Buying Guide for Sewing Machines
For anyone looking to buy a new sewing machine, it's like negotiating a minefield!
The market is absolutely packed with a huge range of models from a vast number of manufacturers. There are hundreds and hundreds of options. These sewing machines range from the most rudimentary mechanical machine capable of the bare minimum only right through to high-end commercial variants.
Everyone has different needs so there is no one-size-fits-all solution. A complete beginner and an experienced seamstress will have wildly different requirements. Perhaps you are looking for a sewing machine for your kids or you are thinking of starting a small business. You might be a keen user of technology or frightened of computerized offerings. Whatever your circumstances, read on and get to know more about sewing machines and the things to look out for when buying a new one.
In this detailed guide, we'll run you through the main considerations you need to bear in mind. By putting in the time and effort before rushing out to purchase a new machine you will potentially save yourself from a wasted purchase.
If you are thinking of buying a sewing machine then, by definition, you will be a creative individual. Rather than rushing headlong into a rash whim purchase, you'll want to explore fully what the terminology and features mean, what different brands are available and also to honestly analyze your own wants and needs.
Different Types Of Sewing Machine
In order to make sense of what follows, we'll have a glance right now at the four main categories of sewing machine on offer.
1) Mechanical Sewing Machine
The most basic choice of all, a mechanical machine is not powered by electricity. Most mechanical versions you see today are vintage. They are lacking in the features present in more advanced varieties and also require much more physical work on the part of the user. Usually a dial or wheel which is found on the side of the machine is used in place of a foot pedal. Many sewers prefer the extreme durability offered by these mechanical machines. They are made from metal and will last a long time and withstand many knocks. Versatile and best suited for more basic projects, they are not so great for very thick material.
2) Electronic Sewing Machine
This type of machine is equipped with a single motor. The motor powers the needle electronically. A foot pedal, also electronic, helps you to control the speed. The application of pressure with your foot means that you'll have both hands free for sewing and you can guide the fabric with confidence. The length and types of stitches are very easy to control with a dial which is usually found on the side of the machine. Some models come with automatic tension setting and thread cutter. A set buttonhole stitch is also common. With the ability to sew a full range of materials and having a great choice of different stitch patterns and functions, electronic sewing machines are perfect for more or less any project you have in mind.
3) Computerized Sewing Machine
Technology is advancing at a huge rate. Computerized versions allow you to make the sewing machine fit your precise needs. LED, LCD or touch screen displays allow for extremely easy operation. Even the more basic computerized machines can memorize your favorite stitches and set the tension accordingly. Advanced programming for elaborate embroidery patterns is possible with the higher-end models. With the versions boasting a USB slot, it's a great way to plan your designs on the computer, hook it up to your machine and then enjoy creating a personalized pattern. Computerized machines are an extremely versatile investment and help you to speed up the rate at which you can attack any project.
4) Overlocker Machines
This type of machine is highly specific and rates a quick mention. The main purpose of an overlocker is to finish seams and hems in a professional manner. They have less functions than regulation sewing machines but can deal with most fabric at double the speed. Overlocker machines work in a different manner to the standard sewing machines. Making use of between 2 and 9 threads along with a number of needles, an overcast stitch is created while surplus fabric is nipped away. For making hems or curtains as well as sewing knitted material, an overlocker machine is perfect for the job. An overlocker machine is a superb additional machine which will deal with specialized simple projects but will not cope with buttonholing or sewing zips.
Before You Start: Ask Yourself Some Questions
When you are contemplating any purchase, it's wise to conduct some thorough research. We'll help you with that.
There are, though, always some fundamental questions you need to ask yourself and these are personal and will vary from user to user.
Some things to think about are:
- Who will be using the machine and what is their level of experience?
- What sort of projects will mainly be undertaken?
- Frequency of use
- Storage issues and ease of moving the machine around
We'll look at these elements in more detail now...
One, the only brand that rated a mention was Singer. Everyone has heard of this household name. Today, like with any product, there are countless manufacturers competing for your cash.
Singer is still highly sought after but today Brother and Husqvarna are also very strong choices from brands with a pedigree. Janome, Pfaff, Viking, Simplicity, Kenmore, Michley, Bernina, Babylock and Juki all also have plenty to offer.
The price bands of the models from most known brands span from a few hundred dollars up to several thousand dollars. At the upper end of this spectrum you will find impeccable machines perfectly suited to rigorous commercial tailoring.
If you are a beginner then Brother, Singer and Janome all have a proven history of producing great basic machines which are also equipped with more than enough features to satisfy you.
In general, check out the quality offered - is there too much plastic for your taste, for instance - and also think about the next item on the list, price...
