Sewing machines

I have owned three sewing machines during my life. The first was an old hand wound Singer that my grandma gave me. I didn’t know a lot about sewing back then. I attempted to make myself a pair of trousers with a wrap-around-skirt-style tie closure instead of learning how to insert a zip. I made a wonky patchwork curtain out of scraps of denim, which I sewed together haphazardly, following the edges of the roughly cut fabric instead of making straight lines. I’ve grown up since then and learnt a lot about sewing properly.

My second machine was a bit of a lucky guess really. I wanted a sewing machine when I moved to Canada so I wondered into Sears and asked the lady which was the best machine for me. I didn’t really get chance to explain that I knew next to nothing about sewing and had never had an electric machine before she showed me an all singing, all dancing machine that was on sale and was apparently the best value for money in the store. She showed me how it came with all the different feet, which, she told me, was very important. I had no idea what she was talking about, but I trusted her advice and bought a Kenmore with all the bells and whistles.

I took a sewing class and learnt to use all the exciting features on my lovely machine, I sewed curtains and handbags that actually looked like curtains and handbags. When we moved back to the UK we brought what we could carry in our suitcases and left everything else behind. The sewing machine went to my sister, who, as I predicted, never got it out of the cupboard.

I missed my sewing machine, and although I couldn’t really afford it, it wasn’t long before I was out in the shops looking for a replacement. I wanted a real machine, not one of those super cheap mini ones that look cute but flimsy. I really wanted all the bells and whistles I had come to appreciate, but my priority was the price tag. I settled on the Brother X5 which was on sale for around £70.

The Brother machine was pretty basic, but it sewed and I used it on and off. I made more bags and a few gifts. It never really agreed with me though. It was a bit clunky and I missed the extras that I had got used to having on my Kenmore that this machine just didn’t have. It was a perfectly fine machine, but it wasn’t right for me, it just didn’t fit somehow.

My sister moved house and reluctantly dragged the Kenmore along with her. She asked me what I wanted her to do with it. She tried listing it on Craigslist but got no takers. I had browsed other machines online and tried to find a “will buy this when I can afford it” machine that had everything I missed about the Kenmore, but I couldn’t quite find anything that seemed to cut it. I didn’t really want to shell out for a computerised machine. I sort of liked the look of the Janome J3-24 but it still didn’t quite match the feature set of the Kenmore.

I started to read on forums about people who had brought their machines across the atlantic with them and used them over here with voltage converters, or some lucky souls whose machines were dual voltage. I wished I had brought mine with me, but I couldn’t make it fit into my luggage weight limit. I considered having it mailed to me, but it would have been a big hassle for my sister and it would cost a fortune.

Then I had a brain wave. My friend had been staying in Canada for a year, was living just near my sister, and was flying back to the UK. I was checking out her flight information online when I noticed there was an upgrade option that gave an extra 10kg luggage. Since she was coming to stay with us for a while, I hoped she wouldn’t mind bringing my sewing machine if I bought her the upgrade. She probably did mind, a bit, but she brought it for me anyway.

Kenmore sewing machine
Kenmore sewing machine

When the Kenmore sewing machine arrived in one piece, I checked with my dad to find out what converter I would need. It turned out to be one of the cheaper ones. It was quite scary when it arrived and I had to plug it in. I phoned my mum for some emotional support. I connected up all the plugs and cables and flicked the power switch. The light came on! I was a bit excited by this point, but when I pressed the pedal and it sewed I was delighted!

The first things I sewed to get reacquainted with my lovely machine were some alterations to my friend’s clothes as a thank you for bringing the thing all that way. I’m really enjoying all the extra features that it has in comparison to the Brother.

I love the thread cutter on the Kenmore, and the automatic needle threader saves me so much time and reduces my stress levels. There’s nothing worse than not being able to thread a needle even though you’ve just cut the end of the thread several times to make sure it’s not fluffy but it still won’t go through.

The selection of feet that came with the Kenmore is really impressive. There are 9 of them, including a walking foot which is so useful. The brother only had 4 feet, covering basic sewing, buttons and zips. One foot I may want to use that I noticed neither machine has is an invisible zipper foot. I used these at school on the industrial machines I used for the sewing class I took and they made the job so easy. I may have to get myself one.

Other things the Kenmore does that leave the Brother in the shadows include one step automatic buttonhole rather than four step, and drop feed dogs rather then screwing a darning plate over the top of the feed dogs for free style embroidery. Not that I embroider, but who wants to fiddle with a darning plate if they fancy trying it out? Not me. The accessories compartment comes away leaving a skinny section for free arm sewing (for sleeves and such) on the Kenmore, but the Brother machine a part of the plastic body snaps off the front leaving a larger section that would probably be fine for trouser legs but not sleeves or skinny jeans. The Kenmore has a proper accessories compartment that fits all the pieces and spare feet in nicely like a drawer, but the Brother has a plastic pouch that you have to stuff into the space inside the removable section. It’s not exactly convenient. The Kenmore has a ruler printed on the front, and a seam guide beside and in front of the needle. The Brother only has the side seam guide. The Kenmore has a clear plastic cover over the top loading bobbin so you can see if you have enough thread in the bottom. The Brother has a front loading bobbin that’s hidden away so you randomly run out of thread.

The main reason I love the Kenmore though is that it just feels nice when I sew with it. The brother is kind of clunky and loud. The Kenmore glides. It’s not the fastest machine in the world, when I was switching between it and the industrial school machines, I found it incredibly slow and rather frustrating. The industrial machines are a distant memory now though, and I kind of like not having my fabric run off when I tap the pedal.

There is nothing really wrong with the Brother machine, it sews, it has a reasonable selection of features and stitches, and it was very cheap. It would be a great machine for a beginner or someone who is less likely than me to stress out about threading a needle. I didn’t come across anything that I wanted to sew that the machine couldn’t handle, although I didn’t try anything very complicated on it. If I hadn’t been spoiled by the Kenmore, I would probably find the Brother perfectly acceptable.

But the Kenmore! I love it. I was so excited about it arriving that I spent three hours researching extra feet and attachments I could get for it that would extend the possibilities of what I could achieve with it even further. I sew without yelling at it. I actually enjoy using it. It’s my sewing machine, and I’m so glad to have it back.

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