Tuesday, 16 August 2011

Pfaff Quilt Expression 4 - 6 month review

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In January 2011 I purchased my first proper quilting machine. Like many people, I chose to do a lot of research first .

I eventually narrowed it down to either a Bernina 440QE or the Pfaff Quilt Expression 4.

After testing both machines for myself, I felt I was getting more for my money with the Pfaff. I have no doubt that Bernina machines are great quality, reliable machines, but I wanted all the bells and whistles for the money, and for this reason, I felt the Bernina was a overpriced.

I then went on to research as much as possible on the Pfaff before I commited.

I found a review by Emily from Carolina Patchworks found HERE. Both the posts and its comments were helpful. Aneelas blogpost from comfortstitching found HERE. also made for interesting reading.

Six months on, I've made a few more quilts and tested more of the features. Here are my thoughts.

Things I was told by my dealer before I bought my machine:

- Use a good quality thread, they sold Gutterman and Coats cotton/polyester, so thats what I use.

- Most errors are human error, so always think about what YOU might be doing wrong before blaming your machine and make sure you thread your machine properly. Here is a LINK for how to thread your machine and bobbin correctly.

Pros:

- Integrated Dual Feed. Having to unscrew and re-screw to attach/remove the bulky, noisy, walking foot on my old machine was not only a pain to do, it caused visible wear and tear on my machine.

- The knee lift. I never had one on my old machine and someone told me to give it a try and I'd never go back, they were right, I can easily adjust my work without moving my hands from my project.

- Thread cutter - I love this, although sometimes, its not that reliable. It does get clogged up quickly which prevents it from working. I thinks its probably the thread im using, even though I was told Gutterman is a good brand, it does seem to create a lot of lint but there is a manual cutter aswell so I can use this till I find an alternative thread.

- Needle threader These come pretty much standard on new machines but I wouldn't be without mine now.

- Large throat/harp space, this makes quilting larger quilts a lot easier. I went from a machine that had a very small throat space so in this case, yes, size does matter.

- The quilters toolbox This was included with my machine.(R.R.P £139) which includes a perspex table, a straight stitch plate (which has been great as the machine tends not to “eat” the fabric on bulky seams like it can with the regular stitch plate), a quarter inch foot, a free motion open toe quilting foot (to be used only in spring motion setting) and a free motion guide grip.

- Speed Regulator- especially useful for FMQ.

- Automatic Tie Off, - again, a great time saver. I just press one button and its done.

- Bobbin winding through the eye of the needle- saves me having to re thread the machine.

- Straight stitch number 51 This makes for a really tidy tie off to the surface of your work, as you can see here stitch number 1 leaves a much bulkier finish.

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Cons:

- The included sensormatic free motion foot. It has very poor visibility.

- There should be a foot catalogue that comes with the machine. The manual says to only use the sensormatic foot for free motion in sensormatic mode. It does not tell you there is an alternative foot with much better visibility available for you to buy which also works in sensormatic mode. This foot can be found HERE.

Pfaff tell me they have stopped including feet catalogues as new feet are always coming out and they cant keep up with turning around catalogues.
You would think consulting the Pfaff U.K website would help you see what other presser feet are available, and if any new presser feet have come out, but every time you click on the presser feet link it says “ The page cannot be found” Thankfully you can still see what feet are available on the U.S.A website HERE

- This machine dosn't like bulky seams. I wouldn't even call them that bulky, just two half square triangle pieces that I want to sew together. The machine just wouldn't feed them through and kept sewing on the spot, so I took it back to my dealer to find out if I was doing something wrong....

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The two peices I want to sew together.

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The two seams my machine has trouble feeding through.

The Tech explained that when you BEGIN any seam that has a hill (i.e bulk) then the foot has to tilt upwards to go up that hill resulting in the machines foot having less contact with the feed dogs, and if there is no fabric at the back of that seam then it has nothing to grip on to to help feed the fabric through. This sounded logical enough to me, but the seam wasn’t that bulky and I wanted to know what I could do about it.

So he said what I need is a fabric spacer. Up until then I had no idea what a fabric spacer was, I've read many quilting blogs and even googled fabric spacer and still found nothing, but according to the technician, all the quilters he knows, use one.

