Tuesday, February 14, 2012

How Well Do You Know Your Sewing Machine?

A whole lot better than I do mine, I'll bet.

Recent conversations -phone and in person - with Mum and Dad all turn, at some point, to procuring an industrial machine and the frustrations of sewing our more interesting projects on home machines. Not actually being in Singapore when Dad does his sewing, I am only as aware of how well he and his (home) machine are getting on as Mum will report. Delightful nuggets like "someone flipped the switch on the pedal so it was extra slow and we panicked because we thought the machine was going to conk" and "we didn't like the zipper foot so we unscrewed it and transplanted the old one from the treadle machine" liberally sprinkle our exchanges about children, school, weather, Korean TV serial plots and the prices of baby back ribs and pho. Fun. 

This morning we were talking about the joys of shoving gummy layers of neoprene under the presser foot of a typical home machine when Mum suddenly remembered that she and Dad had recently discovered a secret lever on their own machine that lent a whole new dimension of ease to bulky fabrics. So great was her enthusiasm that even I, apathetic seamstress-still-mentally-on-vacation, was spurred on to investigate my own machine in the hopes of finding this same Wonder Thingamajig therein. How came she about this fantastic revelation? I muttered into the receiver, my head wedged under the horizontal arm of my Pfaff 1525, nose dangerously close to getting impaled on the needle.
"We finally found our sewing machine manual!" she brightly confided. 

Ah, the manual. 

"Maybe your manual will tell you where to find yours!" she continued. "We found out from ours that our machine can do so much more!"
Extracted my head and stood upright long enough to (bitterly) explain that my useless manual contained overlapping instructions to operate three different models, with all the most exciting features accompanied by the disclaimer, "*Not found in model 1525". 

"I've given up reading the manual, Mum. It was too depressing." I finally concluded my tirade. 
"Tsk," said Mum, sympathetically. "These people should..."

"Those people", however, were liberated from whatever obligation Mum had designed for them, because right then, I discovered The Lever.


Although, more accurately, it wasn't actually a new lever. It was the same singular lever that had raised and lowered the presser foot for years but which had a mid-position lock that I'd never noticed before. Here, I'll show you:

This is my presser foot mechanism, with the black walking foot behind it.

Here it is in the raised, lowered, and (newly discovered) middle position:

This middle setting of the presser foot, achieved on my machine, by clicking the lever sideways into a little catch, instead of up-and-down, allows the presser foot to remain suspended above the plate while sewing. 

"Does it work?" asked Mum.
"I dunno. The machine isn't plugged in." I said.
"Why not?" asked Mum.
"Because I'm still on vacation."

Speaking of presser feet, I discovered something else new about my machine. Like many other newfangled machines, mine came with snap-on feet, and for years I never thought to try any other kind of feet on them. The trouble with the specialized snap-on Pfaff feet is they are very expensive, and very unavailable, except from dealers (sneaky). So I got by with using just the feet that came free with the machine, and using cunning techniques to impersonate new and exciting feet I needed e.g. scotch tape (teflon foot), strategic fingernail gliding (piping foot) and sheer brute force (roller foot).

When I met up with Jen on this trip to Singapore, I bemoaned this to her, and she suggested unscrewing the whole blooming foot shank thingy and replacing it with cheaper, generic feet. Brilliant (her)! And dim (me)! Couldn't wait to get home and try it. Mentioned this to Mum on the phone in this morning's conversation and she said, "Oh, Dad's been doing it all along." 

Hrmph. My parents are keeping all the best sewing secrets from me, I swear.

Anyway, so I carried out Experiment #2 - The Foot Transplant. 

Unscrewed and removed the entire foot shank of my Pfaff,

leaving only the bare whatchamacallit,

poached a presser foot from the old spare Singer I keep around for emergencies:

and grafted that on. 

Snap-on schmap-on. Pschffffft.

True, the walking foot (black thing behind the regular presser foot) cannot engage with these parasite feet, which might mean compromised workmanship with the more demanding materials like neoprene and vinyl, but at least it's an option. And something to experiment with, certainly, while incubating all my research on industrial machines. 

So that's my lesson today. What new and humiliating things have you learnt about your sewing machine lately?  

P.S. Happy Valentine's Day, y'all. I ate extra chocolate today to celebrate; "extra" meaning "while ignoring the treadmill."


  1. I usually just lurk, but being lucky enough to work at a Pfaff dealer, and knowing just what the different feet are capable of, I wanted to suggest contacting some different dealers to see if they do a flat rate on feet like we do (meaning all metal feet are one price, all plastic feet are one price)If they ship, while not necessarily being inexpensive it can save you a bit of money in the long run and make your life easier.

