Whether you’re looking for an easier way to hem the occasional pair of pants or want more fine control over your quilting, you can find a sewing machine that’s suited to your project and skill level. Knowing which one is right for you can be difficult, especially when you start looking at high-end, computerized sewing machines that can cost as much as or more as quality HDTVs. Pronto’s Sewing Machine Buying Guide will help you choose the best sewing machine for your skill level, projects and budget.
Best for sewing students, novices or occasional use. These machines offer 4 to 16 stitch styles and basic functions like stitch and needle adjustment and bobbin windings. They are a cost-effective way to learn whether you want or need a more sophisticated machine.
The best choice for all but the most serious home sewers and quilters. Electric sewing machines offer 15to 25 stitch styles and more precision than mechanical machines where all functions are set manually with a dial. Look at one-step buttonhole performance as an overall indicator of quality. If the sewing machine handles it well, it should perform well overall.
Quilters, sewing enthusiasts and experts will get the most out of these top-of-the-line sewing machines. Run by microprocessors, these machines offer the best in precision and stitch customization, with 50 to 250 stitch styles to choose from and the ability to download specialized stitches from your home computer.
Look for a sewing machine that offers the ability to adjust the stitch length and width, change the needle position, easily wind the bobbin and raise or lower the feed dog. Adjustable presser feet are necessary if you’ll be working with a wide range of fabrics. Look for machines that come with additional presser and walking feet for maximum versatility.
Try to find a sewing machine that can be serviced locally. If you’re investing in a high-end machine, look for a 20-year warranty on mechanical parts, 1 to 3 years on electrical components and 1 to 2 years on labor. Be sure to ask online sellers about alternative warranties if they have voided the manufacturer’s warranty.
A small spool that holds and feeds thread in a sewing machine. The thread on a bobbin is fed up through the bottom of the needle plate; thread is wound onto the bobbin and locked into a bobbin case to supplement the thread that comes from a spool above.
A set of serrated teeth that holds fabric in place and moves it through a sewing machine for even stitching. The feed dog can typically be lowered for freehand stitching needed in embroidery and monogramming.
A hands-free lifting mechanism for the presser foot that offers greater control when working with large quantities of fabric.
A flat plate that sits above the feed dogs with a hole that the needle passes through.
An adjustable plate that holds fabric down around the needle, keeping it in contact with the feed dog. Specialized presser foots are needed for some types of fabrics.
A style of presser that uses two plates, one that vibrates and one that lifts. These plates alternate contact with the fabric, appearing to “walk” on the material and providing better control for multilayer fabrics or projects with uneven thicknesses.
When it comes to sewing machines, the term “mechanical” is misleading. These sewing machines run on electricity, but their operation requires you to manually manipulate switches, levers and dials to control a variety of settings (e.g., needle position, stitch style, stitch length, etc.). This manual control over settings can result in imprecise or incorrect stitches, or stitches that aren’t evenly spaced.
For this reason, mechanical sewing machines are best suited to novices who want to learn basic skills without being intimidated or having to invest in a more sophisticated machine. Choose a mechanical sewing machine if you’ll only be using the machine occasionally and for simple tasks. These machines typically offer between 4 and 15 stitch styles.
Midrange electric sewing machines offer the greatest value for your dollar when it comes to features and flexibility. These sewing machines are best suited to intermediate or skilled operators. Electric sewing machines offer users increased stitch precision and a larger library of stitching styles. Deluxe electric sewing machines offer touch-screen settings and the most powerful feed mechanisms for troublesome or heavyweight fabrics.
Electric sewing machines will generally offer 15 to 25 stitch styles. Because the stitch style and length are adjusted with the press of a button rather than a lever or dial, the actual stitches themselves are more uniform and exact.
Electric sewing machines also offer variable feed pressure, needle adjustment at the flip of a switch, and easy to read displays. One feature to look for is one-step buttonholing. Most users find that sewing machines which perform this function well tend to perform well universally.
The most expensive sewing machines are computerized and embroidery sewing machines. These sewing machines operate on a series of small “step” motors that are managed by a microprocessor. Computerized sewing machines generally offer 150 to 250 stitch styles to choose from, including embroidery and alphabet stitches for monogramming. They can also be connected directly to your home computer so you can download custom stitches.
Computerized sewing machines may also offer multiple buttonhole styles and mirror stitching, which lets you sew on either side of a seam and reverses the stitch to match. This is handy if you’re working on heavy-yardage projects that you’d otherwise have to stuff between the needle and the machine itself. These powerhouse sewing machines also feature top-of-the-line feed mechanisms that can handle temperamental fabrics and manage multilayered projects. Quilters will want a computerized sewing machine for its ability to evenly feed multiple fabric layers.
Embroidery machines with hoop features are considered to be the highest-end sewing machines and have a price tag to match, with prices scaling up from $3,000. If you make your living sewing, quilting or doing other specialty work where you regularly embroider complex designs, the investment may be worth it.
Some embroidery sewing machines accept digitized embroidery patterns, including patterns downloaded from the Web. When purchasing an embroidery sewing machine, look for models that can accommodate more than one color thread at time so you don’t have to change the colors manually every time you need to switch.
Any sewing machine should offer the ability to adjust the stitch length and width, change the needle position, easily wind the bobbin and raise or lower the feed dog. For projects with more work involved, look for sewing machines that offer additional stitch styles to match your projects. Computerized sewing machines have the largest stitch libraries thanks to data storage provided by their microprocessors.
Any sewing machine that you buy should feature a presser foot that adjusts to different fabric thicknesses or density. If you’re purchasing a sewing machine to make drapes, tablecloths, slipcovers or other large items, choose a model with a knee lifter for a hands-free way to raise and lower the presser foot when you’re sewing on large projects.
Most sewing machines offer you a choice of accessories. Some will come packaged with your machine and others will be sold separately. At a minimum you’ll want to have additional presser feet and walking feet on hand so you won’t run into problems when you want to work with specialty fabrics. If you’re purchasing a computerized sewing machine, look for memory cards loaded with additional stitch styles.
Sewing machine functions are repetitive, which can lead to wear and tear on the motors. With the exception of computerized sewing machines, which require little to no maintenance, you’ll want to be sure your sewing machine is routinely serviced (motor adjustment, calibration, general once over). If you skip service, you may encounter uneven stitches, broken threads, or even torn fabric. When choosing a sewing machine, it’s helpful to know where you can take it for service.
While warranties on entry-level sewing machines are understandably low, make sure that a mid-range or high-end sewing machine offers a comprehensive warranty. Sewing machine manufacturers offer varying warranties–anything from 90 days at the low end to 25 years to life for high-end models. Typically you’ll see a 20-year warranty on mechanical parts, 1 to 3 years on electrical and 1 to 2 years on labor.
Before you click the “buy now” button, be sure the manufacturer’s warranty hasn’t been voided by the merchant. If it has, inquire about alternative warranties. Sewing machines can involve a substantial investment, so it’s important to make sure your investment is protected.