Easy threading and bobbin winding prevent a lot of sewing stress. Feeds smooth and creates even stitches. Extra features like adjustable top speed, drop feed, and a host of accessories.
Can be difficult to adjust tension.
Easy top drop-in bobbin and automatic needle threader let you start out of the box. One-step buttonhole feature is easy to use. Lots of stitch options for a beginner's model. Instructional DVD is extremely helpful.
Sensitive foot pedal takes some getting used to.
Good stitch selection with manual dials for simplicity. Extra-high presser foot lift for thick fabric. Heavy build prevents it from bouncing while in use.
It's a loud one. While it can handle thick layers, it doesn't perform as well with multiple layers.
All the basics are here with a solid metal frame built to last. 6 basic stitches work beautifully to cut down on beginner frustration. Manual dials make it sweet and simple.
Threading can be a challenge, even with the instruction booklet.
Self-threading needle, thread cutter, and drop needle positioning feature are great for beginners. Speed control dial works well so you can focus on the sewing, not the speed. Impressive amount of included accessories.
Could have trouble sewing through multiple quilting layers.
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.
Are you ready to dip your toe in the sewing waters? The right sewing machine can help ease your way into the sewing world. At first glance, sewing machines may seem intimidating, but there are some great machines on the market that are perfect for beginners.
Our shopping guide was created with novices in mind. We’ve highlighted the features that can make sewing easier along with those that aren't necessary for someone who’s just starting out.
If you’re ready to buy, check out our top picks and get ready to sew!
Mechanical vs. computerized
Choosing between a mechanical or computerized sewing machine is the biggest decision you need to make before buying.
Mechanical: These machines use knobs, levers, and dials for all adjustments. You'll be able to manually adjust the tension, stitch, stitch length, and sometimes the stitch width. These machines are easy to run, maintain, and repair. In general, they cost less than computerized machines, too. Don't be fooled into thinking a mechanical machine can't perform as well as a computerized model. There are many high-quality mechanical machines that sew beautifully and last for years. However, they usually don't offer as many features or stitch options as a computerized machine, which isn't a bad thing when you're first starting out.
Computerized: In some ways, a computerized machine can be easier to use, while in others it’s not. With the click (or several clicks) of a button you can adjust the stitch selection, width, and length. Computerized machines may also offer improved speed control that doesn't rely on pedal pressure. These machines typically have more stitch and buttonhole options from which to choose – most have more stitches than even an advanced user will ever need. But if you like the thought of experimenting with stitches once you’ve got some experience, a multitude of stitch options await with a computerized machine.
Electric vs. battery
Battery-operated sewing machines are at the lower end of the price scale. These have less power and the batteries drain quickly. However, if you only need a machine for basic mending on woven fabrics of average thickness, a battery-operated machine might do. Keep in mind that these sewing machines come with a very limited number of stitches and don’t have the power to handle thick fabrics like denim.
Sewing machines aren't small, but there is some variation in size. There are a few mini and handheld models on the market that are best used for small mending projects rather than creating large pieces. Compact machines are slightly smaller than full-size machines and have most of the same features but come with a limited number of built-in stitches. If you're tight on space, skip any model that includes an extension table because it takes extra storing and sewing room.
Weight is often determined by the materials used for the inner framework. Metal is more durable but obviously adds weight. Machines made with a plastic framework cut down on weight, with some models coming in at just over seven pounds.
Manufacturers love to advertise the number of stitches included with their sewing machines. However, even advanced users are unlikely to use all of the stitches available. While the promise of more than a hundred stitches may sound enticing, it could only serve to complicate the selection and sewing process. In general, most people only use five basic stitches – straight, zigzag, three-step zigzag, blind hem, and overlock. The rest are usually variations on one of these stitches or for decorative purposes. More advanced machines may also include embroidery stitches. Generally speaking, the more stitches the machine has, the higher the price.
Automatic threaders can be found on both mechanical and computerized sewing machines. As the name implies, it automatically threads the needle for you. This is definitely an ease-of-use feature that many beginners appreciate, but it isn’t absolutely necessary.
Speed control button
Traditionally, sewing speed was controlled with the foot pedal, and that's still true with many machines. Learning to manage the foot pedal is one of the most difficult skills to master. However, a speed control button has become a common feature that's wonderful for both new and seasoned users. When the pedal is pressed down, the machine will go no faster than the speed chosen using the speed control button. As a beginner, this is a feature worth splurging on.
