What to consider when buying the best sewing machine for you…
The day finally came. My sewing machine, the Kenmore 1560 that I learned to sew on, stopped working. Every time I would start sewing, it would get tangled underneath the needle plate. I changed my needle and fidgeted with the tension. I pulled thread out and re-wound the bobbin and re-threaded the machine.
Next, I cleaned out the lint and tried hand winding the needle. Hand winding didn’t solve the issue. After working on the machine to no avail, I finally gave in and borrowed my mom’s machine (thanks, Mom!).
I spent more time working on the machine than sewing the dress for my daughter. You can read more about her dress in an article I wrote called Making a Tiered Peasant Dress and Pattern Review. And there wasn’t much extra time to be dinking around with the machine. I was already limited to late nights and the few weekends she went to Grandma’s, because this was going to be a surprise for her birthday.
Let me clarify that buying a new sewing machine was not on my list of things to do in the near future.
I would have much preferred continuing with the one I had that was free. It would have been nice to learn a few more techniques and advance my skills to the point of needing a new machine before upgrading.
Not to mention using a vintage machine was pretty cool. Everything was mechanical and it was easy to work on. I just wish I could have fixed this issue. Sometimes you just have to make a decision whether it’s worth the time and money.
I wish my old machine wasn’t broken, but I guess I’d better make the best of it and try to enjoy the purchasing process. In my quest to learn more about sewing, I came across plenty of YouTube videos and tutorials that depicted some vary fancy features and accessories. But, what did I need, and what did I want; and were those the same thing? What was the best sewing machine for me?
My research started online
Firstly, I googled “best sewing machine” to see what would come up. As I expected that search returned many results. I wanted to avoid paid advertisements and promoted posts. I wanted real information from real people. Reviews and blog posts about specific machines is a great resource to figure out which machine the best sewing machine for you.
I considered all the popular brands that I’d heard about in the videos and tutorials. I looked at brand websites for information and I looked at box store websites. Most of the time I felt overwhelmed by the amount of information about each machine not to mention the huge variety of machines available.
In addition to the number of machines available, the prices ranged significantly also. This raised a new question. How much am I willing to spend on a new machine? For me, cost was certainly a factor to consider. I don’t have the means to be able to afford some of the high-end brands that sell for thousands of dollars. A budget machine was more my speed.
After looking at a few cheaper models, I decided the cheapest of the cheap wasn’t where I wanted to invest my money. While cost is a pretty major consideration, I can’t justify spending money on something I know isn’t going to last. I chose to spend a little more to get some of the accessories I wanted and have a better-quality machine that might last me a while.
Automatic thread cutters and needle threaders are fancy, but not something I had to have. I wanted to go with a digital machine to have a few more stitches and the needle up/down button was appealing. The downside to a digital machine was the inability to work on the machine myself. It would require a certified technician for all repairs and maintenance work.
Another important feature for me was the ability to do automatic button holes. Making clothing is something I really enjoy and want to be able have options for button holes.
While having these options or not having them wasn’t really a deal breaker or maker, they certainly helped me narrow down the enormous selection. (And I know they would make my sewing a little easier and more enjoyable. And what are we doing here if we aren’t enjoying ourselves?)
Besides more button hole options, I wanted to have a few more stitches to be able to choose from. A machine should have the basic stitches. You don’t need all the fancy decorative stitches to be an effective sewist, but sometimes it’s just nice to sew an alligator stitch onto something :D. (Honestly though, my daughter and I were in the sewing store and we sewed the alligator stitch and we looked at each other. We both knew what the other was thinking. We found our new machine! More on that later.)
- Speed– This could be a major factor depending on what you’re sewing. For me as a newer sewist, speed was not as imperative in my decision-making process. Many newer machines have a variable speed limiter that will keep you sewing as slowly as you want no matter how hard you press the pedal. This is an important feature as you learn to sew and how to control your speed.
- Features– For me, having learned to sew on a vintage mechanical machine, newer features like automatic backstitching, needle up and down positioning, thread cutting, automatic needle threading, and knot tying to list a few are not a requirement. The ones that came with my new machine are mostly bonus extras that I’ll have to learn how to use.
- Cost– perhaps the biggest factor influencing my decision. As a father of two, working two jobs, and with a wife who works part time from home, a budget is an important part of our lives. In addition to paying attention to the overall cost of the machine, utilizing resources outside of the monthly budget can help. I had some money come from a couple unexpected sources that I was able to save for a new machine. It reduced the effects on the family budget. Another thing to consider is whether you are generating any income from your sewing. As a beginner you probably aren’t, but if you are more advanced there are ways to bring in some currency such as alterations or selling your creations.
- Stitches– sometimes we want to have the machine with the most stitches. But let’s stop for a minute and think realistically about which stitches we actually use on our machines. Most of us use a straight stitch, and a zig-zag stitch pretty regularly. Do we really need 500 decorative stitches? Will we ever use that many? Wouldn’t a simple machine with fewer stitches not only be a better fit, but be less confusing also? The cost would be less too! Most of us would be just fine with a machine that has fewer than 100 stitches. You’ll never wish you had more stitches unless you get into some specialty sewing, in which case you will probably have specialty machines to do whatever it is you do.
- Accessories– a sewing machine comes with basic accessories to add customization and functionality to the basic machine. Having a good accessory bundle with the machine is super valuable when you’re a beginner as it’ll be less things to have to buy separately. Some things to look for in the accessory bundle include:
- Seam ripper– sewing a bad seem is inevitable. Especially for beginners. You will need a good way to remove your stitch and re-sew.
- Extra presser feet– you’ll need different ones for different stitches. It’s especially helpful if it has a button hole foot! Also, look for a darning foot for free motion sewing.
