View Full Version : Sewing machine recomendations

05-30-2012, 11:37 AM
The 'Time for a boat cover' thread caught my attention and I didn't want to highjack it. I am looking for a sewing machine and could use some recommendations. This is not going to be used regular so I am not going to spend a ton of money.

I want to sew some light weight neoprene to make some cockpit covers for kayaks. Probably my most demanding project from what I am reading.

I will be restoring a Sea Skiff soon and I would like to be able to do the sewing projects on it. Repairing some upholstery, a new awning, and probably storage cover too.

Looking for suggestions as to what I should be looking for.

James McMullen
05-30-2012, 02:31 PM
I really like having the walking foot and zig-zag stitch options on my Pfaff 1222. If you're going to make outdoorsy gear, you really want one that will zig-zag and bar tack. You also need a zipper foot.

05-30-2012, 03:10 PM
I just made a 100sqft lug sail with and old Jones domestic zig-zag. Its already completed several canvas dodgers and a winter cover. A zig zag stitch will be better for material under load,though i have seen lightweight sails done on an ordinary straight stitch machine. I used to have an old hand crank Singer zig zag that would sew hardboard! I dont know,but i would expect you have a large choice of machines to choose from, depending on your budget.

wizbang 13
05-30-2012, 03:18 PM
I am of the old school pfaff 130 tribe.
I have 2 , one on the boat , one at home.
that said, my boat machine, being 70 years old and on board of the boat for 25 years, this past winter broke her (christ i just called it , her)main belt, the one on the inside.
pfaff 130 is the pre war black one, zig zag capable. right in the middle of heavy duty ness
So, if you spy a nice one on the eeebay , get it or lemme know about it!

Tom Robb
05-30-2012, 04:20 PM
Our old Singer school machine barely made it through a tiny sailboard sail for our youngest who couldn't lift the standard sail off the water. It also can't hem up levis cuffs. Inertia is why we keep it I suppose.
You need a workhorse. The Pfaff as above is great if you can find one. Sailrite has a couple of good ones cheaper than the ladies' dress making stuff that costs a lot more.
Maybe you can find an old tailor going out of business and get some good old arn.

Todd Bradshaw
05-30-2012, 04:37 PM
Neoprene is often a real bear to sew. It simply doesn't get along very well with most sewing machines and the ones they use commercially usually go through the fabric at an angle, catching the fabric part, but not going all the way through the rubber part, since stitches there have no strength. If you buy a thin grade (1/8" max) with the cloth backing on both sides, most good machines will sew it reasonably well using a fairly short, straight stitch. I use about 10 stitches per inch, which seems to stretch nicely without popping stitches. I don't have a walking foot machine (and after hundreds of sails, covers, several years working on balloons and all manner of assorted household projects from dog collars to cartridge belts, I can't say I've ever really felt at a loss for not having one. The most important aspects of any sewing machine are always going to be available knowledge in some form when it needs adjustment or repair, and the availability of parts if needed. Without those, even the best deal is suspect.

05-30-2012, 06:27 PM
We sewed Xena's mainsail with a Bernina Sport and went through about four needles in the process but it got the job done. It had a walking foot and did zig zag. I bought a Sailrite zig zag machine and found it much more powerful and easier to use. With the Sailrite machine I've sewn several sails and found it to be noisy but works great. I did manage to mess up the timing on it forcing it and breaking a needle. I tried a little bit to correct the timing myself but ended up shipping it off to Sailrite for repair. They repaired the machine for the cost of parts and shipping even though the warranty had expired. I highly recommend the Sailrite company for product support and for design services. They were even very helpful when we were working with the old Bernina. They are a very good company to work with in my experience.


05-30-2012, 11:05 PM
I've sewn a bunch of fairly bulky stuff, including the spritsail for my skiff using an old Necchi BU. It has a reasonably wide zig-zag pattern and reverse, no walking foot though.


05-30-2012, 11:08 PM
I built my 326 sq ft sail with a Husqvarna Automatic 1960s model and if you can find one I recommend it.
You want something that can take and punch a 120 needle.

David G
05-30-2012, 11:14 PM
When I worked for Burley Design (manufacturer of bicycle gear) the sewing folks bought Pfaff and Brother - because of their durability and rugged strength.

05-31-2012, 05:38 AM
I did some reading a while back on sewing neoprene and it appears to be a bear to sew. I read a walking foot was a big help but that it was still a bear. But that is a secondary requirement. I could always do nylon covers but I like the stretchy neoprene covers.

I want to buy used and spend around $300. I went to the local sewing center and they were trying to convince me to buy a standard machine. It might work but I am really leaning toward a heavy duty. I have never regretted buying a better quality tool.

In the previous thread I saw high praise for the Pfaff 1200's and looking at EBay they do sell in my range. Any other models anyone would recommend?

Bill Huson
05-31-2012, 07:10 AM
I made two sails and the tramp for a 14' catamaran with a portable Singer. Costs me $35 plus a pack of Denim Eu 100 needles. Not an ideal machine for heavy work, but the Singer chugged through several layers of seam sticked 4 oz Dacron.

05-31-2012, 11:10 AM
pfaff130 or a necchi bu sounds like they would work well enough, and be in that price range...they were the dream machines when i started to look for myself. i settled with lower and got a singer 94-15 ( no zigzag or walking foot- just fwd/rev. ina mid century sewing table- makes things nice cause it unfolds to a reasonable sewing surface) for 20 $..put another 10 into it over the past year ( the deal was just too good to pass up ). so far i've only made a camping tarp with it. craigs list is the way to go on something like this!

