10 things to consider before spending money on the wrong sewing machine
- Purchasing a sewing machine from an online store like Amazon is profitable since you will get most mainstream sewing machines at a reasonable price. You will see the reviews left by the customers and might help you in knowing about the experience other people have come across.
- Choosing from an online dealer like SewingMachinesPlus has its advantages as well since they will be making the repairs and maintenance should any issue arise from the machine. They also get plenty of reviews where you can learn more about how the user felt about a specific model. However, they mainly focus on high-end and industrial models.
- Before making a purchase based on the advantages you would get, you should take a look at all the things to consider before buying a sewing machine. You should also know about all the available types of machines and their functions.
- Whatever your needs are for a home sewing machine, do spend a bit of time researching the different features of each one you are considering.
- If possible, visit a shop that has multiple models so that you can look at them and get an idea about how they feel when you’re handling them.
- There are a lot of reviews of most models on the internet that you can glean for specific details as well, especially if you are not able to see the machine in person before you need to purchase it.
- Even if you have sewing experience, look over your manual well when getting a new machine- there may be hidden features you were unaware of or an easier way of doing something than you have experienced with a previous sewing machine.
- Consider what’s your budget before starting your research. Otherwise, you’ll end up falling in love with a machine that is out of reach.
- It may be a good idea to wait several months to buy a new machine. It’ll give you time to save some more money for the cause and get a nicer sewing machine.
- Always look for the machine within your budget range that matches your skills, has the features you consider as crucial and can finish the work with better results. It sounds too basic but might be not so obvious.
Everything you need to know about Sewing Machines before buying one
Choosing a sewing machine can be daunting if it is your first one. So before getting more deep into it, let me explain to you that the main types of regular sewing machines available for household tasks are broken into domestic and industrial sewing machines.
Domestic machines are used for home purposes while industrial machines are used for clothing production and factories. Choosing the type of machine that is best for you mainly depends on the amount of work you expect and the functions you’ll be needing.
Mechanical vs Computerized Sewing Machine
Mechanical sewing machines as a whole tend to be less expensive than computerized ones. If you are new to sewing, a mechanical machine can also be easier to learn.
Some computerized machines can make simple tasks more complex, with multiple steps needed to do the same thing that one turn of a dial can do on a mechanical machine. But if you are someone who responds better to a touchscreen than to turning dials, or if you have arthritis or other mobility issues, a computerized machine may be a great fit for you. These machines will be more costly to service if something goes awry, however, and it’s less likely that you will be able to do minor repairs yourself.
Regular Sewing Machines
The terms “domestic” or “home sewing” machine is just to distinguish these sewing machines from the high-powered industrial machines out there, many of which are meant to do one specific task very well and very quickly, often used in factories or professional clothing, drapery, or costume shops.
Home machines don’t have the power that an industrial one does, but they offer much more versatility, and frankly, unless you’re starting up a factory to make blue jeans, leather goods, or heavily embroidered pieces, you don’t really need the power and speed of an industrial.
First and foremost, ask yourself what you’re planning on doing with your machine. It’s tempting to look at the fancy computerized machines with 1,000 embroidery stitches and a huge variety of options, but truthfully, especially if you’re a beginning sewer, having a machine with more complexity may not be the easiest way to go. A basic sewing machine that is useful for many different types of sewing projects should, however, have a few essential pieces.
Common Features for any Home Sewing Machine
Let’s learn a bit more about the different features a domestic sewing machine can offer you:
Stitch Length and Width
Variation in stitch length is a very handy feature – sometimes you will need a looser basting stitch, while other times you may need a really small stitch to really hold something in place. And while some machines will only have an option for a straight stitch, getting one that accommodates a zig-zag stitch as well will be very helpful. This option will sometimes allow not just for the utilization of a zig-zag stitch, but also the ability to place your needle to the right or left of the center to do straight stitching as well. Having that feature can be really useful for putting in zippers or doing finer edge stitching.
Some machines have preset stitch widths for different widths of zig-zag stitching, and others have an adjustable stitch width. The adjustable is nicer to have for more exact width changes.
