Christmas gifts and Pfaff vs. Bernina experiments

No, I didn’t go on vacation, just been super busy here! Just FYI, busy+notmuchquilting=nofun. Well, maybe not “no fun,” just not as much fun! Anyway, things may be winding down to an acceptable level, so I can just coast through Christmas now. The last party is over, thank goodness, and I finished up my last online programming class for this month yesterday. I’ve been working on a gift for my landlords and I finished it up today:

Placemats

I made them a set of eight placemats to go with the table runner and the napkin rings that I’ve made in previous years. I was a bit worried as I was making them, since they seemed to be a bit “floofy” and weren’t laying flat after they were quilted. I think I should have used a thinner batting. 😦 I decided to toss them in the washer and pray to the quilting goddess for a boon. Since fabric placemats need to be washable anyway, I also figured it would be better to get it over with now in case the machine embroidery didn’t survive.

Placemats detail

The embroidery came out fine, and after a bit of judicious steam pressing, the mats are wonderfully flat! I guess the quilting goddess figured it was my turn or something. Whew! I’m probably going to have to think of something else entirely for next year, since I’ve used up most of the green fabric for the embroidery, and I’m not sure what else to make anyway. Napkins?? Hmmmm…

I got a little bored quilting the placemats (okay, really bored!), so I decided to do some Pfaff vs. Bernina experiments with my machines. If I’m going to do machine guided quilting, I usually use the Pfaff because it has the built-in dual feed, so I started quilting the placemats with the Pfaff 2056, my favorite machine until the Bernie came to live here. When the quilting wasn’t turning out so well, I thought I’d see what the Bernina 440 had to offer with the walking foot. The IDT on the Pfaff is built-in as opposed to being an attachment (which is the big advantage over any machine that doesn’t have the IDT from Pfaff’s point of view). However, there’s also only one set of “teeth” on the top feeding the fabric and the teeth are centered, so they’re not really connecting with the other feed dogs down below.

On the Bernina, the walking foot attachment has two sets of “teeth” (though they’re not teeth, but rubberized feet), one on each side of the needle. These rubberized feet are connecting with the feed dogs below, which would be the advantage from Bernina’s point of view. Both points of view are valid, but I’d never really tested all of it myself to see which was better.

Frankly, neither machine came out with head and spool holders above the other. The IDT on the Pfaff and the walking foot attachment on the Bernina seem to perform equally well, and it’s only other seemingly unrelated issues that make any difference at all. When I’m tackling a project that requires even feeding like quilting straight lines or in the ditch, I usually set my zig zag stitch on the Pfaff to zero for the width and .5mm for the length, and I can save that custom stitch parameter in the machine so that it defaults to those settings. Then when it’s time to put down locking stitches to secure the beginning and end of the quilting line, I can just switch stitches which is easier and requires fewer button presses than changing the stitch length on the straight stitch.

While that technique in itself works fine, I’ve never been entirely happy with the stitch quality on the Pfaff when the stitches are .5mm long. The stitches seem to pile up on either the top or bottom at least half of the time, and the starting and ending points on the line of quilting aren’t as nice looking as they should or could be. I’ve tried using larger or smaller needles, but it is always the same, no matter the weight of the thread. The only time this doesn’t seem to be an issue is with #100 silk thread, but the thread is so fine that maybe it’s happening with it too, but it’s just too small and fine to really see the problem.

I almost think that the locking stitches need to be just a tad longer, like .6mm or .7mm, but sadly, the stitch length on the Pfaff isn’t adjustable to that degree, only to the next half millimeter which is too long. On the other hand, the Bernina makes lovely locking stitches, no matter what combination of threads and needles I’ve used, and the stitch length on the Bernina is adjustable by tenth millimeters, so there’s much more opportunity to really get it right. I can also set the zig zag stitch for a zero width and .6 or .7mm for the locking stitches, and the machine saves this custom setting automatically until it’s turned off, so switching stitch lengths is even easier. One point to Bernina.

Unfortunately, the Bernina has other issues. When I’m sewing a straight line, whether it’s strip piecing or quilting a straight line on a quilt, I’ll usually start out kind of slow and then build up some speed until I have to slow down again to readjust fabric or quilt, and then speed up again. The Bernina doesn’t handle this well at all. The faster you drive, the shorter the stitches become, which is a really sub-optimal response to a change in speed. Note that this is not driving over bumps in the road like thick seam allowances either, this is just straight stitching on even thicknesses. This happens with and without the walking foot attachment, so it’s not just a multiple layers problem, but it’s on the quilting stitches that it’s really annoying since we’d like them all to be the same size, right?

Here’s a picture (click for a larger version) to illustrate exactly what I mean. On the top line, I’ve stitched pretty slowly, and on the bottom I’ve stitched faster, then slower then faster again, and you can see that all of it is smaller, and terribly inconsistent:

Stitch Length issues

And the point goes to the Pfaff on the stitch length issue, since none of my Pfaff machines have ever had this problem. I wonder if that’s due to the built-in dual feed. I know if I use the Pfaff with the dual feed disengaged, the stitches are smaller because the fabric is not being fed as positively from the top and the bottom, but I’ve never had a Pfaff put down an inconsistent stitch length based on machine speed.

Bottom line: there’s no clear winner here, and no perfect dream machine. If I use the Bernina, the locking stitches look better, but then I have to remember to keep my speed consistent because even a little variation can show up in the stitch length. If I use the Pfaff, the locking stitches leave something to be desired. *sigh* Will there ever be a dream machine with perfection built right in?

2 thoughts on “Christmas gifts and Pfaff vs. Bernina experiments

  1. I just bought the Pfaff Expression 3.0…stitch quality on the .5mm is great! Go take a look at it & see what you think!

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