My 25-year-old Pfaff sewing machine is coming home from the tune-up shop this weekend. She needed repairs to her presser foot, and adjustments to tension and stitching precision. The repairman also cleaned the moving parts and removed the gunky oil and grease that had caused her to lock up.
These are the problems that occur when a precision mechanical device is neglected for more than a decade. Now the repairman says she’s running “like brand new” [sic].
Mechanical versus Electronic?
I was lucky to buy this workhorse sewing machine, right at the transition point when leading manufacturers were flirting with early LCD screens and primitive software applications for high-end sewing machines.
Having spent my career in software and later at Apple, I was leery about the pitfalls of buying an important household appliance that was utterly dependent on early generation software — and worse, software developed by people who don’t understand what it takes to produce (and maintain) great software.
To put things in perspective: the Web hadn’t been invented, the Internet was used only by scientists and academics, and few people had email addresses. The Mac had only been around for a few years, and Microsoft had not yet released Windows 3.o/3.1 — the versions that catapulted them into the Big Time. Those were the early days of computers and software designed for ordinary people to use…
After examining those early models, I could see how poorly those industrial-era manufacturers understood the requirements of software capable of delighting consumers for years to come. Unlike the 1990s product designers, my high tech career had taught me the importance of:
- A deep understanding of usability, and how must-haves versus nice-to-haves will differ across the various segments of people who use sewing machines
- Use cases and requirements relevant to specific categories of sewing: e.g., garments versus quilts versus embroidery
- Ease of software updates and bug fixes
- Localization of the user interface. As it is, the printed manuals are hard enough to use, because multi-lingual instructions are intermingled — rather than language-specific sections
- Screen legibility under the ambient lighting conditions for home or professional sewing machine users
Despite my initial interest in state-of-the-art electronic machines, I opted for the tried-and-true mechanical approach, where the manufacturers excelled. My 25-year-old machine relies on push button controls, dials and levers to adjust settings. It has a “heavy duty build.” There’s no software to break, or controller boards to replace.
Buying a mechanical sewing machine proves to have been a wise decision for that time… When you scan Ebay, Craigslist or sewing enthusiast blogs, you can see the lengths that some people go to in their quest to find a vintage mechanical sewing machine from Bernina or Pfaff… I feel lucky to have chosen as I did. I flinch at the prices charged for comparable models today.
While I’m attracted to some of the convenience features of today’s high end machines, it’s hard to rationalize their high prices, just to match the functionality I have now… If I start sewing a lot, as I did in my teens and twenties, then a premium sewing machine might make more sense. It’s hard to justify now.
Thanks to an $89 tune-up, my Pfaff 1171 will run smoothly and sweetly once again. Better yet, I still have all the parts and accessories, all the needles and bobbins, plus a sewing cabinet with a (semi-functional) hydraulic lift. It’s a great set-up for my episodic use — periods of intense projects followed by months (years?) of inactivity. For whatever reason, sewing is starting to appeal to me again.
My husband hopes to repair the protective covers for Frolic’s sails. It’s unlikely that this Pfaff has the horsepower for such a heavy-duty sewing project: sewing through multiple layers of canvas. He focuses on how small the sail covers are, and therefore believes this project should be well within the capabilities of our vintage Pfaff. We’ll see what happens.
But for now I can’t wait to start some easier projects with Madame Pfaff, once that she’s back from her spa treatments tomorrow.
First up: a meditation cushion featuring some vintage Thai silk, sewn from the remnants of fabric used for curtains in my husband’s childhood home in Swarthmore.
Happy Valentine’s Day to me, from Madame “Tipper” Pfaff. A true old lady, with beauty and elegance that’s hard to match.
My sister is lucky to have my mother’s Pfaff 1171. I just hope she knows where to get it tuned up when needed… (We live on opposite coasts.)