How to Choose a Sewing Machine – Complete Guide

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Do you enjoy sewing, or are you looking to get into sewing?

Sewing isn't just a great hobby; it's also a life skill.

If you want a sewing machine, whether you're new to the craft or a veteran, you’ll need to know some tips on how to choose the right machine.

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Factors to Take Into Consideration When Choosing a Sewing Machine

You might only have a couple of considerations in mind for a sewing machine, but you should understand as many things as possible while you shop. 

Budget

What can you afford? It's not as easy as it might sound to determine what you can budget for a sewing machine. Common sense would dictate that you choose a quality machine over one that has a hundred cool features you're never going to use, but that alone isn't enough to help you figure out what you can afford.

If you're on a tight budget, you can look for sales, but you can also look for used machines. Your best bet is a dealer that refurbishes sewing machines and sells them at a discount. That way, you're getting one that might be a little scuffed but works like new at a price you can afford. 

Buying a used machine from a dealer helps ensure you're getting a machine that's had good maintenance, including replacing worn parts.

You can buy eBay or other websites, too, but communicate with the seller to be sure you're getting a good value. 

Special Features

Higher-end machines will have all these features and more, while less expensive ones will have some, but not all. If you're on a budget, think about what's most important to have. 

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Needle Threader

Budget sewing machines may only have a semi-automatic needle threader, but more expensive machines have a fully-automatic one.

Needle Position Adjustment

Needle position adjustment lets you move the needle from side to side while holding your fabric down, reducing the risk that it will slip out of position as you reposition the needle. It also allows you to turn the fabric without making a jump stitch or just screwing up entirely.

Lighting

Sewing machines generally come with their own lighting so you can see what you're doing easily. Companies have made significant improvements to that lighting to make seeing even easier.

Adjustable Speed Control

Adjustable speed control involves a slider that lets you set a speed in stitches per minute at which you want to sew. It's different from the pedal where your foot pressure changes the speed and aids your hand-eye coordination, which gives you more control over your work.

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Automatic Thread Cutter

It's not hard to find a machine with a thread cutter, and it gives you just a little more convenience on your projects because you don't have to reach for the scissors halfway across the table every time you have to cut thread.

Knee Lifter

Knee lifters let you lift the presser foot with the fabric still in place. It's good for sharp corners and other turns. 

Automatic Buttonholer

Buttonholes are a challenge to sew. Some machines have an automatic buttonholer that allows you to create buttonholes in a single step. If you plan on making, repairing, or adjusting clothing, you might want this feature.

Stitches

You should get a machine that has numerous stitching options. You may want more than these depending on your needs, but be sure any machine you choose at least has the following:

  • Straight stitch

  • Zigzag stitch

  • Stretch or knit stitch

  • Blind hem stitch

  • Buttonhole stitch

  • Utility stitch

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If you're experienced and more complex sewing, you can also look for machines with more specialized stitches, like:

  • Basting stitch

  • Satin stitch

  • Edge stitch

  • Rolled edge stitch

  • Scallop stitch

  • Overlock stitch

  • Overcasting stitch

  • Shell tuck stitch

  • Insertion stitch

  • Decorative stitch

Feet/Attachments/Compatible Accessories

When it comes to attachments, you want to choose a machine that comes with a variety of presser feet first. You get your standard walking foot, a side-cutter, a zipper foot, and a bias/tape foot. Some sewing machines also come with invisible zipper feet and buttonhole feet, which are good for sewing garments.

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If you can find a machine that comes with bobbins, great! Most do come with a small pouch of attachments and accessories, including bobbins and presser feet. However, if you've bought a refurbished machine that doesn't come with accessories, you can buy bobbins and presser feet separately at your sewing store. 

Mechanical or Computerized

With technology moving at such a fast pace today, it's no wonder that you can find both mechanical and computerized sewing machines. Mechanical machines are less expensive than computerized machines with a smaller variety of stitches, are less expensive, and require less maintenance than computerized machines. 

Mechanical machines are also great for beginners.

Computerized machines are more precise and great for tailors and craftspeople. In addition to an LCD screen, they come with a ton of different stitches, and they're more expensive. They're also higher-quality than mechanical machines but require more frequent maintenance.

Size and Weight

Are you going to use your machine primarily in one place, or do you need to move it around a lot? If you have a dedicated space for sewing and won't need to move it around a lot, you have considerable flexibility with size and weight, and you can get a machine with heavier metal parts to it.

However, if you have to get your machine out and put it away each time you use it, or you're taking it to a class with you, then size and weight play a bigger role. For this, a lightweight sewing machine with the features you need is best.

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Intended Purpose

What kind of sewing are you planning on doing? You want to buy the best machine for the types of things you want to sew. For instance, if you plan to do a lot of quilting, you should look for something suited to quilting as opposed to everyday garment-making. Sewing clothing for motorcycle riders requires something that can handle leather and denim. 

If you have a list of things for which you plan to use your sewing machine, that will help you narrow down your choices not just on machines but also on attachments and accessories.

Level of Knowledge 

Finally, how much do you already know about sewing and how to use a sewing machine? If you're a beginner, you might want to go to your local sewing store and talk to them about taking classes, depending on what you ultimately plan to do. Sewing classes cost money, so when you're buying a machine, take that into account.

However, if you're experienced, or you just want a machine for occasional, simple work, you can get away with reading the manual or asking a friend who sews for a little help learning how to use your new machine.

Which Sewing Machine to Buy for Beginners?

