Which features are the most important when buying a new sewing machine?
1. Easy To Use/Learn
One of the most basic features to look for in a machine is how easy it is to operate, or learn how to operate for first time users. There are complex machines that can handle near industrial level projects and have what look like spaceship control panels on the side of them. Look for something that either markets itself as easy to use, or that comes with quality instructional material (DVD, CD, Web Access Codes, ect.). This video is a very helpful start when beginning with sewing and making the right choices when buying one:
2. Needle Up/Down Control
When it comes to making turns in sewing, such as completing corners without stopping/restarting, you want a machine that has up/down control for the needle. This simply means that you can keep the foot down and lift the needle up, or keep the needle down and lift the foot while you adjust the fabric while the machine is on.
3. Adjustable Needle
In addition to up/down needle control, it is not uncommon to also find an adjustable needle feature. This is important for when you want to work with materials of different thicknesses, such as denim versus satin. When a needle is set at a fixed position, you would find it difficult to smoothly sew some materials. You want to be sure any model you consider also has at least preset, or free range, adjustments for the needle height/ start position.
4. Automatic Needle Threader
As implied, a basic quality sewing machine is going to either have semi, or fully, automatic needle threading. Threading the needle of a sewing machine can be somewhat more tedious than threading a needle for hand sewing. For those with less steady hands, or who want to avoid eye strain, a machine that has a spring loaded (or other mechanical) feature to thread the needle automatically is considered a must have. Look for machines that mentioned automated, or assisted, needle threading.
5. Assisted Manual Needle Threading
While automatic needle threading features are fairly common and make it easier to use the machine, almost all older and many newer models still use manual threading. However, one manual threading feature that should be sought is easy-to-thread systems. This particular feature is the next best thing to automatic threading. There is no set method for how to make it easier. So, look for machines that advertise the phrase “easy thread” or “ez thread”.
6. Buttonhole Setting
Making buttonholes is considered a basic feature for sewing machines. There are two distinct methods for this feature to use; automatic and assisted. When it comes to choosing a machine, look for models that have automatic. While both will get the job done, automatic buttonhole features don’t require you to turn and shift the fabric, which can make it a lot easier to do a series of buttonholes, or place them at the edge of larger pieces.
7. Built In Stitching Patterns
Most enthusiasts and experienced users will agree, you want to get a machine with no less than four built in stitching patterns. These are considered the stitches you will need to perform all the basic duties of a sewing machine in terms of creating and repairing cloth goods. Be sure to look for models that have at least: straight stitch, buttonhole stitch, zigzag stitch, and a back stitch.
8. Adaptable For Upgrading
For anyone buying a sewing machine for the first time, it is important to consider how much you plan to use it and what all you would like to be able to do with it. A common feature for many machines is the ability to be upgraded later on down the line as your skills and needs increase. Upgrades include being able to expand the workspace, use accessories (such as hoops and stabilizers for embroideries), or for some models, the ability to expand its stitching pattern repertoire. It is highly advised to look for models that have the capacity to be upgraded in some fashion, which can save the expense of having to buy a new machine with more features down the line.
9. Light Weight Or Manageable Size
The definition of manageable concerns the size and weight of the machine itself. It should be easy to move, especially around the home. Look for models that list a weight and dimensions you feel able to handle, so you can easily store and retrieve it, negating the need to have a dedicated space for it.
10. Adjustable Pedal
The control pedal for the sewing machine should ideally be for more than just on/off operation. Not only should it come on a cord that is around 6″ in length, the pedal itself should have a slight incline. The concept is much like the accelerator pedal in a car, it should slowly increase the speed of the needle as you depress, allowing you to move slower/faster as you desire. Make sure the pedal offers adjustable controls.
11. Free Arm Design
One of the most overlooked features is the free arm design. The arm, or workspace around the needle and foot, should either be minimal (allowing free workspace to more easily hem things like pants legs) or adjustable (having a broader area that is removable). It is best to look for models that have an arm piece that clips off for the most variety and use.
Which brands should I look for?
One of the oldest names in the sewing industry, Singer has been synonymous with sewing machines since the 1850s. On just about any list of the bests, Singer, Brother, and Janome are almost always among the top three today. In particular, Singer is known for their features to pricing ratio, with excellent models that can make professional quality pieces on a standard budget machine. They also offer a very wide range in options when it comes to complexity and ease of use, which makes them excellent for people who want a reliable machine to learn on or teach children and young adults with. Some of their more popular models are the Heavy Duty and Quantum Stylists series.
Brother is one name that is known for quality products in a variety of technological fields. For sewing machines they offer some of the highest quality models, compared to Janome and Singer. One of their key traits is consistent pricing and features offered. The most popular model they offer is the Brother XM2701, which is described as being one the most versatile and lightweight standard model machines.
While not as old as Singer or Brother, Janome sewing machines have been rising in popularity over the last few years. They specialize in high-end models, most of which make use computer integrated controls and software. Their simplest machine is a single straight stitch that produces industrial quality work, while their featured Horizon (Memory Craft 1500) has just about every feature and included accessory you could imagine.
Much like Janome, Bernina sewing machines integrate a lot of modern technology and control into their machines. They have seven series of machines to date, with each one progressively more advanced and feature filled than the last. It is not hard to see why they are hailed as the ideal machine for enthusiast and professionals alike, the series 7 machines (790 being the top end) could easily outrank any other brand in terms of ease of use and quality embroidering. The only point that the company loses some competitive edge on is the higher pricing that their machines have.
