Those of you who have followed this blog for a while will know that I’ve collected a few sewing machines over the years. I have a modern Janome DKS100 and a Brother overlocker which I use for most of my sewing, and two vintage Singer machines (hand-cranked and treadle operated) that I use when I just need a beautiful straight stitch and I want to enjoy the serenity of non-motorised machines. Actually, I have another tiny Singer 99 which was the first I bought, but I don’t often use that one these days. When I learned more about the unique features of different brands, I really wanted to try a Pfaff machine. Sewing enthusiasts tend to have their favourite brands, but Pfaff (and Bernina) fans tend to be very loyal to their chosen machine maker. However, when I bought my Janome, the problem with that plan was that both were really expensive to buy new. I think I made the right choice with my Janome at the time. It is a very capable and well-made machine for the price, and I have thoroughly enjoyed making a wardrobe of clothes on it. However, I’ve kept an eye on eBay from time to time to see if any used Pfaff machines came up at reasonable prices, and about a week ago, I spotted one. Reader, I bought it.
It’s a Pfaff Performance 5.2, and it’s an absolute beauty. Pfaff make some machines which are oriented more towards quilters, some which have machine embroidery features, and some which are all-rounders and great for garment sewing. This model is one of the latter kind. The thing which makes Pfaff machines unique is the Integrated Dual Feed (IDT) system, which they have had on almost all their machines for more than 45 years. Most sewing machines feed fabric under the moving needle from the bottom, using toothed plates called ‘feed dogs’ which rise up and forward in time with the needle to move the fabric forward and make the next stitch. This works well enough, but since you are almost always joining two pieces of fabric when sewing, it means that the bottom piece of fabric can shift relative to the top piece as only the bottom is in contact with the feed dogs. If you don’t hang on to the fabric (with your hands, or with careful pinning or basting), the top layer of a seam ends up being longer than the bottom, even if the fabric length of both pieces is the same.
You can (and should) counteract this tendency for the pieces to shift with careful handling, or you can use what’s called a ‘walking foot’. I’ve got one and use it sometimes on my Janome. It’s a rather large attachment which grips the fabric from the top while the feed dogs move it from the bottom, and it helps to keep things from shifting. It’s quite a wide and generic presser foot though, and doesn’t help when you need to insert a zip or do something else which requires a special foot. The IDT is built-in, and can be engaged to sew with most of the feet that you can get for the machine. It works beautifully. You barely need to hold the fabric, as it feeds evenly and precisely. The stitch quality is lovely too. It’s one of those things which is hard to quantify, but sewing on the Pfaff feels smooth and almost effortless. There are a lot of nice features which make it less of a stop-start activity, and help to keep you in the flow. You can set it so that the needle stops in the down position when you stop sewing. Lots of machines (including my Janome) let you do that, and it’s very helpful to be able to pivot the fabric without moving the needle position. However, the Pfaff also automatically raises the presser foot slightly to hover when you stop, so that you don’t have to raise and lower the presser foot manually when you want to pivot. In fact, when you press the foot pedal, the presser foot lowers before the machine starts sewing, and when you stop, the foot hovers. Once you’ve got used to this, it makes for a lovely, flowing way of sewing, and you can concentrate more on manipulating the fabric and keeping an eye on the accuracy of your stitching.
I’ve only had time to make a couple of face masks as a test this weekend, but that went very smoothly. I’ve got some denim to make another pair of Ginger jeans to replace this pair which have now worn through on the legs because (as predicted) I wore them to death. I’m hoping to start those next weekend. I’m looking forward to all that top-stitching which I think will work out well on the Pfaff with the IDT. It also has a bit more fabric piercing power, which is always welcome when you are sewing seams in denim through multiple layers.
So, I seem to have become a sewing machine collector. I did think hard about my purchase, but I’m really glad I took the plunge as it was a real bargain. We don’t really have the space for six (yikes!) machines in the house though, so my plan is to sell the Janome and the Singer 99 so that someone else can enjoy them. I do like using the other two vintage Singers though. There’s something about the contrast between a very hi-tech sewing machine (which does a lot for you) and a very low-tech but beautifully built machine (which does very little for you) that I enjoy. They both challenge my brain and hands in different ways, and switching between the two is refreshing.