Are you buying a sewing machine for the first time? Don’t know what to buy? This handy guide will help you out. The best models are those that are well-researched and then purchased. Sewing machines are very easy to use devices, unless you buy the wrong kind. Over the past few years, more and more people are opting for their very own sewing machine for crafts, hemming, or making repairs to clothing.
More than a necessity, the ability to sew or embroider has become a lifestyle. And that’s why you need to think carefully before buying one. When was the last time you used a sewing machine? Don’t you think it’s better to work on your skills and produce high-quality designs, just the way you want to? We all have to compromise on preference when it comes to seeking a professional. You won’t have to do such a thing anymore.
Spending a few hundred dollars for a professional and durable sewing machine is important. It can handle all your quilting, sewing, and embroidering projects. Whether you’re a designer, stylist, or a parent helping your kids with school projects. Nobody denies the marks of a professional-quality sewing machine, especially when there are so many available on the market. (1)
All said, let’s look at the best features of a sewing machine and what you need to consider before buying.
1. Types Of Sewing Machines
You will find different types of sewing machines for different purposes. However, you can also opt for a standard type of sewing machine for basic crafts, repairs, hems, or for stitching simple clothing. If your purpose of using a sewing machine goes beyond the basics, considering the following types is essential. (2)
Mechanical Sewing Machine
A mechanical sewing machine is the most basic type there is. If you’re an occasional user, buying a mechanical sewing machine shouldn’t be a problem. That said, a mechanical sewing machine is run by hand, which means it can easily be bought on a budget.
Mechanical sewing machines offer features that go the basic tasks well. For example, you can make repairs to simple clothing such as tops, skirts, jeans, etc. on a mechanical machine. And the fact that it’s run by hand means you get the upper hand at all sewing/embroidering controls without relying on any other automatic or electronic controls.
This type of sewing machine is best suitable for mending or making alterations, making simple crafts, and handling hems.
Electronic Sewing Machine
Thanks to recent technological advancements, using an electronic sewing machine has become simpler than ever. You will have to spend more on an electronic sewing machine than on mechanical machine. But an electronic sewing machine offers far greater and accurate features. This includes touchpad controls, LED screen, and other similar features.
An electronic sewing machine can handle all complicated and tedious stitching and embroidery projects.
An embroidery machine, in addition to all features available in an electronic sewing machine, comes with features that allow you to embroider pillowcases, garments, and bedspreads. It’s a versatile sewing machine that uses intricate technology to needle any material.
Plus, if you pay a higher amount, you get a memory-backed machine that links to your computer. Allowing you to carry out plenty of tasks such as repositioning, resizing, and mirroring designs.
2. What You’ll Get For Your Budget
When you’re shopping for a sewing machine online or in a physical store, getting an idea of what kind of features you’ll use for your money is very important. And what’s available at for what price. Salespeople will always encourage you to buy what’s expensive because of their commission and the product’s exciting features.
But if you’re buying on a budget, here’s what you need to know about choosing the best sewing machine.
Buying below $200 means buying on a budget. A sewing machine this affordable generally comes in a disposable form, which means it is made of plastic parts that can only be used for a short period of time and thrown away. It’s usually difficult to find the same plastic parts of a sewing machine, making it difficult to keep up with for a long time.
$200 to $600
Sewing machines under this range can be used 1-3 times in a week. They come in a relatively durable and efficient body, with features that stick by you for long-term use. Unless you plan on doing a lot of sewing, using a machine under this range will last for a long time. Average-priced machines can easily be bought in local shops, big department stores, and online.
$700 to $2000
Expensive sewing machine are engineered better than the rest. They last much longer since they’re made up of stronger materials and aren’t disposable by nature. It’s also possible to get certain parts of the sewing machine replaced or repaired, in case of any damage.
Machines above $2000 aren’t ideal for the casual user. Professionals use machines this expensive on a day-to-day basis. All specialty machines fall under this category, such as embroidery machine, upholstery machine, quilting machine, etc.
You can even rent out a machine at a lower cost, if you want to use it for a single project. This saves you the time and money of having to buy a sewing machine for life and not making the most of it.
3. Considering The Right Number Of Stitches
How many stitches do you need from your sewing machine? Once you understand the scale of your budget, the next factor to consider is the styles of stitches you need. It’s understand to get exciting the myriad ways you can stitch or embroider a piece of clothing. But you don’t always need the stitches you want, right?
You can also fancy all the built-in stitches your machine has to offer, but that comes at a higher price. The two most basic stitches on a sewing machine are a straight and zigzag stitch. Here’s what you need to know about a sewing machine based on its stitch abilities.
The first thing you’ll look for when using a sewing machine is the stitch length adjustment knob. The best control you have on your fabric, the easier it is to handle complex stitches. Some modern sewing machines came with programmed stitch settings for fine materials.
