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WIP Wednesday: Jungle Ave. Top

WIP Wednesday at Freshly Pieced
Hey! I sewed things this week.

Including this! I am so excited to be working with Jungle Ave., Sara Lawson’s new fabric line for Art Gallery.

 

Sara is from Chicago, and Jungle Ave. has lots of Windy City flavor—especially my favorite print, which is a map of the Chicago L train system. Love!

I lived in Chicago for more than four years and rode the L to work every single day. I mostly hated riding the L—especially freezing my rear end off waiting for trains in the winter, and being involved in this delightful incident wasn’t too fun either. But of course, the L is such a Chicago thing. And now that I live in a city with no public transportation to speak of, I kind of miss those grimy, grungy trains. It’s made me strangely nostalgic for things like watching homeless people chug beer or clip their toenails on the rail cars. (Well, okay, maybe not that last one.)

Wellington. My old stop. : )

But I digress. I’ve had this design in my sketchbook for a while, but for the longest time I couldn’t wrap my head around a way to construct it. A good way to do it hit me right around the time Sara asked me to design something for her line. And it turned out even better than I hoped! It kind of reminds me of one of those city walls covered with dozens of posters, where the top layers have peeled off in places and you can see the even older posters below.

And yes, this quilt is going to be my next pattern! It’s paper-pieced (sorry non-paper-piecers—there’s no template option this time). But it’s basically a string quilt. It doesn’t get much easier than that. C’mon, you know you want to try it!

And here’s what else I was working on—literally working on—this past week: A brand new Bernina 750QE. I’ll be devoting a full post to my new baby next week sometime, so stay tuned!

This WIP Wednesday has been brought to you by Pink Chalk Fabrics. Pink Chalk is always my go-to shop for solids—they have such a great selection. And they’re having a Spring Clearance sale now, so go check it! As always, send some love to the folks who make this linky possible!

And Pink Chalk has kindly offered to give a $25 gift certificate to one lucky winner this week! Just comment on this post for a chance to win, and link up your own WIPs for a second chance to win.

What are you working on this week? Here are the linky rules:
1. Link up any blog post from the past week that features an unfinished work-in-progress (WIP).
2. Somewhere in your post, you must link back here to my blog.
3. Comment on at least a few of the other WIP Wednesday links—commenting on the two or three links directly before yours works well to make sure everyone gets comments!

 

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A Safari Moon Quilt

Welcome to my stop on the Safari Moon blog hop! I’ve got a quilt to show you, using Frances Newcombe’s Safari Moon line, of course.

This quilt has been a bear to work on. It went through more design changes than I care to mention—I made changes literally right up until I sewed the last seam! But I think the beautiful colors of the Safari Moon line positively shine when paired with this background color, which is Kona Cotton in Regal (another one of my new favorites, I think!).

But notice anything missing in the photo above? Like, say, half the quilting? I was FMQing along this weekend, all in a groove, and then, bam! My bobbin case somehow unseated itself and went all crooked inside my machine. Broke my needle and everything. Like so:

See those red arrows? They’re supposed to be lined up. How does something like that even happen? Nothing I did would get it back on track and working again. Every time I put the bobbin case back in straight, it would get all whacked again after about every third stitch. So, my machine is headed to my repair guy at the earliest convenience. The whole thing is making me very unhappy.


But hey, check out what I did get done! One of the reasons I don’t use more dark background colors in my quilts is because of the challenge this leads to in quilting. I like my quilting thread to blend, but there’s no single color you can choose that will blend in all the areas of a high-contrast quilt like this. And you guys, I hate burying knots. Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent my entire quilting career thinking of ways to avoid burying knots. Fortunately, Katie convinced me to get over myself and quilt with two colors, knots and all. And I’m so glad she did! It was definitely the best choice for this quilt. I’m stippling in the dark blue areas, and I did wavy lines in all the other areas.

I’ll be finishing this one up as soon as my Janome dealer nurses my machine back to health. And I’m definitely writing a pattern for this quilt! I’m cautiously optimistic that I can have it out and available in the next two weeks. (Though that’s dependent on my machine, of course!)

And in the meantime, my back-up machine, the Hulk (ironic nickname courtesy of my guild friends) is back. Oh, Hulk. No offense, but I didn’t want to see you this week.

