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Jun 4, 2011

Best Purchase, Worst Purchase?

Friends, apropos of recipes for a happy life, I think it's essential for us to be able appreciate our successes and forgive our mistakes.  We're always doing the best we can with the information we have at the time, and yet how many people continue to punish themselves for errors of judgment made in the past even though it makes them unhappy?  I know I do!

Remember when you started sewing, how many items you needed to purchase in order to get started?  Relying as I did entirely on the beginner sewing book, Sew Everything Workshop, I accumulated a number of things recommended there that turned out to be a waste of money.  But what did I know?  Fortunately, these were minor notions, like the magnetic seam guide pictured up top.  I don' t think I've ever used that thing, I mean, what's the point?  The measurements are on your throat plate, and even if they're not, you can mark your seam allowance measurements with tape.  Please don't tell me you use one!

Anyway, I've been thinking a lot about good sewing purchases and bad, my best and my worst.  There are so many of each, readers!

Here's a good purchase, my Black & Decker Digital Advantage iron.  I've used this iron regularly for two solid years and only once did I have a mishap, when it dripped water on my taffeta dress -- and even then it was entirely my fault: I hadn't let it fully warm up to the setting I'd selected; when it does, it beeps.  What a pity that the model has been discontinued and none of the new Black & Deckers are garnering positive ratings on Amazon.  If this one died I'm not sure what I'd do.

UPDATE: It looks like it's back in production -- and more expensive.

You're probably tired of hearing about my Brother 1034D serger -- another good purchase.  Readers, rest assured I do not receive any compensation for plugging this wonderful machine on my blog (though I'm not entirely closed to the idea, Brother).  This serger is easy to use, very well priced, and has a well-earned reputation as being a workhorse.  Even though I generally try to avoid buying new things, I have no regrets.

Which leads us into the topic of bad purchases -- in fact, the worst purchase ever.  That would be my vintage Huskylock 535D serger, shown here in its semi-permanent, last-stop-before-dumpster home at the back of my not very large closet.

Readers, please understand that I blame myself more than Huskylock for the endless frustrations this machine has caused me.   I bought it used on eBay knowing next to nothing about sergers, and it arrived without a manual, a presser foot or a thread stand (well, the telescoping antenna was intact but that's it).   It took me a week to track down the parts I needed and get the thing threaded, and longer to balance the tension.  Again, I was in the dark about serging.  When I finally got it working, I tried to serge over some denim flat-felled seams and....well, let's not even talk about it.  Basically, I blew $100 and countless precious hours of my life, but I learned something: don't bother with sucky old sergers missing essential parts -- ever.

The saddest part of it is, I STILL can't manage to get rid of it and this is where the happy life/forgiveness thing comes in.  I should just donate it to the Salvation Army with a taped-on sign that says As is, or For parts only, or For masochists only.  For all I know, the serging equivalent of Rain could repair the darn thing and be happy to have it.  The other option is to put it outside on the curb and run.  It's taking up precious closet space that could be used for so many other unloved, impossible-to-get-rid-of items.  I can't look at it without thinking, You idiot -- and I'm not talking about the serger. That Mickey Mouse phone was no prize either but I digress.

Getting back to the positive, here's another good purchase, my vintage Singer buttonholer.  Not all Singer buttonholers fit low-shank straight stitchers so if you're in the market for one, make sure you're getting the right model.  They make lovely buttonholes and are very easy to use -- and fun in an old-timey way.

Here's another good purchase, my Pfaff 30 sewing machine and table.

I paid $40 for this machine and I use it all the time, or I did until the plug snapped off.  I really should rewire the whole thing.

Back to bad purchases, this flat-felling foot.  Why did I bother?

Finally, there is the category of Jury's Still Out.

I am sorry to say that my Elnapress has not proven to be the life-altering ironing miracle I had been led to believe by a certain MPB reader who knows who she is and fortunately I'm not the type to hold a grudge   Kidding aside, I love the idea of the Elnapress, only I never use it.  It takes up more space than I really have, it takes a long time to heat up and even longer to cool down.  Maybe someday it will prove its worth --  like when I'm interfacing concert costumes for the entire Von Trapp Family.

Also in the JSO category...

But let's stick to sewing.

Friends, time's running out and I need to know: What is your best sewing-related purchase and (juicier fun, let's face it) what is your worst, the one that keeps you up at night and has you cursing fate every time you look at it?

Let the self-forgiveness begin!


  1. I'm trying to figure out why you've blurred one dog's face, but not the other? I've been advised that I should blur my kids' faces when I post pics of them, so that ... dun dun dun! BAD people don't make weird uses of my kids' pictures. Is that what you're trying to prevent here?
    My worst purchase ever is whatever fabric I bring home every shopping trip. My stash keeps getting bigger, my bank account keeps getting smaller and I'm running out of room! Help!

  2. worst purchase - a cheapo used overlocker from ebay (is this a common sewist error?)i regretted it about 5 minutes after recieving it, only only ever managed to get one seam out of it)
    best purchase - shiny new brother 4234 overlocker, it is beautiful and i'm still a bit scared to use it, thats not stopped me from making 7 tops and two dresses with it though!

  3. Jen, I did not blur Willy's face. That's him caught in the action of flapping his ears, as he does various times in the middle of the night -- LOUDLY -- waking me up!