Needle up/down button
Some machines have a button that automatically sets the needle position up or down after you release the pedal. This feature comes in handy when turning corners so you don't lose your sewing position after releasing the pedal.
Finding the right tension can sometimes be tricky. However, actually making the adjustments isn’t hard. It’s usually a matter of turning a dial when you change thread, fabric, or stitch type. Machines with automatic tension adjustment take some of the guesswork out of finding the right tension, but you’ll still have to make your own adjustments if the tension is off by too much. While an auto tension feature is nice, the lack of one won’t make sewing that much more difficult.
Stitch length and width adjustment
Almost all sewing machines have some kind of stitch length adjustment, although not all have a width adjustment. For beginners, mechanical machines might be easier to adjust because all you have to do is turn a dial. Computerized machines may require you to scroll through a menu or press the button several times to adjust either the length or width. However, computerized models do automatically change the length and width to a standard setting each time you select a different stitch. Mechanical machines, on the other hand, may require a manual adjustment everytime you change stitches.
Drop-in bobbin with clear plate
Drop-in bobbins are far easier to load than any other design. Those that come with a clear cover plate are even better because you have easy access and can see when the thread is starting to run out.
You can find handheld, mini, and compact battery-operated mechanical sewing machines for under $50. Handheld models only do a straight stitch, while compact battery-operated machines have anywhere from two to eight stitches. These machines may have only one or two speeds rather than a foot pedal.
Between $50 and $150, you can find some solid mechanical and computerized sewing machines that cover the basics plus a few extras. Not only do these machines have the five basic stitches (and most have far more) but they may also have a metal frame, automatic needle threader, multiple presser feet, and a speed control feature. The machines in this range offer the best balance between features and price for beginners.
As the price goes up to $150 to $300, the machines come with more stitch options, extension table, and free arm sewing. While there are still some mechanical machines that are easy to use, the computerized machines in this price range become more complicated. Though these machines may have a steeper learning curve, they’re usually of excellent quality if you’re willing to make the investment.
Think about needle position. Place the needle in the down position before doing a turn. You can then lift the foot and turn the fabric without it slipping out of position.
Use proper sewing technique. Sewing machines automatically pull the fabric underneath the needle. You don’t need to tug or pull, and doing so can cause skipped stitches and damage the timing of the machine.
Start small. Start with simple projects so you can learn the basics before attempting skills like ruffles and pin tucks. Learn how to sew woven fabrics before you take on knits and straight edges before taking on curves. Be patient and expect to make mistakes at first.
Narrowing down our choices wasn't easy because there are many great sewing machines on the market. The Singer Heavy Duty 4432 Sewing Machine is a favorite of users of any level. It's a mechanical machine meant for fabrics of all weights, including heavy ones like denim and duck cotton. Some beginners are ready to jump in with both feet. If that's you, then the Brother CS6000i Sewing and Quilting Machine might be a good choice. This computerized machine has a speed control lever, extension table, and automatic needle threader. We love that it offers so many stitch choices at a reasonable price.
Q. What are good starting projects for a beginner?
A. When you first start out, stick to patterns with straight edges and simple instructions. Woven fabrics are far more predictable and require fewer accessories, so for now, master woven fabrics before moving on to knits. Pillowcases, pajama pants, and placemats are great starter projects because they require a minimum number of pieces and have mostly straight edges.
Q. Do I need to get my machine serviced?
A. Sewing machines need an occasional tune-up and service like any other machine. How often you need to do that depends on how much you use it. Some manufacturers recommend servicing after every 100 hours of use, but if you’re doing regular cleaning and oiling, you can probably go longer between tune-ups. If you’re using the machine regularly, a yearly or a twice-yearly visit to a reputable repair shop should suffice. Talk to your local craft or sewing store if you’re not sure where to find sewing machine repair services.
Q. I’d like to try some of the decorative stitches on my machine. Is there anything I need to know before trying them?
A. Sewing machines offer some fun stitches that can add character to your creations, but you’ll need to check a few things before trying a new stitch. Some stitches require a special presser foot that may or may not be included with your machine. The stitch usually has a symbol or letter next to it that indicates which foot is needed for the stitch. The presser feet have a corresponding identification letter or symbol. Check the stitch and presser feet to make sure you have the right equipment before beginning.