As mentioned, the discrepancy in prices can be substantial. Like with most things in life, you usually tend to get what you pay for.
Think carefully about your own financial constraints. How crucial is price for you? If you are a student on a tight budget just starting out your view of price will obviously be different to that of someone with their own business and many years of practice under their belt.
Good quality sewing machines are not particularly cheap.
With plastic machines you will notice a reduction on quality. Maintaining precise movements is much more difficult with this type of model.
Ultimately, if you decide to buy a cheaper machine be realistic about what you expect from it. Many of the negative reviews of less expensive sewing machines are more down to the fact that the customer expected too much for the money invested rather than outright defects in the equipment itself.
In general, the more you pay the more you will get in return. Do your sums, decide what you can comfortably afford to outlay and buy accordingly.
It's critical to make your decision based upon the primary intended user.
Outright beginners should prioritize ease of use along with a decent range of basic stitches. You do not want to be put off before you properly get going.
Equally obviously, more experienced sewers will place a premium on the more advanced features which are simply not available on the cheaper varieties or those targeted purely at the novice.
Another question worth pondering here is how you foresee using the machine over the course of the coming years. If you are starting out and only intend to make basic repairs or operate at a low level then your needs will differ from someone who wants to learn and progress to more ambitious projects. If you visualize a move to more intricate projects then it would make sense to find something which is well-suited for all levels rather than needing to buy another machine when you outgrow the kit you start out on.
As just outlined, what you plan to do with your machine should clearly inform your buying decision.
For basic repairs and the simple alteration of garments, a straightforward starter machine with perhaps a dozen stitches if perfectly adequate.
Buttonhole stitches are crucial if you want to try your hand at dressmaking. If you know in advance that you are likely to want to work with pant legs or sleeves, look for a free arm feature. Embroidery and quilting are demanding disciplines which call for a diverse array of stitches. How about upholstery and home furnishings? If you will be working on these types of projects then look for a machine that can easily deal with heavier fabrics.
Too few people take into account what they will use the machine for and consequently make the wrong choice. Don't be one of those people!
Frequency of Use
This might seem self-evident but be honest about how often you plan to use your sewing machine.
If you will just pull it out very occasionally then it does not make sense to outlay a thousand dollars on a highly technical model.
For those planning prolonged and sustained use, buying a cheap machine made mainly of plastic is highly unlikely to be a wise decision.
The importance of mobility and portability depends on whether your machine will have a permanent home on a dedicated sewing table or needs to be packed away regularly. If it remains on a workstation and you do not need to carry it to and from sewing class then weight, obviously, is not a pressing concern.
If you plan to put the machine away when it's not in case then think about how easy it is to lift and exactly where you will put it. These factors can influence your choice.
Terminology: Understanding Key Terms
It's essential that you come to learn and understand some of the most common words and phrases used in the field of sewing.
Here we will walk you through some tricky words with a brief accompanying explanation and some hints if applicable...
Accessories: The basic add-ons that come with your sewing machine free of charge. You can always purchase these separately but they can make a difference when comparing two otherwise similar machines.
Adjustable Presser Foot Pressure: Presser feet come pre-set with regard to the pressure exerted on the fabric. If the material is particularly thick or thin then this pre-setting might not be appropriate. Sewing machines with the ability to adjust this pressure allow for more even stitching with this differing fabrics.
Adjustable Thread Tension: The upper tension of the thread is pre-set. Sometimes this tension can be changed with a dial. Adjustment is necessary if you want to avoid loose stitches with thin fabric or puckering with heavy materials. Overall stitch appearance can be greatly improved with judicious adjustments. This cannot be added as an afterthought so if you are an advanced practitioner look out for this feature.
Automatic Needle Threader: This is a great help with threading the needle, a tricky task for some. Setting up your machine will be simplified with an auto version. If you have poor eyesight or struggle with manual dexterity then opt for this function and make life easier on yourself.
Bobbin Cover: This plastic or metal plate covers the bobbin case. With transparent covers you will not need to remove the bobbin to see how much thread remains.
Bobbin Loading Type: The bobbin is a small container shaped like a cylinder. They hold the bottom thread. This bobbin is either inserted under the needle through an opening (top-loading) or from the machine's front (front-loading).
Bobbin Winding : Before you start sewing you need to load the bottom thread onto the bobbin. With some machines there is an automatic system in place. Others need you to stop the machine and take care of it yourself.
Built-in Stitches: Pre-programmed stitch patterns. These are selected and marketed at specific groups of sewers. Utility are used for seams (straight, blind or zigzag) and are no-nonsense stitches. Decorative are a little more fancy. Use these for detailing the edges or hems of your fabric. Heirloom are decorative stitches made to resemble hand-sewn heirloom projects. Monogram are used for lettering.