Thank you, Frances, for having me on your blog hop and asking me to play with your lovely fabric line! Now you all should go buy some Safari Moon, pronto!

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Sewing Machine Feet: What I Use and How I Use Them

A recent Instagram post about a new foot I picked up for my Janome Horizon 7700 and a resulting conversation at a guild meeting has me thinking that a post might be in order about what feet I use on my machine, and specifically how I use them. Because, like many things in life, I don’t always use them in the prescribed manner. : ) So let’s take a look, shall we?

My machine had the fabulous selling feature of coming with about a gajillion feet—so it should come as a surprise to absolutely no one that I spend 99% of my time using the same four feet. And two of them weren’t even included in the package that came with the machine. : ) Figures, right?

For piecing:

Acufeed 1/4-Inch Foot 
Works with Janome 6600 and 7700; a slightly different version is available for the 8900 and 12000
I use this foot more than any in the drawer. This is my machine’s version of a walking foot, but I don’t use it for quilting! I use it for piecing. Why? Because when you’re using a standard presser foot, it can push the top and bottom layers of fabric at different rates of speed, which of course can bump your seams out of alignment. This is especially true on long seams, such as those between sashing and rows of blocks—the longer the seam, the more out-of-whack it gets. By using your walking foot (or a dual-feed system if your machine has one), you don’t have that problem. In fact, you can even sometimes compensate for slight piecing problems by forcing seams to align when they wouldn’t on their own. It’s a beautiful thing. : )

Just be aware that on some machines your seams might get a little wavy, especially when you try to force seams to line up when they are just too mis-aligned. I’ve had slightly wavy seams in the past, but they always seem to quilt up just fine, so I don’t worry about it. Another problem you might run into is that some walking feet tend to be big and bulky, making it difficult to achieve a 1/4-inch seam, and many machines don’t have a compatible 1/4-inch walking foot (I don’t understand why more machines don’t have this option available). This is just one of many reasons I love my 7700—Janome’s Acufeed dual-feed system works like a charm, and there are a wide variety of feet available for it.

1/4-Inch Piecing (O2) Foot
Works with most Janome models and other brands with low-shank snap-on feet, such as Brother, Baby Lock, Elna, and Kenmore
This is my secondary piecing foot. For short seams or blocks that don’t require a lot of accuracy, I sometimes use this foot. But mostly I stick with the Acufeed 1/4-inch foot.

For straight-line quilting:

 

Basic Acufeed Foot
Works with Janome 6600 and 7700
This is the standard Acufeed foot that comes with the 7700 and 6600. Combined with the quilting guide bar, it does the job, but this is the one machine foot I’m not completely happy with. For one thing, the guide bar is way too loose when inserted into the Acufeed foot. It’s the only serious design flaw in the 7700, in my opinion. I actually have to tape the guide onto the foot with masking tape before I start quilting, or it can get bumped out of place much too easily.

Also, this foot doesn’t make it easy if you’re trying to quilt straight lines a certain distance away from a seam. There’s no perfect place on the foot with which to line up the seam. And the 1/4″ Acufeed foot that I use for piecing isn’t helpful here either—it’s just too difficult to quilt with that pointy 1/4″ metal guide on the foot. I’m thinking about trying the Acufeed Open Toe Foot for straight-line quilting—I’ll let you know what I think if I eventually pick that one up.

For free-motion quilting:

Darning foot
This little beauty works perfectly for me. This is a pretty standard foot as far as FMQ goes, and it’s the one that came with my machine. If you want to do free-motion quilting, this is what you need (or the equivalent for your machine). The spring-loaded ones are generally best, given the option.

For binding:

Acufeed 1/4-Inch Foot 
Works with Janome 6600 and 7700; a slightly different version is available for the 8900 and 12000
And my hardest working foot is back on duty when it’s time to bind. : ) In addition to piecing, this foot is indispensable for stitching the binding onto the front of your quilt. An accurate 1/4-inch seam on your binding is crucial, especially if you plan to machine-stitch the binding onto the other side of the quilt as well. (Although, once again, walking feet for most machines aren’t designed with 1/4-inch piecing in mind.)

