Today’s interview with Jennifer from the Jennifer Ladd shop focuses on sewing machines for small business owners who sew their products. Jennifer creates gorgeous handmade bags, purses, and baby items; she loves her sewing machine and is a trusted resource for great advice!

Join in: Add your comments about machines for small business sewing and crafting, and answer the Sewing Machine Meme!

SMS: What brand and model of sewing machine do you have? Do you have more than one?
Jennifer: I have a BabyLock Design Pro. It is my only machine… for now! I dream (like most sewists) of owning several different machines for every different task. Someday… someday…

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Jennifer’s sewing space.

SMS: How long have you had it?
Jennifer: I received it as a gift from my very generous (and wonderful) mom in 2003, so I’ve had it for five and a half years.

SMS: We know you make and sell gorgeous handbags. How much do you sew? How much wear and tear does the machine get?
Jennifer: I sew A LOT! Way more than the average machine should have to take. I sew every single day for at least 4-5 hours straight, usually more. It just shows how good the machine is. When my mom bought it for me, I was still a pretty casual sewer – I didn’t have my business yet, so I mainly sewed for myself and as gifts. So she picked out a pretty basic machine and didn’t really consider how much wear-and-tear it would be taking. Pretty quickly, though, I caught the sewing bug and started putting my little machine through a lot of stress. And opening my own business has just added even more to the workload. Now, five and a half years later, it is still running strong, and I am proud to say that in all this time, it has only broken on me ONCE!

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An example of Jennifer’s beautiful work.

SMS: Did you do any research before the purchase? If so, what type of research?
Jennifer: Since the machine was a gift, I didn’t even know it was coming (but I did secretly hope someone in my family would have caught on to the hints I was dropping everywhere at the time!). My mom was the one who did the research, and I think she asked every sewing machine dealer in a 100 mile radius for a recommendation. Almost everyone said the same thing to her: BabyLocks have a great reputation, last a long time, and perform well.

SMS: Is this the first machine you’ve used for your business? What would push you to consider upgrading?
Jennifer: This is the only machine I have used for my business, and I’m so glad! I have sewed with many machines throughout my life, and this is by far the best. With all my other machines, I spent about half my time sewing and the other half fighting with thread and bobbins. This machine is so easy, so forgiving, and rarely gives me any trouble. If it does one day break (sob…), I will be sure to stay within the BabyLock brand, but I will upgrade to a higher power machine because I do put so much stress on it. I should probably get a machine that is more prepared for my extreme work load.

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Jennifer’s Machine

SMS: What factors do you think are important to consider when looking for a new machine?
Jennifer: I think it’s important to think about what you need and what you don’t need. The more the machine has, the more it will cost, so it’s important to think about whether those extras are important enough to you to spend the extra money. For me, a lot of those extras are probably not important enough to justify the extra cost. I would rather put that extra money into more POWER, rather than more gadgets on the machine. For other sewers, though, the fancy stitches and the electronic controls are more essential.

Another big consideration is to think about how long you would like to keep your machine. I think for most of us, we want the machine to last (and last and last!). So I would always recommend that you buy from a brand that has a reputation for long life (BabyLock, Husquavarna Viking, Janome, and Pfaff, for example). I also recommend buying from a local dealer (rather than a chain store) because you will want excellent service on your machine in order to KEEP it running as well as the day you bought it. Make sure you are able to get regular tune-ups (and it’s a bonus if those tune-ups are provided free of charge!) and make sure you will be able to bring your machine in for repair in case it does break. It is also important to ask if the brand tends to keep supplying parts, even for discontinued machines, or if they stop making parts once the machine is no longer produced. If you have a machine but can no longer get parts for it, it will be worthless to you.

Finally, try to test out the machine before you buy, if at all possible. Ask for a demo on how to wind a bobbin, thread the machine, or make a button hole. If these tasks are too complicated, you will probably end up fighting with your sewing projects instead of enjoying the process. See if the store will let you sew some fabric scraps: you should be happy with the speed of the machine (can it go both slow AND fast?), it should be able to sew a straight line easily through both thick and thin fabrics (try out both types), and you should not have problems with tension and bunching up of the thread (this was always my biggest problem with the other machines I have used in my life).

