The Sewing Machine Family

A good friend interested in sewing sweetly asked for a post on my sewing machines – probably out of surprise that I own so many. Truthfully, I used to own more – my first three sewing machines are no longer around. The first – A singer purchased from Consumers Distributing (Canadians will get a chuckle out of that one) died after sewing a few too many buttonholes for a Gilbert and Sullivan production of ‘The Gondoliers’. The second, another Singer but a much older model purchased from the Salvation Army for $20 proved superfluous when I graduated to an industrial sewing machine capable of working a zig zag stitch. It was a great machine, but huge – it made no sense to hang on to it when I stopped sewing for hire.

This is what’s left – let me begin with the oldest…

machines 1

The Singer 221 (also known as a Singer Featherweight) looks older than it really is. It was given to me by my father in law and used to belong to his mother. Judging from the serial number, she must have purchased it either in the late 50s or the early 60s from ‘Chalifour’ on St-Hubert in Montreal:

machines 2

It can only do a straight stitch on its own (a zigzagger attachment was available for it), but it is famous for the beauty of its stitch and is prized among quilters. I have fabric on hand to make Marcel a couple of shirts – with this machine and my copy of ‘Shirtmaking’ by David Page Coffin, I’ll be all set. Marcel will love wearing shirts made on his grandmother’s machine.


machines 3

My grandmother’s sewing machine, a Pfaff 262, is only a little older – I believe she purchased it in the mid 60s. She was a dressmaker and used hers quite a bit more than Nanny did hers, as you can see! Many machines of this era utilized removable stitch cams in order to work decorative stitches – the attachment I mentioned earlier for the featherweight used these to work stitches beyond the zigzag stitch. The Pfaff was different in that its cams were built in – one refers to a ‘stitch wheel’ in order to access these stitches.

It’s classified as a ‘light industrial’ and weighs a ton. Unfortunately, it needs to be serviced – I think the timing is off. When I get a minute, I’ll attempt to clean and adjust it.


machines 4

The serger was another gift and dates back to 1996. It’s a basic machine but can accomplish all I need it to do: it has differential feed, an adjustable cutting width, either 3 or 4 overlock stitch and can work a rolled hem. Parts are still available and it’s easy to work with , so what’s not to love?


machines 5

A couple years later in 1998, after much saving, I acquired my first ‘fancy’ machine – a Janome 4800. I love this machine – buttonholes used to take forever before I had it. I worked them manually using a zigzag stitch and a lot of marking was necessary. Fine when sewing something precious, but irritating when sewing pajama tops. No longer – the Janome works identical buttonholes one after the other.

machines 6

As you’d expect from such a machine, it boasts a fair number of built in stitches, but not too many crazy ones. I mostly like the fact that its straight stitch and buttonholes are very nice. The keyhole buttonhole and eyelet are nice extras, and it’s fun to monogram the yoke of a shirt with the alphabet. The stitches can be combined as well as lengthened without affecting the stitch density. The adjustable speed is useful to new sewers – Oona likes that she can slow it down so that it doesn’t take off on her. I love the needle up/down feature.


machines 7

The newest member of the family is the coverstitch machine – this is the type of machine used to hem tee shirts. It sews a double or triple line of top stitching on one side and an overlock on the reverse side. A similar look can be achieved with a twin needle on a sewing machine but tunneling is often a problem (tunneling refers to a raised effect between the two rows of stitching) and the reverse side isn’t very attractive (IMO). Before purchasing it, I also considered two Janome models – one was similarly priced but could only sew a double line of top stitching which meant being limited to a 6mm wide cover stitch while the brother can sew either a 3mm wide or 6mm wide coverstitch. The more expensive model from Janome had this option as well as a free arm, but I couldn’t justify the extra expense.

Some sergers can work a coverstitch as well. From what I’ve heard, the serger to coverstitch conversion takes a while. Since I’m sentimental about my serger and I have the room for an extra machine, it disn’t make sense to replace it. But the option is available.


I’ll now ask you for help: my friend already has a sewing machine but is thinking about a serger as he would like to work with jerseys. Do you have any recommendations? Do you own a combination serger/coverstitch? And do you know of other books besides Mr Coffin’s you’d recommend to a guy? Somehow, I don’t imagine he’ll want to hear all about using a serger to produce lettuce edges