When I turned 14 years old I received a new sewing machine for my birthday. It was beautiful to me - a mid-range Singer with a sturdy frame and lots of stitches, plus a few extra feet. I could hardly believe that my mother had saved up so much money and was willing to spend it on me.
I sewed that machine to death - literally! I used it all through my teenage years and even took it with me to college. Finally when I was sewing for my third child I wore it out.
I made do over the next few years with the best used sewing machines that I could afford but they didn't have any features that were better than those on my first Singer.
Finally I was fortunate enough to be able to buy a used Bernina 1530. It might have been older than the machine I received for my birthday many years before, but it had some high end features that I had never seen before... and my life was changed!
Since then as I've visited quilt shows and different fabric shops, I've been able to test drive lots of different sewing machines and even take home a couple new ones.
I'd love to share with you 3 of my favorite features so you can keep an eye out for them when you are shopping for a new (or new-to-you) sewing machine.
There's nothing worse than shopping for a much anticipated (and much to be loved) appliance (or in this case sewing machine) without knowing why the more expensive ones cost so much more and - more importantly - what features you could be looking for.
1. I LOVE a knee lift!
I can't say enough about this.
The knee lift raises and lowers the presser foot so you don't have to use your hand.
I once had a friend who owned this same Juki TL-2010Q that I do and she told me she never tried the knee lift.
I nearly did a forehead-palm slap - on her!
Imagine if you could use both hands to place your fabric (or elastic or ribbon or combination of all three) under the sewing machine foot and then not need to let go and use your hand to lower the foot - I hear a choir of angels!
That's how good the knee lift is.
And that's why I hope I never buy another sewing machine without one.
One clue that a sewing machine might use a knee lift (even if you don't see it installed) is a little hole in the location you see above.
But don't assume that the machine will come with a knee lift just because you see a hole or dark spot in that location - make sure you ask before you buy.
2. A thread cutter will change your life!
From the picture above, you see that this machine (again, the Juki TL2010Q) has a needle up/down feature, a thread cutter, and a speed control.
Those are all very nice features, but the one that changed my life most was the thread cutter.
On the Juki, you can also activate it by rocking backward on the foot controller. Guests in my sewing studio have cried out when they accidentally activated it.
They were cries of joy, I'm sure.
Who wouldn't love the top thread to be automatically pulled to the bottom and clipped after every finished seam?
My newer Janome 14000 sewing machine also has a thread cutter (along with a needle threader, needle up/down, foot up/down and tie off stitch), but I can't activate the thread cutter with my foot. That was a real bummer!
3. Multiple dual-feed options will blow you away.
You already know that I consider a dual feed foot (or walking foot) a necessity for certain projects - read more about that here.
But some sewing machines take the dual-feed feature to a whole new level. A lot of Pfaff sewing machines and some Bernina's have a built in dual feed option that can be used with any of the included feet.
The Janome 14000 doesn't have built-in dual feed, but I do have two different walking feet - a wide one and a narrow one.
On top of that, both the wide and the narrow walking foot have interchangable soles.
For example, I can use a 1/4'' piecing sole (that has a guide) when I am sewing with the wide dual feed foot. Or I can install the zipper-foot sole when I am using the narrow dual feed foot.
Being able to use dual feed in so many different situations makes my quilt piecing more accurate and my purses and bags more professional looking.
I'm spoiled, for sure.
These my 3 favorite sewing machine features... what are yours? Make sure you tell us in the comments. Maybe I'll discover something new!