05-31-2012, 05:34 PM
About 5 or 6 years ago I bought a walking foot China made Zig Zag sewing machine off E-Bay. For years i had wrestled with and dreamed about buying a Sailrite ( have had their catalogs going back at least 10 years [probably more] when they only had a Brother brand machine they sold]).

But while I wanted a Sailrite I just could not afford it . So I bought the least expensive walking foot off ebay listed at the time ....it was labeled "Alphasew" . While i waited for it I was mentally preparing to deal with all sorts of misbehavior knowing I was buying junk and throwing my money away.

That machine worked great right out of the box. It is the larger frame version (more space between needle and frame). It is clunky, loud and not very well finished. The fits are loose and you must manually oil it liberally.

But it sews anything I can cram under the foot. I use big spools of really heavy bulk thread. When i bought it I made all new boat cushions with piping (no zippers I don't really know how to sew...left one short end open crammed in the foam smoothed it all out and hand sewed it shut). [my wife helped me with that one but we both sewed them up] .

Thats the only big project I used it on. But I find lots of little projects [ bungee cord "shelves" to hold duffle bags, lee cloths, cloth "boxes" for cubby holes, pocket storage devices scattered all around my boat) these are made from worn out scrap dacron and kevlar sails and it sews right thru it up no problem.

I even rip open the seams up the leg of my blue jeans and put inside knee patches....this salvages my ripped knee jeans and they are perfect for the shop...drives my wife nuts when I started doing that....first one took my 45 minutes ...now i can rip the seam add a patch and resew the seam in less than 20 minutes. The machine handles demin again as thick as you can fit under the walking foot.

Only issue I have had is that I have broken the thread tension spring...just took needle nose and bent another "hook" on the end and its been working for another year or more that way.


Then one day I stumbled upon a Pfaff 130 at an estate/yard sale for $30....it is beautifully finshed inside and out and it is a pleasure to use, came w orig receipts and manuals etc. I use it and appreciate it, when i first got it tried some of the rough heavy projects i was accustomed to on the crappy China made walking foot. i could sew them on the Pfaff and I could use the same heavy thread...but as nice as the Pfaff is it is not as clunky/strong as the knock off machine. And I miss the way the walking foot pulls the material itself. I now keep the Pfaff 130 loaded with less heavy thread and use it for more finshed work. For rough heavy stuffI would rather abuse the China made machine.

Bob Cleek
06-01-2012, 12:07 PM
IF you come across an old Read's Sailmaker machine, grab it! (Sailrite has parts and now markets an Asian knockoff... Reads no longer produces them."


This machine was expressly designed as a portable sailmaking machine for cruisers. It will run manually powered with a crank, on 120 (or 220 in Europe with the European motor), or on 12 volt with the 12 volt motor. Very heavily built. This and the Sailrite copies are really about the only machines that will reliably sew canvas, sunbrella and heavy sail dacron before you get into the monster industrial machines used by the professional sailmakers. You can use a high quality home sewing machine (which also aren't cheap), but really if you get into three or four thicknesses of say, Sunbrella, you are pushing the limits of the machine. Like any stationary powered machine, the "weight of the iron" really defines what it can do. The internal gearing of machines designed to sew ladies' dresses and the like was never intended to drive a laarge needle through several layers of canvas. It can be done, but poorly, and often at the risk of breaking or unduly wearing the machine. If you are primarily interested in canvas work, you'd do better, IMO, to spend your money on a machine intended for that, such as the Sailrite Asian models, that to spend as much or more on a fancy home sewing machine that doesn't serve your puposes as well. The home machines often have all the bells and whistles, but you aren't going to be gathering Lycra Spandex or doing fancy appliques when doing boat sewing anyhow.

06-01-2012, 03:12 PM
While pricey, my wife has a Sailrite and she swears by it (not at it!). Not too familiar with the chinese knockoffs, but for light duty they may be OK. Ours was about $800 new direct from Sailrite. It is built like a mack truck!

Ours does not do zigzag. If you need that, then the price goes up considerably.

One nice aspect of the Sailrite machine is the array of cool accessories. Susan uses the binder tape jig all the time and can sew binding edges that look very professional. They also have a huge array of how-to videos to illustrate pretty much how to sew anything with the machine. If you are already a pro, it probably doesn't matter, but for a skilled amateur, it is very helpful.


06-01-2012, 03:22 PM
The home machines often have all the bells and whistles, but you aren't going to be gathering Lycra Spandex or doing fancy appliques when doing boat sewing anyhow.

What??!! No rows of little ducks embroidered along the edge of the boat cover?

wizbang 13
06-01-2012, 03:25 PM
http://farm7.staticflickr.com/6064/6119856681_f89f39d24d_z_d.jpg@bthomas, you got a pfaff 130 for thirty bucks? "you suck" as they say on the internet.
A used , hard to find timing belt for mine, was $65 plus shipping!
It is their Achilles Heel. don't get oil on the belt.

Jamie Orr
06-01-2012, 03:39 PM
I did some reading a while back on sewing neoprene and it appears to be a bear to sew. I read a walking foot was a big help but that it was still a bear. But that is a secondary requirement. I could always do nylon covers but I like the stretchy neoprene covers.

I want to buy used and spend around $300. I went to the local sewing center and they were trying to convince me to buy a standard machine. It might work but I am really leaning toward a heavy duty. I have never regretted buying a better quality tool.