Its a little piece of scrap fabric which you put directly behind and on top of the seam you want to sew but being careful not to catch it under your needle. This helps pull through the fabric that you want to sew. He said he dosn't know why it worked but it does, and he's right, after testing it myself, it does work. Not every time, but it definitely helps.

When I asked him if this only happens with the QE4 he said this happens with all machines as they all have the same basic design... I wasn't convinced at the time, as I have only owned a couple of machines and wasn't putting bulky seams through them at that point so cant really compare this, but his explanation as to why this happens seems logical. He also went on to say that the QE4 is still one of their best selling machines to date.

So if you have ever used or are using another brand of machine, does this happen with yours? perhaps when making half square triangles or kaleidescopes?

My next test was to see how it copes with bulky seams which occurred in the middle of my work rather then the beginning, because, if what the technician said was correct, then the QE4 shouldn't have a problem with this, due to the fabric at the back having enough contact with the feed dogs.

The project was my kaleidoscope quilt, where there are 6 seams which need to be sewn together. The machine struggled with the bulk as the stitches became smaller and closer together over the bulk of that seam. I have since read that adjusting the presser foot pressure and increasing the stitch length may help, so I will fiddle around with this in future projects.

- Low bobbin Indicator- I’m not sure why this tells me my bobbin is low when its really not as low as it could be, it gets annoying as I still have loads of thread left that I don’t intend to waste, and I cant check my settings or change them till Iv pressed the button to get rid of the diagram that pops up. I'd like to be able to turn this off for FMQ. This is especially problematic in spring foot free motion mode as the machine automaticly stops whilst you are quilting and you cannot continue till you refill the bobbin. This is a waste of thread, so now what I do is save the low bobbin for regular stitching. It means you need lots of spare bobbins if your planning on doing lots of free motion work, but at least your not wasting thread, so be sure to stock up.

- 1/4 inch foot After reading Emilys review on the veering ¼ inch foot, I had to have a go myself to understand what she meant.
I could only find veering with the foot if I took my hands off the fabric, and this happened with all the other feet I tested aswell. The 0 foot, the 1 foot and the 2 foot, although I did notice that the wider the foot was the less it wanted to veer, but as I place my hands on my fabric to help guide it through its not a major issue but a little more stability would be nice..

Those are my list of pros and cons but I just wanted to cover a few extra things.

Free Motion Quilting – Spring motion mode.

I felt this needed a mention as I wanted my new machine to make FMQ easier for me.

My first attempt at this didn’t go so well, I use an old bed sheet as practice and the machine didn’t like the poly/cotton blend at all. As soon as I switched to 100% cotton fabric, I had no more skipped stitches.

I recently dedicated a whole day to FMQ. I bought myself a supreme slider which makes the fabric MUCH easier to move around. It allowed me to keep my feed dogs up, so it didnt mess with tension as per Daystyledesigns post found HERE http://www.daystyledesigns.com/doihavetodropmyfeeddogs.htm , but covered them up so that it didn’t produce any drag on my fabric.

I sat at my machine for hours and methodically tested various threads, battings, tensions and needles. I could use pretty much any thread without problems, as long as I got the correct tension/ needle combination for the thread and batting. I don’t suppose Pfaff will ever release a book on various fabric/batting/thread combinations/needles and the correct tension for each one but it would be so handy!!

In spring motion mode, the foot was better designed for visibility. What I liked was the option of setting the speed on my machine so that I could hit my foot to the floor and it would maintain the same speed. I could focus just on moving the fabric at a constant speed which resulted in stitches that were more consistant and uniform then without this feature.

Sensormatic free motion mode.

Due to the poor design of the included sensormatic foot, I have not had the chance to play around with this feature yet. Eventually, I will be ordering the new improved sensormatic foot so I should be able to report on this for my Pfaff 1 year review.

The Improved.

So, whats new with the QE4? They have thrown the quilters toolbox in with the price. This includes a table which creates a nice flat surface and a straight stitch plate which helps prevent the fabric from being eaten, which was also a previous problem.

The older machines (Originally made in Sweden) had a problem with the thread jumping off the take up lever. The newer machines (Now made in China) have a black plastic attachment on the take up lever that you can just see if you raise the needle to the top. On the subject of the Sweden/China debate, understandably I was concerned that the manufacturing had moved to China.

