15 Things to Look for When Buying a New Sewing Machine

Are you in the market for a new sewing machine? Whether you are interested in quilting, crafting, or dressmaking, this list will help you make the investment a wise one.  A cheap sewing machine will only frustrate and discourage you, so buy the best machine you can afford. If you have a limited budget, it is usually  worthwhile to seek out a local sewing machine dealer with a good reputation and ask about used machines. Some reconditioned “better” machines will cost about the same as a new machine of lesser quality. A reputable dealer will often provide a limited warranty on these machines and/or lessons on how to use the machine. He will be able to service what he sells and provide accessories and a manual. The list here is specifically focused on quiltmaking. In a multi-purpose sewing machine, you will also want to see and test the buttonhole process at the store before you buy!  An adjustment to a “free arm” is important. You will want to have zipper, rolled hem, blind hem and some other feet. Those are usually included with a new machine.

Important Features

  • The needle can sew in three positions – a needle that can be moved to the right or the left gives you more freedom to adjust your seam allowance while keeping the fabric on both feed dogs.
  • The machine can be set to stop with the needle up or the needle down.
  • The flatbed sewing surface is big and smooth. In dressmaking, a narrow free arm is useful, but for a large, flat quilt, you want a working table big enough to spread out and support the weight of the quilt. If the bed of the machine is not very large, it should have a built-in extension or flat bed table accessory that slides up alongside of it. These can be purchased separately or made by a handy husband!
  • The foot pedal and electrical cords are long enough for comfort and safety.
  • It has a good bright light. Make sure the light actually shines in the right place. Ascertain that replacement light bulbs can be obtained and installed easily.
  • The feed dogs drop down to disengage. Those little snap-on feed dog covers are a nuisance.
  • The pressure on the presser foot can be adjusted – this controls how heavily the presser foot lies on the fabric underneath it. When you do free-motion machine quilting, you need to be able to move the layered quilt around easily under the foot.
  • It has a “lock stitch” that secures the ends of the stitching lines neatly and precisely.
  • It has a good straight (not slanted) buttonhole or blanket stitch. This stitch is often used for machine appliqué, both decorative and invisible.
  • Its accessories are readily available and affordable. Some of the top quality machines require you to use their specialized feet, which can cost up to five times as much as the generic low shank feet. Even if you are willing to pay for the attachments, you want to be able to purchase them conveniently. Make sure that they are easy to change.
  • It comes with a good owner’s manual – preferably written by someone whose native language is English.
  • A sturdy machine can accommodate a variety of threads. If the seller tells you that it can only tolerate a certain brand of thread, start looking for a better “workhorse” machine – maybe an older used one. They are not so temperamental.
  • It has a convenient and sharp thread cutter built into the machine.
  • Most machines use a standard-sized needle, but do check on that. You don’t want to have to special-order needles.
  • There is a local dealer who will honor your warranty. I really do recommend buying your sewing machine, new or used, from a reputable dealer who knows how to maintain and repair the machines he sells. If you are buying a new machine, he should offer a good warranty and free classes in how to use it. Look for at least a partial warranty, even on a used machine, if you are buying a computerized sewing machine.

 

Accessories

For free-motion quilting, (stippling), you will need a darning foot. This foot has a spring or hinge and it’s nice if it is open in the front so you can catch the thread ends and see where you are going. 

For straight-line quilting and for sewing the binding on your quilt, you will need a walking foot. This is a box-like contraption that is also called an even feed foot (we called it a plaid-matcher foot 30 years ago!)  Some of the newer machines have this feature built into them. You want to be able to disengage it when you don’t want to use it.

A 1/4″ piecing foot is used to achieve a perfect seam allowance. I prefer to use an all-purpose foot, move my needle into the right position and use my first plate line as a guide, because then the fabric is pressed down firmly on both feed dogs and on both sides of the seam. Usually, the use of the 1/4″ foot positions the fabrics only on one feed dog, so they tend to pull to the left.

Your Dealer, Your Friend

Test-drive the sewing machine before you buy it. Bring your own fabrics, because the ones available in the stores are usually stiffened for a nicer-looking finish. Bring some calico and a small “quilt sandwich” of calico and batting.  Test every stitch and see if the store owner will let you try specialty threads in it.  The dealer is almost as important as the machine itself!  