In the previous thread I saw high praise for the Pfaff 1200's and looking at EBay they do sell in my range. Any other models anyone would recommend?
I used a Pfaff 138 commercial model for my sails. It has its own stand/table, a big motor that runs all the time and a foot clutch to control the sewing. They were widely used, I believe, but are getting old now so you may find one for a reasonable price - I paid quite a lot for mine about 15 years ago but bought it because it was recommended in the "Sailmaker's Apprentice".


wizbang 13
06-01-2012, 03:48 PM
A fully restored 130 is $800 , no joke. They are not getting cheaper .
An old sixties domestic machine for twenty bucks , one dingy sail out of it is doing well!

Jamie Orr
06-01-2012, 04:01 PM
A fully restored 130 is $800 , no joke. They are not getting cheaper .
An old sixties domestic machine for twenty bucks , one dingy sail out of it is doing well!

Thanks - that makes me feel better!

06-02-2012, 07:01 AM
@bthomas, you got a pfaff 130 for thirty bucks? "you suck" as they say on the internet.
A used , hard to find timing belt for mine, was $65 plus shipping!
It is their Achilles Heel. don't get oil on the belt.

Yeh, I did no negotiation on that one, fact is money came outa my wallet real quick and no twang of pain ( I have occasionally been accused of looking pained most times the wallet comes out). :)

Came with base cabinet and drawers in the stool full of Pfaff stuff and manual and original receipt. DEC 13, 1952 $185.15.


Pfaff 130 is like a fine camera from that era just superb mechanical device with attention to finish inside and out

06-02-2012, 11:00 AM
It's a bit above your desired range, but maybe you can find a Consew 206RB-5 used somewhere or on ebay. I made a living with mine for many years doing custom car upholstery, recovering boat seats, making bimini tops, canvas awnings and even built some primitive canvas lodges for the fur trapper re-enactor guys. It's a beast of a machine that will sew through pretty much anything you'll ever put through it. The hitch is the cost though, I shopped all around and found mine for $1,400 and that was almost ten years ago!

P.I. Stazzer-Newt
06-02-2012, 02:06 PM
I want to sew some light weight neoprene to make some cockpit covers for kayaks. Probably my most demanding project from what I am reading.

I'm no expert on sewing machines - but I've made, mended, bought and used a heap of different kayak spraydecks over a long long time.

My favourite ones are neoprene with a thick band of shockcord on the upper surface - the neoprene is 5 to 7 mm thick and the shockcord about the half inch (12 or 13 mm) .


The shockcord is formed into a closed loop by a fabric tube visible at the rear - this is through stitched to the surface of the main part of the deck
- BEAST of a seam.

The body tube is formed from a cemented and blind stitched sheet of 3 to 5 mm which is then cemented and blind stitched to the main part of the deck.

I've never seen the machine that does the blind stitching - but doing it by hand is epically tedious.

Old Dryfoot
06-02-2012, 06:47 PM
A very interesting thread, thanks to the OP and contributors.

I was prowling eBay looking for some of the machines mentioned here and also for other walking foot types and did find what appears to be a rather solidly built Taiwanese machine. Lots of large photos and a few videos made by the seller make this look like it might be a passable machine for a lot less than some of the others I've seen. In one of the photos it's possible to see the motor rating as 150W or 1.25A, not quite as powerful as a Sailrite but better most home machines I think.

As for price this particular seller is asking $299, (see edit below). The same machine with a different name is being sold through a local quilt and sewing shop here in Victoria for $599.

Anyway, here is a link to the eBay ad for this machine (http://www.ebay.com/itm/Industrial-Walking-Foot-Heavy-Duty-Portable-Sewing-Machine-New-/221040102141?_trksid=p4340.m185&_trkparms=algo%3DSIC.NPJS%26its%3DI%252BC%26itu%3D UA%26otn%3D5%26pmod%3D320916332888%26ps%3D63%26clk id%3D8861494969074287709), I'd be interested in hearing everyone's impressions.

A few of the pictures from the ad.




Disclaimer: This is not me selling these machines, and I do not know the retailer.

ETA: I found this ad last night and there was a one day sale running which I did not notice, the current price for this machine is now $399. Maybe less of a deal than I thought but might still be of interest.

Brian Palmer
06-02-2012, 07:31 PM
What about this one:


"Industial Sewing Machine Pfaff Mauser Spezial 9020 Straight and Zig Zag stitch Machine Walking foot
Upholstery and leather"

Todd Bradshaw
06-02-2012, 07:46 PM
The Tuff Sew is probably a pretty decent little machine. It appears to be another modified version of one of the Thompson Mini-Walker heads (like the one Sailrite uses to build their LS1 straight stitch machine). I don't see a lot of plastic hanging out (which is good) and the jack drive system (gear reduction) will increase punching power. It won't run as fast as direct drive between the motor and balance wheel, but it yields a lot more control. It's hard to say what they have done to it in the way of modifications, but they seem to understand what the overall purpose of the machine is and you would think that they aimed their outfitting of the basic head in that direction.

By comparison, I also don't know what all the Sailrite folks did to build the LS1, so I can't tell you how different the two would be. I do know that for the zig-zag version, Sailrite did extensive work to modify the Thompson head and much of the drive system came from a different brand of machine. Matt Grant sent me a copy of the documentation for the changes before the machine came out (in case they needed a witness to protect their design) and there were about 30 pages of changes, machine shop work, etc. to produce the little zig-zagger.

I suspect that the Tuff Sew is a pretty decent machine for the price as long as you don't plan to make sails. His shipping charge seems a bit high, but that's the only thing that caught my eye. My 1980 Sailrite Sailmaker has a fairly small motor. It doesn't state the amps, but says 1/10 horsepower, if that helps. It will sew through a copy of woodenboat, using a similar jack drive and a #18 needle.

