Ask The Readers: Sewing Machines

A guest post from Kayla…

I love reading Mom’s Ask Jo posts, because of course mother knows best, but she has the best readers who give advice in the comments! I found myself searching for information online and then I realized I have log-in credentials to make my own post here on Mom’s blog!

I’ll summarize: I’m looking for sewing machine advice.

I’m doing a heavy overhaul of my basement sewing area. I have a large space in our unfinished basement but it spills over into the entire basement. It has to hold ALL of my hobbies as well as my Etsy stock and shipping supplies.

I enjoy sewing and I love older machines but I just don’t have the space for them all. When I sew I tend to make clothing and crafts more than quilts. I’d like to have the capability to make more heavy-duty things from upholstery fabric.

Let’s take a tour of my machines!

I used a machine of Mom’s until I was 19 and purchased my own. I had worked at Pine Needles in Cresco and was devoted to the Bernina brand. Pine Needles (Now Inspired to Sew) was moving to a new location and had great prices on floor models.

I picked an Artista 230 and added a walking foot. It was a great purchase at the time.

  • It was the highest end of the Artista models
  • It had a wide stitch variety with computer selection, but not full on computer touch screen
  • It could use the same specialty feet as my Mom’s higher-end machine
  • It was adorable and lightweight, and I was moving around a lot and didn’t have a sewing room.

This is usually my go-to machine. But I’m considering a different one for a few reasons.

  • It’s pretty finicky. I have to carefully choose a bobbin and top threads that work together. It needs new needles all of the time or it skips a stitch. Sometimes it patches Carhartt and sometimes it eats the beginning of a triangle. It is unpredictable.
  • I can hear the computer running. I know this is not normal, but it drives me nuts. I can’t relax when I use it.
  • It’s pretty slow! My students used Bernettes that stitched at a much higher speed, and I love the speed of Mom’s Grand Quilter.

Here’s what I’m looking for.

  • NO computers.
  • Metal parts.
  • Open to new or vintage
  • High speed

Here’s a tour of my other machines.

I have a New Home treadle. I keep this as an end table in my bedroom and break it out occasionally. This is my main workhorse to do ridiculous things like sewing cardboard mailers for my Etsy shop. But it is a lot to get out, takes a lot of oil to get it running smoothly, and is pretty slow. I’ll keep it forever, but more for sentimental than practical reasons.

I have a featherweight. This baby isn’t going anywhere! It was an anniversary gift from my husband and I love that I have it in common with Mom. She is my little sweetie for quilt piecing. Again, adorable, but not super practical for utility.

I have a Singer 717. You might recognize her as “Mildred” because she is from Mom. I love this machine and it fills a lot of my requirements, but it takes up too much space in the cabinet. I know it could come out of the cabinet, but that seems a pity if there was someone else in the world to enjoy her. She’s up for sale on Facebook.

When I was photographing in the driveway, I chatted with my neighbor. He used to do upholstery and knows a lot about machines. I told him I’m considering a commercial machine and making space in my basement. He offered a machine of his, but I haven’t heard much about it and am asking for advice!

So, dear readers, help a girl out!

Here are my questions…

  • My neighbor’s machine is a Montgomery Ward J1969. Do you have any experience with this kind of machine? Does it fit my wish list?
  • Do you sew on a machine you love that fits my wish list? Tell me about it!

Thanks so much for your help!

62 thoughts on “Ask The Readers: Sewing Machines”

  1. Allison C Bayer I saw the ad when I was reading Bonnie Hunter’s blog. I’ve marveled at all the DIY stories and small businesses that utilize their machines. I’ve had my eye on the Sailrite Fabricator for several years.
    Click on the Meet Our Customers tab. Wishing you the best upgrade possible! Allison C. Bayer, Plano, Texas

    1. I have a Bernina 830 Record and, for my portable use, a Bernina Nova 900. I, too, wanted reliable, non-computer, all metal parts. Our Bernina fix-it guy recommended these 2 models. They were made in the 70s. The 830 is a workhorse. I love both of these machines. The novas workspace could be a tad larger for me, easily remedied by one of those acrylic slide on extensions. I got both off Ebay. Bonnie Hunter also likes the Singer 401. Again, a workhorse. Good luck with your hunt.

