Having recently upgraded my personal sewing machine, I thought I’d share my process for choosing one. There is an incredible variety of sewing machines out there, with a wide range of prices, and it can be a little bit overwhelming knowing where to start. Here are the questions I ask myself when choosing a new machine.
Domestic or industrial?
Unless you are sewing professionally, the answer is likely to be domestic.
Fantastic for heavy duty sewing, and incredibly good if you are sewing day in, day out, industrial machines are also quite large and a bit more expensive. They also have less features/settings than domestic machines – my industrial machine does straight stitch only, so if I need to sew stretch I have to swap to my domestic.
What do I actually need/want to sew?
Have a think about the types of things you sew, and the makes you would like to do. Do you mainly sew stretch or woven? Big garments (i.e. do you need a big sewing table) or little fiddly ones?
For me, someone who almost exclusively sews garments, I knew when I bought my machine that I wanted to sew great buttonholes easily and I wanted some decorative stitches for topstitching. Specialist embroidery stitches such as alphabets are not that important to me, so it’s not something I need to look for.
Creating a list of what you need the machine to do, and not do, can be really helpful – I was able to purchase a slightly cheaper model of my current machine when I learn that the more expensive model had more embroidery stitches that I was unlikely to use anyway.
What do I want my new machine to do that my old one doesn’t?
Are there any features you’ve seen that you lust after? For me it was the ability to program the machine to always finish with the needle down, as I was constantly losing my place when I stopped halfway through a seam. It’s a small thing that was a deal breaker for me.
What extras do I like and where can I get them from?
Are there any additional feet or gadgets that will make your life easier? I like an invisible zipper foot and an extension table I can take on and off. It’s a good idea to check if these are readily available for the model you’re interested in, where you can purchase them from and how much they are.
Do I want new or secondhand?
Personally, all of my machines have been secondhand and they’ve all been great.
Buying new gives you the security of a warranty, and many stores also offer a free lesson or two to get you started with your machine, great if you’re just starting out.
If buying second hand, think about if you’re willing to get it serviced straight away to fix any issues (correct tension etc) to bring it back to almost new for you. When buying, ask about the last time it was serviced, the reason it’s being sold and the age of the machine. Have a look for reviews online, ask in social media groups, and make sure (if it’s an old machine) if you ca easily get it serviced and source parts.
Definitely have a test sew, for new and second hand machines. If you’re to buying from a shop, take some fabric and thread with you, plug in the machine and try out as much as possible – straight, zig zag and decorative stitches, changing the width and length and having a look at the thread tension. If the stitches don’t lie perfect, ask yourself if you are prepared to spend some time getting the right (or pay for a service straight up). If its your first sewing machine, or you’re not confident with how to fix tension, hold out for a machine with perfect tension – it will save you a world of pain.
A final check for the machine (new and secondhand) is for what comes with the machine. Ask about a manual (or see if there is one online), foot pedal, extra feet, bobbins, and if you’re buying a Bernina – a bobbin case.
Which brand should I buy?
There are good machines and bad machines made by almost all brands.
I have sewn with Berninas, Singers, Brothers, Jukis, Janomes and Elnas, and they all have good and bad points alike.
My first domestic sewing machine was a Janome, and it was an excellent as a starting machine, but I didn’t love the buttonholes it made. I changed to a Bernina because my grandmother had one and I knew it did really great buttonholes.
I would suggest choosing based on size and functionality of the machine rather than choosing by brand. If you’ve got two brands that make the same machine, ask the people you know who sew or reach out on social media. Even better, go to a sewing machine shop that doesn’t specialise in a particular brand and ask for their recommendation. You may be able to get a slightly better price if you’re flexible on brand. If you’re located in Perth, I recommend Blackmore and Roy.
I hope this helps! If you have a few questions that aren’t answered here, please feel free to get in touch with me at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’m always happy to help.