Sewing Machine Buyers Guide - Help and Advice
- Look for a Sewing Machine fit for purpose.
- Think about what you want the sewing machine to do now and in the future.
- Don't buy cheap unknown brands, it might be rubbish.
- Choose your budget and buy it.
- If you need any more advise after reading this feel free to call us on 01209 216942 or email us at [email protected]
Our best advice is buy the right tool for the job! Don't expect a cheap light weight sewing machine to sew up your heavy weight curtains trouble free, it just won't happen wherever you buy it from, it has to be 'fit for purpose'.
Think about what you want the sewing machine for now, and what you might want to do with it for the next 10 years and make the right decision first time not second!
If it's basic light weight work / fabric you can buy any of our sewing machines.
If it's light to medium weight work / fabric you need to be spending £200 - £350 depending on how many extra features you want.
If it's light to heavy weight work / fabric you need to be spending £350 - £5000 depending on how many extra features you want, how much work you expect to be giving it, how long you expect it to last, how user friendly you expect it to be, and the type of work / fabric you expect to be able to sew.
As you might of gathered from the previous 3 points it's not just features that sets different sewing machines apart, it's:
- Build quality
- Quality of design and layout
- Life expectancy
- Included features
- Ability to sew all the various types of material available today.
Think about what you want from your sewing machine, choose it from our website and buy it! If you find it all a bit too confusing, give us a ring but please try and know exactly what you need from your sewing machine so we can help make the right decision.
Some things you should watch out for!
Remember the old saying 'buy cheap, buy twice'. The UK market is flooded with cheap rubbish, from cheap Chinese jumpers that look like a rag after washing them for the first time to cheap Taiwanese pots and pans with handles that drop off!
DON'T be tempted by the price tag or claims the sellers make, if the largest sewing machine manufactures in the world like Janome or Brother can't make a reliable sewing machine to retail for less than £99 then it just cannot be done, it might not be possible to find anyone able to service it or find spare parts.
Buy from the right agents / retailers, this business is fairly unique in that once you've bought from a specific retailer you might be stuck with them because your guarantee is with them, not any other dealer / retailer or the manufacture. If you go anywhere else during your warranted period, you will probably have to pay for the service you receive!
A good domestic sewing machine should give years of good service however it's very important you choose the right machine to suit your sewing needs, if you don't it will bring you constant heartache and disappointment every time you take it out to use it. We carry Husqvarna, Bernina, Janome and Brother sewing machines because we know these brands give good reliable service and we can continue to support you with regards to spare parts and repairs for many years to come. We also know these brands are well supported both nationally and worldwide should you ever need a machine service or spare part / accessory. We do not stock unknown brands or even some of the better-known brands because we cannot guarantee any or the above.
The most important thing to consider is how thick is the thickest fabric you will ever want to sew with the machine?
The machine can have all the features and functions you need but if it is not capable of sewing your denim jeans or curtain header tape you will want to through it through the window! The sturdier the machine is; the better.
How an electric sewing machine works!
There is an awful lot going on inside an electric sewing machine, it is one of the few things found around the house, which uses moving mechanical and electrical part. When the sewer puts their foot on the pedal an electric current is sent from the pedal to the motor thus the electric motor starts to turn which drives a series of mechanical parts. Put simply the needle penetrates the fabric and passes through a hole in the needle plate taking the top thread with it, a hook catches the thread off the eye of the needle and then wraps / turns the thread around the bobbin case, this traps the bobbin thread between the underside of the fabric and the top thread, meanwhile the needle rises enabling the feed dogs / teeth to move the fabric forward and then the whole process starts again. The speed of the machine can be controlled via the foot control much like a car accelerator without the gears. Stitch types are created with the use of cams on mechanical machines and electronic stepper motors on electronic / computerised machines.
To sew thick fabrics you will need a strong machine with a high presser foot lift, adjustable presser foot pressure, good needle penetration and a long stitch length. If the machine is too lightweight, it will dance around the table so the heavier the better.
Generally speaking top loading machines (bobbin is dropped in at the top next to the needle plate) perform better on stretchy fabrics, all good sewing machines will have stretchy stitches included. If you intend to sew stretchy fabrics or knitwear you will need these stitches.
An adjustable presser foot pressure is very important if you intend to sew silks and satins because the feed dogs can mark the underside of the fabric if the foot pressure is too high.
The best way to understand stitches on a sewing machine it to break them up into groups (they are often displayed on the machine in groups too), functional, decorative, stretch and buttonholes. Functional stitches generally only feed in a forward direction such as straight stitch, zigzag, blind hem, three step zigzag etc. and are used to sew general fabric and construct your project. Decorative stitches as the name suggests are nice to look at but could also be used to put your hems together as well. Stretch stitches tend to sew two steps forward and one-step back whilst moving the needle from left to right, these stitches have some give / stretch in them so when the fabric stitches the thread doesn't break. They can be used on non-stretchy fabric too. Buttonholes can come in a variety of designs, standard, keyhole and stretch are the main ones however some machines can include up to twenty different types. A basic mechanical machine would only have a standard buttonhole.
