Sewing requires some specialized tools, the biggest one being the sewing machine itself. If you're new to sewing, you might be tempted to get a machine as cheaply as possible. However, this is one of those cases where saving a few bucks now can end up causing you hours of frustration later. Purchasing a machine within your budget is necessary, but getting the cheapest (or free-est) machine out there is rarely the best option. We combined our own years of experience with expert tips from sewing machine sponsor, Janome America to bring you the top five things to keep in mind when shopping for a new sewing machine. We're talking here about entry-level or mid-range models for day-in-day-out sewing of clothing, quilting and home décor. We'll look at the top-of-the-line models that combine embroidery and other special features in future articles. Right now, you want to concentrate on ease-of-use, stitching precision, and reliability.
#1 Don't automatically drag Grandma's machine out of the closet or buy one for $5.00 at a garage sale.
Just because a sewing machine runs doesn't mean you're going to want to spend any time sewing on it. Even the most simple seam requires dozens of parts in the machine to be moving at hundreds of revolutions per minute – all in perfect sync. Anything that's slightly off results in skipped stitches, thread tangles, and bottles of Excedrin. Sewing is supposed to be relaxing. But a cheaply-made machine, or one with mechanical problems, will turn what should be a rewarding process into a series of frustrations. That's just a shame, because people often give up on sewing, thinking they just can't do it. In reality, the sewing itself isn’t frustrating, it’s the machine that's the challenge! You don't have to break the bank and buy the most expensive machine available, but you should buy the best machine you can possibly afford. A good machine makes sewing easier and the results more professional.
The Janome 4120 QDC is a great mid-range option for sewing, quilting and crafting.
#2 Buy the right machine for how you want to sew.
You need a machine designed for what and how you want to sew. If you're planning to be a very occasional sewist, you don't need a feature-heavy model. First and foremost, you want a machine that makes good quality stitches. You also want something that's easy to use from the very beginning. You don't want to have to re-learn the machine each time you start a new project. If you're interested in sewing a lot of long, straight seams; you may find a very fast, straight-stitch model is your best choice. For most home décor projects, a mid-sized, portable machine with a decent selection of decorative stitches is ideal. If you're ready to get serious about home décor as well as adding in clothing and quilting projects, look for the following built-in features and specialty feet to make your life easier.
- Automatic buttonholes
- Specialty presser feet for inserting zippers, making precise quarter inch seams or sewing cording, piping or trims
- A superior fabric-feeding system that can accommodate thicker fabrics
- An automatic needle threader
A) Ribbon/Sequin Foot, B) Beading Foot Set, C) Piping Foot, D) Binder Foot, E) Cording Foot.
For more about these feet as well as those shown below, see our expanded article on special-use presser feet.
Knowing what/how you want to sew will help you narrow down the many choices available, and will allow you to tell a salesperson exactly what you're looking for. Below are some of those "ease-of-use" features we've been mentioning: a free arm, an automatic buttonhole foot, a top drop-in bobbin, and a great set of precise feed dogs with lots of helpful markings on the needle plate.
#3 Where you buy can be as important as what you buy.
Once you've decided on the basics of what you want your machine to do, you’ll need to decide where to shop. Most folks automatically think of Big Box retailers, such as Sears, Target or WalMart, as the best option for an economical machine. There are two reasons this is not always the best idea. 1) A good number of the inexpensive machines sold at these stores are basically disposable. Because of plastic gearing and the lack of an internal frame, they often can't be repaired when something goes wrong. 2) You get no support. A sewing machine requires service and support – maybe even a lesson or two, and you won't get any of that from a Big Box outlet. We're not saying all machines available at mass merchandisers are evil. Even Janome has some models available at these type of retailers. We are merely cautioning you about just grabbing a box off the shelf, assuming all machines are created equal simply because they've made it into a big name retailer.
#4 Find a local dealer and take advantage of their classes and other stuff.
The Janome Magnolia 7325 is a basic electronic machine that goes way beyond the basics.
If you're dipping your toe into the world of sewing, having the expertise of a sewing machine dealer on your side can make your new experience so much more rewarding. Even if you aren’t looking to spend very much on your machine, your best option is a local dealer. You might be surprised to find that dealers, who offer service and support for your new machine, have models priced very competitively with the Big Box offerings – and you get far more for your investment. A local dealer can help you with any problems that arise, and many offer classes on a particular model of machine or on sewing in general. Better still, your dealer offers a connection to a sewing community – so you can hang out with other sewing enthusiasts and share your passion for pillows... or quilting, or clothing or anywhere your creativity takes you.
#5 Do a little shopping on the web first, then visit a store for a hands-on demo.
Visit the websites of machine companies, check out their selections, and learn which kinds of features are available on the various machines. You can do a lot of research online before you even walk into a store. When you're ready to buy, the final step is to make sure you "test stitch" on your chosen machine. Ask for a hands-on demonstration and go over the types of projects you are excited to get going on. By taking a little extra time in the store, you'll be ready to start your first project as soon as you get your new machine home and out of the box. Take a look at our Out Of The Box Basics article for set-up tips as well as a handy guide and definition table, showing a machine's main parts.
The Janome Horizon Memory Craft 8900 QCP: a machine experience so smooth,
easy and worry-free – it simply takes you away.
Following these tips will allow you to be more confident in your sewing machine purchase – and much happier with it for the years to come.