Industrial sewing machines

Kathy sent me this question:

What equipment do you recommend? Specifically, what type of sewing machine? In one of your entries you mentioned you knew what to look for in a sewing machine. Can I suggest a blog entry that actually spells out your preferences? I’m assuming its some kind of industrial machine. ( Again, if that is already in your archive, my apologies. Please just point me to it. ) Could I even consider using one or would I wind up in the emergency room with my fingers sewn to my forehead?

For several reasons I may not give an adequate answer. I’m posting this question mostly as an invitation to others in our midst who may have better advice for you. My biggest problem in answering this is that I’m easily satisfied; I’m not as machine-picky as people would think. Likewise, I don’t like fixing them either. While I’m well known to do my own plumbing, electrical, carpentry and appliance repair, I don’t like fiddling with cars or sewing machines. When it comes to those two items, I just want to sit down and go. I do have a couple of pointers for people who’ve never owned an industrial machine.

First of all, just forget that image you have in your head of a noisy, loud machine that sews far too fast for you to keep up because those days are long gone! Today’s electronic machines are as quiet as any home machine; I can’t even hear mine running. Second, you can change the speed (stitches per minute) that the machine will sew allowing you to build up speed at your comfort. Third, compared to upper end home sewing machines, industrials are dirt cheap. Even new industrial machines are half the price of those beloved Berninas -an inscrutable value in my opinion. Speaking of fine sewing machines, the upper end of industrial machines are Adlers which is not to say that there are not many other wonderful brands out there! Honestly, when you compare the price of fine industrials to upper end home machines, I don’t know why you’d get the home machine (will you really use all those embroidery stitches-enough to make it worthwhile?). Believe me, once you’ve experienced the quality of pressure available on an industrial machine, you’ll wonder why you didn’t get one years before. Forget pins! You’ll never need them again. That is something you’ll just have to experience to understand (sorry).

You can find my machine by going to Durkopp-Adler, clicking “Products” then select “Standard Sewing Machines” and mine is the fourth one down (model 271-140342). The third one down is fine too but I’d pass on the first two. Not that the first two are bad, just that they don’t have an electronic key pad. Other than electronic controls, you’d want to select a basic “dressmaker” machine with a lockstitch and automatic thread cutter. Many industrial models need compressed air to run and compressors are noisy (just ask Mike C) but these models don’t. The other thing that is great about industrial machines are the attachments. Again, most industrial attachments are half the cost of the home sewing ones and they work ten times better! These attachments are all metal so forget fiddling with dinky little pieces of chintzy plastic. Finally, you can turn real hankerchief hems without worrying and fretting.

Lastly, used machines are an excellent value too. Industrial machines have a longer life and are readily repaired with stock parts available from most suppliers. You’ll have to rely on a dealer to advise you and I’d recommend going to an industrial machine dealer and not the local sewing & vac store that just happens to have one industrial on the floor because I’d be concerned that they wouldn’t know if it really was a good machine much less be able to service the thing.

Okay everybody, feel free to jump in to tell Kathy everything I missed. And while you’re at it, post your preferred machine resources too. Thanks.

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  1. Kathleen says:

    An industrial won’t do both a zig zag and straight stitch, only one or the other. An industrial also isn’t portable. You can do research at PatternReview on the home machines.

  2. LizziD says:

    Thank you so much Kathleen. Just getting started on my research, this has helped! And thanks for the link, going there now. :)

  3. Brina says:

    There are any number of industrials that do both straight and zigzag. One example is a Pfaff 118. Most of these machines are sold as artisan machines or marketed to tailors or alteration rooms. But they are bonafide industrials. For the most part though these machines are not made for heavy or Xtra thick materials–so hard to say if they would work for your projects/materials. The Pfaff 438–although an older machine– is made for heavier materials and still does both zig and SS.

    Sailrite and some other companies make portable machines that are supposed to be comparable to industrials–I’ve not tried these machines and don’t remember right off the top if they both zig and SS.

    Motors, you decide on whether you want a servo–quieter or clutch.
    You can try some of the Yahoo sewing groups for more info on industrials.

    Good luck.

  4. Brina says:

    No, Alison, they are industrials (see below). The Pfaff models I mention were and are often in factories, set-up to do a particular process, say binding or cording.

    The only machines I would consider semi-industrial are machines like the Bernina 950, which have a number of stitches you can choose from, use regular Bernina feet but is set up in a stand with an industrial motor. I’ve seen these advertized as both commercial and industrial.

    In my experience the term “commercial” is synonymous with industrial. Anyone advertizing “industrial strength” or “heavy duty” machines is trying to sell a tricked out domestic machine as something it is not. It may sew through cans or 12 layers of denim, but really should not have a study diet of that kind of work. Machines may be marketed for the “spectrum between industrial and factory use” but basically there are domestic machines and industrials and the sort of hybrid-creatures I call semi-industrials above. Industrials are build to take the kind of use they would have in a factory–running 8 or more hours a day, 5 or more days a week. Even if you only use them to alter clothing at a dry cleaners, they are still industrials. Now if it’s a crappy industrial, that another thing entirely. And also some people use domestics for commercial purposes, like small sewn manufacturing concerns. But the machines are what they are.

  5. Karen says:

    I have started making dog beds and, of course, have found that my household sewing machine (30 years old) is not doing the job. I have so many questions I don’t know where to start but I will begin with this one: If I want a machine that does zigzag and buttonholes do I look for that feature in the machine or are those attachments that I purchase? I would think that the zigzag would be built in and the buttonhole would be an attachment but I haven’t figured that out yet from reading about the different machines.

  6. Karen says:

    Okay, with a renewed mind this morning from reading so much yesterday I now realize that I will have to get a different machine for each of the processes I just asked about – zigzag and buttonholes!

  7. jan says:

    Bernina 950 vs Bernin1230
    Hello All, I am new at sewing and would like to make some faux fur blankets.
    I have been looking at a Bernina 950 and a Bernin1230 to purchase, (used)
    but not sure which route to go. I need something fairly easy to use. The are both
    selling at an estate sale this Thursday so I am trying to educate myself fast!
    Any input would be greatly appreciated!!

  8. Samreen says:

    Hi kathy!
    Is an industrial sewing machine is equal to heavy duty machine with industrial motor?
    I wanna buy an industrial machine and former is way cheaper than latter… Please suggest

  9. Tam Dl says:

    I bought a Merrow industrial serger for 200 for the head only, and got a Singer with table, motor, everything, for 75 dollars (only thing missing was threading instructions…. They do take up a lot of space, but that really isn’t the machine so much as the workstation. I have a few machines I like having around, but don’t use all that much, and I am putting them slowly one wheeled posts. They don’t take up so much space and can be wheeled up next to a table to carry any overflow.

    The Sailrite is a mixed bag. Certainly the owners are high end people, who could easily be marketing some 100M dollar business. They are super. Unfortunately a little hard to deal with because they have drawn so much attention to themselves that you now have to get through the gates to get service. But the main point, while I use my Sailrite like an industrial sewing machine, it’s real purpose is sewing sails. And specifically sewing in the field where motor type, package, and hand crank are critcal factors, and I needed that stuff.

    The machine is over-priced, and over-proprietary for what it is. Getting a foot is like 50 bucks. All that service costs, and they have really served to keep the price of the home sail making hobby to a level where you might as well just order new. That’s a 1980s model. You can get a great servo motor and Zig Zag walking foot head for a few hundred off the Bay.

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