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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and I write a monthly humour/sewing column for the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazonhttps://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Daps&field-keywords=barbara+emodi&rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Abarbara+emodi

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Friday, March 13, 2015

An op. ed. in praise of older sewing machines and finding them on ebay

First off this is a shot of one of the storage bunks in the old R.V. 

Pretty normal looking. In my world at least.

 (BTW I have only been here a week those swag numbers are going as soon as I develop some enthusiasm for sewing something other than clothes, which itself is iffy).


Up there I have a Bernina Minimatic ($220) , a Pfaff 786 ($200 bought for my daughter) and a Pffaf Hobbylock ($130) 603A. I also have a Bernina Sport 701 at home. ($245)

I have put the prices in here because I want to make the point that first class machines can be bought for reasonable money. The Bernina Sport is my main machine at home (I gave my Pfaff 7570 embroidery machine to my daughter, the Sport has a better straight stitch IMO and is so smooth). The 786 is going home to my daughter, the 603A (a three thread and has never been used, still has the styrofoam on it) and the Minimatic are going to stay here and wait for me to come down every year.

All are older machines, all were bought on eBay. All are first class machines and work impeccably. With some cleaning and lubricating done by me and the husband they have never had official service work since I bought them.

Now here's the op. ed. part (in the newspaper business an op ed is an opinion editorial which means its printed on the editorial page but was submitted, and the editors want to make sure you know it is just some nut's own ideas.)

These are my personal opinions on sewing machines bought second hand (I could write lots about that particular industry just let me know if you want more).

I worked once a very long time ago as a sort of free lance educational consultant for Pfaff and had a turn or two being a Vanna White to the service manager when he was doing technical training sessions. I picked up a few things.

So starting somewhere, probably in the middle and leaving some stuff out, here is how I go about finding a really good machine on eBay.

1. I only look for really strong mechanical (as in the parts are metal) older machines, made in Europe. The Germans and Swiss had great machinist traditions and good steel and excellent, although different hooks (the stuff under where the bobbin is).  

I look for Pfaffs or Berninas for that reason and nothing newer than about 20 years or so. It helps to know the model numbers. Feel free to let me know if you have other ideas but I tend to go for a Bernina 700 or 800 series (be careful you are getting the older machines, they are recycling these numbers in newer machines to emulate the classics). You just can't beat that stitch IMO. 

Pfaff also had some great mechanical models but you want to find one with the IDF, the built in walking foot that was Pfaff's claim to fame until the patent ran out a few years ago and other companies could use the idea (Janome for example). 

Understand that some in a line like the Bernina Record 830 have great cache but that mechanically all machines in that line are the same inside, just a few features are different.

One Pfaff I like is the 6091, a strong basic machine about 20 years old that was their entry level with the built in dual feed.

For sergers I like the Pfaff 786 and 788, great machines with a neat feature like you just have to change the foot to go from an overlock to a rolled hem (why did they stop making that? So easy). I also like the early Bernettes by Bernina (all sergers were always made in the east, the best ones in Japan, some by Juki in those days, none were ever made in Europe) which has a swing foot which makes threading the needle a breeze. The older sergers can be less user friendly but are reliable.

I have to tell you I would avoid an Elna serger (if I taught a class these were absolutely always the fussy ones) but would consider an older Juki, they after all made and make so many of the industrial sergers and know what they are doing.


2. I would never buy an kind of computerized machine sight unseen. If there are any issues with those machines you have to replace the boards (easy to do they generally snap in and out) but many of those boards just aren't being made anymore or if you can find one can be more expensive than the machine.

3. I tend to favour sellers who look like they are doing estate type sales (you can pick this up by what else they are selling), sometimes a dealer has a trade they oil up, replace the needle and post it and charge too much. Don't panic if they say the foot pedal is lost or the foot is missing. These are generally pretty easy to find at a good price on ebay and usually mean the machine was left aside rather than worked to death. (I basically got my Sport as a body only and assembled the missing parts and came in about half what the complete machine would have cost me).

That said it is interesting to see what they offer with the machine. Original box can be a good sign, as is the original manual.

