3/31 | How to Pick a Sewing Machine

When choosing a sewing machine, there are several factors to consider. So I thought I would write this post for you as a guide on how to pick a sewing machine. First, what level is the sewist who will be using the machine? If you are quite advanced in your sewing experience, you are likely to be unsatisfied with a basic beginner’s model. However, if you are just starting out, you may not need all the bells and whistles. These tend to be costly features that, as a novice, may never get used. It’s advisable to wait until you’re sure that sewing is a hobby you want to continue pursuing before investing in the higher end models.

There are three basic types of sewing machines. One is the traditional mechanical type you are probably most familiar with. The machine is powered with a foot pedal and you guide the fabric through with your hands. Being simpler machines, they’re easy for beginners to use and tend to require less maintenance than other types.

The second is the computerized machine. It is easy to use, very precise, and incredibly versatile. These machines allow you to download patterns from the internet. They can keep your prior projects in their memory, allowing you to make the same pattern over and over again. These machines tend to have higher powered motors allowing for the sewing of thicker, heavier fabric.

The third type is the electronic machine, which is basically a hybrid of the first two. The machine itself is mechanical but it does include a computerized screen as well. As with the computerized model, they come with a good selection of stitches. Unlike most computerized models, they do not have embroidery capabilities.

Next, think about the types of projects you are planning to make with your sewing machine. Different models come with different features better suited for one type of sewing over another. For example, using your machine exclusively for making clothing may mean that you are going to be interested in certain attachments such as a zipper foot whereas with a machine used for quilting, you might be looking for one that comes with a walking foot.

Sewing machine attachments you may want to consider:

  • Buttonhole foot, zipper foot, and blind hem foot – all very important when making clothing
  • Walking foot, ¼” foot, freehand embroidery foot – all crucial for quilt-making
  • A variety of feet with different widths – useful for basic sewing, allowing for a variety of stitch widths including zigzag stitches
  • Roller foot – used for thick, heavy fabrics such as denim, velvet, and leather
  • Teflon foot – used for rubbery or other type fabrics that tend to stick to the presser foot such as oilcloth and suede

You’re going to want a decent assortment of attachments based on your plans for sewing projects. You can buy presser feet separately but not all types are available for all machines. If the machine you’re looking at doesn’t include all the attachments you will need, be sure that you can add them on later.

Another important feature to consider is the free arm. With a free arm sewing machine, you can remove a part of the base, exposing a smaller sewing space – the free arm. If you’re going to be making clothing, a free arm sewing machine is essential. This arm allows you to sew tube-like shaped items such as when making sleeves or hemming pants legs with ease.

Other features that can reduce frustration and make sewing easier include the built-in needle threader and top loading drop-in bobbin. The first is self-explanatory. When it comes to bobbins, some machines are set up so that each time you change the bobbin, you have to dissemble and reassemble the bobbin casing in order to get to it. The top loading system pops out and drops back into place. Easy! And, it has a see-through cover plate so you can easily see just how full your bobbin is. It’s a really handy feature.

Consider too the thicknesses of fabrics you intend to use. Obviously, you may not know for sure exactly what projects you’ll be making in the future but if you know that your first project is going to be a denim jumpsuit or a set of curtains made from canvas, you’re going to want to be sure that the machine you choose will be strong enough to accommodate these fabrics.How often do you think you’ll be using your sewing machine? If you’re buying one merely for hemming and mending, you can easily get away with a less expensive, basic beginner’s model. However, if you’ve got big plans for using the machine frequently and for a lot of projects, it’s best to invest in a sturdier model with a metal frame inside.

You will find sewing machines that allow you to create anywhere from 10 to 300 stitches. All you really need for the majority of sewing projects is the ability to make a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch. Other often used stitches include the buttonhole stitch, stretch/knit stitch, and the blind hem stitch. These last 3 will make clothing projects much easier to complete.Anything above these 5 truly are extras. Some of those extras can be awfully handy and fun though! Give careful thought to how often you might use these stitches and how much they’re worth to you. The more stitches available, the more expensive the machine!

Other options you might not have thought of include noise and weight. It may seem silly to consider but sewing machines can vary quite a bit in how much noise they make. Will you be sewing at night while others are asleep in your home? Noise of the machine could make a difference in terms of how much you end up using it.

When it comes to weight, again this may not seem important but think about this – will you be taking your machine to sewing classes? Will you be traveling with it? Will it be set up permanently on a sewing table or will you have to set it up on the kitchen table each time you want to use it. Weight might not be your primary concern, but again, it can make a difference in how often you will use it.

The larger the motor, the heavier the machine. Larger motors also generally mean a higher quality, longer lasting machine with better performance over time. Lighter machines often contain significantly more plastic parts (which are prone to wearing down and breaking faster). These machines have a shorter lifespan and are often ill-suited for thicker, heavier fabrics.

When looking for a sewing machine, it’s vital that you do your homework. A visit to a local sewing machine shop can be very helpful. Present them with your list of wants and needs and they can direct you to the models best suited for you.

Before making that purchase, follow up by doing your own research. Most dealers want to establish an ongoing relationship with their customers and will not give you bad advice, but it’s still important to back that up with your own findings. Sewing machines can be big investments and you want to choose wisely. When well-maintained, a good sewing machine can last many years!