The second factor that is useful is the stitch width setting. Leaving the straight stitch aside, it’s important to understand the width measurement of every stitch you use, especially when using the zigzag stitch. The higher the number of the dial, the wider the stitch would be, which also means more spacing between the lines.
Using a higher width setting to combine two thick fabrics together, unless you’re using a stitch that’s not zigzag.
In the end, you really need two stitches to your work done. The additional options of stitches available on most models offer better design and flexibility during use. But the straight and zigzag stitch is what you’ll actually use for your field of work.
4. Looking For Sewing Attachments
This also includes presser feet of a sewing machine. Based on what you decide to sew, you need to consider buying extra attachments and feet along with your sewing machine. If you plan on sewing a quilt, using more accurate attachments such as a spring action foot, a walking foot, or a 1/4 –inch foot is necessary.
The same applies to sewing garments or any other piece of fabric. There are many kinds of attachments to look forward to when choosing a sewing machine. These include a buttonhole foot, attaching foot, zipper foot, etc.
The price you pay for high-end machines, such as embroidery or electronic machines, are inclusive of these attachments. But if you’re opting for a lower priced sewing machine, you might have to put in a request to the brand for delivering a few specific attachments. This can only be done if you’re willing to pay an additional cost for the delivery.
Before purchasing the entire package, it’s also important to check the price on each accessory. According to industry rates, the average cost of an attachment or presser feet is somewhere between $20 to $50.
Another significant factor to take into consideration is customized tools. Some brands offer unique attachments and feet designed for a more specific purpose. These machines are generally more expensive and can be custom-tailored based on the user’s preferences. You will see professional craftspeople use such advanced technology for carrying out their day-to-day tasks.
Most modern sewing machines come with a simple clip lock for attaching the presser feet on to the sewing machine. The clip locks against the presser feet, making it easier on you to switch between tools in a few seconds. For intricate embroidering/sewing, this feature can save a lot of time if you are compelled to move back and forth with you stitching.
5. Does It Suit Your Fabric?
What types of fabric are you going to be using on your sewing machine? While electronic machines are able to handle all types of fabrics, if you’re planning on buying a mechanical one, you should know this.
Thin (delicate) fabrics
Fabrics that have a thinner fiber strength need much less handling than thick fabrics. A machine with a plastic foot, fine needle, and basic stitches work well with delicate fabrics. Also you can buy a disposable sewing machine from your favorite brand and at a good price to work with such fabrics.
Metal foot don’t work well with thin fabrics, they’re only suitable for thick fabrics including curtains or quilts.
Materials like denim and fleece are considered thick fabrics. They require a longer stitch length, width, and form. Look for a sewing machine that offers both short and long stitch lengths as well as narrow and wide widths to make the most of your time.
Stretch fabrics are those that have some sort elasticity to their quality. They’re generally difficult to sew, so considering a stretch stitch on a sewing machine for such fabrics is very important.
Consider buying an extension board or sewing bed to accommodate long and fabrics. This includes blankets, bedspreads, and curtains. Such fabrics are heavier, making it difficult for you to sew at different angles. So buying a bigger sewing machine is essential when dealing with curtains.
Unless you choose a sewing machine from a brand that sells versatile attachments, an extension board, and other accessories, make sure you have everything you need to accommodate a certain type of fabric. Without basic features, getting your needle in versatile positions can be difficult on a mechanical machine. (3)
6. Is It Noisy?
Checking for the noise level of a sewing machine is something most of you might overlook. And it’s something very few people think about when buying one from a local shop. But considering the sound factor is very important, especially once you start sewing on a daily basis.
Those of you who prefer sewing late evening, you will definitely want something less noisy. This also includes less vibration and rattling. If you know you’re investing in a noisy machine, for a higher price, it’s more likely that you’d look the other way.
Where you keep your sewing machine also plays an important role in controlling excessive noise. Here’s what you need to look for if your sewing machine is emitting too much noise.
The thread you will be using, or that is provided to you by the manufacturer, should be of a superior quality. A bad thread quality can negatively impact you sewing, causing more noise. Thread is the primary part that the sewing machine uses, so any sort of inconsistency in design is not required.
If your sewing machine comes with a needle that breaks and bends quickly, it might cause noise. Constant bending and breaking of needles leaves you with no choice but to change it more often than you want. So it’s good to make sure the needle quality is superior and durable for smooth and quiet sewing performance.