  4. Many years ago, when I first started sewing seriously, I was using my Mom's old Kenmore. It needed servicing, but we couldn't find a service person. I decided I should buy myself a machine and following the lowest price is best model I bought a bottom of the line Brother machine that did not work very well from day one. As my sewing ability progressed, the machine's problems also progressed.
    I screamed, I cried, I threw wasn't pretty.
    Ahead just 2 yrs. and I decided I'd had more than enough. I purchased my Pfaff Creative 1471, trading in the miserable Brother. Funny thing is that the shop gave me in trade more than I paid for the Brother to begin with.
    These are my worst and best sewing purchases ever. All this aside, I am not a "Brother hater", if fact, I am in the process of purchasing one of those Brother sergers that you recommend so highly. And I think that Brother should kick you back something for your support!!
    Have a great weekend, Peter!

  5. I'd have a hard time telling you about my worst purchases. Those are so far gone that I can hardly remember them. Ahem. That is the best part of getting rid of mistakes fairly promptly. I'd advise putting the Mickey Mouse phone out on the sidewalk too, cute as it may be, while you're at it..

    As to the best purchases, of course good machine and serger are essential (ONE of each..) and razor-sharp scissors, but what surprised me most what the difference a good iron made, when I finally got one. Beginners, don't be misled by the fact that an iron isn't directly sewing, or that it can be used for just.. ironing :-). Pressing is as important as sewing in making your clothes look good in the end.

  6. I think I regularly use every modern notion I've bought, so I don't think there's a JSO in that bunch. I do have some old Singer deco stitching cams that I've never used and probably never will. I should eBay them.

    That seam guide in the first pic is useful to butt the fabric up against. It makes sewing even seams and toptstitching faster because you only have to make sure the edge of the fabric touches the guide. I have a screw-on equivalent for the Featherweight and use it a lot. Many vintage machines (including my FW) didn't come with a marked needle plate.

    One day when Willie learns to read, he's going to be very pissed. ;-)

  7. Best is probably my large rotary cutter mat and various rulers for it.

    Worst, definitely a used embroidery machine (with cartridges!). I don't like the look of machine embroidery, so why did I buy this thing?? I used it once (finicky thing, too) and finally got rid of it several years later. Ugh.

    Also, an entire bolt of organic hemp/cotton knit terry cloth. Still lugging that one around.

    Can you do a video on the Singer buttonholer or direct to one??? My featherweight has one, but I've always avoided trying it.

  8. Here's one Brian made:

    PART 1

    PART 2

  9. Funny, but it's the little stuff that makes or breaks my sewing projects. It's amazing how much frustration a crappy product can cause. My #1 offender is those horrible marking pencils that they sell at JoAnn's. They're impossible to sharpen, break immediately on use and hardly make a mark. Best purchase ever -- a box of triangular tailor's chalk from B Black and Sons. 10 pieces, 4 colors for $6. It's really cut down on the amount of cursing here.

  10. Best purchase was my Babylock Imagine serger, I truly love that thing.

    I can't think of a worst purchase so I'll stick with crummy fabric... but even that can be used for muslins.

  11. best purchase/s: my first brand new machine; a Pfaff 2056. This gal has taken me to new heights of sewing.

    A Laura Star steam iron/board. That baby can steam the face off iron man LOL

    the Clover bias tape maker thingies; love love love these thing-a-majigs.

    $100 Ebay purchase of a Singer sewing table/cabinet with extender serger table. My sewing room is also the guest room and my study and thus is a jammed packed room full of teaching resources, academic resources, pullout sofa bed and sewing stuff. My machine can be pushed down, the serger put back in it's space in the cabinet and then the cabinet can be folded up & rolled away so there is room for the fold out bed to be extended when guests arrive. I think my fellow sewists will understand and forgive my reticence to hand out invitations for overnight stays LOL

    Worst: Bohn chalk mechanical pencil. this was an overpriced piece of crap. the chalk 'leads' break at a drop of a hat. Quite frankly i much prefer the carbon paper & tracing wheel method of transferring markings and seam lines.

    JSO: the 'fasturn' set i bought at a thrift short for $16 last week. Was it a wasted $16 fellow sewists? i've seen them on ebay for more than $40; so if it turns out i've bought a dud i can always list it LOL

    Love this line of conversation Peter!! Great post.

  12. I have a Singer serger with five threads which occasionally stops looping around the left needle thread. My older babylock serger never had that problem. I gave it to my DD and she gave it back, but now it needs a cord set and a cleaning - gah!

    I hardly ever use my iron press and blind hemmer. Gee, I would have to haul them out of their hiding places.

  13. I have been sewing for, perhaps, 35 years, and I have never even HEARD of a magnetic seam guide. Bizarre that a book would recommend such an esoteric device to a beginner.

    My worst sewing purchase was actually a gift from my dad. He gave me a vintage industrial that did not work right because a friend of his was throwing it out. I spent $300+ to get it fixed, and it still does not work right. Then my dad died. I feel like I can't get rid of it now, so it is decorating my upstairs hallway.

  14. Worst purchase? That would be a toss up over a high-shank ruffler that I spent $25 on that doesn't work with my pfaff and is bent all to crud to boot, and a vintage Singer that doesn't work. The vinyl parts inside it were dead.

    Best purchase? That would also be a toss-up. First would be my Gingher shears. I'd been using Fiskers because I could afford them, but when scissors when 65% off, I bought the Ginghers. I never realized how nasty and dull those Fiskers were until I got Ginghers. Or it could be the complete set of feet for my Pfaff that I pair for the shipping on and that was it....

