Guide to Selecting a Sewing Machine

From the humble mechanical sewing machines of the past to the high-tech sewing machines of the present, one of the most common home appliances has come a long way. There’s no denying that technology has paved the way for sewing machines’ significant and continuing improvements. Now, customers have an array of types and brands to consider, ranging from established names (such as Singer and Bernina) to the recent players in the sewing machine market.

However, these choices can become a source of any buyer’s indecision. With so many brands, models, and price points, it’s pretty tricky which of these sewing machines is deemed worth the purchase. 

Before delving into the different sewing machine options, this article will briefly explore the parts of a sewing machine and its common types, including some of the commonly used specialized ones.

The essential components of a sewing machine:

The essential components of a sewing machine

  • Bed – The bed, sometimes called an “arm,” is the sewing machine’s work area. The flat section offers stability to the machine and a space to place your fabrics and materials to be sewn. Some specialized sewing machines (such as quilting machines) have extended beds to accommodate larger pieces of fabric to be sewn.
  • Bobbin – The lower thread is wound onto a low spool, which is the bobbin. The bobbin and the needle thread are looped together, making up the underside of a machine stitch.
  • Bobbin case – It is the case that holds the bobbin. Tension is provided to the bottom thread by way of the bobbin case. When the needle thread is pulled around the bobbin case, it wraps around the bobbin thread and drags it up through the needle plate.
  • Feed dog – It is a small rubber or metal teeth that pull the fabric between the presser foot and throat plate. The feed dog regulates the stitch length by controlling how much material passes through at once. An important reminder: let the feed dog – not your hands – move the fabric as you guide it. Otherwise, pulling or pushing the fabric with your hands may cause the needle to bend or break.
  • Needle – The needle is a small, thin metal rod with an eye through which a thread can pass. The needle helps in giving stitches in the fabric that has been sewn. Needles are removable, and there are many types of them depending for the material they’re intended to use.
  • Needle clamp – It holds the needle in place. It tightens its hold to the needle and ensures that it remains steady during sewing.
  • Presser foot – The presser foot applies pressure to the fabric and holds it on the feed dog, providing support for the sewing machine as you work. Your machine’s lever serves as its control. Its position may vary depending on the type or model of the sewing machine. Presser feet also come in various designs such as button stitch, satin, zipper, etc. These types depend on the sewing process or the material you’re working on.
  • Tension discs – The tension discs control and regulate the thread tension to ensure a proper stitch on the fabric. If there is a tension issue, the stitch may end up too loose or tight, leading to more difficulties while sewing.
  • Tension spring – A tension spring manages the pressure to ensure appropriate stitching while joining two different textiles. When tension discs and tension spring wear out, you must replace them.

sewing machine in pink bg

The three common types of sewing machines:

The three common types of sewing machines

  • Mechanical or manual – It’s sometimes known as a domestic sewing machine or tailoring machine. The mechanical sewing machine’s basic features must be done manually by the user. While it’s evident that its features are not comparable to the electric and computerized sewing machine, the mechanical sewing machine is the perfect start for beginners who want to learn the basics of working with a sewing machine. It is also the most affordable of the three types.
  • Electronic — Compared to the mechanical sewing machine, the electronic sewing machine has more enhanced features. As the name implies, it is run by electricity to make sewing faster and more efficient. If you are a frequent sewist or sew for business, you may need this sewing machine. But if sewing is not something you do regularly, then you may not need all the features of this sewing machine and go for the basic mechanical sewing machine instead.
  • Computerized – It is called the computerized or automated sewing machine because it is run by software that governs all of its functions. These advanced sewing machines usually have an LCD screen with an easy-to-use stitch selector, automatic needle threading, speed control, etc. They can make as many as seven different buttonholes created in one step and many decorative stitches. Many computerized sewing machines have Wi-Fi connectivity. Understandably, the advanced features of computerized sewing machines make them easily the most expensive of the three types.

Specialty machines

Almost all of the specialty machines listed below are designed for commercial and industrial use. You may have seen some specialty machines in the online marketplace, most of which are used. But if you’re planning to open a garments factory or a related business, it’s best to purchase them straight from the manufacturers.

