It’s finally time.
You’ve been thinking about learning to sew and are ready to get started.
There’s one problem.
You don’t have a sewing machine!
Note: This post is part of a series called Starting to Sew. This series is intended for people who are either new to sewing, have limited sewing knowledge, or need a plan of action to teach their child how to sew. It’s designed to help you prepare for wildly successful sewing experiences.
IMPORTANT: Sewing machines have moving parts, sharp needles, and can cause injury if not handled properly. Read and follow safety instructions in the sewing machine instruction manual.
Do not use the sewing machine as a toy. Close attention is necessary when the sewing machine is used by or near children.
If you don’t have a sewing machine at home that works and you’re considering buying one, it’s helpful to think about several questions before you actually start looking for your future sewing machine.
Having thought about these questions ahead of time, and maybe even having answers, will make your shopping experience productive and enjoyable.
How to Determine the Best Sewing Machine for You
Think carefully about the following questions before you go shopping. Your hunt for the perfect sewing machine will be more focused, and you’ll be less likely to get overwhelmed by the number of choices.
Why do you want a sewing machine?
As you start your hunt, you’ll discover many sewing machines can be used for multiple purposes. Other sewing machines are designed for a specific kind of sewing.
Some specialty machines are:
- sergers (uses multiple threads to simultaneously sew a seam, trim off the raw edges, and finish the edge)
- quilting machines (designed specifically for quilting)
- embroidery machines (allows you to personalize items with letters, words, and graphics)
If you have imagined yourself making clothes, doing random sewing and craft projects, home decor, and/or piecing and quilting, you’ll want to look for a traditional sewing machine that will enable you to sew one or more of these types of projects.
What is your skill level?
If this sewing machine will be your first one, you want to look for one that has fewer features making it easier to use.
As you delve into the world of sewing, you’ll enjoy it much more if you can spend most of your time learning basic sewing skills and not on how to work the machine.
If you’ve been sewing for a while and are thinking about getting a new machine, look for one with features that will address frustrations you have felt and solve problems you have experienced on your current machine.
Do you want a mechanical, electronic, or computerized sewing machine?
Note: As you think about how you would answer this question, consider how comfortable you are with technology.
Almost all sewing machines made today use electricity to power them.
The three types of machines referenced in this question have to do with the way you tell the sewing machine to do certain things, such as, but not limited to, stitch length, stitch width, and selecting the type of stitch you want.
Mechanical sewing machines use knobs, dials, and levers to make selections. You have to manually make changes. The number of stitches you can choose from are usually limited but you have all the features you need to start sewing.
Electronic sewing machines use buttons and an LCD screen or possibly touchpad controls to tell your machine what to do. Tasks that need to be done manually on a mechanical machine (like threading the needle) may be automated on an electronic machine. These machines will likely have hundreds of stitch choices.
Computerized sewing machines may have automated features like the electronic sewing machines but will likely have removable memory cards, and/or can be attached to the internet allowing you to access thousands of patterns and stitches. Computerized machines can be beneficial to sewers who are heavily into quilting designs and intricate embroidery.
How much are you willing to spend?
A more expensive machine doesn’t always mean it is better. There are many reliable machines that are great for beginners but don’t cost an arm and a leg.
Sewing machines range in price from under $100 to thousands of dollars. Prices are determined by such things as the type of machine (see question 3), brand (see question 5), as well as features and accessories (see question 6).
Think carefully about how much you want to spend, and stick to that amount. Don’t spend time looking at machines that are more than your budgeted amount.
Keep in mind, the machine won’t be your only cost as you begin your sewing journey. If you budget your finances, in addition to the sewing machine, there are some tools you will need as well as notions and fabric for the projects you want to do.
Is having a brand name sewing machine important?
When you buy your sewing machine, more than likely it will come with some accessories (like presser feet, bobbins, needles, etc.). Some of these accessories can be universal and fit on a variety of different sewing machines. Other accessories will be specific to the brand and model of your machine.
If you buy a well-known brand of sewing machine, it will be easier to find accessories when you need them.
What features are “must-haves” for your sewing machine?
Since 1995, I’ve sewn on the same basic mechanical machine. Nothing fancy to it. One feature I really like is the accessory box that serves as an extension plate when it is slid on the free arm.
Recently, it stopped working in the middle of a project, so I borrowed a basic mechanical machine from my mom that she no longer uses. This machine was manufactured in 2005. It has some convenient features my old faithful machine doesn’t, like a needle threader, a thread cutter that is attached to the machine, and a way to regulate the sewing speed.
