Janome Memory Craft 6600P

A few weeks ago I bought a domestic sewing machine – Janome Memory Craft 6600P. I needed a back-up sewing machine in case something happens to my Mitsubishi industrial workhorse. I also wanted a relatively high-end machine so I could do stitches that I can’t do on my straight-stitch industrial machine – like button holes, zig zags, and monograms. Automatic thread cutter was also a “necessity” now that I’m so used to it.

Budget was limited though, so when I found a second-hand Memory Craft 6600 at a reasonable price, I went for it. Having never owned a high-end domestic machine, I was excited! I bought a new sewing table and chair for the Janome and welcomed it to my studio – here it is next to my Brother overlocker.

Janome MC 6600

Sadly, my first impression of the machine was… disappointment. It was a nice machine for sure, and the stitch quality was good. But it felt like a toy compared to my powerful, responsive industrial machine. After a few hours of playing with it, I didn’t go back to it for weeks. It was that frustrating to sew with.

Eventually though, I decided to give the Janome another try. Maybe I judged harshly too soon. Maybe I just needed to get to know it better. It was unfair to expect it to perform like an industrial machine anyway… 

Today was a lazy Sunday. The kids were away at a local market with Mark. I decided to do some light patchwork and quilting with the Janome.

Janome MC 6600 built-in walking foot

Piecing lightweight pieces together went trouble-free. Then I tried the built-in walking foot. It worked very well! Much smoother, quieter, and more effortless than the clanky walking-foot attachment I had for my old Janome machine. It’s great that the walking foot is built-in – no need to attach it with a screwdriver. Finally, I felt a glimmer of hope – maybe even love – towards this machine. 

Here are other things I love about this machine:

(1) The bobbin winder that works with a touch of a button. You don’t have to operate the whole sewing machine to wind up a bobbin, and the process is fast. 

(2) Auto thread cutter works like a charm, at the touch of a button. 

(3) The machine is a little faster than a regular domestic machine – at 1000 stitches per minute, it is of course slow compared to 5000-stitch-per-minute industrial machine, but still fast enough not to feel too frustrated.

(4) The stitch quality is solid and clean. I can definitely use this machine for my professional sewing work (although I haven’t tried out heavy canvas bags yet on this machine).

What I still find frustrating is that the machine is not instantly responsive. I like to start sewing at a fast pace, but the machine starts out slowly for the first few stitches, no matter how hard I step on the foot controller. I get the same sluggish response when I stop and backstitch. 

I am also disappointed in the knee lifter attachment. I had to get a height-adjustable chair just to reach the knee lifter comfortably. However, when I do reach the lifter, I’m sitting way too high to operate the machine ergonomically. I have given up on the knee lifter for the moment.

Still, I quite enjoyed sewing with the Janome today. In just a couple of hours, I made three small placemats, a large pot holder / table runner, and a small potholder for our kitchen. I wouldn’t have made so many things if I hated the machine. That’s right, the Janome and I are finally becoming friends. 

Patchwork placemats for kids by Ppiggledee

Patchwork placemats for kids by Ppiggledee

Patchwork table runner by Piggledee

patchwork creations for the dining table

Thoughts on choosing a sewing machine (learn to sew post no. 3)

So now that you are keen to get started on sewing – great! Now you probably want to get a sewing machine, which is a useful thing to have.  Here is a couple of my thoughts on what sewing machine you might need, and where to get it from.

Thought 1: A basic model will do just fine

Domestic sewing machines of reputable quality starts around $200 in Australia, and goes up to all sorts of fancy computerised quilting or embroidery machines costing upwards of thousands of dollars.  If you are just starting to sew, and your aim is to make a few household items, simple clothes, and maybe a quilt or two, believe me, you just need an entry-level machine.

Because all you need is basically two types of stitches: straight sewing, and zig zag. Even the most basic machine would come with way more than these two stitch types. 

If you are considering extra features, and you want to make clothing, the one feature I recommend is a buttonholer.  The cheapest machines normally have a “four-step” buttonholer, which does its job.  It’s not as nice as a “one-step” version, but it may not warrant the at least $100 in price difference.  

