The Thimbles Quilt Shop Guide to Buying a Sewing Machine

Whether you’re buying your first-ever sewing machine or looking to upgrade to a newer model, there are several questions you should ask yourself before you make the plunge:

  1. What is your level of experience? 
  2. What will you be sewing?
  3. What features are most important to you?
  4. How many stitches do you need?
  5. Do you prefer manual or electronic/programmable?
  6. What is your budget? 
  7. How much space do you have for usage & storage?
  8. Will you need to take your sewing machine to classes or events? 

Today, we’ll walk you through each one so that you will feel confident that you are buying the right sewing machine for YOU!

woman using sewing machine

Question #1: What is your level of experience? 

If you are completely new to sewing, a basic machine is a good place to start. Fewer features means that you won’t have to pay for a lot of bells and whistles you most likely don’t need when starting out - plus, a basic model provides a relatively low entry price point.

If this isn’t your first sewing machine, you are probably an intermediate or experienced sewist who is ready for an upgrade. You might be wishing for those extra bells and whistles which don’t typically come with a basic model (which we’ll delve deeper into later in this post!).

Question #2: What will you be sewing? 

The answer to this question should be twofold: first, you’ll want to consider the types of projects you’ll be making. Some examples here would include sewing garments, making quilts, sewing home decor items, or performing alterations and occasional mending. For example, the machine we would recommend for someone who wishes to make large quilt projects would differ from what we’d recommend for a person who just wants to make some alterations every now and again. 

The second thing you’ll want to consider is the materials you’ll be working with. For example, materials such as heavy denims and canvases will require a sturdier machine (not to mention, a sturdier needle!); stretchier fabrics such as knits and jerseys would be better served with a serger rather than a sewing machine.

quilting with a baby lock sewing machine

Question #3: What features are most important to you? 

Your answers to the previous question will most likely inform your list of must-have features. Garment-makers will of course want many buttonhole options; quilters will appreciate features such as free-arm sewing or a built-in extension table; built-in embroidery designs might be high on your list, especially if you like to make projects for gifts or upcycle found objects, for example. 

Question #4: How many stitches & features do you need?

Again, this answer will vary based on the previous questions, but the basics that virtually every sewist needs is a straight stitch, a zigzag stitch, a stretch stitch, and a back-stitch. Additionally, a good buttonhole stitch, stretch/knit stitch, and blind hem stitch can all come in handy.

When it comes to features, the ability to easily control speed should be high on your list; a free arm gives you much more flexibility as you work, and good lighting can make all the difference in the world. Also nice to have (but not essential): a needle threader, a thread cutter, the ability to manually move your needle up and down, the ability to change the position of your needle, and a knee lifter.

Bernina Bernette Computerized sewing machine

Question #5: Do you prefer manual or electronic/programmable?

For many, this question comes down to personal preference. If you struggle with technology in other areas of your life, having to learn how to program your sewing machine might be a daunting (if not insurmountable) task - a manual machine would fall within your comfort zone. Manual machines also require less maintenance, are lighter weight (since they don’t need to house a computer), and typically easier to fix should an issue arise.  

Conversely, those who are more tech-savvy might prefer the ease with which a specific setting or stitch can be programmed. Keep in mind, however, that the computerized element of these machines  will add extra weight, and also means that servicing will need to be done on a more regular basis by a professional. 

Question #6: What is your budget?

The answer to this question will largely impact how many of those bells and whistles your machine will have; keeping in mind your answers to the previous questions, we strongly recommend purchasing the most expensive machine you can reasonably afford. This will ensure that you don’t “outgrow” your machine in a year’s time. 

Another thing to consider is the cost of additional accessories: if your machine only includes a few types of attachments or feet, you’re probably going to be purchasing the ones you didn’t get at the time of purchase later down the road. Depending on the manufacturer, these accessories might be more expensive than you bargained for! It’s possible that the model in the next price tier includes some or all of those accessories in the purchase price, which might be worth considering at the time of purchase. 

modern sewing room

Question #7: How much space do you have for usage or storage?

If you’re short on space, a smaller model that can be easily tucked away when not in use will be more practical than a large machine that is a permanent fixture on your work table. Additionally, if you live in a small space (especially if you share it with other people!), noise will be another factor to consider. A quieter machine means that you don’t have to worry about the time of day that inspiration strikes, so be sure to try out the machines you’re interested in to gauge the level of noise they produce. 

Question #8: Will you need to take your sewing machine to classes or events? 

For sewists who plan to take their sewing on the go, a lightweight model suited to travel is ideal. Also keep in mind that a heavier machine is usually more durable, as it can house a larger motor, and most likely contains more metal parts (as opposed to plastic). 

Besides considering the weight of the machine, also think about how much room you will have in whatever mode of transportation you’ll be taking. If you’re traveling by car, you’ll want to make sure it can fit into your back seat and trunk along with any luggage or additional supplies you’ll need to take along; for those traveling by plane, train, or bus, you’ll want to ensure that your machine fits in its carrying case and/or your luggage, and that it will fit in the available storage compartments. 

 baby lock zest sewing machine for travel

Once you have the answers to the above questions in mind, contact us at the show so we can match you up to the perfect sewing machine for you! We are proud to be authorized retailers for Baby Lock and Bernina, which allows us to offer perks such as free mastery classes for customers who have purchased their machines in our shop. Mastery classes cover everything from basic functions to navigating special features, set-up-screens, feet, and maintenance. Our knowledgeable staff can help you every step of the way, from choosing the materials for your first (or next) project, to finding the right class to take your skills to the next level. We can’t wait to see you! 

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The Thimbles Quilt Shop Guide to Buying a Sewing Machine