If you're just getting into using a sewing machine for the first time, you have different things to consider than someone who's more experienced. Look for a machine that has the following:

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  • The most commonly-used stitches

  • Carrying handle and is lightweight for portability

  • As few bells and whistles as possible

You might be taking your machine to and from a class or a friend's house for lessons; plus, you don't need a lot of extras on your machine as you're learning. In fact, those might just confuse you. As a beginner, basic is better because it'll make it easier for you to learn.

How to Choose a Sewing Machine for Quilting

Quilting is completely different from other forms of sewing, so look for a machine without a ton of features you won't need. For quilting, you need:

  • Straight stitch, zigzag stitch, and blanket stitch

  • Drop-in bobbin design

  • Needle positioning, threader, and up-or-down feature

  • Switch to lower the feed dogs

  • The largest throat width you can afford

  • Speed control

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  • 1/4th-inch presser foot, walking foot, and darning foot

  • Designed to hold large spools of thread (you go through a ton of thread when quilting)

Beyond these things, the features you want are up to you. Consider talking to quilters to get their opinions as well.

Which Sewing Machine for Leather?

Leather is heavy, thick, and often stiff, so it isn't like working with fabric. To sew leather, you need a heavy-duty machine with a walking foot designed not to stick to the material and a needle designed to go through the leather. You also need a thread that's heavy enough to hold the pieces together; regular thread won't do it.

A good leather machine has a strong motor meant for heavy-duty work, a solid frame, and a wide enough walking foot to hold your work down as you sew without sticking to it. Make sure it also has solid feed dogs. 

How to Choose an Industrial Sewing Machine

Industrial sewing machines are a whole other beast from the sewing machines you're probably used to. However, if you need them, consider things like your stitch type first. Most of your products may only need a few types of stitches. Make sure it can accommodate the stitch length you require for quality products, too. 

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You also need a machine that can handle your thread thickness, the ability to handle every type of material you use, and a good speed.

Finally, how long will it take to get a machine repaired or replaced if it breaks? Make sure you have warranties and your supplier has parts on hand. 

Sewing Machine Types

There are several different types of sewing machines, which we can break down into categories for you. 

Domestic Sewing Machines

These machines include your standard home mechanical machine, hand-operated, and treadle machines. All three are for sewing garments, repairing seams, and other things we consider "regular" sewing. The latter two are usually antique machines.

Computerized and electronic sewing machines streamline and simplify processes for you, and come as domestic machines, too.

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Industrial Sewing Machines

Industrial machines can sew a variety of garments in bulk. Blind stitch machines have industrial applications, too; you use them to sew blind hems on dresses, skirts, and pants. 

Buttonhole and button sewing machines allow you to create and sew buttonholes and sew the buttons themselves quickly.

Specialty Sewing Machines

Sergers are multi-purpose machines you use to create very strong seams and hems, particularly on sportswear items. They're also called overedge or overlock machines. 

Safety stitch machines use a three-thread overlock stitch and a two-thread chain stitch to neaten edges. Flat-seam machines for creating flat seams and for binding cut edges, usually on knit fabrics. Bar tack machines reinforce stitching on things like pockets and belt loops.

Embroidery and Quilting Machines

Both embroidery and quilting machines have designs programmed into them, or you can program the designs yourself. They do a lot of the hardest work for you.

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Best Sewing Machine Brands 

Sometimes, you can make a decision more easily when you know what brands are quality. These are among the best brands you can buy:

Singer 

Known for their long history and heavy-duty machines, they use metal frames and internal parts. 

Pfaff

A German brand, sewing aficionados like Pfaff machines for the quality of their multi-purpose machines. Pfaff is part of the same company that owns Singer.

Husqvarna

You might not associate Husqvarna with sewing, but they introduced the zigzag stitch to the world. 

Juki

One of the top brands in the world, Juki is a Japanese brand known for making machines like sergers, quilting machines, and other electronic machines. 

Bernina

This Swiss brand was one of the first to offer multiple functions in a single machine. They have starter machines, sergers, computerized embroidery machines, and more.

Brother

Brother machines are known for being easy to use and maintain, as well as a decent balance of features in an affordable package. 

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Elna

Associated with high-quality, Elna is another Swiss brand with everything from basic, domestic machines to top-quality embroidery and quilting machines.

Conclusion

You have a lot to think about when buying a good sewing machine. Brand, price, your plans for using it, features, and more all factor into your choice. You'll get the best value if you do your research, talk to local people who sew and sewing stores, and base your choice on that. 

People Also Ask

Do you still have questions? We have answers to some questions people most commonly ask about buying sewing machines.

How Much Does a Sewing Machine Cost?

You can buy a hand-sized sewing machine for as little as five dollars, a mini-machine for around $40-60, or a high-tech, high-quality computerized machine for over $1,000. Generally, sewing machines run from $120 to over $6,000.  

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Can Any Sewing Machine Sew Any Materials?

No. Some sewing machines can't handle heavy fabrics like leather and denim. Others don't have a stitch for stretchy fabrics. Bear that in mind when looking for a machine.

Can an Inexpensive Sewing Machine Be Upgraded?

No. It's not easy to upgrade a machine that's only designed to do certain things. Adding new stitches and trying to sew material for which it wasn't meant is pretty much impossible. The best way to upgrade your machine is to buy a new one, even if it's a new, inexpensive one.

Are Older Machines Better?

This depends on what you want your machine for and how much experience you have. In many cases, a new machine is better than an older one, though older ones have a certain appeal.