Monday, April 22, 2013

janome coverpro 1000 cp

So here's the official introduction. Blogosphere, meet Durant, my coverstitch machine. Unless Erin can back me up, I'm probably the only seamster in the world who names his/her machines after NBA players, as a way to combine my two nonparallel hobbies of sewing clothes and watching basketball. My serger is named Ibaka, after the (ahem, quite good-looking) power-forward Serge Ibaka from the Oklahoma City Thunder (I'd recommend this photo if you're interested). I thought the next best step was to name my new machine after another OKC player, Kevin Durant. Now my machines are a slam dunk duo. Get it?

If you don't know what a coverstitch machine does, lemme briefly fill you in. It hems knit fabric to maintain its stretch. If you look at the hems of your store-bought tanks and tees, you'll notice the double line of stitching with a looped or chained stitch underneath. That's the coverstitch at work. The machine can also bind necklines and attach elastic. And uh, yep, that's about it. Because of their limited functionality, most home sewers can easily do without one, and if they choose to do so, they can "fake" the look with an overlocker and a twin needle. 

There are only a few stand-alone coverstitch machines on the market for the average Joe sewer, and are typically only sold through dealers. The rest are industrial grade (read: cost a million bux and weigh a million lbs) or are part of a serger/coverstitch combo machine. I hear the combo machines are cumbersome to switch back and forth, removing the serger knife, etc., and I'm happy with my exising serger, so I decided to go the ideal route and get a coverstitch machine all of its own. Due to limited space, Durant lives on the floor, though, instead of on the table with his teammates.

This was a total luxury purchase, I completely admit. I do work with knit fabric quite a bit, and despite knowing most of the proper techniques for hemming and finishing them, I would always stress when it came time to hem anything stretchy -- because of the high risk for wavy stretched-out hems and distorted necklines. I wasn't happy with the twin needle hemming method, because my fabric always tunneled between the stitches, it never zig zagged properly on the underside no matter what I tried, and they would easily snap on close-fitting garments that need a lot of stretching to get on and off. So as a birthday gift to myself, I bought a coverstitch machine to create more professional-looking garments. It hems garments quickly and evenly, and is much stretchier than a twin needle or zig zag finish. 

I bought a used CoverPro through the classifieds on Pattern Review. Pattern Review is a pretty amazing resource for machine reviews, I discovered. See here for reviews of the model I have. Despite how janky the website looks and how difficult it can be to navigate, PR seems to be where all the smart sewers go to dole out advice by the boatload... and there's at least 10 years of info on there. I pored through reviews of all the stand-alone coverstitch brands, and ultimately came down to a decision between the Janome CoverPro and the Brother 2340CV due to good reviews for their relatively low prices. The other brands available are Bernina and Babylock but if you know anything about sewing machines, you know those are higher end ($ cha ching $). Some reviewers grumbled about the Brother not have auto tension release, whatever that means, so I just decided I'd start my search for Janome CoverPro. And sure enough, that evening, an ad came up on the Pattern Review classifieds from a woman selling her barely-used CoverPro 1000CP with all the accessories included. The CP is actually no longer made -- they have a CPX now, but from what I read, the X has a new threading diagram and a seam tightening system (?) but that's about the only difference.


The Janome CoverPro 1000CP has capability for a triple needle coverstitch. I was attracted to this functionality because it meant you had freedom to adjust the needle spacing for double stitching -- using two needles spaced narrowly apart (one in the far left and one in the middle), or two needles spaced wide apart (one in the far left and one in the far right). Apparently some other coverstitch machines have only the option for double needles and you can't adjust their spacing. So far I've only used a single needle (which makes a simple chainstitch) and a narrow double needle. A single chainstitch can be useful for basting a garment together; it's much easier to undo since the coverstitch thread just unravels if it's not secured in a seam allowance or otherwise bound off.

The differential feed and stitch length can be adjusted based on the stretchiness and weight of your fabric. This is easy to figure out if you're used to adjusting the differential feed on your serger. I naively hoped that a coverstitch would automatically know how to sew perfectly on stretchy fabric, but of course (of course) it is still up to the human user to adjust tension and differential feed settings in order to prevent puckering and waviness. Of course. Still, though, it is MUCH easier to get an even stitch and an even hem with a coverstitch, rather than serging and turning or turning and zig zagging. And the final polished look is so much more gratifying than a zig zag stitch.

