First World Quilting Problems (and a haunted machine)

In a fit of hubris a few weeks ago I told Jan-Maree I could definitely do three AHQ quilts by the end of July as I had a lot of fabric for that particular theme and a very simple block plan. The first one was posted in mid July so that’s done. Quilts two and three were pieced in the third week of July and basted on the 22nd, so I was quite optimistic about getting them done with the walking foot in a continuous diagonal pattern as it only takes two to three hours per quilt. The Janome 9400, my main machine, is, admittedly, in need of a service and I was planning on taking it in after the quilts were posted, but I broke a needle going over a seam (no pins) and I know from experience that this machine does not suffer broken needles with equanimity so I decided to take it in that day rather than risk damaging it further. I also took in the Janome Combi 10 that I haven’t used in three years because it fell, and the little Pfaff Passport 2.0 as it’s also in need of a service and it’s too weak to quilt effectively.
Janome MC8000
Having been warned that the machines wouldn’t be ready for about three weeks, I turned to my Janome MemoryCraft 8000, which I bought in 1991 and used as my main machine for 25 years. This machine is close to dying — the touchscreen is barely functional and I can’t alter stitch length or width — but I managed to get one straight stitch and one zigzag stitch to work. I finished up the diagonal I had been sewing, but trying to manipulate the quilt through the machine’s 6″ harp proved to be extremely difficult. I also found that the walking foot doesn’t hold the fabric as firmly as the walking foot on the 9400. Thinking back, I haven’t actually done much quilting on this machine, and the little I did do was long straight lines with the quilt rolled up and secured with bicycle clips — frequent turning was never an option. With some effort I got the quilt finished using straight lines instead of diagonals but it’s not pretty.

Oh well, I said to myself, I’ll do the second quilt with basic free motion quilting, even though I’ve never been good at it. I spent a day and a half watching FMQ videos then prepared a practice piece using calico (muslin) and an off-cut of cotton batting. I found the hopping / darning foot and fitted it to the machine. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find the switch to lower the feed dogs, in spite of looking all over the machine. I figured that it had to be an electronic option that I couldn’t reach because the touchscreen doesn’t work (I was wrong, as I’ll explain later).

Oh well, I said to myself, there’s always the Brother SuperGalaxie 2100 that I bought in 1999. Although its embroidery function was a lot better than the MC8000’s I couldn’t get a good quarter-inch seam on it so I never used it as much as I ought to have. It’s also having issues and can’t be serviced or repaired anymore, but it is still capable of basic sewing, or so I thought. It has a mechanical switch for the feed dogs, which I duly lowered, and then I threaded it up and started to stitch. I managed to get about twenty stitches before the upper thread broke … eleven times in a row.
FMQ attempt on Brother SG2100
I adjusted the stitch length (to zero), I adjusted the tension, I rethreaded it, I replaced the bobbin, I even took the side panel off so that I could confirm it was threaded properly. None of it worked. For some reason, the upper thread wasn’t being pulled back up through the fabric, as if the tension mechanism wasn’t there, or wasn’t working. It’s electronic, of course, so no levers or springs that I can adjust manually. Then, as I was contemplating what to do next, the machine slowly started moving … by itself. My foot was nowhere near the pedal and neither were the cats, so this wasn’t triggered by any accidental pressure. I have read about this happening to Brother machines but I never thought I’d see it for myself and it spooked me completely. The machine was promptly switched off, unplugged and returned to its case.

I have two other machines — a Singer 99K with a potted motor and a 201K treadle, but I don’t have a walking foot for either of them, nor can I drop the feed dogs, so they are no help to me right now.

I spent another couple of days contemplating my predicament. I briefly considered buying another sewing machine — I’ve had my eye on a Juki 2200 for a while, but to my immense disappointment it turns out that it is not, as I had thought, an electromechanical machine: it’s computerised. They don’t advertise it and in fact they’ve tried to disguise it with all those knobs and levers, but you can download the brochures and manuals from the Juki website and, as always, the devil is in the details. Page 3 of the manual states “…the sewing machine incorporates semi-conductor electronic parts and precise electronic circuits.” The manual for the 2010 makes no mention of any electronic parts but the specification list includes “electronic foot lift” and I believe that the needle up/down button and automatic thread cutter are also electronic. I’m very disappointed to find this, as I would pay AUD2500 for an electromechanical straight-stitch machine that might last me 30-50 years, but not an electronic one that will be non-functional in 10-15. It proved to be the same for the Singer HD series and the Janome HD9 Pro — the electronics are as hidden as they can make them without actually lying.

I then checked ebay and Gumtree for used mechanical machines, but I didn’t see anything that I liked within reasonable driving distance. I also thought about buying a HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen, but it’s a lot more money than I want to spend right now (lots of bills this month) and to be honest I don’t think I quilt enough to make it worth the expense. Not to mention that the only HQ machine for sale in Canberra at the moment is the Moxie, which is a frame machine, and getting a Sweet Sixteen delivered would probably take … around three weeks.

Then, while browsing all those “best mechanical sewing machine” posts, I followed some links to the Janome website and decided to download the manual for the MC8000 — I have a paper copy somewhere but I haven’t seen it in years. Lo and behold, there on page 71 was the illustration of the feed dog switch — it’s at the back, hidden underneath the free arm. I had tilted the machine over to see if it was at the back, but obviously not far enough.

OK, back to FMQ practice.
FMQ attempt 1
FMQ attempt 2 with improvised rulers
… Ehrm … Maybe it would be better to stick to the walking foot for now. Straight stitching in columns is so boring but if it’s all I can do then it’s all I can do.

After a few more days’ work I’ve finished both of the quilts and they are ready to be posted in the morning. I’m going to take a break from AHQ for a month or two as I don’t want to do anything until I get my 9400 back, and then I have two of my own quilt tops to work on.

In the meantime, I have to face the fact that these two machines are at the end of their lives and must be thrown out. I hate to discard anything I’ve had for a long time (as my friends know, I’m only a stack of newspapers short of being on Hoarders and that’s because I don’t buy newspapers) but they are computers with defective circuit boards. They aren’t functional and can’t be repaired. They are 15 kg bricks. They need to go.

I hate throwing things out.

It must be done.


I’ll salvage all the bits and pieces, of course. Both power cords are the standard “infinity/figure 8” connection so I’ll keep them as spares. I’ll also keep the Janome feet as I have other Janome machines, but I’ll sell or give away the Brother stuff.

I really would like a sturdy electromechanical machine that can sew a fantastic straight stitch — like the Singer 201 but with new parts and a walking foot. I guess it’s a pipe dream when every machine above “beginner” level seems to have hidden electronics.