Are you looking for a sewing machine for yourself or for your kid and totally overwhelmed by everything that's out there? You want to find a machine that's a good value, durable, easy and safe to use but you don't know how you're going to find a machine that is all of that? Doo doo doo! (Superhero theme song) I'm here to help!
I have seen hundreds of different machines come through the doors from the simplest of simple to very complicated machines. From machines found on the side of the road to machines that cost many thousands of dollars! After you work with so many different machines you realize the good and the bad. You see what is essential in a machine and what changes with preference. Now of course I have my favorite machine but it may not be the right machine for you. So we'll go over some things to consider when you're purchasing your own machine!
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Types of Machines
There are three main kind of machines that we're going to focus on (left to right): what I call a simple mechanical, a complex mechanical and a computerized.
As you can imagine, there are pros and cons to each.
- They are simple to use.
- Often workhorse machines.
- Easier to troubleshoot. Often you can fix small problems yourself (with or without the help of a YouTube video!)
- Not as many bells and whistles as a computerized machine including safety features like speed control and a limited number of stitches.
- Lots of bells and whistles
- More likely to get need service which can be costly.
About the Stitch
I go into a lot of details about this in our Learn to Sew E-Courses but we'll go over the high level today. There are really 3 things you can change on your machine to effect how to the stitch looks.
Stitch Selection/Shape: What squiggly or straight line is the stitch is making
Stitch Length: How long is your stitch or how few/how many stitches do you get per inch
Stitch Width: How wide is your stitch--- for example if you're set to a zig zag how narrow or wide are the Zs that make up the stitch
How Does that Look in Different Machines?
I prefer a machine where you can change each of these things independently. Let's compare three machines to see how they work. I have no affiliation with Singer but have had many of each of these in the studio so we're going to compare the Singer M1500 which I call a "Simple Mechanical Machine", a Singer Heavy Duty 4423 with I call a "Complex Mechanical Machine" and a Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 which is a computerized machine.
On the Singer Heavy Duty 4423 you can change the stitch selection, the length and the width all separately.
On the Singer M1500 you change everything within this one dial. All the squiggly lines on the dial are the stitches you can make. These stitches circled in red are how you change the stitch length.
And then these zigs zags circled are how you change the width. You can make a narrow tight zig zag, a slightly wider and slightly longer zig zag and then a wide and long zig zag.
What you can't do is create a really wide and really tight zig zag because you can't operate all these settings independently.
And the Quantum Stylist is like the Singer Heavy Duty 4423 where you can change everything independently. Most computerized machines offer that.
In this case I find that the M1500 doesn't quite give you the flexibility to customize a stitch that I'd like to see in a beginner sewing machine.
What Stitches Do You Really Need?
So changing the settings is all fine and good but you also need to ask yourself an important question... what do you plan on using this sewing machine for? If you're buying it as a real starter machine for yourself or your child and you know that you just plan on hemming pants, making curtains and some simple mending then maybe all you need is a straight stitch, zig zag and a button hole.
But maybe you want a little more flexibility with your stitches and not only do you want the utilitarian ones but you want some decorative stitches or some that are focused on garments like a mock overlock stitch (don't know what that is? No worries!). Then you'll want a machine that has some more options like the Heavy Duty 4423 or the Quantum Stylist.
If you want to get into light embroidery whether we're talking about decorative lines like flower or leaves or actual letters, then you'll want to look at a computerized machine because they are more likely to have a huge range or stitches available for you.
Now I have always been perfectly happy with the stitches that the Heavy Duty 4423 has offered but the two things I wish it had is the lightening bolt stitch you see at the top of the diagram below (it's really good for sewing with knit fabrics) and a keyhole buttonhole stitch shown on the side. These are both great for garments but that's totally a nice to have, not a need to have.
And then something we're not even talking about today but if you want to do actual embroidery like hook your machine up to a computer to do elaborate designs then you want to look for an embroidery specific sewing machine.
So let's summarize this quickly before we move on:
If you are looking for something very practical and simple the M1500 or a similar simple mechanical machine is probably all you will need.
If you want a machine that will grow with you or your child as you learn to sew more things then I would look for a complex mechanical machine like the Singer Heavy Duty 4423 where you can change the stitch selection, length and width all separately.
If you really want to have lots of things to play with or you want the extra safety features like speed control then you want to look into a computerized machine like the Quantum Stylist.
How Much Should I Pay For It?
You can pay $50 for a machine or more than I paid for my car (like WAY more than I paid for my car). If you know a lot about sewing machines and that's what you want to spend your money on then by all means go for it (though I'm guessing you're not reading this blog post if that's the case!).
My general rule of thumb has always been not to pay under $100 if your budget allows it because you're less likely to get a quality machine. Of course if that's all you can, or want to, afford then by all means go for it. Unfortunately during the pandemic sewing machines became one of those hot ticket items and prices went through the roof! So machines that used to cost $75 were now selling for $200-250. With it my general rule of thumb sort of went out the window as well. But still, I I don't think you need to spend a lot, as long as you don't get the cheapest thing out there.
I know that's very vague what "a lot" to one person is not "a lot" to someone else. So here are some real numbers. The sewing machine I use right now typically costs around $600 and it is by far the nicest sewing machine I've ever owned. I got it in April of 2020 and up to that point I had been using a 4423. In fact I still keep my 4423 nearby because my new one only does a straight stitch and sometimes I need a zig zag and a button hole stitch. And the 4423 is usually under $200.
So if you're just get started sewing I don't think you need to go out and spend a lot. As you get going you'll realize what you do and don't like and if you want to upgrade you can and keep your first machine as a back up.
The Toy Machine
Please, please, please don't buy your child the kid/toy sewing machines. These are the really little ones with the AC/DC adapter. I don't like to think of myself of a sewing machine snob but these are junk. They're lightweight, hard to wind bobbins, hard to thread and bounce all around the table. If you're concerned about something being too complex go with a simple mechanical machine like the M1500.
Which Brand is Best?
I tread on this one lightly because people are seriously loyal to their brand of sewing machine. Some people say "this is the worst" and "this is the greatest" and honestly I think you can't go wrong at the entry level. I'm partial to Singer: it's what I've been using my entire life and I love my Singer machines. But I've had many wonderful brands in the studio.
My suggestion is that if you're buying a machine that's under about $400 I don't think you can go wrong with the brand of machine that you get. If you're buying a machine that costs more than I would go to a dealer so you can try out a machine before you buy it.
What About Vintage Machines?
I get this question a lot: is it worth it to fix up my old machine? Without seeing the machine itself I'm going to say "yes".
Older machines, say 1970s, even some from the 80s, and before are generally really well made machines and worth giving another life. With a little TLC you can get them back up and running. I recommend you find a sewing machine repair person who specializes in vintage sewing machines. I have heard of people bringing a vintage machine to a general repair and being told to scrap it when in fact it could have lived to sew another day.
If you can't find anyone near you check out a Vintage Sewing Machine group on Facebook and I'm sure you can find someone in your region that has a contact.
Wrapping it Up
There is no one sewing machine that works for everyone. As you can tell, because I've said it a million times, I'm partial to the Singer Heavy Duty 4423. We have 18 of them in the studio and it's the one I recommend to all my students. Some of these I've had for 6 years and they hold up beautifully. If I need to fix something or service them I've been able to do it easily.
-what do I want to sew?
-can I change the stitch settings separately?
-what's my price point?
I'd love to know what you think! What was your first sewing machine? What do you look for in a sewing machine?