How to pick a sewing machine?

By twitter or email, I often get asked “what machine do you use?” or “what machine I should buy”.  Picking a sewing machine can be a daunting prospect during a very exciting time!!! 

What do I need vs what’s available
Sounds common sense right? You will be surprise how much I hear about “wrong choices” and that people are changing their machines after a few years. By identifying the user real need it will eliminate the feeling of “there are too many options” that many go thru and narrow the search to suit more specific purposes. 
Both my best friend Cris & I started sewing at the same time but we have very different approaches to sewing that has grown more visible over the years. Something that we both were unaware of it at the time. Lucky we meet a lovely sewing machine shop keeper that asked all the ‘right’ questions preparing ourselves to made our decisions well. Two very excited sewing beginners shopping trip could have turned terrible wrong if we just went on “best buy deals”.
In my heart from the point I decided to purchase my own sewing machine I knew I wanted to sew every single free minute I had spare. To use every fabric my imagination took a fancy. I wanted to make both clothes and crafts and have a machine that in a few years wouldn’t feel outdated. I needed a ‘work-horse’ that didn’t break the bank balance (as a beginner I didn’t want to mess up a very expensive machine straight away either) so my search  focus on middle range machines, that were marketed for both sewing & quilting.
Cris does loves sewing but has other priorities so her sewing time is not only rare but not as frequent. Her projects tends to be mainly home improvements and crafts, with a few clothes when she feels inspired. (Or I nag her into it lol) She is trilled with her simpler machine because it fits her necessities perfectly. She didn’t let the hype of ‘fun things you could have extra’ distract her from what she really needed. She saved money by focusing her search on entry level sewing machines. 
One of my friend’s young daughter wanted to learn how to sew (thanks to Sewing Bee) but my friend never sewn. Having something very user friendly, easy to control and with safety mechanics end up being their priority independent of other specifications.

Activity: Write about your real intentions for the sewing machine. Dig deep in your heart!

Clearly sewing has inspired you enough to make an investment. When we feel excited by a new hobby is so easy to get carried away and just want everything. It sounds so cool, it must be good.  Just remember you can have a very good machine without spending tons of money on specifications you don’t need.

Your machine has to be fit for propose. 

Each person requirement is individual so don’t feel you have to have the latest “it” machine that everyone is blogging/ raving about. Do you really need 400 fancy stitches when 150 would be perfect? If you are planning to take the sewing machine to clubs etc can you easily carry your machine? Is the machine to sew crafts, home furnishing, clothes, quilts? Visualise what you want to achieve short term.

Now write 3 goals for the future. That will help you to consider a model to growth with your skills. You don’t want to keep changing machine because it outdates your needs.

Write your budget. Things can change during this exercise but it is worth to have a value in mind.

Got your favourite machines down? Go and do a test drive. You will easily notice what suits you after you trying. It’s just like when you pick a car.

Internet deals are great but buying from a brick and mortar local dealer can be a lot better.  You get a better service and often they can match a deal. When Cris & I first got our overlocker back in 2011 we took to the shop a few times when we couldn’t sort out the thread tension. In 5 minutes it was ready to use and it was free. We were also taught how to use it/ basics. This kind of service should not be allowed to disappear. #supportyourlocalshops. 

  • Mia

    I agree with the article. But reviews are important too.

    • Reviews are great… What I meant to say is that people shouldn’t based all their decision on reviews only. Testing yourself will give you a better understanding…

  • Hi Rachel please could you let me know what sewing machines you and Chris bought, and have they met your requirements?

    • I got a brother 350 innovis and love it. Sew everything. Only thing that since its been serviced I feel it’s a bit different so I’m not sure if something went wrong during service or the machine deteriorate slightly after 5 years. As she uses her machine less Cris machine never had a service. I got to ask what model. It a brother too and it was a pink special edition

    • Thanks Rachel!

