In this article, you will learn the only three stitches a sewing machine must have for you to sew just about anything your heart desires; the difference between a mechanical vs. computerized sewing machine; a budget-friendly tip on presser feet; and how to test drive a sewing machine to make sure it is a good fit for your needs.
If you’re in the market to buy a sewing machine, then get ready to be amazed.
Sewing machines have come a long way since Elias Howe was awarded the first U.S. patent in 1846. Yep, 1846.
Everyone, even those who don’t sew and those who have no interest in sewing, has heard of Singer sewing machines.
And for a very long time, the name Singer was synonymous with sewing machines and the craft of sewing in much the same way Google is with searching on the Internet.
Because Singer was the first company to bring the sewing machine into the average home.
Fast forward to today:
Sewing machines of today can do just about everything. But they still produce a stitch in much the same way they did back in 1846.
A beautiful stitch is a lovely dance between the needle thread and the bobbin thread–except neither takes the lead.
First, A True Story
I can still remember my mum’s Singer sewing machine. It was a black beauty with an elegant, curvy shape, a gold handwheel, and the word Singer emblazoned on the front in gold script lettering.
It was a manual machine, which means, that you had to use the treadle and your foot to power it.
But oh gosh, was it ever a beauty!
And if being truly beautiful wasn’t enough, it was built into its own cabinetry.
I don’t care how beautiful a sewing machine is today or how many bells and whistles it has, not one of them can ever compete with the beauty of these original vintage babies. They just can’t.
One of my greatest regrets, especially now that I am madly, deeply, and truly in love with the craft of sewing, is that my mum had to sell her machine when we moved to the U.S.
Man, what I wouldn’t give to be able to sit in front of that Singer machine today and try sewing an insanely pretty dress.
Anyhoo, enough reminiscing. And let’s get down to the business of choosing your first sewing machine…
Don’t Fall for Bells & Whistles
In today’s world of “bigger, newer, and more expensive” is better, you can spend big dollars on a sewing machine. It boggles my mind that there are sewing machines out there that cost as much or more than a vehicle, new or gently used!
I know. Crazy, right?!
Psst. Come in close. I’ve got a secret for you…
You don’t have to spend big bucks to sew insanely pretty dresses. In fact, even if funds are not a concern for you, I don’t recommend you shell out big wads of cash for your first machine.
You can get a great model for a reasonable price. And if “reasonable” is still out of reach, try Craigslist or Goodwill for a steal.
But whatever you do, ignore the siren calls from those shiny, beautiful machines with too many bells and whistles.
Trust me, when I say:
What Features Do You Need
After you’re clear on whether you want to go mechanical or computerized, you need to determine what features are absolute must-haves and what would be nice but not mandatory.
It is a waste of money to buy more machine than you are ready to use or will ever use.
I think the best way to go if you can afford it is to buy a sewing machine that falls in the middle price range. This will give you room to grow for years to come.
Here is a short list of features that I think are a must haves…
- Three stitches: straight, reverse or backstitch, zigzag
- These presser feet: zigzag; conventional zipper; and automatic, one-step buttonhole
- Adjustable needle position (great when you need to topstitch!)
- Adjustable stitch length and stitch width
- Adjustable tension
- One-step buttonhole
- A free arm
- Speed control slider (optional, but I think it is very worthwhile for beginners)
You also need to know what you want to sew with your new machine. Are you going to be sewing stable cottons or sumptuous, slippery silks or heavy denim? Are you going to be sewing garments, quilts, handbags, or curtains? Are you going to be sewing kid’s clothes or dresses for you?
Knowing what you want to sew with your new machine and sharing this with the sewing machine salesperson will help them help you make the best choice for YOU.
In fact, be bold enough to bring in scraps of the types of fabric you dream of sewing to test drive on the machines. Believe me when I tell you that some machines are better at sewing certain fabrics than others. (Yes, I’m looking at you Viking Opal 650!)
Mechanical vs. Computerized Sewing Machine
First, you need to decide if you want a mechanical or a computerized sewing machine.
A computerized sewing machine is really nice. But, frankly, a simple mechanical sewing machine will get the job done too.
Alright then, let’s get to know the two most common categories of sewing machines…
Mechanical Sewing Machines
My very first machine was this mechanical Janome 415. It was a simple mechanical sewing machine with few bells and whistles. It used dials, knobs, and sliders to adjust stitching length, stitch width, and tension. And it had an automatic threader.
But you know what?!
Even after it sat unused for 15 years in a dark corner of my closet, when I pulled it out and sewed my first stitches, it stitched as beautifully as if it was brand new.
Yes, it did! I wouldn’t lie to you.
Here’s the thing…
Mechanical sewing machines are very basic and devoid of frills. But they can be an ideal choice for beginners for a few reasons…
- They are relatively inexpensive;
- They are easy to maintain; and
- They can last a long time without a lot of fuss.
And yes, yes, yes! You can sew insanely beautiful clothing on a quality mechanical machine if you are the boss of these basic sewing skills!
Okay. So now that you understand the merits of keeping it basic, it is time to get fancy and talk about…
Computerized Sewing Machines
My first hybrid computerized sewing machine was a Janome DC2014. She came with a fabulous overcast foot that does a mean mock serger edge finish AND a walking foot! Sweet!
I loved her!
She was a very basic computerized sewing machine — in my opinion, sort of a hybrid between a mechanical and computerized machine. She has an LCD screen that allows for more precision when selecting stitch length and width; needle position button; speed control; and one-step buttonholes.
I paid about $500 for her during a holiday sale at my local Janome retailer.
