Sunday, April 24, 2011

The Search For the Perfect Machine, Part Three: Post-test-drive

(The first and second posts in this series are here and here.)

The machines I test drove were at a dealer about thirty minutes away from me. The dealer sells the Bernina 350PE and 440QE, as well as the Janome 6600 and 7700. Four of the six in one place not far from home…hooray.

I brought the following things with me:

1. Four kinds of fabric I use frequently, including one type that my machine hates (KF Shot Cotton)

2. Four small quilt sandwiches (with single layers of cotton fabric and cotton batting) for testing free-motion quilting

3. One large quilt sandwich for testing how much the harp could accommodate and how the quality of FMQ was affected by having a great deal of fabric jammed into the machine. My sandwich was not an actual quilt top since it was being sacrificed to the quilting gods, but I did use a thick broadcloth fabric on one side and wool on the other to approximate the thickness of a pieced top

(Wild turkeys in the driveway this morning! I love them!)

Step 1: straight stitching/tour of basic functions

Bernina 350 PE. I eliminated this almost immediately because the machine seemed too basic for me (although I’m sure it is a very good machine). This is a great machine for someone who can afford to spend quite a bit of money to learn quilting, but it was obvious that its narrow range of functions and capabilities meant I couldn’t take my sewing much further than the level I’m on now. Next.

Bernina 440QE. I did a few rows of straight stitching with the saleswoman sitting less than an inch from me, which was nerve-racking. Does anyone else feel like quilt shop employees are always judging you? Then don’t ever sew in front of them. Anyway, I used the patchwork foot and did see that amazing Bernina stitch quality that people rave about right away. The 440’s stitches were perfect. The machine was remarkably quiet and soothing. The harp space didn’t seem quite as small when I was piecing on it, and I liked the attached extension table.

Janome 6600. This machine looks like you expect a solid sewing machine to look: parts poking out everywhere, huge stitch guide on top, large throat, thick foundation. It was a nice machine and I got to try it out for approximately thirty seconds before the saleslady pulled me over to the Horizon.

Janome 7700. As I said in my earlier post, I wasn’t excited about the Horizon when I began looking at machines. If it had been list price, I would not have even tried it. But when I got there, the machine drew me like a moth to a flame. It was animal magnetism. I tried some basic stitches with the ¼” foot (yeah, the original one that everyone hates, and it did skew to the left, for the record), and then stitched with the dual-feed function turned on. If you were drowning and you happened to be holding onto the end of a quilted tablerunner that was under the Janome Horizon dual-feed foot, it would save your life. There's some horsepower behind that.

Step 2: free-motion/advanced functions

Janome 7700. I asked the lady at the shop to put on the FMQ foot so I could try it out. She put on a standard, clear plastic foot, and I grabbed one of my quilt sandwiches and sat down. The top thread broke after five seconds of quilting and the stitches were barely distinguishable (see image above).

The fabric was difficult to manipulate, and the thread continued breaking…four or five times in a few minutes’ worth of quilting. One of the other saleswomen actually heard it snap from several feet away. The foot was bouncing up and down so much that I could barely see the fabric and it made me dizzy. I decided to open the manual and make sure it was the right foot. Of course, it wasn’t. The 7700 has a special adjustable, two-spring foot: a foot that could not be located anywhere in the shop. Here's another shot of how awful it looked (and yeah, I had to write on the fabric to keep track of the samples):

Bernina 440QE. It took the woman a good ten or fifteen minutes to figure out how to put the BSR foot on. I sat patiently…this was my moment! And the BSR foot, as has been said many times before, did not disappoint. Damn. That thing was amazing. My stitches looked professional [image]. Happy joy. But as I moved the large quilt sandwich around, I realized that I was quite uncomfortable. My worst fears had been realized: the small harp space was an insurmountable issue. I was not bonding with this machine.

Janome 6600. When I sat down to try FMQ on this machine, I also spent more time playing around with its other features. There is something so nice about using this machine. It’s very easy to use, the screen selections are more intuitive than other computerized machines, the stitch quality is great, etc. etc. The saleswoman (one of those people who has five or six different machines at home for different purposes) said she had one and she “would NEVER get rid of it,” which I highly doubted after seeing her stroking the Horizon gently when I wasn’t looking. So anyway, I had a hard time achieving proper tension when FMQ on this machine, but I’m sure I could have worked it out…and even with the poor tension on the back, it looked great from the front. I felt so comfortable working on the 6600:

Janome 7700, round two. I unearthed a proper foot for sale at the store, so I forced them to open it and stick it on the machine. I achieved MUCH, MUCH better results with the two-spring foot. The tension was off no matter what I did, though. The machine repairman came out and talked to me about it at length, trying to convince me that it was easily remedied. I felt concerned about it. I know that tension is an issue with every machine, but I still felt like such an expensive machine should be able to achieve proper tension after fifteen adjustments.

So anyway, my dealership ended up offering me a great deal on the Horizon. I decided to go home and think about it for a few days. I had made various people promise that if they knew I came home with a sewing machine on the first day I looked, they would force me to return it. I had discussed the issues people were reporting with the Horizon to the ladies at the dealership, and I was then subjected to numerous lectures that started with phrases like “You know, I just don’t trust the internet. Those people are probably lying, you know.” In the Janome 7700 Yahoo Group? “You just shouldn’t listen to the people on the internet.” Okay.

I’ll be back soon with the rest of my saga. Until then, I hope yall are having a nice Easter, if you celebrate! If you're still reading, you are a champ and have my eternal devotion!


  1. I hear you about the power of the dual feed - even on the 6600 it's pretty serious! Your table runner-drowning scenario killed me!

  2. just from the fmq pics I would take the bsr! I don't understand why you were getting so many tension issues with the horizon. they didn't have the three feet that it comes with? if you buy that one I would ask to try the one they would sell you. also, throw away the 1/4" foot it comes with and get the little foot :)

  3. I read the entire post just so I could have your eternal devotion! So you know what I think about it all lol! Just have to say, I have never had a problem with tension on my Juki! It does the best stitch I have seen on any machine, ever, no matter what type of thread. It even does perfect stitches with monofilament, and that says it all right there. Just sayin' lol!!

  4. oh! I just remembered something that does irk me on the horizon and no one ever has no true basting stitch! unless you put it in fmq mode you can't get a long enough stitch to baste loosely or for gathers. I asked them about it and they had no idea what I was talking about. I was so annoyed since my old baby lock had it and that machine is a lot cheaper.

    sooo now I get double eternal devotion right?!

  5. hi monet,

    i've read all three parts of this post. it's very informative and so so hilarious :)

    i am looking for another machine. i am thinking of buying the bernina 350 pe. i am now using pfaff select 1530 (bought in 2001) and the pfaff quilt style (bought in 2003). so far these two machines are superb. there has been no drama so far. they make sewing such an enjoyable experience. so, why you ask am i looking for another machine...and a bernina at it. it's simply because, the previous pfaff dealer has ceased to be one. they mostly sell and repair industrial sewing machines. so there's no quilting or sewing classes conducted and no quilting or sewing supplies sold. i think that's why their pfaff sales quota was not achieved. they had to drop the dealership.

    i am making handbags and clothing and sell them online...and i just don't dare to think...what if one day my pfaffs break down. i need a back up plan that is at least as good as my pfaffs. there is an authorised bernina dealer just about 40 minutes drive from my place. so far they have been helpful.

    again thanks for the post.