Off the charts in terms of ease of use and performance. Can produce 130 different stitches including 8 automatic buttonholes.
A higher priced model, but owners find it to be well worth the price.
Versatile stitch choices. Non-computerized interface may be easier to use. Reasonable price.
Its light weight can be disconcerting for some users.
A good starter machine for beginners and basic sewing tasks.
Stitch lengthis not adjustable; only two lengths to choose from. No threading or bobbin assistance.
A pricier machine. Lots of features for the money.
Some of this machine's 12 built-in stitches are not adjustable.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.
Mending clothes and tailoring outfits for a better fit used to be tasks that were left to a member of the household who had developed exceptional sewing skills. Today, a sewing machine is a complex tech device that can help even a novice execute complicated stitchery. Understandably, it's become increasingly difficult to know what features the best sewing machines should have.
Even if you're a veteran seamstress or tailor, at the very least, you want a sewing machine that features a wide assortment of pre-programmed stitches, a variety of feet, an automatic threader, and a drop-in bobbin. A programmable WiFi sewing machine that is able to load patterns from your computer is recommended for the most creative individuals.
If you want to learn more about the different stitches and receive an assortment of sewing tips and techniques, continue reading. However, if you're ready to purchase a sewing machine, consider one of our favorites that we've mentioned elsewhere in this article.
Stacey Nash spent years as a homemaker before stepping into her role as a home products researcher and writer. She searches for and tests the products that use technology to simplify home life so that home is always where you want to be.
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)
Stitch length and width adjustment
These basic features will allow you to handle most basic sewing projects.
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
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.
We tested two of our favorite sewing machines, specifically their different stitches and ease of use. Additionally, we considered over 100 models.
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:
Automatic bobbin threading
Clear cover plate
Automatic needle threader
Simple needle replacement
Speed button that sets speed independent of foot pedal
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Most sewing machines come with an automatic needle threader. This time-saving tool isn't something to go without.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
To prevent metal fatigue and keep your sewing machine running smoothly, experts recommend replacing the needle after 16 hours of use.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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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