Another reason for your sewing machine’s excessive noise might be faulty sewing tension. Sewing machines come with strong tension disks that regulate the smooth functioning of the machine. They are an integral part of the sewing machine. A tension disk controls the amount of pressure that is exerted on the thread for a smooth stitch. (4,5)
Lack of proper adjustment to this tension disk might result in noise and vibration
7. Looking For Basic Features
Both mechanical and electronic sewing machines handle a variety of fabrics. The only difference is that you can use a mechanical sewing machine not as often as an electronic one. To better consider the functions of a sewing machine, here are all the basic features you need to have on your sewing machine. In case your sewing machine doesn’t offer such features, it’s time to look for one that does.
An automatic buttonholer lets you sew a button in a single step. You no longer have to go back and forth or turn the fabric over to handle the stitching. Modern sewing machines insert and fit a button on the right spot of the fabric without the manual work.
If your sewing machine isn’t responsive enough on the presser, pedal, and other parts, it isn’t right. When working with thick fabrics or multiple layers of delicate fabric, it’s important to be able to manipulate the controls of a sewing machine.
Electronic sewing machines offer the best performance for such purpose. They come with LED panels, buttons, and other dials that allow easy and quick transitions. This gives you more room for making adjustments and even experimenting on different styles.
This include the needle’s position and threader on the sewing machine. If your sewing machine lacks the feature that allows needle positioning, don’t buy it. A good sewing machine allows you to move the needle from the stitching line toward the left or right, based on your preferences. You also should be able to lift the needle up and push it down without injuring your fingers or exerting pressure on the pedal. (6)
The needle threader, on the other hand, is a basic tool that lets you pull the thread through the tip of the needle in a clean swipe. So no straining your eyes or poking yourself in the fingers.
This is an important feature to look forward to for freestyle embroidery. It allows you to drop the toothy mechanism below the usual sewing surface or platform for darning.
Having speed control is the one of the most common and efficient features of a sewing machine. Without it, you would lose control of the sewing machine, resulting in a bad stitch. Based on the fabric you’re using you can adjust the speed of the sewing from slow to fast settings.
A main aspect of speed control is the movement of the foot pedals. The more you exert pressure on the pedals, the faster the sewing machine works. The best way to increase speed is by pedaling barefoot. Wearing any kind of footwear can slow the pedal down, which is ideal when you’re dealing with delicate fabric.
Seam guides typically found in a sewing machine for beginners help beginners get adjusted to the needle speed of the machine. As the needle sews into the fabric, watching the needle go up and down is a waste of effort. By setting up a guide, you can understand and observe the lining of the fabric to achieve straighter and better seams.
Most modern sewing machines offer a guide kit that lets you manipulate all the controls. It’s one of the best things to do when you want to sew straight with the help of tape, lines, needle positioning. Plus, requesting for seam guides at the time of purchase won’t cost you a single dime!
Thread Tension Adjustment
If the thread is adjusted too tight, it can have negative effects on the fabric. Especially when you’re dealing with delicate materials. On the other hand, if the thread is adjusted too loose, it could result in loopy and uneven stitches.
Other important features commonly found in sewing machines are top-load bobbin, automatic power switch, and portable wheels.
This guide will help you make the right decision for a sewing machine. Considering the type, price, build, and versatility of a sewing machine is very important. Other factors such as proper presser foot settings, needle positioning, thread tension, and stitch length and width are just as important. They have a direct impact on how you handle your clothing or your craft projects.
And spending an exorbitant amount of something that doesn’t match up to your skill is a complete waste of money and effort. Look for long-established brands that offer the right ergonomic controls and features. Such brands also offer a more personalized serve when dealing with repairs or replacement.
If you’re buying from an independent seller, chances are you won’t get as good warranty and service as from a reputed manufacturer. Authorized dealers even offer tutorial lessons and such service for first-time buyers.
The next thing to look for when finalizing a purchase is warranty. What features or parts of a sewing machine does the warranty cover? If you’re buying from a physical store, test out the machine with a sample fabric. That way, you won’t feel cheater or disappointed once you take the machine home.
Certain warranties also include repair coverage. You might find a “repair policy” label behind the sewing machine; enlisting all you need to know about the product’s in-store policies. However, this only applies to you if you’re purchasing a model from a department store and not online. Online stores do offer excellent warranty, but only high-end models cover repair policies.
That said, it’s important that you store the manufacturer’s warranty and packaging. This is just in case you want a new model or need to be repaired when under warranty.
Jen Miller is a former electrical engineer and product specialist with more than 20 years of product design and testing experience. She has designed more than 200 products for Fortune 500 companies, in fields ranging from home appliances to sports gear and outdoor equipment. She founded Jen Reviews to share her knowledge and critical eye for what makes consumers tick, and adopts a strict no-BS approach to help the reader filter through the maze of products and marketing hype out there. She writes regularly and has been featured on Forbes, Fast Company, The Muse, The Huffington Post, Tiny Buddha and MindBodyGreen.