Finding the right sewing machine and understanding the ins and outs of using it can spell the difference between a happy experience or a frustrating one. But with the different types of sewing machines and the number of makes and models available, it’s hard to know how to get started.
We are here to help you make the right decision. We’ve written at length about sewing machine types and features and added tips to guide you, whether you plan to buy your first sewing machine or upgrade your trusted Singer.
Sewing Machine: an invention of great practical importance
The french tailor Barthélemy Thimonnier was the inventor of the first functional and widely-used sewing device. In 1889, the first electric machine was developed by Singer Corporation, one of the largest sewing machine manufacturers in the world, founded by Isaac Merritt Singer and Edward Clark.
Sewing machines transformed the clothing industry in the first Industrial Revolution, which freed women dressmakers from the time-consuming clothing creation and allowed more time for leisure and finding employment.
The simplest machine and high-tech computerized model have the same basic sewing functionality. There will be variations in the way you thread the top spool, number of stitches selection, or the way you select functions, but the underlying mechanism will be similar.
Sewing is an exciting pastime and rewarding profession. To improve your sewing skills, you need the right tools and plenty of practice. Those are the keys to success. Owning a sewing machine doesn’t only save you money, but also provide the fulfillment of creating something that is uniquely yours.
There is a wide range of sewing machines on the market to help you make professionally finished clothes, furnishings, and accessories with just a little time and effort.
It depends on how you intend to use it and how much your budget can accommodate. You don’t need an extravagant machine with all the bells and whistles if you only plan to use it occasionally. But if you would be sewing frequently, you need to put a premium on durability. The attractive features should be your second priority.
Modern sewing machines have so many enticing features that they can look a bit overwhelming to a less experienced sewer. But these shiny add-ons make repetitive or difficult tasks effortless and stress-free. They can also open up a wonderful world of decorative techniques.
Rule of thumb: if you are not sure what type of machine is right for you, get a basic machine and save your money. Most types of sewing can be done on a simple machine. It is reliable, easier to learn, adjust, and troubleshoot!
For newcomers, you need a model that is simple enough to use easily and yet sophisticated enough to grow into you. High-end multipurpose machines that can stitch detailed embroidery from a photograph is nice to have, but can you afford it? How often would you be using this function?
There’s no point in paying extra for a multifunctional machine if you are a first-time use or only want to stitch the occasional seam.
A mid-range model or a computerized machine may be worth the extra investment if you plan to develop your skills. Sooner or later, you will benefit from a bigger range of stitches, functions, and accessories.
These extra functions and features cannot be added later to a basic machine, so that’s one thing to consider. You also need a machine that will continue to serve you as you develop your skills.
Experienced users will most likely require more functions to begin with and perhaps some special features, such as decorative stitch types, dual feed, thread cutter, buttonholers, and the ability to compose embroidery patterns. Some models can even connect to the internet!
If you will be sewing stretchy fabric often and you want a professional finish to your seams, consider the faster and more effective serger.
At a glance:
Manual or mechanical machines are simple to operate and have a few options. They are sturdy and can withstand a few bumps and scrapes without risking damage to the interior components.
They are operated by turning a handwheel with one hand and pumping on a treadle with your foot–most controls are manipulated by hand. They can handle basic repairs, hems, and craft projects but they can only perform basic stitching.
If you are on a budget, this type is perfectly adequate. You can find second-hand or reconditioned machines on auction sites or antique shops.
At a glance:
An electric sewing machine is a hybrid of mechanical and computerized machines. The machine has a motor in the body usually driven by a foot pedal–the harder you pressed down, the faster you sew.
The budget machines have no fancy extras so they are simple to learn and operate. They offer a small range of preset stitches and may not have all the functions you need.
The mid-range machines offer more stitch selections and handy features, such as adjustable stitch width and length, one-step automatic buttonhole, adjustable foot pressure, and many others.
At a glance:
Computerized machines are very versatile and offer more stitches than standard electronic machines. High-end models can do complex embroidery patterns–digitize a drawing through compatible software and stitch it out at a touch of a button.
Any of these multifunctional machines can be used for sewing, tailoring, quilting, and repairs. If you want to stitch garments, home décor, and accessories then embellish them with embroidery and decorative stitches, you will definitely benefit from a computerized/embroidery machine.
The biggest difference between a basic machine and a higher cost machine is that the latter tend to have more features. The truth is, there is little or no difference in the stitch quality. But the feature-packed machines help automate tasks and facilitate sewing.
Do not be lured by expensive brands that offer a crazy number of stitches. Very little sewing is done using decorative stitches. The essential stitches you will probably use often are a straight stitch, zigzag, buttonhole, tricot or elastic, overcasting, blind hem, and stretch/knit stitch.
Sewing machines usually come with some accessories and attachments (feet). You should make an informed choice as to what features you really need. Look for models with specific attachments particular to your sewing plans. If your desired model doesn’t come with the attachment you wish to have, make sure they can be purchased separately.
Attachments typically included with most machines:
Most machines offer a variety of convenient features like thread cutters, stitch length and width, needle position, fix stitch, and a needle threader. Some of these features can only be found in high-end models, but some are now standard on new machines.
Some sewing machine dealers offer in-store service. Others will ask you to bring your machine to the manufacturer or a repair center. Always inquire about the turnaround time, as repairs can take days or weeks. Repairs made by unauthorized technicians can void the manufacturer’s warranty.
Q: Are portable handheld sewing machines useful?
A: Handheld battery-powered machines may be fine for simple repairs, but you will not be able to do any serious sewing with it.
Q: How much does a good sewing machine cost?
A: You can find basic sewing machine for home use at less than $150. Heavy-duty home machines range from $200 to $500. Industrial machines for business starts at about $1000.
Q: What is the best sewing machine for quilting?
A: Quiltmakers will benefit from a machine with a larger backward opening between the needle and the control side of machine. Look for the following features: adjustable bobbin case, presser feet (walking foot, ditch quilting, applique, and open-toe free motion), extension table, and electronic speed limiter.
Q: What is the best sewing machine for embroidery?
A: You can choose between a computerized sewing and embroidery combo machine or embroidery-only machine. If you already have a regular machine, buy a special machine for embroidery because it is cheaper than a combo machine.
Q: What is the difference between a serger and a sewing machine?
A: A serger is also known as overlock sewing machine. A serger is considerably faster than a conventional sewing machine: can stitch, trim, and finish the edge in one step. However, it doesn’t offer a full range of sewing functions.