Sewing machines have been used for over a century. Whether they are used for making clothing, custom embroidery, or quilts, they are an important time saving tool. They have become a mainstay in contemporary quilt making. Piecing the traditional quarter-inch seams was fast and easy, even on the treadle machines of our grandmothers and their grandmothers. But over the years manufacturers have added features, and quilters now have many options.
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If you are considering the purchase of a new machine, make a list of your sewing requirements so you can narrow your focus to the machine that will meet your needs.
There are two types of sewing machines: mechanical and electronic. Aside from the higher price of electronic machines, there are differences in features to consider.
A mechanical machine has a sensitive foot control that will stop with the needle in any position, while an electronic machine will automatically stop with the needle up or down, but not in between. There are advantages to each type.
A mechanical machine engages the thread tension as soon as the presser foot is lowered. An electronic machine engages this tension during the first stitch. Thus an electronic machine produces a looser first stitch. This can be overcome by holding the bobbin and needle threads taut for a few stitches at the beginning of a seam.
For easy and accurate sewing on either type of machine, these are options you may want to consider:
Accurate 1/8" seams: It should be possible to achieve a 1/4" seam allowance by aligning the fabric with the right edge of the foot, or with a line marked on the foot, or on the throat plate. Adjustable needle positions will allow you to accomplish this. A special 1/4" foot may also be available.
Using the right edge of the foot as a guide, the machine should feed the fabrics evenly across seams without pulling or distorting multiple layers. Fabric edges should not be frayed by the machine.
Single-hole throat plate: The single hole prevents fabric from being pushed into the throat plate while stitching. During free-motion quilting, the single hole also brings the bobbin thread through at a consistent angle, no matter which direction the quilt is moved under the needle. This results in a more uniform tension and better looking stitch on the back of the quilt.
Immediate response to reverse stitching or changing stitch length: When sewing from point to point, as when setting in a patch, the machine should reverse direction immediately so the point-to-point seam can be reinforced at the ends.
Sensitive foot control: The machine should be able to sew slowly at a uniform speed. Even-feed foot (with quilting guide bar): An even-feed, or walking foot, feeds multiple layers of fabric and batting smoothly for machine quilting. The quilting bar guides you in stitching parallel lines without marking. On newer machines, the quilting bar can be attached directly to the even-feed foot.