This is used to do free machine embroidery; darning or free machine quilting the principle is the same it is just the sewing project that differs. Some machines have a facility to lower the feed dogs or feed teeth which enable the sewer to move the fabric around freely in any direction and within reason any speed. Although many sewers try to do this without an appropriate presser foot the results are, to be kind, ... poor. The correct foot for the job hops up and down thus allowing the sewer to move the fabric when the foot is in an up position and holds the fabric still when the needle is penetrating the fabric. Using this foot will improve the thread tension and help reduce needle breakages.
Sewing Machine Needles
Just about all domestic sewing machines use a standard domestic sewing machine needle, there is always the odd ball specialist machines that use something a little different however if you look hard enough you can always find them. Overlockers and coverstitch machines can take a variety of different needles so the user does need to be careful not to use the wrong needle and damage their machine. Schmetz needles are probably the best you can buy and they make a different needle for just about every different job or fabric you can imagine however if you have some standard universal sizes 10 - 16 and some ball point needles in your sewing box that would cover the majority of projects. It's probably worth mention that if the needle is inserted anything but perfectly into a sewing machine it won't sew!
Types of Sewing Machines
Don't get confused between embroidery machines, computerized machines, electronic machines and mechanical machines:
An Embroidery Machine is for embroidering motif's, pictures and large or small text, they can be connected to a computer via USB / computer link or use memory cards / USB stick to get the embroidery design into the machine, once into the machine all you need to do is place the fabric into an embroidery hoop and press the go button, some embroidery machines will have some embroidery designs built in. If a colour change is necessary the machine will pause and ask you to change the thread and advice on the colour to use. Embroidery designs can be produced via embroidery design software (usually sold separately) this way the designs are your own and to your own design however it can be time consuming. An alternative way is to purchase designs off the internet (very often designs can be found for free if you know where to look) or on memory card, the down side is you need to find a design that fits your sewing project and in the correct format for your brand of embroidery machine. Embroidery machines can be combined with sewing machines all rolled in one package, called Sewing and Embroidery Machines.
Computerized Sewing Machines are by default packed with a huge selection of stitches, features and functions. This can frighten many sewers however in many ways they have some time saving features to help you with your sewing not make it more difficult! They are not more difficult to use or confusing, once the sewer has spent a few hours on the machine and read the instruction book it all starts falling into place. Some of our customers are almost 100 years old and find our computerized machines a doddle to use. They will have additional motors inside the machine to control the needle swing from left to right and another motor to move the feed dogs forward and backwards, this allows the user to operate the machine with a high degree of precision. The stitches can be selected using an electronic push button or even a LCD touch screen on the more advanced machines. These machines often have memories built in so user can refer back to it once a sequence of stitches or letters have been added to the memory (yes they can even sew very legible lettering for monogramming your work). The one thing people love about them is that you make your stitch selection and the machine automatically knows what to do with the width and length settings on the machine to achieve the correct proportions for the stitch however these can be altered by the sewer by pressing the stitch width and length controls.
Electronic Sewing Machines put simply are just a standard sewing machine using a DC motor to help with needle penetration at lower speeds. Typically the stitch type, length and width are adjusted with dials / knobs.
Mechanical Sewing Machines can still have a DC motor (therefore electronic) or an AC motor the user themselves would probably never know unless they checked the label on the back of the machine. In some respects a good quality mechanical machine is a perfect solution for most people, with no electronic circuit boards to go wrong etc. however the user has to be sure they will never pine for the features their friends machine has got i.e. start stop button, fancy button holes, needle up/down, decorative stitches etc. A perfect example of a good mechanical sewing machine is the Bernina 1008 however there are many other models to choose from.
An Embellisher is not a sewing machine, it uses a number of barbed needles typically 5-7 to needle punch / felt fibres together. They work best with very fibres material such as felt and wool.
Overlockers are basically for finishing the edge of fabric to stop it from fraying and to give a more professional finish to seams and hems. They typically use 4 threads however some models can be used as 2, 3 or even 5 thread machines. They cannot sew button holes or fancy stitches and shouldn't be viewed as an alternative to a sewing machine but rather an addition to your tool kit. If you aren't sure of what they do turn a typical T-shirt inside out and have a look at the seams, not all of the garment will be constructed using a overlocker however usually between the bottom hem up to the arm holes will be, during construction an overlocker would have joined the front and back of the garment together whilst trimming off any excess fabric using the built in cutting blades! It’s fast and effective but will never replace a standard sewing machine around the house.
