew patches and colors - made me a lot of friends real fast. And I can repair my bags - will start making my own in the near future. Unfortunately a Brooks saddle is way too thick for the machine.

I'm seriously considering selling off at least one, possibly both, of the electronics, but that mechanical machine stays with me for life. Besides clothing and biker stuff, it also built my medieval pavilion for my years in the SCA.
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Old 12-31-07, 11:45 PM   #17
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http://www.kk.org/cooltools/archives/000753.php
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Old 01-01-08, 07:38 PM   #18
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No fancy features for me, just simplicity, reliability and durability. Janome 405.

Sewing is just another skill and sewing machines are just another tool. Very valuable for a single guy to know the basics.
+1

Two basic stitches are all you really need - straight and simple zig-zag (a necessity for stretchy material). -a button-hole stitch is very useful too, btw.

More expensive and newer machines have dozens more different stiches, but in 30 years of sewing, I have used almost none of them. Some of the newer machines also have automatic threading which is a nice feature, but you can get along without it. I have sewn three-piece dress suits, shirts, pants, bicycle clothing, moccasins, leatherwork of all kinds, repairs of all kinds - all using very simple stitches.

You can get some very nice sewing machines at thrift stores now for about $10 to $20. If you are lucky, you can get one with a sewing table too. You can hardly go wrong with that. In fact, my opinion is that the older machines are more heavy duty and are better at sewing a larger range of materials. Look for machines with more steel and less plastic. For example, the old sewing machines from the 1950's and 1960's will punch right through a piece of leather or a thick stack of canvas, but some of the later machines groan and choke when put to that kind of task.

You mentioned that you buy off of Craigslist. If so, just ask the owner what condition the machine is in - ask if there is anything wrong. Describe what kind of sewing you plan to do and ask if they think the machine will be appropriate. Most folks are honest and helpful and will give you a straight answer.

Last edited by mike; 01-01-08 at 08:56 PM.
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