But what about quilts? Wouldn’t you need a special sewing machine for quits, you ask? Well, you don’t.  My old quilting teacher had a basic little home sewing machine, and did all her quilting on that machine.  What you may want to buy though is a separate “walking foot” for quilting or sewing bulky layers (and maybe a “darning foot” for free-motion quilting, if you’d like to give that a try), but you can find these feet to fit most basic machines.

Eventually, after sewing for a while, and deciding you like to sew a lot (or start a sewing business), you may want features like automatic thread trimmer and needle up and down option.  I discussed more about these features earlier regarding how I upgraded, after five years, from a basic home sewing machine to an industrial one.  But for occasional home sewing, you really don’t need these high-end features.

Even if you have, say, $800 to spend on a sewing machine with nice extra features, I’d still recommend a $200 basic machine (or perhaps a $400 machine with one-step buttonholer) – and buy an overlocker with your remaining budget. Because while an overlocker is not a necessity, it is a very nice thing to have for professional-looking finish.

Thought 2: Try to get a cheap (or free!) second-hand sewing machine

I confess to having a dark past of mindless consumerism, but these days I am a big fan of frugality and recycling.  Especially when it comes to sewing machines — just how many sewing machines would you guess there are in this world, stowed away in attics and storage, gathering dust?

Perhaps you can start out by borrowing an unused machine from your mother, grandmother, or mother in law. Make her a gift of something pretty, like a patchwork potholder, and chances are she’d let you keep the sewing machine for good! If your family does not have a spare sewing machine, I bet someone else you know does – ask around your friends, colleagues and neighbours.  Check out Freecyle in your area to see if anyone is offering a sewing machine for free.

Secondhand sewing machines are everywhere and good ones are easy to find.  Check out sites like Gumtree (the last time I checked, I found a basic Janome for $25), eBay, and the Trading Post for good deals.

Thought 3: Newer doesn’t necessarily mean better

I am no expert, but the basic function of sewing machines has not changed much in many, many years.  Unless you have a need for shiny computerised sewing machines with fancy features (which most of us don’t), a 20-year-old sewing machine you find on eBay will do just as well as a new machine you’ll find in shops today.

It is even possible that a vintage sewing machine is better made, with better materials, and will last much longer than newer machines made with flimsy plastic.  My beloved industrial machine is probably around 30 years old, and still works perfectly.  

Sure, newer machines might be lighter and thus more portable than 30-year-old machines.  But if you are just sewing at your home, does it really matter? So my point is, don’t be put off by how old a sewing machine is, when you find a free one sitting in your grandmother’s attic.  As long as it still works – sews straight and zig zag stitches – take up on it! 

My next post will be on where to find fabrics.  

 

Industrial vs domestic sewing machines, part 2 – the Review

Following my last post on how I came to buy an industrial sewing machine, here’s my review of my industrial single needle, lockstitch machine. I thought I’d do this in a FAQ format.

What does the machine do?

Unlike domestic sewing machines that offer, even at entry-level, a myriad sewing options like zig-zag, button holer, and decorative stitches, most industrial machines are only capable of one thing only. Mine only does straight stitches. No zig zag, no button hole, no decorative stitches. The only thing you can adjust is the stitch length.

But that’s okay by me, because straight stitch is all I use for my Piggledee products anyway. Well, I also use an overlocker, but most domestic machines don’t offer this function, so you’d still need a separate overlocker. If I want to use zig zag or stitches, I can use my domestic Janome.

Is the industrial machine easy to use?

Yes, very easy. My Mitsubishi didn’t come with a users manual, and I couldn’t find any online. But the private seller of the machine showed me how to use it, and in 10 minutes I knew enough to start sewing.

Because my machine only does straight stitching, there is no complicated control dials or switches. On the body of the machine, the only control dial is for changing stitch length.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On top of the machine body is a “computer” control panel. This controls the auto back tack and auto thread trimmer options. Given that my Mitsubishi is an older machine, the control options are limited. For back tacking, I can choose to turn it on or off for the beginning / end of sewing, and can choose how many stitches to back tack. I can turn the thread trimmer on and off. It’s all very intuitive.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

But isn’t it hard to change the thread, etc?

