If you’re in the market to buy a sewing machine, then get ready to be amazed.
Sewing machines have come a long way since Elias Howe was awarded the first U.S. patent in 1846. Yep, 1846.
Everyone, even those who don’t sew and those who have no interest in sewing, has heard of Singer sewing machines.
And for a very long time, the name Singer was synonymous with sewing machines and the craft of sewing in much the same way Google is with searching on the Internet.
Because Singer was the first company to bring the sewing machine into the average home.
Fast forward to today:
Sewing machines of today can do just about everything. But they still produce a stitch in much the same way they did back in 1846.
A beautiful stitch (lockstitch) is a lovely dance between the needle thread and the bobbin thread–except neither takes the lead.
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First, A True Story
I can still remember my mum’s Singer sewing machine. It was a black beauty with an elegant, curvy shape, a gold handwheel, and the word Singer emblazoned on the front in gold script lettering.
It was a manual machine, which means, that you had to use the treadle and your foot power to power it.
But oh gosh, was it ever a beauty!
And if being truly beautiful wasn’t enough, it was built into its own cabinetry.
I don’t care how beautiful a sewing machine is today or how many bells and whistles it has, not one of them can ever compete with the beauty of these original vintage babies. They just can’t.
One of my greatest regrets, especially now that I am madly, deeply, and truly in love with the craft of sewing, is that my mum had to sell her machine when we moved to the U.S.
Man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to sit in front of that Singer machine today and try sewing an insanely pretty dress.
Anyhoo, enough reminiscing. And let’s get down to the business of choosing your first sewing machine…
NOTE: This article contains affiliate links. Please read my full disclosure HERE.
Don’t Fall for Bells & Whistles
In today’s world of bigger, newer, and more expensive is better, you can spend big dollars on a sewing machine. It boggles my mind that there are sewing machines out there that cost as much or more than a used car.
I know. Crazy, right?!
Psst. Come in close. I’ve got a secret for you…
You don’t have to spend big bucks to sew insanely pretty dresses. In fact, even if funds are not a concern for you, I don’t recommend you shell out big wads of cash for your first machine.
You can get a great model for a reasonable price. And if “reasonable” is still out of reach, try Goodwill or a thrift shop for a steal.
But whatever you do, ignore the siren calls from those shiny, beautiful machines with too many bells and whistles.
All a sewing machine has to be able to do is sew straight ahead, backstitch or reverse stitch, and get zigzaggy with it.
Trust me, when I say:
Mechanical, Electronic, & Computerized Sewing Machines
First, you need to decide if you want a mechanical, computerized, or electronic sewing machine.
An electronic or computerized sewing machine is really nice. But, frankly, a simple mechanical sewing machine will get the job done too.
Alright then, let’s get to know the three types of sewing machines…
Mechanical Sewing Machines
My very first machine was this mechanical Janome 415. It is a simple mechanical sewing machine with few bells and whistles. It uses dials and sliders to adjust stitching length, stitch width, and tension. And it has an automatic threader.
But you know what?!
Even after it sat unused for 15 years in a dark corner of my closet, when I pulled it out and sewed my first stitches, it stitched as beautifully as if it was brand new.
Yes, it did! I wouldn’t lie to you.
Here’s the thing…
A mechanical sewing machine is ideal for beginners for a few reasons…
- They are inexpensive;
- They are easy to maintain; and
- They can last a long time without a lot of fuss.
Electronic Sewing Machines
This is my Janocme DC2014 in the image above. She came with a fabulous overcast foot that does a mean mock serger edge finish AND a walking foot! Sweet!
I love her!
She is actually an electronic sewing machine, which a nice hybrid between a mechanical machine and a computerized sewing machine.
With electronic machines, they often use LCD screen that allows for more precision when selecting stitch length and width. But it will use a dial for adjusting tension.
You also often get nice features like automatic threader, one-step buttonholes, and more stitch variety than a mechanical sewing machine.
Computerized Sewing Machines
These machines tend to be high-end and/or embroidery machines with touch screens. They do all of the above and more like automatically adjust the tension and foot pressure; tell you which presser foot to use; include the very nifty automatic thread cutter; have a trillion stitches (no kidding); and bring you a glass of pink lemonade if you ask nicely (just kidding)!
And as you can imagine, these babies can be pricey!
To me, a totally computerized machine is like an airline pilot always flying on autopilot.
