|Janome MemoryCraft 4900QC|
My modern machine is a Janome MemoryCraft 4900QC, and is about 2 years old. This model isn't made anymore, but the 5400 is very similar. I think of it as the Toyota Camry of sewing machines, somewhere between the economy models and the luxury mega-stitchers. It was like $700, I think, and it has served me well so far.
By contrast, the Singer 500A was the top-of-the line machine of its era. Mine was made in 1962, and would have cost a couple hundred dollars new, a huge sum in the economy of the day. It has a slanted shank, and a number of built-in decorative stitches. Plus it looks cool -- way cooler than the Janome.
I sewed my latest project almost entirely on the Singer, as a way to get a feel for how it compares to the Janome. I lamed out on the buttonholes -- there wasn't much incentive to figure out the bizarre-looking Greist buttonhole attachment when the Janome is ready and waiting to make serviceable (if not overly attractive) automatic buttonholes.
The Singer has the old-fashioned foot control where you press a button on the top, rather than mashing down the entire pedal. I wasn't sure I would like this, but it was fine. The Singer did take a little longer to build up speed, but that's also okay.
I was dreading having to get the tension correct on the Singer. My Janome does this automatically, and almost always does it well, but with my previous machine (a cheap Kenmore -- also made by Janome) stitch tension was a constant battle. Thankfully, it was easy to adjust on the Singer, though. Not as easy as automatic, but easy enough.
The Rocketeer beats the pants off the Janome on this one. The Janome will get hung up on thick seams, but the Singer glides over them without a hiccup.
The Singer has a slant shank, the Janome is a low shank machine, I think. I did like the slant shank a little better -- it felt easier to keep an eye on the fabric as it went under the needle.
Hm, the Janome wins this one, I think. The post for the thread spool on the Singer is rickety, and the thread path seems more convoluted, but that's not such a big deal once you get used to it. However, if you don't have a good grip on the thread tails when you start a stitch with the Singer, there's a decent chance the needle will come unthreaded before you make the first stitch. No such issues with the Janome.
Stitch length, reverse stitching
On the Janome, you set all this via button presses. On the Singer, it's a big lever. I thought that might be annoying, but it isn't too bad -- maybe even kind of fun. I was pretty inconsistent with what length stitch I chose since I was flipping the lever back and forth all the time, though. Also, the longest stitch length is still shorter than what I like to use for basting -- I guess you were supposed to do that by hand back then?
There's a button for setting this on the Janome. I missed it when sewing with the Singer. Yeah, you can use the handwheel to get the needle in the right position, but the button's a heck of a lot easier.
I didn't find much difference here, but then neither machine is straight-stitch only.
The Janome has a lot more, but most are so crappy looking they hardly count. The Singer's are lovely: I can even imagine using them!
Final assessment -- hey, I have two great machines! If I could only keep one, it would be the Janome, for the automatic buttonholes, needle up/down button, and also its free arm. But I'd miss the Rocketeer's powerful stitch, elegant slanted shank, and even its decorative stitches, something I didn't know I needed until I saw them. I'd miss the Rocketeer's groovy good looks, too. I'm happy I don't have to decide, and I suspect my affection for the Rocketeer will only grow with more use.