10 Tips for Buying a Sewing Machine





Introduction: 10 Tips for Buying a Sewing Machine

About: Like to solve everyday life little problems. I'm curious about things I don't know much. Like to do things that require and allow creativity.

Anyone thinking about starting to sew? The first thing you need to sew is a sewing machine. I wish I knew what I know now almost 7 years ago when I bought my sewing machine. So this Instructable contains crafting 101 tips for stepping out the big first step.

How much to spend on a sewing machine?

In one word, buy the most expensive machine you can afford. In two words, don't spend any cents buying the $15 handheld sewing tool or $25 kids sewing machine, they are total waste of money. I'm talking about $100 up all the way to $2000 sewing machine.

Where to buy?

Unless you know a place to get great deals, I recommend Joann Fabric Store. If you haven't signed up for its sale flyer to send to your mailbox, you may do it as soon as possible as it takes a while for your registration to be entered into its system. The flyer not only contains 50% off coupon (sewing machine excluded), also when and what kind of sewing machines are on sale. I bought mine for $399, but soon it was $299 in the flyer. It seemed to take endless hours to make $100 by sewing cloth diapers (That's what I did when I first got my sewing machine). Joann Fabric Store also offers free owner's class which is helpful if like me you had never been close to a electric sewing machine before. Plus the ladies at sewing machine section seem to know a lot about sewing. If you like shopping online, there are many on Amazon or Fabric to look at without making one step.

What brand to consider?

A friend of mine recommended her $2000 industry grade Bernina Sewing Machine which I couldn't afford. Another friend had a $200 Brother which she didn't recommend. I ended up buying a Singer. Had I known I would eventually make enough money to cover the sewing machine cost by sewing cloth diapers (That was the need and idea I had at that time) with it, I would probably have brought home a Husqvarna Viking which was a couple hundred dollars more. So ask and look around, don't just take my word.

Above are general questions on sewing machine. Below are what stitch patterns/functions/accessories to look for when buying a sewing machine, explained in steps.

Step 1: What Stitch Patterns/functions/accessories to Look for

1. Straight stitch with auto tie-off function: In my opinion, this is the most basic and important stitch/function your sewing machine should have. The advantages of machine sewing over hand sewing are speed and durability. With that, once the foot control is pressed, the machine will sew 4 stitches (Singer brand) forward and then 4 stitches in reverse and continue to sew forward until the foot control is released. With that, once the reverse button is pushed at the end of the seam, the machine will sew 4 stitches in reverse and then 4 stitches in forward and stop. The first stitch line in the first picture illustrates it. Without this stitch function, you'll have to manually pull top thread end under to tie knot with bobbin thread end at the beginning and end of each seam, which is very time consuming and always less durable than the machine stitch with auto tie-off function.

2.Straight stitch with stitch length can be adjusted to at least 4.8mm: Many projects may require gathering fabric or baste. To gather, the longer the stitches, the better it works. Without it, gathering can be time consuming or frustrating if you have to resort to hand sewing. The second stitch line in the first picture shows it.

3. Buttonhole stitch and foot: Again a machine buttonhole stitch and foot can save you tons of time and promise quality. You want to make sure your sewing machine has that. Please see the third stitch line in the first picture.

4.Blindhem stitch and foot: This stitch and foot come in handy if you need to hem formal trousers and skirts or if you are into making window treatments. Depending on your plan for the sewing machine, you might want to make sure your machine has the ability and work well. Mine has it but doesn't work well. If I were to buy a machine now, I would ask the sales tech to demonstrate how it works. The instruction manual does say blindhem stitch needs practice which kills me as I can be impatient.

5. Drop feed dog button: This could be very important to you if you plan to do free motion quilting. The button lowers feed dog to the chamber so you can move the fabric with your hands not the machine feed dog. The video in the link shows what's it about. Ask the sales rep if your machine has it.

6. Zipper foot: I suppose it's important to have zipper foot. Mine has it but it doesn't work well. I always managed to insert zipper with general foot. If I were to buy a machine now, I would make sure it works well.

7. Bobbin winder ability: If you don't already have a bobbin winding tool, it's necessary that your sewing machine can wind bobbins itself and works well. You'll use it all the time.

8. Twin needle function: Twin needle can be used to stitch knit shirt sleeve hem or top decorative twin stitches on jeans. Again depends on your plan for the machine, be aware if your machine can or can't use twin needle which usually you need to buy separately. It's not a must, you can always stitch two times to achieve the effect. But twin needle stitch is done perfectly parallel once.

In the second picture, from left to right are: buttonhole foot, blindhem foot, zipper foot, twin needle.

