Today’s sewing machines are definitely not your grandmother’s old school model. If you were to line up a machine from 15, 20, or 30 years ago with a brand-new model, you’ll see they have very little in common beyond general shape, size, and rudimentary functions. The best is the one that fits your current needs in terms of features and price.
There are three core categories of sewing machines.
A mechanical model is much more akin to the kind your grandmother used to sew. This is your basic get-the-job-done design without many extra features. For example, these units tend to have a select menu of stitching options. If you have the sewing knowledge and skill, however, these machines will function just fine for making most garments. The Pros: If you’ve been taught old-school sewing styles and that’s what you’re comfortable with, then you should be able to find a budget-friendly mechanical model.
This is where things get interesting because we combine computer programming with traditional sewing. Although companies sell variations—some models are more souped up than others—a typical unit showcases touchpad controls and a wide array of stitch settings. There are also many automated options. To use an automatic buttonholer, slip a button into a slot and the program sizes it up to create a buttonhole specifically designed to fit that button. The Pros: The more capabilities a machine offers, the more you can do with your sewing. Also, these models help beginners gain confidence because operators can adjust settings to control speed and reduce possible errors, such as material puckering.
If you are a crafty person whose sewing inspirations extend beyond making clothes, then you might want one that doubles as an embroidery machine. These combo units let users carry out all the sewing operations, including buttonholes, but also embroidery functions, such as monograms. A separate hoop attachment moves the material in all directions as the needle sews in a programmed pattern. Choose from preset patterns or purchase others on memory cards or CDs, or download them onto a USB drive. The Pros: These machines excel at efficiency. Whether you enjoy crafting gifts for friends and family or intend to sell your goods at craft fairs, the machine’s capability saves time.
Believe it or not, shopping for one is a lot like shopping for a car. Once you decide on the model you want, you have to test drive it. Even if you find a great deal online, you go see and feel it at work. Go to a store or independent dealer to try it yourself. While testing the machine, evaluate the following features: • An ability to work on different fabrics, from lightweight to heavy duty • A responsive foot pedal that lets you determine the needle speed • Controls that are clearly displayed • Enough space between needle and machine for smooth fabric pass-through • Automatic needle threader or at least easy accessibility for threading • Convenient bobbin placement—most modern models have a top-loading compartment • Adjustable presser foot that guides the fabric • Variable thread tension settings that can be changed according to fabric and stitch style.
Price tags can run from less than $200 to thousands of dollars for commercial models. For decades, names like Singer, Brother, and Kenmore have dominated the marketplace, and continue to offer well-received products; however, a few newcomers are making a name, too: Bemina, Husqvama, Viking, and Janome. Once again, the size, type, and price of the machine really depends on your expected use. Will you be a frequent seamstress or only use it periodically? Will you be needing basic stitching functions or more intricate stitches to create a certain look? Will you be just sewing or need an embroidery function, too? These are the types of questions that will help you determine what sewing machine model suits your needs. Don’t know where to get started with your comparison shopping? Well, we get you going. Featured here are three different models in various price ranges.
Brother PE770 (PE770) Embroidery Machine w/USB Flash Port and Grand Slam II Package Includes 65 Embroidery Threads with Snap Spools + Prewound Bobbins + Cap Hoop + Sock Hoop + Stabilizer +15,000 Embroidery Designs + Scissors A nicely sized embroidery field (5” x 7”) provides plenty of space to embroider anything from jackets to quilts to bags. Create your own design or pick from a built-in library of more than 130 patterns. If that’s not enough for you, then import others via a USB port. Once you find a design you like, save it for future use. Of course, the machine tackles all kinds of sewing jobs, too. Automatic features take care of the menial tasks, such as an automatic thread trimmer and needle threading. Follow the LCD touch screen instructions for setup. $898
SINGER Quantum Stylist 600-Stitch (1000+ Stitch Function) Computerized Sewing Machine with Extension Table, Bonus Accessories and Hard Cover This machine has something for everyone, from beginners to serious craft enthusiasts. An automatic needle threader, top drop-in bobbin, one-touch automatic thread cutter and electronic auto pilot and speed control all help novices get a hang of sewing. More experienced seamstresses appreciate the variety of options, such as 600 built-in stitches, 13 automatic one-step buttonholes, and five different fonts. You can even edit stitches to get the exact look and treatment you want. $329.99
Janome 2212 This model is for people who want the basics, but still demand quality. The traditional machine features 12 built-in stitch options, including a four-step buttonhole function. Additionally, you can choose the width and length of the stitch as needed. A free arm option makes sewing cuffs and hems less cumbersome. A drop-feed function lets you move the fabric in multiple directions for simple embroidering or quilting. $149