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Shopping Guide for Best Sewing Machines

The days of hemming pants and sewing buttonholes by hand are long gone.

Modern sewing machines have made darning, stitching, patterning, and a plethora of other sewing tasks faster and easier than ever before.

Today’s sewing machines include technologies for automatic pattern making, easy threading, multiple stitch types, and a host of other tasks.

A beginner can use a modern sewing machine almost as easily as an experienced tailor can.

Whether it’s a hobby or a side job – even your own business – having the right sewing machine for you is important.

At BestReviews, we want to help you find a sewing machine you’ll love.

We understand the best sewing machines on the market are quality appliances with genius engineering and ample power.

If you’re looking for advice on how to find a reliable sewing machine, you’ve come to the right place.

In our quest to find the perfect products for consumers, we never accept free samples from manufacturers. We buy products on our own, test them in our labs, and donate them to charity when we’re done.

We also interview experts and consumers to gather first hand information about the products we recommend.

To learn more about current sewing machine offerings, please continue reading this shopping guide.

When you’re ready to make a purchase, you can click on one of the above sewing machines for more information and where to buy.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Brother Computerized Sewing and Quilting Machine

Adjustable Speed with Optional Pedal Use

Sewing at a steady pace is essential to creating straight seams. The Brother Computerized Sewing and Quilting Machine has a unique feature that allows the use of either the foot pedal or a stitch speed slide control. The stitch speed slide control allows you to manually set the speed once the pedal has been unplugged. While this probably isn’t necessary on a straight seam, it can simplify curved and tight seams. It also includes features like a removable wide sewing table and free-motion sewing for quilters.

Sewing Machine Features

When deciding which features you want in a sewing machine, keep in mind what you plan to sew and how often you’ll use your sewing machine. Common basic features include:

  • Straight and zigzag stitch

  • Reverse button (for lock stitching)

  • Tension adjustment

  • Stitch length and width adjustment

These basic features will allow you to handle most basic sewing projects.

DID YOU KNOW?

A sewing machine with a layered fabric feeding system comes in handy if you want to make quilts, costumes, or draperies.

But if you’re looking to expand your abilities, there are more advanced features that aren’t necessary for most projects but can be nice to have hand when you need them.

  • One step buttonhole (there are four step buttonholes but they can be tricky)

  • A choice of feet such as: buttonhole, zipper, blind hem,

  • Automatic speed setting (sets speed either in conjunction with or instead of using the foot pedal)

  • Automatic needle threader
     

For advanced sewists, the features list continues to grow. Some you may want to consider:

  • Free motion ability

  • Layered fabric feeding system

  • Touchscreen control panel

  • Large hoops for embroidery

EXPERT TIP

You can simplify your clothing projects by opting for a sewing machine that comes with multiple features like buttonhole, zipper, and blind hem.


Staff  | BestReviews

Ease of Use

Let’s face it, sewing can require meticulous attention to detail. Machines that are easy to use can cut down on sewing time and reduce stress by eliminating machine-caused errors. Winding and loading the bobbin can be a common source of frustration. Features that increase ease of use include:

  • Drop-in bobbin

  • Automatic bobbin threading

  • Clear cover plate

  • Automatic needle threader

  • Simple needle replacement

  • Speed button that sets speed independent of foot pedal

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Singer Heavy Duty Extra-High Sewing Machine

Manual Dial with Plenty of Stitch Choices

The Singer Heavy Duty Extra-High Sewing Machine’s manual dial makes using it simple and fast. Manual adjustments mean fewer components that need maintenance. With a good range of basic stitch choices and 12 decorative stitches, the Singer works for intermediate users looking to expand their range of sewing skills. An automatic threader and drop-in bobbin make it easy to get started. But it’s speed that sets this sewing machine apart. It’s impressive 1,100 stitches per minute mean you’ll get through projects faster. Keep in mind that beginners may have trouble keeping that much speed under control.

Sewing Machine Prices

In general, the cost of a sewing machine is influenced by its type – mechanical (manual dial) or computerized. Even then, there are no hard and fast rules on price, because the number of extra stitches and features varies widely.