The bobbin case comes in two different styles, generally a drop-in bobbin or a front-load bobbin.
Drop-in bobbins are generally easier to load, and some of them come with clear plastic bobbins and even a clear panel over them so you can see how much thread you have left in your bobbin.
The front-load bobbins are sometimes a bit more finicky to load, but once you’ve gotten the hang of it, it’s not that hard to manage for most folks.
Having a metal bobbin and plate will definitely be sturdier over time, but you have to check to see how much thread is left by opening the bobbin case.
Another bobbin-related feature that is nice to have is the ability to disengage the needle while you’re winding a bobbin. Without this, every time you wind a bobbin, your needle will be going up and down as well, which is not ideal for your safety or the health of your machine – if you have to wind a bobbin like this, it’s best to take the needle out first so it doesn’t become dislodged while winding, and to remove or at least lift the presser foot so that the feed dogs are not scraping against it unnecessarily -.
Many home sewing machines have an easy-to-thread feature, which is great for beginning sewers. Some fancier models will even thread the machine for you! The one big drawback to some of these styles is that often they make it hard to access the parts behind the cover. If you need to dust or oil the moving parts of your machine – which you should do on a regular basis to keep it working properly -, make sure you can get in there with an oil bottle, a small brush or a can of air to clean and maintain the parts.
There’s also something to be said for learning all of the steps to threading a sewing machine. If you can learn to thread a few machines that don’t have the easy option, you can pretty much figure out how to thread any sewing machine regardless of whether you’ve used that model before.
Most modern machines have a reverse button or lever, which is very helpful to lock the beginnings and endings of your seams in so that they don’t unravel, as well as stitching in reverse for something like a buttonhole.
Some really old sewing machines do not have this feature, but you can still lock-in stitches by taking a couple of stitches, lifting the presser foot, moving the fabric back to the starting point, and continuing to sew. After doing that on a regular basis, a reverse button becomes a great timesaving feature to have if you’re doing a lot of sewing!
Tension and Pressure
Controlling the tension of your upper and lower threads is important, especially if you are stitching on both thick and thin fabrics. Having the ability to control the tension can be very important and may even save you a trip to the repair shop. Make sure your machine has the ability for you to manually change the tension of your top thread – also, most bobbin cases have a screw that can control tension, but generally it’s the top thread that needs adjusting -.
The other means of adjusting for thick or thin fabric is to control how much pressure your presser foot puts on the fabric. Some machines have a screw-type feature that can adjust the presser foot down further to grab thin fabric tighter or adjust it up to accommodate a thicker fabric if needed.
If you’re going to be doing a lot of garment sewing, you may want a machine that can stitch buttonholes.
There are a few different varieties of these. One of the simplest is a 4-step buttonhole stitch, in which you manually move through steps 1-4 on a dial to complete the four sides of a buttonhole with your machine’s zig-zag stitch. Another is a one-step buttonhole, where each of the four sides will stitch automatically.
Some machines come with a special frame or presser foot to make buttonholes easier to control. Vintage machines sometimes have buttonhole attachments with different sizes of metal cams for different sizes and shapes of buttonholes, and some electronic machines have programmable styles of buttonholes as well.
If you only stitch one or two buttonholes a year, though, you can get by with a little ingenuity and a sturdy zig-zag stitch on almost any machine.
There are a huge variety of specialty feet for domestic sewing machines, but again, think about what you intend to sew before you go out and buy every single one. Some models of sewing machines come with a very basic set of feet with the option to buy more compatible ones as you find that you need them, which is a great way to economize but leave the option open to get what you need later.
That being said, there are a few feet that may be good to have even if you’re a beginner. A zipper foot or piping foot is narrow and can help you get your zipper or piping closer to the needle to stitch. Some machines feature right and left-facing feet for this, while others have a convertible foot that can easily switch sides.
