How to Choose a Sewing Machine for Beginners – video

Choosing a Sewing Machine for Beginners - a video from Shiny Happy World

If you’re trying to choose a sewing machine for beginners you do NOT need anything fancy. Please – do not buy a $1000 (or more!) machine unless you know you’re going to use it all the time.

At the other end of the spectrum – if you’re choosing a machine for a child, do not buy a toy sewing machine. I’ve seen a lot of them, and every one has been an utter piece of junk. They work for a little while and it’s all very exciting – but they die quickly – and sometimes spectacularly. My daughter Jo started with a toy machine and it literally threw sparks right before it went up in smoke. Very exciting.

What you want is a good, basic machine. A used machine is a great way to save some money – just make sure to bring it into a shop for a thorough cleaning. They can also give you a threading lesson and show you the basic maintenance required for your machine.

Whether you buy a machine used or from a sewing machine store, here’s a list of things to look for. . .

  • Smooth sewing. Try it out. If it makes your teeth rattle and the table shake so hard that you can’t feed the fabric through smoothly – don’t buy it. If it makes a grinding sound or a ticking sound – don’t buy it.
  • Even sewing. Sew a row of regular stitching, then take it out of the machine and look at it. Are the stitches all the same length? That’s good. Does it skip stitches – some are twice as long as others? Don’t buy it.
  • Easy threading. (Relatively speaking. If you’ve never threaded a sewing machine before it will seem insanely complicated at first.) Some newer machines have numbers or a diagram right on the machine to help with threading – and that makes it especially easy for younger kids.
  • A manual. Especially important for used machines – though you can find PDFs of a lot of old manuals online now.
  • A drop-in bobbin – if you’re choosing a machine for a child. It’s easier for kids to load than a front-loading bobbin.
  • Straight stitch. Every machine has this.
  • Zigzag stitch – all but the oldest machines have this. Don’t be sucked in by hundreds of available stitches. It’s like cable – you’ll only use a couple of them.
  • Stretch stitch. It’s not really necessary – you can always use a zigzag stitch instead – but it’s really nice to have and I end up using it fairly often.
  • You do NOT need a buttonhole stitch. You can use a zigzag stitch to make any buttonhole – and I actually get better results with a zigzag stitch.
  • The ability to backstitch. This allows you to easily “knot” at the beginning and end of your stitching. Again – almost all machines have this feature.
  • A foot pedal – if you’re choosing a machine for a child. Some machines have a knee pedal instead. That’s fine for adults, but those are often difficult for kids to control. It’s also hard to get the height just right for them.

Here’s a video talking you through some of these features and showing you my machine.

Of course, you’ll also need some hand tools.

You can find a complete list of everything a beginner needs (with links for shopping!) right here.

And once you’ve got your machine, go here for a bunch of video tutorials to get all the basic skills you’ll need to get started.

That’s it! Happy hunting.

Best,
Wendi
That's me!

26 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you!
    You just took care of a lot of the anxiety I have about finding a sewing machine.

    Very nicely done!

    (here via CraftGossip – and off to look at more of your blog)

  2. Glad it was helpful! You won’t find a ton of stuff on the blog yet. Right now I’m loading up on all the boring basics – weekly sewing and embroidery lessons with lots of fun projects will start in January.

    • I already feel its a ton of stuff, and its all so educative for a beginner like me.. ThanksWendi !

  3. I’m on the lookout for a first sewing machine for my 7 y/o daughter. I am SO glad I found you first! I’m looking forward to future lessons.

  4. Anonymous SAYS...

    I have a sewing machine but it frequently jams up so I’m looking for a new one do you have any suggestions??

  5. My first stop would be my local sewing machine store to ask them to service it. It may have a clump of fuzz stuck someplace that’s making the whole works jam up.

    As far as recommending a specific machine – that’s tough to do without knowing your budget, what kind and how much sewing you do. I started off with a bottom-line Kenmore and that worked well for me for several years – sewing mostly craft projects, quilts, and some garments. After about 8 years i started having problems with the tension and skipped stitches – and I was sewing a lot more because I had a new daughter. My mother-in-law bought me a gift of a brand-new Pfaff – which I LOVE! I’ve had it for about 7 years now and it’s still going strong – no problems at all. It’s not the ost expensive one they make – but it was way more expensive than my Kenmore. I use it almost every day, so for me the extra expense is totally worth it. Your needs may be totally different.

    Hope this is helpful!

