Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Looking back at my first sewing machine, I'm wondering what's better, new machines or old?

My first machine. A Kenmore 12 Stitch.

I'm really excited about my new (and new to me, but old) machines, and they are all very snazzy and cool, but after a comment about a Kenmore yesterday (thanks, Thread Headed Snippet!), I thought I should devote a little time and love to my first machine, Kendra the Kenmore. 

Haha cheesy, I know.

I really started sewing in High School. Before that, I was always interested, but it was really just dabbling and hand stuff. My mom has had this Kenmore since she bought it new in about '79 or '80. It is crazzzzyyyy heavy and it was probably pretty sweet when it was new. Look at all those stitches!

Oooo fancy stitches...

This machine supplying my only "vintage" sewing experience (by default - just had an old machine, not on purpose) until now, I can at least say that new machines, though shiny and full of stitch options, come no where near. This machine faced the boiling summers of Vegas, below zero temps in Colorado, multiple moves and probably a fall or two, since it was so darn heavy! I know I dropped it as a kid...

Finally, two years ago, after 30 years of chugging along, it finally gave out on me one day and I had to take it to the shop. It just wouldn't turn on. It was probably the first time it had been cleaned, oiled, or even opened up since it came off the assembly line! 

While it was in the shop, I couldn't stand the thought of being without a sewing machine, so I thought I'd treat myself to a new one. I bought a Babylock. Nothing crazy, but definitely a decent machine. I must admit, I was pretty stoked about the automatic button hole...

The Kenmore and the Babylock.
Same size, but the Kenmore weighs twice as much.
Metal versus plastic, hmmm...

When I got the Kenmore back, I finally gave my mom back her machine, thinking I had the better end of the deal. Bah! Barely two years went by when the Babylock conked out (a day before I needed to finish the brown wool gown, no less). I took it in and called up mom to get back the Kenmore. 

I forgot how amazing this thing stitches! The presser foot really holds down the fabric, where the new machine just didn't have the weight to keep yards and yards of fabric in line, even when I held it up (think how many yards you wrangle for a mid 19th century skirt!). The Babylock also skips stitches like it's going out of style. 

So, basically, I know I just bought a new Singer, but I think that might be my last new machine. I think I will use it for crafty things, and light, not precise work. The fancy stitches are fun for that, whereas they rarely ever have a place on historical costumes. The Babylock, I've kept for taking to workshops and traveling... though a Featherweight would be great for that... I need something light. My new singer is a bit of a monster.

Testing out the singer on yards and yards of
sheer cotton - yes, folks, there is a sheer 1860's dress
on the horizon. So far, so good, by the way.

For costumes, however, I think I'm going to mostly stitch vintage. The old machines just do such an amazing job of stitching. They handle the fabric so well, and compared to my new machines, the stitches are so precise. Yes, if there's a problem, it might be hard to locate a part, but I've been trolling Ebay most of the day, for "research" (wink wink), and you can find soooo much! All kinds of parts: original and new replacements. Not to mention, the older machines have a bit of style ;)

I am trying out the new Singer with some light cotton, for a sheer dress. So far, so good. But I'm only on the first tuck. I'm curious to see how it will handle silk satin (hopefully soon up will be a satin Victorian corset). One thing I can say, so far, it's better than the Babylock...

An opinions on new machines versus old? What do you all prefer to sew with?


  1. I'm happy to be the first to comment on our old Kenmore, or "Kendra" as you lovingly now call her. Yes, I can remember the day I bought her, from our local Sears outlet. Heavy, and absolutely dependable! All metal parts, of course. I wanted to learn to sew, and didn't know much about sewing machines. I thought I'd go with the tried and true. I made a silk cocktail dress for my 5th Wedding Anniversary. I knew very little about sewing, but was undaunted, and Kendra certainly helped. I made a special soft peachtoned satin drawstring baby dress for you to wear to church for your arrival at your christening, before you donned the Victorian antique extravaganza after the ceremony. Those items were the highlights with my time with Kendra. I am ever so happy you have had good luck with her as well. Bravo on all your fabulous endeavors!

  2. Oh my goodness, I grew up with that same Kenmore but I never liked it as much as my others. Guess I have my own saga. I'm more excited about your recent purchases. =)

  3. I'm a dyed in the wool hard core "old" machine lover! And your old kenmore falls into that category, I know they are heavy and not good for travel (even a feather weight will be heavier then your baby lock) but heavy = sturdy and reliable in my world. That and I never seem to use fancy stitches even when I have them. If I want to embellish something I embroider it by hand. Though don't get me wrong if I won the lottery today I'd totally run out and get one of those huge fancy embroidery machine ;)

    But to each their own I feel it's more important to find what you are most comfortable with and then stick to it, cause if you are comfortable then you can be confidant in what you make which is way more enjoyable, and let's be honest for most of us this is a hobby and hobbies should be fun!! :)

    1. I know! I'm always lured in with those fancy stitches and I have yet to actually ever use any of them. I like doing it by hand. I guess I could make some napkins or something and throw in a couple designs...

      And I agree - hobbies should be enjoyable! Cheers to keeping it fun!

  4. Kendra is great! I love the deluxe stitches. My Kenmore was probably a mid-level model and has 8 stitch options, but I've honestly never tried most of them out. My mom bought herself a new Singer about 5 years ago to replace The Green Machine(yes, she's avocado green!)after I made it clear that I wouldn't be returning it. She has enjoyed the Singer, but she rarely uses it. Meanwhile, The Green Machine chugs on.

    Thanks for sharing about Kendra! I really love seeing other people's sewing machines. (And sewing rooms, and fabric stash, etc etc...)

    1. Ya, I've never used any of the stitches besides straight and maybe zig zag.

      I feel like a greedy hoarder since I haven't given the Kenmore back yet. Oh well...

  5. On a note of interest, I saw in a recent Frankie magazine (I think) that a young woman has designed a new type of sewing machine which oozes style. She's working on getting it into production. I've often wondered that the style of machines has changed so little. But the one she has designed is gorgeous to look at as well as being functional.
    At present I have my original Globe, my 1983 maroon Husqvarna, my Elna Stella (Lotus) and access to Nanny's treadle that I learnt on. Love 'em all!

    1. Ooo I'll have to go look up that machine.

      I must ask, how do you like the treadle? I just got one and I am trying to get it to work. A post on that coming soon. Been so busy lately!

  6. I started sewing on a Singer treadle machine, then moved on to my Mothers New Home which had a knee pedal and it's own cabinet with a box of attachments. Then in 1976 I bought that same Kenmore.So many choices,what wonderful things I could make with zig zag stitches a free arm and it's own carry case! Well after 30yrs she died,they could no longer fix her. How I loved that machine even if it did take 2 people to move it from room to room, and I did make wonderful things, but I never used the 12 fancy stitches. I sew with a Janome now (New Home),127 stitches and computerized. The only new stitches used? backwards and needle down.

    1. Oh I know! It's fun to say all those stitches at one's disposal, but really, all you end up using are the basic ones. And then sometimes I only hand sew for months and don't use it at all!