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I've been making custom bags, purses and totes out of heavy cloth fabrics for the last several years and have been struggling with my two home sewing machines (Brother CS6000i and Janome HD3000). I want to upgrade to an industrial sewing machine but am a bit overwhelmed by the range of choices available. I'm looking for advice on what type or types of machines and needle systems would be best suited for working with somewhat bulky, home decor and upholstery fabrics.

Where my current machines struggle is when I sew bag straps over 7/16" thickness, gussets, and top-stitching smaller bag openings. I use a wide variety of fabrics. Most of my work today on my home sewing machines is done with #14-16 needles. I'm frequently breaking needles, and I suspect this is because the machines just aren't big enough to wrestle all the fabric through, things drag and the needle snaps. For some projects I probably need to go to a bigger needle, but #16 is the largest my machines supports.

I think a cylinder arm sewing machine may be helpful but I have no experience with one and most of the advice I've found online about cylinder arm machines is related to leather. Plus many of the cylinder arm machines I've come across use needle systems designed for leather and not upholstery fabric.

Some sewing machines I've come across that look like they may work for me are:

  • Atlas AT335 (DPx17, 135x17 needle)
  • Cobra Class 26 (DPx17, 135x17 needle)

Any feedback or advice would be appreciated!

Below are some examples of the types of projects my machines struggle with:

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    Have you looked around your area to see if there's any place where you can rent time on one or more of the time of sewing machines you're considering? That might give you the chance to try some of them out and see which features are important for you. I'm thinking of something like a maker space, or a quilting or sewing store (I know some of them have machines you can pay to use, but I'm not sure if those machines are heavier duty than a regular home machine.)
    – csk
    Jun 20 at 0:51
  • Thanks for the idea. I will search around and see if that is an option.
    – moof2k
    Jun 20 at 4:27
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If you cannot find a maker space as suggested in the comments, find a reliable dealer that has a repair shop. These machines are very heavy and cannot be transported for repairs.

Working in the studio producing 8-15 canvas fabric custom hand bags daily depending on complexity, I used a Singer straight stitch flat top commercial machine. Juki has a good machine very similar to the Singer. The biggest difference besides speed is that they oil themselves. This means that when you tilt the machine up, there is a basin of oil underneath. The bobbins side load from underneath. You will need to have a super long flathead screwdriver to occasionally get to the bobbin casing to correct the needle catch - there is another Stack Exchange answer with pics of the open machine from a few years ago. What needle depth should I set to prevent the machinery from hitting the needle?

Singer Commercial flat top

When a circular arm (such as the ones you mention) was available to test, I found that it was necessary to change some of the methods of manipulating the bag. Certain parts of sewing had to be turned upside down for the circular arm to feed the fabric and attach handles.

It’s interesting to create 3d objects, there is a lot of inside out thinking that needs to happen. 😊

Keep in mind a commercial machine can be leased or rented and needs a professional to fix it when it malfunctions - especially timing. They are easy to maintain if you clean it regularly. And they have a feature that loads bobbins while you sew. You can adjust the height of the table.

As a former seamstress who made the same type of bags for a living, I bought the Singer CG 550 with a Sew EZ flat top table to bring my skills home and be able to handle the thickness of the fabric and my speed. I was downgrading from professional workload to occasional and adding garment making, quilting & upcycling. I 🧡 my CG550! Singer CG 500

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    Thank you for the suggestions! It appears the CG550 will go one needle size higher than my Janome HD3000 which would be a plus. However I can't find details on the size of the motor in the CG550/590.. it doesn't appear to be that much stronger than my Janome. Another problem I'm looking to solve is getting more room under the arm, and the Singer actually looks a little smaller.
    – moof2k
    Jun 20 at 19:49
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    when i sewed on the commercial machine, I flattened and worked the bag upwards, not using an arm feature at all. If you are already used to sewing the top portion using the arm, then you would do well with a commercial machine with an arm. The other less expensive option with the consumer machines is to customize your table to lift the machine higher for arm use. There’s always some part of bag making that makes you smoosh the bag at some point. 😊 Jun 20 at 20:57
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    That is a good point about lifting the machine higher. My Janome has a full flat base that is flush to the table unless you take off the little drawer attachment to expose the arm, but even then there is no room. I don't like smooshing my bags too much, especially when using heavy-duty interfacing, they never seem to go back to looking perfect. :)
    – moof2k
    Jun 20 at 21:43
  • The 2nd most important tool for finishing bags - the iron 😊 Jun 21 at 1:37

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