    JSO, well, that's last week's purchase. I've been wanting a serger for years and last week I finally bought one. My local sewing center was running a sale, so I got $200 off there, and another $30 for taking the floor model. But last Saturday, I brought home a Husqvarna Viking H-200S overlocker. Since I've only owned it for a week and only completed a couple projects, JSO. But I will admit that the sundresses I made went a lot faster with it than with my old french seaming method. I have an appointment for a lesson on how to use it next Tuesday, so we'll see....

  15. I don't know if I have a worst purchase, but I certainly have a dumbest: an electric tread winder. Sheesh, what was I thinking?

    The best I think has got to be my nifty Chalkoliner (or however you spell it). Funny how the smallest thing can make such a big difference.

  16. Best purchase ever: rotary cutter and mat. Living without it right now (due to space constraints), and boy, do I miss it. It ranks right up there with pinking shears (which I somehow lost in the move).

  17. I am a Brother lover. My first machine was a gift for my college graduation. I upgraded a few years ago to a much nicer, but still lower end Brother. And about a month ago I bought a brother sewing/embroidery machine for a steal from a friend.

    One of my best purchases, sad but true, was a bodkin. So cheap, but it has made sewing sooooo much more enjoyable. I was forever trying to fish safety pins through tiny seams.

    My very best "purchase" though would have to be my Bernina serger. A couple of summers ago I mentioned wanting to try a serger sometime to my mother-in-law. She took me to her garage and showed me her Bernina (I'll take "Things That Sound Dirty But Aren't" for a $1000, Alex). She packed it up and sent it home with me to try. She didn't have the manual, so I didn't do much trying to begin with. But, bless her heart, she found the manual and told me to keep the machine. The cost to me? Serging anything that she needs done. Which has amounted the edge of one dust ruffle. Talk about a steal! I use it all the time now.

    My worst purchase? Probably my Black and Decker Steam Advantage iron. This iron runs super hot, I cannot begin to list the things I have melted with it. And the sole plate is "ceramic glide," which sounded great but makes me reluctant to clean it as I would a regular iron. And I'm not really certain what the advantage to this steam iron is, as you can only use steam on the two hottest settings (the lower of which is hot enough to melt the polyester in a standard thread).

    I also have many, many regrettable fabric purchases. Including 10 yards of khaki knit bought to make school uniforms... Then we changed schools. No more uniforms. Just what can you make with 10 yards of khaki knit that someone would actually want?

  18. Best purchase -- my Viking Huskylock 219. I bought it for way too much money from a rather shady dealer, but it is my go to machine. I have owned it for almost 10 years and in spite of being a modern machine, plastic, and rather junky, it has yet to fail me.

    Worst purchase -- I bought an iron (can't remember the brand, but it was not a big name) that didn't work. I mean, it is brand new and it never heated up past lukewarm. Plus, it's heavy as all get-out and the handle is at an awkward angle so it HURT, really hurt to iron with it. The Hubs almost threw out a shirt, convinced that it was permanently wrinkled, until I bought a new cheapo Black and Decker. Which works just fine, go figure. I can't figure out what to do with the other one and I've long since lost the receipt.

    I also bought a Huskylock snap-on foot for invisible zippers, only to discover that it doesn't fit my machine -- it was made for the newer models or something. I have a number of fancy snap-on feet that do nothing but take up space, come to think of it. They are designed to attach trim. I am not a frou-frou person and rarely use trim....I suppose I should get rid of them.

  19. Oh! For notions, my best purchases have been a tube turner, transfer markers/pencils and embroidery transfer paper. I use the transfer paper all the time to transfer pattern markings, but not so much for it's intended purpose. I use the transfer markers and pencils to transfer pattern markings, too--especially the markings for tucks. And the tube turner, well, until you've spent hours trying to turn a tube and swearing at it, you'll never know how much easier that $8 notion makes things. And I end up turning quite a few tubes! Probably my seam gauge and my seam rippers see the most use, though. And graph paper. Let's not forget that. And last but not least, my favorite tool was also free. It's a wooden chopstick that I find invaluable for turning things.

    Worst? Well, I never could get the wheel transfer kit to work. Ever. I have one at the bottom of my sewing box that's been there for about 15 years. Until recently, I would have listed my Olfa cutting mat, ruler, and rotary cutters in this category, though. I was required to buy them for a textiles class, and they sat gathering dust until I started quilting four years ago. I'm very dubious about using them to cut out clothing, but they're wonderful for anything that requires long, straight lines...

  20. Worst: a Pfaff coverlock bought used...paid to have it refurbed and then still never bonded with it. Best: a Bernina Artista, and an industrial Necchi...both have served me well.

  21. One of my worst purchases was a relatively cheap Brother sewing machine. It never sewed a decent seam in it's life. I gave it away eventually. My best purchases have been my serger and a high end Janome sewing machine. The Featherweight ranks up there too. It goes through multiple layers of denim without a problem. I did buy a bunch of knit for summer casual tops that was thin and flabby. I'm not sure what to do with it now.

  22. My best purchase is my Gingher rotary cutter. It makes cutting so much easier! It's especially convenient for thin and slippery fabrics like silk, satin, chiffon, etc.

    And regarding the worst - I don't have one (yet?).

