Handy Checklist For Choosing a Sewing Machine

Rachelle de Bretagne (guest contributor)

If you're considering buying a sewing machine, take care. There are many options, some of them expensive, and you may be tempted to buy a machine with features you will never use for your sewing projects if the package looks attractive. Making a checklist of things you need to look for before you enter the store can help you avoid an expensive mistake. Here's what to include on your list.

Type of sewing projects
This should be at the top of your list. Many cheaper machines offer functions that allow you to do basic things such as buttonholes, backward and forward stitching, and zigzag, but little else. More complex machines offer loads of embroidery and overlocking possibilities, but if you do not use these stitches, this may not be worth the money. Consider the kind of fabrics you think you will use. Cheap machines tend to be flimsy and are often not suitable for sewing thicker fabrics such as denims, quilting or upholstery. For regular repair work, you can make a solid investment by choosing a machine with a well-known brand.

Parts
Look at what parts are available in case the sewing machine breaks. Find out whether the back-up guarantee covers replacement parts. In most machines, standard separate parts are given at the time of purchase. Make sure the tools are high-quality and there are sufficient spools. Nonstandard spools are hard to find.

Flexible use
If you plan to be sewing clothes with sleeves, it helps to have a machine with wraparound ability so that the sleeve fits neatly over the bed of the sewing machine. If possible, see how comfortable the machine is while you're using it. Cheaper brands may feel tinny. Make sure it's easy to change spools, and check out the threading mechanism and tension variation. A good-quality sewing machine should come with a full guide and instructions. If it doesn't, you may be buying a red herring.

Quality of buttons and bobbin holders

You will use the buttons on the sewing machine regularly when sewing clothes. Make sure they move easily and smoothly. Place the needle in both the down and up positions and see if there is any movement in the needle, which indicates unsteady foot or needle attachment. Look at the cotton bobbin holder, as many are not strong. If it's plastic, it may break. Traditional sewing machines tend to have them on the top of the machine, whereas current trends favor placing the bobbin at the back of the machine. Move the lever to the “in use” position and see how much this sticks out, as this is an area that can easily break.

Sound
Often sewing machines are noisy. Ask to see the machine in action. Reputable shops will be only too happy to let you try a machine, even if this is just the demo machine in the store. The sound while the pedal is pressed is important, since you may be working at the machine for lengthy periods.

Threading mechanism
Almost automatic threading systems can sometimes seem complex. Ask an assistant to show you how the machine threads and if you can try it yourself. Some users prefer traditional threading systems, though the whole range of sewing machines from basic Brother models to the more expensive Frister Rossmann machines all use very similar threading mechanisms that are fairly easy to use, though you may need a demonstration.

Available options

See what options the sewing machine offers and how easily the change in the foot is made to implement these, such as producing a buttonhole. Is this easy, or does it require additional instructions? Once you have taken your machine home, if it doesn't have instructions for basic items such as this, you may be reluctant to use all the options the machine offers.

Does the sewing machine take different thicknesses of thread? In this day and age, threads used for feature topstitching are often thicker and look very nice when used. Depending on the thread thickness you need for your sewing projects, you may need a more specialized machine.

Look at whether the machine does embroidery if this is a type of sewing project you would like to attempt. Shops often have examples of stitching provided by each of their machines, so it is far better to buy a machine in a shop than online. Look at the built-in fonts and see if these suit your needs. Many new machines allow you to import your designs using a USB plug and a memory stick. They also have a range of built-in carded designs, and it is vital to look what each manufacturer offers since these differ from maker to maker.

For the keen embroiderer who wants the machine for nothing but embroidery, models that are only used for this kind of fine work are available.

Overlocking feature
A simple overlocking feature is incorporated even in the cheaper range of Singer and Brother machines. This allows the stitching of knitted fabrics, which would otherwise be distorted during the stitching process. If this is something you think you may perform, it is worthwhile checking all models.

Blind hemming
Even the most basic seamstress will appreciate blind hemming. This means that curtains, clothing items and sewing projects can have a much more professional finish. Make sure this feature is included if you are doing general sewing work, as it saves so much time.

Pedal sensitivity

It may take some time to get used to a sewing machine's pedal sensitivity, which is different from machine to machine. Try a machine to see if you are comfortable with the posture required and the pressure needed for the machine to respond.

Backward function
This function can save you time. Being able to backstitch over the work you have done, reversing the stitching easily, is essential. Look at how the machine performs this since this is something you will use a lot with your sewing projects. On many models, the button is located at the front of the machine and a simple press turns the direction quickly and easily.

Cabinet or freestanding
Options for cabinet-based machines are great for those who know they are going to want the machine in place all the time. These have housings, which store all the bits and pieces you may need while sewing. Freestanding machines without a cabinet offer flexibility and the ability to store the item away when not in use.

Many people are buying sewing machines, but often they buy a machine that offers more than they need because someone convinces them to. It's crucial to find a machine with excellent quality for day-to-day repairs and standard sewing. Well-known manufacturers such as Singer, Frister Rossmann and Joanne, as well as newcomer Brother, offer available parts, repair and usually very good backup maintenance when things go wrong. After you have made your purchase, be sure to learn how to maintain your machine so that your investment is protected.

 

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USER COMMENTS

Excellent Information
I spent months researching for a machine that is quality, quiet, light weight for travel and for taking to quilting classes, and sews an excellent straight stitch, but has other basic options. I purchased the Janome New Home Jem Platinium 720. I am thrilled with this machine. I was able to get the quilting package with the machine and a competitive price of $450.00.

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