Choosing a Sewing Machine

You’re in the market for a new (or upgrade) sewing machine. So many choices. So many options. It can be a bit confusing and overwhelming. Before you panic and just buy the sewing machine that’s at eye height on the shelf at your local store, take a few tips from moi, someone who has obsessively researched every single large purchase for her sewing room for waaaaaaay too long (I think I was just avoiding actually spending the money that I knew I had to spend).

Start with a budget

Determine how much you want to spend on a machine. Always choose quality over do-dads and options. If your budget is small, look at refurbished machines. I buy refurbished all the time and have never had a quality issue. This gets you a better model machine for a smaller price. Your local sewing machine dealer usually has used machines too. These machines have been thoroughly looked over and anything broken has already been fixed so they’re a great deal.

Plus machines from sewing machine dealers usually come with a warranty and a free class. You’re not going to get that from your local big box store. Really low-end machines from your big box discount store generally have weaker parts that may not even be available if you need something repaired. Pay the same price and find a good used or refurbished machine. They’re out there, waiting for new homes.

Maybe you have a bigger budget. The same rule still applies. Always, ALWAYS find the best quality machine from a good brand. You’ll find that you won’t use all those bells and whistles (at least I don’t) because you sew a specific thing and stick to that thing. Maybe you quilt and use only the quilting stitches. Maybe you only sew knit outfits for your kids and don’t need all those fancy quilting decorative stitches.

Which leads me to my next point:

sewing machine stitches

Stitches (Do I need more options? or Nah?)

My first machine (A Janome Sewist 521) was a fully mechanical, no frills, no nonsense, literally had only what I needed (and nothing I wanted) machine. And guess what? I lasted me 9 years of sewing. 9 long years or sewing cloth diapers for my shop (this was before I made sewing patterns) for upwards of 9 hours a day. Without a single trip to the shop for maintenance. I cleaned and oiled it regularly and that’s all it needed. It’s still in my sewing room as a back up in case my newest machine (A Janome Skyline S7) needs to go in for cleaning/repairs. The ruler was rubbed off so many years ago… This thing is so used and abused it has wear marks ground down into the plastic from running so much fabric over it. For reals.

Janome Sewist 521 sewing machine

This thing has, like, 10 stitch options on it. But it did everything I needed it to do. I was sewing garments so I knew I needed a straight stitch, a zigzag stitch, a stretch stitch, and the occasional buttonhole. Granted, I sewed a lot fewer buttons on the machine that didn’t have an automatic buttonhole setting, but it was there when I needed it. I eventually used the blind hem stitch too. So that’s what? Five stitches? Even on that machine, I had stitches I never used.

But maybe you’re really into quilting as well and need quilting specific stitches. I’m not a quilter and I don’t play one on TV so I’m not really sure what you need. But if you do quilt, you generally do know what stitches you need.

What Stitches Do YOU Need?

In general, don’t get sucked in by the sheer amount of stitches a machine has. Make a list of what you sew and what stitches you need to get that done. If you only sew A, B, and C, you don’t need a machine that will do A, B, C, D, E, F, etc, etc, etc. The stitches I use in my own project for garments made here at The Eli Monster are:

  • Straight
  • Topstitch (I only started using this slightly “prettier” version of the straight stitch after getting the Skyline S7 and noticed it was an option)
  • Zig Zag
  • Stretch
  • Blind Hem
  • Automatic Button Hole (and I’ve been pretty honest in the past, I hate buttons so I usually make the buttonhole as decoration and then add a kam snap where a button would normally sit. Ain’t nobody got time for all that.)

But that’s it. My machine has all these really cute decorative stitches and I really intend to stitch the name of the outfit and size in the hem when I start it and then forget about it when it’s time to do that. Whomp, whomp.

(My kids totally use the crap out of the decorative and letter stitches. In every nook and cranny of this house, there’s a scrap piece of fabric with a word stitched into it)

sewing machine feet

All Those Bells and Whistles

It’s really easy to get sucked into all the fun accessories and bells and whistles some of these machines have. Let me tell you something from personal experience: You won’t use half of them. That fancy needle threader? It’s finicky and you get tired of it and start threading the needle yourself. All those feet that come with the machine? You used them once or twice (I don’t know if I’ve EVER used my zipper foot and I install zippers probably twice a week). The knee lifter? I used to use it on my old machine (A Juki) all the friggin’ time but don’t now on my newest machine for some reason.

I DO use and LOVE the lighting on my new machine though. 3 separate LED lighted sections that I can control individually. I could theoretically sew confidently in the middle of the night with no other lighting in the room. Why would I want to do that? No idea. But I could if I wanted to.

What are some common options?

  • Automatic Threader: I’ve already expressed my opinions on that.
  • Automatic Thread Cutter: Glorious. Magical
  • Automatic Needle Up/Down: Also glorious and magical. I’ve found my corners get much sharper if the needle stops in the down position and I can rotate my fabric.
  • Needle Position Adjustment: Most sewing machines nowadays have this where you can move the needle left or right to fit your needs. Heavenly. Positively heavenly.
  • Knee Lift: I have mixed feelings on this one. I think my old machine’s knee lift was mechanical and I could nudge it slightly and it would lift the foot slightly so I could rotate and then keep sewing quickly. This new one is computerized and that slight nudge lifts the foot completely and takes a fair amount of time to do that whole process so I don’t use it much anymore.
  • Automatic Foot Lift: Eh. I accidentally set it to raise the foot when I lift my foot off the pedal somehow last night and it was so frustrating. I might feel better about it if it was intentional. Unintentional equals annoying.
  • Free Arm: You won’t use this much but when you do, you’ll LOVE having it.
  • Adjustable Speed Control: Yes. I just have it set to sew the fastest I can sew but when Girly takes over my sewing machine, she sets it to slower. She coincidentally has straighter lines of stitches than I do…

Ignore All My Advice

Do your research, start a relationship with a local sewing machine store. Find the machine that’s right for YOU.

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