Category Archives: Equipment Review

Tools to Make Sewing Easier

I vaguely remember that when I first thought learning to sew, I had visions of saving money on clothing. Ha! I had no idea at the time what a ridiculously expensive hobby this could be. And I suppose it could be true that you could save money if you had been buying expensive clothing in the first place. However, I almost never buy clothes, and when I do, it’s usually Old Navy on sale. You could easily argue that I will now have much better quality items that actually fit me (although Old Navy tends to fit me pretty well), but you certainly could not argue that I’m saving money.

I love a nice fabric, and though I had yet to spend over $7/yard on fabric (except for the cotton lawn on my first Simplicity 3835), it can still add up over a full garment. (Side note, I finally understand how far $100 can go in Mood for a Project Runway challenge!) And, of course, every garment needs elastic or buttons or snaps or zippers or hooks, which can add up.

But it’s not just the fabric and notions, it’s the equipment too. I’ve always had a problem with gadget lust. I can always be found drooling over a computer or ebook reader or cell phone that I want. Sewing has changed that; it’s just focused it.

Now instead of this:

Acer Aspire

Is it wrong to want a computer for just the month of November and novel writing?

I want this:

Serger

*DROOL*

Okay, well really, I want both. But you get the point. I have dreams of sergers and dress forms and sewing rooms. However, I discovered this weekend, while working on the Star Trek dress (more on that in a later post), that all it takes is a few cheap items to make sewing a whole lot easier.

I placed an order on Sears.com recently for needles for my sewing machine (since I have an annoying tendency to forget to change a setting and end up breaking a needle), and I sprang for extra bobbins while I was placing the order anyway.

Bobbins

$3.99 Bobbins

This is pretty cheap as gadgets go, a mere $3.99. But it made such a huge difference. When I need to sew with red thread this weekend, I didn’t have to first unwind a bobbin (and waste thread). And I didn’t have to be super careful in winding the bobbin that I didn’t end up with too much thread. I just wound as far as I wanted and figured if I had leftover thread on the bobbin, that was just fine because I’ll use a new bobbin for my next project!

When my mother gave me all her old sewing gear, I had spent an entire afternoon untangling spools of thread in her sewing bag. It was not a fun task, and I vowed to never let my thread get that tangled. But then I threw all of my thread into a new sewing blog, and the tangles started anew. So while I was in JoAnn Fabrics this weekend, I picked up an item I’m very excited about: a thread box!

Therad Box

Something designed to keep thread from tangling! Yay!

Joann’s website says it’s a $6.99 item, but I bought it for $5.49. And it’s perfect. Simple, no frills, but it keeps the spools apart. And I should be able to keep bobbins with their coordinating thread for true ease of use. They only had two sizes of this kind of box–for 40 spools and for 18 spools. I went with 18, but it’s already full, so perhaps I should have gone larger. On the upside, I can fit this box in my sewing bag. There are also hole in the box to allow thread through so that you don’t even have to open the box, but since I do almost entirely machine sewing, that’s a useless feature for me.

Finally, I picked up the item that I am MOST excited about, which has truly revolutionized sewing for me: the magnetic pincushion.

Magnetic Pincushion

Best. Product. Ever.

This is actually two things in one for me because I got 50 new, bigger pins (and I bought more big pins to go with it). I had been using the 100 tiny straight pins and tomato pin cushion that came with the Singer Beginner Sewing Kit I bought before Sewing 101. It was serviceable, but just barely. The tiny pins without real heads would hurt my hands after hours of sewing, and I would just keep the pins out on the table in between steps rather than try to stick them all back into the pin cushion. I don’t know about you, but I have a habit of dropping pins on the table, on the floor, on the cats, and picking up tiny pins was a nightmare, especially off of the bamboo mat we have under the dining room table (where I do most of my sewing). Now things are better in two ways: the bigger pins are much easier to work with and much easier to see; and I can just wave the magnet over surfaces to pick up pins. I find myself returning pins to the pincushion with each step now. I even return pins individually as I pull them out one at a time (for instance, while sewing a zipper). It’s fantastic and well worth the $8.99!

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Kelly, Meet Ms. Sewing Machine

It was a bittersweet moment when I decided to purchase a new sewing machine. I loved the old sewing machine, even if I never did get to actually sew on it. I loved the retro charm of the avocado foot pedal and the quaint manual with the mom and daughter on the cover. I loved that it was made almost entirely of metal. I especially loved that I already had it, that I was avoiding purchasing something new, for both economic and environmental reasons.