  2. I know nothing about your neighbor’s machine. I woul recommend a Singer 201. All metal parts, handle heavy duty sewing, and maintenance is simple but probably not as fast as a commercial machine. Good luck and I hope someone is able to offer the advice you need.

  3. Kayla, most of my machines are Pfaff ones. I love that the feet a usually interchangeable (except for the Grand Quilter) and the built in even feed so that a walking foot is not necessary. I also have a Grand Quilter and honestly that is such a total work horse. Not only is it fast, but it sews anything (with the proper needle and foot). Not only do I piece quilts, but my grandson and I have made waxed canvas sleeping bag, leather chaps, repaired work pants, dog beds…you name it. But as you know, it doesn’t have a zig zag. If you have a machine with a good zig zag, then I would look for a used Grand Quilter to complement it.

  4. Check out your local sewing machine shop and see what they suggest You can certainly try it out in the store and they may have trade ins available This is the time of year when lots of new models come out and shops tend to take trade ins They’re normally serviced and then resold sometimes with a warranty too. I’d ask the staff what they like best and why to get some ideas tool Good luck

  5. You should definitely get a vintage Singer 201 -2 . It will take care of everything from quilt piecing to upholstery – Best machine singer ever made!

  6. Loved hearing about your machines. I used to do about 20 craft shows a year selling items I had sewn. I have had two different commercial machines, a Juki and a Singer. They both were extremely fast and heavy duty. The Singer did not reverse so I got the Juki. Both were bought used and both were very dependable. Keep in mind that some commercial machines only do straight stitching, they do not reverse. I think once you adjust to the speed you will wonder why you didn’t do it sooner.

  7. I like Janome machines and I have a Juki on my HIntenberg quilting frame that I really like. I just have to tell you I love your Textile Brewing (Dyersville, IA) sticker on your sewing machine. One of my favorite breweries in Eastern Iowa.

    1. Kayla,
      I would recommend either a Singer 201 or 301. There are tough machines and easy to service. I have sewn boat sails to doll clothes on both of them. The stitch is as beautiful as the Featherweight but will sail through 4 layers of denim. They are not super picky about thread, parts are pretty easy to find if you would ever need them. I found both of mine at garage sales. I also sew on a newer Pfaff for fancy stitches along with a serger when there is the rare chance I sew clothing.

  8. You might like a Singer 15-91. It is a little more heavy duty than other domestic sewing machines. I’m not sure if it can be used without a cabinet.

  9. Did you ask your neighbor why he was getting rid of his machine and what he used it to sew? Another company might have made the machine, like Singer or other big name sewing machine maker. Of course, it depends on how much he is asking for it. Most of my sewing these days is piecing for quilts. I have a featherweight and a Singer 301 for backup. Good luck on finding what you want.

  10. If your neighbor really wants to make a sale, perhaps he would allow you to test it it for a day or week so you could try it on your own.

  11. Beverly Douglas

    Look at the Juki TL series. Juki makes most of the industrial machines in this country and Japan. And yes it is Japanese. There are many different types of models, from mechanical to computerized, from light to heavy weight, from quilting to everything else. I have 2 Juki machines and I love them both.

  12. I love my Juki. It doesn’t do any zigzag or fancy stitches but it’s perfect for sewing quilts. I had a Bernina before I got the Juki but now I rarely use it.

  13. Bonnie in SE CT

    Hi Kayla, I have a Babylock Quilt pro and a Brother Novelle. They are the same machine but sold by different companies. They are straight stitch only. No frills, no computers . I do have a hopping foot and waking foot for them. They have the long shank. I love them. Only reason I have both is that one came to me indirectly when the original owner passed away. I love them. Workhorses, both of them. I have upholstered, quilted and everything thing in between. I highly recommend either of them. Good luck in your search!

    1. I would second this. I have a Brother PQ1500 Nouvelle – the current version is the 1500SL They are known as semi-industrials. I have a walking foot, hopping foot and a ruler foot for quilting on it. I also have an industrial Juki DDL8000A, but that has a computer.

