Choosing A Sewing Machine

Asking 10 different people what the best sewing machine is, will likely get you at least 7 different answers. Worst of all none of those answers may be right for you and your sewing needs.  With this article we hope to help give you the information you need to best answer this question for yourself. 

Your Needs

The first questions to ask yourself is, “What are my sewing needs today? The second question to ask is, “What are my goals for the future?”  You want the machine you buy to not only meet all of today’s needs, but also be able to grow with you to make sure you get the most value out of it.  It’s far cheaper to upgrade to the next model now than to prematurely replace the machine you just bought a year later just to gain a feature or two. 

For those that want to sew clothing and apparel, the most important features may be things like a stretch stitch, a wide variety of button holes and a free arm.  For quilters, added size to pass large projects through may be the single most important thing.  For anyone working with difficult fabrics, an active walking foot should be considered a must have.  An add on walking foot is nice, but it’s passive design can’t compete with the built in active system present on some machines.  

Once you have a good scope of your project ideas in mind, read through the instructions you plan to follow and see what stitches and features you will need. This should give you a good idea of what is on your must have list. If you still aren’t sure, asking in retail stores or on online forums will help tell you the types of things you want to prioritize on your purchase.

Where To Purchase

Now that you know what you are looking for, you have to start looking for a place to buy it.  Obviously we are partial to our own stores and website, but we know we aren’t the only place around, so let’s see why we think we are the best option. 

Does the store or website you are looking at purchasing from allow you to test the machine prior to purchase? For us this is simple, bring in some sample fabrics, or use some of our selection and give it a test drive. There may be multiple machines that can handle your projects, but some machines are going to feel more comfortable and more intuitive for you.  If you are shopping online, this is a bit more difficult, but we are more than happy to set up a video call so you can see how the machine or machines you are considering handles the projects you have in mind, and how it works in a real world test.  

Warranty, Repair, & Maintenance

Even the best built machines can have problems, and everything eventually needs maintenance.  How and where are repairs handled if something goes wrong?  Most discount stores, craft stores, and fabric stores end their relationship with you the second they have your money. If the machine is bad out of the box you are supposed to call the manufacturer to take your concern up with them. Shipping a brand new item to an unknown repair center is never my goal when I buy something and I wouldn’t expect it to be yours either. 

All of our machines are warrantied in house by us. We stock a large amount of parts on hand specifically for the machines we sell to make sure that this is handled in a timely manner.  Once the machine is outside of the warranty period we are still able to repair your machine for a reasonable price, or sell you parts to replace the wear items on your own. Believe it or not, some brands do not even offer to sell parts to their customers!

When it comes to maintenance, we can help with any machine from anywhere, but some of our new machines include service agreements to keep you stitching longer for less money which is something to consider when comparing pricing.

How Do I Use This Thing?

Who’s showing you how to use your new machine?  We believe nothing beats some hands-on instruction so every machine that leaves our store has the option to take a one on one class. We chose a one on one class to tailor the class to not only your specific machine, but to your specific questions.  Someone with years of sewing experience won’t have the same questions as someone sitting down to a machine for the first time.  This class is included free of charge with any machine purchased for over $200. The class length varies depending on the complexity of the model. This class can be done in person in our sewing studio or over video chat for our online shoppers.  A nice instruction book and some YouTube videos are good to have but shouldn’t be your only resource to understanding your new machine. 

New VS Used / Mechanical VS Electronic

By now you should know what you are looking for and where you should be looking for it.  Let’s talk about new versus used and mechanical versus electronic. 

New machines have a few advantages.  

  • Warranty: while all of our machines include a warranty the new machines include a much longer and more inclusive warranty.  
  • Accessories:  Depending on the model, finding missing or optional accessories for a used machine can be close to impossible.  Finding these same optional accessories for your new machine is as simple as asking (at least for the machine brands that we sell). 
  • Features:  Nothing has the number of latest and greatest features like a new machine.  Built in thread cutters, LED lighting, self lifting presser feet, extra wide stitches, needle threaders, the list is pretty endless on the features that a modern machine has to offer.  