If the dealer is unfriendly and uncooperative during the sales process, he is unlikely to improve when you are looking for help later. Comparison shop.  Don’t be afraid to “haggle”, especially for a used machine. Ask about its history. Ask what “reconditioned” means to him.  A reputable dealer  with a long-term business vision will see you as an investment in his own future. He knows that if you buy a basic machine today and are encouraged by its easy and reliable operation (and his good customer service), you will probably want to upgrade eventually.  You will recommend him to others. Word-of-mouth advertising and customer loyalty are important to these small businesses. If you find a good dealer, your machine is doubled in value!

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What is a Mug Rug?

This useful little mug rug
for your table or your desk,
is a safe and pretty coaster
where your coffee mug can rest.

It makes a handy mouse pad
and a crumb catcher, too,
so enjoy your morning coffee
with a muffin and the news.

Mug rugs make excellent Christmas gifts, alone or as the focal point for a gift basket, with some coffee and a nice mug. Mug rugs are the perfect size for daily use, at home or even at work, for coffee at your desk. There’s room on each quilt for your cup, a computer mouse and some special treats! They have thin cotton batting and quilted densely enough to create a mat that will lie nice and flat on the table, protecting it from heat and moisture. Your rug mug is washable, just in case you splash a little coffee!

An Apple for the Teacher Mug Rug from GloryQuilts on Etsy

Check out the mug rugs and other one-of-a-kind gift items I have listed in the GloryQuilts etsy shop right now. This one would be a great Christmas gift for a favorite teacher.

I have a shipping special deal right now – an unlimited number of doll quilts and mug rugs can be added to any order with no additional shipping charges! You only pay for shipping the first item. Do your Christmas shopping early. (Does this still count as “early” for Christmas shopping?)

mugrugsbarn

I have some mug rugs available for sale at Pearson Family Farm in Ramsey, MN during their fall harvest events. It’s a great place. Their barn is full of pumpkins, squashes, broom corn, corn stalks, gourds, and all kind of fall decor. Enjoy their homegrown popcorn, browse their collection of vintage cars and farm equipment and enjoy the corn maze. Hay rides on the weekends!

GloryQuilts Mug Rugs

 

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Do you have mug rugs? Do you use them?

Mug Rug Poem (c)2015 Catherine Timmons for GloryQuilts

Quilting with Contrast and Instagram

I was planning to make a chevron baby quilt for my new grandson, but then I found a new piece of fabric and decided to do something else for him.

Squirrel!

But I still want to experiment with chevron quilts, because I plan to write a no-triangles pattern for them. So I pulled out 2″ strips of solid (tone-on-tone) olive greens, tans, and rust prints and sewed them into the 80 blocks I thought I needed. Trimmed them, pressed them, started arranging them on the design wall.   Ummm….. No. That was wrong. Last time I made it, I did it differently. It worked great that way. This way, not so much.  I had sewn all of the blocks WRONG.  And yet, I like it. I’m partial to scrap quilts, especially for autumn themes. It’s still a chevron pattern, with a narrow tan stripe and a broad green/rust stripe. I just need to arrange the blocks effectively, to make the pattern look right.

Pastel Paths Baby Quilt

With scrap quilts, contrast is very important. Sometimes you want a low contrast, where all the fabrics mush together and make a colorwash effect.  This baby quilt is all scraps, divided into two color groups but of a similar lightness. No individual pieces stand out. It is a “gentle” quilt.

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The majority of scrap quilts have backgrounds that contrast with the scrap fabrics. For the Double Wedding Ring table runner, I wanted the gray/black rings to be low-contrast scraps that read as “solid” in sharp contrast to the white background. None of the ring fabrics are too bright or too dark, and none of them have much white in them, or the finished pattern would not have be as distinct.

Pining for the Fjords

On the other hand, I wanted the blues in this Triple Irish Chain quilt to fade out into the white fabric of the background. I had to get the right placement of dark, medium and light blue fabrics to get that effect.

americana

Without a contrasting, unifying background fabric,  it’s especially important to achieve the right arrangement of scrap fabrics.  Whether you are sorting by color or value, the contrast is achieved by organizing the fabrics into groups.