I admit I was a little intimidated by the threading at first. Compared to a domestic sewing machine, there are more loops and dials to guide a thread through. I asked the seller of the machine to have it delivered to me already threaded, so I can study it when it got delivered. For the first few days I only sewed with white thread, using my domestic Janome when I needed to use different colours.

But then I learned there was an easy way to change the thread. Instead of removing the old thread from the machine and re-threading from scratch, you cut off the thread at the top from the cone, tie a new thread to it in a simple knot, and ten gently pull it through all the hoops and dials to the needle, cut off the knot and just insert the new thread into the needle. This was much easier!

So, specifically, what are the things you like about the industrial machine?

Automatic thread trimmingI love this feature, although it doesn’t (as I hoped) eliminate all manual thread trimming. To use it, at the end of sewing a seam, you hit the foot pedal on your heel side all the way down (pressing the toe side sews stitches). The machine will make a loud “gachung!” noise, does a back tack if you are using it, and trims both threads in one automatic movement. Newer machines will also lift up the pressor foot in this same motion, so all you do is remove the fabric. But mine doesn’t. To lift the pressor foot, you move the knee bar with your right knee.

The machine trims the upper thread very neatly – not even 1mm of loose thread remains. On the back side of the fabric through, there is about 5mm of loose fabric is left untrimmed. I’m not sure if this is normal for other machines, or if mine needs service.

But the most amazing thing about this feature is you can start sewing another seam without touching the thread at all, and there is only a short thread hanging loose at the beginning of the stitch. What I mean is, with my domestic Janome, you have to ensure there is at least 10 cm of thread hanging loose at the beginning, or the thread will escape through the eye of the needle and I have to rethread the needle again. I hated this about my domestic machine.

With my industrial, when I auto-cut the thread at the end of a seam, there is about 2-3cm (1 inch) of thread hanging loose past the needle eye. When I remove the fabric, re-insert the fabric to sew another seam, and start sewing, the end of the thread does not magically disappears into the first stitch, but I’ll only have to trim about 2cm of of thread, if needed.

Needle up / down – Another great feature, though as with thread trimming, is also available in nicer domestic sewing machines. I find it particularly useful combined with the knee bar, when sewing around a corner, for example. Whereas with my domestic, I’d have to (1), stop sewing, and if the needle is not in the down position, (2) turn the wheel to bring the needle down, (3) use my hand to lift up the pressor foot, (4) pivot the fabric 90 degrees, and (5) release the pressor foot down, re-position hands around fabric and (6) continue with sewing — wow, that’s a lot of steps –, with my industrial, you just (1) stop sewing, hit the knee bar with your right knee while at the same time pivoting the fabric, and (2) release the knee bar and continue with sewing. So. Much. Easier.

At the end of a seam, when you use auto back tack, the needle stops at the up position.

Knee bar – At first I didn’t feel the need to lift the pressor foot by using your knee, because I was so used to lifting it up and down manually on my domestic. But now I appreciate it. It means you can use both your hands at all times to manipulate and shift the fabric as you sew.

Automatic back tacking – Instead of holding the “reverse” button on my domestic while sewing a few stitches back at the beginning and end of a seam, my industrial machine can do it for you automatically. I do love this function for the end of the seam, when I want to do a couple of back tacking and cut the thread. The machine does all this with one click of a heel.

I’m not using this feature for the beginning of the seam, however, because (a) the machine makes another loud noise when auto back tacking, and I want to minimise loud noises, because I often sew when my kids are asleep, and (b) the back tacking goes so incredibly fast, it’s easy for me to momentarily lose control of the fabric and keep the sewing line straight. But the large reverse bar on the machine (unlike the tiny button on my domestic), makes it very easy to manually do the back tacking.

Speed – Although this was one of my major complaints about domestic machines, the industrial machine is so fast, I rarely use it’s full speed. At full speed, I just can’t maintain the control to keep the stitching line straight. Thankfully, it’s very easy to use the machine at slower pace. The foot pedal is very responsive that way. I can go from sewing very slowly (around the curves for example) to pretty fast (when sewing long straight lines), then back to slow, with no problem and the stitch quality remains beautiful and consistent.

