Here at Sew4Home, we've always said a good quality sewing machine is your most important creative tool. No matter what level you're at, you should always buy the best machine you can afford. We recently outlined a list of suggestions about entry-level or mid-range models: Top Top Five Things to Remember About How to Shop For & Buy a Sewing Machine. But what about when you're shopping for one of the top-of-the-line models?
It's still true. You want to get the best your budget will allow. And especially when you're looking for a high-end machine, you want to purchase it from a local dealer. You'll not only be sure to get a reputable brand, but your new machine will come with a team of experts to help you make the most of your new creative tool.
Amazing features and capabilities! The word "amazing" is probably overused these days, but we think it's appropriate to describe the kinds of features you'll find on today's top-of-the-line machines. These "flagship" models have capabilities that weren't even on the drawing board five years ago, and they are significantly superior even to machines released just two years ago. The onboard computers are faster. The touchscreens are as big and bright as your favorite tablet. The things you can do with stitches are nothing short of remarkable. And all of them have the ability to do gorgeous, large-scale embroidery.
Full disclosure: We do our sewing here at Sew4Home on Janome machines. We are huge Janome fans, and turn to them often for their expertise and product knowledge – as we did with this article. They are the exclusive sewing machine sponsor for our site, but we would not use or recommend their machines if they were't so easy to operate and didn't give us such professional-looking stitch quality. The machine we're using for illustration in this article is the Horizon Memory Craft 15000, Janome's top-of-the-line machine released in late 2013.
But don't just take our word for it. Do your homework, then sit down and try the top machines from several brands. And, don't let yourself become dazzled by "bells and whistles." Remember, it is all about you! Buy a machine for the features that matter to you. Just because something is touted as the best in a brochure or seems fancy and pretty, it's only important if it will make your sewing better, faster or more enjoyable.
Top 10 Features To Look For On A Premium Machine
Even more than a laundry list of features, a top-end machine should give you an overall feeling of luxury. Just sitting at it, you should be able to tell it's a premium machine.
That said, below is our list of 10 features you're really going to want to have when you step up to use that dream machine.
#1: Work Space
The amount of sewing room to the right of the needle becomes an issue when you're sewing anything bigger than a baby blanket. When you have extra width and height, you don't have to jam your project through the bed as you're trying to keep up with the machine. It's easier to see what you're doing, and you'll actually have the room to try things that take a bit of elbow room, like meandering stitching.
A large workspace is something you will appreciate immediately and enjoy on every project. It does makes the machine bigger (you probably won't want to tote it around) but also gives it a substantial footprint for less vibration when running.
The Horizon Memory Craft 15000 has 11" of space to the right of the needle, which we've really appreciated on our big projects.
#2: Stitch Quality & Quietness
This is important on every level of sewing machine, but especially so on the high-end models. The stitches, whether decorative or embroidery, should look like they were done professionally. In fact, during a test stitch, you should be able to let go of the fabric and have the machine sew it perfectly on its own.
In our experience, the MC15000 sews quietly enough that we can listen to soft music while using it.
#3: Automatic End-Of-Stitch Features
These are the things the machine should do for you. You want to be able to set your machine so that at the end of your seam it raises the needle, raises the presser foot, and cuts and ties off your thread. Then when you push the Start button for your next stitch, it automatically lowers everything and starts going. (Of course all these things should be able to be set to your preferences or disabled should you so desire.)
These auto features not only save you from having to reach around the machine, but will also speed up your work. You can stay in the flow of sewing rather than taking a break to hunt for your thread snips.
The MC15000 has all these features plus an automatic fabric thickness sensor and an automatic presser foot pressure sensor.
#4: Easy To Learn
The machine should just "make sense" to you. You should be able to sit down and, with very little instruction, find your way around. You will have made a significant investment and you don't want to have to sit through a week of classes just to learn how to do basic sewing. Today's top-of-the-line machines do have some amazing embroidery and stitch customization features. When you sit down with your sales person, make sure you understand how they work.
The MC15000 has an easy-to-follow navigation scheme for all the functions on the machine. It also comes with two easy-to-use iPad® apps for creating and monitoring embroidery.
It doesn't sound like a high tech feature, but extra lighting makes a big difference to your sewing experience. As we age, our eyes lose the ability to see in dim light. Your top-of-the-line machine should have bright, daylight-color light all across that big sewing bed.
One of our favorite features on the MC15000 is the HighLight™ that pulls out from the top of the machine and can be aimed at the needle area. It also comes with a set of three adjustable magnifying lenses.
