Before sewing the yurt, my experience with sewing machines was limited. I’ve used a second hand Lewenstein for more than 10 years, then my grandmothers Toyota, and now my Janome DC4030. They are all home sewing machines and are quite different from industrial machines. It was very interesting and exciting to experience industrial sewing, and I thought you might like to see what it’s all about. So let me introduce to you: Mrs. Pfaff.

Mrs. Pfaff 1
Mrs Pfaff Thread Spools

She’s an old lady and she’s had some revisions already. Despite her age she hasn’t lost her value: she goes for around €1200 still. She is powered by an external motor that hangs under the table. A loop belt connects the motor to the side of the machine, making it turn. Just as with sergers, you use big thread spools that are perched behind the machine. Which makes sense if you think of the context in which these machines are supposed to be used. When you have hundreds of meters of fabric being fed through each day, you need big spools.

Double needle

This model does a single or a double needle stitch. It can be used to make a double seam or a double topstitched seam. Man, think of how easy topstitching jeans on this machine would be! The foot has two independent moving parts that act like a walking foot. There is less chance of the top fabric shifting and it’s easier to feed heavy fabrics through. The pressure can also be adjusted according to how thick a layer you’re sewing.

Mrs. Pfaff Bobbins
Bobbin winder

Two needles require two bobbins, which work the same way as in other machines. When one is finished it’s best to change the other too, so you won’t have to bother with that again a short time after. You don’t have to stop, cut your thread and use it to wind a new bobbin though, the machine does that while you’re sewing! You push the bobbin onto its pin on the side, wind the thread a couple of times and then push a little handle that swings the mechanism forward so it touches the belt that runs the sewing machine. There’s a third thread spool on the rack just to wind the bobbins. You can then start sewing. When the bobbin is full, it automatically swings back from the belt and you can put an empty bobbin on.

Mrs Pfaff pedals

So that’s one advantage, not having to deal with winding bobbins. Another feature is the two pedals. The big one on the right is the usual one that you push to sew. The other one lifts the presser foot. You know that moment when you’ve positioned the fabric just so, you’re using both hands and then you have to pull the pressure foot lever and your fabric shifts again? Well this pedal is super handy for that. When you need to lift the foot just a little to get over a bump you can do that. When you’ve put the foot up with the lever, you can put it down with the pedal, too. So you can keep both hands on the fabric and get it just right.

Mrs Pfaff Guide
Exterior canvas

The best thing about an industrial sewing machine however must be its strength. Mrs. Pfaff can sew anything. She is right at home in this atelier with all the other power tools. I had to sew a lot of heavy waterproof canvas and even some thick vinyl with the flat felled seam guide. This guide is amazing in itself: you just feed the fabric through from two sides, it folds around each other and the two needles do the rest. No doing one seam, cutting, pressing and sewing again. Again, imagine how many jeans could you make in one day! (Yes I’ve got jeans on my mind). So I had to do a flat felled seam with a double layer of vinyl and a layer of heavy canvas, and I was doubting this would work. I mean, 4 layers of vinyl and 2 layers of canvas? Mrs Pfaff just laughed at me and said bring it on. Like a knife through butter, I tell you! Amazing.

Mrs. Pfaff 2

Needless to say I want one now. I was a little disappointed with my Janome after my fling with Mrs. Pfaff. It trembled and protested at 4 layers of calico. Tss. But you know, since I’m mostly sewing clothes and not yurts, I think it will do fine for now. I think Mrs. Pfaff would just eat knit fabrics so she’s not perfect either. I’m turning into a sewing machine geek! There’s a beautiful Singer treadle I spotted at the second hand store and I want that one too. I have no idea where I’ll put them in our little yurt, but maybe I can hide them in a convertibele closet or something. Maybe I should build a yurt just for my sewing machines.

So I’m curious, do you have experience with industrial sewing machines? What’s your opinion? If you have one, what do you use it for?

8 Comments

  1. Beth

    : Reply to Beth

    Industrial machines always seemed so mysterious to me…thank you for de-mystifying them a bit! Of course, now I want one…

    • Lisa Kievits

      :

      Me too! But they’re actually pretty straightforward, they just work differently. It’s all mechanics, no digital stuff.

  2. Ms. McCall

    : Reply to Ms.

    Wow, that is one beautiful sewing machine. I love the idea of the pedals, I’ll bet that’s a life saver with tricky stuff, not to mention just knowing that it’s going to power through what ever you throw at it!

    Does the flat fell feeder work by having different seam allowances? I thought I read that somewhere. It would be weird to cut out my pattern pieces with different seam allowances, but pretty nice if all the flat felling was done in one pass!

    • Lisa Kievits

      :

      I don’t think so! It seems both sides are equal in length. Reason I’m not sure is that with such volumes we didn’t even factor in seam allowances. I’m guessing it was about an inch.

  3. Leigh

    : Reply to Leigh

    I’ve done a couple of short courses at the London School of Fashion, where they use industrial machines. They were really tricky to adjust if you needed to, and tended to have one speed – FAST. They were very much one trick ponys. I much prefer my Bernina 807. She’s very for giving!

    • Lisa Kievits

      :

      Oh I wish I had acces to courses like that. And you’re right about the speed, it does go really fast. But I have noticed I sew much faster on my Janome now because I got used to it.

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