I have been assured that there are strict quality controls for Pfaff machines, indeed, mine is made in China yet I cannot see any new problems that have developed from the machine being made in China. Any quality concerns don't seem to have reared their ugly head after 6 months use anyway.

Improvements I'd like to see.

- Bobbin low indicator switch off, or make sure it tells me when its actually low!

- I chose this machine instead of a Bernina 440QE, but I do wish the Pfaff had a stitch regulator.

- The new open toe sensormatic foot should be included with the machine.

- A new quarter inch foot, with no recess (as I feel this may be causing the veering) that can be used with the dual feed that comes with the machine. I want something wider as using the 2 foot gave me a little more stability but it dosn’t have the quarter inch mark and I cant use it with my dual feed.

I would absoloutly love to test the Bernina 440QE for a few months to see how it compares to this machine, should Bernina want to throw one my way I would be delighted to review it!

The next 6 months.

- I will be seeing if changing to a thread that dosn’t produce as much lint makes any difference to the thread cutter working.

- I will be testing out the sensormatic mode with the new foot.

- I will be looking into finding a quarter inch foot that provides more stability.

- I will try adjusting the presser foot pressure on bulky seams to see if it handles them better.

Well, the jurys still out on my feelings towards this machine. All top of the line machines have a learning curve and I feel like I need to have a few more months with it. One things for sure,- you cant beat the features of this machine for the price.

25 comments:

  1. Loved reading this very thorough review. I have a Pfaff Classic Style Fashion machine- was a gift and although not designed for quilting, does have the IDT which I love. I love this machine but have had the same issues with the HST. Mine is a few years older and was made in the Czech Republic. I recently switched to Aurifil thread and it makes a huge difference. Runs really smoothly in my machine and very little lint. I highly recommend it.

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  2. What a great review - thank you. I was torn between the Pfaff and the Janome 6600 and bought the latter - only because the Pfaff was $600 over my budget!

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  3. Great and very thorough review of this machine. I have an Elna, which I mostly love. My biggest gripe is that when I'm chain piecing, it doesn't do a good job of "catching" the next thing in the chain. My old Singer Featherweight is a PRO at doing this, so I get frustrated when my "sophisticated" machine can't seem to do the same thing. I'm also going to give Aurifil thread a try. I have been using Masterpiece by Superior, which I LOVE, but everyone is raving about Aurifil, so we'll see if it actually makes a difference.

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  4. I've heard fabric spacers called 'leaders and enders' before. You might have better luck googling those terms

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  5. Sometimes I have found if a bulky seam is difficult to feed under at the beginning of the line of stitching....I will begin in about an 1/8th to 1/4 inch in and backstitch to the beginning. Aurifil thread is fantastic! I think you will love it!

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  6. my machine definitely gets a bit caught up with bulk too. i like Mary's backstitching idea, but with things like HSTs or other patterns where the bulk is only at one end, i usually just flip the piece over and work it from the other side.

    i've been having problems doing FMQ, but i've only just recently tried. maybe i need to get my husband to watch our little one for a few hours so i can just sit down and just go at it.

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  7. Thanks for using the time and effort to write something so interesting.

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  8. I also have the Pfaff QE4. I've owned it about two years and absolutely love it. I have several different machines (Berninas and Brothers) in addition, but this is my all time favorite sewing machine. It sews flawlessly virtually all of the time, and only when I have had big thicknesses (think a jeans hem) has it stumbled. I've quilted with it, sewed knits (both cotton and polyester) with it, sewed doll clothes and kid's clothes and home dec stuff, made Halloween costumes out of both slick and filmy stuff and it just keeps purring along.

    I did find that the new, improved 1/4" foot made a great deal of difference on the pulling you talk about. I believe they released three re-engineered feet that gave more foot to feed dogs ratio a year or so ago. I bought all three and love them. They are the Stitch in the Ditch foot with IDT(product #820925-096), the 1/2" Quilting Foot with IDT (product #820926-096) and the 1/4" right guide foot with IDT (product 820924-096).

    I also love the bi-level foot for sewing down quilt binding once it is attached. None of my other machines have anything that can compare to it. The narrow edge foot is another favorite for sewing on things like patch pockets.

