Last time we looked at some of my favorite sewing things/tools, they were all geared towards hand sewing and cutting fabric. This time lets look at sewing machines, irons and some thread to hold it all together. If you missed the first part, you can find it here. Tools, things, doodads, whatever you want to call them.
Jump ahead to:
BASIC SEWING TOOLS FOR THE BEGINNING MACHINE SEWER
Not all projects need a machine. If you think about it, machines are a newer invention, especially the electrically powered kind.
Electric Things – My Sewing Machines
The oldie but goodie
This is my oldest machine, not my first, but my oldest. This is a straight stitch, electrified machine. It only does a straight stitch and reverse and nothing else. This is a very reliable machine and the stitching is so consistent I find that when I’m sewing a final line on my other machines I wish I were using this one. It is a little smaller than the others I will show you, so sometimes I feel like I might break it. These are very popular among older sewers who grew up with one of these or saw their mothers/grandmothers using one. My mom gifted me this one, she bought herself another one soon after. Thanks Mom!
This is the machine that gets the most use. It is a Bernina Aurora 440 QE (Quilters Edition) that was a gift from my Mom and husband many years ago. I guess my Mom likes buying me sewing machines, she sure knows how to melt my heart. This particular machine/set-up is no longer in production but there are many different options from Bernina to fit different needs and budgets. This is a fully computerized machine that also comes with an embroidery module, turning it into an embroidery machine. (This is the machine that I
blame credit for getting me into the embroidery business. It is so mesmerizing to watch an embroidery machine work and I had just talked my current boss at the nursery I was working out to buy shirts from me!)
This is a work horse for a serious home sewer, not really created for commercial use. Sewing through several layers of denim without batting an eye, is a major reason I liked this machine. Many times when you come across a thick intersection or seam, a lesser machine can go wonky and just quit on you, making many stitches in one place if you aren’t paying attention.
There are a ton of stitch styles and things you just can’t do with other machines. There is an automatic button-holer attachment, an attachment to do free motion quilting, automatic needle threader and it has three convenient thread cutters. I have this fear of breaking needles and this machine is just so strong that it’s not a frequent happening. I also like the quality and reputation from Bernina. You can find your local Bernina dealer here.
My Teaching Machine
Janome is another sewing machine manufacturer I would highly recommend. This particular machine has simpler functions than the Bernina. It can do a bunch of useful stitches but is not so complicated that you feel the need to get a degree in sewing machines just to work it, making it a good beginner sewing machine. I bought this one second hand from an online ad.
What machine to get?
Do you already have a machine to use? In the market for a new (or new to you) one? Here is my personal recommendation. Whatever your budget, whatever style or brand you want to get, new or used, make sure that it is functioning very well with no issues. I can tell you from personal experience that using a cheap/broken/ill constructed machine will be frustrating to the point of you quitting. Quitting before you can really get started learning the basics! Imagine having a bike that doesn’t work properly, maybe the wheels don’t spin or they spin the wrong way, how likely will you learn how to ride that bike properly. Let alone wanting to use it for a long trip. Your sewing machine needs to be ready to work when you are ready to work and it needs to work for as long as you want it to work.
I highly recommend looking for a used machine when just starting out, look for a higher quality machine and since it’s used, the price tag will be smaller. Look for ads that say that they are upgrading to another machine. Ask what kind of machine they are getting and if it is the same brand, that is a great recommendation for that brand (you’ll find that many sewers are loyal to a brand and chatty, so they’ll tell you what machine they are upgrading to, just ask!).
There are several brands available, many models and many older machines making the options almost unlimited. Don’t dismiss a machine based solely on its age! There are some machines like the Featherweight that just keep on trucking and because older machines are simpler to fix and maintain, they work better and longer. Personally I like the Bernina brand the most overall, above other brands for quality, ease of use, reliability. I only like Singer for their Featherweights. I have had multiple other Singers throughout the years and every single one had issues that no matter how many times I had them fixed, I never could get them to perform well. But that’s my experience, you may love Singer and that is OK! Just find a machine that works for YOU!
Enough about machines – Moving on to Other Tools
So we’ve talked a bit about machines. Let’s talk about another electricity requiring tool that is very important in machine sewing. None other than…
Irons are important for a few reasons:
● They help get more accurate measurements when cutting fabric since there are no wrinkles
● It’s hard to make a hem look professional without one
● Pressing open seams helps reduce bulk when sewing pieces together
● Use an iron to adhere fusible backings and interfacings
● When you need to cut out applique pieces or other shapes, iron freezer paper onto fabric
to help with cutting out shapes
● Scaring me every time I use it, reminding me that I’m just a human
As I seem to have various collections of sewing notions and tools – for example: I have at least 18 pairs of scissors, 4 sewing machines (one is attached inside a desk and needs some TLC so I didn’t wake it up to take its portrait for you), buttons for days, multiple colors of elastic, many zippers and so forth. So it probably would not surprise you that I have more than one iron. I have two, an older Rowenta and a newer Rowenta. Rowentas are heavy irons which makes it easier to work with, less pressing down with arm strength, more relying on gravity to help. They are more expensive than other brands, but they also work extremely well. You get what you pay for, I hate to sound like a broken record but that saying is soooooo true, especially for sewing equipment and tools.