  14. I have had Singers, Berninas, Pfaffs and Janomes in my 60 years of sewing. Some I have loved and used a long time for clothes, crafts, handbags and quilting. Others I have not liked even though they were a good brand and mid to high end. My favorite are the Janomes. I currently have a Janome M7. It is computerized and has sewn anything I’ve asked it to sew. I love it and plan to sew on it as long as I can sew. Previous to this machine I used a mid-range Janome and loved it too.

  15. I’ve been Bernina gal for 40 years. However a year ago I picked up a used Juki Haruka TL-18QVP and I love it. Reasonable price, sews through layers of fabric, fast!, and a large harp space. It only does straight stitching, but my Bernina’s fill in the gap when I want a decorative stitch. Check out Juki Junkies. They offer terrific service.

  16. I,too have a juki 10. Just basic sewing and quilting,, and a Janome pro. I think they are the best.but I’m no pro.

  17. Montgomery ward machine is a bull dog, not real pretty but a work horse. I have a Singer 99k, Singer401A another work horse, a Janome new Hume and a Davis treble. And I sew in all of them. Good luck

  18. I love Bernina’s, have been sewing on them since 1975. I got my first slightly used Bernina 830 Record as a college sophomore in 1975. I still have her and she’s a real workhorse. All metal parts, does have some fancy stitches via cams but she’s the machine that I pull out when I need to do canvas tent repair, reupholster a couch or do mending on heavy duty fabrics. Check the machine out. She’s the vintage Bernina 830, not the fancy computerized model with the same number that came out about 10 or 12 years ago. I also have one of those!

  19. A Viking Emerald 116 or 118 will be a workhorse. I also have a Babylock Jane straight stitch only machine that will plow through literally anything.

  20. A gentleman in my MQG makes all his projects from Upcycled jeans. He has what is essentially an entry level Janome. He says it sews his heavy duty projects without a hiccup. I am pretty sure their basic machines are not computerized and reasonably priced. He’s had his since before I met him 4 years ago.

  21. Ellen S from Minnesota

    I have a Singer 15-125 that I got from my aunt, she’s105 years old. She bought it new in 1953. It has all metal parts. What I like best about it is, it doesn’t bunch up when doing a back stitch, and its so quiet. I have about 16 older machines, and like this one best. I use it for quilts, crafts, and patching jeans. It’s NOT for sale.

  22. Hi Kayla, I’m a Janome girl, it’s funny how we get devoted to particular brands. If you want a heavy duty machine, Janome have a model called the HD9. It’s all metal, it’s mechanical, sews 1600 stitches per minute, it is a straight stitch only machine, so no zig zag or decorative stitches but for what you want that would probably not be a problem, you can sew literally anything on it – leather, vinyl, canvas, denim, it will sew through several layers of these materials, but it is also brilliant for patchwork, quilting, and of course clothes. The 9 stands for a 9 inch throat space. Do I sound like a Janome sales rep? It’s had very good reviews, I would love one myself. Good luck with getting another sewing machine, I hope you get one that you’ll love.

  23. I have always been a Pfaff girl, but they have changed. The one i have now has blown the boards twice in less than 4 years. The place where i purchased it doesnt even sell them any more due to the quality.I taught sewing for years and seen, used and taught on alot of brands of machines….my favorite is still an older Pfaff..they have walking foot built in, can use generic short shank feet, can handle layers well, and every thread ive seen….I would get a good used pfaff…dont go too fancy on the stitches. An 1175 or 1475 is before they went with all the fancy computer stuff that doesn’t last. I’ve repaired carhart bibs and winter coats and pieced quilts on them with no issues…ive regretted upgrading to the newer ones.

  24. The Montgomery Ward machine is likely a domestic/home sewing machine, perhaps made in Japan by the Happy company. I don’t think Wards sold industrial machines. Here is a website with the history of Wards sewing machines:

    Many of the vintage Japanese domestic zigzag machines are good quality. There are also vintage Kenmores made in Japan that are excellent machines. With a vintage machine, you want to be sure you have metal gears inside, not plastic gears, which can crumble with age and be difficult and expensive to replace.

