Sewing Off the Grid, What do you do?

hand crank sewing machineHere in California, there’s an acute awareness of energy costs, as the fuel suppliers reap billions as we suffer. That aside, let’s say you’re interested in sewing, and you don’t want to use any electricity from the grid. What are your options?

Hand sewing?

Yes, you could call your needle a machine, but that doesn’t really go to the call to the question here, and there are quicker options.

Antique hunting?

Yes, you can get down to the antique store or junk store and look for a vintage treadle or hand crank machine. These machines can sometimes be had for a modest price, they’re usually attractive, and you can find out how to fix them by buying manuals available online. I’m told they’re durably made, and I do remember my grandmother’s old treadle, and wish I had it. But, when I was looking at this option, the machines I saw available cost over $1,000, so they hardly seemed the cost savings option.

Go where the Amish go

This is the advice I was given in my search for a new treadle machine. It was advice that worked out well, and I’m passing it on now. Folks, there are people in this country now who are off the grid by choice. Whole communities of them. Communities with money to spend. And, folks, there are mail order sources that supply them. Believe it or not, those mail order sources even have web pages!!! So, you can get their goods online, or shop comparatively, to see what is available.

And what is available?

The machines I’ve seen are broken up into two types. There’s the hand crank ones, with a crank on the wheel of the sewing machine, and there’s the treadle machines that you use foot power to power. Imagine, an exercise machine and a sewing machine in one! It’s pretty neat when you think about it, you can be working those legs while you make that pair of shorts to wear on them.

The hand crank ones I’ve seen are reproductions, so you’re confined to straight sew. You’re also confined to working just one arm when you operate them. But this might be an option for you.

The treadle machines I’ve seen mail order include a traditional one, which is a reproduction of the Singer 15, I believe, that old cast iron lovely that your granny used to have. (I’ll get back to this later..)

The other treadle machine I’ve seen is more like a modern machine, but powered by foot. Now, if you want a modern machine with all the stitches and functions, but want to power it off the grid, this would be a good one to look for. I haven’t been able to find it offline, but it is online at the on-line catalog for treadle machines and a lot of other off the grid things. I don’t have the URL right now, so don’t ask. You can find it the same way I did, by searching on Google for new treadle sewing machine. That’ll get you there, and prepare to be impressed. (Except by the price.)

Getting it Offline

I’m a great one for shopping local brick and mortar businesses, so I went to my local Singer distributor and asked the guy there if he could get me the Singer version, the reproduction of the old machine. Although it took a while for it to ship, he was able to get it for me, and assemble it too. After doing my homework on the web, I was able to buy the treadle machine of my choice from my local store!

This ISN’T a review of that machine, but

Let me tell you, it’s a kick to have that beauty here. The case isn’t made of the old wood, but it’s a lovely thing to look at, and functions well. The machine, well, if you like ornate, and gaudy, it’s all you could ask for. And how does it work?

To me, just fine.

Granted, I’m still learning it, but that’s OK. See, for me, sewing is a hobby, and messing around learning how to use the machine is just as much a part of that hobby as actually doing something.

Oh, yes, I have an on the grid machine for all those other things, like stretch stitches, buttonholing, etc, but for straight stitches, I can tell this Singer’s going to work just fine. (Especially now that I found the manual in PDF format online!)

So, if you’re worried about what you’ll do during the rolling blackout, or if you’ve moved to a cabin in the woods, but still want to sew, or if you’d just like to make a token protest against the outrageous gouging we’re getting by the energy cartels these days, consider sewing off the grid. Hey, use your solar radio while you sew, and really have a ball!

Something to think about, something to enjoy.

Choosing a Sewing Machine – Making the Right Decision

Best Sewing MachineBuying a sewing machine is a big investment and the type you get depends on your needs and desires. It’s so easy to be swayed by a good sales person so be on your guard when you go shopping (I bought one of the first free arm sewing machines that way and regretted it every day I sewed on the darn thing).

Write down all the things that you need starting with the most important item(s). For some it’s the perfect buttonhole, while others just have to have all the stitches for heirloom sewing while others just have to have all the embroidery stitches. If your needs are simple there are plenty of sewing machines out there to satisfy your needs. You don’t have to pay thousands of dollars just to have a machine to sew simple stuff, that’s way over kill on your budget. Besides there are better things to spend your money on, like supplies for sewing or better yet fabric for your stash. If however the digitized embroidery machine is absolutely what you need then please do some careful research. There are tons of websites offering original designs for your machine, and it is appealing to be able to draw in something and have it embroidered for you. Pretty cool in fact.

