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How to Buy a Sewing Machine: Choosing Your New Best Friend

So you want to buy a sewing machine. The options are endless—so endless, in fact, that buying a sewing machine can be incredibly intimidating, especially for beginners. More experienced sewists may have a better idea of what they’re looking for, as previous sewing machines may have had features that they liked or would prefer to do without. But for beginning sewists, buying a sewing machine is totally overwhelming.

Well, have no fear! We at AllFreeSewing are here to help. If you’re a beginner sewist out to buy your first sewing machine, keep these simple tips in mind and the whole process will be fuss free.

Home Machine or Industrial?

Antique Home Sewing Machine

The first decision you’ll have to make as you set out to choose your new sewing machine is whether you want a home or heavy duty sewing machine. I know it can be tempting to fall for all the bells and whistles that industrial sewing machines offer, but be honest with yourself: are you going to need it? How often do you plan to sew? If this is a machine that you’ll be using almost every day, or if you’ll be making items to sell, it may be worth the price to buy an industrial machine, as they tend to deliver a bit of a neater stitch and are often much faster than home machines. Keep in mind, however, that industrial machines are exponentially more expensive than home machines—they can come with a price tag of up to $2000.

Oh, For the Good Old Days

To compare, good home machines generally cost between $200-$600, depending on how many features and extras the machine has. For a beginner sewist who plans to use her machine a few times a week, these machines are going to be a great fit. They are far more portable than industrial machines and tend to be a bit simpler to use.

Another thing you need to ask yourself is: What type of projects do you want to tackle? Home machines are built to handle a large variety of sewing tasks, from quilting to tailoring, whereas some industrial machines are a bit more specialized. This is, of course, not always the case, and you can certainly find industrial machines that are able to sew the kinds of projects you’re making. But it is something to keep in mind.

Sight, Sound, Touch

The very first thing you want to do when you’re looking at sewing machines is, well, sew something. Pay attention to the sights and sounds that the machine makes as you’re using it. Does the motor sputter or kick? Does it sound like there’s something grinding or bumping? You want your stitching to run as smoothly as possible, and one of the best ways to tell whether or not your motor has an issue is just to listen to it. A nice, single-tone hum usually indicates that all is well “under the hood.”

Straight and Zigzag StitchesNow, look at the stitches that you’ve made. Are they even? If your stitches vary in length (for example, if one stitch is twice as long as the next) then that means your machine is skipping a stitch, which will cause endless headaches and problems down the road. So be sure that each stitch is the same length. Turn the fabric over—do the stitches look the same on the back as they do in the front? Ideally, you don’t want to be able to tell which side of the fabric is meant to be the “visible” side (at least, not by the stitches).

Sewing machines are complex beasts, so be sure that you thoroughly understand the way that your potential new sewing machine works before you invest. Do you want a front-loading bobbin, which yields a bit of a smoother stitch, or a drop-in, which is a bit easier to load and manage? Is the machine easy to thread, or is the process so complicated that it will put you off your projects before you even begin?

One detail that a lot of people don’t take into consideration is the weight of the machine itself. Many companies are replacing the heavy metal parts with a lighter plastic, making machines more portable and cheaper. This is great for our wallets, but can become an issue if you’re working with particularly heavy fabric. Are you planning to sew any kind of drapery or heavily weighted fabric? If this is the case, be sure you get a machine with a bit of weight to it; after all, you want the fabric to move during the sewing process, not the machine!

Finally, check the pedal. Not only do you want to make sure that it’s comfortable and easy to use, but also that it’s an actual foot pedals. Some sewing machines, particularly antiques, use the knee to control the speed. If you’re a beginner sewist, I don’t recommend this particular feature. They can be a bit tricky to get used to, and you’re better off just sticking with the trusty foot pedal.

The 3 Keys

Whatever else you decide to do, there are three key features that you should double, triple, and quadruple check that your sewing machine has:

  1. A straight stitch. This is the stitch that you will use most often, on almost every project. I can’t imagine that you’d find a machine without it, but still, double check! The symbols for stitch patterns are universal across all machines, and the one for the straight stitch looks like this:straight
  2. A zigzag stitch. You’ll use this stitch often when quilting or sewing a bit heavier fabric. You can also use the zigzag stitch to sew button holes (I’ve often found it preferable to using the actual button-hole setting).  That symbol looks like this:


  3. Most importantly, because there are machines which don’t include this feature, make sure your machine can backstitch! Backwards stitching is so helpful, especially when you want to end a stitch with a really sturdy knot. Unfortunately, this symbol isn’t necessarily universal, and not all machines have it, so you’ll want to check with the company to make sure that the machine is capable of stitching backwards.

+ Bonus:

This symbol is the symbol for a stretch stitch:


This is a useful feature to have, but totally unnecessary; you can use a straight stitch and be totally fine. Don’t let it make or break your decision, but if it comes down to two machines and one has the feature while the other doesn’t, it can be a handy tool.

So there you go, sewists! You have all the information you need to buy a sewing machine. Good luck, and have fun!

CharmedLiebling Winner's Choice Pattern GiveawayPlus! After you’ve selected your sewing machine, don’t forget to enter the AllFreeSewing and charmedLiebling giveaway to win a free purse pattern! Enter here once a day, every day until December 9th!


Did we miss anything? Do you have any questions or tips?