How to Buy a Sewing Machine, For Beginners

Posted by on Mar 21, 2012

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If you're going to make machine sewing a hobby, you'll need a machine. But what do you really need to look for in a sewing machine? Jan Saunders Maresh, author of "Sewing for Dummies," gives us tips on where to shop and what to look for. 

New seamstresses, says Maresh, "don't need a $1,000 machine, [but they] do need one that works and is a pleasure to work with." Get any heirloom or "Craigslist" machines checked out by a local sewing machine repair shop, she advises. Sewers can even pick up quality used machines from them. 

Where to buy a sewing machine 

"I always recommend for someone learning to sew that they locate a good sewing machine dealer," says Maresh. "All dealers have updated used or refurbished machines, and they'll stand by that machine. If that person should have a problem, they have someone to go back to." 

"Also, a good sewing machine dealer will have basic classes that will help [beginner sewers] get oriented to the machine, what to do and what not to do. I also cover [sewing machine basics] in the book, but it's nice to have that live assistance." 

What to look for in a sewing machine 

When buying a new machine, Maresh says, "Overall, the machine should be clean and easy to use."

Stitches every sewing machine should have 

"The sewing machine needs to have these stitches, I feel that they are really important: the straight stitch (which needs to have a variable needle position). Most good low-end machines have a variable-needle position, which is important because as you learn sewing it's easier to move the needle rather than the fabric. Machines should also have a zig-zag stitch, a blind-hem stitch, and a 3-step zig-zag stitch or multiple stitch, which means it takes 3-4 stitches to one side and then 3-4 on the other." 

Why needle up/needle down is important 

"Sewing machines should also have needle up/needle down, which means when you stop sewing, the needle will stop at the top of the cycle. This makes it easy for turning corners. Another reason I like that feature is when you pull the fabric our from under the machine, if the stitch hasn't finished the cycle, it will automatically un-thread the needle. When you have needle up/needle done that problem is eliminated."
How much thread for the bobbin? 

"I also like to have a machine that can hold a lot of bobbin thread. Some older machines would hold 30-40 yards, which seems like a lot, but it's not." What about presser feet? "It should also have a nice variety of presser feet: a metal foot (a basic metal foot is flat on the bottom and makes good contact with the feed dog, which moves the fabric through the machine), an embroidery foot, a blind-hem foot (sometimes known as an edge-stitching foot) and a zipper foot."

cover of sewing for dummies book
Reprinted with permission from Sewing for Dummies by Jan Saunders Maresh, published by Wiley Publishing. Lead image by Wavebreak Media / Dreamstime.

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