The other obvious advantage to something like this is that it comes from somebody who has parts and knows how to adjust or fix it, and can most likely guide you through these things over the phone. All these Craig's List used machines and other bargains are great, but don't underestimate the value of available technical support. Sooner or later, you WILL run into situations where the machine needs re-timing or other work that can be damned difficult if you don't understand how it works.

Todd Bradshaw
06-02-2012, 08:22 PM
It's also worth noting that many "industrial" sewing machines are just that. They're clutch-driven, they may sew fity stitches per second or more, and they're made to do one job and one job only, as fast as possible, over and over. Some of these things run so fast that they have to be equipped with needle coolers to keep from melting the thread. They sew in rapid-fire short bursts that sound like a machine gun. After a while, the innards start to wear and get a bit sloppy and they get sold off and replaced because thay can no longer sew precicely and dependably at factory speeds. Then they get handed around, from this guy to that guy, on the used market as these buyers begin to figure out that it's just not what they need.

While you may be able to recondition one and gear it down to run at a slower, more controllable rate, you well may find that they're just not designed for the variety of sewing projects that you were planning to do. For an assortment of typical boat and household projects, what you really want is usually a heavy-duty, multi-purpose machine. Blistering speed, off-the-charts punching power, the ability to use needles that look like eight-penny nails and thread that looks like kite string just aren't all that important, and a machine that can do those things is probably not so great for most of the actual projects that folks like us need to sew. The term "industrial sewing machine" gets thrown around quite loosely on the used market, so just be careful. If it really is an industrial machine, it well may not be what you're looking for.

06-02-2012, 09:30 PM
All this input is great. Helping me get an idea of what I need/want to look for. Pfaff is looking like a good choice and should be able to get it serviced somewhere reasonably close if needed. Not to crazy about buying sight unseen but there not much choice around here. EBay looks like the best source.

Nothing personal here but I will not buy an imported clone from the far east. I just refuse to support companies that steal other ideas and inventions and then sell it here at cut rate prices. Not trying to start a flame war either. Just a personal conviction.

Old Dryfoot
06-02-2012, 10:45 PM
Todd, thank you. I have another question if you wouldn't mind.

Is the use of a zig zag stitch on a sail mainly to allow for some stretching of the cloth under load, or are there other advantages?

06-02-2012, 11:06 PM
I paid $150 for my old Necchi, seems like quite a bargain now.

Don't under estimate the need for a really good run-off and feed table for your sailmaking project. You'll be dealing with a pile of stiff material with a fair amount of heft to it. Not unlike setting up a tablesaw, you'll need two+ times the length of your project worth of free space.


Todd Bradshaw
06-03-2012, 02:13 AM
The zig-zag spreads the needle holes, making the Dacron less prone to tearing (avoiding having a closely perforated line across the cloth). Seams shouldn't stretch any more than the surrounding fabric and ideally will stretch (or not) to match it, plus they're nearly always bonded before sewing with seam tape on good sails, and it doesn't move. Modern seam basting tape is really good stuff. After a seam has been taped and allowed to cure for a couple months, you're likey to ruin the cloth around the edges if you try to pull one apart. So the sewing is in some cases more of a fail-safe than anything else and you want to limit and spread the needle holes as much as possible.

I remember back when I first made the Kevlar sails for my Mini 12 Meter and took it out for their "sea trials". I was about 1/2 mile from shore, sailing nicely in maybe 10-12 knots of wind. I happened to look up and notice that I hadn't sewn the second horizontal seam in the main (just below the middle draft stripe). I'd somehow just missed it while putting everything together and all that was keeping the sail from splitting in two was the seam tape. Needless to say, when I got home, it got two lines of zig-zag, just to be safe.

My wife in the mini. She hated that boat (too many lines and gizmos - exactly what I loved about it).


On a related note, the biggest advantage of a walking foot is that it feeds the material on the top layer of your seam as evenly as the feed dogs and their teeth are feeding the bottom layer, so things stay lined up nicely. However, for most of the stuff that is sewn for boats (sails, covers, bags, etc.) it's an awfully good idea to baste the pieces together before sewing them anyway. We use seam tape on sails and baste Sunbrella with staples, seam tape or by hot-cutting the pieces together and letting the melted beads along their edges stick together. Once you do that, they are mechanically fastened together and pretty much have to feed at the same rate. I assume that this explains why I've never felt like I had much need for a walking foot. If you were feeding two layers of loose fabric, especially fabrics with different weights or slickness, it would probably be a totally different story.

One other random thought crossed my mind here......Why make cockpit covers out of neoprene in the first place? It doesn't have a particularly good UV life, it's heavy, bulky, expensive, dries slowly and is kind of a pain in the ass to work with. It makes great spray skirts, but I make my cockpit covers out of Odyssey polyester cover cloth. It's reasonably cheap for a marine fabric, tough enough, water resistant enough to keep rain out but will breathe some, it's easy to sew and it has a five-year UV warranty. They won't be quite as drum-tight and smooth as a stretch cover, but they car-top or trailer fine and even if you get a little pooling on them, they don't seem to leak. Some of the Odyssey covers shown here are approaching ten years old at this point and still working.


Old Dryfoot
06-03-2012, 11:28 AM
Thank you good sir. :) A most excellent response.

BTW... I love that Mini 12! I've never seen one before, awesome little boat.

