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.
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.