- Cleaning equipment– there should at least be a brush to clean lint out of the machine. It wouldn’t hurt to check for oil, and pick some up if the machine doesn’t come with any. Check your manual for oil points or take it to a certified repair shop.
- Dust cover- watch for a dust cover to keep it dust free when not in use. This is an item I have to use from time to time unfortunately. I wish I could sew enough to not need to use this, but I work and a lot and have children. #dadlife (a dust cover is also a pretty easy beginner project if you need extra sewing ideas :D)
- Tools– a screwdriver should be included as well for changing presser feet. Not all presser feet will need a screwdriver to change them but some will and it’ll be nice to have this handy when you need it. It’ll also open access to the top thread area where the light bulb is for maintenance. Make sure the screwdriver stays with the machine so you don’t have to go searching later on.
- Extras– there may be other things included like needles, twin needles, and maybe even a few things you don’t quite know what they’re for. Just keep tabs on them and maybe use the fancy internet device you’re reading this on to look it up.
So, now you know what to look for when picking out a machine, and that’s all fine and dandy, but what do you do with all this information and where do you start your search?
For me the search started because my old machine broke. It just flat out wouldn’t sew well and despite the numerous repairs I made to it, I couldn’t get it going again. Not to mention the number of times it’s been in the shop for professional repairs and tuning. This machine just finally bit the dust.
Initially, I wasn’t ready to purchase a new machine and I had no idea where to start. But, following the process I’ve outlined here, I was able to pick out the best sewing machine for myself.
I looked at many brands. Name brand wasn’t that important to me. I didn’t care if it was a Singer or a Bernina. More importantly was what it could do, how well it was made, and how much it cost. Because of these criteria, I did a basic search considering cost of the brand as a whole and what their cheapest budget machine cost. This helped me narrow down the list of brands to just a few.
Next I picked out all the machines within my price range. This left my list a little thin. There weren’t many machines left that met my needs on the list either. I was forced to reassess my budget analysis. I did this by looking at the machines just above my thin list and I started seeing some that had the features and functionality I needed in a machine.
And finally, before making final selection of what machine to purchase, I scrapped the whole bit of research I did and started over. This was a lot of money to spend willy -nilly. After going through the search again I had a new list and it encapsulated pretty much the same machines as the refined first list. But I was a little more convinced I had a good list.
Next I went to talk to the people at my local sewing store. One of the best things about buying sewing machine from a local sewing shop is that they often have machines setup that you can test out. I asked a lot of questions about the machines, like:
- What stitches does this machine have?
- How many stitches can it sew in a minute? (not the most important question, but still nice to know.)
- How many button hole options are there?
- What is different about machine A vs. machine B?
- What’s your favorite machine? (this usually ended with them showing me the high end machines with the most features. :D)
Plus, they let me sew on some fabric to test out the machine. Being able to test sew on a machine was a huge factor in making my final decision for purchase. Also, they had it in stock. If they hadn’t had the machine in stock, I don’t know that I would have purchased the machine. Not having to wait for it to ship is pretty great. I like being able to take home a large purchase like that and not have to wait for it to be shipped.
RABBIT TRAIL: Recently, I shopped at a popular marine store and purchase a fish finder for my boat. It was last year’s model and they didn’t have the one I wanted in stock, but could order it. It was nice that I could still get it, but not so nice that I had to wait for a week for it to arrive. I would have much preferred to leave the store with a device that expensive and be able to play with it right away. Alright, back to the task at hand.
Another thing that played into my decision was how knowledgeable the staff was about the machines. Being unfamiliar with the intricacies of each machine, I didn’t know exactly how to use all the new features and accessories.
The staff was able to show me anything I didn’t know and I know that I can go into the store anytime and ask questions. Also, the technician who repairs all the machines is on site and was able to answer all my technical questions. And, yes, I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to the inner workings of machinery.
I have an extensive history of building and repairing my own stuff and I would like to continue that. One of the down sides in that respect is that most of the more modern digital machines are a bit more technical and will require a certified technician to open them up for repairs.
So, after all this I decided on a machine. I briefly alluded to a certain alligator stitch earlier in the post and some of you may have connected the dots. But, for those of you who didn’t, the machine I chose was the Baby Lock Jubilant. To see it on the BabyLock website click here. It had a balance of cost and features that I could handle. It also has a few perks that were a surprise after I got it home and opened it up. I’ll perhaps go into that more in a later post :).
I bought the machine during the busiest time of the year for our family and I haven’t had much time to actually use it. It would be nice if life would settle down a bit so I could have more time to sew and blog and spend time with the family. It seems like every stage of life, while different, presents its own challenges. We are in the season of busyness with two young children and a new career.
A few more points to consider when shopping for a machine are portability. Will you be taking your machine and sewing anywhere else? If so, weight is important.
I’ll continue working on small projects and posting blog posts as I can find the time. I have lots of ideas and plans. I just need more time. I’m looking forward to a potential change, and hoping it will free up some time in the future to spend with the family and on my hobbies.
I’ll touch quickly on one of the recent little projects I got to do for a friend. She often does presentations for her job and hangs things on the wall. She wanted to make a sheet that could hold pieces of paper using a gentle spray adhesive and could be hung on the wall. I sewed a hem all the way around her piece of fabric to prevent the edges from fraying. Not glorious, I know. In fact, it was a pretty minor job but it gave us an opportunity to get together with some friends and do something out of the ordinary. We were able to drop the kids off at my moms and have an adult conversation with someone who could use their words! Yay!
So, after all that helpful information, the best sewing machine for beginners is the one you can afford and are capable of using.
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I am a self taught sewist. Actually, I’m still in the process of learning. I decided to document my journey learning how to sew. Bags, quilts, and clothing are my main interests as of right now. We’ll see how that changes as I learn more and more.