Monday, June 6, 2016

Pfaff Expression 3.5 ~ A Few Months In

I've had my lovely Pfaff for a few months now. I'm still very much in love with this machine, but I'm now able to give a slightly more objective review of it. Before this, I sewed on my Brother CS6000i, a very good beginner machine that even has a lot of whistles and bells, but I'm really glad to have made the upgrade to my Pfaff Expression 3.5.

My Favorite Things:

  • IDT - of course, the reason I got interested in Pfaff. The IDT is basically a built-in walking foot, and I just love being able to use a lot of different foot on my machine even during the quilting phase. For example, I use the blind hem foot for stitch-in-the-ditch, and sometimes I put on an open-toe applique foot for better visibility.

  • Stitch Look & Tension - I've never, ever had to adjust tension on this machine, it automatically handles that, and with the exception of my messed up bobbin (see Issues) all the stitches came out perfectly. Even when I'm sure my needle is dull, it keeps on stitching perfectly.

  • Automatic Thread Cutter - I love this feature, but it is also a pain (see Issues). When it works though, this little feature makes me feel like I have something really fancy.

  • Automatic Needle Threader - I know this is a very standard feature on a lot of machines, but they're not all the same. With my Brother machine I had previously, though the feature existed it took more maneuvering to get it to thread and it doesn't always work. It always took multiple tries. On this machine, however, it has worked 99% of the time. (The 1% is probably user error.)

  • 37 Needle Positions - Another major upgrade from my Brother machine that only had 3 stitch positions. 37 Needle Positions mean that I can adjust my needles for that perfect size and still use the edge of my standard presser foot's edge as a guide. I never use my quarter-inch foot for piecing, I prefer instead to use the standard 1A zig zag foot while adjusting my needle position to 3.5, which is a scant quarter seam. I find that much easier to use than the quarter inch foot.

  • Ease of Changing Needles - Changing the needle with this thing is a cinch, I don't even have to use a screwdriver, I can tighten and loosen the needle screw with my fingers very easily. It also comes with a little tool to hold the needle so that it doesn't fall into the throat plate, as well as to help the needle get back into spot. After changing needles on my Brother machine, I know that this one is much easier to work with.

  • Load / Save a Stitch - I never knew I wanted this feature until I had it. It is so useful to be able to load / save favorite stitches, or even remember stitches as you're using them. For example, if I'm using a certain setting for quilting, such as a serpentine stitch that I've adjusted to be just the right size, I definitely save it so that I can come back to it later and have it be identical. (Since the machine resets if you turn it off.)

  • Continuous Reverse - This is another feature I never knew I needed until I used it. On my Brother machine, if I wanted to reverse a few stitches I needed to hold down the reverse button and stitch a few stitches. This is fine if I just wanted to reinforce a seam, but it is impractical to have to hold it down for fancy reverse designs. But on this machine, I just press it once and the machine stitches reverse perfectly until I press it again. I've used that a lot during quilting, to quilt in reverse for the designs I want instead of turning the quilt 180 degrees, which would be much, much more painful.

  • Large Throat Space - This machine has a good 10" from the needle to the back of the machine for quilting, which is pretty great. I do need to maneuver and squish a bit, but in general I'm my current bottleneck to be lack of space *behind* the machine where the parts I already quilted get bunched up, not lack of space in the harp.

    Of course, this machine isn't perfect, there is no such thing. There are a few things I've found somewhat annoying about this machine.

  • Automatic Thread Cutter - Yes, this is one of my favorite features. But it's also a feature that I've been most annoyed about. That's because it only works about 80% of the time. When it doesn't work, if I press it again it frequently does work. I clean out my bobbin area very often of lint, so I'm not sure why it fails so much.

  • Bobbin Issues - The bobbin of this machine is a sensitive beast, I've discovered. You have to drop the bobbin in correctly and pull the thread through just correctly. There's supposed to be a little "click" that tells you it's in the right place, but in truth I've never ever been able to hear it. Usually issues don't show up until you start stitching and realize your stitches look funny, and it's even kind of subtle. Luckily I've run into this issue just twice, and I can hear that the machine sounds different so I can fix it without having to rip back too much. However, the *number one* annoying thing about this machine is pulling up the bobbin thread. It just doesn't work like other machines I've seen, where you basically take one full stitch, and the bobbin thread comes up. In this machine, unless I have a piece of fabric, the bobbin thread doesn't get pulled up at all no matter how many stitches I take. In normal sewing I don't bother, I just let the bobbin thread bit get trapped in the seam. But in quilting where both sides are visible, it's virtually required that I sew on a piece of scrap fabric first in order to pull the bobbin thread way up. I can deal with this, but it's annoying.