4. What to look for when you have the machine. Well these are all very good, but precise, strong machines and assuming the electricals are all right the main issue is that they may be stiff because they are dry. The rule is to oil, just a bit but often, parts where metal moves against metal. Open it up, Bernina is easy for this, and apply the oil where they have little red dots and where metal is moving on metal, including the hook in the bobbin. And of course put in a new needle.

My strong recommendation is to go online and buy a service manual for the machine you have bought (usually about $10-15 ) and follow the instructions carefully for opening up the machine and oiling and cleaning it. 

There are two things you should never do:


  1. Use anything but a fine machine oil on the machine. A good oil is clear and is air soluble. You can buy this online. Make sure it is clear and for sewing machines and get it from a sewing machine site. Do not under any circumstances use yellow, mulitpurpose type oil, or household oil or even the general machine oil your old time dealer may try to sell you. That kind of oil will just get hard over time, never evaporate, and gunk up the machine. Actually a neglected machine is a better buy that one that got misused with the best of intentions
  2. Let anyone handy in the family near it. Just because unnamed person did a great job fixing the lawnmower and has some great oil out in the garage does not mean they are the safe person to be working on your machine. A careful woman with the sense to look at a service manual may do a better job. I once saw a serger that had the timing off that a husband had "fixed" by shaving off the parts that were hitting each other. You get my drift.
Finally know when you need professional help. Although I believe you need this less than you think (most service jobs are about needle changing and oiling to be truthful) you absolutely need someone with the right gauges to fix timing.

Timing means that the parts have to move in the right sequence at high speeds with just passing each other exactly where they are supposed to can do that without crashing into each other. If they crash that means the timing is off and everything has to be loosened up, parts that are broken and bent replaced, and set up with the right measurements between the parts so it won't happen again. (You see how technical I am). 

You know you have a timing problem (most common in sergers) if you see and hear pieces hitting each other, things stop.

You are most likely to have timing problems if a machine has bent needles or, tellingly in sewing machines, scratches along the throat plate, usually from someone "helping the machine along" or trying to keep going through too many layers.

So that's it. 

Bottom line the best machines may be the least expensive if your think about it.

Disclaimer to this op. ed.: 

Of course there are many good new machines out there but let's face it if you all you want is a nice sewing machine with a beautiful stitch and can live without needle down, thread cutters and embroidery stitches, they are out there.



Flypaper thoughts will continue


  • The long version of flypaper thoughts will continue
  • Just decided I needed a way to record things on the fly before I lost them
  • No dups
  • As if these thoughts are significant
  • By mistake bought 50/50 sheets on sale
  • Four clammy nights and switched to cotton
  • What a difference
  • Note to self
  • Big reason I sew is to avoid polyester
  • Next to impossible in the stores
  • Why would anyone line a silk dress with poly?
  • They do this
  • Husband bought a red scooter to go to the store
  • Says I can drive it
  • If I do you get pictures
  • Don't hold your breath
  • Looked at the bright orange and bright pink lace I bought and thought
  • What was I thinking?
  • Got to start the flower girl dresses soon and get myself under control
  • Man at the beach said "hey Nova Scotia, you have on different knee socks every day"
  • Lady at the store said "Love your flowered knee socks, you see everything here"
  • I think they call it branding
  • And I once tried to sew a Chanel jacket
  • You are what you are
  • Grouper is the best fish
  • More snow at home this weekend
  • Anyone ever order from Hart Fabrics?
  • Look decent
  • Fabricmart has gone a little poly on me
  • Have had great luck with ebay machines
  • More on that later
  • Have to spend a few hours altering some Landsend shorts
  • Note to self
  • I sew because I know where I am wide and where I am not
  • Landsend doesn't
  • I might look good on a red scooter
  • It's my colour
  • Just like bright orange and pink
  • Now off to mark looking at the beach
  • Sorry about that snow at home folks

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Follow me on twitter

Hi folks

With working remote from the RV and doing the other Florida things I am not getting to the laptop to blog in a way that keeps up with my random sewing thoughts.

With that in mind I set up a twitter account this morning for my sewing thoughts, originally called BarbaraEmodi since that is my name. Should serve to confuse all professional interests which will probably be good for them.

Basically I am going to use this to record ongoing flypaper thoughts so line up your expectations accordingly.