Acufeed Ditch Quilting Foot
Works with Janome 6600 and 7700; a slightly different version is available for the 8900 and 12000
If you want to machine-bind your quilts, you must spring for this foot! This foot was the subject of the Instagram post that got this whole discussion rolling. I don’t do much ditch quilting, but I do stitch in the ditch when I’m machine-binding (I stitch in the ditch on the front of the quilt in order to catch the binding around the back). So it occurred to me that the Acufeed Ditch Quilting foot might be perfect for that purpose—and sure enough, it was.

Just position the metal guide in the ditch between the quilt and the binding, and your needle will follow along and stay nicely in the ditch. I was able to sew much faster than I have in the past with machine binding, and it was more accurate too. (Edited to add: I use Clover Wonder Clips
to clip my binding down for ditch-stitching. They work great!)

Bonus tip:

Are the snap-on feet on your Janome getting too loose? See that little screw on the front of the shank? You can adjust that screw to tighten things up again. Mine got so loose that the snap-on feet were literally falling off the shank before I finally looked closely and realized I could adjust the screw.

Of course, if tightening the screw a little bit helps, then tightening it more must be even better, right? Wrong! Ask me how I know. : ) Yep, I stripped that little bugger. And rather than go to the trouble of finding another tiny set-screw, I ended up just ordering a whole new shank. Lesson learned. A quarter-turn or half-turn is probably all you need to tighten up those feet.

I hope these tips help! Happy sewing.

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Machine Update

For those of you wondering how my poor sewing machine is faring, the news was indeed bad: She needs a new motherboard. And of course the part has to be ordered, which means my machine is out of commission for about a week. Blurg.

Complicating matters is the fact that the dealer I bought my machine from closed a few months after my purchase and is long gone. Labor is only covered under the warranty when the work is done by the original dealer. If your dealer no longer exists, that’s just too bad for you. Double blurg.

The good news is, I have now found the world’s most awesome Janome dealer and repair guy. Darryl Ottman of The Sewing Machine Shop in Sheboygan Falls, Wisconsin, is not only fixing my machine, he also pulled some strings with Janome to get it fully covered under the warranty, so I don’t have to pay a cent. And he gave me a free Horizon 6600 loaner machine to use while my 7700 is down! With the class that I’m teaching and various sewing deadlines coming up, I couldn’t afford to be without a machine for a whole week, so he has really, really come through for me. And all this when I didn’t even buy from him originally. I’m only sorry I wasn’t aware of his awesomeness when I made my purchase!


I don’t think there are enough good customer service people in the world. So I thought what Darryl is doing for me was well worth a post. If you’re in the market for a Janome in southeastern Wisconsin, please go visit Darryl at The Sewing Machine Shop. Sheboygan Falls is about an hour north of Milwaukee.

Plus, when you’re done sewing machine shopping, you can do what we did and swing over to the city of Sheboygan for pizza at Il Ritrovo. They serve certified authentic Neopolitan pizza! Yum! Except now I’m worried that my husband might start sabotaging my machine just so we’ll have excuses to go back. : )

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WIP Wednesday: Have WIPs, But No Machine

WIPWednesday

Oh, man. And I was making such good progress on my WIPs too.

On Monday evening, while I was teaching my Modern Sampler class, my wonderful (only six-month-old) Janome Horizon 7700 freaked out on me and wouldn’t do anything but give me an E1 error code. I took it in to the service technician, who said it was probably just a popped fuse—an easy fix. But he called back a few hours later and …. let’s just say it’s not going to be such an easy fix after all. And I was just thinking about how I needed to do a full-scale review of my machine, since I’ve had her for almost exactly six months now. Well, needless to say, now the review will have to wait to see what happens next. This seems like it will be a good test of how Janome stands behind its products and its customers. I’ve heard good things about Janome’s customer service, so I’m optimistic they’ll come through for me. Stay tuned.

Anyway. WIPs. I did make good progress, prior to Monday!

Summer Sampler Series blocks

Made lots of progress on my Summer Sampler Series blocks for the Modern Sampler class that I’m teaching. I’m making two sets of blocks, since I like to show a finished block at the start of class, and I have to do some demonstrating during class as well.

And here are some of my students’ Mosaic blocks from last week! Can I just say how proud I am of these ladies? Three of them had never even made half-square triangles before, but check out those points. They rocked it. (Thanks to Anne from Material Matters for the photo!)

