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Things to Consider Before Buying a Sewing Machine

Updated on September 2, 2016
This buying guide will provide things you should consider before getting a sewing machine.
This buying guide will provide things you should consider before getting a sewing machine. | Source

Buying Guide to Sewing Machines

A sewing machine is an investment. You can save money and do so much with a machine:

  • make alterations to fit your style and size and be stylish
  • lengthen the use of your clothes by mending them or making minor alterations, such as hemming and adjusting sizes
  • make homemade gifts for loved ones
  • spend rewarding time with your children and grandchildren making doll clothes
  • save money by making your own Halloween costumes
  • make your own clothes that fit you and look good on you, and not be beholden to what is sold at the stores
  • make useful items for your home, such as potholders and curtains, inexpensively
  • have fun making quilts and other crafts

Once you have decided that you do need one, you may be wondering, "What sewing machine should I buy?" Before you run out to the store, you should consider the places to buy a sewing machine, the quality of the brand, and the features that will work best for your sewing needs.

This high-quality used Singer sewing machine provides the basic features that everyone who sews needs. It is also a highly sought-after collector's item.
This high-quality used Singer sewing machine provides the basic features that everyone who sews needs. It is also a highly sought-after collector's item. | Source

New Machine

New machines can be bought from discount department stores such as Walmart and Target at reasonable prices. However, these machines are the high quality name brands, and you can return the machine if you are satisfied with it within the return policy. However, you will not find support from the store in terms of training in how to use it, or maintenance. The store will probably also not have a lot of accessories to help add functionality to your machine.

Sewing machines can also be purchased at stores that specialize in them. Some quilt stores and sewing stores, such as Joann's, also offer them. These stores are recommended for beginners, since they will be able to provide training and answer your questions about how to use one. They will also likely stock accessories and can help you find the ones that fit your machine. In addition, they will be able to refer you to people who can repair or provide routine maintenance for your machine to keep it in good running condition over the long term.

Places to Buy a Sewing Machine

One of the most important decisions you can make is to decide where to buy your sewing machine.

Used Machine

You can buy a used one from a thrift store, auction, yard or estate sale, or from a friend. There are also antique stores and even stores that specialize in selling used sewing machines. You can get a quality machine from these places, often at reasonable prices, but you take the risk that the machine has issues and may need repair and maintenance before you can use it.

Another option to try is eBay, which will sometimes has really good deals on used, old and antique sewing machines.

This is a good option for people who will not be using the machine very often, and are familiar and comfortable with doing repairs. You can save some trouble by trying to sew with it before you buy it, but some issues may not be evident until you have run the machine for some time.

Which brand has the highest quality sewing machines?

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Quality of the Brand

The quality of the brand is a very important consideration. Singer used to be a very high quality brand. If you want to get a used sewing machine, depending on its age, Singer is a quality, durable machine. I bought a Kenmore, which was made by Singer, 24 years ago and it is still going strong after heavy use. The Singer brand, however, is no longer considered to be a quality brand. While I am sure they are working on regaining their quality, their reputation still endures.

Today Janome, Viking, Brother have higher reputations of quality than Singer. You want your sewing machine to last a long time, and finding a quality brand will give you a better chance of longevity.

You can find other brands that are much cheaper at the department stores. I bought a Shark EuroPro from Target that had an issue within the warranty period. I regrettably chose to get it repaired instead of returning it, and had to pay to ship it to New York, even though the repair was free. When it was returned, it worked fine for about a month. It was an expensive lesson to look into the quality of the brand, to read the reviews of previous purchasers, to know the return policy, and determine the long term repair and maintenance strategy ahead of time.

Types of Sewing Machines

I like to break the types of sewing machines into three types, depending on the types of bells and whistles it includes.

Basic or Mechanical Sewing Machine

Even though the basic model runs on electricity for the motor, it runs mechanically with a sewing wheel, a belt, and knobs. The basic machine has a good running stitch, and can reverse. It generally also includes a buttonhole and zigzag stitch. It is good for sewing clothes, costumes, and repairing a hem or adjusting a size of a garment. The old Singer shown above is a basic machine. Basic machines tend to be less expensive than their fancier counterparts, but are actually a very smart buy, because most people don't use the extra features that they purchased. When buying a basic machine, do not look at the price alone. Be sure to check for the quality of the machine. A sturdy machine that has more metal than plastic parts will last much longer, and will be worth the extra price.

While a mechanical machine can be taken to a specialist for maintenance, these are fairly easy to maintain yourself. In addition, since the machines are fairly simple, the repairs for them are likely to be easier than for the other types of machines.

This electronic sewing machine comes with additional stitches that are not available in the basic model.
This electronic sewing machine comes with additional stitches that are not available in the basic model. | Source

Electronic Sewing Machine

An electronic machine has more features than the basic machine. It will often include many different kinds of stitches. It may have an automatic needle threader, thread cutter, the ability to lift the presser foot with your knee, and an option to always end with the needle down. Some will even provide some alphabet stitches.

This type of machine is recommended for people who make a variety of creative things, and like to try out more options. You can add designs to already made garments or embellish a towel or blanket. The more bells and whistles, the likelihood is that the price will be higher. Also note that these machines may require regular maintenance by a specialist.

However, be careful since some manufacturers will use cheaper material to be able to provide extra features. I recommend focusing on quality more than the extra features. While it is easy to be wowed by the extra features, think about how often you will really use them before paying extra for them.

This computerized sewing machine automatically sews embroidery designs onto the hooped fabric.
This computerized sewing machine automatically sews embroidery designs onto the hooped fabric. | Source

Computerized Sewing Machine

A computerized machine has even more features than the electronic machine. It will often include many different kinds of stitches. It may provide more guidance about what type of foot to use on the machine, and recommendations on the stitch width and length. At the top end, a computerized machine can even be programmed to embroider designs automatically onto fabric. Since there are so many computerized parts, these machines tend to be more sensitive to bumps and falls, so you need to be gentler with them. They also may require costly specialized repair and maintenance.

A computerized sewing machine is for people who have a lot of experience with sewing machines, and is ideal for people who sew for a living. These are more expensive, but also provide many more features than the basic or electronic models.

Required Features of a Sewing Machine

Before buying your sewing machine, there is one more thing to consider. Now is the time to think about the features that you absolutely must have in your sewing machine. If you think about them before you go to the store, you will be less likely to get wowed by all those extra bells and whistles. You will also be able to make sure that the machine you choose has the features you want.

Some examples of features you may wish to consider are:

  • straight and quiet running stitch
  • ease of making button holes
  • knee lift pressure foot
  • needle down position
  • ease of changing bobbins
  • lighting
  • ease of threading the machine
  • automatic needle threader
  • bobbin winder
  • weight, size, and portability
  • built in free arm for sewing cuffs and hems
  • type and number of stitches
  • alphabet stitches
  • accessory feet that come with the machine
  • whether other accessories will fit on the machine
  • ability to customize embroidery designs

Sewing Machine Buying Tips

Sewing machines can be pricy, and you want to make sure it will last you a long time, and meet your sewing needs for a long time. When buying a machine it is important to consider where you purchase it, the quality of the brand and the machine, and the features that you will use for the type of sewing that you do. Focus on the quality of the machine instead of falling for all the fancy stitches and features that you will never use.

Once you have narrowed down your choices, check out their review on Consumer Reports, and read other customer reviews on the machine. Then you can finally go to the store. Be sure to test out the machine at the store so that you can see whether it feels sturdy, smooth, quiet, comfortable, and easy to use.

© 2012 Shasta Matova


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