Who knows a sewingontheedge Instagram account will be next.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Flypaper thoughts: very long catch up version

So much gone on and I feel I have too many post fragments in my head, so I think I will switch the blog back on with random stuff rather than try to organize it.

Sounds like a plan?

Here goes:


  • We are in Florida now
  • RV park on the beach 
  • Two story deck with power on our site with a view of the ocean
  • I can sew up there
  • I just love it here
  • Who would have thought?
  • Living half outside and half inside suits me
  • Husband has calmed down from anxiety this was going to be a dumb idea
  • My oldest friend Sue died just before we left
  • One of those 24 hour septicemia things
  • In our first year at university she gave me the Vogue Book of Sewing
  • So glad it still has the card in it
  • Her husband died when she was 33
  • She never remarried or dated
  • Figured when you have done perfect don't mess with it
  • Never had any kids, had just retired
  • Once arrived at her house with three kids with stomach flu and a dog with the runs
  • She laughed the whole time
  • She knit me knee socks when I was 20
  • In the house she lived in alone there was a different sewing project in every room
  • All unfinished
  • Made for the most interesting house tour
  • When she walked into a room she used to say "Howdy sports fans"
  • She was the first person to feed my children goldfish crackers
  • Only person I ever knew who got a degree in commerce by taking every course twice
  • Family of big business people
  • We used to walk the streets and plan on dumping university and doing textiles at the community college
  • Were going to open a yarn and fabric store
  • I used to wake up at night with my mother sitting on my bed saying: don't ever quit university
  • I am still here mom
  • Used to go to her job as an accountant in knee socks
  • Who does that?
  • Sue
  • For thirty years
  • There is a woman here staying in an RV with three wire haired fox terriers
  • I kid you not
  • I'm going to write a sewing book
  • In chapters in .pdfs
  • Couple of bucks
  • Get what you want
  • Or not
  • Years ago once sent a book idea to a publisher
  • Got back, are you nuts?
  • Want to write a sewing book that is nuts and not have to explain it
  • In an RV husbands say things like: do you need all these shoes?
  • Answer is, I actually think I need more
  • Next
  • Going to be working on the Laurel dress pattern here too
  • Ebayed some wonderful machines 
  • A vintage Bernina and two mint Pfaff sergers
  • One going home for my daughter
  • Got real lucky with them
  • Michele if you french seamed knits we need to talk
  • Hang in there, I am going to write a chapter on knits for you ASAP
  • You got me started
  • I am actually crocheting a top
  • Taken me a thousand hours and Craftsy to get this far
  • With any luck it will turn out as well as something made in China for $10 or bought at the second hand store for $2
  • Saw some pelicans flying today
  • Best sight in the world
  • Mary Jos in Charlotte lets you take in dogs
  • When they say "What a sweet little baby girl" you know you are no longer in the North
  • Found new places in the garment district
  • Holding off on my mother of the groom dress until I discuss with the bride's mother
  • Going up to spend Easter with them in Maryland
  • Hard to envision yourself in beige and grey when you are a shocking pink sort of person
  • But understand I need to blend in the pictures
  • Friend of mine went to her son's wedding in black with a huge ruff standing up on the collar
  • Looked like Darth Vader actually
  • Not such a good idea I thought
  • Realized she was in Australia and the wedding meant son was staying in Canada
  • But really
  • Be a sport
  • She was such a nice girl too
  • When you say all you want is for the kid to be happy
  • You are supposed to mean it
  • And not wear black
  • My plan so far is to buy two years of every expensive beaded lace thing I can find
  • In different colours
  • And then to regret 
  • Or change my mind
  • Quite the fire sale I am going to be having
  • Before you buy yourself any fancy fabric you might want to check with me
  • Give you a good price
  • Remember my great foot injury?
  • Slow to heal
  • One thing led to another and turns out I have vein in my leg that's shot
  • Superficial clot after baby number three 
  • C section and in those days they said you just lie here for a week and relax
  • Three hours after the big fix up I was making the rounds of the floor and not making any sense
  • Genetic clotting disorder that rarely, but then, kicked in
  • Not a problem dr. said
  • Just wear compression socks forever
  • Got a blank look when I said how am I going to rock that?
  • Working on that
  • No beige little numbers for me
  • Maybe there is nothing wrong with knee socks
  • Nothing at all