I often get asked: “What kind of sewing machine do I need for sewing kites and banners?”  The answer is simple:  any sewing machine will work, providing that it is properly tuned, and set up correctly.  One needs a lot of patience when sewing ripstop nylon.  It is tricky to sew because of the slipperiness.  A sewing machine that is not working properly will get you very frustrated.  If it is a machine that has not been used for a long time (like the Singer I started with), take it to an authorized dealer and get it “tuned up”.  This will probably cost $20 - $25 dollars plus any parts that are needed. 


If you are in the market for a new machine there are a few things to look for:


1. Versatility:  Will the machine sew through multiple layers of Dacron and Seatbelt Webbings while at the same time sew through fine fabrics like .50 and .75 ounce ripstop nylon?  Will the machine feed straight without pushing or pulling?  Is the tension easy to adjust and can it be adjusted so that it is the same on both sides of the fabric?  Can the machine do a nice satin stitch (close zig zag stitches) on 200 denier nylon?   Does it need a special foot for satin stitching?  If so, is it included or must it be purchased as an accessory?  Make sure the stitch width and length are infinitely controllable, or at least “manually overridable” if they are preset.


2   Ease of operation:  Are the machine buttons and dials easy to read/understand?  Is the foot speed control easy to operate at variable speeds?  Can you easily reach the presser foot with you hand?  Some machines have a knee bar that automatically raises the presser foot.  My Bernina 1030 and 830 have this and it is a lifesaver when doing appliqué.  Is the machine easy to clean?  Are the various feet easy to change?  Can you easily use cones of thread instead of the smaller spools?  The “feed dog” pulls the fabric through the machine and I have found there are two types:  1.  The teeth have a zig zag or saw tooth pattern.  2.  The teeth have a “diamond” pattern.  I feel the saw tooth pattern pulls ripstop better.  


3.  Special features:  Does the needle always stop in the up or down position?  Is a walking foot available?  I rarely use a walking foot but I got the vendor to “throw it in with the machine.”  Some machines come with the walking foot already attached to the machine.   What kind of stitches will it perform?  I predominately use three stitches:  straight, zig zag, and multiple (or three step) zig zag.  Usually, the more you pay, the more stitches you get.  If you will never use the others, why pay for them?  Is the sewing surface removable so you can access the free arm?   That comes in handy when doing windsock sleeves.


4.  Long term satisfaction:  What kind of warranty comes with the machine?  Is the vendor an authorized dealer?  What happens if you move; will service be available?  Are sewing lessons included free with purchase of the machine?  Is the machine upgradeable when the new models come out? 


Make sure you take scraps of ripstop, Dacron, seatbelt webbing, and banner nylon along with you when looking for machines.  To save money:  try to find a “left over” model from a previous year.  Sometimes you can purchase a floor model at a reduced cost.  Can your older machine be traded in?  Don’t overlook the newspaper.  There can be good deals on a used machine; just be sure you have a place to take it for repairs.  Some dealers only service the machines they sell.


The most important rule for sewing:  Take your time, don’t rush.  Other tips: keep your machined cleaned and tuned up.  Make sure you follow the manufacturers directions on threading, keep tension adjusted properly, and replace needles often.  This will save you many hours of frustration and will result better-looking stitches.  - Steve u