When it comes to sewing machines, I have very particular taste.
I've sewn long enough, and on enough different types of machines (mainly, though not exclusively vintage) to know what I like. My favorites are the classic straight-stitch Singer models like the 15-91 and the 201, as well as my current love, the Elna Grasshopper. I believe any vintage Kenmore zigzagger with 158 in the serial number (I personally own a 158.141 and a 158.140) is likely to be excellent and heavy duty. Vintage Berninas, Pfaffs, and Necchi's are also fine machines and will sew through most anything.
I don't like plastic machines and I'm not interested in computerized machines. I want an all-metal machine that I can maintain myself. Since I'm not interested in complicated embroidery, I have no need for those kind of features. Just to be clear: if you own a computerized machine and love it, that's great. It's all about personal preference.
All that said, if the universe is going to gift me a machine by planting it my neighborhood trash (as it has many times) I'm not going to refuse. I'm open-minded enough to take it home, give a whirl, and then decide what I want to do with it.
Yesterday evening, the universe did this very thing, right at the peak of my decluttering fervor. What a tease!
The machine was directly outside the back door of my building, in an area where tenants leave larger items that aren't recyclable. I was returning home, saw the beige plastic sewing machine case, and without even looking inside, carted it upstairs. Inside was an immaculate Brother VX790, a zigzagger with a few stretch stitches. It's mostly metal and I believe it dates from the 1980's.
I plugged it in and it powered up, though there was a 66 bobbin in it instead of the required 15. The VX790 is what I consider a beginner's machine: there are only a few available stitch lengths, and the longest isn't terribly long. After some tinkering with the bobbin tension, I was able to get a well-balanced straight stitch. (I also oiled the machine and replaced the needle.)
You can view two 15 second videos of the machine on Instagram, here and here.
This Brother can also make scallop stitches. Pretty.
What this particular machine didn't want to do was a basic zigzag. The needle zigged but the stitch on the left side wouldn't hold. I don't know if this is a shuttle issue or something else. Frankly, I rarely use a zigzag anyway (only to sew on buttons). All you need for most garments is a solid straight stitch, especially if you own a serger and aren't zigzagging raw seam allowances. The VX790 also doesn't allow you to adjust the presser foot pressure.
UPDATE: The machine DOES do a narrow zigzag now, up to the "3" setting in stitch width, but no wider. Better than nothing!
A pretty sure sign this machine was barely used is that most of the accessories were still wrapped in plastic. (I stole the double needle for myself.)
This machine would be adequate for a child, though, frankly, I think a child would do better with a fully-functioning machine that is easier to work with and sews flawlessly, like a vintage Singer 99 or Singer Spartan -- two models that are easy to find relatively cheaply. There's something clunky about this Brother; it lacks refinement and doesn't feel precise.
As you might guess, the Brother comes with a generic foot pedal.
So what's to become of this machine? I'm not going to use it so I may return it to where I found it, but with a note saying that it works but doesn't zigzag. Even if I weren't in decluttering mode, I wouldn't have room in my life for the Brother VX790.
Readers, do you agree that especially a beginner-level sewer deserves a simple machine that sews flawlessly? A beginner would have no idea how to deal with the frustrations they'd likely experience with a crappy machine and probably blame themselves. This only discourages people who are really interested in sewing, but lack quality tools.
What machine do you think a beginner sewer should learn to sew on?
I'm a native New Yorker and sewing fanatic! I started sewing in 2009 and today make all my own clothes using vintage sewing machines and vintage patterns, in addition to sewing for private clients. Welcome to the warm and whimsical world of Male Pattern Boldness, where the conversation is sewing, style, fashion, fabric, and more!