I have been machine sewing since I was eleven years old and it is something that I am passionate about. Over the years the most common questions I am asked are: what type of sewing machine I have and what manufacturer I prefer. My sewing students also ask for advise on choosing a sewing machine, so I have put together this post as a basic Sewing Machine Shopping Guide. I hope this post will be helpful when shopping for a sewing machine, but I also suggest that you read individual reviews for the machines you are considering.
My earliest memory of sewing is sitting in front of my great Grandmother’s antique Singer with a manual pedal control. I also have fond memories of visiting dressmakers and watching them as they worked on projects for my Mother. I learned to machine sew in Form One, while attending high school in Trinidad and Tobago. Since my early introduction to sewing, I have enjoyed every minute of using a sewing machine and it has become a passion.
I received my first sewing machine as a gift from my Mother when I was eighteen years old, and I still own it today; a Singer sewing machine with manual controls. The machine was purchased for less that two hundred dollars from Costco and it has served me well over the years.
Since then, I have purchased several sewing machines, including specialty machines and sergers. I have invested in a selection of Singer sewing machines that have various features. While the speciality machines are primarily Janome brand machines. I also own a four-thread Kenmore serger and a basic Brother sewing machine.
My machines range in price and was purchased from different suppliers. The machines were selected based on the types of projects I wanted to make and how easy they are to maintain. The initial cost was also a factor, as several of the machines are used for Crafted Spaces sewing classes.
What type of projects do you want to sew?
If you are a beginner sewer looking to develop your garment construction or basic home furnishing skills, a standard “dressmaker” sewing machine with a handful of stitches will probably do the trick. A machine with a built-in button hole feature and several decorative stitches will provide more options for your projects.
Each manufacture has a basic sewing machine model. These basic sewing machines are generally limited to a few stitches and may have turn dials or simple buttons for selecting your stitches. Each manufacturer may have models with the same simple features at different price points, but the difference may be the quality of the parts and the sturdiness of the machine. Some machines may function best as occasional use machines, while others may handle a broader range of materials and rigorous use.
If you are quilting, consider the design, size and complexity of your quilts. For this application, you can use a basic “dressmaker” sewing machine, but you may want to invest in a machine that will provide you with decorative features, a larger work surface and the ability to handle multiple layers of fabric. A specialty quilting machine has a higher price point than a basic dressmaker machine, but is better suited for the job.
What types of features will you need now and in the future?
When it come to features, you really have to think about your skill level and how far you may want to go with sewing. Having a machine that will grow with you and the types of projects you will like to make is a strong consideration. Making an upfront investment in a machine that you know will be used for many years to come, is a great way to avoid multiple purchases. However, this may also be a challenge for some people during the beginning phase of learning. Having a complicated machine can be a deterrent while you are still learning the basics. A machine with lots of bells and whistles can be intimidating, and you may never take advantage of its full functionality. Only you can answer these questions.
Hear are some commonly used features to consider:
- Adjustable Zig Zag Stitch
- Blind Hem Stitch
- Stretch Stitch
- Needle Threader
- Needle Position Adjustment
- Speed Control
- Automatic Buttonholer
- Reverse Stitch
What is included with the machine?
The types of attachments or sewing machine feet you need will be specific to your projects. Quilters may benefit from a walking foot, spring action foot, and a 1/4″ foot. A garment sewists on the other hand, may look for a blind zipper foot, overcast stitching foot, buttonhole foot, and a narrow hem foot. Many machines will come with all of these feet; however, some machines might not provide a large variety of specialty feet. You may have to purchase your attachments separately.
More expensive machines generally include a good selection of attachments. Some attachments can cost $30-$50, so this can be an added value if they are included. If you have a specialty machine, it may require speciality parts and accessories that cost more. I recommend that prior to your purchase, you research the additional attachments that match the needs of your sewing projects.
How much do you want to invest in a sewing machine?
Sewing machines can be found from under a hundred dollars to thousands of dollars. Identifying the types of projects you will like to sew is a great place to start when identifying your price range. All machines are not created equally when it comes to working with different textiles and weights of materials. Generally, the more you invest, the better quality you will get. Having said this, I have found that you do not have to invest a small fortune to get a good quality sewing machine.
I also believe that the brand you choose is a matter of preference. There are machines available in different price points from each sewing machine manufacturer. Once you have identified how much you are willing or able to spend, compare machines from different manufacturers within your price range. Read the reviews and ask others who own the machine questions about their experiences with the machine. Dealers may only carry a specific brand, so don’t go to a Janome dealer and ask them what they think about a Singer.
Mechanical vs Computerized
Mechanical machines generally cost less than a computerized sewing machine. The more features your machine has, the more likely it is a computerized machine. The key factors here are usability, parts and repair costs. How easy is it to use the machine and learn its many features? How easy are repairs and general servicing in your area? What are the cost for replacement parts or is it cheaper to just replace the machine? Read reviews and get familiar with the features and match these with your requirements.
Used vs New
Consider a used sewing machine versus a new machine purchase. There are new sewing machine models available each year, but do you need to purchase a new machine? There are countless older models available online or via sewing machine dealers. These used machines can be in great working condition and will provide excellent value. Perhaps you may have inherited an older machine and you are wondering if it is worth the service fees.
I have purchased several used sewing machines from my local thrift store and online through sites such as Kijji. If you are thinking of purchasing a used machine, test the machine to ensure that it is in good working condition. Examine the various parts of the machine and look for any visible sign of damage above and beyond basic wear and tear. It is helpful if a manual is included with your purchase. A manual may also be available online. Examine the wiring for issues and avoid sewing machines with electrical tape holding the wiring together. If possible, ask the previous owner about the machine’s history and observe how well it has been cared for; note any buildup of lint or dust and ensure the parts all move smoothly.
As you develop your sewing skills, you may want to consider purchasing a serger or overlocking machine. The serger or overlocking machine is great for seams and adding a finishing touch to your projects. This machine is especially helpful for finishing sheer lightweight fabrics, such as chiffon or stretchy knit fabrics.
Other specialty machines include a coverstitch, an embroidery machine, a buttonhole machine and a hemming machine just to name a few. As your sewing becomes more advanced you should consider these specialty machines. The costs of these specialty machines will range; a greater investment generally yields a higher quality machine.
Doing your research is key in finding the right sewing machine for your needs. Become familiar with the different sewing machine brands and visit their websites (see list below for product information). Visit several dealers and prepare a list of questions you may have about machine features, maintenance and servicing. It is most important that you are comfortable with your sewing machine; so if possible try it out in the store to get a feel for the machine. Keep a journal and make notes about your likes and dislikes for each machine.
Only you can decide what is going to work best for your needs. I have read several articles and have written a previous post on this subject, and the best advice I can give is shop around. Make note of the machine model number and features. With a little research, the same machine can be found for less money. Give yourself some time when shopping, and avoid an impulse purchase. Consider a used sewing machine. You can find a used sewing machine at your local thrift store, sewing machine dealer or from someone in your area.
I hope you have found this post helpful and I will love to hear your thoughts on this topic. What advise would you add?
Some sources for sewing machines:
Baby Lock – www.babylock.com
Bernina – www.berninausa.com
Brother – www.brother.com
Elna – www.elnausa.com
Husqvarna Viking – www.husqvarnaviking.com
Janome – www.janome.com
Juki – www.juki.com
Pfaff – www.pfaff.com
Singer – www.singerco.com