How To Choose a Sewing Machine

my Bernina, 079

Update: February 15, 2021

This is my baby. It is 37 years old this week. My Dad, who taught me how to sew,  got it for me for my college graduation gift and it has never let me down.

The only thing it has needed in 37 years is one new light bulb, a new foot pedal, some oil and a few cleanings.

Let’s discuss some factors that go into how to choose a sewing machine.

What do you look for? What do you want it to do? What is important to you?

Do you want to buy new or used? What is your budget?

If you’re looking to sew basic items of clothing and home decor, you probably don’t need alot of fancy stitches.

Are you looking to start your own sewing business? You might want to do embroidery with it.

Maybe you just want to use the machine a few times a month. Maybe more.

Once you figure out your basic needs and desires, along with a budget, you’ll be able to narrow things down quite a bit.

If you’re asking me what I would purchase for a sewing business? Well, I haven’t had the need for any embroidery stitches, so a computerized machine is not a necessity for me. It might be for you though. If it is not, that will save you alot of money.

Of course, one thing you want to do is check reviews of sewing machines online. Consumer Reports, Good housekeeping, etc.

In addition, let’s explore a few things:

First of all, I would recommend to look for a machine whose bobbin winds on the top of the machine. Many machines advertise that their machine winds the bobbin in the case right below the needle and you never have to move the bobbin to another location. You can just sew right after you wind the bobbin. That sounds pretty alluring, doesn’t it? Well, I’ve sewn on many machines like that and heard from many frustrated people and the problem is that the bobbin thread tends to get all caught up in the bobbin case and the result is a huge tangled mess. Then, once you get the tangle out, which can take longer than you hoped it would, it happens again. And again. And pretty soon, you don’t want to sew any more. I have heard this story from so many friends and family members over the years. Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s not your fault. It’s the machine.

Also, beware of the bobbins that unscrew in the middle. These are another source of frustration as the thread invariably gets caught in the middle area causing a bird’s nest of tangles as well.

Singer sewing machines have been notorious for this. I’m not saying that all Singers are culprits,  (the featherweight Singer machines from the mid 1900’s are wonderful!) but many models are like that. The very old treadle Singers don’t have that problem, but most made since about 1965 are problematic. People keep buying them because when people think of a sewing machine, they think of Singer. Again, I’m not saying that your Singer has that problem. What I am saying is that no matter what brand you look at, be sure to test drive them first and ask what the return policy is if the machine doesn’t live up to your expectations.

Do you own a Singer? I’d love to hear from you if you have a Singer that you love. Tell me what model it is so we can promote it.

I have heard many people say that they like the basic Brother brand machines that you can buy at Walmart or on Amazon. They sound like they are a perfect beginner machine. That would be worth trying.

I have sewn on Viking, Pfaff, Singer and Kenmore machines (and a few other obscure brands.) I did like the Viking and Pfaff. The Kenmore I have in my possession works just fine.

This Kenmore was my step mother’s. I am going to give it to one of our daughter’s as her first machine. Yes, it’s an older model, but I want you to be comfortable buying older machines because many of them work very well and many have not been used that much because someone got excited to sew and then many times stopped sewing after one or two projects. I know that Sears is probably finished manufacturing sewing machines under their Kenmore brand. However, sewing machine repairmen still know how to fix them, if you buy one. Ask around. Maybe a friend has one collecting dust that would love to give it a new home.

Kenmore machine, 080

This Kenmore stitches well. It doesn’t have fancy stitches and it’s a little loud (all things I could live with), but it does have one feature I’d have to get used to: I have to hand crank the fly wheel to get the needle out of the fabric at the end of the seam. I’m not big on that, but that may not bother you in the least. Maybe not all Kenmore’s are like that anymore. Do you have a Kenmore? Do you like it?

I happen to like my Bernina 930 Record very much. (People who have the 830 model love that one just as much.)

The Bernina I have is made entirely of metal parts. No plastic parts, folks. As I mentioned above, I have not had any trouble with it. I do oil it when I should and keep it free of lint, but that ‘s all the maintenance I do besides a tune up every few years where they clean the tension dials and other mundane stuff.

The interesting thing is that no matter who I take it to for the tune up, they end up begging to buy it from me. They know how good it is. I know how good it is, and I’d rather pass it on to my daughters than sell it, even as old as it is! It’s just been a workhorse!

It has basic stitches and about 12 embroidery stitches, that I haven’t used often. It sews a great looking seam, and it’s just plain reliable. Now, the features it doesn’t have are: a built in button hole maker (I’ve done just fine without one, but it would be nice) and a buttonhole stitch (which would be nice if you want to machine buttonhole stitch on a quilt). Other than that, it’s got everything I need or want. To get those features, look for a newer model.

Bernina began making a computerized version soon after this model. I don’t really want one as they are much higher in price and I don’t need a computerized model. If I were designing my own quilts or embroidering designs I downloaded from the computer, then I would certainly upgrade to a computerized machine. If that is what you’d like to do, check into them. I just looked at a new computerized model last year and it was nearly $10,000. I nearly fell to the floor. But that one had all the bells and whistles. It threads your needle, it cuts the thread, has automatic tension settings, etc.

There are other wonderful machines out there as well including: Janome, Baby Lock, Elna to name a few. You may want an industrial machine if you’re wanting to sew on heavier weight fabrics. Juki is an excellent machine for this.

Bottom line, go to a dealership and test drive whatever brand and model you like first. In fact, try all the makes and models.  Take notes on which ones you like and why.  Ask if you can take one out on loan for a few days. When I get mine serviced, they give me a loaner so I can keep my business going. I can ask for different models to try and that way I can see what is new and popular. If you don’t like one model, try another until you find the perfect match for you.

Out of curiosity, and knowing I was writing this post today, I got on ebay and saw that my model Bernina (930 Record) is selling for anywhere from $950-1,250. I just saw the 830 model for $199-$950. I’m sure you could find similar machines for less on your local Facebook marketplace or Craigslist websites.

Check with your sewing machine shop, quilt shops and repair shops in the area and ask around. It’s worth your time and perseverance to get a good machine. Think of it as an investment because you will hopefully get years and years of reliability out of it.

Do you like the machine you own now? Why or why not? I’d love to hear about it. So would the others who read this post.