  • Morning Rachel 🙂
    I totally agree about the ‘test drive’. My first machine was a gift so I had no input at all – it was great but it was clear very quickly that I wouldn’t have picked it for myself. I went to a local dealer for my current machine and overlocker. They were brilliant. I tried about 10 machines (over 2 weekends) – entirely free of charge. I actually ended up with a machine much cheaper than I’d budgeted for – the ‘Rolls Royce’ model I thought I wanted wasn’t actually a machine I was comfortable with, nor practical for my needs. And, not only did they match the best internet price I’d seen (without me asking for any kind of discount), they also gave me a quilting kit that had been part of a promotional offer earlier in the year. Totally brilliant service since then too – local shops rule! x

  • interesting post, as I sell and teach new owners how to use their sewing machine in my day job. So many people come in wanting a machine, without really knowing what they would like to use it for and I spend quite a while working out the best machine for them. One tip would be buy the very best you can afford and never buy a Singer x

  • excellent post. I bought my own machine 26 years ago. I had been using an old singer hand machine up till then – and wanted an electric one as I had used ones in training both industrial and domestic. I had been left some money by my uncle, and I bought my Singer Excelle in the local singer shop – there was only one shop in my town. It was the best I could afford and a basic enough model then. At that time Singer had changed production methods and I now know this seems to have had a qualitative change in their machines. However, the machine has stayed with me and on the plus side its all metal so very sturdy, on the neg side, it used get power surges and only last year I got the pedal replaced so I can now sew at a variety of speeds (it used sew like an industrial machine on full steam). I can’t see myself using another machine as I am used to this one, and although I give out about it – I know its quirks! I am sorry I gave away the hand machine as it could sew leather properly (so if you are ever offered a hand machine – grab it with both hands). It is also worth considering a secondhand older reconditioned machines for beginners – there is a lot to be said for the all metal construction….and they make a good back-up machine when you upgrade

  • My mom and I got the same sewing machine as you! We focused on the middle range machines because we would both use it and it was an upgrade form a very old basic model that used to be my grandmothers. My mum wanted this one (brother 350 innovis) because of the automatic needle threading. Our lock was a gift from my grandmother she bought my mum and aunt the same machine, Lock 740DSA. And got a really good deal because she bought 2 at the same time.

  • I totally agree with you on buying the sewing machine from a local dealer! I have had your same experience…when I bought mine, the girl of the shop explained me how to use it and how it works in details. She gave me also some very useful sewing suggestions. And I’m so grateful to her! It would have been hard without her help!

  • Whenever I talk to friends interested in learning to sew, I often advise them that it is more important to buy a high quality iron than it is to buy a fancy sewing machine. I don’t think most sewing machines are ever outdated. A lot of my friends sew on vintage models with very basic features, and they sew exquisite garments.

  • This post is so interesting, dear Rachel. Sewing beginners often unimpressed by sewing machines with lots of stitches that they will never use. A workhorse is the best!

  • This is a great post! For a real hoot about buying a sewing machine -Google: Jacqueline Johnson Attach a collar with a collar band Youtube – LOL about her “work horse”.

  • Great advice and explained very well. Thanks!

  • Good post Rachel, important info for potential buyers as you really get lost with all the variety available.out there. I bought my sewing machine in September, till then I had an AEG purchased from Aldi for 70 euros, many sleepless nights till I took the decision which machine to buy. Unfortunately here in Athens there are not many choices or at least I couldn’t find.. I knew that I defffenetely wanted a one step buttonhole, needle threaded and needle up/down option. With these functions the prices here were at 1000 euros so not an option for me to buy from a dealer. Instead I purchaised it from the UK in much lower price, to decide which one to buy from those that had what I wanted I read reviews from Amazon and chose a Janome that hat the highest reviews and within my budget.

  • Jo

    Really interesting post, Rachel. I got my first machine, a Singer, for my 16th birthday (over 10 years ago now, yikes!) However at the end of last year it started making funny noises and after a visit to the sewing machine doctor he suspects it may be the motor. Although it’s still working at the moment, I’m aware it may just die on me this year and I have no idea what kind of machine I want to change to. I’ve had a shot on my mum’s new Singer which she bought in a deal at Lidl last year and although it’s better in some respects (more feet and stitch options) I somehow feel I have less control with it as it’s all digital. On my old machine I can really control my speed and finish a stitch with the needle position down or up through my pedal pressure, which is really handy for working round awkward curved seams so I don’t need to stop and use the turning wheel on the side. The needle on mum’s machine always finishes in an up position which drives me crackers! Do you know if all modern, digital machines are like this or is it just relatively cheap models? I definitely need to do a bit of research before I buy anything else.