Buying a Sewing Machine

So, you are planning to buy a sewing machine. With so many options, how do you choose the right machine for your needs? Begin by determining what features are essential for the sewing you plan to do.

Essential sewing machine features vary depending on the type of sewing you do. Some things are always essential: good tension control and even stitching are always necessary. While machines are now available with hundreds of stitches, most sewing can be done with straight stitch, zig zag stitch, and a blind hem stitch. If you sew clothing, an automatic buttonhole feature makes your life easier. Those who work with denim or drapery fabrics will want to sew samples of heavy fabric on a machine to be sure the sewing machine is powerful enough for heavy-duty sewing. A knee lever that enables you to lift the presser foot while keeping both hands on your sewing project is essential for those who make quilts or work on other projects with many layers of fabric (such as wedding gowns.)

Optional features are nice to have if there is room in your budget. An automatic one-step buttonhole is great when sewing shirts and shirtdresses. Those who make special baby clothes, christening gowns, or other heirloom sewing on fine fabrics will want stitches that imitate French hand sewing: pin stitch, featherstitch, and appliqué stitch for example. Decorative stitches, monogramming, and other machine embroidery features make it easy and fun to create gifts such as monogrammed sheets and fun children’s clothes.

The home sewing machine should handle most sewing and mending. If you plan to sew professionally, however, consult with trained staff at a sewing center. Explain the type of sewing you want to do and ask for their recommendations. You may need a heavy-duty machine or an industrial model if you plan to do production sewing. You may also ask for recommendations from a 4-H leader, American Sewing Guild chapter, quilting club, or your local Cooperative Extension Service.

It may surprise you to learn that many fine dressmakers in small shops use older, basic machines. The more complicated a machine, the more time it takes to learn to use each feature. By selecting a machine that is as complicated as you need, but not a bit more, you can spend more time sewing and less time reading the manual or watching the instructional DVD that came with your sewing machine. Many sewing centers sell used machines as well as new machines. An older sewing machine can be a simple, sturdy, and budget-friendly option.