Summer Sampler Series PDF

Speaking of the Summer Sampler, I made major progress on the Summer Sampler Series Block Anthology. I heard from many of you that you’re excited about having the series in a PDF format, so Katie, Faith, and I are looking forward to making it available! And seeing as I have no sewing machine, that might happen even earlier than I thought. Silver linings, people. Silver linings. : )

Baby quilt

And I got my Rebel Amish-inspired baby quilt top finished, at long last. Now I just need to get it quilted. When I get my machine back, anyway.

Candy Necklace in the book!

Oh, and don’t forget: My Modern Quilts From the Blogging Universe giveaway is open through next Tuesday! I’m giving away an ebook version AND two physical copies, so pop over here to enter.

Whatcha workin’ on? Here are the rules for the linky:

1. Link up any post from the past week that features at least one unfinished work-in-progress (WIP).
2. Somewhere in your post, you must link back here to my blog. (Or grab my WIP Wednesday button for your sidebar.)
3. Comment on at least a few of the other WIP Wednesday links. Because really, what fun is a linky party without comments?

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Sewing Machine Shopping: What I Learned

As I mentioned yesterday, I spent the better part of last week shopping for a new sewing machine. Say hello to my new baby, a Janome Horizon 7700!

I’ve only had her for a few days, so I haven’t used a lot of the advanced features or quilted yet, but so far she is a rock star! Sews like a dream, soooo quietly and steadily. Every time I walk past, I just have to give her a little pat. : )

But now that the process is done and I’ve got my beautiful new machine, I have one simple question: Why does sewing-machine shopping have to be so confusing? It isn’t easy to compare models and features when most dealers carry only one or two makes. I don’t like getting the hard-sell from salespeople, and what’s with all the secrecy about what people are actually paying for these things? It’s worse than buying a used car!

So I spent an intense couple of days reading everything I could about the various models and test-driving machines at dealers. Here’s my wish-list of the features I was looking for:
• a larger throat space to fit quilts under (my old Baby Lock had about 7.5″ from the needle to the side of the machine)
• a dual-feed system (which means it feeds the fabric from both underneath and above)
• needle up-down feature
• auto needle threader and thread cutter (my Baby Lock had these, so I don’t think live without them now!)
• knee lift for the presser foot (my Baby Lock came with this, but I could never use it comfortably with that machine)
• good extension table for quilting
• excellent free-motion quilting feet/accessories—preferably included

With that list in hand, it didn’t take me long to narrow down some contenders via the reviews. My “finalists” are below. I found both The Quilting Board and Patternreview.com to be good sources for reviews, although on Patternreview.com you have to register to read reviews more than six months old, and I was unable to get their log-in screen to work (it kept re-directing me in a loop). There are also Yahoo user groups for certain brands/models, which may be helpful—just do a Google search for a specific group.

A note about prices: The thing that most drives me crazy about shopping for sewing machines is the fact that you can’t see prices online, and nobody ever pays the actual retail price on a machine. As an avid online shopper and price-comparer, this makes me insane. So for most of these machines, I’m including a “fair price” estimate. Please take this estimate with a grain of salt. These are my own rough estimates, based on what I was quoted at dealers and/or what a few random people reported paying for it in reviews and online forums. So your mileage may vary! For certain models, prices truly were all over the map. Look for sales and floor models, try shopping at quilt shows for special show pricing, and always try bargaining with the dealers. Yes, you can and should haggle for sewing machines.

The Baby Lock Serenade
Fair price: $1,100 to $1,200
This was the first machine I looked at. I liked the idea of buying an upgraded Baby Lock, since I mostly liked my old one and staying with a familiar interface sounded good. The feed dog issue I’ve been experiencing with my old machine doesn’t seem to be a common problem, since I can’t find anything about it online, which made me more confident about buying another Baby Lock. The Serenade has a well-reviewed dual-feed system and a 9mm stitch width, which would be great for straight-line quilting. But with only 8 5/8″ of throat space, it wouldn’t be much of an upgrade for me in that area. And many of the machine’s overall reviews weren’t great. So in the end I didn’t look closely at this one.