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A recent clasp clutch purse.

SMS: As a small business owner who creates products with your sewing machine, what types of features are important for you in a sewing machine?
Jennifer: It sometimes surprises people who know how much I sew, but I actually don’t have and don’t need a super fancy machine. While things like automatic needle threading and hundreds of fancy embroidery stitches might be nice, I am just perfectly content to have a good machine that sews well, even if I do have to thread my needle myself. Since I depend on my machine for my business, I need reliability more than these fancy gadgets. What is important to me is that I can trust that any time I need to wind a bobbin, adjust my tension, thread the machine, make a button hole, or just sew a straight line, my machine will work and it will work well. I have had so many machines that have given me headaches over the years, it is so reassuring to have machine I can depend on for all the basics.

SMS: Are there any sewing machine features specifically related to sewing bags and handbags that are really important to you?
Jennifer: The most important feature is that my machine has a lot of power. When I sew other projects like skirts and dresses, it’s not a big issue, but since I sew mainly bags and purses, I need a high-power machine. I often end up with WAY more layers to sew through than I should probably have (outside fabric, interfacing, batting, lining, zipper … and often, all of these layers are doubled) so I need a machine that can power through it without slowing and without breaking. I also like having a variety of feet available for when I need them (such as the bias tape foot and the teflon-coated foot), although I almost always use just the regular foot, the zipper foot, and the button hole attachment. Finally, I like that my dials are all simple, easy to read, and easy to use, since I change my stitch, my stitch length, and my tension with almost every different fabric I work on.

SMS: Do you like/love/hate your machine? Are you ambivalent? Passionate? Does she have a name?
Jennifer: I love my machine. It doesn’t have a name, although my daughter does call it my “baby” (since I once read her the words “BabyLock” on front of the machine). I must say it does receive a lot of care and attention from me!

SMS: Is there anything that drives you nuts about your machine?
Jennifer: Hmmm… not really.

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Hard at work!

SMS: Would you recommend the machine to others? Why?
Jennifer: Absolutely! This machine was intended as a fairly basic machine, and I have pushed it well beyond what it was intended to do and it has never let me down. It would be great for a beginning OR an advanced sewer. And for all the power it has, its price is not too expensive, either.

SMS: Did you have any machines in the past that you would recommend for other uses/reasons?
Jennifer: NO! I despised all of the other machines I have owned! I was always battling with the tension and the thread (usually, quite literally, with thread tangled around my machine, my project, and my fingers!) and was never satisfied with their performance.

SMS: Do you have a dream machine?
Jennifer: Someday (when I win the lottery), I would like a fancy embroidery machine that lets me design my own work and program it into the machine. I would also like a serger to make sewing skirts and dresses a little easier. But unless the magic “sewing machine fairy” brings me the extra cash for these machines, I have other priorities for now and I am happy with just the basic sewing machine.

SMS: Do you have any other advice for people looking to buy a new sewing machine for their small business?
Jennifer: Since you are running a business, cost is always an issue. It doesn’t make good business sense to put every bit of your profit into a super-expensive machine if you don’t need all the bells and whistles. At the same time, however, it is important to know that in general, you do get what you pay for with a sewing machine. While my machine was not thousands of dollars, it was also not a $50 special from a chain store. My mom spent just a little more on a powerful, respected machine, and I have been happy with it for years. I have a feeling that since I actually hate to spend money on things for myself, I might have gone with one of the cheap deals from the chain stores had I bought the machine myself instead of my mom. I’m certain that had I made that decision, I would have wasted that money and would have been forced to upgrade to a new machine, now, to keep up with my growing business. Set a budget for yourself and ask around to find the best machine you can get for that money.

Join us for Sewing Machine Month! Enter to win this week’s prize package from our Sewing Machine Month sponsor: Husqvarna/Viking. Comment on any post this week for your chance to win the Quilting Package (over $150 retail value), or you might win one of four $20 gift certificates to Sew,Mama,Sew!.