  2. I just got a Pfaff a few months ago and it's such a step up from what I was using I won't dare knock it for any short-comings it might have.

    I will mention a tip that my dealer gave me. I had some stretch fleece that was being stretched in kinda a weird way as I sewed with it and he suggested moving the needle position all the way over to the right so that the presser foot was supporting more of the fabric. Honestly, it didn't help me, but I do think it's something to keep stored away in my head because it might work better with another project someday. (My previous machine did not have adjustable needle positions, so I'm just starting to think this new dimension.)

  3. How interesting is your post! We do what we can with what we have in our sewing machines but it arrives the time where we realise that they are things to be changed as well as you say: the feet is something to think about. I will try to think about so and to take a look to my sewing machine manual again. Thanks a lot to share with us your discoverings!

  4. haha, my only option when I bought a sewing machine was a Pfaff because of the integrated walking foot mechanism (IDT-system). Well, I am biased too because I am German and could never buy an American machine... it's so awesome to sew with the walking foot especially when sewing several layers of different fabrics. You might be surprised to what you missed once you start sewing with it...
    great Idea with the unscrewing of the foot, I'll keep that in mind if ever in need of a cheaper option foot...

  5. True, the manual is usually depressing and confusing, mine is also in german!

    I also have a PFAFF and had already found that middle position: it is for free hand quilting/embroidery. I am not sure if it will work for what you want it to - the idea is that you remove the "teeth" that pulls the fabric (the lever is next to the bobbin) and move it manually. The presser foot will move up and down so that you are free to move the fabric as you like.

  6. My sewing machine is my most favorite thing in my sewing room. It's a lovely old Singer 401a that, when it was manufactured, was the top of the line in its day. I recently discovered more oil holes that I wasn't aware of (shameful, I know), but when I oiled those areas what a difference it made.

    As I am still a novice seamstress, I'm still experimenting with the different cams, feet, and other sundries. Oh, the button hole mechanism that came with it literally makes the most beautiful button holes I've ever seen. What a delight that was for me to figure that one out.

    Thanks for sharing and have fun experimenting. Also, if you're a member of Yahoo, there is a group on there that is dedicated to the buying and selling of all things sewing. The name of that group is "Sewitsforsale". Membership is free and awesome deals are to be had...sewing machine presser feet are often listed on there for sale, too.


  7. Hmm food for thought, I will have to investigate whether my machine (a janome) has this mid level lock in point as I've tried sewing old blankets and nearly killed my machine and this would surely make a difference. Maybe I should revisit my manual??

  8. I too usually just lurk. I stumbled into your blog just before Christmas and now read almost daily. Love your writings, so cute, amusing, inspirational & homeie(is that a word?). Lived vicariously through you on your vacation. At the moment, I am living in the desert taking care of dad while rest of family is north in Washington State. Made your Owie Doll. Grandkids love hurting it then patching it up. What can I say, their all boys! Anyway, just wanted to say, love reading your blog.

  9. I know what you mean about discovering new things about a machine owned for years. I have a simple model Janome and recently discovered the little hidden switch to raise and lower the feed dogs (I'm sure you've already guessed I don't sew nearly as much or often as you!). But I also sadly discovered that my machine cannot easily do shirring (I think that's the term) - it seems to involve mucking about with the bobbin tension, but I still haven't managed to get it do to any respectable shirring. That doll dress is now the dog's breakfast.

    I really enjoyed your photos from your trip - I drooled over the size of the warm outdoor pools - and they were practically empty of people! Like you, I live in a northern climate and I can only shake my head when I think of our loud, crowded indoor pools. But I also noticed that in switching countries you have easily switched between temperature systems. I must admit that the Fahrenheit system boggles my mind.


  10. Ah, the wonders of the Pfaff. I have owned several for over a decade and love them. Another resource to find is "The Foot Book" which will help you navigate the array of accessories for your machine. I have MANY feet and use nearly all. For the sticky fabrics I love my roller foot. There are also some good Ebayers that sell genuine Pfaff accessories if you don't have a dealership nearby.... Enjoy!

  11. I was halfway through quilting my first queen size quilt and was bemoaning how long it was taking, how I felt like I shouldn't have to tug and pull so much...and then a friend mentioned that beautiful in between place that you just found. I couldn't believe how much easier quilting got after that!!!! Guess I should have read my manual too.