My mom is a quilter and is constantly creating quilt tops. She has several electronic sewing machines she uses and they have some pretty neat features that for her are “must-haves”: an automatic thread cutter, a light that tells you when the bobbin is almost empty, and an automatic needle up and down when you start and stop.
Regardless of the type, brand, or price of your machine, there will be some features and possibly some advanced options that intrigue you. Think carefully about what you must have on your machine.
Keep in mind, for your first machine you want one that will allow you to focus on your sewing skills instead of a machine that has a bunch of features you may never use.
Does the machine have a free arm?
When a sewing machine has a free arm it is easier to sew sleeves, pant legs, or other items that are difficult to sew on a flat area. If you will be sewing clothes or doing projects that may have a tube shape (like bags, purses, or waistbands), you want the sewing machine to have a free arm.
On some sewing machines, you can access the free arm by removing the accessory box or extension plate. In my opinion, you want to make sure the machine you purchase has a free arm.
Does the bobbin load from the front or the top of the machine?
Front-loading bobbins have been around for a long time. This type of bobbin is placed in a case before being inserted in the sewing machine. Often times, the bobbin house is located behind the accessory box which has to be moved before the bobbin can be changed.
Top-loading bobbins have been around for a while and are a more recent design feature. This type of bobbin doesn’t require a separate case. Usually, the bobbin house is easy to access because it’s on the top of the machine, right in front of the needle plate. Some top-loading bobbins have a transparent cover allowing you to see when the bobbin is almost empty.
Most modern machines have top-loading bobbins. However, there are still a few machines that have front-loading bobbins.
Many sewists have a preference of one over the other. If you have the opportunity to work with different machines before you make a final decision, try inserting the bobbin into both a front-loading and top-loading machine and see if you like one better than the other.
Where is the spool pin?
The spool pin is the shaft that holds the spool of thread in place on the machine. Usually located on the top of the machine, it can be vertical (standing up) or horizontal (laying down). Some machines have a diagonal spool pin on the top of the machine.
Also, some sewing machines with a horizontal spool pin have a hole where a second spool pin can be inserted on top of the machine.
I never really paid attention to the direction of the spool pin until I borrowed my mother’s machine.
My sewing machine had a vertical spool pin. I could easily see the spool of thread and knew when the spool was almost empty.
When my sewing machine stopped working, I borrowed a machine from my mother. It has a horizontal spool pin. I was quilting a lap quilt and the project required a lot of thread. I had gone through several bobbins and knew the spool of thread would be running out soon. While I sewed I could not easily see the spool of thread because the horizontal pin nestled in a space at the top of the machine. Stretching my neck was necessary to see the spool and I didn’t like that.
An advantage of a horizontal spool pin is if you need to move the machine you can leave the machine threaded and the spool in place if the handle has hinges to use the hande and lift the machine.
If you have a vertical spool pin, more than likely you will need to remove the thread and push the pin down in order to access the handle to carry the machine.
What type of stitches and presser feet does the machine have?
The straight stitch and zigzag stitch are two stitches you definitely must have on your sewing machine. These two stitches will allow you to accomplish almost all of your sewing projects.
If your machine has the straight and zigzag stitches, it should also have the option for you to adjust both the length and width of the stitches.
I’ve never seen a machine where you couldn’t make these two adjustments. That doesn’t mean that machine isn’t out there. Make sure these are options on the machine you buy.
Other stitches that could be important to you are:
- blind hem stitch (for sewing invisible hems)
- elastic stitch (for sewing elastic on fabric)
- overlock stitch (a combo straight and zigzag for finishing seams)
- buttonhole stitch (for making a buttonhole)
Some specialty stitches require a specific presser foot. Find out what presser feet come with your machine if it does multiple stitches. You may need to purchase them separately.
The Best Sewing Machine for You
By answering the ten questions, you’ll be in a position to know what you want and don’t want in a sewing machine.
This knowledge will give you an advantage when shopping for a sewing machine.
You will be able to narrow your focus to only those machines that meet your criteria.
As a result, you will know exactly what you are looking for and be less overwhelmed by all the choices.
You will have fun looking for the perfect sewing machine for you. In the end, the sewing machine you decide on will fit your purpose, budget, and make your sewing experiences enjoyable.
Now, it is time to decide where to buy your sewing machine!