And in 2018, she is still highly rated on Amazon and holding firm at $549 with a bonus bundle.
If you have the budget, there are even fancier computerized sewing machines that use LCD and/or touch screens and touch pads to select various features.
Plus, they are feature-rich with amazing automations, such as…
- automatic needle threader (yes, you can thread your needle with just one hand);
- automatic thread cutter;
- a start/stop button (no foot pedal required);
- a trillion stitches (no kidding); and
- so much more!
Here’s the LCD operational panel of a mid-range 100% computerized Babylock sewing machine with all the above features…
She’s hefty but sleek. She’s pretty but functional. And she does just “enough” to take the grunt out of sewing but still keep the reins of control in my hands!
But did you know that there are very advanced computerized sewing machines that go even further and provide features, such as…
- a on board sewing advisor that automatically sets your machine settings for you (including, stitch type, length, and width; tension; and foot pressure);
- alert you when you’re about to run out of bobbin;
- cut the top and bobbin thread and then pulls the threads to the underside;
- wind bobbins directly from the needle — so you don’t have to unthread your machine;
- a sensor system that senses the thickness of your fabric and feeds it evenly;
- makes the most delicious cup of latte in any flavor your heart desires (just kidding); and
- so much more!
And as you can imagine, these feature-rich, overachievers can be quite pricey!
But to me, a computerized machine that makes all the decisions is like an airline pilot who always flies on autopilot.
Kinda nice for the pilot. But what happens if the plane gets into real trouble?! Will the pilot have any idea what he needs to do to avoid a rough landing or a fatal crash?
Which begs this question to be asked:
If your sewing machine does everything for you, will you know how to salvage your project?!
Not to mention that the accessories for and the maintenance of these machines can often cost a small fortune, depending on the brand. Ask me how I know this?!
Still, I will admit that my computerized Janome DC2014 sewing machine sewed much quieter and smoother than her mechanical sister. And the fully computerized Babylock Presto II is dreamy!
Okay, moving on…
Other Important Considerations
Cost of Presser Feet
Presser feet extend the capabilities of a sewing machine and they make many tedious sewing jobs a breeze.
So you will probably at some point want to buy additional presser feet for your sewing machine.
Here’s a budget-friendly tip…
Before I even say hello to a new sewing machine that I am considering buying, I want to to know how much additional presser feet are going to cost.
Because there is no way in heck, I will EVER again pay $150 for anybody’s walking foot! (Yes, I’m still looking at you Viking Opal 650!)
So if you’re on a budget, you might just want to start here too!
Is It Ridiculously Noisy?
If the answer is yes, not good!
Go Heavy or Don’t Buy
Ideally, you want a relatively hefty machine, which indicates that it is made of metal or mostly metal, not just plastic, parts.
And do you know what else is good about a sewing machine with a bit of weight?!
When you pick up speed as you sew, there will be no vibrating, rattling, and shifting nonsense!
Whatever you do, I beg you please to stay away from what I call junk machines. You know, the ones that you find at many big box stores that you can easily tilt with a single finger.
Just. Do. Not. Even.
What I love about both of my Janome machines is that they are substantial. They’ve got heft. Both of my machines are over 18 freaking-awesome pounds! This is one of the hallmarks of a sturdy machine.
Oh, and one last thing:
Please for the love of sewing, save your money and say absolutely NOT to mini machines. They are not up to the challenge of frequent sewing.
Sew easy tip: I recently had the pleasure of using the Brother CS6000i Computerized Sewing Machine. The surprising short story is: I love it. It comes in at around 13 pounds, but doesn’t feel flimsy. And it has a needle position button, a start/stop button, and a freaking walking foot! All this fabulousness for just $150 on Amazon and most other online retailers! If you’re interested, click HERE to go to my Resources page!
Test Drive Locally
If this is your first machine, you might want to do a test drive at a local dealer even if you decide to buy online.
Before you go sewing machine shopping, pick up a quarter yard of real denim. Also, bring along a few samples of the fabrics that you’re most likely to sew with. Now, you’re armed and ready to test drive sewing machines.
FIRST, before you sew your first stitch, ask the dealer to set the tension to the default for that sewing machine! It is IMPORTANT not to muck with the tension when test driving sewing machines! You must test drive with the sewing machine set at its default tension! (It’s usually 4.)
Next, do the following tests:
- Sew a plain straight stitch. Now, look at the stitching line on both sides. They should look pretty much the same.
- Sew a simple zig-zag stitch. On the needle (top) side, you should not see the bobbin thread. However, on the bobbin (bottom) side, the needle thread should make only a very slight appearance.
- Sew a buttonhole. You want a machine that makes a pretty buttonhole easily.
- Finally, sew through at least four and up to nine layers of denim. Did it do so smoothly and without a hitch? Or, did is sputter and stall? If it sputtered and stalled, I would suggest you continue searching.
These four tests will give you firsthand knowledge of how the sewing machine will handle your preferred fabrics and the stitch quality it produces.
I wish I had known this before I shelled out good money for that Viking Opal 650!
Because if I have a spare $150, I would rather spend it on fabric, rather than a freaking walking foot!
A good sewing machine does not have to cost you a small fortune. Be wise and decide before you go shopping how much machine you are likely to actually use. Then, buy accordingly.
Whatever brand you buy, go heavy. Make sure it has a metal frame. I think you’d agree that we ain’t got no time for a sewing machine so light, it shakes and rattles with every stitch.
And once you unbox your new sewing machine, the first order of business is to READ THE MANUAL from cover to cover.
You’ll be amazed at how much you can learn about sewing from just doing this ONE thing!
Life is the ultimate red carpet event. Dress for it!