06-03-2012, 06:32 PM
Any thoughts on this one? (http://www.ebay.com/itm/INDUSTRIAL-STRENGTH-Sewing-Machine-HEAVY-DUTY-LEATHER-UPHOLSTERY-WALKING-FOOT-/360463694883?_trksid=p4340.m185&_trkparms=algo%3DSIC.NPJS%26its%3DI%26itu%3DUA%26o tn%3D5%26pmod%3D221040102141%26ps%3D63%26clkid%3D8 884050394504336113#ht_46190wt_1086)

I need to make sail covers and a cockpit cover for my Indian. Also, I agree with Todd about industrial stitcher heads. The are WAY to fast for me. I put interiors into old sports cars every so often, so the cording foot etc are of interest.

06-04-2012, 08:45 AM
Any thoughts on this one? (http://www.ebay.com/itm/INDUSTRIAL-STRENGTH-Sewing-Machine-HEAVY-DUTY-LEATHER-UPHOLSTERY-WALKING-FOOT-/360463694883?_trksid=p4340.m185&_trkparms=algo%3DSIC.NPJS%26its%3DI%26itu%3DUA%26o tn%3D5%26pmod%3D221040102141%26ps%3D63%26clkid%3D8 884050394504336113#ht_46190wt_1086)

I don't know anything about that particular machine, but the first thing I noticed is the small space under the arm. It appears to be even less than my Sailrite LSZ-1. My only problem with my machine is that when doing sails and canvas work it can be a real pain to get a large amount of stiff material rolled up tight enough to feed under there. I really wouldn't want to deal with any less space. By the way, I bought my Sailrite in 1996 ( it cost half as much then). It's been trouble free and has paid for it's self many times over.

Todd Bradshaw
06-04-2012, 11:01 AM
It seems to sew nicely on the samples, but I'm seeing an awful lot of plastic parts, which I'm not thrilled about. Be advised also that their "walking foot" is actually an add-on gizmo sometimes called a "plaid-matcher". It's the white plastic box behind the needle and clamps onto the presser foot assembly when used. It has a rectangular metal bar that rides on top of the needle holder set screw on the right side of the needle bar. As the needle bar goes up and down, it lifts and lowers the bar, causing the additional feet that it has to "walk" next to the presser foot. This is a very different system from a true, designed-in and built-in walking foot. I had one for a while that I picked up to try on my machine and found it to be a piece of problematic junk that didn't do much of anything to help the cause. It could be a decent little machine for occasional use, but it's hard to say much more without seeing what its guts look like. You don't generally get a lot of precise metal casting or machined parts in that price range and like any tool, you generally get what you pay for in terms of durability and performance with sewing machines. At a third of the price of machines in that category that we know are excellent, lets just say it might pay to be a bit skeptical until proven otherwise.

06-04-2012, 11:09 AM
I checked out the reviews on line of the Toyota machine and they were pretty mixed. Confirms your observations. Probably ought to just support a reliable supplier like Sailrite and get one of their machines.

Todd Bradshaw
06-04-2012, 11:28 AM
This is a good buy for somebody who is pretty serious about sewing. I've been watching it, but really don't think I need another machine. You would need to supply the motor, stand and clutch, but the buy-it-now price for the head is quite attractive.

Dave Gray
06-04-2012, 12:07 PM
After a lot of back and forth I bought a Pfaff 360 off of Ebay. I hope it is sufficient for my needs. As I have never used a sewing machine before it should be interesting.

Old Dryfoot
06-04-2012, 11:28 PM
This is interesting, a zig zag version of the machine I posted above only under the brand name Reliable. This model is the Barracuda 2000U-33 and a Google shopping search shows it selling for ~ $500. I'm really curious as to how much it would cost to get one of these as a sample from Taiwan through Alibaba.


Edit: Well that was too easy, here is a supplier from Malaysia (http://www.alibaba.com/product-free/128024487/sewing_machine.html) selling the Reliable brand (or at least using a photo of that brand), the price is given as $65 - $200 per unit with a 10 unit minimum. Not sure what the price range represents. Still looking for the OEM.

Second Edit: Okay. Found a US based distributor in Florida (http://www.alibaba.com/product-free/107634363/Family_Sew_by_Yamata_FS_288.html) selling this machine under the brand name Yamata as the Family Sew FS-288, FOB price $399. I've also just found this website (http://www.allbrands.com/products/8533-family-sew-fs-288zz-5mm-zigzag-metal-portable-flat?utm_source=froogle&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=feeds&utm_term=China+Feiyue) selling this one for $299. The $299 price is for a Chinese knock off of the Taiwanese machines.

Old Dryfoot
06-05-2012, 12:19 AM
I believe I've found the manufacturer. Skywork Co LTD of Taiwan (http://www.alibaba.com/product-free/103667343/Semi_Industrial_Walking_Foot_Zig_Zag.html).


Old Dryfoot
06-05-2012, 01:06 PM
I hate look like I'm spamming this thread with these machines but I've just read a small thread on the Cruisers Forum that has some very positive things to say about the the Reliable 2000U-33. Here is the link (http://www.cruisersforum.com/forums/f2/has-anyone-tried-the-reliable-2000u33-sewing-machine-62032.html) (see post #5).

Todd Bradshaw
06-05-2012, 10:51 PM
I thought that video with Matt Grant in post #4 was pretty eye opening. It's surprising how rough some of the parts used in the clone machines can be. It pretty well demonstrates the price differences between the Sailrite machines and some of the others. I guess it's no surprise that you get what you pay for. Not everybody needs that sort of precision and some people certainly have better uses for their cash than investing in an expensive sewing machine for occasional use, but it does bring up the question of just what is good enough to do the job consistently and reliably. There are few hidden seams in sail and canvas work and nearly all the stitches are right out there in plain sight. They're generally either right, or they're not, and it's really frustrating to do your part properly and then have the machine itself mess up the outcome.