Coverstitch Sewing Machines are mainly used for stopping a raw edge from fraying and constructing a seam at the same time, a good example of this is usually found on the neck band of a T-shirt or sweat shirt. This operation is often confused with overlocking however they are very different machines and one is not capable of the other. They are useful if you intend to construct clothing but have no blades built in so they don't cut the fabric.
There are machines that are capable of overlocking and coverstitch all from the same machine however they tend to be mechanically very complicated and troublesome. It can take a competent person 15 or 20 minutes to convert / prepare the machine for overlocking from coverstitch or vice versa. These machines often cost as much as it would to buy a separate overlocker and separate coverstitch which from our experience is a far better idea.
Sewing machine feet / presser feet and accessories are available for all the different makes and models of machine, often the accessories can be interchangeable between makes and models however not always so if you plan to use accessories from your old machine to fit a new machine its best to ask us if they will fit or you may be disappointed. The list of accessories available is endless and often terminology between brands can differ but the most common are adjustable zipper feet, concealed zipper feet, free machine embroidery feet, walking feet, applique feet, piping feet and extension tables.
Industrial Sewing Machines are usually designed for one intended stitch / purpose, for example a typical lockstitch machine would only be capable of straight stitch however there are some models such as the Singer 20u that were capable of straight and zigzag stitches and if the user was talented enough a button hole could be done as well but not much else. The most common industrial sewing machines are overlockers, coverstitch, walking foot, needle feed, lockstitch, chainstitch, buttonholers, bonadex elasticaters, blind hem, flatlock, button sewer and post machines. All these machines are very limited in their uses however they do what they were designed to do very quickly and efficiently and were made to be worked 7 days a week 24 hours a day with limited maintenance.
Sewing Machines for Beginners
When buying a sewing machine for a beginner the most important thing to think about is what will they be sewing? Don't think to yourself it only needs to be very basic because it's a beginner machine, it firstly needs to be strong enough to cope with the weight / thickness of the fabric and secondly have the features and functions required for the type of project that will be sewn. A person would never by a beginner cooker or vacuum cleaner! They you buy an appliance right for its intended purpose.
Sewing Machines for Children
There are machines on the market specifically designed for children however we don't sell them, every child's machine we've seen has been awful, bad design, cheaply made and frustrating. If the machine is intended for a child just buy them a proper sewing machine but a very basic one. A good basic sewing machine such as some of the Janome machines are easy to use, well made and can be repaired. Don't be fooled into buying a child's sewing machine, it won't be long until you realise it's been a waste of money.
Sewing Machines for Quilting
Quilting can be done on any sewing machine, however there are some key features that help make sewing machines better for quilting:
One of the most important features is a large space under the arm so the quilt can be rolled up and fit under the arm when it's being worked on.
The machine should have a walking foot or duel feed foot either built in or as an accessory available to fit it, they are used so the fabric and wadding doesn't slip when it's being sewn.
There are lots of other accessories that a quilter may want to purchase such as a quarter inch foot, stitch in the ditch foot, quilting guide, free machine quilting foot and applique foot if it's a unbranded or lesser known brand of machine these accessories could be difficult to purchase.
Needle up / down feature can be very handy when piecing the quilt together as the needle will always stop with the needle up or down so the fabric can be rotated on the needle when changing direction or the needle can always stop up so the fabric can be removed very quickly.
A lock stitch function automatically locks off your stitch at the end of the seam, another time saver, especially for repetitive seams and can be a very neat way of securing at the end of the seam without reversing.
Start/Stop Button allows you to sew without using the foot control. Just press the start button to go on longer seams, so common in quilting and home decor, this is much more relaxing option than the continuous pressure of a foot pedal. Essential for any quilting machine and is excellent for free machine quilting.
Drop feed is for free motion quilting, darning, attaching buttons, and other applications where feed dogs are not necessary.
Extension table is not essential but some quilters do find them very useful as they extend your flat working area which is particularly nice when doing free machine quilting.
Sewing Machines Parts
Unlike many modern appliances around the house a good sewing machine can be repaired by a sewing machine engineer and if you choose a good brand parts can be available for 40 years or more. The most common parts to need replacing are simple things like spool pegs, bobbin cases, gears, belts, foot controls and motors. Some brands are more expensive than others for parts however a machine such as a Bernina for example should give many years of trouble free use before any parts are required so when a part is needed it doesn't feel quite so bad that it's twice the price of the other brands.
Sewing Machines Problems
Although sewing machines can be mechanically and electronically complex appliances most problems are user error, incorrect threading, needle in back to front, misuse or lack of basic maintenance therefore the machine is jammed full of fluff and thread etc. and not been oiled for the last five million stitches or more!
We've covered the basic things to check for here if you are having a problem with a sewing machine: Click here to view our repairs page.