Sew what?

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Sewing love image via

In sticking with the DIY theme of this trip, and frankly my entire life, I plan to do a lot of the sail repair and canvas work on our boat myself. I’ve been sewing since my Brownie Girl Scout days, but would definitely not consider myself an incredibly talented seamstress. I’ll sew a dress or skirt here and there and I can hem a pair of jeans (something my 5’3″ frame has needed a LOT of), but I will never be the next winner of Project Runway. So when we first started planning this trip and I told Jason I wanted to help contribute in any way I could, he immediately nominated me Ship Seamstress and told me my first project would be to make us a new dodger and repair our sails.

With a little research I thought, sure, I can do that. It seems simple enough. My naivety even thought it would be possible on the current Brother XL 2600i I had tucked away in my closet. I got a good start on the dodger, but after the 100th time trying to adjust the tension on my zigzag stitch it was clear I really needed a more powerful machine.

It’s been said time and time again that anytime a product is intended to be used in the marine environment the price tag skyrockets. Sewing machines are no exception. If I was going to be forking over a few benjamins – I was going to make sure I did my research. After a few days reading through forums and talking to the sewers on my Etsy team I had a wish list of features that I wanted needed in my new machine.

  1. An industrial strength machine. “Heavy Duty” just won’t cut it. I need something that will whizz through the 10 layers of canvas and dacron that I will be feeding through it
  2. A true walking foot. This will help evenly feed the layers and layers of fabric that I will no doubt shove into this machine
  3. A machine that I can easily find replacement and spare parts for. Things will break or I will want to upgrade certain parts and I need to know that I can do that easy enough.
  4. A zigzag stitch. With home machines coming with hundreds of stitches now, I was surprised that not all industrial machines come standard with a zigzag stitch. This is key for strength in your sail work.

I narrowed it down to two machines: a new Sailrite LSZ-1 and an old Pfaff 130. The Sailrite machine is one of these most trusted machines in the sailing world and is supported with excellent customer service, but it costs a pretty penny. The Pfaff machine just looks cool. It is also trusted by sailors and can be found on ebay for $150 – $300. However, it’s an old machine and tune-ups could be costly and spare parts hard to find in remote countries.

In the end I went with the Sailrite machine. After we calculated how much money we were going to be saving doing sail repair and canvas work ourselves as opposed to buying new sails, I wasn’t so hesitant to spend the money up front. I also just felt more secure with a new machine. Call me crazy, but if my machine is going to be temperamental due to user error, I want it to be my error and not someone else’s. With such great customer support, I can test out the machine and get familiar with it before we head off with the security of their team behind me leading the way. I’m still feeling buyers remorse from the largest internet purchase I’ve made in my life, but I’m also excited about what I’ll be able to create!

My decision process was long and kept changing gears along the way. One minute I wanted to test my luck on a knock-off, and another I wanted the shiny and new machine. Here are a few machines/brands that I came across in my research and the reasons they didn’t make my final list. Hopefully this will help save you hours of research when you look for a machine.

  1. Reliable/TuffStuff machines. While these are made in the same factory as the Sailrite machines, they DO NOT go through the same level of quality control and upgrades that the Sailrite machines go through. There is a chance you may get one of the good machines, but the forums are filled with horror story after horror story about these knock-offs.
  2. Singer machines. Apparently SIngers are not what they used to be. Their standard of quality has plummeted over the years and their industrial machines are now filled with plastic parts and an impossible customer service policy. No thank you.
  3. Kenmore. I really didn’t read anything particularly bad about Kenmore machines, I just didn’t see anyone recommending them. Silence is deadly folks. I didn’t want to risk it.
  4. Juki. These machines are bad ass. But, they cost thousands of dollars. They are the machines that tailors tend to use as they are super strong and powerful. The frugal sailor in me could barely even look at the prices of ones on ebay.

I’m excited to get back to sewing once I have a machine that is made for the type of work I’m doing!

1 COMMENT

  1. I’m gonna store your info away in the “hold” of crafty knowledge! I made some tote bags from some of our old sails and it was rough going with my old Viking/Husqvarna machine. I thought about new machines but as I haven’t considered making sewing part of any new business venture, keep putting it off. Good luck!

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