Buttonholes: The automatic sewing of buttonholes is a feature of most decent machines. They use either a simple 1-step process or a less user-friendly 4-step system. Many offer a choice of buttonholes.
Drop Feed Dog Lever: The fabric's movement is controlled by feed dogs. If you need to exercise control over this movement then you must be able to drop the feed dogs so that they do not touch the material. If you plan to darn or want to try free motion quilting or embroidery then seek out this feature.
Embroidery Card Reader: This enables data from memory cards to be accessed by your embroidery machine. You can buy cards with additional designs that are not pre-programmed into your machine.
Embroidery Machines: This, in effect, is a combination unit. With such a machine, you can use it like a regular sewing machine for stitching and sewing but also work on embroidery projects.
Feed Dogs: These lines of jagged teeth can be found under the needle. The movement of your material is controlled by the feed dogs. More teeth means a better grip. They come with a point system, 7 points considered the optimum.
Free Arm: This cylindrical platform is housed on the bottom of the machine. It's useful for sewing the legs of pants as well as sleeves. By detaching a section of the base you can access the free arm.
Jam-proof Bobbin: Many factors can cause the thread to jam. Technology preventing this is particularly useful for those lacking experience.
Mirror Stitch: With certain computerized machines you can sew mirror images of stitches. This function cannot be added on. It's great for creating unique rows of stitches with ease.
Needle Positions: Usually, the needle comes down between the presser foot stems. If you need to sew very close to the edge of the fabric, for example, you might want to change this default positioning. The better you get at your craft, the more valuable this flexibility will come. For this reason it does not come as standard on machines aimed at beginners.
Needle Up/Down: Let your machine know where you want the needle to come to a halt when you take your foot off the pedal. UP is for when you need to remove the fabric before sewing a row of stitches. Use DOWN if you plan to turn a corner. It's possible to do this manually but much easier if the automatic facility is available.
Pattern Memory: Save the settings of your preferred stitches. The more embroidery and decorative stitches you have, the more important this feature will be.
Presser Feet: These hold the fabric in place and permit the feed dog to make contact. Every machine has at least one. Different designs perform different functions.
Quilting Guide: This bar in the shape of an L attaches to either the needle arm or presser foot. It's obviously great if you will be doing lots of quilting.
Stitch Selector: With either a dial or a computerized panel you can easily choose between the different stitches at your disposal.
Speed Control Slider: Often, especially when starting out, you will want to dial the machine back from maximum output. This slider is also great when working on highly intricate projects.
SPM: Stitches per minute. Home machines tend to run between 700-900 SPM. More expensive or commercial machines can exceed 1000 SPM.
Start/Stop Button: This self-explanatory feature allows you to operate without the foot pedal. Many users feel more comfortable using the pedal so this depends on your preference.
Thread Cutter: Once you are finished sewing, this nifty feature snips the thread for you.
Twin Needle: Two needles are attached in order to sew parallel lines. You need to thread the needles separately and you can use different colored thread if required. This is great for decorative finishes and stronger seams.
These dedicated accessories are designed to make certain jobs much simpler. The more serious you are about your craft, the more important it will be to have a range of different presser feet.
Some of these often come as standard with your machine while others you will need to purchase separately.
Here's an overview of the main type of presser feet available for your sewing machine:
- Appliqué: Great for needlework projects.
- Blindhem: If you want to create blind stitches for hems or seams then this is the presser foot you want.
- Button Attaching: This holds a button down while the needle moves and attaches it to the material.
- Buttonhole: 1-step or 4-step systems will handily stitch the outside of buttonholes.
- Decorative Stitch: With the special designs on offer, you can add a personalized finishing touch to your project.
- Free Motion Quilting: For darning, quilting and embroidery affording you a better view of where stitches are placed.
- Overlock Overcast: Stops fraying of material.
- Rolled Hem: By grabbing and rolling the edges of the fabric, a rolled hem is easy to fashion.
- Ruffler: Assists with fabric co-ordination to make ruffles.
- Tape Binding: Great for the installation of tape binding on your projects.
- Walking Foot: Adds extra pressure which is wonderful for extra-thick fabrics.
- Zigzag: This is sometimes referred to as General Purpose. Despite the name, it's also useful for straight stitches.
- Zipper: This helps you to get the needle near the edge of the material when attaching zippers.
If you take the above advice on board you will increase your knowledge of sewing machines and be able to accurately determine what, exactly, you want and need from the equipment you plan to buy.
Explore the rest of the site for further specific guidance as well as a range of impartial and honest reviews aimed at helping you to get the very best and most appropriate sewing machine for your money.