Old Dryfoot
06-06-2012, 12:13 AM
It's all about quality control and after purchase support with the Sailrite machines. They have built a well earned reputation on those points. For anything more than casual use the extra money should be considered an investment in productivity I'd say.

06-06-2012, 06:11 AM
Having been buying tools for almost 40 years, I still have to remind myself of all the times I 'saved' money on a less expensive tool only to replace it with a quality one after several uses of the cheaper one. My tool collection has 35 year old tools that are as good as new. I am going to get a straight stitch SailRite. Nothing more frustrating than a birdsnests of thread under your work that you didn't know was there until you are half way down the seam and the machine starts to bog down.

06-06-2012, 04:23 PM
The real problem with the Sailrite LSZ-1 is the price - if it were made in the US or Germany or even Japan they would have some justification for charging almost $900 for a very simple sewing machine. But it's made in Taiwan. Thompson or a previous manufacturer made the decision to locate/move the production to Taiwan to save money - Sailrite seems to have purchased (I presume) the manufacturing "rights" from Thompson and has decided to keep the production in Taiwan. Manufacturing a product in a country that doesn't recognize rights/patents/permission like the rest of the world is the price Sailrite pays to save a buck. So, they really have nothing to complain about when it comes to "look-a-likes" (as they call them).

But on the topic of "look-a-likes" - the Matt Grant video that Todd mentions (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JVctef6IRlo) is not, despite the title, comparing "look-a-likes" with an LSZ-1. The first time I watched it at work with no sound, I had Todd's reaction - those "look-a-likes" are rough. If you watch it with sound, however, Matt repeatedly states that the parts he's comparing are from a Sailrite LSZ-1 version 1 ("which are similar to look-a-likes") and an LSZ-1 version 2 - that is, from two Sailrite machines.

One final comment on clones/copies/look-a-likes - expensive mechanical watches are commonly faked by Chinese manufacturers (and by fake I mean a copied movement and case with a brand name on it) because watches are ridiculously expensive. Some absurdly expensive. This provides an incentive (not justification, mind you) to fake. So, to my original point, if Sailrite wasn't charging $900 for a machine that probably costs them somewhere near $100, there would be less incentive for others to sell either the same machine (from Taiwan) or a blatant copy (from China) for $300 - $500. In other words, if an LS-1 were $150 and an LSZ-1 $250, we'd all have shiny blue machines and this thread wouldn't exist!

Todd Bradshaw
06-06-2012, 07:27 PM
I believe your figures are most likely way off. Owning a copy of the 30 pages of documentation which explained the machine work and changes made to the Thompson Mini-Walker to produce the original LSZ-1 I don't believe it could be done that cheaply. Then when you gradually start replacing parts with custom castings and refining the design as problems arise, it's going to cost even more. In any case, precision heavy duty machines cost real money and you aren't likely to get that sort of precision, durability or support for $300. Nobody else offers it at that price either.

Like I said before, occasional sewing probably doesn't demand a Sailrite machine and a clone might do the job. On the other hand, if you appreciate good tools or won't settle for anything that can't consistently produce excellent results, then you're going to be paying the price for a higher quality machine sooner or later. I sewed an entire season with the same needle a couple of years ago - not on purpose, but I generally only change them if they break and nothing broke that year. I don't know about anybody else, but when I get down on the floor to sew a sail, I really appreciate knowing that there isn't a single skipped stitch in the entire sail and that they look this consistent. Sewing machines that will do that cost more. In my position, it's worth it. For other folks it might not be such a high priority and they might get more use out of their money by investing it in something else.


06-11-2012, 02:23 PM
Well, after more research, especially into leather sewing machines, Todd is spot-on. These things are expensive and not often portable. Todd, thanks for your wisdom and diplomacy - in this thread and all the other kooky "making my own sail and don't need advice" threads. I wish I had 1/10th of your patience. By the way, is the image you provided in comment 47 from an LSZ-1 or one of the bigger sailrite machines?

I ended up picking up an old Pfaff 130 to see if it's up the challenge - it must be an incredible machine with such an active user base after 60 years (there's a very active and resourceful yahoo group, for those interested: http://groups.yahoo.com/group/oldpfaffpforum/; PDFs of most user and service manuals available for free)

Jeff, I'd be interested in hearing what you ended up choosing and how it worked for you!

06-11-2012, 03:59 PM
Jeff, I'd be interested in hearing what you ended up choosing and how it worked for you!

Still looking and reading. But I am sort of leaning toward a used Pfaff. A 130 is on the list I am watching for.

Todd Bradshaw
06-11-2012, 06:35 PM
gnak, That sample is from my old Sailrite Sailmaker (a modified Brother TZ1-B652 tailor's machine) which I bought in 1980 for $1,000. It could actually be the best thing I've ever purchased (with the possible exception of my Rickenbacker twelve-string). I used it repairing hot air balloons for three years and then got serious about sail repair, canvas work, and sailmaking. I don't know how many sails it's made, but even if I was only averaging ten per year, twenty nine years would make for a pretty big pile of sails. I burned out the motor about three years in and they replaced it for free with a new and better one as it had been upgraded since I purchased the machine. I also eventually bought a new foot pedal as mine was wearing out.

Point of order: I used to have an old Pfaff that I used just for spinnaker work because it had a three-step zig-zag which, when combined with good seam tape, is plenty on a spinnaker and can be sewn in one pass. One day, my wife and I went to the grocery store. We came home about 45 minutes later, heard a strange sound and smelled smoke. As it turned out, the rheostat foot pedal on the Pfaff has malfunctioned and the machine had been running full blast for some time, all by itself. The motor was smoking and melting the rubber and plastic parts near it, including the cover on its cord. Ever since that day, I always unplug my sewing machines when I'm done sewing - just for good measure.

