As with any big, important purchase, the idea of choosing the right sewing machine for you can be daunting. You could spend months researching each brand and model, but if you ask me, that’s all a bit unnecessary. However, there are a few important things to consider when choosing the right machine, and this guide will hopefully make the process a little easier for you.
1. What are you planning on using the machine for?
If your machine will be for occasional use hemming your children’s school trousers or running up simple patterns in cotton, you won’t be needing a very complex, expensive machine. When you first start sewing, you aren’t going to be taking on very ambitious projects, so you’re really not going to need a machine with hundreds of stitch settings. Realistically think about the type of sewing you’ll be doing. For instance, my machine has 16 stitch patterns and I use it for making clothes, cushion covers, curtains etc. If that sounds like the kind of sewing you’ll be doing, then stick with something relatively basic. Otherwise, you’ll have a very expensive machine with lots of bells and whistles you’ll never use.
2. Try before you buy
If possible, borrow a friend’s machine, or attend a sewing class to get a feel for different machines. Sometimes stores will also let you try a machine out. Don’t commit to the cheapest machine. It’s a false economy, as so many cheap products are. You might find it eats up chiffon or can’t handle heavy denim, and it’ll cause you more grief and frustration than anything else. So make sure the machine is fit for the job at hand by having a go first.
3. Ask for advice
If you are going to be quilting, for eaxample, your needs are going to be different from someone who is making costumes, so ask a quilter for advice. Staff at fabric stores or sewing machine stockists are often avid sewers themselves, and will be able to advise you on which features are necessary for the type of sewing you plan to do. An experienced sewer should be able to tell you which machines have the best reputation. Online forums are also a great place to find help and reviews of machines on consumer websites can be helpful too.
4. Manual or computerised?
There is a huge difference in price between the two major types of machine. A manual machine requires you to use various levers and knobs to set and adjust the stitch style or length and to position the needle. A computerised machine does all of that for you, which often results in more uniform, even stitching. Beginners often view computerised machines as hopelessly complex affairs, but that isn’t the case. If you are going to be using the machine a lot, beginner or not, I would recommend a computerised machine. For occasional repairs and hemming, a manual machine is more than enough. Computerised machines vary in complexity, with the most complex being able to download custom stitches or sew letters. The biggest bonus of a computerised machine, in my opinion, is the ease with which you can create button holes. While some computerised machines have between 150-250 stitch styles, others, mine included, have less than 20, which make them both useful and less expensive.
In my opinion, it’s not worth spending less than £100 on a sewing machine. To get a good quality, long-lasting machine, you will need to spend a bit of money. Work out how much, ideally, you’d like to spend. Then shop around. Some online stores offer extra presser feet, thread or carry cases with their machines and this will save you tons of money in the long run. Realistically, for a beginner, £150 to £200 is plenty to spend, but be sure to get the right features and extras for your money.
6. Other things to consider
Generally speaking, a basic manual sewing machine will be light-weight and more portable. A top of the range computerised machine is going to weigh a ton. So think about where you are going to be sewing. A heavier machine would really benefit from having a dedicated sewing table, whereas a compact machine can be used at the kitchen table as and when you need it.
While picking up a cheap, second-hand machine on eBay or Freecycle may seem like a good idea, getting extra parts for it may prove more expensive or difficult than you imagined. Specific presser feet, bulbs or needles may no longer be available, and so when (and it is always when, not if) your machine needs a replacement, you may have no luck finding the parts needed. Be sure to check how readily available extra components are before you buy.
For reference, my machine is a Brother Innov-is 10a Anniversary model and we are very happy together. I have never had a problem with a project on this machine, but bear in mind that I do not quilt or appliqué so my needs may be different to yours. Once you’ve purchased your machine, be sure to check the Daily Waffle for some of my simple sewing tutorials, like cushion covers. Feel free to leave a comment with any questions you might have about buying a sewing machine, or sewing in general, and I’ll do my best to answer them.