Sewing Machine Buying Guide

The sewing machine has been around since the 1700s, but today's machines are more complex and feature-rich than ever before. As the saying goes, when it comes to shopping for sewing machines, "A stitch in time saves nine."

Types of Sewing Machines

Manual

Usually only found as vintage sewing machines, manuals are operated by turning a turn wheel while you guide the fabric under the needle. You are not likely to find these sewing machines except in antique stores, museums, or tucked away in the attic. You can also occasionally find them on online auction sites. Before buying one of these, keep in mind that you want a model that takes standard needles and standard feet, as you are unlikely to find replacements for the machine elsewise. Also, you will want to be sure the machine has a round bobbin instead of a long one to make winding easier. Though manual sewing machines are certainly charming, they are not for everyone.

Electric

Your basic everyday sewing machines, electrics have a motor that drives the needle and controls the bobbin and the feed. They typically have a foot pedal with a range of speeds determined by how hard you push with your foot. They also have a good range of stitch sizes and types, which are changed using a dial. Much faster and more accurate than manuals, the electric sewing machine is a staple for any seamstress.

Computerized

Computerized sewing machines do everything the electric sewing machine can do and much more. These machines are controlled by computer chips with the right tension, length, and width programmed into them for each stitch type. They are operated using a computer monitor and touch screen and, with advanced models, you can download programs. They will remember all the work you have done and have hundreds of different stitches to choose from.

Overlocker

Overlockers are made to prevent fraying and give a professional look to stitches by trimming as they stitch. They are faster than an electric sewing machine and attachments can be bought to gather, roll hems, and attach bindings. You can do the job of an overlocker on your own, but you have to trim the fabric before sewing it on your sewing machine with a zig-zag pattern, which is not only time-intensive, but also creates a slight ridge.

Pay Attention to

Stitch types

Depending on the type of sewing machine you get, the sewing machine can have anywhere from one to hundreds of different stitches to choose from. Common stitches include straight, long, buttonhole, and zig-zag. You should determine what stitches and how many you need before purchasing a sewing machine.

Fabric types

Some sewing machines, such as commonly found in discount stores, can only be used on cotton, polyester, and wool. However, the more advanced ones can work on many different fabrics, including canvas, leather, nylon, and even silk. If you are making clothes, especially those for a child, a basic sewing machine is all you will need. On the other hand, making clothes for teenagers and adults may require a more advanced sewing machine to allow for more types of fabric.

Speeds

For anything but a manual sewing machine, speed is controlled by the foot pedal. Each sewing machine has a variety of speeds that can be run through with the foot pedal, though some sewing machines also have a speed switch that can double or triple the speed range. For instance, a sewing machine might have a speed switch to move from slow to fast. Pushing on the foot pedal while in the slow position will give half the speeds, and then switching to the fast position will give the other half.

Needle count

The most common sewing machines stick to one needle, but some specialized sewing machines use two or even three or four. The number of needles used allows for more stitch types and an opportunity to use multiple colors of thread. More needles will also allow for a stronger seam.

Bobbin access

Some sewing machines have a trapdoor access to the bobbin under the needle, while others have it hidden behind the machine's arm or underneath. The easiest type to get to is the trapdoor access point because you can drop the bobbin in without having to position it just right. The hardest access point to get to is the one underneath the machine because you must remove an access panel and position the bobbin in a specific direction before replacing the retainers and panel.

Top Brands and Product Lines

Singer

Manufactured by a company that is more than 160 years old, Singer sewing machines were some of America's most popular early devices. Now, their range of sewing machines include beginner's and advanced seamstress' machines. One of its more affordable lines, the Brilliance collection, boast an automatic threader, 80 to 100 stitches, and automatic tension adjustment.

Brother

Once called Yasui, Brother Industries is a worldwide maker of mechanical, electric, and computerized sewing machines. One of their popular computerized sewing machines is the CS6000i, which features an easy-to-see LCD display, an automatic needle threader, and simple-to-follow threading diagrams.

Janome

Not as widely known as the other two Janome still has a great reputation and quality sewing machines. The company gets its name from the rounded bobbins that looked like snake's eyes when the company was founded in the 1930s. Janome also manufactures Kenmore sewing machines for Sears. Their own product line includes the 2212, a basic sewing machine with twelve stitches, speeds up to 860 spm, and a manual tension control.