06-12-2012, 06:46 PM
Todd---thanks for that heads up regards unplugging. It is also my habit (unp;ugging after each use) . This is something I do just for the sewing machines and if you had asked me I could not recall why I was doing it. Your explanation regards rheostat makes it clear.

BTW I never turn off the light on the machines...this serves as my reminder to alert me I have them plugged in.


Todd Bradshaw
06-12-2012, 07:53 PM
I took the light off of mine in 1980 while working on balloons. Those little bulbs tend to get pretty hot, and since holes in balloons always seem to fall somewhere in the middle, you may have half of a thousand yards of nylon crammed under the machine's arm while you're sewing a patch. You're literally often sewing down in a hole where the patch is, with layer upon layer of fabric piled up right around the area. Touch the bulb with the pile and presto - you have an additional hole to patch.

These days I use one of those crane lights like they have for drafting tables, stuck in the floor and at night or on certain colors of fabric, I may augment it with an Ott Light on the left side.


Old Dryfoot
06-12-2012, 09:42 PM
... Touch the bulb with the pile and presto - you have an additional hole to patch.

I know people that would call that job security. ;) :D

Todd Bradshaw
06-12-2012, 10:46 PM
We occasionally got accused of that, though not for that reason. Balloon repairs are done to the manufacturer's specifications and the whole thing is under the jurisdiction of the FAA. Everything is specified in the official repair manuals that the manufacturers furnish - type and source of repair fabric, type and weight of the thread, types of seams, number of stitches per inch, etc. and there is no variation or creative thinking allowed. When somebody brings the balloon in for a small patch, you fix it following the regulations, record it in the aircraft logbook and then the guy I worked with, who was an official FAA aircraft inspector, would sign it off as being returned to an airworthy state. Unfortunately, when you do that you are not just certifying the patch you just made. Instead, you are certifying every previous repair that the balloon may have come in with and essentially taking legal responsibility for them, even if you didn't make those repairs yourself.

On more than one occasion, we fixed something and then showed the owner several other previous repairs that weren't done properly - telling them that we would not sign it off until those repairs were re-done according to the manufacturer's specifications. Some of these folks would get really hot under the collar and accuse us of padding our bill. In reality, we were just covering our own asses. When a balloon crashes and somebody gets hurt, it's not unusual for just about anybody who ever worked on it to get sued. Your best protection is to make sure that everything you do and everything else you find on it is done by the book. Even on aircraft, it's amazing how big of a safety risk people are willing to take, just because they don't want to spend the extra money to do things properly.

Fixing sails, where you can use common sense, where there is no clueless government official in a grey suit looking over your shoulder, and where people don't have far to fall is much less stressful............

Old Dryfoot
06-12-2012, 11:29 PM
I can see why you prefer to work with sails now. I hope you never have to justify repairs with your current clients the way you had to with balloon repairs. It's sounds like it would have been liability nightmare, and I can't imagine what your insurance situation would have been like.

08-19-2012, 10:53 AM
I'm late to this party (don't get here often) but thought I'd throw my 02 cents in. Kudzu did you get a machine yet? If you aren't wanting to buy one of the China miniwalkers I can vouch for the Pfaff 138. I bought one to start a marine canvas shop and it worked fine on Sunbrella and sails. It doesn't have a walking foot but is heavy duty enough to get the job done pulling/pushing fabric through the hard way. I have never sewn neoprene but suspect it would do 5-9mm without too much fuss. On the otherhand, once you use a real (not clamp on) walking foot machine you will not look back to a non walking foot for anything other than hobby projects on a budget. With the ecomony like it is I imagine an old commercial walking foot machine can be had for $300 if you look hard. I visited Craigs List the other day and was amazed how many sewing machines were listed dirt cheap...home and commercial.

I know you don't want to buy offshore but most decent machines (old or new) are made outside of the USA. If you decide to go the offshore route the Ty/Chi made miniwalkers are great machines...any of the miniwakers work as advertised, regardless of brand. I bought a Morse miniwalker in 2002 for $200 and sewn many boat projects without a glitch. It gets used while my other (3) machines gather dust (one is a singer commercial). I would caution you not to rely 100% on advertising hype that says these machines are not up to the task, less user friendly, accessories or parts not available (not likely you will break or wear one out either). For DIY homebuilders these are the best bang for the buck.

Bill P.

08-19-2012, 05:04 PM
Just last week I finally found one. The old standby, Pfaff 130. My wife just bought some light canvas to make some grocery bags with so I convinced her to use the Pfaff and see how well it will work. She want several so it will be a good learning experience for me too. It's funny how my mom was an extremely talented seamstress/tailor and I picked up so little besides the mechanical side of how a machine works.

wizbang 13
08-19-2012, 05:09 PM
super! I just picked up another pfaff130 too,( my third), for .... $130!!!
Do Not let the main belt , the one inside with cogs , get oily!! it is their achilles heel .It breaks after getting oily . silk or canvas, it is not nylon.

Bram V
08-20-2012, 08:34 AM
I have an ancient Anker that takes just about anything it can crush under its feet, I love it dearly. It was used for leather and fur, I got it because I just needed any sewing machine for repairs, and this one looked reliable and was available. It is strong enough to make shoes (literally, I wanted to know if I could make leather shoes, and did so). When I get there, I'll see if it does sails right (I plan to make my first sail out of cheap material, and then replace it after a year, making a new sail with my newly improved skills). If not, I'll save up for another oldie. It does zigzag, though sadly not three stepped.