The Baby Lock Symphony
Fair price: around $2,000
This was a great option for me and it gets fabulous reviews. Really the only big negative on this machine: No dual-feed mechanism. But the 10″ of throat space helped make up for that! It also has a pivot feature that raises the foot automatically when you stop sewing with the needle-down option on. In my test-drives of this machine, I found the pivot feature worked well—it seemed to intuitively know when I was slowing down (and thus kept the foot down) and when I really was stopping. And how’s this for crazy: You can even sew sideways on the Symphony! It sews very slowly in sideways mode, but it does it. I could see the pivot and sideways-sewing features being useful for straight-line quilting when you’re turning a lot of corners. My Baby Lock dealer quoted me $1,999 for this one (with some haggling—they started out at $2,200).

Brother Laura Ashley Innovis NX-2000
Fair price: Around $1,800- $1,900?
I didn’t even consider this machine or read the reviews of it before I went shopping. But one of the dealers explained that Brothers and Baby Locks are made by the same parent company, so this machine is actually the Symphony’s twin. The user interface, the threading and bobbin winding mechanisms, etc., are all more or less identical. But this machine is a few hundred dollars cheaper! I asked the dealer why it’s less expensive, and she said, “Because it’s a Brother.” Honestly, this had more the effect of putting me off the Symphony than interesting me in the Brother. Does that mean Baby Locks are overpriced? Is Brother the victim of a bad rap? I don’t get it. But if you’re interested in a Symphony, it’s probably worth checking into this one as well. A little research into what the differences really are could save you some money. My dealer had this machine priced at $1,899, which makes me think, with haggling, it could be purchased for less.

The Pfaff Smarter 1100 Pro
Fair price: Didn’t research prices, sorry.
Rachel of Stitched In Color recently bought this machine and I read about her machine-buying experiences with interest (here and here). Her description of the Pfaff Smarter sounds great, but unfortunately the nearest Pfaff dealer to me is local quilt shop where I have had bad customer service experiences in the past. A good relationship with your dealer is almost as important as the machine itself, so I didn’t try this one out (or any Pfaffs).

The Janome 6600
Fair price: between $1,100 and $1,500
Very good reviews, lots of useful features, a reasonable 9″ of throat space, and Janome’s Accufeed dual-feed mechanism. That’s a lot of bang for your buck! The biggest drawback to this one seems to be that it doesn’t have a free arm (which means you can’t make the bottom part of the machine smaller to put sleeves, pants legs, bags, etc., around it). My old machine has a free arm, and while I certainly didn’t use it frequently, I used it often enough to wonder if I might miss it. And I’ve been wanting to try sewing more clothes for the girls, so if that ever becomes reality, the free arm would be important to have.

The Janome Horizon 7700
Fair price: between $2,100 and $2,500
This one has 11″ of throat space—what? That’s huge! That’s a full 2″ more than the 6600, and 3.5″ more than my old machine! It has the Accufeed system and all the other bells and whistles I’ve been looking for, and people rave about the free-motion quilting capabilities on this baby. This is the machine Leah Day of the Free Motion Quilting Project uses and loves. You can read her reviews here and here. There are some negative reviews out there of the Horizon, but most of those seem to center on a design flaw in the original 1/4″ piecing foot, which has since been fixed. Every registered Horizon owner was sent a new version of the 1/4″ piecing foot when it was released—they didn’t even have to ask for it. That’s good customer service (and a reason to remember to register your machine!). Some people don’t like the click-wheel stitch selector, but I love it—if you’ve ever used an iPod, you’ll find it familiar and intuitive. The lowest price I found for this machine was $2,399 for new, $2,299 for a floor model that was on the floor for about 3 months. You may see a lot of higher prices for this machine as well—I think the Horizon was more expensive when it first came out, but prices seem to have dropped since then.

Viking Sapphire 875
Fair price: around $2,000?
This machine has 10″ of throat space and a sensor system that automatically adjusts the presser foot based on the thickness of your fabric, which sounds interesting. But for the price, it was missing some features I wanted, like dual-feed and a knee lift. And there aren’t many reviews out there on it. So in the end I didn’t try this one out.

Berninas—honestly, I didn’t even look into Berninas. I’ve heard they’re very well-made, but with price tags to match, and none of the dealers I visited carry them.