    Thanks for pointing out straight stitch #51! I hadn't used it before, but will certainly try it out.

    My one wish is that I could turn off the Auto Foot Lift. I really hate that feature being left on each and every time you start the machine. I rarely want my foot lifted automatically when I use needle down and it irks me that I have to remember to turn it off before I sew.

    I hope you enjoy your machine as much as I've been enjoying mine!

    You can see some of the sewing I do at my blog, www.grandmalovestosew.blogspot.com if you're interested.

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  10. Thanks for the great review, I too have the machine and love it and by reading blogs like yours, I'm learning more all the time.

    Grandma, you can change the setting for the auto foot lift in the main menu by pushing the button with the tools on it and unchecking the box that say auto foot lift, its the last box on the first screen before you scroll down to view the next screen. (hope that makes sense). You do have to do it each time you turn the machine on though, but I agree, it's a very annoying setting.

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  11. I bought the same machine, used. I have been having a horrible time with the FMQ-ing, especially when I go backwards or over just about any seam :-(. Everything else is great, but since I bought it to do my own quilting, I'm getting pretty frustrated. It is an older machine, with the old style take up lever, so I may bring it in to get that fixed. I find that playing with the bobbin tension has helped some too. It's such a HUGE update from my old mechanical 20-stitch machine though that I can't complain much, especially for the price I got it used. My old "New Home" never had the bulk issues, but regularly lost tension settings. The needle down function is great, and I love the auto foot lift feature... Thank you so much for sharing!!

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  12. I'm trawling the net to look for reviews on this machine... I'm having problems with the top tension, it's been back once and it's going back again...

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  13. Thanks for all the info. I bought this machine a year ago and have been happy with it, EXCEPT for FMQ....I keep breaking threads..I have changed to better thread, different needles, purchased the extension table and used car wax to make it slippery....I can only go for a bit before the thread breaks..At one point it was even shirring the thread..I've gotten conflicting information from different employees from the shop I bought it at....I learned that my hands moving the fabric should not be the same speed as the machine and I was forcing the fabric through..so, I've stopped that, but the thread keeps breaking, without the shirring! I am so frustrated...any ideas??

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    1. Carolyn,

      This honestly sounds like a thread issue. How many threads have you tried? And are you using cotton exclusively? I find that cottons break easily in FMQ, try a polyester thread. I have the QE 4.0 and I've found that Isacord thread works better than anything. It's strong and smooth and doesn't lint. I've NEVER had it break. Give it a try and I hope you figure this pesky issue out!

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    2. I'm having the same problem with thread breaking in FMQ as soon as I sew away from me (bringing quilt towards me)I'm using YLI cotton machine quilting thread - don't like polyester, over time it will cut the fabric. It works in my old Pfaff tiptronic; why is the QE4 so sensitive? It should sew first and ask questions later. I'm thinking of getting rid of it and it's only 6 months old.

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  14. l bought an Expression 2 a few months ago and have just done free motion stippling with the thread breaking only once. l used Guiterman cotton thread and am delighted with the results. l love your reviews, please keep them going. l had a 40 year old Singer so you can imagine how much l am enjoying this machine. Carole

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  15. I bought an open-toe spring motion quilting foot and modified the sensor motion foot by cutting out the front for better visibility. Some folks use the regular sewing foot and move the needle over to make a scant 1/4 inch seam.

    I owned a QE4 (Big Bertha) from March 2009 until December 2011. The Pfaff QE4 is an excellent sewing machine and certainly the biggest bang for the buck. The decorative stitches are lovely. It sews the best button holes and bartacks I've ever made. I traded up to buy a Pfaff Creative 2 with the embroidery module.

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  16. thanks for all the information. I have owned this machine for about 9 months. As with others, when FMQ the thread breaks. I love it for piecing, love all the features but the FMQ is miserable. I also have a Bernina 430 which lives in the closet...until I get so frustrated trying to FMQ. How can it be so picky?? I swear I am going to conquer this.......

