My Saturday Evening Companion

>> Sunday, January 23, 2011

My new sewing machine arrived earlier this week. Once I made a decision about what to get, I thought the hard part was over. But ordering a sewing machine is, it turns out, a complicated affair. First, the sewing machine industry may as well be run by the mob, given the racket companies insist on maintaining. From what I can glean, the major sewing machine manufacturers do their best to suppress information by requiring their retailers to keep prices off the web and limiting markets such that retailers can only sell to people within a certain geographic realm. A lot of retailers only carry 1-2 brands and don't necessarily have a full selection, thus limiting options as well. For example, I stopped by a local Bernina dealer and the very nice saleswoman informed me that she only carried machines under $300 or over $850. And then only some of the models. While I've heard fantastic stories about strong relationships between sewers and their local dealers, I wasn't getting that vibe in my area. And I move around, so even the best local dealer is not going to be able to help me when I'm 1000 miles away.

While I'm sure there are magical dealers out there somewhere that stock all brands and machines in every price range, that seemed not to be the case in my area. I thus moved online, where the sewing-machine-mafia continues to enforce its will. Internet dealers seem to carry more brands but often not the most recent models. For my needs, that was just fine.

I ordered a Janome MC4400 from Sew Vac Direct. Or tried to. As you may be able to see above, my machine is not a 4400 as they were sold out (but still available to order). I received an email from them that included a link to the MC5200. I didn't realize that I was supposed to tell them that this would be a suitable replacement until I called. And I called because they told me that I needed to add my shipping address (where I'm currently living) to my credit card (which goes to my home address where I'm not currently living). I didn't want to do this.

From Sew Vac Direct's perspective, this request centered on preventing fraud. From my perspective, this was absurd: do you add an address to your credit card account every time you send a gift from an online retailer? Moreover, when it comes to credit card companies, I believe in keeping everything as straightforward as possible; otherwise, bills will inevitably be sent to the wrong address (even if you usually get them online) and somehow payments won't be recorded and the interest rate will skyrocket and your credit score will plummet (even if you pay your bills in full online every month). It's just the way of life with credit cards: if their is an opportunity to mess with you, they will, so do everything to avoid it.

Several phone conversations later, Sew Vac Direct agreed to send the machine to my parents' house because they could confirm -- online -- that they lived there, which apparently they couldn't do for my brother's address. There are substantive issues with fraud-prevention that assumes what kind of information can be gleaned or confirmed online: it doesn't surprise me that my parents are linked to their single-family-home-in-the-suburbs-in-which-they've-lived-for-30-years address while my brother is not tied to his apartment-in-the-city address. I recognize that fraud prevention is especially important for small, internet-based companies that sell goods valued in the hundreds of dollars, but there must be better methods than those that (unintentionally, I think) discriminate by housing type and location.

In any event, despite my frustration with the ordering process, I actually think Sew Vac Direct is a great company from whom to order. First, they did respond to my emails and notes in the order form. Second, when I called them, I talked to real people and real people who could get things done. Nothing is more frustrating than calling and talking to robots (which was my experience with those devils at Comcast earlier this week, but I digress). Their employees were responsive and ultimately made this order happen. Third, they answered my questions about the MC5200 and sent me, gratis, 2 extra feet that didn't come with the machine but I wanted. Therefore, in the end, I would recommend buying from them, and I share my earlier frustrations to be informative and suggest, publicly, that there are better fraud-prevention mechanisms out there.

I'm now spending a good amount of time with the manual and the machine. Indeed, it was a lovely Saturday evening of getting to know you -- figuring out how you work, determining what makes you zing (or wince), and how to use all sorts of features I'd only heard about before. After all this, I think my machine needs a name. Any suggestions?

Thus far, some of my favorite features are the needle up/down programming (not shown here), the window onto the bobbin (so helpful to know if it's going to run out soon), and all those amazing markings to identify seam allowances and distances for quilting (at least that's what I'll use it for!). More updates soon!


Molly January 23, 2011 at 6:37 PM  

Congratulations on your new machine! I found similar problems last year when I went to buy a new machine. I was all geared up and ready to buy a higher end machine but found there were no dealers near me and all the websites didn't list prices. I finally bought a Singer from Sew Vac Direct and was happy with their service but I wasn't ready to plunk down megabucks on a machine that I couldn't even try first, especially if there was no local place I could go for help or service. Perplexing!

I'm glad you love your machine and I hope you have many happy years together :)

Sarah January 23, 2011 at 8:24 PM  


Good to hear you were so successful with online shopping. I tried to look online but found it so hard I gave up and went to a dealer -- which was not a happy decision especially since some local sewing friends have told me they don't trust this particular one. But as you said, it's a whole crazy mafia and getting a particular brand of machine can mean settling for a particular dealer.

I don't get how the manufacturers have been able to keep such control. Surely it'd only take one of the good qualities guys to break ranks and they'd all have to?

We should call up the FCC!!

Abby and Stephanie January 24, 2011 at 7:37 AM  

Oh dear what an ordeal. I'm fortunate to be near one of those amazing sewing shops the owner has had for 30+ years and carries every model of the machine brand she stocks. You can just sit and play then go home with a mahcine in hand. I hope you love your new machine. I love Janome.

Lee January 24, 2011 at 11:10 AM  

I know, seriously? What is up with the way sewing machines are sold? It's like they haven't moved beyond the 1950s. When I bought a machine, I tried to order it online, but eventually gave up. And I didn't especially like working with my local dealers. The whole process was very intimidating. I'm glad I'm not the only one who feels that way.

Anyway, enjoy your new machine, now that you've finally got it home! Can't wait to see what you make with it!

~Michelle~ January 24, 2011 at 1:50 PM  

ooh, new toy!! I love the idea of the bobbin window - I tend to ignore mine though & end up with problems anyway. I don't know anything about Janomes - is the bobbin a drop-in? (ie, no fiddling around with the bobbin case & tension??)

Micki January 24, 2011 at 6:14 PM  

It looks like a fun machine! Enjoy!

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