The CoverPro is incredibly easy to thread. The lower looper can be thread in three steps, probably taking a total of 15 seconds. Then all you have to do is thread your needles, which is intuitive for any sewer.

What's unique about the CoverPro is that it is designed to look like a sewing machine, with the free arm, the open space to the right of the needle, and all the knobs on the right side. As far as I know, it's the only coverstitch with that open workspace; the other brands are designed more like sergers. There's plenty of workspace and you can coverstitch something that is more in the middle of the garment, instead of just on the bottom. And with the free arm, you can more easily stitch a sleeve hem in the round.

Nurse, scalpel please.

The thing about coverstitch machines is that if you want to use them to their full potential, you have to buy the expensive attachments to go with them. A Janome base plate (the metal piece you see at the bottom of the photo above) is currently retailing on eBay for $125. And that's just the plate, not the binders or the feet or anything else! Additional accessories include two sizes of binders (which attach binding to necklines), a clear foot to help you see where to reconnect your stitches when you hem in the round (why isn't this standard?!), the center seam foot that helps the double needles perfectly straddle a seam, and the coverhem guide to help you keep your hem even. Luckily, the woman who sold me her CoverPro had the base plate and almost all the Janome brand name attachments (except something having to do with elastic), which she said cost her $300 total. Ouch. She was amazing and extremely organized, so she also sent me a three-ring binder (the office supply kind of binder) with instructions she had printed out for using all the attachments:

There were tutorials in there she had found from sewing blogs about different features and functions of the coverstitch. The benefit of buying a machine through the Pattern Review classifieds instead of eBay or Craigslist is that you have access to the seller's profile, their history of sewing and their participation in the online sewing community. It felt more trustworthy coming from someone who was an active seamstress and most likely took good care of her machines. She even took the coverstitch to her dealer for one last check-up before shipping it my way.

Since I bought it in January, I've used my CoverPro to hem four dresses and one skirt, attach elastic lace binding to make underwear, and bind the neckline on a knit dress. Overall I'm pretty pleased with the coverstitch results on all those garments. Check out my underoos:

I found it pretty easy to get up and running with the basics with some help from the manual and Debbie Cook's blog, though for the most part there is not much information online about how to use this specific machine aside from Janome-sponsored resources. This is due to the fact that not many people own coverstitch machines, much less the Janome brand of coverstitch, much less have blogs or YouTube channels where they want to blab about it. Pattern Review helps, but it's a non-visual platform.

I'll admit the attachments are intimidating at first. I finally got my act together and tried out the narrow binder for the first time yesterday. This gadget is crazy looking and I can't believe I've incorporated something so... industrial and, I dunno...metallic and snake-like in my sewing. It certainly eliminates some of the potential for human error when it comes to stitching perfectly along an edge while catching both layers of binding:

You have to bind the neckline in the flat, meaning you leave one shoulder seam unsewn and then serge it together after it's bound.

This is an example of where the machine has had issues: the tension sometimes gets wonky if you have to stitch over another seam. It struggles to climb over the bulk, and then the lower looper thread freaks out. This one was particularly challenging, because I was trying to bind the neckline on a princess-seamed dress, so there were four serged seams for the machine to fumble over in addition to the one shoulder seam. And the binding itself has four layers to stitch through. The binding looked fine from the outside, but a hot mess at all the seams:

Euw. So, I still have a lot to learn about binding and traversing over bulky seams. It hems like a champ, though. No wavy hems, yee haw, and I'm getting better at catching the raw edge exactly under the needles. Even with a fancy machine and crazy doo-dad attachments, you still need to measure and press accurately. I hate to say.

And since I'm sure you miss seeing my face already, here's me in my new red ponte knit dress, skirt and sleeves hemmed and neckline bound with the help of Durant. That KD, he's a man of many talents.

The pattern is Vogue 8665, severely de-flared.. believe it or not.

I hope this overview was helpful for anyone considering taking the plunge into coverstitch territory. Full disclosure: I paid over US$600 for the machine (barely used, and with all the accessories), so it's not a purchase to take lightly. But when it's your hobby and passion, yada ya...

So who's thinkin' about it? Does anyone else own this same machine? A different brand? What's your opinion? Am I crazy to spend that kind of money on something non-essential? Am I crazy to name my machines after pro athletes? Don't answer that.