When this is done it’s time to investigate where you buy your machine. From all that I have heard and read on the sewing boards (see list below) this is a major factor in purchasing a machine. Sure you might be able to snag your ideal model off of the net without customer support nor lessons, and for some this is the way to go especially if you’ve sewn for a while and are good at teaching yourself about your machine. But many people need those lessons offered by dealerships. Next step is to ask about customer support and repair policies and warranties. Some shops offer extra incentives to people interested in purchasing machines like free classes and a 30 money back guarantee, satisfaction guaranteed. Also some shops offer free lessons or include a set in the price of the machine. Many times dealers welcome you back for more questions as this might be the perfect place to buy your notions or thread. Net places are trying to emulate walk in shops but you don’t always get the personalized attention that you do when you see a machine and repair person in person. IMO this is one of the flaws of buying your machine off the net.

Where to go to get information? There are plenty of sewing boards out there on the net which have lots of posts of info by sewing machine owners. I suggest that you mosey onto boards which match your interests and see what the ladies say about their machines. For example quilters may want to look at the quilt boards to see what machines their peers suggest while heirloom sewers should haunt the heirloom boards too see which machines match their needs and budget.

Personally I own a Bernina 930 (nope I don’t want to sell it but I might be coerced into a trade for an Elna Diva), which was the last of the mechanical machines that Bernina put out. I purchased it over 13 years ago and it still is running like a champ, with only one trip to the shop which was my fault due to sewing with metallic thread in the bobbin without adjusting it, but I have to admit that my machine doesn’t do all those nifty heirloom sewing tricks that I want. If I had my druthers I would get an Elna Heirloom Edition (or that Elna Diva) or a similar machine. I don’t need fancy embroidery stitches and no matter how many ideas I can come up I always ended up feeling like my “I wants” have kicked in instead of my “I need”.

Finding the RIGHT Embroidery Machine for YOU

Embroidery Machine ReviewsIf you have been in the market for a new sewing or embroidery machine you may be feeling a little overwhelmed right now and that’s probably why you’re reading this.

The features, the brands, the price… there is a lot to know. Its almost like buying a used car, if you don’t know the lingo you’re likely to get something you don’t need or want.

You can get a good basic household machine for about 200 dollars. You, however need to decide what features you need. Will you be doing button holes often? Decorative stitching? I’ve found the Kenmore to be a great little starter machine. It sells for just under 200 and you can get it at Sears. I’ve used it in my home business and the mileage I’ve put on that is amazing. Walmart sells Brother machines, one for 99.00 but you get what you pay for. 100% plastic, flimsy, garbage. If you want something decent, that will last more then 1 year you’re going to spend about 200.00 for it.

Of course there are really fancy machines for literally hundreds of dollars out there. Beware when dealing with sewing dealers because each one will say theirs is best. CALL AROUND! You might find a department store more to your liking because they aren’t making their living solely on selling you a sewing machine.

Write down the features you want. You can also buy some patterns (if you are brand new to sewing) of things you want to make and see if they require any special stitches (like applique) Make sure to get a good warranty as well.

Also 1 more thing to look for… where does the machine come from? Can you easily find parts and get repairs? Pfaff is from Germany and parts can be expensive, one reason why I turned down buying one. Make sure who you buy it from can fix it and you can easily buy needles, bobbins and other parts. Most household machine can interchange with singer parts but make sure!

If you are looking for a serger the 1st thing to think about is number of threads (3,4,5) Keep in mind these stitches are much different from one another and a 4 or 5 string can be used as a 3 string if you have a project you need that for. A 4-5 string will give you much more diversity. If you are just doing basic clothes, serging hems, a 3 string may be all you need. I have a 3 string and 4 string and once I got my 4 string I have never used my 3 string again. A good serger will run you between 300-500 dollars, depending on threads. If you are a home sewer, just sewing for family you may be able to get by zig-zagging your hems. You may also get by with the serge stitch built into your sewing machine (Kenmore has this) It doesn’t cut the fabric or give a true serge stitch but that is another option for the family sewer.

After reading many embroidery machine reviews I’ve purchased an industrial machine. Now if you want headaches just start shopping for one of these!! My ‘cheap’ machine ran about 750.00 It is a Consew brand and seems to be working great. Again the old saying holds true ‘You get what you pay for’ before I got the Consew I purchased a Yamata. Do NOT buy Chinese machines. USA, and Japan make quality machines. Keep in mind though Singer went bankrupt for it may be hard to find parts and accessories if you buy a singer. Anyway my Yamata broke before I even got to sew something on it! I found a BIG thing to ask is ‘Is it sew-in’ meaning the dealer, factory actually sewed on it and about an hour or so and made sure it was a good machine. Some sites online sell industrial machine cheap but they are not sewn in so be careful, you may luck out and get a great deal or get a massive headache. Either way I think buying these from a dealer is necessary. Then you have a contact for repairs and at least some guarantee.

