You’ve made the decision, you’re inspired by the finishing of the latest series of ‘The Great British Sewing Bee’ and you’ve realised you’ve really got to actually do something with that secret fabric stash that you’ve been collecting over the last few months. This it it: you’re finally going to buy yourself a sewing machine.
But when you look online, go into the shop or ask about there are so many different machines offering an array of weird and wonderful things with so many different price tags it can be confusing to sort through the difference between ‘what would be nice’ and ‘what I actually need.’ This is a simple, to the point guide using my experience as a beginner sewing teacher designed to help you through the difficulties so you can take home a brand new lovely machine that you will use for many years to come.
Sorry to be boring when all you want to do is get in the machine shop and play with all the goodies but I feel this is the most important thing to work out before you even step foot in one. How much do you have to spend? What is your uppermost limit? A good entry level machine will set you back £100+. There are cheaper machines available are really not what I would call ‘proper’ machines in that they may sew a simple straight stitch on very light cotton but when it comes to moving onto thicker fabric they don’t generally cope. £100 buys you a simple machine that will have a few stitches and will get you started.
Working out your budget means you shouldn’t get carried away in the shop and come out with something that a) you didn’t want and b) you don’t really need! When you’ve been sewing longer and you maybe upgrade to something else you are then led by what you need the machine to do rather than price necessarily, for example my next machine will have a letter embroidered function as that would be handy for my students
When I teach my beginners most of my ladies come with a goal they want to achieve. Some want to make clothes, some want to make curtains, roman blinds or patchwork quilt. If you know you’re wanting to move on to a certain skill when you buy your machine make sure that it can cope with the demands of what you want it to do. If you’re not sure then ask in the shop for advice but do bear in mind they are really wanting to sell you a machine so read up the reviews of a machine you’re interested in online and visit a couple of shops before you make up your mind.
Think about where it’s going to live and where you’re going to use it. Machines these days (I don’t think) vary too much in weight but do check you can lift it yourself to wherever you want to use it as the last thing you want is to buy your lovely machine but for it to sit in the cupboard until you can have someone move it so you can get working on your latest project. Nothing kills enthusiasm than finding setting up an activity an uphill task each time.
Which make/brand to buy?
Now this is a hard paragraph to write because there are so many different makes of machine available and everyone you meet will have a different opinion as to which make (generally the machine they own!) is the best. I started with a Brother machine and didn’t really get on with it. It was an entry level machine and I had terrible problems with the tension which meant the threads kept getting tangled. It spent way to much time in the cupboard and also at the repair shop that it and I eventually fell out. I asked the chap who repaired it what make he would recommend and he suggested Janome. His reasoning was that they are good solid machines that can cope with whatever you use them for and they are easy and straightforward to repair. Since then I have used only Janome machines and can highly recommend them. I currently have 6 Janome’s of 3 different models and each is used for quite a few few hours weekly by my students and also for my own sewing projects and all have been fabulous.
I would suggest you read reviews, ask around, try out machines for yourself and then go with what feels right for you.
Entry level versus the next stage up
What makes one machine £100 and another £599? This is a question that can baffle beginner sewers as the casing of machines can often be similar so it can be confusing to see why one machine is hundreds more than another. £100 (ish) machines tend to be front loading bobbins where you have a little bit more faff in fitting it in. They also have less stitch options, and have dials to control the stitch selection, length and width (which stitch you want to use, how long and wide you want it to be) they also have manual tension (how the threads work together, it can be hard to get the tension right) and the mechanics can mean that they aren’t so strong to sew thicker fabrics.
A £250+ machine will probably have a drop loading bobbin which is a much easier and quicker way of inserting the bobbin, it will have a greater range of stitches with, maybe, automatic button hole options (select this ‘stitch’ and the machine will do the button hole completely for you all you do is set it up and press the pedal) the stitch selection will be digital meaning there are no dials only buttons which gives you far greater accuracy in your work but also it’s just very easy to use. The tension is automatic meaning that you very rarely have to touch it -I think I only have for very sheer fabric but I’ve put through denim, upholstery weight fabric, oil cloth and multiple layers of fabric and wadding for quilting and I’ve never had to touch it. The mechanics tend to be stronger so they can cope with all manor of fabrics you care to put through them. I have digital machines and use them for all of my work as I believe it’s really important as a teacher to show my students that I use exactly the same machines that they do and they can see examples of the projects I’ve made using them.
If you want a machine to ‘just work’ for you then the digital machines would be the machines I recommend if your budget allows. Options to reduce the cost could be that you buy second hand from auction sites, asking around or visiting your local repair shops where often people have upgraded their machine and the shop has a few second hand models for sale.
Do I need all the stitches?
The simple answer is no, not really! I have 3 machines that have a good range of stitches and 2 that have massive ranges. Outwardly they look exactly the same, have all the other functions the same the only difference being is these extra stitches and for that I paid an extra £100. Now, I use my machines daily so you would think that I might need them but in all honesty I really don’t use them from month to month. It’s nice to have them but in reality most of us don’t need them so don’t be tempted by huge ranges of decorative stitches. Check the price and work out what you need!
These are the bits you can buy to use with your machine that add extra functions. It’s worth researching what else can be added to your machine as this can help you make the decision as to which one you’re going to buy. Some manufacturers offer lots of accessories free when you buy the machine so again it’s worth checking in your local sewing shop and also online – my sewing ladies have often got a free quilting pack (walking foot that helps with quilting layers of fabric and also an extension table to make a larger flatter surface of the machine) worth £100 free with their machine. This pack you can also use for sewing stripes in curtain making and also with sewing oilcloth so it wasn’t just limited to quilting which made it really good value.
Here’s the next step all worked out for you…
So you’ve read my guide and want to know what to do now? Have a look below at my buying guide…
- How much have you got to spend?
- What do you want to use it for?
- Where is it going to live?
- Research makes and models around your budget listing different functions
- Go and see the machines when you have a good idea of what you’re after
- Try out the machines, ask the assistant to demonstrate specific functions for you (don’t be afraid to do this most assistants LOVE their machines!)
- Ask about accessories available for your chosen machine
- Ask what the next level machine up would have – so you can compare
- Research deals online but also don’t be afraid to ask your local machine shop for a discount, I did and got one.
- You are now ready to buy your machine!
It’s worthwhile taking a bit of time to do the research part and don’t be afraid by the sewing jargon as you’ll soon get the hang of what you’re reading. Have fun choosing your machine -I found it really exciting and can’t wait until my next machine is needed -probably sometime next year.