#6: Stable Hoops
All high end sewing and embroidery machines will have big embroidery hoops. Depending on the kinds of projects you do, having an extra large hoop will be indispensable. But there's a limit to how large a hoop can go before affecting the quality of your stitches.
The problem with a large, unsupported area of fabric is that it tends to flex up and down as the needle penetrates. To mitigate this, you want your fabric pulled as tightly as possible in the hoop and then held as securely as possible. But a traditional rectangular hoop system, with an outer hoop that slips over an inner hoop tightened into place with screws, really only holds the four corners securely. The sides of your fabric can still slip.
Some manufacturers have tried to solve this by making their hoops almost round, so when you tighten the outer hoop it holds firmly all the way around. Unfortunately, most design motifs fit a rectangular shape, which wastes a lot of space in an oval hoop.
The MC15000 has an ingenious (and patented) solution to this problem – magnetic clips that hold the sides of your embroidery in place. You get the advantages of a rectangular hoop and fabric stability that's unmatched.
#7: Comes With A Complete Accessories Package
After you've made a substantial investment in your machine, you don't want to be nickel and dimed on all the accessories you need to actually make it work. You want lots of hoops, presser feet, and anything else they're willing to throw in.
With the MC15000, Janome gives you 20 feet, 5 hoops, a custom extension table, and so many other accessories they need their own multi-layer carrying case (also included with purchase).
#8: Special Layered Fabric Feeding System
The standard feeding system on a premium machine (the presser foot and feed dogs) will do a wonderful job on regular seams. But when you get into thick fabric sandwiches or shifting layers of tricky fabrics, even the best machine needs a little extra help.
A walking foot system utilizes a special presser foot that moves in sync with the feed dogs. The feed dogs are pulling from the bottom and the foot is grabbing and pulling from the top so all your fabric layers are moved past the needle without shifting or bunching. While most standard machines have an available walking foot, the special feeding systems on your top-of-the-line machine should be . . . well, top-of-the-line.
First, make sure it works smoothly and precisely with a variety of layers. Then, find out how easy it is to uninstall or move out of the way when you don't need it. If it's a hassle to remove, you're not going to want to use it very often. And that would be a shame because these systems are useful for all kinds of projects.
What we like about the AcuFeed Flex™ feeding system on the MC15000 is that it's very precise, it comes in two widths, and it's quick to install and remove.
#9: Free Motion Quality
This new feature is only about 90 years old. But the computer controlled precision of the new machines have made it so much smoother and easier. Some people call it "free motion stitching," "thread painting," or if they're a quilter, "FMQ" (free motion quilting). Whatever you call it, it's when you drop the feed dogs, start the machine stitching, then move your fabric around to draw on it with the thread. You can make specific shapes, create a repeating pattern, or just randomly wander for a fill-in effect.
You can do this on a regular machine by just dropping the feed dogs and using a straight stitch. But on a top-of-the-line model, you'll have built-in settings to make free motion stitching remarkably smooth, even and easy. Be sure you try this technique when you're test driving high-end machines. It should feel like it's just you and the machine going with the flow.
While some top-end models have stitch regulators to help beginners learn free motion stitching, we've found that the MC15000 has such an inherently precise stitch mechanism, you don't need a regulator. That's why it's so important to actually try these features for yourself on the various machines.
#10: Embroidery Placement
You know all the flagship models let you do large scale embroidery designs. You can create one-of-a kind, professional looking design layouts right on the sewing machine's touch screen. But what about accurately placing that design on your fabric? Or even more challenging, how do you accurately place designs that require multiple hoopings in relationship to each other?
If you can't do this accurately, you're going to be limited to design layouts that are small enough to fit in one hoop. For example, let's say you want a design motif to repeat all the way across a duvet cover. You can fit three designs in your first hooping. So you embroider those. Now you want your next three designs (your second hooping) to line up so accurately, it looks like the pattern is continuing without interruption.
This is one area where we haven't seen anything that comes close to the Janome system. Our MC15000 uses a calibrated alignment device called the Clothsetter.
We use a printed template to mark where our designs go on the fabric. The Clothsetter aligns it perfectly in our embroidery hoop, and off we go. It's that simple. This is why the hoop size on your MC15000 isn't a huge deal. With such accurate placement, you can make gigantic designs with multiple hoopings and it will look like you did it all in a four foot wide hoop.
Enjoy shopping for that ultimate sewing machine. Think about how it will help you with the projects you do now. And then daydream a little about the kinds of projects you'll be doing in the future. You'll be like a kid in a candy store.