Small, inexpensive mechanical sewing machines can be found in the $30 to $50 range. This type of machine may run on batteries or electrical power and may only sew a straight and zigzag stitch. As the price goes up, more stitch options become available.

In the $60 to $100 range are mechanical sewing machines with decorative stitches and the ability to adjust stitch length, width, and tension. Some will also come with a buttonhole foot, button sewing foot, and zipper foot for more complex projects.

DID YOU KNOW?

Most sewing machines come with an automatic needle threader. This time-saving tool isn't something to go without.

Between $100 to $300 are many well built mechanical and computerized sewing machines with impressive features such as 50 or more stitches, quilting stitches, easy bobbin winding, and automatic needle threading. Some may even have free arm and basic embroidery capabilities. In this range, you’ll find excellent quality machines that work for most beginning and intermediate sewists.

At $300 and above, you’ll find computerized sewing machines with extended tables, embroidery capabilities, and even more stitch options. They often have increased motor power and sturdier construction.These are for advanced sewists who use their machines often and regularly use the extra features.

To ensure your thread passes easily through the needle, cut it first with a pair of sharp scissors. The sharp cut creates a clean edge that’s easy to manipulate.

Basic Sewing Machine Stitches

Every sewing machine model offers its own variety of standard, decorative, and advanced stitches, but there are some basic stitches every machine should offer. You should be able to adjust the width, length, and tension of the stitches for the best results. In addition, look for these essential stitches when shopping for an entry-level or mid-range sewing machine.

Basic stitches

Zigzag Stitch

The zigzag stitch is the other foundational stitch you must have. You’ll need it for fabrics that have any kind of stretch. The zigzag allows the fabric to stretch without popping the stitches. You can adjust the height and length of the zigzag stitch according to the amount of stretch in the fabric being sewn.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Janome Sewing Machine

Quality over Quantity

What the Janome lacks in stitch quantity – it only comes with 12 built-in stitch options – it makes up for in quality. Most people are only going to use two or three different stitches anyway, and the Janome offers solid construction with manual dial adjustments that are easy to use. It can handle thick layers, making it perfect for quilting or sewing heavy fabrics like denim. The free motion feature gives quilters more options and can be used for regular sewing as well. Overall, the Janome offers the basics with enough extras to make it a good choice for beginners and intermediate sewists who sew on a regular basis.

Basic stitches

Straight Stitch

The straight stitch is the workhorse of the sewing world. The needle and thread move forward in a straight line while the machine feeds material toward the user. The result: two pieces of fabric joined by a seam. You must be able to adjust the tension on this stitch to account for fabrics of different thicknesses. Most machines will allow you to adjust the length of this stitch for the same reason.

Basic stitches

Lock Stitch

Sewing machines handle the lock stitch in one of two ways. The first is to sew backward over an existing line of stitches, creating a backstitch at the beginning and end of a seam. If this is not automatically done by the machine, a manual button or lever can be held down when you want to sew backward. When it is released, the machine will sew forward again. The other type of lock stitch creates a nearly invisible knot at the beginning and end of the seam.

DID YOU KNOW?

The straight stitch was one of the first stitch patterns used in hand sewing.

Basic stitches

Buttonhole Stitch

Sewing buttonholes is considered one of the most difficult stitches for traditional hand sewists. The top, bottom, and sides must be reinforced to prevent rips and tears. Accurate placement is also important. An automatic buttonhole option and foot removes much of the guesswork from the process by performing a pre-programmed series of reinforced stitches.

Basic stitches

Overlock Stitch

An overlock may be a little advanced for beginners, but it doesn’t take much time to master and is a useful stitch to use. The exposed edge of the fabric on the inside of a seam can fray if not finished properly. A zigzag stitch or pinking shears can be used. But for those wanting a more finished look, an overlock stitch secures loose seams and creates a more professional finish.

In the sewing world, a “notion” is any small item that you buy to help you with a project. This may include decorative buttons or zippers, but it also includes basic tools like seam rippers and pin cushions.

