What this post isn’t, I’ll tell you right away. An expert sewist did not create this post with years of experience with various sewing machine brands.
That being said, this piece is created by a newbie sewist who was recently in your shoes, went down a rabbit hole studying machines, and would want to share her discoveries in case they can assist.
What to Look for When Buying a Sewing Machine
The features you require will be determined by the type of projects you intend to do. As a sustainable design creator, I’m mostly interested in manufacturing and upcycling garments; thus, my experiences will be geared around that.
If at all possible, avoid small sewing machines. These devices are extremely portable and inexpensive, but they are not built to last.
I tried to sew on my family’s 10-year-old Shark Euro Pro X, and it couldn’t perform a good stitch at all, even though it had scarcely been used when it was new (even my sewing instructor couldn’t get it to operate).
You should also evaluate the projects you want to work on as you develop your expertise. If you’re serious about sewing, it can be worth investing in a fancier machine to “grow into it” rather than updating afterward.
New vs. used/vintage/refurbished.
Buying a used machine is a terrific method to save money if you’re starting. Reliable new machines will cost at least $150-200, but a nice used one will cost between $50 and $100.
Many sewists prefer old machines to current ones since newer machines include plastic parts that don’t last as long. I had planned to buy an antique Kenmore for $75 on Offerup, but the seller ghosted me, so it didn’t work out.
I was also thinking about acquiring a vintage Singer, but it didn’t have all of the features I wanted, and I was concerned about maintaining it. Note that many older machines are simpler and may not have as many stitches.
If you do decide to buy a secondhand machine, I recommend visiting locally so you can ask the vendor to demonstrate its functionality.
If you buy online, it may be best to acquire a manufacturer-refurbished machine rather than a used one because individual sellers may not know how to properly pack their equipment, and you won’t be able to verify that it works.
Computerized vs. mechanical
Because computerized machines have a computer, they have additional stitch possibilities and can automatically alter thread tension.
They are known to function more smoothly, but with all of their possibilities, they can be overwhelming, and if the computer inside breaks, it will be an expensive repair.
Mechanical devices are simpler and less expensive, but they lack functionalities. It all comes down to personal preference because I selected a mechanical machine for my first machine. All the possibilities I describe will be mechanical, but remember that a computerized machine may still be your best option.
Straight stitch and zigzag stitch
As a novice, you only need a good straight stitch and a zigzag stitch. If you don’t have a serger and want to finish the seams/edges of the fabric, a zigzag stitch is essential. Most current sewing machines include at least these two stitches, although older machines may have a straight stitch.
Stitch length adjustment
Changing the width of your stitch can be useful in creating ruffles or working with more delicate fabrics. Some basic machines don’t allow you to do this, including modern ones, so keep an eye out for it.
Drop-in bobbins are often easier to use because the tension is automatically adjusted, and you can see how much thread is left through the glass plate.
Front-loading bobbins can be more difficult to adjust, but some sewists claim it depends on your experience.
A TikTok follower advised me that front-loading bobbins sometimes take a long time to correct, so I went with a machine with a drop-in bobbin.
If you plan to sew a lot of clothing with buttons, having a 1-step buttonhole machine can help you make cleaner buttonholes. Many machines feature a 4-step buttonhole that requires human stops and readjustments.
Some people can thread their needles by hand, but if you don’t have quick fingers or good vision, opt for a machine with a needle threader.
Sewing Machines for Beginners
This post contains affiliate links, meaning I receive a tiny percentage on any purchases you make at no additional cost. This cash permits me to maintain my site, which I greatly appreciate.
The links above the sewing machine names go to Amazon because there are loads of reviews and extensive information, but I advise you to buy from smaller businesses if possible.
There are even more recommendations for machine shops after the piece!
1. Brother ST371HD ($200)
The Brother ST371HD is a heavy-duty machine made to sew through thick fabrics. When Angelina of BlueprintDIY tested it, it could sew through 10 layers of denim! This machine had everything I wanted, including:
- drop-in bobbin
- automatic buttonhole
- straight and zigzag stitch (among many others)
- stitch length adjustment
- needle threader
I almost bought it, but I ultimately went with a higher-end Janome (it’s last on this list since it’s the most expensive).
2. Singer Heavy Duty 4452 ($220)
I considered buying a manufacturer-reconditioned Singer 4452 on eBay ($160), but I opted against it after hearing many people say to avoid new Singer machines.
This laptop contained all of the features I desired (though I found the grey color ugly). Because Singer is such a well-known brand, many setups and troubleshooting videos should be available.
The machine has a high rating on Amazon (4.6 stars and 6,500+ ratings), indicating that it has helped many people. It’s also heavy-duty, which means it’s built to last and can sew through thick fabrics.
I didn’t want to take the chance after wasting hours with my family’s faulty (non-Singer) small machine.
3. Janome Magnolia 7318 ($230+)
This machine was one of the former picks of the NYTimes Wirecutter, which does in-depth, blinded tests to provide trusted appliance recommendations.
The Janome Magnolia 7318 is no longer in production, but you can still find new and refurbished models from $220-300. I was seriously considering this one, No automated buttonhole or needle threader.
4. Bernette 35 ($300)
Bernette is a brand under Bernina, one of the most trusted sewing machine companies. Their machines are said to be smooth, reliable, and high-quality. I used a computerized Bernina when I went to a local sewing studio was lovely.
That said, this particular model has a front-loading bobbin, which may be trickier to get used to than the drop-in bobbin. It also has a 4-step buttonhole instead of an automatic one.
5. Janome Sewist 725S ($375) – my machine
I was persuaded into buying this machine by the woman at Ken’s Sewing Center, an online sewing retailer based in Alabama. I called to ask about their refurbished Janome Magnolia 7318, and she upsold me to get the Janome Sewist 725S (after I slept on it for a night).
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