If you do a lot of small finished edges, such as ruffle hems or the like, you may want to invest in a rolled hem foot. These take a little practice to use gracefully, but you basically feed the fabric edge in and guide it through a tiny folding piece to roll it over and stitch a beautifully neat and very tiny hem. There are feet for ruffles, feet coated in Teflon for working with sticky fabrics, ones for elastic, embroidery, making bias tape… the list goes on and on.
If your basic presser foot is not adequate for the task at hand, you can rest assured that there is one out there to help you.
A free arm option for a sewing machine can be helpful if you need to stitch smaller round pieces, like sleeve hems. It basically makes your sewing surface narrower, like a little arm sticking out instead of a big platform for your fabric to sit on as you stitch. On many machines, this is a convertible feature, with a larger piece that can be removed when the narrower free arm is needed. If you are planning on stitching garments or smaller items, having a free arm option is a good move.
If you plan on stitching a lot of knit fabrics, you may want a machine that has not just straight stitch and zig-zag options, but a few other stitches meant for knit fabrics as well. In addition, you will want to make sure you have ballpoint needles for your machine. These needles aren’t as sharp as regular ones – hence the name -, but they prevent snags when you’re stitching knits. If you are sewing with only knit fabrics, you may also want to look at overlock or serger machines as an alternate method of sewing on knits rather than a regular domestic sewing machine.
Lowering Feed Dogs
If you like to do free-motion sewing or quilting at all, you will want a sewing machine that has the ability to lower the feed dogs. What are feed dogs, you ask? They are the little rows of teeth that grab the fabric from underneath and help feed it through the machine evenly while you are stitching. If the feed dogs are disengaged, it gives the person sewing freedom to move the fabric around in any direction that they please with little resistance. This is not great if you are trying to sew a seam in a straight line, but it is very helpful if you want to quilt something together with a wavy freeform stitch.
This may sound crazy and/or obvious, but you definitely want a sewing machine with a light in it. That little extra bit of illumination near the needle and the sewing area can make a huge difference in how much frustration you have while sewing.
Domestic vs Industrial
Home Sewing Machine
Overseeing the large range of home machines on the market, you need to focus on those that are more sturdy, the so-called Heavy Duty models or HD.
These are machines that have been branded to attract a type of hobbyist that doesn’t sew heavy materials too often but understands that a metal frame will most likely last longer than any other regular machine with plastic bits.
A downside is that they come as a whole, which means that if the motor runs out due to misuse, you will have to buy a new unit.
An advantage to consider for home machines versus industrial ones is the free arm that these first group models normally incorporate.
Things you can do with a home sewing machine that an industrial model can’t:
– Sew on pants hems with a more affordable free arm option.
– Customize it with as many features and decorative stitches as you want to pay for.
– Take it to classes thanks to a lighter and more portable weight.
– Computerized screens for a low price.
– Quieter motors for happier relatives and neighbors. That is unless you get a servo motor for your industrial machine. Then, a home machine will be louder.
– Thread your machine much easier. Industrial systems can be pretty challenging while domestic ones are a kid’s play.
Industrial or Commercial Sewing Machine
Industrial machines can be personalized by parts and mounted on a sewing table allowing a larger working area. These have three different parts:
It simply is the structure that contains the sewing mechanism.
Installed as an extension of the actual machine, it can be changed according to your speed needs. Keep scrolling down to read more about the different types of motors.
Just as you choose a specific machine model, tables come in different variations allowing you to customize your sewing room depending on wanted storage as well as the sewing area.
I personally find the possibility to customize your industrial machine a super perk since you will be able to upgrade your machine by parts as well depending on the needs you get once your skills are developed. Besides, the sensitive pedal of an industrial machine will allow you to manage different tasks such as trimming threads, lifting the foot, and, of course, running the machine at the desired speed.
These are all amazing optional features for those who are more experienced. Nevertheless, if you are a beginner, you would need some time to adjust to the multitasking pedal.
Things that you can do with an industrial machine that a domestic model can’t:
– Longer free arm if you invest in that type of industrial machine.
– A higher speed that you can regulate with the pedal.
– Stronger motor ideal for heavy duties and longer durability.
