Over the years, I’ve created what I think of as the ULTIMATE SUPPLY LIST for a machine piecing class.
I thought I would share the list, and see if any of you have suggestions to add. Here we go.
Okay, wait a minute.
I just realized that the first thing on the list–the sewing machine–could be talked about for several hours. So we are going to break this supply list down into at least two parts.
THE ULTIMATE SUPPLY LIST FOR FREE FORM PIECING AND STITCHING
The Sewing Machine and Its Feet and Features
Of course any sewing machine with a good straight stitch will work for machine piecing. That means a $150 vintage Kenmore found at your local thrift store will probably work just fine. But if you are serious about being a machine piecer, you will eventually want to upgrade, and when you do, these are the features you are going to want on your machine.
This is my trusty Bernina 640. I love her, but I would never tell you to go out and buy one just like it. Instead, I would say buy a machine within your budget that has and does the following things.
The needle up/down option is usually a button on the front of your machine that allows you to tell the needle to stop in the down position. If your machine does NOT allow you to choose, you can ask your sewing machine maintenance person to change the setting so that your needle ALWAYS lands in the down position instead of the up position. I have done this on all of my old machines. If your needle is in the down position when you stop sewing, it is helping you hold the fabric in place, and that’s good thing. See the little needle symbol with the arrows–that’s needle up/down.
Unfortunately, many quilt makers do not take advantage of FHS to improve the quality of their work. If you are serious about your craftsmanship you need to learn how to gas your machine with your LEFT foot and use the FHS with your RIGHT knee. I am super serious about this folks. This is a power tool in our world. Notice the bar extending out and down on the right side? That’s it!
If you are never going to piece a hand drawn line i.e. you ALWAYS use a ruler OR if you are never going to piece a curve or a circle then okay. You don’t need to learn how to use a FHS, otherwise you do.
HEEL TAP NEEDLE UP DOWN
I am addicted to my heel tap needle up and down. What this means is that with a tap of my heal on my foot pedal, I can bring my needle up or down while still keeping both hands on my fabric. From what I understand, and please correct me if I am wrong, only Bernina’s have this feature. See the needle up/down icon on the bottom of the pedal. That is what you want.
UP-RIGHT THREAD SPOOL
Ideally, your machine will you both the option of a horizontal thread holder and a vertical thread holder. As you can see my machine has both. But if you can only get one, get a machine with a horizontal thread holder. I, and my students, have found that a horizontal thread holder usually means a more consistent tension and stitch especially if you are machine quilting. (It is not as important for piecing, but if your piecing you are probably also quilting, right?)
STRAIGHT STITCH NEEDLE PLATE Almost every machine has a single stitch needle plate that you can buy at your local dealers or on Ebay. Here is my regular stitch plate and my straight stitch needle plate. The regular needle plate has a very large opening so that you can do all kinds of fancy stitches. The single stitch needle plate only lets your needle go up and down. This gives you more control over your fabric and your stitching. It greatly reduces the chances that your feed dogs will eat your fabric. Just remember, you will break your sewing machine needle if you try and do a zigzag with your straight stitch plate attached to your machine. (The straight stitch is on the top–see the two tiny holes? The regular needle plate in on the bottom–see the tiny hole and the big hole?)
EXTENSION TABLE These are a bit spendy–about one hundred bucks–but they are totally worth it. I find that having the extra table area dramatically improves my control when working with large sections of a quilt. I can keep the entire quilt on the extension table and this reduces drag which sewing machines do not like. Most local Sew and Vacs will order these for you. Plus it creates a handy shelf. See how I have my bobbins tucked under the extension. I like that too.
THE QUARTER INCH FOOT (Bernina #37) Almost every machine has one of these. Essentially, if you use the edge of this foot as a guide you will get a consistent quarter of an inch seam which is the best width for machine piecing. It is a stable seam width that does not add additional bulk to your quilt. You CAN use the edge of a regular foot as a guide, but your seams will be bulkier, or you put a barrier of some kind on your machine to help guide you. Both work, but a quarter inch foot is worth money. It is. Mine looks a little tired its been used so much.
HOPPING FOOT (Bernina #9) This is the foot you need to do any sort of free form stitching. You do not need a fancy uber expensive embroidery system. You need a hopping foot and couple of machine quilting classes. You see, free form machine quilting is the SAME as free form embroidery. The only difference is the stabilizer. Here is a jacket I made many, many years ago using my home machine, a hopping foot, and fabric stabilizer.
A quilt has three layers which help stabilize the fabric. If you are free motion stitching only one layer, you need a stabilizer. And I think that is as far as we need to go on the topic. Just remember a hopping foot can be used for ALL kinds of free motion work not just quilting.
Some people call this foot an free motion embroidery foot, some call it a darning foot, some call it a free motion quilting foot. I call it a hopping foot because it does ALL of those things and it hops. The hopping along with your skill set is what creates the free motion. There are dozens of hopping foot options out there. I own a few of them, but I always seem to go back to the basic #9.
THE WALKING FOOT
If you sew beyond two small pieces of cotton together, you should consider purchasing a walking foot. The walking foot mimics the feed dogs underneath fabric. So this means you now have feed dogs on top and below your fabric. This gives you incredible control. Have you ever sewn two long pieces of fabric together and when you got to the end one piece was several inches longer than the other? Well, if you had used walking foot that would never have happened. The walking foot helps feed the two pieces of fabric evenly under your needle. It’s such a beautiful thing.
THE JEANS FOOT (Bernina #8) I actually tried to become a Janome machine lover, but I couldn’t do it. Two reasons–I needed my heel tap needle up/down, and to my knowledge Janome does not make a Jeans foot. I think of my Jeans Foot as the almost Walking Foot. It gives me great control with thick fabrics (think bindings) while given me MORE visibility than I have with a walking foot. Try it, you might like it. I use my Jeans Foot when working with thick fabrics, attaching bindings, and top stitching wools. See how it has a very small hole for your needle? You can not zigzag with this foot. You will break the needle.
Do not feel like you have to spend a lot of money to get these features. In fact, if you are really serious about this, all you really need to do is find yourself an older Bernina. For a reasonable price let’s say 600 to one thousand dollars you can have a machine that will hold its resale value and do everything listed above. My favorite model is the Bernina Record.
It has all of the features you need, plus it is mechanical, and a work of art. The later models even have the heel tap needle up/down. If there are people out there who want to learn more about these machines, just let me know and I will begin talking.
What are your favorite sewing machine features and feet? Do tell.