Sewing Machines

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Sewing machines have come a long way since the old Singer models back in the '50s. The best sewing machine for you depends on your skill level and your budget, so assess your skills and needs before making a purchase. Also consider any possibility of improvement in your skill, like classes you may take or lessons you will learn as your progress. Typically, sewing machines are meant to last about 10 years, so consider how much you may or may not want out of your sewing machine in that time.

Types of Sewing Machines

Mechanical sewing machines are perfect for the occasional sewer on a budget. They require you to manipulate most controls by hand but can handle the basics, such as repairs, hems, simple clothing and crafts projects.

Electronic sewing machines are better for frequent sewers or sewers who can spend more money for an automated machine. A typical unit offers touchpad controls, an LED screen, an array of presser feet for challenges like piping and topstitching, and settings for dozens of stitch types. Electronic machines shift a lot of the traditionally manual work into a programmed chip in your unit.

Embroidery sewing units are capable of everything that an electronic sewing machine can do, and they also have the ability to assist with monogramming and embroidery for projects like garments, bags, bedspreads and pillowcases. It holds a hoop under its needles and moves it in all four directions as the needle sews. A touch screen or computer link lets you position the design and specify colors for design elements. These are best for expert sewers and big DIY-ers.

Important Sewing Machine Features

  • Good ergonomics and controls: A sewing machine should be responsive to pressure on the foot pedal, and should not stall or growl when sewing thick fabric or multiple layers. The controls should be easy to reach and to manipulate, and the symbols on the machine or LED display should be easy to read. Models that have more room to the right of the needle provide more space for fabric and your hands. A lot of your happiness with your machine has to do with your comfort with its design, so keep that in consideration when shopping.
  • Weight: If you're planning to store the machine in a closet and haul it out when you want to sew, then look for a machine that's easy to lift and has a handle on top. The last thing you want is to drop the heavy machine four feet onto your toes.
  • Needle threading/bobbin loading: These are extremely helpful for sewers at all levels of expertise. A needle threader will pull the thread through the eye of the needle, saving you from squinting and pricking your finger. Top-load bobbins save you the hassle of threading the bobbin in a recessed compartment. Instead, it allows you to slide open a panel and simply drop the bobbin in. A clear cover lets you see when thread is running low, too.
  • Speed controls: Rather than having to stop and start because a machine's speed easily gets out of hand, consider a machine with speed control. It lets you determine the pace at which fabric is fed through the machine, allowing you to work at a nice, steady pace that works for you.
  • Tension adjustment: If a thread is fed through too tightly, then it can result in puckered fabric on your project. If it's too loose, then you get loopy stitches. Get a machine with tension adjustments, so you can set the tightness of the thread for each individual project, depending on your needs.
  • One-step buttonholes: In reviews, experts greatly prefer a one-step buttonhole, and most machines include a special foot that creates correctly sized and uniform buttonholes. The buttonholer sews a buttonhole in one step so that you don't need to stop and turn the fabric or manipulate a dial. Some machines allow you to insert the button into a slot so that the machine will sew a buttonhole to fit it.

Sewing Machine Cost

Sewing machines vary in cost extensively. The most basic mechanical machines can cost as little as $50, with refurbished models available at specialty stores for as little as $25. But the best mechanical machine, which uses knobs and levers to change and adjust stitches and aren't necessarily as precise, will cost approximately $100. Basic electronic sewing machines will be a little pricier, due to the more consistent stitches and lack of guesswork when adjusting settings. A good electronic machine will cost around $200.

A cheaper computerized sewing machine, adding a larger variety of practical and decorative stitches, will cost about $500. Higher end models can cost as much as $1,100, but their ease of use, consistency and easily adjustable settings all make the price worth it for sewing experts. Luxury quilting machines, with feed layers of fabric evenly through the machine and come with a color touch screen, cost upward of $3,300, but again, big-budget sewers find that the investment is worth it.

Last Updated: January 20, 2012
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About Emelie Battaglia Emelie Battagila is a contributing writer for

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