Sewing Circle: How to buy a sewing machine
This time, we're talking about sewing machines... which kind is right for you? How do you research and buy one that you'll be happy with? What all kinds are there, even?
I got a question from Crystal, who asked:
Q: What is a good sewing machine for sewing garments, including knit fabrics? I am somewhat of a beginner sewer. My experience is mainly in sewing small crafty items, and I am interested in sewing more dresses and clothing items. I currently have a basic Kenmore machine, but the only option for knits on this machine is the zig zag stitch. I would appreciate any suggestions or input you may have!
A: Well, Crystal, I myself don't have experience with all the different machines out there, so I can't name one of the top of my head that works well with knits and other clothing. I can offer my advice on buying a machine that will work for you--at least my personal opinion!
When I got my (most recent) sewing machine as a grad school graduation present, I looked at both Target/JoAnn's-level brand name machines and at the more professional quality machines at the local "Vac and Sew." The local shop had machines ranging from $250-$2,500, pretty much, including some very fancy ones with CDs and computer programming for complicated machine embroidery and quilting. Obviously I don't need all that; I just wanted a very good quality machine for apparel sewing. The salespeople were very helpful and attentive (another benefit of a small, local store) and pointed out their selection of used machines that were good for sewing clothing. Sometimes people trade in their old machines if they want a newer, fancier model, and the shop can give them a tune-up and resell them for a good price to new customers. I tried out several machines that were much fancier and more capable than anything I could have afforded brand new. Another benefit of many used machines is, depending on their age, many of them were made in Germany or Sweden or wherever the brand is from, and are made of a full one-piece metal base and arm rather than two pieces fit together or plastic exterior. They tend to have metal gears and a wider range of capabilities than the few brands than the store sells new.
I had my criteria in mind (one-step buttonhole, detachable/free arm--almost essential for clothing sewing--, east-to-wind bobbin) and I tried out machines that fit those criteria. On my second trip to the shop, after some reflection, I ended up getting a Viking Husqvarna (complete with cover and manual) from quite a few years ago that sews like a charm! I'm very happy with the excellent quality sewing and stitches I get out of it and I know it's nicer than I would have been able to buy if I had only seen new ones. That said, not everyone has access to high quality used machines, and there are simple machines out there that will do what you want them to for not too much money.
However, it was really important to me to be able to try out the machines--in Crystal's case, I recommend bringing a piece or two of knit fabric to the store so you can test the machine out on the type of fabric you like to sew on (they will probably have basic woven cotton in a quilting weight for you to test the machine with). Tell the salespeople what you want to use it for and what elements are important to you. Ask them to explain the basics of the machines they show you so you can compare. Don't be afraid to go home and do some research before you buy, or do your research before you go.
That gets me to my next advice--check out some of the great resources online for advice on how to buy the right machine for you and reviews on specific machines. I'm sure some of you have been thinking about getting a sewing machine--I'm sure these links will help you!!
- Threads: A comparison of 31 sewing machines
- Craft: a few beginner sewing machine recommendations and some mid-range recommendations
- Consumer Reports: sewing machines
- Sewing Machine Reviewer: you can look up any sewing machine here and see reviews
- Sew, Mama, Sew!: fun to read users' reviews and fave machines
- Martha Stewart: Which Sewing Machine is Right for You? (about beginning, intermediate, & advanced machines--take with a grain of salt as Martha is branded with Singer)
- CraftyStylish: How to Buy a Sewing Machine
- Not Martha: Your First Sewing Machine
Also, I'm sure our readers will have thoughts about their machines--readers, do any of you have good basic apparel-sewing machines? Are you happy with your Singers or Target brand machines? Did you have a good experience buying your machine? What do you recommend for Crystal?
And, if any of you have any more sewing-related questions, send me an email for Sewing Circle!