The best thing about sewing fast is that the machine doesn’t vibrate much. It’s not for no reason that the machine is so hefty (the machine head alone must weigh around 30kg). The fabric doesn’t wobble so it’s easier than domestic machines to maintain control when sewing at higher speed.

Stitch quality – The stitch quality is incredible! It’s beautiful, and consistently so, regardless of the speed I use, how often I vary the speed, or that there are varying degrees of fabric thickness in one seam. The finished product looks just looks a lot more professional. I didn’t know about this before buying an industrial machine, or I didn’t know it would matter so much. But now I know, I’d choose my industrial over the domestic machine for this reason alone, even if I didn’t have other nice features like automatic thread trimmer.

Ability to sew thick layers of fabric – Another reason why I chose an industrial machine, and my Mitsubishi doesn’t disappoint. I always slow down almost to a stop, by sheer habit, when approaching a thicker layer of fabric in a seam, but it’s not necessary. It’s like the machine doesn’t even notice there is a difference in fabric thickness – the needle effortlessly cuts through 4-6 layers of cotton canvas without skipping a beat. Love it.

And I don’t even know if my Mitsubishi was designed for a lightweight or medium weight fabric. Like other industrial lockstitch machines, the Mitsubishi comes in three variations for light, medium, or heavy fabric. All I know is mine is either the light or medium. In any event it sews both types very well.

Ability to sew lightweight fabric – I haven’t tried other, more tricky fabrics like silk chiffon, but the industrial machine sews super lightweight cotton, like Liberty tana lawn, beautifully. I can even start sewing at the very edge of the fabric, without the fabric getting distorted or the thread jamming – which is often what happens with my domestic machine.

Easy bobbin winding – I love how you can wind a spare bobbin as you sew other things. The machine comes with a thread stand that holds two cones of thread, one for the main stitching and one for the bobbin. You just thread one cone of thread to the bobbin winder attached to the right side of the machine, and your regular stitching motion winds up the bobbin! It automatically stops winding when the bobbin is full.


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh another thing about thread. When I bought my industrial, I learned that you can buy one of those huge cones of thread (5000 meters) for $3 or so. Three dollars. They come in a rainbow of colours. And I’m not even talking about wholesale price. Call me ignorant or stupid, but for years I had bought those little Gutermann poly threads spools at craft shops, which sells for more than $10 for an 800-meter spool. I always thought it was expensive, and I hated constantly running out of thread. But suddenly realizing that, gosh, those little thread spools cost 20 times as much as those cone version? Doesn’t it almost seem like an unfair business practice to charge so much for such cheap thread?

But I only blame myself for not discovering this sooner. After all, I’ve used cheaper thread cones for my overlocker, without once realising that I can use those for my regular domestic machine as well. I have since tried using the huge cone thread on my domestic machine, and while I can’t secure it properly, it’s still usable.

What are the things you don’t like about the industrial machine?

Inserting a bobbin – I find it hard to insert a bobbin. The bobbin goes inside a bobbin case, and the whole thing goes into a little space on the lower left side of the machine under the table. I’m sure a seasoned seamstress can do it by the feel of it, but after a couple of weeks I still find it difficult to click it into the right spot. Often I need to tip the machine over, or crawl under the table, to see if I’m getting it right.

Speaking of bobbins, I find it rather strange that you need to keep filling those tiny bobbins even for an industrial machine. I believe this is true even for newer models. Wouldn’t someone have invented a machine by now that would feed straight from a thread cone directly? So that annoying problem I’ve had with my domestic machine – when I would sew an entire long seam before realizing that I haven’t actually sewn a stitch because the bobbin was empty –  it still happens to me with the industrial machine.

The weight / size – An industrial machine comes attached to a table (about 130cm wide). The motor is not part of the machine but is attached to the table underneath the machine head. The whole thing is extremely heavy (around 80 kg) and takes space. If we still lived in our old apartment, there was no way I could have bought the machine – or find anyone to move it upstairs for that matter! The size means, obviously, I can’t take it to my quilting class etc, so I’d still need my domestic machine.

Lack of stitch options – Because my industrial only does straight sewing, I still need my domestic machine for other stitches like zig zag. Personally I don’t use it much, but if you do, you might find it annoying switching back and forth between two different machines.