Staff
BestReviews
Basic stitches

Decorative and Embroidery Stitches

One of the joys of a sewing machine is the ability to create decorative as well as functional stitches. Many sewing machines – even those at the entry-level price range – offer a selection of freehand and embroidery stitches for creative projects. Adding a personalized initial or floral pattern to a pillow case is easy to do with the right sewing machine and some practice. A few decorative stitches you may want to look for:

  • Crescent stitch: Can be used on the border of a tablecloth, pillowcase, collar, or skirt hem.

  • Darning stitch: Makes darning socks simple.

  • Tacking/Utility stitch: A quick stitch to hold everything together before sewing the seam.

  • Ric rac stitch: Used for attaching decorative ric rac.

Notably, unless you are an adventurous sewist, you won’t need to most of the extra stitches mentioned above.

EXPERT TIP

To avoid damage to your needle, remove pins from your fabric before you begin sewing.


Staff  | BestReviews

Common Sewing Machine Mistakes

Most sewing machines require a balancing act between tension and release, along with careful attention to detail and a mastery of complex gears and controls. It’s not an easy process to
learn, and mistakes are part of the journey toward becoming a skilled sewist.

Here are some common mistakes both beginners and experts have made:

Common mistakes

Assuming basic measurement techniques are easy

Measuring 18 inches of cotton fabric with a tape measure or estimating the location of buttons and buttonholes with a ruler may seem simple, but when it comes to sewing, very few tasks are as simple as they appear. The final piece may be 18 inches in length, but the actual size to measure is often different. There are seam allowances to consider, as well as the nature of the fabric itself. Beginners should not rely strictly on linear measurements when cutting material.

Product in Depth

Product in Depth

Michley Lil' Sew Multi-Purpose Sewing Machine

Small and Simple

Small and lightweight, the Michley has basic dial controls to use one of its eight built-in stitches. The compact size makes it easier to store. Because it’s lightweight and has a built-in handle, children can easily get it out and use it with adult supervision. Overall, it’s a good learner machine. The controls are simple and operation is straightforward. Probably not the best choice if you’re planning to sew heavy fabrics on a regular basis, but for occasional light sewing, the Michley will do the trick.

Common mistakes

Taking on larger projects too soon

Sometimes the owner of a new sewing machine can become the “seamstress for the band” (or school or theater group) before he or she is fully prepared to take on the responsibility.

Creating one costume for a young dance team member is completely different from agreeing to finish 30 identical costumes by Friday.

While many beginners are eager to take on “real world” projects for worthy causes, taking on an advanced sewing projects with a strict deadline can be stressful.

EXPERT TIP

To prevent metal fatigue and keep your sewing machine running smoothly, experts recommend replacing the needle after 16 hours of use.


Staff  | BestReviews
Common mistakes

Disregarding or reworking sewing pattern instructions

Some beginning sewists decide to “improvise” or rework existing instructions in a sewing pattern. More often than not, this ends in disaster. Try not to make the mistake of second-guessing the pattern creators or looking for shortcuts.

Common mistakes

Pulling the material too hard

Some new users pull firmly on the material in order to ensure a straight seam. This tension actually creates more problems, because the metal teeth that pull the material through the machine cannot grip it properly. It’s better to let the machine do most of the work with minimal interference.

DID YOU KNOW?

Most thread spools have a notch where you can secure the end of the thread when you’re not sewing. If a spool doesn’t have a notch, however, consider wrapping a rubber band around it to rein in the loose end.

Tips and Tricks

  • When turning a corner, use the wheel to keep the needle plunged through the material. This provides a pivot point for the turn without risk of separation.

  • Remember that various parts of the machine can be removed in order to perform a challenging stitch, like blind hemming. You do not have to force the material to fit the sewing machine.

  • Avoid using the needle itself as a guide for straight stitching. It will confuse your eyes and create unnecessary adjustments. Use another point of reference, such as a pattern in the material or a chalk line.

  • Try going barefoot, or at least shoeless, when working with a foot pedal. Hard-soled shoes can decrease sensitivity and cause you to go too fast. In sewing, there is rarely a need to put the pedal to the metal.

EXPERT TIP

Make sure your sewing space has ample lighting. If the room isn’t well lit, install a floor lamp or two near your machine.