  • Lack of Presser Foot Pressure Adjustment - not an annoyance, but a glaring lack of feature. I know some features are reserved for really really fancy machines, but it seems machines much cheaper than what I paid for has a presser foot pressure adjustment, and I don't have it.

    Extra Accessories I Purchased Since:

  • Extension Table - Ooh, I hate this thing. I meant to buy a quilting table, but bought this instead thinking it was the same thing. It's not. I do use it for quilting since I have it and can't get rid of it, but it annoys me a lot. Mostly, because the lower left corner of this thing is *very* pointy. That means not only do I accidentally hurt myself on it sometimes, but my quilt gets stuck on it *so freaking much*. I might toss this and buy a real quilting table sometime out of sheer annoyance. But this thing was not cheap! Sigh.

  • Circular Attachment - it's a cute little attachment but it's a lot to pay for for what it does. I think I would have been better off with a compass and a marking pencil. I've also seen people rig up their own, and they're quite brilliant and resourceful to do so.

  • 1/4" Foot - I don't use my quarter inch foot for piecing, I find it really difficult to use for piecing, because the guide area is so short. I use my zig zag foot for piecing instead and adjust the needle position. However, what I do use the 1/4" foot for is to sew on a marked line perfectly. I find it very easy to do with the quarter inch foot. One caveat is that if I pop the foot on just after popping the other foot off and forget to reset my needle position, I end up with a broken needle.

  • Open Toe Applique Foot - I actually got the generic version of this foot as Pfaff no longer manufactures it. But it's really great for visibility during applique or for machine finishing the binding.

  • Open Toe Free-Motion Foot - I use this instead of my closed-toe free motion foot for better visibility. It's otherwise identical, and stitches well (or not well) identically. I'm glad I have it though, as it helps me see where I'm going better.

    As for the value of this machine, I think I could have gone with a different brand to get more for less money. It's no question. But there's something about Pfaff that I find ... seductive. So I'm glad to have gotten this machine, and I think it's absolutely worth it to plunk down a large chunk of change for a machine that makes sewing joyful. It is most definitely much, much more joyful to sew on this than on my old Brother. I'd rather spend money on the machine than on a vacation, as sewing *is* my daily vacation!

    Instead of upgrading this machine at some point, I'm debating getting a midarm. I really don't want a longarm, but a midarm like the Pfaff Powerquilter 16 or the Handi Quilter Sweet 16 (and I heard these are the same machine, branded differently) might just be the ticket! I would have to wait for the next quilt show to try it out in person, though, before I make a decision. Until then, I'm leaving some space in my sewing room for the potential addition ... and will continue to practice free-motion on my Pfaff.


    1. Great information. I am trying to get use to a Brother Innovis 40 after wearing out my beautiful, very basic Bernia of more than 30 years.

    2. Hi Liz, your post was interesting and useful. I have the same machine and the only problem I am having with it is that the needle falls out when I am using the zig zag feature. Tried tightening the clamp as tight as I could and it still falls out. Have you had any issues similar to this?

      1. No, I haven't ever had that problem ... have you gotten yours checked out by a technician?

      2. Hey I bought mine a month ago and Love it. After not sewing anything since my Teens I'm 50 now I find it a dream to use. I've already made a Denim Shirt and now trying my first patchwork quilted handbag for a special lady friend. I had a few issues when I first tried using the machine with lint in the bobbin area and broken threads. This was all down to poor quality threads.

    3. Hi. Are you still happy with this machine? Have you found the lack of presser foot pressure adjustment to be a problem? Any thoughts would be appreciated!

      1. For the most part I'm moderately happy with my machine. However, I do think lack of presser foot pressure is a problem. At the time of purchase, my dealer told me I could trade it in for a full-refund within a year for the next model up (which does have presser foot pressure), and I was fully planning on doing that. But I didn't get it in writing and the dealer reneged on the offer. Had I known then what I know today, I would definitely get presser foot pressure ... and use a different dealer.

    4. Thanks for answering my inquiry. I don't understand why Pfaff failed to include presser foot adjustment on this model. It makes no sense. It's a shame your dealer pulled a bait and switch on you. Shame on him/her!

    5. Thanks for this review. I wonder, after the time has passed by- are you more happy with this machine? Would you buy it again? What features you miss?

      1. The only feature I really miss is pressure foot pressure adjustment. This machine just presses down too hard on everything, making it so easy to distort things and making walking foot quilting nearly impossible to do well. That's the only thing, but it's a BIG thing, and as such, I wouldn't buy this machine again.

    6. Thank you for quick answer. I thought that this can be adjusted manually, but seems, I am totally wrong.


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