Personally, I own two machines, but I've had experience with a few different ones, all for heavier workloads in my college's Costume Shop. I'll only list the one I use the most though.
The older of the two that I own is a Kenmore (Model #385.15108200) that I got maybe 6 years ago as a gift. For being a cheaper machine (around $150ish when I got it), it hasn't given me any problems at all, even when I was using it to sew through several layers of upholstery vinyl. It's incredibly easy to thread and has a front loading bobbin which I love. It's been through four moves, has been dropped, knocked over, and even survived being in the trunk when I was rear-ended a while back, and it runs just fine. The tension's never given me problems and I haven't had to have it serviced yet. The only thing I don't like about it is that if I'm running it on a folding table or a flimsier surface, it'll rattle the table like there's no tomorrow. It's easy to use even for someone who's never touched a machine before. ...I just wish I could find where I put the buttonhole foot when I moved this last time.
The newer of the two is a Singer Ultralock Serger 14SH654 which was about $129-ish when I bought it in 2004. It's currently buried somewhere in the room and as you can probably tell from my enthusiasm, I bought it but rarely use it. It's not that I don't like it, I do, but the tension NEVER stays set, it's always coming unthreaded, and it's incredibly temperamental. Maybe it's just that I lack the patience to sit and play with it every time I want to use it but I'm sure it could be a good machine if it would just keep tension. I don't enjoy taking the tweezers it came with to re-thread it every time it screws up and a thread breaks/comes unthreaded. Kind of a headache.
The one that sees the most use in the shop, and the one that I'd take home with me if I could is the Bernina 1008. That thing has got to be the quietest machine I've ever seen and it runs beautifully. It's simple and friendly enough for beginners to use (we start the Craft of Costume I class on it and work up to the other machines) and can handle just about anything thrown at it with ease. Like my Kenmore, the threading is a 4-step process and the bobbin's a front-loader. We've used it on everything from sewing ring-tape onto yards of scrim to vinyls and upholstery fabrics without so much as a hitch. The only thing I hate about it is the price tag! $700+ for a sewing machine for someone who's looking for something to help with a hobby is a little much, and that's what Bernina considers "affordable". ...yeah, maybe for someone who makes a living at the machine, but definitely not the casual cosplayer.
My sister has the Brother that I'd used prior to getting my Kenmore. In a word, she HATES it. Tension is always off, it's always in need of servicing, and the bobbin setup is constantly getting jammed. This machine is why I will NOT buy one that has a top-loading bobbin and why I won't touch the New Home in the shop. I'd sooner try to sew circles with an Industrial than deal with top-loaders again.
Last edited by Marika : 09-24-2009 at 05:31 PM.