The older Rowenta (not shown because it’s just an iron, they look very similar expect the old one is white) had water in it and I think I may have left it in one time causing some issues like leaking and rusting. I don’t trust this iron as much because it also had a fusible covered, dirty soleplate which I’ve cleaned multiple times but I’m just a nervous wreck thinking about an iron staining fabric. So it has become the iron I only use to adhere backings or fusibles or to make kids crafts so if something gets on the soleplate I don’t mind. It’s like a play iron, it can get messed up and I just don’t care. I still take good care of it, I just don’t have to worry about it like I do the new one.
The newer Rowenta shown above is my ‘no water’ iron. I do not put water in it, ever. If I need to steam something/use moisture I will just spray it with a spray bottle filled with water. I don’t know why I’m so
anal concerned about this iron, I guess I just don’t want to have to buy another iron and who needs two ‘play’ irons? This iron is used for all final, formal work including our clothes. When I say our clothes I really mean my husbands clothes and when I say his clothes I really mean a pair of pants once in a blue moon. Using the newer Rowenta lets me be confident that I’m not going to stain my fabric.
I will admit I HATE IRONING.
HATE IT HATE IT HATE IT. I’m accident prone. I have scars from curling irons, ovens and hot cookie sheets, so hot stuff kinda makes me nervous. Many patterns call for ironing pieces, either at the beginning, middle or end of a the project. So there is almost no getting around ironing.
DO NOT SKIP IRONING unless you garment/item does not need to be precise. Quilting requires a lot of precision and therefore a lot of ironing, don’t skip it. Slapping together a little bag to use for library books might not need intense ironing. Ironing will always help your project, never hurt it. Unless of course you burn your fabric. Please do not leave your iron unattended. Especially if you have kids and cats that like to investigate your every move. You’ll be glad to know that no one has gotten hurt and I was quick enough to save the carpet.
Like irons, I have two ironing boards. One is the typical, old school, squeakier than heck, metal legged kind that is wobbly but big for large pieces of fabric. I’m not including a photo, you know what they look like, right? My other one is a small one. I love this little thing more than you would think! Here it is, along with the vain iron, it wanted to be in another shot:
I sometimes use this for small work while sitting down so I don’t have to be standing at the wobbly ironing board. But I couldn’t do/wouldn’t want to do curtains without this amazing tool. I lay out my fabric on the floor, pin for edges and hems, then I bring this and put it under the fabric edge. I have the iron on an extension cord so I can move about easily. Voilà, mobile ironing contraption so you don’t have to move the huge fabric around and so you don’t have to commit to a huge table to accommodate a large ironing surface. Pure genius if I’m being honest.
Thread, THREAD, thread, ThReAd, tHrEaD
So… there are many kinds of threads available for many types of sewing. And embroidery. And cross-stitch. And crewel. And on. Oi, that’s a lot.
Every sewer will have their favorite, things such as budget, fiber content, weight, color fastness all factor into your choice. Here is a sampling of what I usually have on hand.
As you can see by the labels, I have a bunch of Gutermann. The ones you can’t identify are Coats and Clark from typical sources such as JoAnn Fabrics. These are what I use for basic sewing projects that rely more on a color match than a special physical property. You can get very specific with your projects, for example I made a quilt with cotton fabric and batting and in my mind I HAD to use cotton thread. Did I in reality? NO, but I just wanted that continuity. And that just means I have another spool in my stash. Woo Hoo!
Cotton vs Polyester
Whether to use cotton or polyester is a personal choice. Other than the need for keeping that one quilt all cotton, I have never come across a situation where I felt I needed one kind over the other. I am not a thread expert however, so pick what you need based on the final product and how you want to wash and care for it.
Sewing on a button? There’s a thread for that. Repairing some upholstery? There’s a thread for that. Hand quilting? There’s a thread for that. You get the idea, look at labels while shopping at your favorite store. There should be a heading over each section letting you know what that particular thread is useful for.
Colors to have on hand
This is an interesting topic. I usually buy thread with every special project I am doing. I also have some basics on hand. Good old white, off-white, black and dark blue. I also have found this favorite thread that I have used numerous times on the craziest things. The color is ‘Manatee’ from Coats and Clark. I have probably used up 6-7 spools of it and it matches so many of my projects, even better than the threads I originally bought for the project. And here it is:
It is such an unassuming color but it has hints of blue and brown that make it so versatile. Sometimes I will buy an extra spool of white or another neutral when I’m making something else so that I keep my color variety going strong.
What are your favorite machines? Irons? Threads? Have a horror sewing machine story to share? Get in touch here!