  23. Best: Lutterloh pattern system -- you can fit any shape of body with it (the guy who demonstrated it said, "If you want to cover it, measure it." Ha!) I've made several items of clothing for my friend's daughter. She is quite overweight and loves everything I make for her, which delights me. Also love my No Time to Sew book and patterns by Sandra Betzina. Also McCall's vintage pattern 3017 which I make in endless variations as a blouse, combining it with another pattern that has back darts. The square armhole makes for great mobility and you still have shape to the blouse.

    Worst: I can't think of anything. I still have the Kenmore sewing machine my folks bought me in 1965, and love it. All my fabric purchases which I haven't sewn yet still inspire me. I often forget why I bought a certain piece and come up with an entirely different (I'm sure) purpose for it. Everything is grist for the mill.

  24. I'm so glad to see that you have that button holer and that you think it's good. I have to figure out how to use mine. I guess it's time to get over being intimidated by space aged vintage sewing products.

  25. Lets start with the worst, that is not really the worst, but then again...
    I bought an Elna serger with automatic tension settings. I used it a couple of times (I used to using a regular, manually set serger), changed settings to make a rolled hem and it worked fine. I changed all the settings back to basics (there were a lot!) and suddenly the stupid thing wont sew a proper 4-thread. The needle threads are pulled to the back in BIG loops. No matter how much adjusting I try, I end up with the same sad result.
    Another useless thing I've bought is a fairly cheap thing. I don't know what it's called in english, but it's a device to turn spaghetti-straps inside out. I've tried to use it about 5 times, but always end up using my serger- tweezers instead.

    The best thing I've bought to this day, is a Husqvarna Lily 555 sewing machine. Actually I haven't received it yet, but my best friend and sewing-buddy is bringing it on the 20th of this month. It is the very machine I learned to sew on, beyond the basics of course, so it has got a lot of sentimental value too :-)

    Ps. If anybody has got an idea of what my serger-problem might be caused by, please do email me! Thank you! :-)

  26. I buy every notion that promises to sharpen my rotary cutter blades. Intellectually, I know that a product that is honed by an industrial diamond lathe in a factory is unlikely to be easily sharpened at home. Emotionally, I fall for and buy every new product that comes on the market promising to do so. It is the sewing equivalent of buying swampland in Florida...

  27. Awww. Jury's still out on the dogs? Ouch. Poor puppies.

  28. I have a Singer buttonholer (in the pink case) that I think was a great buy, got it for under $10. You're right, it is fun to use and makes as good or better buttonholes as the TOL machines I have. Worst purchase - maybe having waaay to many patterns! I couldn't make them all up if I had three lifetimes ahead of me!

  29. Best purchases: my Brother sewing machine! It is the only one I have ever really used, so no comparison, but it has served me well for the past two years. Also, I love my rotary cutters - it is the best way to get a nice clean cut on the stretch material I use for skating costumes. Also, one can never have too many pairs of scissors. I didn't buy my iron - my mom gave it to me so I could iron my clothes in college. It didn't come out of the box until after I started sewing, but I like it. It's a low end Black and Decker, but it gets the job done. I am also really happy with some of my Burda magazines - usually I buy for one or two specific patterns, but I keep finding other things I want to make that end up looking really good.

    The worst? I have some Singer pins - the worst! Not sharp at all, I snagged some of my fabrics when I first tried to use them. Also, I have a loop turner - can't figure out how to make the darned thing work. I just end up ripping and snagging the fabric without turning any loops. Also, a few different feet - the Brother gathering foot and the "serger foot" - neither work super well.

    There are other things I have that I don't regret purchasing (marking tools, tissue paper), but I do want to try some alternatives (like tailor's chalk) because I think they might work better than my current tools.

  30. Thank you for the serger recommendation. When you talk about your Huskylock I start to think that my current serger, (once an excellent purchase,) is now a loser. Sometimes a purchase is good in its season, but then things change.

  31. Peter:
    Sorry to hear that you're not happy with your Elna press. At least you didn't buy it new like I did. That would be my worst purchase. I was hearing all these stories growing up about how mangle irons were the shizzle and all and I saw the Elna and thought, "That must be the modern version!" I can iron a shirt quicker and better by hand and I don't think that I've even used it for sewing projects. Over 20 years later I still have it and the local thrift store is calling it's name.
    Indiewriter: How about prison uniforms? Sorry, I guess I word associated when I heard school.
    Judy: I've watched the Lutterloh guy online. Is it really as easy as it looks.
    Best purchase is my Brother HE-120. Bought it used and we've lived happily ever after. I guess that evens out that awful Elna.
    Out of curiosity, does anyone out there own the Miele rotary iron? I'll just listen this time and not purchase.

  32. My worst was a cheap Yamata serger, it was a nightmare. I learned very fast to recall the old adage that goes something like this: "Expensive tools make you cry once but a cheap one will make you cry many times".

    One of my best purchases was an unlikely impulse buy: the SimFlex sewing gauge. It does one thing, marking button spacing, but so well. It also keeps non sewing friends amused by playing with it should the need occur.

  33. When I bought my BabyLock serger to replace my 20-year-old White serger, DH said it was an engineering marvel but he would miss the entertainment value of me swearing at the old one. Worst purchase was probably buying up to the coverlock capability, but it's the last serger I'm ever going to buy.

  34. Haha! I own 2 of the magnetic seam guides and love them both for the reasons Debbie gave above :) - as a beginner they've given me great confidence to stitch seams faster knowing I won't go off course (one's on my modern Brother, the other's on my vintage Novum machine).