  6. she said: “You do NOT need a buttonhole stitch. You can use a zigzag stitch to make any buttonhole – and I actually get better results with a zigzag stitch.” …

    my Q is this: where’s the video for zigzag buttonholes?

  7. I haven’t done the buttonhole video yet – it will come later this summer with a whole round of videos showing how to do different kinds of garment closures.

  8. Anonymous SAYS...

    Hi Wendy

    Can you suggest a few brand names for machines. I am interested in Sewing/Quilting and was looking at the janome (non computerized). I am intermediate level

    Thank you

    D

  9. I think all the major brands have good machines. Just look for the features that matter to you. I dearly love my Pfaff – they have a built-in walking foot that works really well. Ohter people swear by their Berninas, their Janomes, their Brothers, etc.

  10. Anonymous SAYS...

    Thanks Wendi. Which Pfaff/Janome model would you suggest? I am looking for those also and my budget is around 300 or less

  11. I’m reluctant to recommend a specific model, because I haven’t test driven any since I got my machine several years ago. The models change ALL THE TIME and what you need depends a lot on what you want to sew. I can tell you that my Pfaff model is called Life Style (with no number) and I love it. I’m sure they don’t make the exact model anymore, but if you give that information to the person at the store they may be able to tell you what current model is comparable.

  12. Anonymous SAYS...

    Finally someone who knows how to give good explanations. Many people can sew but not many of them have the ability to explain it in such clear and easy way. Thank you.

  13. Found you via a post on Ravelry. I’ve watched several videos and you do a great job! I’ve been thinking of getting back into sewing and your site is just what I need to refresh my skills. I have an old Kenmore machine also and will get it serviced as you suggest since it’ll fit my needs. One thing I noticed is that you don’t mention which way the thread comes off the bobbin when placed into the holder. Does it not matter? For some reason I thought it did–guess I should read my manual 🙂

  14. The direction the thread comes off the bobbin is VERY important – but it’s going to be specific to each machine so I don’t go into it in the video. Definitely read your manual on that one. 🙂

  15. Thanks! I love your site already!

  16. Lori SAYS...

    Hi Wendy, love you site found you on youtube then came here.I have a question hope you can help.I just recieved a sewing machine I bought off ebay , brotherxl5130. All excited got my pile of projects out. Wond my bobbin threaded it . Started sewing. Top stitch is fine bobbin stitch is not .it is loose and loopy. Checked manual. Said bobbin tension was factory set ,but there is a screw you can adjust( somewhere unbeknowst to me) played with the upper tension and stitch length changed the needle. Improved somewhat. I think the bobbin stitch should look almost like the top stitch dont know if that is correct or not. Please help. Thank you , Lori

    • Oooh – I know exactly what you’re talking about. I used to have a machine that did that all the time.

      You shouldn’t have to adjust the bobbin tension ever. I don’t recommend ever touching that screw. As a last resort, let a professional do it when they service your machine.

      It sounds like you already changed the needle. Also try pulling out the bobbin and putting it back in. A lot of time what fixed it for me was rethreading the top thread. Hold the thread tight at the top of the machine so there’s always tension on your thread while you thread it through the tension disk. That can help a LOT.

      If all else fails – take it in for service. The top stitches should look just like your bottom stitches. Good luck!

  17. The three brands you mention (Viking IS Husqvarna) are all owned by the same holding company, and every day there is more similarity between models of the various lines. I would say that the Singers tend to be the lower end models, but I couldn’t say between the others which is the high end. All are made in Asia these days.

  18. I really appreciate this information on how to pick the best sewing machine if you are a beginner. I remember watching my mom sew all growing up, and I have decided to give it a whirl, but I am definitely a beginner. I really like the tip of not spending extra money on a machine that does a buttonhole stitch, because they can be done easily enough with a zig-zag stitch. Thanks for sharing this!

  19. It was really helpful and helped me allot while buying a new sewing machine for me! Keep writing more regarding this. Looking up for more stuff from you 🙂

  20. Hey I really find your blog very interesting .Thanks for all the information regarding how to choose a sewing machine for a beginners. It really helped me allot while I was looking up for a new machine! Keep writing such kind of helpful stuff. Looking for more information from you 🙂 Keep Sharing xx

  21. Thank you so much. It was really useful while selecting the machine.keeping all above notes and specification i found janome 11706 the best. It has more than 11 built in stitches and also 4 step butonhole..Its very small but can perform heavy duty work also. Very happy with it and its also because of this helpful aticle.

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