Lack of free arm – There is no “free arm” option for an industrial machine because the sewing surface is level to the tabletop. I was so used to using the free arm with my domestic machine when sewing around a hat or armholes, it took a while to get used to sewing without it. I still find it a little tricky sewing a round seam, and miss the free arm on my domestic machine.

Lack of built-in light – Industrial sewing machines, unlike domestic ones, don’t come with built-in light for the sewing area. Why not? I have no idea. It would be such a simple but lovely improvement. Doesn’t the sewing industry have a problem of sewers going blind? I bought a separate fluorescent lamp to go with my machine, that clamps on to the table. But it’s not as nice has always having a bright warm light for the sewing area.

Well, that’s pretty much it I think. I’ll update this post later if I come up with more pros/cons of an industrial machine.

I highly recommend an industrial machine for anyone who sews a lot and is considering an upgrade to a better domestic machine. Used industrial machines are a great value, considering high-end domestic machines can cost thousands of dollars. Spare parts are cheaper for industrial machines, too. I’ve only bought a binder/folder attachment I have yet to play with, but it cost only $28. I think pressor feet are cheap as well. It still pains me to remember that I paid like $80 for a walking foot for my domestic machine. I haven’t tried machine quilting yet with my industrial, but with the pressor foot capable of taking up to about 1.5 cm fabric thickness, and how wonderful the feeding of fabric is, I doubt I’ll have any problem machine quilting using the regular old pressor foot. But I’ll let you know when I have tried this.

Anyway, here are a couple more photos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The servo motor

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The motor, the knee bar, and the foot pedal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The machine tips over like this all the way. Inside is an “oil bath” to keep the machine well oiled. I know, it’s a little frightening at first to see a pool of oil just sitting there, but it doesn’t touch the fabric or anything.

Industrial vs domestic sewing machine: Part 1

A few weeks ago I bought a used industrial sewing machine – Mitsubishi LS2-1180, straight lockstitch machine that is more than 15 years old. I thought I’d write a review of it, and compare it to my entry-level domestic machine. But first, this post is about the background: what drove me to buy an industrial machine and how I found my Mitsubishi. Warning: this is going to be a long and technical post! If you are not a sewing geek like me, you’ll find it very boring….

Previously I’ve had an entry-level domestic machine, a Janome Sewist 521, which I bought about 5 years ago new for AU$250 or so. I also have a Brother domestic overlocker. As basic as it was, my Janome served me well for over 5 years without getting serviced once. I made everything with it – my clothes, kids’ clothes, bags and quilts. It was fine, and frankly I didn’t know any better. But after I started Piggledee and began sewing more and more, I began to notice its limitations, learned that there are better machines out there, and decided I wanted an upgrade.

The main features I wanted were:

(a) needle up / down – I didn’t even know some sewing machines offered such a useful feature. If I knew, I would have bought a different domestic machine 5 years ago. It’s so great to have the machine stop sewing with the needle in the down position all the time, so I can raise the pressor foot and pivot/adjust the fabric without having to sew that extra half stitch by hand-rotating the wheel.

(b) an automatic thread cutter – When I make things like drawstring backpacks or lunch bags with lots of little seams, I get an insane amount of thread ends hanging loose, and it frustrated me to no end having to cut them all off with scissors, and often I still find them loose in a finished product about to be shipped. Yikes! Nothing says “unprofessional” louder than loose thread hanging from a product.

(c) speed – Compared to my domestic overlocker, my Janome seemed to sew at a snail’s pace. So. Slow. When I hit the pedal at full speed, the machine would get very noisy and vibrated like crazy. Once the vibration loosened the needle, broke it, and it flew right past my eye as I was sewing!

(d) ability to sew thicker layers of fabric – My Janome really struggled with multiple layers of fabric, and I’m not talking about leather or anything. Just a few layers of cotton canvas when sewing a simple bag was getting too difficult, if not impossible. The machine would moan and complain, the needle would break, or just wouldn’t make any stitches, and when it did, the stitch length got uneven and unsightly.

(e) ability to handle lightweight fabric – My Janome also struggled with very lightweight fabric, like cotton lawn. Often the thread would get jammed or the fabric gets caught in the ditch below. Very frustrating.