Vintage machines have the advantage of being all metal and simple to maintain, but do require maintenance more often than most of their new counterparts. Cleaning and oiling should be done on a regular basis to keep the machine lubricated and not wearing on the internal metal parts. 

Machine offerings can be split into two categories.  Electronic and mechanical.  The mechanical offerings are generally a bit more limited in the features they offer. When changing stitches they often rely on the user to set multiple settings to achieve the desired stitch. For example when going from a straight stitch to a stretch stitch, an electronic machine needs you to simply select the next stitch you want, a mechanical machine will require you to dial in the stitch, adjust the stitch length to activate the stretch stitch, and then set the stitch width.  While this isn’t a lot of extra steps, doing this multiple times during a project can become annoying to say the least. Maintenance costs for the two are often very similar.  While the mechanical machine has a few more oiling points, and the electronic machine will have a few more grease points, the bulk of the cost of the maintenance will be the disassembly needed to access everything which is often very similar on new machines.  Although some electronic machines can seem daunting to learn, many of the ones we offer are often easier to use than their mechanical counterparts. Some even offer a mix of quick change knobs and dials to adjust stitch width, stitch length, and tension but still auto set all of this as you change between stitches giving you the best of both worlds. 

Which Brand?

When considering a brand of machine, do your research on who that brand really is today (or when the machine you are considering was made). Buying Brand X because your mom or grandma did doesn’t make much sense when Brand X has been bought and sold nine times since they originally bought their great machines, and it is now owned by the same parent company as Brands Y and Z that your relatives swore they would never buy a machine from!  Times have changed, and while the brand names may not have, in many cases the company behind them, and their quality certainly has. 

We weighed a lot of options before taking on the brands of machine we sell today. We based our decision on our 40+ years of repair service.  We looked at the build quality of not only the new machines, but the ones from recent years coming in for repair, what features they offered and their value. If we thought there was a better machine brand out there, we would be selling it.

We sell pre-owned machines, but I wouldn’t call them used.  Our pre-owned and vintage machines have all been serviced and are guaranteed to be in proper working condition.  Sometimes this is just a basic tune up, other times this includes a complete rewire or more.  The individual ads will tell you exactly what has been done.  Often we will go through 3 or 4 machines of the same model to find one that meets our expectations of quality and condition before it is prepped for resale.  Buying a used machine from the donation pile or second hand store can yield some great buys, but is a bit like putting your money in a slot machine. Every 100th time you might hit gold, but most of the time you are going to get a machine that will at the very least need serviced.  What you paid for the machine doesn’t affect the cost of the parts or the labor involved to make this machine what it should be. Unless you are your own technician, expect buying a machine this way to be the cheapest part of the equation. 

We are also very picky about which models we offer.  Most machines up to the 1960’s were solid metal with metal gears, but not all of them, and some are just more trouble than they are worth with hard to find parts and accessories.  Fun for collectors, but not much good if you just want to use it as a sewing machine. 

Starting in the 1970’s and up to a few years ago are the machines that (with a few exceptions) we generally recommend staying away from.  These are the beginning of plastic internals. Admittedly these plastic parts have lasted quite some time now, and they should be celebrated for their service. Sadly their time has come and replacement is inevitable if the parts are even available. This is also the beginning of electronic control.  Like most early electronics, much of it is best left in the past even if a few models do work very well.  Again fun for a collector, but not much fun if you are just looking for a machine that works, and works well. 

Finally

Hopefully this article has given you a lot to think about, but if you are looking for a little more information or are a little skeptical of our intentions, then we would like to invite you to check out these articles from Threads Magazine:

How to Choose a New Sewing Machine

Printable Sewing Machine Buying Checklist

Happy Stitching!

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2 Comments

  1. Robbie Brewington

    Great article!!

    1. Thank you, hopefully it’s helping some people!

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