    My worst buy (as said above by another commenter) those cheap waxy marker pencils I bought them years ago when I made a pair of simple curtains and each time I pick them up I forget how much I am disappointed by the last time I used them (they go blunt to easily and therefore don't mark accurately and they are bloody awkward to get the marks out of the fabric). In fact I don't know why I've hung onto them in my tool kit! They're gonna go into the rubbish bin tomorrow morning now LOL!

    My best buy is one of the cheapest -
    14-in1 Measuring Gauge so useful to me, I have a couple hanging around in case I loose one!

  35. your posts on sergers have convinced me that buying a used serger is like buying a used car; there is no way i'd buy unless it was from someone who knew the thing in and out and could demo. i'm still holding out for a cheapy used, at least until i get my damn passport and can drive across the border to america - land of cheap cheese, beer and sergers.

    best purchase - or, the purchase that made the most difference? a good seam ripper. seriously. when i first started out, i was using a seam ripper in a travel sewing kit. it was awful. it could take up to an hour to de-seam.

    worst purchase? probably some of the patterns i've picked up on super sale, but keep around because i reckon they might have some 'potential.' that and some bad knits. i've learned to check how much the knit rolls up when cut, and step away from the bad knits...

  36. My best purchase has to be my Singer 27 treadle; as it was the impulse buy that got me interested in sewing again. Only 20 bucks at a garage sale and it came unfrozen and in a cabinet! Admittedly the cabinet is beat up, but with three kids and three cats, that may be more of a plus than a minus. Anyway, it works beautifully with only the addition of a belt, some oiling, and some elbow grease. I think I just like a machine that's so easy to understand! Plus, I originally learned to sew on a treadle.

    *whispers* I think I actually like playing with the machines more than sewing with them... Shhh!

    My worst sewing purchase... Hmm. Probably my biggest cat. He sleeps on the treadle top when it's closed and gets cat fur in/on everything. He's doing it now, he looks so angelic sleeping. And he does keep my throw rugs properly subdued, every morning they're all cowering in corners with sad and wrinkled faces. So a definite success on the catliness front. But as a sewing purchase, he makes things harder. Sir Fluffy Tail we call him, his brother is Sir Sleek.

  37. Err, sorry about the thing on the floor with the Elna logo - what is it again?!
    I've always wanted one for blockfusing, but I have read subsequently that the pressure can be uneven across the board.
    My best purchase was more of an acquisition really - my Mum's overlocker that I borrowed and still have, it is circa 1980 but still goes good even though it has never been serviced!
    Worst purchase - an invisible zip foot, I never use it, a regular zip foot gives me better results. Luckily it didn't break the bank!

  38. Best purchases: every vintage button I every loved, a magnetic parts dish for pins, rotary cutter and mat, refurbished Viking 6010, and new carbon brushes for said machine's motor when it got sad.

    Worst Purchase: New Pfaff Select 3 sewing machine. I happily returned it after a couple weeks of tears not caring that I had to pay a hefty restocking fee. I hated that machine on just about every level, including the way it smelled.

    I also bought a used serger that I am outgrowing after only a couple months of use. Although it works okay, its capabilities are very limited.

  39. My best sewing purchase is a 1957 Sunbeam Iron that I picked up at a garage sale for $1. There is nothing better for pressing cotton and linen, the new irons feel cold by comparison. Love it, I just pray it never dies. Second best purchase, a Janome 900CP coverstitch machine for $100, admittedly I haven't used it a lot, and I don't have any extra feet or anything for it yet, but what it does, it does very well and I like it. Third best purchase, a White treadle machine at a garage sale, cabinet is mission style, and is in amazing condition, haven't tried sewing on it yet (I promise Peter, one day I will), right now it's function is decorative.

    Worst purchase, cheap interfacing, it has ruined more than one project (never said I learned quick), now I only buy the best I can find.

  40. Thanks for all the opinions on the Elna press thingie... I thought that was something I should keep an eye out for; now I think I'll pass....

    I have a few worst purchases - No. 1 has GOT to be the dreadful Singer Touch & Sew...yeah, the plastic geared one....that I got X years ago, & after 3, maybe 4, trips the repair shop it finally drove me away from sewing. For over 20 years :( . The spitting Rowenta is right up there too. Can't wait for the replacement to arrive!

    Luckily, I kept all of my sewing supplies, and some of the vintage notions are still all time favorites - like the chalk marker for dots (I'll need to do a post on some of these, because they're impossible to describe w/o pics), the tracing wheel & marking paper (that's STILL working!), my 60-yr-old Wiss Pinkers (if I inherited it from Mom does that count as a purchase?). Actually, my list of favorites is too long to list....I love so many of these tools & toys; it's almost not right how much I love them ;-D. The ones that pop into mind at the moment: Rotary cutter & mats, bias tape makers, all my curves & rulers, tube turners, & of course my beloved Singer 201 & her Art Deco cab :).

    JSO: The reproduction Victorian Sewing Bird. It's kind of cute, & has come in sort of handy a couple of times, but I'm not so sure yet....

  41. My best purchase was my Dritz measuring gauge that I got in the 60's, the one with the metal slider, so much better than the plastic one's today that fall off or melt on the ironing board! I used to use that little magnet thingy when I had a machine without guide lines, too.
    Worst purchase, too many to admit to! Patterns that are totally inappropriate for my age and body type, and that blankety-blank flat-felling foot...never been out of it's little baggie!

