So my old machine, my trusty Elna 2130, doesn’t work anymore. The technician made a great effort, but alas, it’s kaput. Part of me says this is what I get for having my head turned, however briefly, by that Babylock weeks ago. Well, that and never oiling it, and turning the hand wheel when the needle would get stuck instead of taking the needle out of the bar, and well, lots of use. It had been loud for years, and started skipping stitches recently, so I knew the timing was off, but I think I was content assuming that my machine situation would never change.
Hearing that the tech couldn’t make the machine run good as new again was honestly a shock to me. I moped for far longer than a mere sewing machine deserved, but it was important to me. My husband got it for me as a Christmas present back in 2005, when I only had a box of patterns from my grandma and a single box of fabric from her stash. I had briefly messed around with sewing right after getting married, but my mom’s hand-me-down Singer was AWFUL (sorry, Mom, but I hated working with it) and once we bought our first house, home improvement projects took over all of our free time. However, by late 2005, I must have made enough noise about how much I would like to take up sewing again that my sweetie went through trial by fire to get me a machine that I would like. Why trial by fire? Imagine a twenty-something man walking into your average sewing machine dealer wanting to buy a gift for his wife. He knew that I wasn’t interested in quilting or embroidery; and what fit our budget and inclinations was a simple mechanical sewing machine. Needless to say, that’s not precisely what the various dealers were interested in selling. He still points at the Bernina dealership whenever we (infrequently) drive by it, muttering about the crazies running the place, that’s how poorly he was treated. However, he somehow managed to get me the exact machine I would have bought for myself, that mechanical Elna with a one-step buttonhole.
I was really bitten by the sewing bug when shortly thereafter I was pregnant with our first child, and I decided I would make some maternity clothes instead of buying them. Looking back, I cringe at their quilting cotton fabrics and awful fit, as I didn’t know about full bust adjustments; but I really liked those dresses, and they were certainly better and more colorful than my Navy maternity uniforms of awful khaki polyester that I was stuck wearing for the work week. Frustrated by my inability to set in sleeves without weird gathering, I found sewing blogs and Pattern Review, and my sewing got so much better. After leaving active duty and becoming a stay at home mom, I started giving my machine a workout. I made Halloween costumes, jeans, ballgowns, and everything in between and enjoyed every minute of it. One kid broke the extension table, another lost the automatic buttonhole foot, and I discolored the plastic with a faux suede that shed dye just looking at it. I showed my husband how to use it and he attached countless Velcro patches to his flight suits, and my sewing machine did it all with little complaint. No, it wasn’t the fanciest machine out there, but it was just right for this household.
Yesterday, I realized I was not going to dawdle on replacing it. I love sewing too much, and out of my machines, it was my favorite. Briefly, I entertained moving the 830 into primary status, but it still needs servicing and I realized it just wasn’t the same as picking out my own machine. So I started looking online at specs for various machines, and what is available locally. I have a ton of specialty feet for Janome/Elna, and I like the build quality for the price. The first machine that I zeroed in on has the seam allowance markings set for the left needle position, which makes zero sense to me, and I know from experience that would piss me off. So I poked through manuals online, tracked down dealer locations, and cursed the lack of pricing information out there once you get past machines available on Amazon so that I could walk in knowing what I wanted to look at.
I decided to start at the Elna dealer, circle to Janome, and give Brother/Babylock a chance as a last resort. Elna had the machine I thought I wanted out, the eXperience 540, which is computerized, but without the weird huge touchscreens that I had seen with the Babylocks. The stitch selection process was pretty straightforward and after enough flipping through the manual, I figured out how to change the needle positions, stitch widths, etc. I had brought some different fabrics with me to try, from Ambience lining to denim. I even made a fancy looking keyhole buttonhole through two layers of denim but I wasn’t feeling the 540. The tension wasn’t quite right and they only had the floor model in stock, and I was not going to buy that particular machine. So after investigating the differences between it and the 520, and not loving either, I on a whim asked to see the 3230. My poor salesperson. The Elna dealer is primarily a fabric store and the usual sewing machine person was out, so I roped the guy from the home décor department into helping me, and since the store just moved, everything in the machine department was still in boxes. So we set it up, and I sat down to sew. It was magic. Auto tension, seam allowance markings out past 1.5 inches, needle up/down, a reverse button that was easy to find, and lovely stitching even on my Ambience swatch, which shows every flaw. I tested the straight stitch through four layers of denim and was pleased with how easily the machine went. I tested the buttonhole through two layers to compare it to the sample from the 540, and honestly, it was nicer. So no, I don’t get three different buttonholes, but I have the Singer 401 for those; this machine and I clicked.
I honestly overlooked this model when going through Elna’s website as it’s picture there is fugly orange and looks weirdly top heavy in the picture. I’m glad that I tried it as it’s exactly what I’m looking for as a garment sewist. I did idly wonder while waiting to ring up if I should have tried more than one dealer, but really, I fell in love. I just hope that I keep feeling the same way as I rack up the years on this machine too.