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.

3 comments to Industrial vs domestic sewing machines, part 2 – the Review

  • tammy

    thanx alot,im willing to buy one ,ur review helpd alot.infactim facing same problems with domestic ,and after geting hopefuly wil miss free arm, but by the time wil adjust.

  • Caz

    I just spoke with my mechanic today about getting an industrial machine for quilting my quilts. It might just be the inbetween I need till I can afford a longarm on a frame. I already sit down to use my domestic and move the quilt, so a bit more room would be lovely. Have you free motioned on your machine?

    • Hi there. Thanks for your comment. I have not used my industrial for quilting much. A few times I tried, it did not feed all the layers very evenly, so I had to use my domestic with a walking foot. If you are getting a straight-stitch machine like mine, I’d try it out with quilting before buying…

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