  42. Best purchases: Wiss scissors from a yard sale which are deliciously sharp. A Simplicity sewing booklet which explains in excruciating detail how to make every type of curtain and is beautifully illustrated as well. Not a purchase, but the inheritance of Grandma's notions basket. Worst purchase: The yards of fabric I have packed away for projects that I have never got around to doing!

  43. Well, I have to comment on behalf of my Singer steam press which I love! I bought it used a few months ago, and every time I apply interfacing I feel so happy and grateful inside! Seriously, just this morning (before I read your post), I was doing a little interfacing and commented to my DH, "Oh, I love this press! It was such a good buy!" He used to hear me complain about how much I detested applying interfacing with my iron.

    Another great buy was my Kam snap press! I bought it for diaper sewing but have found so many other uses for it!

    Bad buys: oh, so many! Mostly bad fabric. That is why I especially love the good ones.

    JSO: also many items in this category, including an industrial single needle lockstitch, bought maybe 6 years ago, that I have NEVER used due to ISMA (industrial sewing machine anxiety). My goal is to learn to use it within the next month or two, as soon as I can get DH to help me mount the heavy motor!!

  44. Best buys: hands down - all three of my machines - a Kenmore comp. sewing machine (I forget the model number but the cheapest compu. Kenmore is fantastic and well-priced), a Brother 1034D serger, and a Bernina 340 Deco embroidery machine (that I got an amazing deal on). They are all workhorses and I am a fast, obsessive sewist with only space for these three...

    The worst buys: I think I agree with you on the seam guide. Mine looks slightly different, but it still never gets used.

  45. Best purchase: the biggest, folding, padded gridded pressing board, Sew EZ, direct from the Ohio Table Pad Company, who, sadly, does not sell directly to the consumer any longer. Boo hoo for all of you.
    Worst purchase: serger. Thankfully, I did not purchase it; a friend did on my behalf. $25, no manual, from a smoking household, at the MIT flea market. I did figure out how to thread it and I finally found the tension knob, but I've broken 2 needles in it, and it sits, languishing, in the "sewing machine museum".

  46. Ahem... best purchase here was an Elnapress!!! I interface a LOT of fabric (for bags and hats) and nothing else does the job as evenly or quickly.

    Magnetic seam guide - perfect for topstitching row after row of parralel lines on a bag strap, and especially useful on my industrial machine that doesn't have any stich guide lines.

    Worst purchase - buttonholer for the wrong model machine!!!

  47. I actually shouted out loud when I saw the Digital Advantage iron is available again! Mine died last spring and I've gone through four irons since, trying to recreate the magic.

    Best purchase: tailor's ham & a seam roll. I know, they're like $10 and readily available, but I was using rolled-up flannel and telling myself it was just as good and I didn't need to spend the money. I spent $4 on a Hamilton Beach Steam Storm iron at a thrift store, and it's pretty great (though not the best) and automatically shuts off after an hour. Which rules.

    Worst purchase: Black & Decker Classic iron. The water boils over and spits out the top. I've been scalded many a time. Isn't it amazing how hard it is to find a good iron?

  48. I don't think I have enough sewing related items to have a have a best or worst purchase - but I'd have to agree with previous commenter, a seam ripper has probably been my best purchase. Maybe as a worst purchase, some (a lot of) ill-suited fabric that is just sitting around.
    I actually wanted to pop in to say, don't donate to Salvation Army a broken piece of machinery! They have to spend money to haul away/or hire garbage disposal service to trash all the broken or unusable items people donate. I think if you put it as Free on Craigslist or freecycle, it would be easy to get rid of

  49. Okay Nikki, I'll give the Elna Press another try since bags are on my next "to do" list.

  50. Best: A skirt marker. I sew mostly skirts and dresses, and this makes it so much easier to get the hem even.

    Not a thing, but: having my machine serviced. I didn't expect it to make such a difference, but after eight years it certainly needed it!

    Worst: Narrow hemming feet. Too tricky to use, I usually do hems by hand instead.

  51. Aw, I'm so sorry to hear everyone's bad eBay serger purchase stories. I've bought two Singer sergers via eBay, both under $130 and they have worked like champs. One I got was an exact model of my Mother's that broke. I bought it because I had to go over hell and earth to find needles for it and why bother with something else after that.

    The second one is my current 5 cone. I had to have it repaired, but it worked for a year + through heavy use, so counting the repair, I put $330 into that machine over 2+ years and now its as good as new. Aint too shabby.

    I don't use seam rippers or tailor's chalk, I have colored pencils and an xacto knife :)

    I use mostly vintage notions and often buy them on bulk via eBay. Man have their been some interesting things in those boxes...

    I guess my worst buy was thread by the spool instead of by the cone. You always run out at a time when you really, really can't. *sigh*

    My best buy is easily my thread snippers. I love those. Use them all the time. Would be lost without them. $12 on eBay. I get them sharpened every few months. They will last a lifetime.

  52. What a fun conversation! I love seeing everyone's bests and worsts. Ok, here are mine, with the caveat that a lot of my sewing toys have been gifts!

    Best: A new ironing board cover that's not always popping off! My Gingher shears. My sewing table (from IKEA, adjusted SUPER HIGH so I'm not hunching over). Wall hanging thread racks: useful AND pretty! Beeswax. Plastic thingy for sewing over bulky seams like on jeans. Sewing basket: an organized place for all my tools! A birthday gift from a thoughtful friend.

