Re: Sewing Machine: Long Arm worth the extra $?
I think Tejas gave you excellent advice. I'm just starting to get into sewing. I made cushions last season and did some sail repair using my wife's home-grade Singer, but that machine can't handle some of the thicker fabrics that I want to use for new projects. Anyway, I think I'd prioritize as follows:
1) Commercial-grade machine - industrial machines are typically purpose-built and do only one thing, but do it really well, quickly, and reliably. Commercial machines have more flexibility, are typically made of all metal parts, and have decent motors to drive them. These can usually handle several layers of sailcloth (think about what's needed where you're sewing reinforcement patches) or Sunbrella. Most of these will have the rotary hook that Tejas mentioned.
2) Zigzag - really need this for bigger sails, in addition to the straight stitch that you'll want for the bimini/dodger and other pieces. If you can get one that does a double step zigzag (I think that's what it's called), that's even better. That's where each "line" in the zigzag is actually two different stitches, rather than just one.
3) Walking foot - Becomes more of a necessity as you get into the multi-layer jobs.
4) Long arm - Nice as the size of the piece increases. Especially useful on sails or other jobs where you'll actually be sewing in the middle of the project, not just around the edges.
As I said, I'm still learning the black art of sewing, but that's my take.
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