    There are several vintage machine discussion groups on, which have lots of info in their files, including manuals. I belong to: VintageKenmoresSew (be sure to include the “s” on Kenmores and the “S” on Sew), Vintagesingers (Singers only), and Vintagesewingmachinerepair (includes Japanese brands).

    Some of the vintage machines take different kinds of feet: high shank or slant shank, so watch out for that.

    A vintage domestic machine will have trouble sewing really heavy things, canvas and such. They may be able to slowly make stitches, but will suffer for it. They can probably sew denim and upholstery, with care. Not high speed.

  25. I use a Brother PQ1500SL (1500 spm). It is similar to the Juki TL series machines minus the speed control and thread cutter via the pedal. It is a straight stitch only machine and works great. My next machine will be the Juki 8700 (5500 spm). It is an industrial machine and a true workhorse. It will be able to handle anything I throw at it. There are review videos on YouTube for both machines if you are interested. Also both machines use the same bobbin and feet so it saves a little on that sort of thing, they are also similar in price at about $800.

  26. I have a Bernina 830 and agree it is a durable machine. Mine has a cabinet which is a plus. I have a $10 Singer 734 found at Goodwill. It has built in stitches, no cams, all metal, and runs great. It came with 2 throat plates and basis feet. It is a solid machine. My daughter has a Kenmore, 70’s vintage, and it is very similar. All of these machines have done everything ever asked of them…knits, vinyl, light leather, shears, and even plastic in costumes. Good luck! Auctions can be very worthwhile sources.

  27. I used to have a mechanical Sears machine from the 70’s that was good. My mother-in-law had one very similar that was a Montgomery Ward that both had nice stitches. They had cams you had to put in for the fancier stitches. I think they were probably made by Singer but were made to advertise their individualize stores.
    I have a Brother 1500, straight stitch only that is for quilting but has a more industrial motor, an extension table and 3 speeds so can go very fast. I now have a Babylock that I love but it’s computerized.
    I’d definitely try the one your neighbor has if he’ll let you use it a bit before buying. Good luck. Hope all the comments don’t confuse you even more.

  28. Hi, Kayla! I have a Bernina, a small Janome, a featherweight and a Brother 1500. The Brother is the only machine I use, unless I happen to need a zigzag stitch. The Brother is a mechanical machine, does 1500 stitches per minute, straight-stitch only, and has a very wide throat. I love that machine for quilt piecing, quilting, and all sewing I want to do. I believe it’s pretty much the same as the Juki. I can highly recommend the Brother/Juki. Good luck with your choice!

  29. Hi Kayla,
    I’m a Vintage SINGER person all the way. My daily workhorse machines are two, Singer 201-2. One is a 1948, and the other is a 1956. These are amazing machines. Maintenance is easy, and can be done yourself. They can sew through heavy material, especially the 1948. The are fast, pretty quiet, not fussy about thread, and have a great stitch. I use them both every day for several hours. I recommend using the 201 in a cabinet. I keep white thread on one, and off white on the other. I have a third machine, a vintage Singer 401, that I use for top stitching, etc if I need another thread color. That is a great machine, but not as good as the 201’s. I have 3 Singer featherweights, but they are not daily users. My granddaughters have learned to sew using a featherweight. I’ve bought and sold many Singer vintage machines over the years, they are amazing!
    Good luck and let us know what you end up with!

  30. If I were looking for a machine to do only straight stitch I would at the Juki. They have one that Donna Jordon of Jordon Fabrics uses. Or if wanted a machine with bells and whistles then try the Bernina 590. Or look for an industrial singer set into a table.

  31. For the most bang for your buck- Juki TL series. It’s basically the same as your mom’s straight stitch machine. It will handle the heavy upholstery fabric. If you are going to sew mostly upholstery fabric you may want to jump up to an industrial.

  32. Juki TL2010Q for the win! Just a great machine for all of your requirements. There is a Facebook page called Juki Junkies that I follow and has great info. I have had mine for 8 years without issue. Good luck on choosing your new machine.