    Worst: El Cheapo rotary cutter. I've only used it a couple times, can't keep it in the right place, and it has a dull spot on the blade. Maybe if I need to make bias strips I'll use it again. Buttonhole scissors. I bought a little baggie of sewing do-dads at a thrift store just for the scissors, and now I have extra tracing wheels I don't need (although the double-headed one with a poky wheel and a wavy one is kinda cool, if useless) and a pair of scissors that don't really work.

    This last regret is kind of an anti-purchase, actually. When I first got into sewing, my mom had given me her old Kenmore, which was at least a couple years older than I am and served her faithfully for years. She taught me to sew on that machine. Once I started using it, I noticed that there was something wrong with the motor. If I pressed the pedal lightly, nothing happened. I had to press harder and harder until VROOM it started sewing really fast. Since it was a Kenmore, I took it to Sears. They sent it off to get fixed. I got a call saying they found what was wrong: a cracked gear. But they don't make that part anymore. So I could come pick up my still-broken sewing machine. Well, I never picked it up. I just went out and bought a new machine (not a regret, I like it and it works well!) and left the Kenmore for Sears to deal with. Now I realize I could probably have found a replacement gear somewhere else, or my local sewing machine repair shop could have, and I could've had a cool, functioning, vintage machine. Oh well.

    Jury's Still Out: My dress form, only because it still lives at my parents' house and I haven't been able to use it yet! Last time I was there I flew, and it's hard to fit a dress form in your carry-on... My even-feed/walking foot. Again, just haven't had the chance to use it yet. Narrow hemmer feet, because I'm not sure I can master them.

  53. Peter,

    I have tried long to forget what I am going to confess here, but there it goes:

    Worst buy: An Elna Grasshopper full of scratches, with very bad but original wiring and complete original attachments and manual. It could sew good, but the motor expeled some smoke that made me afraid to put my appartment into fire. The case was a bit different model what we know, and it was very jammed and didn't close, so I could not carry around as planned. Then after one year I decided to "declutch" it, after I got a Featherweight.

    Best buy: Elna Grasshopper... Yes, the same one! Right after I got it, I have written to a Grasshopper specialist, sending pictures of it, asking if mine was the 1st. style model, as I supposed it to be. It took one year for the guy to answer and at this time my Grasshopper was for just two weeks gone... I have found out that the machine was one sort of prototype!!! It was made before Elna started to comercialize it and it was probably extemly valuable... *sniff*

    Ok, at least I sold it for much more than I got, but anyway... There you have!

  54. Okaysofi -- Yes, it is easy to make a pattern from the Lutterloh system. It's also fun.

  55. I have that exact buttonholer and that's what I use on my purchase ever! Worst purchase...probably a few patterns that I must have been drunk when I purchased or something because there's no way I would actually wear them! hahahaha!

  56. Best purchase, hands down, my Brother 1034D serger! It is my favorite toy!!! Worst purchase, I don't even know what they are called, bias tape maker thingies that I do not even use! They are kinda tricky, maybe it is user error? Also a bobbin winder machine, and while cool, I just don't use it. This comment does not include my many unfortunate fabric choices that I have made in my many years of fabric addiction! I propose a fabric swap! We could list pictures and fabric content and swap our poor fabric purchases with other peoples! One mans fabric faux pas is anothers couture gown, no?

  57. Best Purchase: unquestionably my Singer 201. I could not not live without it. Next best is my sweet little General Mills iron from 1950.

    Worst purchase: two (!) Rowenta irons. Total pieces of really expensive crap. Leaked like crazy.

    JSO: when I first started sewing I bought a new Phaff. It sets unused in the closet. It's not a bad machine, I just don't like it as well as my vintage machines. And it was expensive. I keep thinking I should give it to someone, but it was expensive.......

  58. Best purchases-- my Singer 301, my Domestic treadle, my Featherweight, my Janome 1600 DB, my Singer Touch and Sew. Worst purchase, a 1990 Singer sewing machine bought cheap. It never ran without having the bobbin barfing up thread onto the back of the seam. I gave it away after an unsuccessful repair attempt.

  59. Best buys? I'm with the rotary cutter crew. And the 'good iron a must' brigade, since last week I finally threw out the one that spat and dribbled and bought a new iron. (Please don't tell my friends but last night I steam pressed pillow slips just for the fun of wielding the new toy and having no water spots!) Also the sharp scissors mob.

    Worst? My most recent worst is the iron-on Shapewell interfacing that has bubbled after one wash and means I must redo a collar and french cuffs on an otherwise very appealing shirt. Oh well, now I now to go back to the sew-in Shapewell which I think gives a great result even if it takes a little longer. And at least I can use the old cuffs to mark the buttonholes on the new ones. It might have been the ironing that was at fault, but I won't risk a second try with stiff iron-on interfacing- I'll only fuse the lightweight stuff.

    The other worst is the rotary cutter blade sharpener. I've tried several times and now realise that two discs with emery paper just don't sharpen a thin round blade. I'll just go on watching for 'discounts on all items' sales and snapping up as many 45 CM, Elfa rotary blades at a time as I can. Peter, I think I recall you saying you hadn't changed your blade in years. What's the secret?

    The 'worsts' that hurt are the ones that spoil a project. While I paid more money for the dud sharpener than I did for interfacing, the pain of seeing my lovely cuffs spoiled was greater than realising that I'd wasted money. I suppose, looking for the bright side, this that means that the pleasure of repairing the mistake will be all the greater.