9. Differentiating feeding: Lastly and most importantly, something I so wish my sewing machine has is called differentiating feeding which most home sewing machines don't have. Mine doesn't have. I heard the $2000 sewing machines have it. Why it is so important?If you have sewn anything on an average home sewing machine like mine, soon you found an annoying problem: the top layer fabric always end up longer than the bottom layer fabric when you stitch a seam. To my understanding, that's because the feeding dog pulls the bottom layer fabric away to the back and the pressure foot pushes on the top layer fabric and causes it to stretch forward to the front, so the top layer fabric ends up longer than the bottom layer fabric at the end of a long seam. To illustrate the problem, I stitched a seam with two long contrast fabric scraps of the same length, at the end of the seam, the top layer extends over the bottom layer. Hope the photo shows (with top black layer fabric shown under) what I'm talking about better than a self taught seamstress's English as second language. It won't hurt anything to ask if your machine has differentiating feeding when you buy. If it does, buy it!

10. Instruction manual: Flip through the instruction manual of the machine. Make sure it's well written, clearly illustrated. Read through a couple of pages, see if it explains things well. You'll refer to it from time to time.

That's my tips for buying a sewing machine. Please vote for the Crafting 101 Contest if it's helpful. Always feel free to ask your questions in comments. If I don't have an answer, I swear some Instructable fellows do. If you are an experienced seamstress, please share your tips in comments too.



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    18 Discussions

    I need help purchasing my first machine. I've seen by hand for years. I just want a straight stitch and easy to wind a bobbin. I would get frustrated with that as well as jamming the threads on Mothers so I never used one.

    Having a sewing machine with an auto tie-off is really nice. My least favorite part of sewing is the tie-off. I forgot to do that with a mini pillow I made, and two days later it fell apart.


    1 reply

    I agree. Machine auto tie off is so much quicker and stronger than manual tie off.

    Thanks for this buying guide, was helpful to me.

    1 reply

    I'm glad to know. Thanks for taking time to let me know.

    Also, check


    I have an older than dirt White sewing machine that was a top model back in it's day but I won't be able to find parts for it when it wears out next time due to it's age. (All good things must come to an end.) Obsolescence is forcing me to look for a new machine so I'm looking at recommendations now and your tips will definitely come in handy. And thanks to everyone who is chiming in too. I don't sew a lot right now but want a machine that will be reliable and not frustrating to us. All the input helps...I love that about Instructables...a community of folks willing to share.

    1 reply

    you are right. look around and ask around here. It always gets your questions answered or makes you better/wants to do better in something.

    Hi, I just bought a Janome HD3000. It is heavy duty. It has all the basics. The reason I went with that is that I had its predecessor New Home (now Janome) 920 from 1981 that finally died after 3 people sewed the heck out of it and that obsolescence thing happened for getting parts. I feel very good about this new machine so far. It is like having a 4-wheel drive for your thick fabrics, but is fine for general sewing. Super basic but solid. I negotiated a 3 year service plan into the deal with the local dealer, because I don't trust any manufacturers these days, and regular maintenance is a good idea.

    1 reply

    For wish list item 9, you can buy a walking foot after your purchase (as you can with most other feet) to your list, I would add an automatic needle threader, automatic thread cutter and a setting for needle down. My auto thread cutter doesn't cut well, but it leaves the needle in a position such that the thread doesn't become unthread for your next piece of sewing (you can always use a buddy if you don't have this). Needle down is used when you need to sew right angles. The needle stops in the down position so you can lift the presser foot to reorient the fabric.

    1 reply

    Very good suggestions. I'm aware of the name of walking foot, just didn't know what it does. Just searched walking foot on sewing machine and found this blog post on walking foot: http://www.seasonedhomemaker.com/sewing-machine-fe...

    My $400 machine has automatic threader, thread cutter and needle down position. Don't know if $100 machine has them. Among the three, automatic threader is the one I use most.

    I too don't recommend Brother!

    I can't agree with you the most expensive machine isn't the best for all. The key is: what do we want to do with it. An expensive machine isn't always the response even if we can afford for it. I recommend mechanical machine against electronic because they can be repaired more easily, not the electronic ones.

    4 replies

    Thanks for your comments.

    What kind of mechanical sewing machine do you recommend? Do you have names, links or pictures? Are they cheaper than the electronic ones?

    I love my Janome machine. It was about $300 and was very user friendly for a machine sewing beginner, which I think can be very important. No use having all the fancy features if you'll be too intimidated to use them!

    Thanks for the name. How about the noise? Sooner or later I need to buy a new machine. My current one still works with no problem but it's noisy.

    The noise level has always seemed pretty reasonable to me. I've never come across a particularly noisy modern sewing machine though, so I guess I'd be hard for me to compare.