Porch Quilt GloryQuilts

The Americana table runner and the purple quilt are divided into light and dark groups without many “medium” scraps, to keep the pattern distinct.

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The Tamarack Trees quilt fabrics are divided by color and a slight, low-contrast gradation from light to dark blues from the top of the quilt to the bottom.

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Chevrons are considered modern patterns and are usually made in a few simple fabrics.  To achieve the bold chevron pattern with scraps, the contrast between your fabrics groups – whether you are working with lights and darks or different hues – must be sharp and defined.

Because this is a serendipitous quilt – I’m making the best of things after I blew it, my fabric choices are not what I would have chosen if I had been planning it this way. It required some re-organization. I had selected the greens and rusts to contrast with each other, but now I want them to appear as a “mass” of darker fabric, so they should be relatively low in contrast to each other. They will form a broad stripe, and the tans will form a narrow stripe.

Now here’s the bit about Instagram:

For this project, I am more interested in light-dark contrast than color, so I need to remove or change the color factor from the quilt. Before the advent of digital photography, I squinted through little red and green plastic filters similar to those used in photography. Sometimes I glued together a fabric crutch and made a photocopy of it, to see it in black-and-white. Looking through a peephole (purchased from the hardware store) helped me see the overall effect of the pattern, too. Later, I took pictures with my digital camera and uploaded them to the computer, where I could use Photoshop options to change the brightness and hues. Simply changing a photograph to grayscale exposes weaknesses in the fabric arrangements. And then, when I was posting a picture to Instagram the other day, I realized that it is the perfect tool for judging contrasts! Without any uploading or editing, Instagram permits me to quickly snap pictures and instantly apply a series of filters to them. You can even do it right in the fabric store, to audition fabrics before you buy them.

autumnchevrongrayThis particular quilt was a good practice piece. I put the blocks up on the wall without any real arrangement of color. This black and white version, using the “Moon” filter, revealed that I needed to move around some of the pieces to increase the contrasts between the darks and lights, especially in the upper right quarter of the quilt and the lower left corner. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t have a bold enough contrast.

autumnchevronfadedI rearranged some of the blocks to put the darker tans near the edges of the quilt. When I applied the “Crema” filter, I could see that the zigzag pattern was more clear, but I had a group of very dark pieces in the middle that needed to be more evenly distributed over the quilt, and that lower left corner was still fuzzy.

autumnchevron

I played with it some more and kept taking snapshots until I had an arrangement I like. I can see that it is darker around the edges, but that isn’t as bad as having those dark tan pieces in the middle of the quilt where they muddled up the pattern. I like it. To further emphasize the chevron pattern, I will quilt this in two different colors – darker thread on the broad green/rust stripes and a cream thread on the tan ones. In the end, I think it will be one of my favorite quilts, and I learned a lot about the structure of the pattern.  I might actually make that baby quilt in chevrons after all!

Autumn Quilt

In addition to the seasonal quilt over the fireplace, I set a new autumn table runner on the mantel. Table runners are perfect for fireplace mantels and piano tops as well as dining room tables! The painted mason jars were a pinterest project. I needed a non-fabric craft to do one day, and those were fast and easy. And cheap, because I had already had the acrylic paint and some empty canning jars. I made the stuffed pumpkins last year.  I used weighted pellets in the bottoms, to give them stability, but they are otherwise filled with inexpensive polyfil. They are like giant pincushions.

autumnfireplace1This is one of my favorite quilts. It was a class sample for a Quiltmaking 101 class: fabric selection, rotary cutting, accurate straight-line piecing. No triangles, no curves, and few corners to match up. Most of the students made it in just two colors – dark and light. It was striking and dramatic that way, but I like these batiks and similar fabrics. Orange and blue are complementary colors on the color wheel, which is supposed to be an attractive arrangement. I didn’t start out that way, though – I was looking at browns and blues, and the rustier browns and oranges kept popping up on the design wall, In the end, the blue and orange (rust) quilt is perfect for autumn!

autumnquilts2A couple more pictures of my autumn home.  That table runner is for sale on etsy, and I have another almost just like it – with green and gold coordinates instead of burgundy and green – nearly finished.

 

 

 

How do you use table runners in your home?

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