How to Choose a Sewing Machine


How to Choose a Sewing Machine

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Day 2 of How to Teach Sewing in Your Homeschool {Whether or Not You Sew} is all about sewing machines.

Chances are if you don’t sew, you don’t have a sewing machine. Of course, maybe you were given one you have no idea how to use. Or maybe you asked for one and the relationship never worked out! Whatever the case may be, you’ll need to get a sewing machine and you’ll need to learn it or help your student to learn it.

Below are some tips on what features to look for in a sewing machine and where to get one. I’ll also share some ways to become familiar with your sewing machine.

What Features Do I Look for in a Sewing Machine?

  • You’ll want a machine that has metal parts on the inside rather than plastic. One of the reasons there are so many older sewing machines still around is because they were well built machines and the components are easily repaired and replaced. Today’s machines are largely made of plastic parts and do not repair well.
  • Drop in bobbin– this means the bobbin casing does not come out of the machine. You drop the bobbin in (this is the smaller thread spool that goes under the strike plate where the needle goes up and down) and it is easier to thread. Older machines will require you to get accustomed to threading the bobbin. It’s not the end of the world, but if you are going for ease, this is a nice feature to have.
  • Variety of Stitch types but especially zig zag– I don’t know of a machine that would come without a zig zag stitch, but just in case…you’ll want it so you can finish seams easily and sew knit fabrics.
  • Sturdy enough machine that it will sew heavier fabrics like denim– if you end up with a light weight machine, it may not work well with heavy fabrics. A great machine can muscle through denim!

How to Choose a Sewing Machine

Where do I get a sewing machine?

  • Borrow one– there are an awful lot of unused sewing machines in the world! Before you go to a lot of expense, you might consider using Grandma’s sewing machine or a friend’s machine to see how things progress. I think a long term borrow would be the best scenario if you can manage it. You want to give sewing a good shot to how your student takes to it. However, if the borrowed machine gives you hassles, stop using it! You don’t want to discourage the whole activity because you end up with a finicky machine.
  • sewing machine repair shops/sewing shops- mostly I’m referring to repair shops which sell new and used sewing machines. We’ve purchased machines both ways- new and used. The great advantage of buying a used machine from a repair shop is you know the guy who serviced your machine and you know you can bring it back for service in the future.
  • Secondhand sewing shops- we have a place in town that rescues fabric and machines from the dumpster and they service the machines to sell. You can find great machines this way if you have a shop like this.
  • Sewing Stores/Quilting Shops– you’ll find basic to top of the line machines in these stores and you’ll get a chance to try them out. Usually a store like this will also service the machine. I bought my first sewing machine (pictured above) from a quilting shop. It’s a Bernette which is a Bernina machine. I bought it with the idea that if I wanted to trade up in a year to another machine, I could. You can also get introductory lessons on a machine you buy new from one of these shops. Definitely worth considering, but it’s probably the most expensive way to go.
  • Department Stores- such as Sears, Walmart, Target, etc. While these places will have cheap machines, not all of them will be stout and you will not be able to get the machines serviced through these stores. So, you’ll need to know where to go when it’s time.
  • Online/Craigslist- you can buy new and used machines online. If you buy used online, you need to be sure to have proof it’s a well running machine.

How to Choose a Sewing Machine

General Tips on Sewing Machines

  • New vs Used- this is a great question. I know that a lot of times you can get a better quality machine that is used vs the newer, cheaper models. Usually, you can get a higher quality machine used than you can afford new. We bought R13’s machine through the help of a friend. Hers is a Bernette 82e (pictured above) and has some really wonderful features that we could not have afforded in a new machine.
  • Make sure the machine runs true- if you are confident in purchasing a used machine and you don’t buy it from a repair shop, then get it tuned up straight away. You want to be sure the stitches are nice and the machine behaves. An ill mannered machine is extremely frustrating- especially for those just learning.
  • If you are buying new, check out the reviews of the machine- sometimes Amazon is a great resource for reviews. As I understand it, there are really only a couple companies that manufacture sewing machines these days. There’s Bernina and then there’s all the rest which are made by nearly one parent company under many familiar names. For example, Singer machines are manufactured by the Husqvarna-Viking Company along with Pfaff machines.
  • Cost– you may not want to spend top dollar on a new machine, but research enough to know which brands are too cheap to bother with. I can’t say it enough that if the machine is quirky/doesn’t work well, it will kill the joy in learning.
  • Make sure you can get the machine serviced regularly- ideally machines are serviced annually depending on how much use it gets. So, it’s important to know where you can have a machine worked on when it needs it. Repair shops are also a great place to buy a machine.
  • A note on sergers (picture below)- once you get the hang of a sewing machine and the interest blossoms, the same rules apply to purchasing a serger. A serger finishes seams at the same time it cuts the edge of the fabric. If you turn the cuff of a ready made garment over, you’ll see a serged seam. It’s all those threads going over and over on the hem. Our serger came to us in a very sweet and thoughtful way through a connection online. We are so grateful for the gift!

Choosing & Learning a Sewing Machine

Resources for Learning about Sewing Machines

Sewing Machine Unit Study– several years ago, I wrote a unit study on the sewing machine. It includes history, science, and math but also a look at the different types of machines. You might enjoy getting to know these machines in this way.

Sewing Manuals- for those of you who read and follow directions well, any basic sewing manual (which you’ll want on hand anyway) will give you the run down on machine basics.

Sewing Machine Manual- probably the first place to look is the manual that comes with your machine. If you get a used model with no instructions, chances are you’ll be able to find them online. I keep my manual handy even now because if something goes wrong, I can troubleshoot.

Pinterest- my sewing skill board is a nice one to follow and has a lot of pins on how to use your machine for various types of sewing.

Craftsy Classes– such as this one called Sewing Studio which has learning about your machine right in the description.

Sewing Studio: Fashion Fitting, Home Decor & More

Sewing Friends & Family- I’m sure would be delighted to give you some pointers. Take advantage of their expertise. More on this Thursday!

You Tube– putting in a search for sewing instructions I am sure you will find one to your liking. Be resourceful!

Sewing Shop- if you buy a machine from a sewing shop, chances are you’ll get some free lessons thrown in there. Especially if you buy new from a nice sewing shop. There are perks to this choice!

When you don’t know much about sewing and sewing machines, making an investment like this one can be scary and confusing. I hope some of the tips I shared today will take some of the mystery out of the process. If you have questions, feel free to leave them and I’ll try and answer. For example, I’d be happy to share why I went with Bernina made sewing machines or more details about our machines. Rebecca’s first machine is a newer, nicer model than mine has a lot of fantastic features. It sews like a dream, although I love my machine just as much!

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  1. Thank you for this. I have always sewn by hand. I took a quilting class and was surprised that everyone used their sewing machine and that it was required for the class. I inherited an old machine but it is almost 100 lbs and only has a straight stitch. I quickly gave up, quit the class, and put the frustrating machine out of my sight. You have given me motivation and insight to not only purchase a new machine, but to take up quilting again.

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