If you are new to sewing machine purchasing or upgrading, it is often hard to know which sewing machine you should buy. Because of this, it can be easier to narrow down the options by price. This is a fine way to start, but really only removes some of the alternatives and will not point to the right machine for you. So let me help you with the features I look for in my own machines.
The information below relates to sewing machines for dressmaking as well as patchwork and quilting. Also, for dressmaking, you may want to investigate overlocker and cover stitch machines. Also, embroidery machines have a different feature list to those I am sharing below. Although they look the same as ‘normal’ sewing machines, they have a very different set of functions and are not covered in this post.
Basic Features Needed in Any Sewing Machine
- Vital Sitiches – Straight stitch (a least 3 stitch lengths or the ability to change length), Zig Zag Stitch (a least 3 different stitch widths or the ability to change length), 3 part zig zag, overcasting or over edging stitch, blind hemming stitch. Even if you don’t know what these are, you soon will realise that you need them.
- Needle plate with measuring marks
- Reverse Stitching Button
- Ability to change needle position
- Ability to swap between different feet (check the availability and price of extra feet) – a basic machine should come with a normal/zig-zag foot and a zipper foot at a minimum.
The other things which are a given are a top tension dial, a bobbin winding facility, a bobbin thread guide (which controls the bottom tension) and a needle threader.
Next Level Features Desirable in a Sewing Machine
- Stitch speed slider (allows control of maximum speed)
- Needle Up/Down button (allows control of where the needle always stops which is really useful)
- Lock Stitch (instead of having to go backwards and forwards to secure stitching a start and end)
- Automatic thread cutter
- Excellent lighting (often overlooked and makes all the difference)
- Size of the throat (the area inside of the machine). A basic machine will have a throat of around 8″. It is handy to improve on this so that you can manoeuvre large projects through the machine. This will be the element that increases the price the most.
- Ability to drop feed-dogs for free-motion sewing
- More Feet included in the price.
- Ability to raise the presser foot and raise it again.
- Presser foot adjustment dial (to help when sewing very thick or very thin fabrics)
- Quilting table (even if you don’t intend to quilt it is still really useful to have a larger space to work with).
- More Stitches (and whilst it is fabulous to have lots of stitches you will likely find that you don’t need 100+ stitches so don’t let that be the deciding factor)
- Wider stitches
- Hardcover (this is really useful if you are moving between locations)
Super-Duper Features in a Sewing Machine
- Size of the throat increases to around 11″
- Even better lighting
- More Stitches and more feet included
- Even wider stitches
- Monogramming features (these are OK but pretty limited so don’t get over-excited)
- Timesaving buttons – for example to find stitch settings quickly
- Memory functions for stitch patterns you use frequently (I have had this feature for about 10 years on various machines and never use it ..I much prefer my notebook)
- Straight stitch plate (this is a second stitch plate which can be used if all you want to do is a straight stitch – I never use this 😊)
- Ability to wind bobbins without unthreading machine
- Large thread spool holder (for 1000+m cones of thread)
- Automatic presser foot lifting (a charming luxury)
- Stitch Regulation for free-motion sewing
All machines below £100+ should include the basic features. I would be looking for some or all of the desirable features in machines over £300 and below £1000. Similarly, for machines over £1000, I would expect the Super Duper Features included as well. For me, I would always want the largest throat area I could afford and would compromise on other features to get it.
Finally, I have two closing comments. The first is when buying a machine for a teen or pre-teen, I would recommend buying a ‘proper’ machine. They are much easier to control than children’s machines. Another option here is to buy a reconditioned machine.
To close, all my sewing machines are Janomes. I buy Janome Sewing Machines because they are affordable, reliable, and the cost of additional feet or equipment is not extortionate. For me, they cannot be beaten in these categories. On retail outlets, I use my local sewing machine shop, Sew Devine in Reading, UK. A small sewing machine retailer will offer personal guidance and make sure that you buy exactly what you need. The advantage of knowing your retailer is significant when your machine needs servicing, or you want to buy additional equipment.
I hope this post helps you to narrow down what you are looking for. Remember, a good small retailer is invaluable in assisting you with this purchase.