Buying or upgrading your sewing machine, what to look for……

Almost daily I am asked about what machine should someone buy for themselves, or for their children. So I am sharing the advice I give to them with you. I have seen and used loads and loads of different machines, so I am not a technical expert but I know what works for me and my students! This is aimed at people looking to upgrade or purchase a sewing machine (NOT a quilting, overlocker or embroidery machine).

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Nowadays the machines we can buy help us enormously. For those that struggle to thread a needle, we have needle threaders built into most new machines. For those who prefer not to coordinate their foot with their hands, the new machines have a function where you can unplug the foot altogether and just control your sewing with the touch of a button. These machines have thread cutters, drop in bobbins, which are much easier to use than the side loading bobbins of old AND my favourite most used function is the speed control dial! Oh my what a great invention. For those just learning to sew, you can’t run away with the machine, it is really useful. It is great for getting kids started too. These machines are also much lighter than the traditional older ones.

My most used machine is my Brother Anniversary Innovis 10, I use 4 of these machines at school to teach my primary children to sew, and I have one at home that my children use. I usually get my adult students started on this before they purchase their own. These machines are currently retailing at £239 incl. VAT. These machines have seen a lot of abuse from the children I teach in class and never once have I not been able to fix it. It is a strong, durable machine.

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My more recent favourite is a Janome CMX30, again has all these lovely useful functions on it like the Brother and has the added benefit of being sold in Costco, recently reduced to £99 plus VAT. (A month ago it was selling for £159 plus VAT). I love the metal foot that comes with this machine, for if you are using a small footstool for the children to reach with, it doesn’t keep falling off!

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Other things I look for in my machines are a decent button hole foot (the cheaper machines have feet that are all plastic and can only cope with small buttons). I like to have a few decorative stitches, especially a nice scalloped edge stitch. This is really nice when you make jam jar covers! Great gifts for parties and Christmas stocking fillers, and an easy pretty stitch for the children to master. Automatic button hole function is really helpful, even my 7 year old can stitch her own buttonhole now.

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Adjusting the length of your stitch and the width is a must, then you can nicely control your satin stitch how YOU want it for any applique, which both these machines do. Having a dial with a long stitch and a shorter stitch isn’t really enough if you want to have fun on your machine with applique. Hopefully a blind hem stitch will be on there as well, so you can master beautiful curtain hems, although you might have to buy the foot separately. Dont worry about the feet that come with the machine too much (other than the button hole one), as you can buy these quite cheaply separately. Usually as the price of the machine goes up, you will get more feet supplied with the machine, and the number of decorative stitches will go up.

In summary, things to look for in your machine:

  • Drop in bobbin
  • Speed control dial
  • Needle threader
  • Thread cutter
  • Sewing without a foot pedal (if you have kids)
  • Decorative stitches (usually a little star like flower is on there)
  • Scalloped edge stitch
  • Adjustable width
  • Adjsutable length
  • Blind hem stitch
  • Built in lamp

Good makes are Janome (purchased Elna, so now the same brand), Brother, Singer, Bernina (if you can afford one!). There are lots of others out there, but my advice is stay clear of the little machines, you will outgrow them very quickly. They appeal to the kids because of the colours and the price, but they don’t have the functions that the children need to control the machine nicely and they seem to be forever getting jammed up. Mostly because they move around a lot when you are sewing so the thread jumps out of where it is meant to be. However if that is all you have got, don’t let it put you off starting to sew!

The specialist feet that we use the most in my classes are the following:

  • Satin foot
  • Zipper foot
  • Piping foot
  • Teflon foot
  • Open toe embroidery foot
  • Walking foot

All the machines will come with a satin foot (the clear one), and a zipper foot as standard.

Some of my students love the hem guiding foot too, especially if you are making a quilt with lots of squares and your hems have to be 100% accurate, otherwise the squares won’t match up.

Regarding the feet, the manufacturers will tell you to only buy their feet for their machines, but I find that the universal ones available on ebay and Amazon are perfectly fine for all my modern machines. The exception is the walking foot, this is a much more mechanical foot and try and buy a good one from the same brand as your machine if possible.

Before you discard your old machine, please don’t, I also have a fabulous collection of older machines. I use these for things like curtain making. Due to their weight (most are made of metal not plastic), it means they don’t jump around the table when you are sewing fast, and they can cope with multiple layers and heavier fabrics really nicely. So invest in a good servicing of your old machine, and have it ready for those big projects. Another benefit of these machines is that when you think they don’t work anymore, then you can just replace the engine, it is not a big job as they are externally mounted. I have replaced 3 engines, costing me around £40 each. Now they will work for another 20 years or so!

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I do have a number of other specialist machines that I use all the time, such as an industrial overlocking machine, a specialist quilting machine and a digital embroidery machine, however another day, another blog……

Did you find this useful? I would love to hear about your favourite machine in my comments.




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