However, I just couldn’t get the machine to work properly. I think I could have created stitches that looked almost right, but even then it was with the tension set at zero. I’m certain that the machine is fixable but not by me, and I was too impatient to use my newly-learned sewing skills to wait for the fix. I also suspect that there may well be other problems with the old machine that I just haven’t experienced yet.

So, with mixed emotions, I ordered a new machine and picked it up from Sears on Sunday. (As you may recall, I hate driving in the city, so I took the bus downtown and hauled the sewing machine back home on the bus! Good thing it’s not as heavy as the old machine.)

Kenmore 18221

The fancy new sewing machine, complete with pink(!) dials and knobs.

I purchased a Kenmore Drop-In Bobbin Sewing Machine (Model #18221) for a few reasons:

  1. The Needle Shop recommends Kenmores.
  2. I used a Kenmore in class (though not this one) and liked it.
  3. I’ve heard from several people that you should spend at least $150 on a new sewing machine (this was $179.99) because the cheapo models are not well-made.
  4. I wanted a drop-in bobbin because it seemed simpler and better for changing bobbins on the fly (although, as it turned out I had paid a lot more attention to the vertical bobbin loading in class and had to turn to my good friend, Youtube, to load this bobbin.
  5. If I was going to buy a new machine anyway, I wanted one that did automatic buttonholes and had a few decorative stitches.
  6. Devon has this machine so I had seen it in real life.
  7. Finally, the reviews of this machine on sears.com are overwhelmingly positive.

The machine was very easy to set up, and I really put it through the paces in the past few days (more on that tomorrow). Overall, I like it, and I think I’ve been far less frustrated than I would have been with a poorly-working older machine.

Foot Pedal

Boring Black Foot Pedal

I’m sad that the foot pedal is boring black, but on the other hand, it handles really well. I feel like I have complete control over the speed. I wish it went a touch faster, but it’s probably best for my projects that it doesn’t.

I like that it has a variety of stitches, even if I probably won’t use them very often. What’s really nice (maybe all new machines have this?) is that it lists the recommend stitch length and width for each stitch. I think the colors mean something, too, about the types of stitches they are, but I’ve only done straight stitching, so I can’t really comment on that.

Close-up of stitches on Kenmore 18221.

Colorful! Note the pink reverse switch.

Like the old machine, this one too has an extension piece that pulls off for free arm sewing (which I’ve already taken advantage of). Unlike the old machine, this one is all plastic, so if a peg breaks, all my useful mechanical skills will be useless. Also unlike the old machine, there’s a nifty storage compartment in this extension piece. I love have the presser feet and extra bobbins right there. (It would be nice if the machine came with more than three bobbins, but I can always buy more of those.)

Storage compartment in Kenmore 18221

Love having the accessories so close by!

Overall, I’m very happy with the machine. I don’t have much to compare it to, but I found sewing to be pretty straightforward, and I was able to keep stitches pretty straight, even on long pieces of fabric.

I do have a few gripes. I don’t know for sure if I’m doing something wrong, or if these are defects in the machine. First, occasionally when I wind the bobbin some of the thread goes below the bobbin, onto the bobbin holder. When this happens, I have to pull the bobbin off, unwind that loose thread, and start over. I’m not sure why that happens, but it is annoying. I can usually get it right on the second try. Second, sometimes I will sew a long section only to realize that the needle became unthreaded, and I have to start over, I’ve been trying to pull out more thread before I start, but it’s happened several times. I suspect this isn’t really a problem with the machine, but it’s frustrating. Finally, and again, I don’t think this is a machine problem, I’ve had some difficulties with thread bunching. I think it’s happening when I try to sew too many layers, or when I’m sewing over other stitches/loose threads. The problem is probably just that I’m a total novice. I’ll see what happens going forward, and maybe I can learn to avoid these problems.

I read in a few reviews that the zipper presser foot on these machine was bad, so I used the foot from my old machine, so I can’t comment on that. Being able to pop off presser feet rather than screwing them off is a nice bonus, but I had to use the screw-off feature to use my old presser foot.

Stay tuned tomorrow for pictures/descriptions of some of my finished projects!