  12. I have a Pfaff machine, its an older model and everything that you just mentioned in this post I didn't know about, including the price of the additional feet. I'm going to try it all out though to see if any of it will work on my machine, although I'm not sure when I'll need to use it LOL. :D Thanks for the tips!

  13. Great Pfaff tips! I'm going to go check mine out now. Those darn extra feet are soo expensive. I'm lucky my MIL gave me this Pfaff when she upgraded to an even fancier model so I can always borrow from her extensive feet collection. Could not believe my machine didn't come with a 1/4 '' foot. Grrr....

    Sounds like we need a nation-wide Pfaff support group!!

  14. I NEED to get to know my sewing machine!!!

    Our minivan manual doesn't explain what half the symbols in the car mean - it shows DIFFERENT symbols, from a different year, I guess. Drives me nuts!!!

  15. LOVE that little button! When I bought my machine this summer, they offered a free four week class on it, which I can take at ANY time. I still haven't, due to the logistics of the hour drive, and my baby who I am so attached to that at nine months she has hardly left my side (who also refuses a bottle) BUT I am planning on it, eventually....

  16. My little Kenmore and I have been together for over 41 years, and I 'think' I know everything there is to know about her. Manuals back then were written only in English and were thorough but easy to understand. I still refer to mine occasionally for settings for the fancier stitches, etc. I know there's no button like yours has! I bought a box of all the extra feet and attachments early on. They didn't even make a walking foot back then, but I have recently gotten one that fits, and I love it!

  17. I have just had a similar experience as your family with the little switch on the foot pedal getting flicked to slow! I posted it on my blog to share the total embarrassment of taking it back to the dealer because I thought I had broken it, the noise was so unexpected and loud. The bloke in the shop just flicked the switch back to regular and it worked. I nearly died! Definitely worth reading my manual properly... Love your blog. S x

  18. Good grief! I thought I was the only one who's mom just didn't happen to tell me this or that. Like that you can easily make your own biased tape and stuff like that.
    I will definitely be checking out a my sewing machine a bit closer!

  19. I checked, and my basic Singer doesn't have this option. Not surprised, but thought I'd check! I'm starting to dream about getting a new machine, even if saving the money for it will take a while. I know you're looking at industrial machines, so I'm wondering if you'd still recommend your particular Pfaff model. In addition to garment sewing, I also like to sew apparel weight leather (into bags and stuff). You do vinyl sewing, so I'm wondering your opinion. Does the Pfaff handle it well? Thanks for any advice you have! I'm not at all interested in embroidery, and only barely in quilting, so the advice from the ladies at the fabric store isn't that applicable to me.

    1. Sarah,
      Yes, I would still recommend my Pfaff (it's the 1525). It's a very, very basic model, and has maybe 12 stitches, of which I only ever use the straight and zig zag stitch. It works well with thick fabric layers and denim, packcloth, vinyl. I bought it because I wanted a machine that sewed heavy-duty stuff like that. I don't quilt and I don't embroider either. I'd recommend any Pfaff, actually, not only because they never break down, they sew beautifully (even buttonholes) but also because they have integrated walking feet. If you've read sewing blogs, you might have come across this whole walking foot debate and people will actually fork out money to buy a bulky walking foot attachment to attach to their machine. All Pfaffs come with these as part of the design and they are wonderful. If you're sewing leather and bags and things with layers, you'll appreciate a walking foot.

    2. Thanks for your advice! I called my nearest Pfaff dealer, and they apparently only carry the higher end models with digital screens and all. I'm wanting one so badly! I am being given $400 towards a new machine, so maybe I can swing $800. Eek! On the other side of things, an opened 1525 is on eBay. Maybe I'll try for that. :)

  20. aaaah...I am going right now to inspect my S. M......I have a janome ringo ...cheap one,but its good enough for me.i have soo many feets that I got from my mother,but never use them.thank you Lier

  21. My machine had a foot transplant a few years ago. I was desperate because it had only a straight stitch foot which meant I couldn't even zigzag. So for $9 I bought I little screw on shank with an assortment of clamp on feet. It'd be perfect if I didn't have to tighten the screw to keep it on so often.

  22. I only realised the other day that my sewing machine is a Silver Viscount, not a Singer! I am seriously going back to basics with my machine.

  23. Whoot!!Thanks for sharing these discoveries. I know I am over a year late but.... THis popped up right when I needed it. Can't wait to see if the new position trick helps with free motion quilting.

  24. I also own a Pfaff and I have read the manual cover to cover. I'm pretty sure they save all the good tidbits of information and purposely leave them out! I noticed my presser foot would sometimes "snag" at the halfway point while I lowered it....now I know why!!!


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