  • Overlock machine or serger – It is designed for serging garment panels (such as trouser panels serging) and overedge stitch. Overlock machines are mostly used in knitted garment sewing for overedge stitch. If you look at the side seam stitch of your shirt, it is sewn using of machine. Overlock machines come in 3 threads, 4 threads, and 5 threads overedge sewing. They can perform different stitches, such as stitch class 503, 504, and 512.
  • Single needle lock stitch machine – It makes lock stitches (stitch class 301) and is used for joining two or more fabric plies together. You can use this machine to sew lightweight, medium-weight, and heavy fabrics and materials.
  • Buttonhole machine – It is used to make buttonholes on garments.
  • Zigzag machine – It is used for making zigzag stitches, typically used for the making of bars and jackets.
  • Multi-needle chain stitch machine – It is used for smocking and pin-tuck operations.
  • Bartack machine – It is designed to reinforce the seam and garment components, as you can see in the belt looping and at the bottom of the side pocket opening, which is done by bartacking.
  • Flat-lock sewing machine – It is typically used for creating cover stitches and has 2 to 3 needles. You can use this machine for hemming the sleeves and the lower portions of knitwear, as well as creating ornamental cover stitches on garments.

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How you will choose a sewing machine depends on many factors:

How you will choose a sewing machine depends on many factors

  • Who is the sewing machine for? – Will you buy a sewing machine for yourself or someone you know who is into sewing? Ascertain first whether you (or your intended recipient) have beginner, intermediate, or advanced skills in sewing. 
  • What projects will you use the sewing machine for? – You must know what purpose you have in buying a sewing machine. There’s no point in buying a cheap and lightweight plastic machine if you’re going to sew heavy-duty drapes or thick comforters. Thus, it is vital to buy a sewing machine with all the features you need.
  • How often will you use the sewing machine? – If you might use a sewing machine only for mending clothes or occasional hemming, then there’s no sense in investing in a sewing machine with advanced features. But if you’re a sewing enthusiast who loves to make clothing or sews clothes for a living, then you know you will use a sewing machine often. Thus, choose a sewing machine that’s sturdy and can withstand many uses. Buying the best sewing machine you can afford is the best decision.
  • What is your budget? – Prices of sewing machines vary considerably. You must look at your budget first while browsing different models and brands. If your budget is limited, then it might not be possible to afford high-end sewing machines. But even if you have a limited budget, buying a cheap plastic sewing machine is not advisable, either. It won’t last, and you might end up frustrated, not to mention wasting your money. Look around and see what quality machines are available that match your budget.

Mechanical Sewing Machines

Experts recommend the following mechanical sewing machines, ideal for beginners or anyone who needs a machine mainly for repairs and simple decorative work. They have basic features and offer fewer stitches. However, they are more affordable than the other models.

  • Singer Heavy Duty 4452 – As it is a heavy-duty mechanical machine, it will last long. It features an automatic needle threader and boasts 32 built-in stitches, including 6 static, 7 stretch, 18 decorative, and one automatic 1-step buttonhole. The price tag is pretty affordable, too.
  • Brother ST371HD Sewing Machine – This model has many features, such as an automatic needle threader, 37 unique stitches, and a sewing speed of up to 800 stitches per minute. If you’re also learning to quilt, the Brother ST371HD is a perfect choice.
  • Bernette Sew & Go 1 Sewing Machine – Bernette, a subsidiary brand of Bernina, offers a basic and affordable model (only under $200), the Sew & Go 1. It the ideal machine for entry-level sewing. It weighs only 15 pounds, making it perfect for traveling with, bringing to sewing classes, or carrying around the house. If you can’t be bothered with too many stitches, the Bernette Sew & Go 1 has only 10 of them, which you can select via a stitch dial or simple touch panel. It also has attachments to sew on zippers and buttons.

Electronic Sewing Machines

As your sewing skills have risen a few notches higher, you want to move on to faster and more advanced sewing machines. You do have to pay a little more, though, and that’s understandable. But these electronic sewing machines guarantee efficiency and excellent results, leading to more productive sewing sessions, making them worth every penny.

