Welcome Lessons in Buying a Home Sewing Machine

In the last post, I expressed a bit of buyer’s remorse about investing a very large sum in a Pfaff sewing machine, a.k.a. The Rocket Launcher!  Now, about ten years after purchase, it’s still a great machine, but in many ways it is a lot fancier than I ever needed.  Here is my cautionary tale of how I came to dupe myself into over-spending…

Navigating a Path to Continue Sewing

I learned to sew on a machine my mother bought from Montgomery Ward around 1982:  brand new with an entirely metal body, basic stitches and knobs to alter them, it was nothing fancy.  It had no protective cover, but it was more complex than anything my mom had previously used. My mother taught me how to sew on this machine, and over the next few years, I used it to sew clothes for myself.  I was in elementary school at the time; let’s just say, I loved sewing!

By the time I reached middle school, sewing had become my main hobby.  As I delved into new sewing challenges, it became clear that I needed a machine with greater capabilities.  My mom agreed, so we headed to Sears for my first experience with a large retail purchase.  Sears, in the mid to late 1980’s, had a great selection of machines!  My mom invested around $300 in a medium-duty Kenmore to assist me in my sewing efforts.  Like my mom’s machine, this one lacked a protective cover.  Unlike my mom’s, the outer body of this sewing machine was plastic, but it was streamlined.  It had about twice as many stitch options, and maybe it was due to my acquired skill, but I found it so much easier to use.   It was a great machine!  Throughout the next few years, I made clothing in increasing complexity beginning with simple See and Sew patterns and progressing into more complicated Vogue Designer patterns.

The Humbling Straight Stitch

The Kenmore served me well for years to come.  I used it throughout high school and college, and for a year or so after getting married.  (For more on the types of sewing I was doing back then, see my About Page).  The peak of my collaboration with the Kenmore was after grad school when I re-attempted sewing knit fabric (after earlier so-so results).  I was really afraid of the seams warping and also afraid of having to take out all of the stitches that could possibly embed themselves in the knit.  Eventually, I mustered enough courage to sew a long, form-fitting Donna Karan number out of a heavy-weight knit fabric that I found on the clearance table at Hancock’s. Worried though I was, the dress turned out fantastic!  I was so proud: no warping, no redo’s!  It was truly a humbling exercise to sew knit again, and to be surprised at the result.

After all those years of exploring stitches and construction possibilities, what stitch did I use for my Donna Karan masterpiece?  A straight stitch for the seams, and a straight stitch as topstitching!  No serging, overcasting or zig-zag was needed for the raw edges because it was a knit fabric.  Even with several years of sewing experience, the straight stitch continued to surprise me.  Reflecting upon it now, with nearly 30 years of sewing experiences behind me, I can definitely say that having a medium duty machine that could pump out a great straight stitch was of enormous value.

Test Driving Machines of a Different Kind

While I was away for college, my parents bought a Janome machine with stitch styles galore and great embroidery features.  I was so excited to try it out and flabbergasted that they had spent over $1,000 for it!  A heavier duty machine than my Kenmore, the Janome could sew very quietly and smoothly.  I was especially fond of the nifty hemming foot that did not crush the fabric as it hemmed (it is a real pain to press out the crease from when fabric gets squashed under the hemming foot).  I also loved that it could just pick a thread of the fabric, making the hem stitch practically invisible.

I borrowed the Janome machine to make my wedding gown – the Kenmore just wasn’t fit for the gorgeous duchess silk fabric, which I liken to molten pearls.  I admired the versatility of my mom’s machine; that Janome handled cotton twill (in my previous projects) just as well as the silk fabric for my gown: smooth seams, and with even feeding of fabric.

Not long after, sometime in 2001, I was commissioned by a friend to make a gown for her wedding.  She likewise chose duchess silk, and I decided it was time to invest in a machine as good as the Janome.  We had moved to Chicago for my husband to finish grad school, and I was nowhere near my mom’s machine.

Without much thought, based on a recommendation by my husband’s cousin, I loaded up my newborn and headed to a sewing machine dealer north of Chicago.  As I explained what my goals were to the knowledgeable salesperson, I feel now like I must have talked myself up the ranks of sewing machine capabilities.  Meanwhile, the baby was growing fussy, tired, hungry, and impatient with all the test sewing.

Anxious to make a decision, I fell in love with a heavy duty Pfaff machine that also did incredible embroidery.  It was a floor model, “on sale” for about $5,000 – if I remember correctly (but maybe that was the original price).

I staved off the nice saleswoman with a request to wait on the purchase until I could discuss this potential purchase with my husband.  She offered the sewing machine manuals in exchange for my credit card number and put the Pfaff on hold for me – so darn convenient, and so hard to resist!

When So Many Features Become Way Too Many

With my husband in grad school, and having made the economical decision to stay home with the baby, it’s hard to imagine how I managed to justify a major expenditure.  But then, those were different economic times, and living beneath one’s means wasn’t the popular mantra it is now.  I believed it was worthwhile to invest in the best, and I figured I could pay some of it off with the earnings from designing my friend’s wedding gown.  Now 10 years later, we’re probably still paying it off. I can’t clearly determine how it’s generated $500 worth of value per year since it was purchased.

My husband summed up the incredible capacity of this Pfaff sewing machine, as well as the potentiality of not being fully utilized by me, by nicknaming it “The Rocket Launcher.”  It is very powerful, reliable, and convenient, though I have found that I didn’t need to invest such a large amount of money to get what I needed out of a sewing machine.  Had I not been in a haze of exhaustion and hormones, and if I had taken more time to gain clarity about what I required in a machine, I know I would have made a very different decision.

There is humor in my experience in buying this sewing machine.  Take it to heart and save yourself money, time and stress.  Better me than you;  this kind of decision, made hastily, can be a huge weight to bear.

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