Buying your first sewing machine can be an overwhelming task. Sometimes we get blinded by all those shiny features and added extras. You know, the sewing machines that have 80 stitch selection choices. I think I use about 5-6 stitches on my sewing machine to be completely honest. I’ve create a printable PDF that you can take with you on your sewing machine shopping adventure to keep you focused and on track with what types of useful features to look for and questions to ask the sewing machine dealer. You also have space to write some notes if you like. It’s a teacher thing, I think…
What Type of Sewing Are You Going to Do?
This is a hard question, especially if you haven’t actually started sewing yet. If you haven’t started sewing yet it might be best to think about what price range you want to buy in and go from there. That’s in the next section so scroll down a bit.
If you are getting into crafty/home decor or quilting type sewing, you would want to go for a sewing machine that isn’t going to spit and scream at you when you start sewing with more than a couple of pieces of cotton fabric. You’ll want something that can handle many layers of fabric and wadding or has adjustable features that make the job easier and more enjoyable. Don’t be tempted by the full computerised sewing machines with all the features of more expensive machines because these sewing machines will most likely not last you too long once you start getting into the more adventurous sewing. I made that mistake with my first machine. It had lot’s of great features and it was a computerised machine under the $200 mark, but it just couldn’t hack it when I was sewing thick projects. It didn’t even like sewing fleece pants. Gaahhh! I ended up putting my sewing machine away for a couple of years and didn’t do much else until I bought a better quality sewing machine.
What Are you Willing to Spend?
It’s always good to have the amount that you want to spend in mind. You can get some great sewing machines for under the $200 mark with the features you would need, but I would recommend sticking with a mechanical machine in this range. I’ve include the features to look for in a mechanical machine in the printable PDF, so take a squiz at that.
I personally recommend beginning sewers aim for the $200-$400 mark you can get a good machine around the $300 mark and a great one for around the $400 mark. If you’re willing to go to the $500-$600 mark then you can get some awesome features too, but if you’re not really serious about sewing then you might not make full use of those features. My dream feature is to have an automatic thread cutter! you do get sick of cutting those little tails off and thinking “now, where did I put my snips this time??”.
What Features to Look for on a Sewing Machine in the $200-$400 Range
You should find the following features on a machine in the $100-$200 range so you would expect them to be on a machine in the $200-$400 range
- Adjustable stitch length (max 4-5mm preferrer)
- Adjustable stitch width (max 7mm preferred)
- Stretch stitch or triple stitch option
- Buttonhole capabilities (it will probably be a 4 step buttonhole)
- Snap on, changeable feet
- Free arm capabilities (removable part so you can sew cuffs and hems easily)
Here are the additional features to look out for in the $200-$400 range:
Top Loading Bobbin
It is much easier for a beginning sewer to learn how to load a top loading bobbin. a top loading bobbin is also easier to check when you need to see how much thread is left on the bobbin.
Ability to adjust the sewing speed
The feature is great. You can slide the speed down to super slow for a beginning sewer to avoid over sewing or sewing when you didn’t intend to sew because the machine was going too fast for you. I like to have my sewing machine set on about a medium speed just because that’s what I feel comfortable with.
Needle up/down button
This feature allows you to start and finish your sewing with the needle in the down position. This is very useful when sewing curves or pivoting around corners, as it saves you from having to turn your hand wheel to put the needle in the down position every time you want to move the position of your fabric. It is also a handy button to have if you just want to do an extra stitch here or there without having to use the foot pedal.
Automatic needle threader
If you’re half blind like me then you will really appreciate this feature. The automatic needle threader is a tool that you pull down when threading the needle. It has hooks on it to help put the thread through the needle. There’s no squinting or swearing involved. Although, if you manage to put your needle out of alignment, like I did once, then it doesn’t work as well!
Reverse button above the needle bar
Having the reverse button just above the needle bar on the sewing machine is a much more convenient place to have it. I find that I can keep my hands on my fabric and just use my thumb to do a reverse stitch. so my hands hardly move at all.
One step buttonhole
When you spend a bit more on a sewing machine you get a machine that will do a 1 step buttonhole or an automatic buttonhole. So really all you need to do is set the length for buttonhole, put the buttonhole foot on, choose your stitch, lower the buttonhole lever and away you go. The machine does the rest of the thinking and the work for you.
Adjustable needle position
I find this an invaluable feature. I like to move the needle depending on what my seam allowance is and what I’m using as a visual guide. I tend to have a certain process for doing a 1/8″ topstitch as well where I move the needle all the way over to the right and use a particular spot on my walking foot as my visual guide line. It saves my eyes from going cross eyed and blurry that’s for sure.
Ability to lower the feed dogs
This feature is useful if you want o get into free motion embroidery. When your feed dogs are lowered you pretty much control the fabric being sewn and which direction it moves in. Forwards, backwards, left or right. It takes a bit of practise, but is very versatile and effective when you know how to do it.
Overcast/serger stitch option
I only just discovered this stitch on my sewing machine within the last year and now it is one of the stitches that I use the most.This stitch does a nice stitch along the edges of your seams to stop them from unravelling, just like an overlocker or serger would. It looks more professional than a zigzag stitch and you usually feel happier about your project when it it complete too. I recently created a video showing you what the overcast foot is (you can watch it here) on a Janome sewing machine and how to use the overcast foot (watch that video here). Many machines in the $200-$400 price range would have a stitch like this so definitely asl about this when you are shopping around for a new sewing machine.
these are the main features that I would go for when looking to buy a new sewing machine. In the guide I also include some important questions to ask the sewing machine dealer, which include getting lessons for your sewing machine, servicing and warranty questions. Find the button to download the guide at the top of this page or download it here.
Good luck with buying your first sewing machine and let the sewing adventures begin!
Until next time, happy sewing machine hunting!