Staff  | BestReviews
  • The thread in the bobbin and the thread in the spool do not have to match color, but they should hail from the same family of materials. For example, you could pair a cotton thread with another cotton thread – but you should avoid combining polyester and cotton threads.

  • You can use small paper binder clips to hold materials together while sewing. This is a particularly useful hack for those who dread the idea of tacking with sharp needles.

  • Spraying the end of the thread with hairspray can make it easier to thread through the needle.

  • Inspect new sewing needles for any rough or unfinished spots in the eye. These imperfections can weaken the thread and cause unexpected breaks.

  • Keep a lint roller and a large magnet in your sewing kit. The lint roller will easily pick up any tiny threads created by the sewing process, and the magnet will pick up any needles before your bare foot does.

  • Many professionals do not use pins when cutting patterns, as pins can cause the fabric to pucker. Try using pattern weights instead.

If you find that your needles break frequently, you have several options. You could purchase a new set of sewing needles from a different manufacturer to see if it’s a quality issue. If the new needles also break prematurely, you may be looking at a size issue. For example, a thinner size 9 needle is not designed to handle a heavy material like denim. Try using a larger size needle to reduce the chance of breakage.

Staff
BestReviews

Sewing Machine Safety

Getting a sewing needle through your finger is an unpleasant experience that can require a trip to the doctor. As with other kinds of machinery, it’s best to take a few extra precautions to prevent injury.

Safety

Turn it off

If you step away from the sewing machine for more than a few moments, turn it off. Foot pedals, needles, and the buttons on a sewing machine are tempting for children and pets alike. Turning the machine off prevents them from potential harm or ruining fabric.

While it can be nice to have a sewing machine with over 300 stitches, keep in mind what you'll be using them for. You might be paying a premium price for features you don't need.
Safety

Remove pins

Remove pins before sewing. Sewing over a pin can bend the needle, throwing off the timing of the sewing machine. Worst case scenario, the needle breaks and shards can potentially get in your eyes.

Safety

Regular service

Have your machine serviced regularly at least once every two years or more often if you sew frequently. This keeps your machine running smooth and removes any potential danger from wiring or electrical damage.

Sewing Machine FAQ

Q. I love my new sewing machine, but I don’t love buying replacement needles all the time. Why do my needles break so often?

A. There are a number of reasons why sewing needles fail.

  • Quality varies widely among brands. A cheap needle might not last as long as a high-grade needle. Buying needles from a reputable company may solve the problem.

  • Sometimes, the needle a user installs is not the right needle for the task. Size matters, as does the nature of the material to be sewn. A heavier material could cause a weaker needle to snap.

  • If you don’t replace your needle soon enough, it will fatigue and break. Some experts recommend replacing a sewing needle after 16 hours of service.

Q. My wife wants to make costumes for her theater group, but she’s a beginner. Should I buy the most expensive machine in the store or start out with a basic model?

A. It’s rarely a good idea for a beginner to start with the most advanced sewing machine available. These models are designed primarily for experienced sewist or commercial applications, and they arrive with a learning curve.

That said, your wife’s goal of making costumes for a group of people may necessitate a mid-level machine with some computerized features. Entry-level sewing machines do not always offer the kinds of stitch patterns and decorative options a costume designer needs.

Q. My son likes to watch me sew. Would it be safe for me to let her use a real sewing machine if I supervise?

A. The answer depends on the child’s age, maturity level, and respect for the machine. Some parents allow older children to use a sewing machine manually. The power cord is unplugged, and stitches are performed by turning the wheel. Supervision and training are always advised.

Other children may respond well to a toy sewing machine with safety features. Hand-sewing small craft projects may also be a safer alternative to using an adult-level machine.

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4 Features Of A Sewing Machine That Will Make You Give Up Sewing By Hand

Threading your needle takes less than five seconds thanks to an automatic needle threader.
Swap out different foots to go from typical sewing to sewing button holes in no time.
Forget about thread length and let the spool mount and bobbin do all the work.
Choose between hundreds of stitches, including decorative and quilting, and let the machine help you make beautiful, professional-looking projects.

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