I hope this does help someone. As the owner of 2 sewing machines and 2 sergers and running a home sewing business it can be aggravating for the novice and well as the expert to find a good machine. I can’t wait to see sewing machines come down in price some though.

8 Tips On How To Choose The Best Sewing Machine

Best Sewing MachineI have been a quilter for the past eleven years and I guess that makes me a semi- expert at sewing. I started out using the old Singer sewing machine.

Lots of cursing at the so -called drop in bobbin left me searching for a new and wonderful machine.

My tips are:

  1. Know ahead of time before you enter the store exactly what you will be using this machine for. Are you a professional quilter or are you looking to just sew a hem or a button on for your little one’s? The salespeople are helpful, but it can be a little like looking for a car. You don’t want to have a Honda budget and walk out of the showroom with a Rolls Royce.
  2. Bring the types of fabric swatches you know you’ll be working with most. Don’t be shy about bringing in a bag of knits, wools or cottons. The fastest way to really test a machine is to sit down and test run it for yourself. Try to get a lot enough time for this. You don’t want to be rushed into buying a totally unusable machine.
  3. Check that you can service the machine by oiling it easily and removing the bobbin casing easily. Very important.
  4. I saw lots of machines that had alot of plastic on the housing. I did not think this was a good sign. I ended up with a Swiss Made Bernina because of it’s sturdy metal housing. Make sure it will hold up well. This is not something you want to replace every year.
  5. Don’t buy more features than you think you will use. If you know you’ll use computerized stitches – go ahead and get that model.
  6. Check to see if you can change the bobbin thread easily and if the tension is self adjusting. This is very important on big projects.
  7. Make sure the presser feet can be easily changed, as well as the light bulb, all the little things etc.
  8. Lastly, Have fun with the machine while in the shop. Sew seams, change stitch length, put it in reverse, check all the features. Then go home, have a cup of tea, if after thinking it over for a day you can’t forget how wonderful the machine was …it’s the one.

The Machine Of My Dreams

Sewing MachineI went through this just a few years ago, and even though I am an accomplished seamstress, I found the abundance of machines out on the market to be mind boggling. I’ve often wondered what new sewers go through in trying to find a machine.

If you’re like me, by the time you’ve made up your mind to get a new machine, you want it NOW! So, the advice I’m about to give is hard, but you won’t be sorry if you do it… Take your time!

Go to the sewing machine sections on and read as many reviews as you can to get a good feel of what machine is consistently highly rated.

Think about what kinds of features you just can’t live without. I know for myself, I wanted a machine that did consistently good buttonholes. That was the feature that I was most picky about.

How does the bobbin get wound… do you have to take it out of a case to wind it, or is it one that you can refill in place? I personally prefer the ones that you have to wind at the top of the machine as you give up a bit of quality to get the other feature.

Which feet are offered with the machine, and is there one particular one that you can’t live without? Like the walking foot for instance. Try to find a machine that you like that includes that as part of the package. Barring that, negotiate to get it included in the price. After market feet can be quite expensive with some models. My walking foot set me back $120.00!

After you have thought about everything that you want and need in a machine, go to a store that sells the brand that you want. Go there with a maximum amount you are willing to spend (in your head). Then have them demonstrate the machine. And don’t be afraid to sit down and try it out! If they won’t let you do that, find another dealer!

What kind of buttonholes does the machine do? Does it take a lot of setup time or are they built into the machine? Are the buttonholes consistent? The buttonhole feature will sway me toward or away from a certain machine.

Honestly, the first machine that did a flawless buttonhole is the one that I bought (after having looked at at least 10 different models). I feel that you can tell a lot about a machine by the buttonholes it does. Because a buttonhole is made up of a lot of little stitches put together (called a satin stitch) you can tell whether or not you are going to get uniform stitching even in your regular sewing. Is the bobbin thread even as well? If it is, then the tension (the even pull of the top and bottom thread) is good and being in a display model at the store gets higher points in my book because it takes a lot of abuse and if the tension still stays good, then it has passed the test.

Also remember that salespeople will almost always try to sell you more machine than what you need. Don’t get caught up in this. Remember that they are the experts in selling techniques, but you are the expert in knowing what you need.

If you are just beginning to sew, then you may want to think of purchasing a used sewing machine from someone who has outgrown their old machine. Sew a bit with it, then upgrade from there when you are ready and know what you like and dislike in a machine, or what you would like that the machine doesn’t have.

Happy hunting! If I can answer any other questions that you may have after reading this review, feel free to indicate that in the comments, and I will do my best to help you.