Kinda nice for the pilot…
But what happens if the plane gets into real trouble?! Will the pilot have any idea what he needs to do to avoid a rough landing or a fatal crash?
Which begs this question to be asked:
If your sewing machine does everything for you, will you know how to salvage your project?!
Honestly, if you don’t know why or how to adjust your stitch length, stitch width, or tension, have you really unleashed your dressmaking superpowers?
Not to mention that the accessories for and the maintenance of these machines cost a small fortune, depending on the brand. Ask me how I know this?!
Still, I will admit that my electronic Janome DC2014 sewing machine sews much smoother than her mechanical sister. It is quite a lovely ride.
Okay, moving on…
What Features Do You Need
After you’re clear on whether you want to go mechanical, electronic, or computerized, you need to determine what features are absolute must-haves and what would be nice but not mandatory.
It is a waste of money to buy more machine than you are ready to use or will ever use.
I think the best way to go if you can afford it is to buy a sewing machine that falls in the middle price range. This will give you room to grow for years to come.
Here is a short list of features that I think are a must haves…
- Weighty-ness, which indicates that it is made of metal, not plastic parts
- Three stitches: straight, reverse, zigzag
- These presser feet: zigzag; conventional zipper; and automatic, one-step buttonhole
- Adjustable needle position (great when you need to topstitch!)
- Adjustable stitch length and stitch width
- Adjustable tension
- One-step buttonhole
- A free arm
You also need to know what you want to sew with your new machine. Are you going to be sewing stable cottons or sumptuous, slippery silks or heavy denim? Are you going to be sewing garments, quilts, handbags, or curtains? Are you going to be sewing kid’s clothes or dresses for you?
Knowing what you want to sew with your new machine and sharing this with the sewing machine salesperson will help them help you make the best choice for YOU.
In fact, be bold enough to bring in scraps of the types of fabric you dream of sewing to test drive on the machines. Believe me when I tell you that some machines are better at sewing certain fabrics than others. (Yes, I’m looking at you Viking Opal 650!)
Go Heavy or Don’t Buy
Whatever you do, I beg you please to stay away from what I call junk machines. You know, the ones that you find at many big box stores that you can easily tilt with a single finger.
Just. Do. Not. Even.
What I love about both of my Janome machines is that they are substantial. They’ve got heft. Both of my machines are over 18 freaking-awesome pounds! This is one of the hallmarks of a sturdy machine.
Oh, and one last thing:
Please for the love of sewing, save your money and say absolutely NOT to mini machines. They are not up to the challenge of frequent sewing.
Test Drive Locally
If this is your first machine, you might want to do a test drive at a local dealer even if you decide to buy online.
Before you go sewing machine shopping, pick up a quarter yard of real denim.
Also, bring along a few samples of the fabrics that you’re most likely to sew with.
Now, you’re armed and ready to test drive sewing machines.
FIRST, before you sew your first stitch, ask the dealer to set the tension to the default for that sewing machine! It is IMPORTANT not to muck with the tension when test driving sewing machines! You must test drive with the sewing machine set at its default tension! (It’s usually 4.)
Next, do the following tests:
- Sew a plain straight stitch. Now, look at the stitching line on both sides. They should look pretty much the same.
- Sew a simple zig-zag stitch. On the needle (top) side, you should not see the bobbin thread. However, on the bobbin (bottom) side, the needle thread should make only a very slight appearance.
- Sew a buttonhole. You want a machine that makes a pretty buttonhole.
- Finally, sew through at least three to nine layers of denim. Did it do so smoothly and without a hitch? Or, did is sputter and stall? If it sputtered and stalled, I would suggest you continue searching.
These four tests will give you firsthand knowledge of how the sewing machine will handle your preferred fabrics and the stitch quality it produces.
I wish I had known this before I shelled out good money for that Viking Opal 650!
A good sewing machine does not have to cost you a small fortune. Be wise and decide before you go shopping how much machine you are likely to actually use. Then, buy accordingly.
Whatever brand you buy, go heavy. Make sure it has a metal frame. I think you’d agree that we ain’t got no time for a sewing machine so light, it shakes and rattles with every stitch.
And once you unbox your new sewing machine, the first order of business is to READ THE MANUAL from cover to cover.
You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about sewing from just doing this ONE thing!
Because if I have a spare $150, I would rather spend it on fabric than a freaking walking foot (yes, I did).
Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!
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