How to buy a sewing machine – where do I start?

If you have ever had a glimpse at the sewing machine market, you will know that there are literally thousands of sewing machines out there. With such choice available, where do you start choosing one? What do you need to consider? What are the important features?

Let me take you on a journey which will explain to you how to buy a sewing machine.

A sewing machine needs to sew.

You might be thinking that is so obvious, after all you do want a sewing machine to sew! The important point here is not to over complicate matters. Think about what you really need.

Chances are that if you are just starting your journey into the sewing world, you do not need a machine which has hundreds of settings and options. For a starting sewing machine, all you might need is a sewing machine with a few various stitches and a few added options such as the possibility of using various feet.

I would definitely recommend a mechanical sewing machine over an electronic version for a starter machine. First, learn how to sew, understand how a machine works, see what type of sewing you are into, and then later on you may start thinking about upgrading. Another benefit of a mechanical sewing machine is that quite a few repairs can be done at home, without the need of finding a specialized shop to repair your machine.

On the other hand, if you already have years of experience, a very basic machine might not cover all sewing options that you have in mind. At this stage, you might want to start exploring more sophisticated options of a sewing machine, such as a whole range of stitches, being able to set stitch length and width parameters, and a machine suitable for a wide range of fabrics. Nowadays many of these options are covered by electronic sewing machines.

What does your sewing machine really need?

The basic features that you are looking for in a starter sewing machine (and actually any sewing machine for that matter) are the following:

  • spool pin – here your thread will be held in place
  • bobbin winder – you need this to wind your bobbin
  • thread tension control – to adjust the tension of your thread depending on fabrics used
  • sewing machine needle – pretty much all machines come with starter needles
  • presser foot – this will grip the fabric and allow to feed your fabric through
  • stitch selector – the main ones you need are straight stitch, zigzag stitch, stretch stitch and a buttonhole stitch comes in handy too
  • reverse sewing lever or switch – this is a must have as you need to be able to reverse
  • manual wheel – we will need this to fine adjust the sewing or move the needle
  • foot controller – your foot will be doing all the sewing!
  • power switch – quite often this is integrated with a sewing light which comes on as you switch your machine

Sounds lengthy? Do not worry, these are basic elements which any machine will have, so you do not need to be checking each model. This is pretty much all you need in your starter sewing machine.

From here you can go as sophisticated as you want! There are electronic sewing machines, overlockers, embroidery machines – you name it!

Top- or side-loaded bobbin – what is the difference?

The main difference between sewing machines of any level seems to be the type of bobbin casing used and the way this bobbin is inserted into the machine.

Basically there are two types of bobbins: top-loaded (you insert it from the top of the sewing machine’s flat bed) and side-loaded (these are first inserted into a specific casing, which then goes into the side of the machine).

It is ultimately down to personal preference as to which bobbin type you choose. Both do the same job of feeding the botom thread. Personally I prefer the top-loaded bobbins, simply because you can see them even whilst sewing and this will tell you how much thread you have remaining. The side-loaded bobbin is hidden within the machine itself, so will not allow for such transparency.

The all important accessories might make all the difference.

If you are just about to buy a sewing machine and you are stuck between two models, have a look at the accessories included. Some have a few extra bobbins included. Some sewing machines come with their own storage cover. Some have DVD instructional videos included.

Having said that, the vast majority of components can be purchased at a later stage, so don’t worry too much if there is a sewing machine that you like, but with not all the added stuff!

Accessories for your machine which you will expand on with your sewing journey include:

  • a huge range of needle types and thicknesses
  • feet, depending on what you would like to sew on your machine (zipper foot, button sewing foot, piping foot, quilting foot – just to name a few!)
  • plenty of additional bobbins
  • a rainbow of threads

Ask yourself – what would you appreciate the most? Is there any item that you would really, really like to have? If so, then just go for it!

Your sewing machine will surprise you all along the way.

When I bought my first sewing machine, all I wanted to do was sew some curtains. Therefore, I purchased a mechanical sewing machine with just eight built-in stitches.

After that, hundreds of other projects appeared and my machine was amazing in tackling everything – thin fabrics, thick fabrics, woven fabrics, knit fabrics, toys, accessories, repairs, mending – you name it.

Then I went into clothing and realized that my starter machine could hold double threads, which never occurred to me at the start. Next, I started working on free-style embroidery, which my starter sewing machine is more than capable of doing with an appropriate foot.

Over the years I developed, and with each new project I realized how capable my machine was with all these projects. I have bought a few more machines, however my starter machine has grown with me in my sewing skills, and is still my go-to machine.

Until this day, my mechanical starter sewing machine with just eight built-in stitches is my favorite sewing companion.

Happy sewing!


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