What Type of Sewing machine Should You Get?

Shopping for a sewing machine can seem a bit of an overwhelming task- especially if you don’t have a lot of sewing experience. I’m guessing that if you are reading this article, you might fall into that category.  Welcome!  I’m so pleased that you stopped by.  

There is no doubt about it, 2020 has brought sewing back!  A telling sign for me is that instead of the rush of November requests for advice or recommendations for sewing machine, I ‘ve been getting a steady stream for months.

No matter who calls, my advice is always begins with the same question.  What are you planning to make?  You see, sewing machines are designed for utility and also for specific sewing needs.  It helps to know what types of projects you will be making as well as the kind of fabric you plan to use.

When considering the purchase of a new sewing machine, whether for yourself or as a gift, there are several things that you need to think about.   For starters, what type of sewing machine you actually need.  To determine this, spend a few minutes writing down what kind of projects you plan to make.  Are you sewing for kids? Making quilts? Clothing? Will you be sewing some home decor items like pillows, draperies and slipcovers?  Perhaps you will be making handbags and other fashion accessories.  What type of fabric will you be sewing with?  Mostly cottons and linens or do you plan to use denim and leather?  

Choosing a well-designed sewing machine makes learning to sew a much more enjoyable process.  A sewing machine is an investment and something that you will likely be using for a very long time.  Even if you don’t use it every day, when you sit down to sew, you want to have one that is dependable. Sewing machines can also be very expensive. While you do need to keep a budget in mind, you do not have to break the bank to get a really good sewing machine.

Once you have these questions answered, you will be able to narrow the options down a bit.  If you can, go to a sewing machine dealer or local fabric shop and spend some time looking at sewing machines. There are salespeople there that will be happy to help you select a machine that fits your sewing goals as well as your budget. 

When I shop for a machine, I like to bring my own thread and a few different types of fabric to sew with and try the machines out. This way I can see how it sounds, feels and stitches.  Since I primarily sew clothing and accessories, the following features are really important to me.  

  • Variable Stitch Width and Length This allows me to customize the length and width each stitch.

  • Needle down feature The Needle down feature works as an extra hand.  It is terrific when sewing corners and points so that your actual hands are free to guide the fabric.

  • A bright light.  Essential- especially for aging eyes.

  • The ability to adjust the presser foot pressure. Not all fabrics feed through the sewing machine with the standard pressure.  Some will drag and others are thick causing the machine to leave marks.  The ability to adjust the pressure can improve the quality of your stitching.

  • Auxiliary spool pin I’m impatient and frequently too short on time.  An auxiliary spool pin allows me to wind a new bobbin without having to unthread the sewing machine.  While I can do without a lot of features, this one is very important to me.  

  • A good stretch stitch for sewing knits.  When sewing, you want the stitches to sit flat and embed only slightly in the fabrics surface.  Knit fabric can be tricky to sew with because it stretches.  While you can sew knits with a zig zag stitch, the stretch stitch looks and lasts better. If you plan on sewing with knits, take a sample sized fabric with you and try the stitch out.

  • Walking Foot For me, a walking foot is essential.  A walking foot allows each layer of fabric to feed evenly without shifting and sliding.  It is also fantastic for sewing leather, matching plaids and stripes as well as for really thick fabric.  Some machines may come with the walking foot already attached, others sell it as an optional accessory. 

  • Optional feet and accessories Sewing machines come with a variety of sewing feet attachments.  The ability to just purchase a specialty tool or foot for my machine means that I will use it for more projects and when something new comes out- instead of upgrading my machine, I can just get a new foot or plate and experiment.

This is just my list of must-haves.  You will likely have a list of your own that will meet your specific sewing needs.

Different Types of Sewing Machines

Sewing machines are broadly categorized by motor type: Mechanical, Electronic and Computerized.  

 Mechanical sewing machines are the most basic and reliable sewing machines available.  They come equipped with a pedal that controls the sewing speed and knobs that you turn to control the stitch selection, width, length and tension.  Everything is controlled by the user.

Electronic sewing machines are a bit of a hybrid between mechanical and computerized.  They generally offer several convenience features and settings.  These machines often have a display and lots of programmed stitches, patterns and designs.  While electronic machines do have a foot control, many also sew with the press of a button.  Some additional features that many offer are a speed control function, automatic needle threader, needle down button and a thread cutter.  

Computerized sewing machines the fanciest of all and they are also the most expensive.  Computerized machines are pretty much as the name suggests.  A computer runs each motor function of the machine.  They are precise, loaded with features and truly amazing to use.  If you continue on your sewing journey, I do recommend that you look at these- one day, but not in the beginning.

For a beginner, I almost always recommend a mechanical sewing machine.  There are already so many things to learn when sewing, having a machine that you don’t quite understand will just add to the frustration.  A mechanical machine is really very straightforward and easy to troubleshoot and fix when something goes wrong.  And it will.  Don’t worry, there are some mechanical machines that come with a variety of convenience features too.

An electronic machine is my second recommendation, as they do offer more features. Often, electronic machines have many decorative stitches, several styles of buttonholes, some embroidery capability, the ability to control the speed of the machine and lots of accessories. As long as the manual is available or you have someone knowledgeable around, they are fairly easy to learn to sew with.  While they will need more maintenance and care than the mechanical machines, they offer plenty of room for growth.  The decision really comes back to what you plan to sew, what features you need and how much your budget allows.  If you purchase a mechanical machine now and discover down the road you are continuing to sew, maybe consider upgrading.  Then you will always have your mechanical machine as a backup to travel with or to use when your electronic of computerized machine is in the shop, as they need routine maintenance.

So which sewing machines do I recommend?   The following are machines that I have or have sewn on.  This list is not comprehensive, and I do not receive anything from these companies if you click on the link or purchase. These are just the machines that I prefer and trust.  (Full disclosure, I am a BERNINA brand ambassador. Which means that I am a representative of the company and get to learn all about the exciting new machines and accessories.  If you are in the market for a BERNINA Sewing Machine, please contact me and I will be happy to discuss with you.)

One more bit of advice, you will get much better service by going to a sewing machine dealer or fabric store than if you were to purchase from a big box store. The staff at a dealer are quite knowledgable and want to help you find the best machine for your needs.  Plus, many offer free classes with the purchase of a machine as well as on site repairs.  That being said, many of you may be under shelter in place orders or wanting to purchase as a gift for an out of town friend or family member and need to purchase online. In the presence of that, I have included some links to Amazon.

If you happen to be searching for a sewing machine for a child, you may want to read this post too. It has a few additional thoughts specific to sewing with children.