Is it weird to prefer your backup machine?

27Jan13

When I started sewing I did lots of research about picking a machine. I knew I wanted something I could sew heavy fabrics on, and that I wouldn’t grow out of quickly. Various websites recommended getting one with a one-step buttonhole and stretch stitches for sewing knits. I ended up with an Elna 3210 which felt like quite a fancy machine for a beginner. I sewed away happily on it for nearly four years. I sewed knits, denim, and coating fabric and it managed them all. It didn’t get an annual service but I really looked after it; it got a thorough clean and a new needle for each project.

Elna 3310 sewing machine

But last year the Elna’s tension started to behave oddly and I finally had to get it serviced. Round here this takes at least a couple of weeks. I couldn’t bear to be without a sewing machine for that long so I got a more basic backup machine, the Singer Heavy Duty below. No stretch stitches, no one-step buttonhole. The only feature it has that the Elna doesn’t is the ability to move the needle right as well as left. It’s picky about bobbins, unlike the Elna, and not very good at winding them evenly. It’s also harder to clean.

Singer sewing machine

But where the Singer shines is that it’s really fast. I discovered I actually prefer a four-step buttonhole to a one-step. And as I’d acquired an overlocker not long before, I didn’t miss the stretch stitches.

When the Elna came back from being serviced (with a brand-new tension assembly) I thought I’d probably alternate them. But gradually the Elna’s been used less and less. I got it out to sew my current project because I had an idea that the slower machine would cope better with very flimsy fabric, and realised I’d forgotten how to wind bobbins on it. After three failures I resorted to the instruction manual.

It seems a bit odd that I prefer sewing on the more basic machine. And I’m still really glad I started sewing with the Elna; it has much better instructions than the Singer and it enabled me to sew knits long before I could contemplate an overlocker. If I had to cut down to only one machine it would definitely be the Elna I’d keep.

What do you look for in a sewing machine?



18 Responses to “Is it weird to prefer your backup machine?”

  1. 1 Laurie

    It’s such a trick to buy a machine. No amount of research can compare to sitting at the machine and sewing a garment (not just running seams at the dealer). I bought a Pfaff 2023 (intended for garment sewers with very few extras) I thought I loved, half way through my first dress I had my doubts. Nothing major; it buzzed when on, it made a high-pitched whirring sound while stitching, the buttonholes — ptffh. Five years later it needed a pricey repair — freedom! I bought a Bernina 1008 this summer, sigh, love. Though the Pfaff IDT can’t be beat.

  2. I started sewing on a very basic Brother. I eventually outgrew it and upgraded to a Husqvarna Viking Sapphire 850 (read: fancy-schmancy). I love it for its ease of use, reliability and speed. But when I want really beautiful stitches – like for top stitching – I pull out the c1970 Kenmore that I inherited from my grandmother. It has limited features, is tough to thread and is more finicky. But my-oh-my are the stitches beautiful! I really wish I had the space to keep them both set up all the time, since I would definitely use them both for different tasks. When I bought a serger, the key thing I was looking for was ease of use. I’ve never really gotten comfortable with it though, although lately I’ve been trying to play with the features more.

  3. Interesting post. I have found the basic machines sew very well. People always ask if I have a very fancy sewing machine and I have to laugh because mine is a 50 year old Singer. Straight stitch only! Super heavy to move but oh, it sews perfectly. Sometimes I think about getting a new machine with all the electronic bells and whistles but something holds me back. I think different stitches etc. are less useful than having a variety of feet, I get more use from the various feet.

    • 4 Angela

      (mouth dropping open…) Beth, I have long admired your creations! And you use a 50 yo Singer? Once again proof that superior garments do not require super expensive machines, but skilled operators. Same thing with Carolyn (Handmade my Carolyn) – she does great work with a very simple machine.