At first I shopped around for a better domestic machine. I found that with features like automatic thread cutter, I would have to spend at least AU$800 for a machine like Janome 3160QDC, which, according to reviews, is a perfectly wonderful sewing machine. It’s lightweight and has great additional features like a one-step button holer. I seriously considered buying it.

Except it’s just as slow as my entry-level Janome. Because domestic machines, regardless of the price, all have the same speed – about 800 stitches per minute. So I’d be spending $800 for another snail. (Actually, there is a small class of semi-professional domestic machines that would sew twice as fast, but they were way too expensive for me.)

Around the same time, I was reading a lot about industrial sewing machines at one of my favourite sewing sites: Fashion-Incubator. Kathleen Fasanella, who owns and writes for the site, is a professional pattern maker and an industry expert. She has a clear preference for industrial machines and recommends them for their superior stitch quality, cost effectiveness, and ease of use. At first I was just curious, but eventually I was persuaded.

Unlike domestic machines, an industrial machine would sew at the speed of 4000 to 5000+ stitches per minute. That’s whopping five times faster than even a high-end domestic machine like Bernina. And while new industrial lockstitch machines are expensive in Australia ($2500 or so for a full-featured one), you can easily find a used one for the same amount I’d otherwise spend on a Janome 3160. Many used industrial machines come with features like automatic thread trimmer and back tacking as well, even though these machines are more expensive.

So I began looking and researching. I had trouble, though, finding much information on used (or new, for that matter) industrial machines online. I mean, unlike domestic machines, I found basically no reviews about different models or manufactures of industrial sewing machines. I only found rare technical specifications, which I found difficult to decipher. In the end, what helped most was visiting several shops in Sydney that sell used industrial machines, test driving a few, and asking a lot of questions to the friendly shop people.

From reading Kathleen’s site, I had learned the basics: that there are two types of motors with industrial machines: clutch and servo. Clutch motor is the older and noisy one and servo the quiet, newer one. Machines with automatic features like thread trimmer tend to come with the new servo motor. Most machines are made in China, but some older ones were made in Japan, and are likely to have better quality. Juki seemed like a popular and reliable brand.

When I visited industrial sewing machine shops in Sydney, I also learned that there are machines with automatic features that use clutch motors. They were more affordable than the ones with servo motors (say, $1000 as opposed to $1500), but it was somewhat dubious if those computerised clutch motors were repairable in the event they failed.

I found the clutch motor was not as noisy as I had imagined. It makes a whirring sound like a very loud computer tower or an old fridge. But you probably won’t even hear it from the next room with the door shut. The actual sewing sound is relatively quiet, especially at lower speed. What’s really loud in any machine, servo or clutch motor, is when you hit the foot pedal to use the auto back tack/thread trimming feature. It makes this loud “Gachung!” noise that I fear might wake up my children at night.

I also learned that, when it comes to industrial sewing machines, brand names didn’t really matter. They are pretty much all the same, and some factories in China make the same machines using the same parts for different brands.

I almost bought a 20-year-old Juki, with a clutch motor and automatic features from one of the machine shops. But at $1100, it was still a little too pricey. So, armed with my research, I looked for more risky private sales on eBay and free classified sites like Gumtree.

I found my Mitsubishi on Gumtree for $600.  It has a servo motor, automatic thread trimming and back tacking. A bargain! And the seller – a Korean family who had an impressive professional sewing operation set up in their home – was very kind, patiently showing me how to use and maintain the machine. Of course arranging for its transport (it’s super heavy at about 80kg) cost me another $200, but still, for the same price I would have spent on a new Janome 3160, I found a super workhorse of a machine. Here it is:



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I know, not very pretty to look at, but I love it. Why? Stay tuned for my next post. But let me just say, I know it seems like an extreme upgrade to go from an entry-level domestic machine to an industrial one, like you are missing several steps in the middle, but to me it made perfect sense. The only hurdle was lack of information on the internet. If more information was available on the internet, I think more people, including hobby sewers, would consider buying them. Especially considering how expensive high-end domestic machines are. Anyway, I’ll write more in my next post.