Learn to Sew - Private Lessons

Sewing Conversations: Buying a Sewing Machine

Sewing conversations: There are many common topics of sewing conversation that I have with my sewing clients so I thought it would be nice to share some of these with a wider audience…

Notes on Buying your First Sewing Machine

It’s not surprising that one of the questions I get asked the most is what sewing machine I would recommend.

There are so many machines to choose from so rather than pick one or two specific models these are the details & features I suggest you consider & look out for.

You really don’t need to spend too much money to get a good machine that will be fine for all your home sewing needs, I usually suggest spending £100-£150.

I always recommend buying a full size basic sewing machine from one of the recognised brands so that it will be easy to buy extra parts or to be serviced & repaired.

Some of the supermarkets sell perfectly good & cheap sewing machines but these can be more difficult to get repaired or serviced as the parts are not easily identified. I also advise to avoid the mini machines because these are not very robust & you will soon find it limiting.

If you can get your hands on a second hand sewing machine from a recognised brand it is usually worth getting that serviced (usually around £30) as the older machines were made to last. It’s also a joy to resurrect a vintage or retro machine and rescue it from ending up at the tip!

The main brands that I know to trust these days are as follows:
Janome
John Lewis (Janome)
Singer
Toyota
Brother
Elna
Viking Husqvarna
Pfaff

Some of these brands offer many options under £150, all with slight variations, so it can be quite daunting if you’re not sure what you are looking for.

To help with this I have listed below the key features & functions that I would be looking out for when buying a sewing machine. In this price band you may not find a model that has all the features you would like so you just need to decide where to compromise.

It is of course down to personal preference. Some of these features may be more important than others to you & there may be others that I have not even mentioned (such as colour, weight or size) that will be a key deciding factor for you. I hope you find this a useful starting point.

THE MACHINE

  • Choose between a front loading bobbin or drop-in bobbin. I prefer a front loading bobbin because I think it is easier to make sure you have threaded the bobbin correctly (to control lower thread tension). I also prefer the robustness of the plate (under the presser foot) being metal. A top loading bobbin usually has a plastic plate & is preferred by some because it allows you to see how much thread is left on your bobbin.
  • Check there are seam allowance markings on the foot plate to guide your sewing. Preferably in both cms & inches. I’ve found these are often easier to see with a metal plate (front loading bobbin).
  • If you would like to be able to do free motion embroidery then it’s good to have the ability to drop the feed teeth. A darning plate is also sometimes used to cover the feed teeth & can therefore be an alternative for doing some free motion embroidery but I’ve found this doesn’t work so well.
  • A side thread cutter can be very handy but you can also easily manage by keeping a pair of little scissors to hand.
  • A needle threader is useful if you find it difficult to see to thread the needle yourself.
  • You can also get machines with an adjustable speed which is great if you are feeling particularly nervous but this is likely to cost a bit more. I usually find most people only take a few goes to get used to the foot peddle & find their comfortable speed.
  • If you are planning on doing lots of sewing with heavyweight or thick fabrics then you might also wish to get a machine with adjustable foot pressure but this is not something I would worry too much about – we manage most fabrics without it.

THE STITCHES

  • The ability to sew straight stitch & zig-zag stitch is all that you need to make most early projects & simple clothes. Most machines come with additional stitches that have more specific purposes but often don’t get used, especially when starting out. These additional stitches can help with advancing your sewing skills but you can most definitely make yourself lots of lovely things very capably with simple straight & zig-zag stitch.
  • I do like to have the ability to alter the stitch length, so that you can do long basting or tacking stitches that are easy to remove after & alter stitch width so that you can create your preferred zig-zag stitch or satin stitch for doing machine appliqué.
  • If you are keen to make clothes with jersey or stretch fabric then it’s a good idea to get a machine that offers specific stretch stitches. These make it perfectly possible to do a good job of sewing with jersey without the need for an overlocker. You can also switch to a twin needle & it’s advisable to use a ballpoint or stretch needle specific to sewing stretch fabrics. Both needle swaps can be done on all machines.
  • Also look for a 1-step or 4-step buttonhole stitch as this makes it very easy to sew buttonholes. I prefer the 4-step version on these basic machines as I’ve found it’s easier to intervene if the machine gets stuck (as it’s inclined to do when you are sewing the tight buttonhole stitch).

THE FEET

  • Other than the standard foot (often referred to as the zig-zag foot) that comes with the machine, the foot I find we most often switch to in my lessons is the zipper foot. This is not just for inserting zips, but for making or inserting piping & it’s also quite useful as a guide when top stitching too.
  • I also like to have a sliding buttonhole foot with side measurement markings or the ability to place the button in the back of the foot to set the buttonhole length.
  • There are many, many specialist sewing feet which can be a great help for specific tasks such as quilting, ruffling or rolled hems etc. These can certainly help you achieve very professional finishes as you progress with your sewing but they are far from essential. If you make sure to buy a branded model with additional feet readily available then you don’t need to spend more money on your first machine just to have these extras included at the outset. When you know what extra skills you want to add you can pick & choose which feet or accessories you want to buy.

I’m sure there are other features or functions offered but these are the ones that matter most to me.

There is no doubt that the more expensive models (£250+) from the recognised brands usually have more powerful engines with better traction to cope with all types & thicknesses of fabrics & they are often much quieter. They are also likely to come ready with all of the features & accessories you could ever want. However I have found that with their added features (particularly if they are electronic or digital in any way) they can be much more tricky for beginners to get to grips with, which is why I recommend starting out with a more basic model, which could easily last you a lifetime of happy sewing!

These are just my personal thoughts – I hope you find them useful. I would love to hear from you if you have any questions or have any additional advice to add. Please add your comments  in the ‘leave a reply’ box below.

Happy sewing!

Maria

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