Thursday, January 26, 2012

A Review of My Futura Sewing Machine

The Singer Futura is a sewing/embroidery combo machine, and as an embroidery machine, it's a really low end one at that. It's not too bad as a sewing machine, though there are machines out there that are far better.

How is it for Embroidery?
My Futura was best with small designs using few
colors, but hooping baby clothes was a pain.
It works, but I found it really limiting. (Says the woman who decided to start an embroidery business.) It doesn't trim jump threads, and if you loose power in the middle of an embroidery job (one of your kids unplugs it), it doesn't remember what stitch it was on when the power went off - this, despite needing to be hooked up to a computer in order to embroider. You also have to re-thread it for every embroidery color change, but this is true with all single-needle sewing machine/embroidery combo machines. I don't really recommend the model I have for embroidery. However, my exact model of Futura has been discontinued, and Singer came out with a new one with some improvements. It may be that the new one has fixed a lot of the things that bugged me about my old one, but I wouldn't buy it again without a bit of research.

Any Singer made after the 1970s or 80s uses plastic gears inside. It makes the machine lighter, but it also means that the gears wear out more quickly than metal parts.  Computerized sewing machines came out in the 90s. According to my local sewing machine repairman, computerized machines often have fewer issues because they use a circuit board to control fancy stitches and have fewer moving parts. Though I think he may have been talking about machines with computer boards AND metal innards given that he was attached to a Bernina dealer (which uses plastic gears).

Either way, I haven't had any problems with my machine yet. Except for one or two occasions where I've allowed too much lint to build up under the bobbin case and it's messed up the tension. Cleaning and oiling the machine is easy to do at home.

Ease of Use? 
It's very easy to thread and use. It has a drop-in bobbin with a clear cover so it's easy to ensure you don't have the wrong color loaded in the machine before you start stitching. Bobbins are clear plastic too, so it's easy to see how much thread is left on the bobbin. It's also very clear what stitch you are on. If you turn the power off and on, it doesn't remember what stitch settings you were using during your last session, which has its pros and cons.

It doesn't have auto-tension, so it's good to test out what setting works best for your project before you begin. And on really delicate or lightweight fabrics, I recommend holding the bobbin thread for the first few stitches to help with the tension and to prevent any fabric from getting sucked down into the throat plate - though this is true for almost any machine.

Fancy Stitches?
There are a lot of built in stitches on the Futura. However, I pretty much only use the straight stitch, zig-zag stitch, and automatic buttonholes. I tend to break out the serger, the embroidery machine, or a specialized foot for my sewing machine before I use a fancy stitch. If you really like fancy stitches, there are other machines on the market that have far more than the Futura.

So If I Were to Buy a Sewing Machine All Over Again, What Would I Get?
To be perfectly honest, my mom has an old metal body 1970s Bernina. She always manages to load the bobbin wrong on it and doesn't use it. I plan on offering her a trade: my shiny, 2004 Singer Futura for her 1970s Bernina. I don't really use the Singer's fancy functions; I want the durability of the Bernina's metal gears.

You Want A Vintage Machine? 
Yep. A lot of people who sew frequently love the vintage machines and seek them out because they can be real work horses. I even know a few specialty sewers who seek out the REALLY old machines (think hand-crank or foot treadle) because they give the sewer more control over the timing of the needle penetrations, which allows them to get super-accurate sewing results. Once you figure out how to clean up and maintain an old machine, it can last for almost forever, and you can get a good 1980s Bernina even on a limited budget.

If You Must Have A New Machine
Ok, lets say that automatic buttonholes are a must. Or being able to do a fancy decorative stitch.  Or a machine that will thread itself because you can never seem to get it through the needle eye. See if you can go to a store or a dealer that will allow you to test drive your machine first. Here are some things to consider:

Being able to add embroidery is a great perk for a new machine.
1) Easy to use and thread? (including the bobbin, and how you raise/lower the pressor foot)
2) How does it handle different types of fabric? (try it out on really thin stuff as well as something really thick - you may need to supply this fabric yourself for a proper test)
3) Automatic buttonholes and other stitch functions?
4) Advanced features such as trimming thread for you, automatic tension control, or embroidery
5) Price (including that of any future repairs - Kenmore machines can old be serviced at Sears because Sears controls the supply of parts)

If you're not going to do much sewing, then anything that has the features you need ought to work. Get what your budget allows and feels natural to work with. Here are a few notes about some common brands.

If you need fancy features, such as computerized embroidery, the following three brands are considered the most advanced, reliable (and expensive):
* Bernina (considered most reliable)
* Huskvarna/Viking
* Pfaff

Based off my experience with their sergers and embroidery machines, I'd also be personally happy with the following company:
* Brother/Babylock

More Budget-Friendly Options:
* Elna
* Janome
* Kenmore (be prepared to take it to Sears for repairs)
* Singer

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