  4. I have been deeply disappointed with my new bells and whistles Husqvarna and rarely use it now. I only use it when I need a zigzag stitch which is only for sewing lingerie or swimsuits. Like you I have a serger and use that for most knit projects. I far prefer my basic 1938 Singer Featherweight. It sews like a dream. :)

  5. So tricky to buy a sewing machine! My first (at 18) was an Elna, but it must have been one of those Friday models, I had no end of trouble with it. I inherited my mother-in-law’s Bernina 830 Record (16 years ago) and have never looked back. It’s had a replacement motor (after 41 years, what do you expect!) but sews like a dream. When I had the chance, I bought another, exactly the same! For backup, you know! I also inherited her Bernina 5 reel overlocker, which, unfortunately I do not get on with. Instead I use a little Janome 4 reel that has never (touch wood!!!) given me any trouble.

  6. I started sewing on a nasty little Brother which died rather spectacularly not that long afterwards. Then I spent AGES researching and settled for a Bernina 240 which is a bit fancier than I wanted but I knew I wouldn’t outgrow it for a l o n g time. I am really a beginner so I have a lot of sewing to do but this hasn’t missed a beat. I’ve used denim (kids’ clothes), chiffon, knits etc and it purrs through. I do have a coverstitch and overlocker too ….

  7. I sew on a 1956 Singer 401 and I absolutely love it. I love its sturdy metal construction and so far it’s been able to do everything I’ve asked of it.

  8. Sometimes it’s nice to sew on something more simple I guess, that’s how I feel if I go and help my Mum with her Globe Cub 3 machine and when I was helping my SIL with her new basic Brother the other day I thought, wow, this cheapy is actually pretty nice to use, it’s so simple! It doesn’t wind bobbins nearly as nicely and my Elna and it’s other functions are limited but I was quite surprised at what she got for her money.

  9. I do most of my sewing on a Bernina Sport, pretty old now. It has a small range of stitches, but you can move the needle left and right, two positions each way. This feature is most useful. I don’t have a computerised machine. I learnt to sew on a Singer hand crank, so zigzag feels advanced to me …

  10. I look for something that doesn’t seem to exist anymore, at least not on the affordable end of the sewing machine spectrum- heavy duty, all metal machine like they used to make, but with the latest features. My old, vintage, metal machine has horribly terribly awful tension problems so i can barely sew more than a seam or two on it before it decides to knot up all the thread. From that, I graduated to a fancy embroidery/sewing machine. It’s interesting having played in both worlds. I cringe when I can bend the flimsy, plastic parts of my new machine, but love that it has a darning stitch. Yet I miss how solid & fast my metal machine is.

    • 12 Angela

      Boy do I understand! I’m so tired of looking at machines that “feel” cheap with all the plastic, but the price sure isn’t cheap. And the $300 machines feel like a child’s toy.

      • Exactly! It feels like I’ve been swindled. Especially when my $300 plastic toy has thread tension that won’t get even on both sides no matter what. Really, for that much money you’d think they could get the basics right.

  11. I don’t think so at all! Up until this summer, I sewed on a basic Brother machine that I got for $20 at the thrift store when I was in college. I hit upon a Husky Interlude at a yard sale, but have had to physically put Brother away to force myself to sew on the “nicer” machine. It’s growing on me, and does handle knits soooo much better than the old one, but it was a struggle, and I’m not sure I would say I prefer the Husky yet.

  12. LOL well… my one & only machine is old and VERY basic; a Singer too :) I bought it second hand off a girl who had it second hand, and who knows how many owners it had before :) Yet, I love it and have no idea what I’ll do when it bites the dust; I hear things like ‘one step buttonhole’ and ‘self winding bobbin’ and fear for my sanity when it comes time to pick a new machine! lol

    That said, I have a serger & enjoy it, but my old Singer is pretty special ;)

  13. More difficult to clean? My mum had a saying about cleaning ovens – “the more difficult it is to clean, the increased liklihood it was designed by a man”. I don’t have a back up machine… so that’s about all I have to say on this topic!! :P

  14. I don’t have a backup machine, since I sold my old machine, to be able to buy my new one. I used to have an old Husqvarna Viking Lily 555 which imho was the best machine Husqvarna had ever made until I tried my new Husqvarna Tribute 140 C. Some may argue that you can’t love a sewing machine, but I sure like mine a lot! ;-) It may have a gazillion features I currently have no use for, but you never know what tomorrow brings of fun sewing projects.


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