Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Pfaff Quilt Expression 4 - 6 month review
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.
- 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.
- 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....
The two peices I want to sew together.
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.
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.