My machines: Janome 817 Excel

Over the next few months I’ll share a few posts about my machines. Besides sharing the love for our indispensable sewing companions, I also intend to show models which are not known outside Japan.

Hello there! How are you doing?

As with many things, I am a bit fastidious when it comes to hardware. Since the very beginning, I wanted a Japanese machine – at least from a Japanese brand. In addition, I like the power of a good professional or industrial machine, and, having outgrown my basic entry model after 6 months of sewing like mad, I purchased a professional Juki, the TL-98DX. This was recommended by a friend who is a tailor, and I got it very cheap on Yahoo auctions (the Japanese ebay). I’m planning a post just dedicated to her, so hold on tight.

Being my Juki a straight stitch machine only, I was also on the market for another machine, chiefly for buttonholes, zigzag, and stretch stitch. I was originally looking for a 1960s model. That machine was fully mechanical, with a set of 30 cams to change the stitches…a dream! But sadly I was beaten in the auctions.

Now, you have to understand that I have a great distrusts of electronic machines. They are much harder to repair at home, especially when electronic AND computerized. Some soldering doesn’t scare me, but the possibility of fried motherboards does…and the fact that modern surface mount electronics are impossible to repair. Don’t even get me started with programming problems which may arise! HOWEVER, I do love vintage machine, especially when they reflect the style of the decade they were made in.

This brings us to today‘s post, dedicated to this 1970s gem, the Janome 817 Excel.

To be completely fair, I was a bit ambivalent about this machine when I was bidding for it. There was no mention of maintenance, not even a hint of wether the lights of the control panel worked…but my concerns vaporized once I saw the pedal. Yes, ladies and gents, THIS pedal.

Other reasons I was particularly drawn to it include:

  • It’s one of the last models to be entirely produced in Japan
  • It has a full steel body, and in fact weights a ton
  • It’s very compact
  • Has a million different stitches options which are fully customizable thanks to a set of wheels.

To my great pleasure, this machine came with a full set of attachments, from rolled hem to blind hem to quilting. I wish this was still the case now, when often the combined cost of the attachments needed for home sewing exceeds the cost of the machine (if you are cheap like me and always get them second hand, that is).

The major problem I faced was getting the manual, but luckily Janome has a back catalogue of all the manuals ever issued in the history of manuals (or close to that) which are available for download for free (minus the time required to translate them from Japanese into a somewhat understandable language).

Ta-daan! The manual!

Overall, this is a very dependable machine. I have oiled it sporadically, and cleaned it well only when I got it one year ago. It works very well, though it will occasionally act up: it really doesn’t like top stitching thread, for example, and the bobbin tends to tangle in a hot mess sometimes when I use it.

What I like the most about this machine is the fact that everything is adjustable manually. Tension, stitch length, and stitch width are all under my control, which means that I can modify the stitch to suit my work.

In addition, the stitch options are endless. Besides the ones illustrated on the front of the machine, opening the top reveals even more options, and the manual explains what combination of settings to use to achieve even more variety. Now, when one would use the majority of these stitches (some look like a sound wave…?), I don’t know, but it’s nice to have options!

The quality of the stitches is quite consistent with this machine, though there is a somewhat steep learning curve when it comes to the setting, as it tends to get upset with these are not absolutely correct for the type of fabric/thread/atmospheric humidity/star alignment I am working with.

What I don’t like – at least now – are the buttonholes. Mostly, this is due to the fact that only one type of buttonhole is offered, and it always looks a bit clunky in my opinion. I since got a Singer buttonholer, about which I will talk in a separate post.

Overall, though, I love this little machine. I don’t feel the need to upgrade to a “modern” machine at all, especially since the newer, computerized models are quite difficult to fix yourself (an absolute dealbreaker in this house). I love the ’70s vibe of this machine, the fact that it has a long history, and how consistent her stitches are.

Hope you enjoyed this post! See you next time.

Emilia xxx

7 thoughts on “My machines: Janome 817 Excel”

  1. Hi from Canada 🙂
    What a great machine this 817 Excel! Love its features and the location of the feet storage compartment.
    I have three 1960’s Singers which is two more than I need: 411G made in Germany, 500J made in Canada and 600 made in the US. They all use cams for decorative stitches and I also have a professional buttonholer attachment which works just like yours essentially. Thanks for sharing!

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    1. Hello there! Oh, such great envy for your machine collection! Singer machines in that era have such a specific and recognizable shape. Do you also have the table-cabinet-thingie? Thanks for commenting!

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      1. Hi again and thanks for your replies 🙂 I have wondered about whether to get a Juki but I do just fine with the Singers.
        I have two Singer tables that unfold and really like to use them!. Cheers!

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  2. Re topstitching thread problems, I had major issues as well until I tried a few solutions:
    1) use the largest topstitching needle so that the thread moves freely in the needle eye
    3) up the tension significantly for the top thread and the bobbin thread
    4) use regular thread in the bobbin
    5) alternatively, use two spools with regular size thread instead of topstitching thread.

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    1. Hello! Thanks for you suggestions. I have tried no. 1 to 4 already on this machine, but never thought of no. 5! With my other machine topstitching is no problem, and that is how I have tackled the problem until now, haha!

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