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Sewing machine buying guide: How to choose the best sewing machine for you

What you need to know to before buying a sewing machine.

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Fact checked
Deutschland, Essen, Frau, 28 Jahre, Fruhling, Paletten, Holz, Kleidung, Nahen, Schneider, Nahmaschine

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Quick facts about sewing machine:

  • From beginner sewing machines to top-spec models with all the trimmings, there's no shortage of models to choose from. Sewing machine prices range from $100 up to several thousand dollars.
  • If you are new to the world of sewing or you are looking to upgrade your old machine after many years of faithful service, you might be surprised just how advanced modern sewing machines actually are.

Pros and cons

Whether or not a sewing machine is worth the money really depends on your personal circumstances, but there are several reasons why buying one is a good idea:

Why shouldn't I buy a sewing machine?

Sewing ain't for everyone. While some people love sitting down to stitch, create and mend, others find it to be a repetitive and frustrating chore. If you fall into the latter category, how likely are you to ever want to use a sewing machine on a regular basis?

Before you part with any money, think about how much you will realistically use your machine.
If you prefer to buy your clothes rather than make them, and if you're happy tackling basic mending tasks with a needle and thread, you're probably better off saving your money.

And if you ever need clothes altered in any way, take them to a tailor instead.

What types are available?

There are four main categories of sewing machines:

DescriptionProsCons
Mechanical sewing machinesControls are manipulated by hand.
  • Most affordable.
  • Can be used for hemming, repairs and making simple craft projects.
  • Small number of stitches and operations.
  • Less widely available.
Electronic sewing machinesUse a built-in motor operated by a foot pedal to control the needle.
  • Makes sewing quicker and easier.
  • Wide range of models to suit everyone from beginners to professionals.
  • Foot pedal leaves your hands free to guide the fabric through the machine.
  • Dials and push-button controls are available.
  • Many models come with a selection of attachments and stitch settings.
  • More expensive than mechanical models.
Computerised sewing machinesFeatures a microprocessor that is pre-programmed for different stitch styles.
  • Available features include an LCD screen, touchpad controls and settings for hundreds of complex stitches.
  • Some models allow you to download designs from the Internet.
  • If you want more features, you'll have to pay more.
Sewing/embroidery machinesThese models take all the features of a computerised machine and add the ability to do complex embroidery.
  • Most advanced model.
  • Allows you to add embroidery to garments, bedspreads and more.
  • Most expensive.

How much do sewing machines cost?

The cost of a sewing machine depends on the features you need:

  • Beginner sewing machines. A beginner sewing machine should offer a basic selection of stitches, at least one buttonhole setting and solid construction. Prices in this category range from $100 up to around $800, with computerised models usually starting around the $300 mark.
  • Mid-level sewing machines. Machines for intermediate sewists offer a wider range of basic and decorative stitches, embroidery patterns, more attachments and an automatic needle threader. They are capable of tackling a much wider range of challenging and ambitious tasks, and are generally priced anywhere from $700 or $800 up to $3,000.
  • Advanced sewing machines. Top-level machines offer the widest selection of stitches, presser feet, embroidery capabilities and customisable features. Please note that these are only for experienced sewists, as many of the advanced features and options will be a waste of money for anyone new to sewing. If shopping in this category you can expect to spend several thousand dollars.

Whatever type of machine you are shopping for, make sure you try before you buy. Take along a variety of fabrics to test out how the machine performs, how easy it is to use and whether it's a good fit for the type of sewing you do.

How to compare sewing machines

Once you have thought about the type of sewing you want to do and how much you are willing to spend, consider the following essential factors:

Bobbin type

Top-loading or drop-in bobbins are easier to replace than front-loading bobbins. Most models also feature a see-through cover so you can monitor how much thread is remaining.

Number of stitches

A machine with a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch is all you need to take care of a wide range of essential tasks. However, more expensive models come with dozens or even hundreds of stitch settings, so determine how many stitches you are likely to use and whether it's worth paying extra for any you may not need.

Adjustable stitch width and length

Can you adjust the length and width of stitches to suit your sewing project? While many machines support this feature, some entry-level models don't.

Needle threader

A built-in needle threader is an important inclusion that can help with an otherwise frustrating task. High-end machines have an automatic needle threader, but it's usually only semi-automatic on cheaper models.

Needle up/down and needle position adjustment

The needle up/down feature allows you to stop the needle while it's in either the up or down position, which makes it much simpler to pivot and turn corners.

Needle position adjustment allows you to move the needle from left to right, which is very handy when top stitching or inserting zippers.

Automatic buttonholer

Computerised sewing machines allow you to sew a button in one step without having to turn the piece of clothing around halfway through. Of course, it's worth testing this feature out to make sure it functions as promised.

Additional features:

  • Presser feet. Check what sort of presser feet attachments the machine comes with to help you tackle different tasks, including inserting zips, sewing buttonholes and completing hems.
  • Foot pedal. Is the foot pedal of a decent size? Is it responsive to pressure and does it have an anti-slip base?
  • Lighting. Check the machine's task lighting so you can be sure that you will be able to clearly see what you are sewing. Also, check how easy it is to change the lightbulb – it's quite a complicated task on some models.
  • Case. Look for a heavy-duty case that will ensure that your machine won't wiggle and wobble when in use. At the same time, make sure it's light enough to be easily moved when needed.
  • Free arm capability. Being able to convert to free arm sewing makes it much easier to tackle tight and round sections of fabric, for example, sleeves and pant hems.
  • Noise. Noise is a factor many people neglect to consider when buying a sewing machine, but it could be a dealbreaker if the only time you get to sew is late at night when the kids are in bed and silence is golden.
  • Warranty. Check the length of the warranty, what it covers and what's excluded. Also, check what the policy is on repairs – is there an in-store service or will your machine need to be sent back to the manufacturer or to a repair centre should something go wrong?

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