Intro: 10 Tips for Buying a Sewing Machine
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.