    Don't get me started on all the 'worsts' that were poor choices of pattern or bad patterns- we'd be here for weeks and end up in tears. Rather, focus on my last 'bests'. A little money and regular time in bring your own project sewing classes at The Cloth Shop, helps me avoid or repair disasters and enables me to tackle new challenges. Less money and even more time discovering websites like Pattern Review and blogs like MPB does likewise, only virtually. Thankyou Peter for fun and education combined!

  60. I LOVE my magnetic seam guide and you will pry it out of my cold dead hands.

    I sew on an old Singer with it's original, non-marked throat plate. I used tape for awhile, but it gets sticky and gross after awhile and then you have to clean your whole throat plate. The magnetic seam guide is the bomb.

    As an added bonus, it makes needle clean-up quick and easy.

  61. Oh Peter, I too bought a "vintage" serger. It looks exactly like yours except it was put out by JC Penny. It sucks. I spent $75, I used it once, and there is no adjusting the tension no matter what dials I spin. I even read the stupid manual too. What makes me the most mad is that I sold several sewing projects (a total first, I usually give stuff away) to buy it. I think thats the reason I can't part with it. I do French seams on mostly everything now (not as time consuming as I thought) so the serger just mocks me in its dusty corner. I"m throwing it out today! well... maybe just move it where I can't see it.

  62. My best purchase has nothing to do with sewing, but my vintage pyrex bowls. I have used them for everything, love the colors. They are probably full of lead that is why the colors are still vibrant LOL.

    With sewing, I am not a big collector of stuff, but I am definitely a Brother lover. I have two Brother sewing machines, and absolutely love them. I did purchase a heavy duty singer, new one, and then returned it. For some reason, I don't know why, but the bobbins always jam up in the singers that I have purchased.

  63. Best purchases - Bernina 1020 (WHY did I ever trade it in?!?!?), the first Singer 15-91 even with bad wiring, seam rippers, dress form, Singer press, and I'm sure I'm leaving some items out.

    Worst purchase - Singer Touch & Sew bought for the chain stitch. It runs fine, but I should have put the $ toward a cover stitch instead. The Singer 15-91 bought for the cabinet, and the Singer 15-91 bought for the attachments and new wiring (I'm planning to make 1 sweet machine out of all 3. Cheap interfacing and bad fabric.

    JSO - the bias cutter and press tools.

  64. Best:

    1) My Bernina 1090, the first really good sewing machine I ever owned. Alas, it took a fatal tumble off the table when I leapt up to answer the phone, not knowing that my leg was entangled in the cord. Now I sew on a Bernina 1530, and my sister gave me her old Bernina 1130, but I still miss my 1090.

    2) A not very expensive Sunbeam iron that I bought at Costco. It never leaks, has an extremely long cord, and came with a small container with a spout that makes it easy to fill it with water without spilling.

    3) Gingher sissors

    4) A Dritz gizmo for turning tubes

    5) My Bernina walking foot for straight line quilting

    6) My SewEzi sewing table

    7) A thin transparent plastic ruler with 1/16" markings on it.

    8) Bernina invisible zipper foot


    1) Hmmm. I can't think of anything except a set of Mini-Wedge Rulers which I bought for quilting and never used.

    2) And I suppose I shouldn't have bought that Singer 401 on eBay. It's a good vintage machine, but I almost never use it.

  65. I bought the magnetic sewing guide, too. Use it mostly to pick up pins.

  66. Best purchase(s): Collins Seam Squizzers-Spring Action Seam Ripper; 4 1/2" Bent tip tweezers, Singer Professional 5 serger with cover stitch, and Bias seam maker.

    Worst purchase(s): TriSharp rotary-blade sharpener, Roll-a-Pattern rotary marker.

  67. I have a brother serger. Actually two, but that's a long story. One of them (not sure which was new I bought from Amazon, one was new/returned to Walmart in the box at the Salvation Army) was making a horrible squealing noise. I oiled what I could see, with no luck, then I found this video. If you listen, the man in the video will say this is a problem with 100% of Brother sergers. Be careful how you pick it up.

    Well, that wasn't what was wrong. I ended up taking off the bottom and both ends, and I found all kinds of moving, rotating parts to oil. After many attempts, I finally quieted 'brother' down. Ahhhh, I love it when I win!!!

  68. This and the comments were fascinating! My best purchases were a green Singer 185 - I think from the 50s or 60s. It makes beautiful button holes. And you can fix so much yourself. Always cleaning and oiling it and it responds with great sewing. Also an A11 Sunbeam iron from around 1957. It is much better than a steam iron. My newer machines with the zigzag feature and fancy stitches are okay it you want everything done half-way and nothing done well. You can't beat a straight stitch machine for a great seam. Worst purchase: a serger. Don't get me started!
    - Jill

  69. Hi Peter - did you ever end up rewiring your Pfaff 30? I have one desperately in need of some love but I’ve never rewired anything and there’s no OSMG anywhere near me. Any tips? Thanks so much!

  70. I was doing a check on a serger I'm going to get Tomorrow. I'm hoping for good luck on my side. It's a huskylock 535d in a box still looks good. My bad thing is getting material from a friend and none of the material I can use. I had a Pfaff sewing machine which was the best one I had. I got a new one and it's nowhere like my old one.


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