– Easier to use since normally industrial machines have a permanent set up which translates in a very limited set of features.
– Install it on a sewing table and have the largest surface to work on.
Hand Operated Sewing Machines
While a few of these machines are made by American brands and offer great quality, the majority of the typical hand-powered machines have been brought straight from Asian countries and cost less than a few hundred dollars. A pretty low price for what these can do.
They basically work with a fly-wheel or a hand crank that you need to pull for every stitch that you perform.
Any of these machines will easily stitch through leather and are usually used to patch leather, fix shoes and make sneakers. Up to your imagination and needs.
2 Tips before deciding on a home or an industrial sewing machine
Space Size and Sewing Area
It sounds pretty basic but a common mistake for people buying a new sewing machine is not considering how much space they are going to be needing, first, to place the machine itself and, second, to actually work with the different fabrics and garments.
You may also want to have a look at different sewing tables if you don’t have one yet.
Remember to always measure the area where you will be installing your new machine.
Types of Motor
It is simple. Mechanical machines generally work with traditional AC motors and modern computerized or digital models do with DC motors to regulate speed.
And, what about industrial machines? Well, it is basically up to you. Think of what you need and choose your motor accordingly.
Clutch Motor (or AC Motor – Alternate Current)
– The speed of these motors depends on the strength you apply to the pedal. You will need to practice but once you get the trick of it, it is super useful.
– A good advantage to consider is the lower demand for power and its minimum maintenance.
– They are 30% less efficient than servo motors which means that they take slightly longer to start running and reverse sewing.
– They are a bit louder than servo motors.
Servo Motor (or DC Motor – Direct Current)
This type of motor has 4 parts: DC Motor, gearing set, a control circuit, and a position sensor. Some of its perks are:
– Adjustable speed control, the pedal doesn’t have a say here. No matter how hard you press the pedal, speed will stay the same. This is ideal for beginners getting used to an industrial machine or if they don’t need such high speed.
– Reverse Stitches with a flick of the switch.
– ⅓ lighter than clutch motors. Smaller size, lighter motor.
– Energy Efficiency: they consume up to 90% less energy than clutch motors.
– They don’t generate as much heat as clutch motors do
– Lower vibration which translates into a higher quality of stitches.
– The motor is completely silent when the pedal is not engaged.
If you are going to be sewing leather, I recommend you to go for the servo motor or for a clutch one with a speed reducer to avoid messing with your leatherwork. You will need to do stitch by stitch at times, right?
What is a Sewing Machine Made Of?
Many domestic sewing machines made today are lightweight and made mostly of plastic. This is great when you need to carry it around, but can be a real problem if you want your machine to last a long time. Once a plastic cam or other essential piece breaks, it can be more expensive to replace that one plastic piece than to buy a whole new sewing machine.
The more metal parts your sewing machine has, the more sturdy it will be over time. There are a few models that have more metalworking pieces than plastic, but the vast majority out there right now are not designed to last.
Taking the time to investigate what your potential machine is made from and also checking reviews to see if it withstands the test of time is a good idea and can save you the cost and hassle of replacing an inferior machine sooner than you would like.
Vintage Sewing Machines
Many people often wonder if old sewing machines are better or worth any money. And there’s an element of truth to the saying “they don’t make them like they used to.”
If you can get a well-maintained vintage machine with all of its necessary parts and an instruction manual for it – or if you have access to someone who knows how to operate that particular machine -, an older machine is sometimes a better choice than a new one. Vintage sewing machines tend to have many more metal parts, which makes them less prone to breaking permanently or wearing out as quickly. They can also be easier to maintain yourself, as many models have easy to access areas to keep your machine oiled and dusted.
Before you go grabbing any old home sewing machine from a garage sale or thrift store, however, make sure that it’s in good working order and that you have the resources to keep it running well. Sometimes these older machines have bobbins or other essential parts that cannot be purchased in a regular store and may have to be sourced from eBay or other vintage shops.
That being said, home sewers and professionals alike routinely use machines that are 50-75 years old and swear by them.
Good luck, and happy sewing!
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