Q&A about corset making

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What is the best sewing machine for corset making?

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Janome 1600PQC Sewing macine

I'm often asked what the best - and worst - sewing machines for corsetry are so i'll tell you my thoughts garnered from my own experience and that of the students who come to my classes with their own sewing machines.

img_2961 lvintage bernina sewing machine
This lovely vintage Bernina 720 made an appearance in the Sew Curvy Cottage last month.  It may be old but it sewed like a dream, stitch perfect every time and better than many other machines.

Bad news first.  The worst machines for corsetry are, in the beginners category, domestic Brother machines.  I myself started with a Brother as these are often the most easily available, from shops such as Argos and other department stores, with the highest profile aimed at the craft hobby market.  People are familiar with the Brother name and therefore trust the brand.  Fine unless you want to sew corsets.  Unfortunately, the only problems I ever have in class with machines that cant cope, are with Brother machines - they can't keep pace, they labour over every stich as soon as more than 2 layers are put before it, and since those layers are mainly thick coutil, a Brother machine is prone to going on strike just when you don't need it to.  I have also encountered many tension problems with Brother machines, not just from their owners!  In short, Brother 'entry level' sewing machines are fine for sewing light dresses and the odd piece of home furnishing, but as soon as you progress to more complicated things, they just cannot cut the mustard, which is surprising given that the best industrial machines are also made by Brother - I don't understand why the technology doesn't cross over.  

So when I started to make corsets, it was time for an upgrade.  I did a lot of research, found a machine I thought suitable and then asked a sewing machine company what they would recommend having briefed them on my requirements and budget.  They came up with the same machine I had thought appropriate, and a match made in sewing heaven was born. At that time,  I spent around £250 on the mid range Janome 5124 machine and it's still going strong in my studio now - it has everything required for mid range sewing - it can cope with several layers of coutil and bone channelling, has several decorative stitches and several zig zag stitches including a three step zig zag which is useful for sewing elasticated items such as lingerie. 

singer 201k  

The Singer 201K is renowned to be the best sewing machine ever invented.  
This one dates from the early  1950's and cost me £16!

Later on I tried other corsetry techniques and other sewing machines.  I got myself an industrial Brother machine which was excellent but too big and noisy for my house so it had to go.  Cue the Vintage Singer 201K which my local sewing machine man recommended in leui of the Industrial.  These machines are fantastic for corsetry and tailoring - they are beautiful, fast and economical and the closest you'll get to industrial quality on a budget.  Unfortunately the trend for 'vintage' has pushed the prices of these old machines into the stratosphere - where they used to be shipped out to Africa by the skip load because nobody wanted them, these beautiful machines are now highly prized items earning ££££'s for the loft raiders of ebay.  Honestly, don't beleive the hype, vintage Singers are not 'rare antiques'.  The Singer factory in Scotland turned them out by the hundreds of millions in their heyday from the 20's right up to the 1960's. If you do fancy getting one, make sure you stick with the black cast iron models which are pre 1960.  The brown 201K machines are not nearly as good.

 

janome1600pqc

Nowadays I have my wonderful wonderful semi industrial Janome 1600PQC which is a domestic/industrial hibrid.  It's pricey, but it's fast and professional whilst still being portable.  It has a knee lift which saves a mountain of time, and an auto thread cutter which saves many threads.  It also has a high shank which means that industrial sewing machine feet can be used with it as well as the extensive range of sewing machine feet and attachments supplied by Janome.     The machine actually comes with a straight stitch foot, a fantastic wide (industrial style) seam guide, screwdrivers, oil, spare needles and bobbins plus a huge extension table and knee lift lever.

When I first started teaching and didn't have a set of brand new Janome machines at my disposal, my students use all of these machines - the vintage Singers, the mid-level Janome and the new Janome 1600PQC.  All of them are easy to use and perfect for sewing perfect stitches in perfectly straight lines through many thick layers of fabric.  The Singers and the PQC will also both sew through layers of leather with ease.

photo

The Janome1600PQC sews through leather and layers with ease.

Over the past years i've noticed from my students that amongst the more experienced sewers, the most popular machines are Janome, Pfaff, and Bernina - these are all good quality brands and sometimes turn up in their vintage forms which are every bit as good - if not better - than their modern counterparts.  Janome machines are literally 'bomb proof' - heavy, sturdy and the preferred machine for schools due to their quality and lower price range.  If they can cope with year on year of teenagers thumping through them, then they can cope with corsets!  However,  if you're serious about corsetry, want to go pro or semi-pro but don't have the space for an industrial machine, then I can't recommend the 1600PQC highly enough although as it's a straight stitch only,  you will need a domestic back up if you like fancy stitches or need a zig zag... But then what better excuse to start a new sewing machine collection?  I myself have around 10 machines and I love them all :D.

In summary, a good machine for sewing corsets will be sturdy and reasonably heavy, preferably made of metal, and will not be in the 'beginners' class of machine.  Generally you can band sewing machines by price.  Low range are priced up to about £250-300 depending on brand, mid-range from £300 to about £600 and then top range can go as far as up to £3000 for the most up to date, all singing and dancing computerised machines.  Anything below mid range will be generally unsuitable for corsetry.

Useful links:

Sewing Machines Direct.   Where I've purchased two of my Janome machines and I cannot recommend them highly enough.

Janome UK - home of the Janome Sewing machines which I also recommend - here you can find information on which one might be best for you

How to restore a vintage sewing machine - written by me some years ago on my old sewing blog "The House of Marmalade"

More links about vintage sewing machines, where to find them and what to do about them from The House of Marmalade.

 

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Comments

  1. Anya Kovacs

    I sew on an old semi-industrial Frick (a Swiss make) that belonged to my boyfriend's mother, feels heavier than an elephant and motors through multiple layers of coutil without a problem. My school also had a wide array of old sewing machines and I remember arriving at handwork classes early to snaffle my favorite Bernina machine (second choice was a lovely Pfaff). I am a big fan of working with older machines, and they are definitely easier to buy on a budget than fancy new ones. My next acquisition will be a machine that does a three-step zig zag as I am playing around making lingerie...

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  2. Julia Bremble

    Hi Emma The only thing I can suggest easily is the wide zip foot attachment that Janome make - this is exactly 1cm wide and makes a perfect boning channel for 7/8mm wide bones. Otherwise it's just trial and error i'm afraid. :)

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  3. Emma

    Hi, I have a 1600P which I like but was hoping for some advice on. It's a fairly recent purchase which I'm still getting used to and with my old machine I used to make bone channels by sewing a line then lining up the foot against the line and sewing another line. The space between the edge of the foot and the needle fit the bones perfectly. Unfortunately I haven't found a foot that is similar for the 1600P. I was hoping you had some advice (whether it's a foot I could buy or another way of making nice bone channels! Thank you.

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  4. Hannah

    I do all my sewing with a Singer 401a - it's a wonderful machine.

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  5. Cathy Hay

    Great post! I can vouch for Pfaff - I bought a 7570 in 1996 and I love it so much that even when I tried to upgrade it a few years ago, I eventually sold the new one and went back to my favourite girl. :)

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  6. Andrea Firth

    I too have a Janome 1600P, and I love it! If you can afford one I highly recommend it. Can't imagine what I did before it. I have a Singer 201K as well, but haven't had the opportunity to sew anything with it yet. I keep reading how wonderful they are, so I really need to try it out properly.

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