To tell the truth, I had fully expected to leave the store with a Baby Lock Symphony. It had everything I wanted with the exception of the dual-feed mechanism. Plus it was a Baby Lock, a brand I was already familiar with. But when I sat down at the Janome Horizon, I fell in love. Something about that machine just clicked for me. And that’s really what it’s all about with sewing machines—what felt right for me may not be ideal for you, and vice versa. Regardless of features and pricing and everything I said above, you need to test-drive the machines to find the perfect one for you. And it really doesn’t matter how many features a machine has or whether other people use those features and like them. The most important thing is that it has the features you use and need. The best way to know that is to spend as much time as possible testing them out.

So the Horizon was my choice! After spending the last several years working on a machine that was missing key features, I decided it would be worth a few hundred dollars more to get my dream machine. I ended up buying the floor model for $2299, and the dealer threw in this custom table for $200. (I priced out the table elsewhere and other dealers were asking $350 to $400 for it.) The Horizon does come with a huge clear extension platform, but I saw a Horizon set up on this drop-in table and couldn’t get it out of my head! This all means that I’m finally sewing at the correct height and have an amazing surface for quilting, flush with the bed of the machine. I think when I’m quilting I’ll try to push the table up against a wall or possibly next to our large dining room table (if it’s the right height) for the perfecto quilting set-up!

I’ll write a full review of the machine after I can spend a little more time getting to know her. In the meantime, I hope you’ll find my sewing machine round-up a helpful starting point if you’re in the market any time soon.

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I’ve Been Machine Shopping!

Yes, it’s true—I’ve got myself a new sewing machine! That’s worthy of a two-post day on the blog, am I right? : )
The old machine

Buying a new machine was not something I had expected to do any time soon. But on Wednesday, my almost 5-year-old Baby Lock Decorator’s Choice went lame on me, for the second time in less than six months. It simply would not feed the fabric. The feed dogs were up, but you wouldn’t know it to sew on it. I could get it to (kind of) work, but only by using the walking foot and really cramming the fabric through manually.

This was the same problem I experienced earlier this year, and at the time the repair guy got it up and working again, but at a cost of $110 and a week of down time. And now here I was again, with the exact same issue. Anyone else ever have a problem like this, and know how it might be fixed permanently? I’ve got a potential buyer lined up for my old machine (my mom is interested in buying it as a back-up), but only if she thinks it can be fixed for real this time. So if anyone has insight into this issue, I would love to hear about it. (I should note that, just like last time, there was a gradual process of decline in how the feed dogs were working—I guess it just suddenly reached critical mass on Wednesday.)

At any rate, while my Decorator’s Choice has mostly been a great machine (the current version of my machine is the Baby Lock Elizabeth), I bought it when I had only been sewing about 6 months. At the time, I didn’t know what type of projects I would mostly end up sewing, or just how obsessed (ahem) I might become with it. LOL. So in the years that have passed since I bought it, it became obvious that while it is a good machine, it might not be the perfect machine for me. I inevitably started a wish list in my head of features that I wanted, and paid close attention to machine reviews when I came across them.

And when my machine crapped out again on Wednesday, I decided it was time to take action. So, tomorrow I’ll be posting a full run-down of all the machines I considered, what I ended up buying, and why. If you think you may be in the market for a higher-end machine soon and want to know more about my process, stay tuned.

 

But I have one piece of advice to leave you with before tomorrow’s machine round-up: If you’re a newish sewer/quilter who’s thinking about buying a machine, but you can put off your purchase for even a little while, I recommend doing so. When I bought my Decorator’s Choice almost five years ago, I remember feeling completely overwhelmed by the buying process and sticker-shocked by the prices. $500, $750 for a sewing machine?? When I wasn’t sure what I wanted, or whether this hobby would “stick” for me? It was a tough process, and I should have realized it meant it wasn’t good timing for me to buy at that time.

If I could have held out a little longer with the hand-me-down Kenmore that I started out on, I would have known that much more about sewing and machine features when I did go to buy one, what I really needed, and what I didn’t. I don’t know for sure that I would have ended up with anything different, but at least I would have felt more confident in my choice. This time around, my buying experience was totally different—I felt well-informed, completely in control, and comfortable investing in a better machine, because I know I’ll use it. LOL. At any rate, check back tomorrow for all the machines I considered and how I weighed them against each other.