08-21-2012, 09:57 PM
I really like having the walking foot and zig-zag stitch options on my Pfaff 1222.

James -- Is that machine up to working through several layers of fabric? It has all the features (walking foot, reverse, zig-zag, etc.) and the prices are good. Just wondering if it would bog down in multiple layers of heavy fabric. I'm looking at making a dodger now, and eventually replacement tramps for my tri, plus other odds and ends. A canvas sail is on the to-do list, too. For the past 35 years I've gotten by with what was once my mother-in-law's machine. It's an antique, but somehow still runs and has put up with lots of abuse on my part. But no walking foot or zig-zag.

Todd Bradshaw
08-21-2012, 10:43 PM
I had a Pfaff 1222E for a while. I used the three-step zig-zag for spinnaker work, but it really wasn't up to serious boat canvas jobs. It had a little puller, but it's really not a walking foot and doesn't have the presser foot tension, thread capacity, thread weight ability and heft that you really ought to have for sail and canvas work. One of the major problems that you'll find with home machines is that they have a fairly short needle stroke. When you stack up a whole bunch of heavy fabric, they'll often "trip" with the feed dogs trying to advance the fabric before the needle has completely cleared the stack of fabric on the up-stroke. This either causes it to skip stitches (usually because the excessive presser foot height has pushed the pin inside that releases the upper thread tension, right when you need it most) or it breaks the needle. It's a good little machine, but it has its limits for the type of stuff we sew, and you may reach them pretty quickly. Mine eventually started dropping pieces of broken parts inside while sewing. It was actually pretty surprising how many parts could break and that the machine would continue to work reasonably well. I had levers wedged with shims and other stuff to keep it functioning for a while, but it finally quit and was sent out to pasture.

P.S. I have all the equipment to make trampolines and made the wing nets and bow nets for our Farrier trimaran and a new tramp for our Hobie Cat. Never again. They're a royal pain in the butt to make. About ten years ago I discovered Sunrise Yacht Products. They make beautiful trampolines cheaper and better than I could build them. Fighting with that stuff just isn't worth the time to me.

08-21-2012, 10:54 PM
Susan has been sewing the canvas for Makoto using a straight stitch Sailrite machine. It is fabulous. Reliable, solid and the attachments have allowed her to do an amazing array of things. It is probably more expensive that you are looking for, but it is a great machine and a great company. Super helpful...

By contrast, I also bought her a Juki quilting machine for her birthday..Where the Sailrite is like driving a Hummer, the Juki is like driving a Rolls Royce. One is tough and solid and will never fail to deliver under the most horrific circumstances, the other can't endure the worst, but for 99% of the time it provides a super smooth quiet silky ride.


08-22-2012, 06:32 AM
Do Not let the main belt , the one inside with cogs , get oily!! it is their achilles heel .It breaks after getting oily . silk or canvas, it is not nylon.

Funny you should say that. The whole machine was covered in oil or something oily. Looked like someone sprayed a mist of oil on it. Belt and everything inside and out was oily. Sounds like I better just find a new belt and replace it. BTW, there is fellow making belts now. No word on how good they are.

08-22-2012, 07:43 AM
Todd -- Thanks for the advice. I'll move on to other ideas. I did make tramps for my old Searunner and was satisfied with them. I took them to an awning shop to get good grommets installed. I have an F27 now with Sunrise tramps. They are extremely good but pretty pricey to replace, and that will be due before long. The biggest advantage of Sunrise I see is the coatings and colors they offer -- I don't know of another source for that. But if the cost of materials is anywhere close to the Sunrise price, then I'll be going to them for sure.

I have a sister who works in a shop that sells Berninas. She thinks maybe an old 930 with the walking foot attachment would work for me, but isn't certain. The thing there is, that those machines sell for prices similar to used Sailrites. Once I get into that price range - $600 and up - a Sailrite would seem to be the way to go.

Still hoping for a cheaper option. There are Pfaff 332s available for about $250. One reference says the 332-260 model has a walking foot, but I haven't been able to confirm this.

08-30-2012, 09:11 PM
So after much hemming and hawing (yuk yuk) I picked up a Pfaff 362 on ebay. The manual claims it's good for heavy canvas, denim and even sailcloth, giving recommended needle and thread sizes for these things. Reports are it has the umph for the work. This is a 1966 machine, the last, I believe, of the all metal Pfaffs. The case is aluminum and the innards all steel. The motor is rated at one amp.

One report claimed they are noisy, but this one is not noisy at all and at first brush seems to be have been well used but properly maintained. Got a box full of attachments to play with. Next job, download a manual in English.

But as regards all the price considerations, at $300 this was about a third the cost of a new zig-zag Sailrite, about three-fifths the cost of a Sailrite knockoff, but the same price as a knockoff of a knockoff that does do zig-zag and claims to have a big motor. I'm betting that this 46-year-old German machine, as old as it is, is a better buy than a 2012 Chinese machine built to undersell everyone else. Time will tell.

09-01-2012, 08:52 AM
For anyone who can't afford an expensive machine, I'll put in a plug for a 1960s era Singer. I 'inherited' my mom's all-metal sewing machine. I spent some time learning how to oil it and how to use it (the manual is online in PDF) and it did a fine job sewing even heavy vinyl.

Here are some pics of it in action:


You can buy these on eBay if you are patient for under $100.

-- John

09-01-2012, 12:33 PM
So after much hemming and hawing I picked up a Pfaff 362 on ebay.

I looked seriously at that machine, or rather those. I read good things about them as well as the 130. But because of the huge following and parts supply on EBay I went with the 130. If I had found a killer deal I probably would have bought one of those instead.