  33. I have a 62C Elna. It is all metal and was made in the 70s. It has cams for fancy stitches but I don’t have any of the cams. I can still do various zig zag stitches without a cam. It sews over anything I have tried but I haven’t tried leather or anything that heavy. I do use it for quilting and you don’t need a walking foot because it has an even feed. You want to be sure to get the metal case it should come in because the case converts into an extension table for a larger sewing surface. I bought mine at a thrift shop for $25. I belong to a vintage Elna group which is so helpful in case of any problems or questions. I do all my own maintenance. The foot pedal has two speeds on it….fast and slower. No computerized sewing machines for me! (Also have vintage singers which I also use daily.) I also have a Singer 66 treadle that is a workhorse. Mine doesn’t take lots of oil like yours does. It would go as fast as you could pedal!! No reverse and no zig zag.

  34. I don’t know about the machine for sale you mentioned, but when I read your qualifications, I was mentally answering “Juki” to each one of them. I have a Juki TL98Q and I absolutely love it. All metal parts, a workhorse of a machine. I’ve had it over 10 years and haven’t even had to take it in for service. Just keep it clean and oiled. It will do everything from piecing quilts to sewing leather. Only downfall, if you can call it that, is that it’s just a straight-stitch machine. I use a cheap Brother to do any decorative stitches, or my old Singer 600 series machines.

  35. I have sewed on Grandmothers featherweight ( 1951 model) since about 1970. Anything i have given it has been successful, coton, upholstery, leather, canvas, silk, you name it. I have 2 Brothers & a Janome, wouldn’t recommend those ever. They are all newer models & were gifts from well meaning. All were never used as the owners had passed before they had the use of them. Kindness, but not without expensive service. I wish my Sears , ? Midel, I used for almost 30 yrs., did straight & zigzag. It died. & my very skilled repair man said ‘ Patt, I just can’t do anything , she has died’. Her funeral was dignified. Good luck. With the hunt. I too would like another machine, but don’t trust most brands. I sew 2 to 12 hours, about 275 days a year. Mostly quilts but other things also.

  36. My mom taught me to sew on a treadle machine, and we both used that til I was about 12. Then she got a Bernina 830, the perfect machine, I thought. When I graduated from college, she got me my own 830, which I used until I got an insurance settlement from a car crash. (my sister and son also have 830s, which are about 45 years old and still humming alone).
    Then I bought a Bernina 1260, which to me is the perfect machine. I’ve been using it for over 25 years, and it does everything I need it to and more. It isn’t computerized but it is electronic, so I have the needle up/down function. I use that machine almost daily and have never been tempted by the new Berninas. It is as heavy as a boat anchor, though.
    I would have your Bernina serviced by a pro and see what happens. It may fix most of the issues that bug you. I would also see if they have any 20-25 year old Berninas for sale. You may find the perfect used machine.

  37. I recommend getting a Juki. I too am a Bernina person. I love my older bernina but was frustrated with small throat space and finicky behavior. My Juki Haruka is a workhorse! Very fast, very powerful. Not too expensive. I love it! It is not computerized, straight stitch only.

  38. I have a Singer 301 that I’d like to sell cheap. It’s all metal, and I’ve use dit several times. From an estate sale I did.
    Also, have a Pfaff 350 from an estate I did and would sell it cheap. Ive been trying to figure where and how to sell these!
    Bonnie C. In Georgia

  39. You described my Juki to a T!! I had all the other machines also at one time. They all eventually petered out for different reasons. I wanted durable, metal, no computer. I landed on Juki TL-18, and I absolutely love her!!! She is a dream and tough as nails! She can sew through 8 layers of leather, no problem.

  40. If you want to spend a little money, I recommend the Singer 201 or 301. Both are workhorses and easy to maintain.

    If you’d like to spend a bit more money, a Juki TL. I have the Juki TL 2010 and really like it (not as much as my singers, though).

    Good luck on your decision!

  41. Hi kayla, i got as a present 50 years ago a sears sewing the rose case. Its all metal, portable and 3/4 size. Has a good stitch snd can be found on ebay and occasionally for less than $200. My machine is called agnes grace after my

  42. If you are looking for a machine that is more user-friendly and has more features, you may want to consider a newer model. Some good options for upholstery work include the Juki TL-2010Q and the Janome HD3000.

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