Looking for a more professional approach? Then consider these features:
1. Variety In Stitch Patterns
High-end and professional sewing machines will offer much more beyond the basic four stitching settings. When considering something that can be used by novice and experienced alike, look for models that offer a wider range of preset stitching patterns.
2. Large Work Space
While some consider the ability to have a free arm, or minimal workspace, a standard feature, advanced models will offer more. Even standard machine’s that have a slight bit of adjustment in space via a clip on section that gives a little more workspace, high-end machines tend to offer a lot more workspace. If you intent to handle large projects, such as quilts, look for models with larger work space around the arm.
Noise level is not necessarily a consideration in basic models. Even quality standard machines can be a bit loud. The mark of true high-end machines is their low decibel output when in operation. For people who prefer, or need a more quiet sewing machine, it is best to look for one that denotes itself as being quiet or lists a decibel range.
4. Embroidery Quality
High quality standard machines can handle basic embroidery projects, but more complex designs tend to require commercial sewing machines. If you attempt a very complex pattern on a standard machine, telltale marks of exceeding the machine’s capabilities are bunching up material around certain points and obvious stress to the surrounding material. Look for high end machines that describe themselves by stating the quality and complexity of embroidery it can handle.
5. Automatic Cut Features
When it comes to the epitome of convenience, professional and industrial sewing machines with cutoff features for the end of seams are highly desired by those who plan to do a lot of sewing. Certain brands offer completely customizable functions that allow you to program the machine to cut and tie off at the end of each seam and to restart when you are ready to. This feature is great to look for when higher efficiency is desired, because you don’t have to fetch something to snip the thread and tie it off yourself, you can keep going with seamless (pun intended) starts and stops.
6. Good Lighting
One feature that is not standard on machines is a light. Higher quality models, and any commercial sewing machine, should have either a strong or adjustable lighting option. Given the potential eyestrain from focusing on the threading and making corrections as needed, a good light can go a long ways in helping. Look for models that either have a basic light that comes on when the machine is active, or one that can be adjusted as needed.
7. Hoop Stabilization
When it comes to machine embroidering, one point that sets high quality and standard apart is how the hoops are handled. Embroidery hoops are what lock sections of material in place to be worked on, and when used with a machine, there can be a lot of difficulty in keeping it steady. This is where not only a large workspace comes in handy, but also some additional feature to help keep the hoop stable as the material inside is embroidered. If you plan to do a lot of embroidering, look for models that not only have the desired stitching capacity and workspace, but also offer some method for keeping the hoop stabilized while the material is being guided.
8. Inclusive Accessory Package
The accessory packs are one option that can come with standard machines, but are more common in professional packages. These kits are more than simple care kits; they include all manner of add-on devices such as multiple spool holders, an expander for the foot, and so forth. While most of the items are not going to be for novice or casual users, dedicated enthusiasts or those who make a business of selling their sewing goods will want to look for machines that come with high-end accessories. If you are just looking for sewing tutorials you can best look around online, on “Dana Made It” you can find a very comprehensive list of sewing tutorials for beginners, and of course there are plenty of other great resources that you can easily find on the web.
9. Able to Handle Layers
Beyond just being able to adjust the needle height and position, advanced fabric feeding systems that allow the foot and guides (sometimes called feed dogs) to shift are better suited for layers of materials. For example, if sewing together a layered blanket that had a layer of filler between two quilts, you would want an advanced guiding and needle adjusting system to be able to handle all that material without snagging or bunching. Look for models that talk about a walking or flexible foot system if you plan to work with a lot of thick or complex layers.
10. Free Motion Quality
In the world of sewing and quilting there are many phrases (FMQ, free motion stitching) that mean the same thing. They are referencing a style of sewing where the feed dogs are dropped out of use and you are able to freely move the material. This is done for unique patterns and freestyle stitching. Quality machines will have superior ease of use and flexibility for this style, though some of the more advanced, computer integrated, machines offer the bests freehand results. Depending on what you intend to do, look for models that mention freestyle or free motion modes.
11. Assisted Embroidery Placement
A feature that is not always common in professional machines that can handle complex embroidering is placement assistance. Often considered an add-on or accessory, devices or programs (for computer integrated models) that can help you line up and properly place the embroidery on your items is considered essential for anyone that sells their creations on a steady basis.
12. Top Loading and Thread Lifting Bobbin
The bobbin is the other half of the threading system that sits in the arm beneath the guide dogs and needle. There are typically two ways it can be loaded; side and top. Most users agree that top loading and automatic threading bobbins are the best option available in terms of ease of use. For first time users, or those who have problems with the hands (such as arthritis or carpal tunnel), top loading bobbins are the best style to look for in either a standard or commercial sewing machine.
What are your needs, and how big is your workspace?
1. Look For Features That Fit Your Needs
For those who are not sure about sewing, or who only want a machine for occasional repairs, something from the Singer very basic line would be the best investment. However if you are wanting to create truly complex and amazing pieces of art that you plan to sell, then look for machines that feature the best embroidering technology and accessories (think Janome or Bernina). There is no point in spending a lot of money on a decked out machine with over 200 stitching patterns if all you need to do is fix the occasional hole in the knee.
2. Consider Your Workspace Size
While high-end commercial models can be great for just about everything sewing related, they do tend to take up more space than basic models. When shopping for a new machine, consider how much workspace you have and if it’s a dedicated area. For people who live in smaller apartments, or bedrooms, and want fully featured high end performance machines, consider looking for models that come with kits to build up on and that can be removed when not needed. Arm expansions and embroidery rigs can often be purchased separately for many standard models and help safe weight and space, compared to when they are built into machines.