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At its inception in 1846, the sewing machine revolutionized the textile and clothing industries, and eventually, domestic models became a staple in many homes.
The first practical sewing machines were primarily hand-crank machines, but there are now many types of machines to choose from depending on your needs.
When deciding what type of machine to buy, it’s important to understand what each one does, so in this article, we’ll break down the different types of sewing machines and their functions.
Sewing Machine Types
The different types of sewing machines are essentially categorized by their functions and the type of work you plan to do.
1. Lockstitch - The Original and Most Common Type of Sewing Machine
These machines produce durable lockstitches, which is the most common stitch and looks the same on the front side as the backside. The lockstitch is fast and easy but isn’t suitable for elastic or knit fabrics.
2. Serger - The Multi-Purpose Machine for Professional Seams and Edges
Sergers are multi-purpose machines that sew durable seams, hems, and edges, even on stretch and knit fabrics. Also called an overlock or an overedge machine, these provide a more professional look to projects. Some sergers also automatically cut as they sew along edges.
3. Quilting - The Essential Machine for Greater Volumes of Fabric
Quilting machines are a must-have for working with thicker volumes of fabric. They feature a longer arm and a larger workspace for working with large quilt pieces. Some models are ideal for both quilting and other general sewing projects.
4. Embroidery - The Must-Have Machine for Beautiful Designs
If you’re planning to do elaborate embroideries, then an embroidery machine is the one to get it done. Many of these machines have built-in designs and the ability to import new designs to the machine through a USB port.
5. Flat Bed - The Ideal Machine for Sewing Flat Pieces Together
These machines have a flat bed that sits flush with the surface it’s sitting on. Flat beds are common on industrial machines, and the main benefit is nicer seams since you can lay pieces flat across the machine and the work table.
6. Button Hole Making - The Best Machine for Creating Perfect Buttonholes
These machines take the guesswork out of sewing buttonholes. They use computers and an automatic process to place perfect buttonholes in a variety of shapes, from rectangular to keyhole.
7. Bar Tack Machine - The Best Machine for Stronger and Reinforced Seams
A bar tack machine doesn’t sew entire projects, but you can use it to reinforce certain areas, like belt loops and zippers. Bar tacks are high-density stitches that protect stress areas and reduce the chances of ripped stitches.
8. Mechanical Treadle - The Manually Powered Machine that’s Built to Last
Mechanical treadle machines are operated by spinning a spoked handwheel and then working a treadle plate with your foot. These vintage-style machines are highly durable, built to last, and don't require any electricity.
9. Computerized - The Digital Machine with Tons of Options
Computerized machines give you the ability to use tons of programs for embroidery, buttonholing, and various automatic processes. They don’t use manual features, and instead, usually include an LCD screen for setting your preferences.
10. Electronic/Mechanical - The Basic Machine for Simple Projects
Mechanical machines feature simple knobs, dials, and a foot pedal, and they’re very simple to use for beginners. Electronic machines are a hybrid of mechanical and computerized and give you a few more options.
11. Manual/Hand-Operated - The Durable Machine that Doesn’t Require Electricity
Manual and hand-operated machines involve pulling a handle or spinning a hand crank to operate the machine. They’re very affordable and easy to maintain, and they don’t require the use of electricity.
12. Handheld - The Highly-Portable Machine that’s Perfect for Travelers
These simple and highly-portable machines fit right in your hand for mending and adding small details on the go. While they aren’t the most powerful and accurate machines, they can be very beneficial for people who travel or aren’t looking to sew large projects.
13. Industrial - The Best Machine for Increased Speed and Performance
If you’re in the fashion industry or take sewing very seriously, industrial machines can provide
increased speed and precision. They also allow you to use a wider range of materials and give
your projects a far more professional look.
The type of sewing machine you decide to get will greatly depend on your budget, skill level,
and the type of projects you want to work on.
In fact, many people who sew seriously don’t just own one type of machine; they own several
machines that perform different specific functions.
Which machines you decide to buy usually depend on whether you’re a hobbyist or a
People Also Ask
If you’re considering what type of sewing machine to buy, you likely still have some questions.
Here are some of the most common questions people often ask about the different types of
What Type of Sewing Machine for Quilting?
If your primary purpose for buying a sewing machine is to do some quilting, then your best bet is
to buy one specifically made for quilting. These machines typically have a larger “throat” solace
and work area, which is helpful when working with bulky projects.
What Type of Sewing Machine is Best for Beginners?
If you’re a beginner, all the fancy features of some machines can seem exciting or daunting. The
best machine to go for is usually one that has the features you need and fewer of the
extras. An electronic machine is an excellent option as it’ll have many automatic features for
ease with a simple and less confusing design.
What Type of Sewing Machine is Needed for Leather?
If you intend to sew with leather often, your best bet is to buy a machine that can handle these
kinds of materials. You can typically sew on leather that’s about 3/16” thick on a standard
residential machine if you buy leather needles, nylon thread, and an appropriate foot. For thicker
leather, you’ll need to invest in an industrial machine.