  • Singer M3500 Sewing Machine – The Singer M3500 has an automatic needle threader that will save you from the pain of trying to get that thread into the needle. It is a good sewing machine to work with different fabrics (only it struggles with lighter ones like chiffon). It is compact, doesn’t take up space, and is excellent for beginners.
  • Magicfly Portable Sewing Machine – This sewing machine from Magicfly is light (weighing only 6.25 pounds) and compact, allowing you to take your craft on the go. The design is simple, offering 12 basic stitches, three presser feet, and three needles for fabrics of varying thicknesses. It also has an extension kit that expands your work area. On top of these features, the Magicfly Portable Sewing Machine has two power options, allowing you to use four AA batteries or plug the machine into a standard outlet.
  • Brother XM2701 Sewing Machine – This sewing machine is relatively lightweight (12.6 pounds), making it highly portable. It’s one of the more affordable machines on the market and perfect for beginner and intermediate sewists, thanks to its decent stitch selection (27 to choose from), intuitive operation, overall versatility, and a 25-year warranty. It also comes with a free arm for smaller projects.

Computerized Sewing Machines

One of the best things about computerized sewing machines, aside from the obvious awesome features, is that they are ideal for every skill level. Yes, for even beginners – who may feel overwhelmed only by the thought of a computerized sewing machine – who will find them surprisingly straightforward to use. The features of a computerized sewing machine can make sewing fast, simple, efficient, and even fun, you may end up creating fancy stitches you may have never thought of making before.

Of course, you can expect these sewing machines to be pretty pricey, so it’s advisable to set a sizable budget if you’re dreaming of having one.

  • Singer 7258 Sewing & Quilting Machine – It may be computerized, but it is friendly on the pocket, and the operation is pretty uncomplicated enough even for a beginner to use. It has 203 stitches, including basic and decorative, stretch, and 6 one-step buttonholes. It also boasts an automatic thread needle, LED light, and various accessories (bobbins, needles, a seam ripper, etc.). However, some users complain it’s a bit noisy.
  • Bernette 38 Swiss Design Computerized Sewing Machine – As you take on more extensive and complicated sewing projects, it’s natural to want to upgrade to a more advanced (and more expensive) sewing machine. The Bernette 38 Computerized Sewing Machine boasts 394 stitches, 8 one-step buttonholes, a stretch stitch for elastic fabrics, and three alphabets. One of the best features is the memory function that lets you save and store custom patterns. It also has an adjustable speed regulator and automatic thread cutter with a tie-off button.
  • Brother CS5055 Computerized Sewing Machine – Another affordable yet powerful computerized sewing machine on the list is the Brother CS5055. But as it is priced below $200, you can expect fewer features than the other computerized sewing machines: only 10 stitches and three presser feet. However, none of the missing ones are considered beneficial for most projects. But this is a great value and will serve every sewist’s needs perfectly.

Sewing Machines for Beginners

Experts recommend the following sewing machines for entry-level sewing.

  • Brother XR3774 Sewing and Quilting Machine – The Brother XR3774 features 37 built-in stitches and a LED work light. The brand claims that this machine comes with a jam-resistant top bobbin to hold a spool of thread, as well as an automatic needle threader. As it doubles as a quilting machine, it is also ideal for people who have enjoyed quilting by hand but want to move on to mechanical quilting.
  • Singer Heavy-Duty 4452 – It deserves another mention as it’s been a favorite entry in several “best sewing machine for beginners” lists. Fans of this sewing machine are heaping praises for its durability, user-friendliness, and affordability.
  • Singer Tradition 2277 Essential – As you can expect from this machine, the Singer Tradition 2277 Essential is easy to learn on. However, its features aren’t limited to first-time users, which means you may not need to buy an advanced machine as you’re working your way up to bigger sewing projects. It comes with 97 stitch applications, an automatic embroidery needle threader, adjustable stitch length, and fully automatic one-step buttonhole. Besides excellent features, it has a heavy-duty build and great price point that make this sewing machine a fine purchase.