Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Search For the Perfect Machine, Part 2: Pre-test-drive analysis

(The first post in this series can be found here)

In this post, I’m going to describe the features of each machine, share some reviews and my initial thoughts, and explain how I am testing them all out!

Before we begin looking at the machines, I want to mention that my gut reaction is to get a Bernina. I want to have my machine for 40 years like my nana had her Elna and my mother her Viking. Bernina has a great reputation and their machines seem to last a lifetime. They are expensive, but people say they are worth every penny. However, some features common to the Bernina machines that don’t cost 10K+ don’t fit with my needs; hence my broader search.

Two great sources for machine reviews are Pattern Review and the Sew, Mama, Sew machine review. Check them out if you're in the market!

The machines

1. Janome 6600

Price range: $1100 to $1400

Reviews: The reviews of this machine that I have read are universally positive, and a few of my friends own it and love it. There are too many reviews to list, so just look in the two sites above and you will find great reviews aplenty. I’ve heard that it could be better at free-motion quilting. However, a brief perusal through the catalog of submissions for this year’s MQX shows how many national-level quilters are using this machine for just that, so I’m a bit skeptical!

Pros: dual-feed system, large harp area (9”), presser foot pressure adjustment, number of stitches (very large for a machine in this price range)

Cons: none so far

2. Elna 7300 (Quilting Queen)

Price range: $1100 to $1500

Reviews: Every review I’ve been has been very positive, but I don’t know anyone who owns one (see here and here; Pattern Review reviews in this thread). This is exactly the same machine as the Janome 6600, according to one reviewer who actually contacted Janome to ask about this (Janome makes Elna now), except for a few modifications: there are two or three extra decorative stitches on the Elna and the Elna has a more powerful motor. Everything else I the same, so the same pros and cons above apply!

3. Bernina 350 Patchwork Edition with Bernina Stitch Regulator (BSR)

Price: I was quoted $1149 for the machine, and I know the BSR function costs an additional $900 (yeah, I know…that’s one expensive foot!), bringing the grand total to just over $2000

Reviews: This is a new machine, so there aren’t any reviews yet, which makes me nervous. But it is a more budget-friendly option for me than the 440, so I will seriously consider it.

Pros: Comes with all of the quilting attachments I need, is a very sturdy machine with fewer bells and whistles (and thus fewer opportunities to explode on me and leave me machine-less) than others

Cons: Small harp space, small number of stitches, isn’t really a lot of machine for the price

4. Janome Horizon

Price range: All seem to be at about $3000.

Reviews: Mixed, but skewed toward the positive (see blog reviews here, here, here, and here). Most forum posts about this are very positive. The negative reviews are almost exclusively from the first production of the machine, which Janome admits had some issues (and they subsequently fixed the issues). There is one lady who got one of these machines, hated it, and has since spewed as much vitriol as possible about the Horizon all over the internet. I’m not posting any of her sites here, but it should be easy to find if you’re curious. People have had problems with their dealers in relation to these machines, especially if the dealer is located outside of the US. A few of the negative reviews I read ended with the person getting a 440 instead and loving it (score one for 440).

Pros: automatic single needle plate converter (my machine has made me terrified of my fabric getting eaten, so this is a big plus for me), 11” of harp space, built-in organizational spots in the machine (I’m obsessed with organization), dual-feed system, automatic thread cutter, GIGANTIC extension table

Cons: the mixed reviews (I have bad luck and if something is going to break on someone, I guarantee it will be me)

5. Elna eXcellence

Price: $2500

Reviews: none yet…yikes!

Pros: 11.5” of harp space, wide range of stitches and functions

Cons: seems to be more geared toward garment sewing, though I wouldn’t say that is necessarily negative

6. Bernina Aurora 440QE

Price range: $2800-3500

Reviews: there are too many good reviews of this machine to list, but here are a couple. The reviews I have read for this machine are universally positive. Owner after owner calls it her “dream machine.” Nobody has even complained about the small harp space, which is my biggest concern. If I wanted to buy a machine on reviews alone, this is the one I would choose. But I don’t want to do that, obviously.

Pros: BSR, comes with great quilting attachments, and has a range of stitches I think I will actually use

Cons: small harp space (this is the biggest con for me as harp space is one of the main reasons I began looking at getting a new machine to begin with), price (absolute top of my range), small extension table, and it seems to be not very much machine for the money…I’m worried I’ll regret buying something this small

Now onto the test drive...


  1. Just my two cents, but I've got the Janome 6600 and loooooove it! No cons in my opinion!

  2. I interested to hear about your test drives. I've been using the same 30 yr old machine for years and am always thinking about jumping to a new machine. (Although I have been thinking about finding a sponsorship too.) No Pfaffs on the list?

  3. With so many people doing FMQ today it seems odd that Bernina has such a small harp space. This would definitely deter me from purchasing one. Thanks for the great info!