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  17. I just helped another friend with the issues on her QE 4.o SHe had the new take up lever but was still having a lot of issues FMQing. I showed her how to reduce her pivot height when FMQing and everything improved greatly. SHe had more control and no skipped stitches or eyelashes. I have the same machine and when I'm using Hobbs Heirloom batting, which is fairly thin, my pivot height is at -2 or -3 (I also reduce the top tension - which is a given when FMQing).

    I used to hate FMQing with my QE 4.0 Had so many skipped stitch and eyelash issues with the sensormatic mode and even hated the regular FMQ mode and foot because it hops so much that ven the fabric seems to jump up when the needle goes up. This too, is all solved when lowering the pivot height. The foot does not hop as high (which is so distracting) and the fabric doesn't seem to jump anymore. If you have tried everything else and are still having problems, try adjusting your pivot height - it will make a world of difference!

    I have the open toe sensormatic foot which is lovely, but I get the most visibility using the regular hopping foot in normal fmq mode, but using the modified ankle that Patsy Thompson shows at this link http://www.patsythompsondesigns.com/blog/index.php/archives/852 .I just bought another regular ankle, took a small hacksaw and modified it myself. Now I have clear visibility behind the foot, perfect when you want to do any designs that need backtracking, such as feathers. Sorry for the long comment to your post :) Just wanted to pass on some info that came about after many struggles with my machine - which now FMQ's quite beautifully.

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    1. Very good post Corina, and one that is sure to help others. Like you, I found all this out through trial and error re pivot height. I dont have any FMQ problems at all now with both sensormatic or spring motion, and have heard about the ankle modifications but am yet to try them, thanks for reminding me. Its been a year and a half and I am happier then ever with my machine, the many features the machine has are just wonderful.

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  18. My QE 4.0 , bought in April, 2009, is unuseable
    because the THREAD JUMPS OFF THE TAKE-UP LEVER.
    I had it back to the dealer 5 times; she says that I just don't know how to use the machine. (I have sewn since I was 8 and own 7 machines, 3 of them Pfaffs).
    My attorney wrote her a letter; she did not reply.
    I went thru the Better Business Bureau. She refuses to
    buy back the machine. HELP. Shall I toss it in front of the next bulldozer I see?????????????????

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    1. I have heard this many times, its a problem to do with the older models, and needs a new part attached to the take up lever a little plastic part, if the shop you bought your machine from are unaware of this issue (which I find very surprising- its all over the internet) get them to call Pfaff direct and they should send them the new part free of charge.

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  19. An awesome review and great comments from others. I love Pfaff's and am considering the E4. All this is very helpful in my decision. Thanks!

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  20. Thanks for a very informative and useful review.
    There are a couple of solutions that work very well for starting bulky seams. One is called the Jean-A-Ma-Jig
    http://www.dritz.com/brands/showcase/details.php?ITEM_NUM=915
    and the other is the hump-jumper. http://www.sewforless.com/item/The_Hump_Jumper/5367/c43
    I've used both and like both, though for thick jeans, the Jean A Ma Jig seems better.

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  21. Thank you for your painstaking review. I too have a Pfaff QE4 which I loved at first but have an issue with it that is very frustrating. I found that the needle was breaking with a huge bang over and over again when FMQ-ing. I took it back and the woman in the shop tested it in my absence, but couldn't find anything wrong with it. I then went back later and, luckily, the machine "performed" as before when I tried it in the shop and the needle broke with a sound like a pistol shot! The machine then went back to the workshop and I was told that there was nothing wrong with the machine but that the problem was with the thread spool. I was using thread which is wound round a thin-ish cardboard tube (very common) rather than the traditional "cotton reel" kind which has a top and bottom. It seems that the thread was coming off the spool at speed and looping itself round the spindle even though I had the correct size spool cap in place in the horizontal position. As more and more thread got caught in this way, it tightened and pulled the needle backwards so that it hit the metal stitch plate and snapped. I was advised to use a thread net (which I find very difficult) and to use the spindle in the vertical position. As yet, I've been half afraid to use it for FMQ, but will have to take my courage in both hands and get on with it - my UFOs are calling me! Additionally, the needle threader broke (the little hook came off) very soon after I bought the machine. This is not covered under the extended warranty, but the workshop very kindly replaced it for me free of charge. I would be very interested to know whether anyone else has had the same problem with the thread getting caught and breaking the needle and, if so, whether a solution has been found.

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