I’ve been in the soft furnishings business for getting on for 15 years, so, I get asked for advice quite often. The question I am most often asked is “What sewing machine would you recommend?”.
But, that is not really the question is it ?…it should be “What sewing machine would you recommend for me?”. I could name my favorite sewing machines (and will later in this post), but what I look for in a sewing machine may be the polar opposite from what you are after. With that in mind, here is my basic guide for buying a beginner’s sewing machine:
First, get yourself a pen and paper and a cup of tea (or your favorite beverage of choice), sit yourself down and put your thinking cap on.
Answer these questions honestly and objectively (don’t think too far ahead – answer from your point of view today – not 5 years down the line):
1. What do I really, really want to sew?
Are you buying a sewing machine to make clothes, to make curtains, do you want to use your machine for fancy embroidery projects, or small craft projects? Bear in mind, if you are not an apron person – don’t feel you have to sew one just because one is featured in every single sewing book out there (or maybe it just feels like it is).
2. How much time and space do I plan on devoting to my new hobby?
You may have kicked the kids out of the house and be tearing down their Miley Cyrus posters to make way for your sewing room or you may have the odd spare hour to sew at the dining room table.
3. What is my budget for my hobby?
You can spend a king’s ransom on a sewing machine or as little as £2.00 (no, really £2.00!!).
4. Is this my first sewing machine?
If not, what did you absolutely love about your old machine and what did you loathe about it?
5. Am I a techy geek or a simple soul?
Are you first in the queue for the latest gadget? Or do you prefer something basic but dependable that will last you through to the year 2067?
Hopefully you now have some useful notes to help you track down your perfect machine.
Let’s see what your answers revealed about you sewing machine match.
Question 1: This is the most important question to consider when sizing up your future purchase. Modern sewing machines can come with a squillon (not a real number, but you get my point) stitch options, but in my experience a straight stitch and a zig zag are pretty much all a beginner needs. The exception would be if you are planning to “specialize” in machine embroidery, in which case you’ll need a second mortgage (not quite, but nearly) and a technically more complicated computerised machine.
If you are planning on using your machine for making curtains you will need to pay special attention to the weight of the machine. Most modern machines are incredibly light weight and a long pair of curtains will literally pull the machine off your sewing table making it impossible to get the accurate finish you need. If curtains are going to be your main projects, you may want to consider a second hand vintage machine. These machines are not just pretty faces (although they can definitely be pretty – see mine below), but they are suitably weighty and do a really good job at basic stitches.
For all you dressmakers, a modern machine may be handy for the automatic button hole feature that most contemporary machines seem to have as standard (do check though!) and an over-edge/over-cast stitch can be great for producing a neat but hard wearing seam on bulky fabrics. The rest of those squillon stitches on your modern machine are only going to get very light use – so don’t get carried away with how many stitches are available – they are like twiddly bits on a car – nice to have – but they don’t make the car go brum brum.
If you are going to be concentrating your sewing skills on small craft projects the world is your “lobster”!!*%?…you have the most choice and might need to look at some of your other answers before settling on any machine.
Question 2. “There was never time and space enough” should be my motto. When you are investigating your potential purchase you need to consider whether your machine is going left on display in a part of the house that you share with family and visitors alike or if you have somewhere to pack it away. You maybe a lucky so and so (or should that be sew and sew) and have your own dedicated sewing room where the thread can fly and when you’re done playing you can just close the door behind you (green with envy here). If you are going to leave your sewing machine out in the living room then why not choose something lovely to look at like…
This one is mine too and it also has a nice case…
This is a hand crank sewing machine which is great for a beginner as you are never out of control with your stitch speed. Hand cranks (and treadles) also have the benefit of making a very pleasant noise whilst you sew!
Those with dedicated sewing rooms are free to choose any sewing machine that their other answers point to.
Bear in mind that the amount of time you have available to you can also have a bearing on your perfect machine. If you are only going to use your machine on high days and holidays, you don’t need to be spending a fortune on lots of “bells and whistles” as you are not going to get the benefit of them when you do actually get a chance to sew. If you are finally free to devote hours to your new hobby, you may be willing to invest more money into your purchase.
Speaking of the sordid subject of money…
Question 3. For some of us budget is the biggest consideration when buying a machine. If you are restricted to less than say £80.00 for a machine do not buy a “plastic fantastic” cheap model (well you can, but I wouldn’t recommend it). These machines are built to a price and with an expiry date built in. If this is your budget, I would recommend buying a second hand sewing machine (preferably from before 1970) which was built to last and does basic stitches well. Look for a machine that is in good working order and has a straight stitch and a zig zag stitch. Try and find a local machine that you can collect to save on postage and ask the seller if you can try the machine before you commit to buy). Buying anything second hand is always a bit of a risk, but by purchasing an older machine you are buying something that was meant to run and run, not to keel over just past it’s guarantee date. My two vintage machines cost me £2.00 each from my local auction house (I bought them blind without trying them) and they are 100 times better than the £80 I spent on a modern equivalent (which did not last 1 week).
Question 4. Let’s not make the same mistake twice. If you have previously owned a sewing machine, why did you not get on with it? The only definite way to make sure you are not buying a machine that is no better than your last one, is to try it. Local sewing machine stores are very helpful at letting you try machines and finding one that suits your needs. If you do not have a local sewing machine shop, John Lewis stores will let you have a play before buying. Check out friends or relatives machines. Ask questions, you could even try asking them the questions above to see if their dream machine and yours are one and the same.
If your old machine is on the blink and you did love it before it’s demise – check Yellow Pages to find your local sewing machine servicer/repairer. Oddly enough the modern machine often can’t be saved, but older machines may just need some TLC (my dad worked for “The Singer Sewing Machine Company” many moons ago and the only way Singer could get rid of unwanted machines was to put a sledgehammer through them – otherwise they just kept coming back (like Dracula). If you do have an old Singer machine (electric or hand crank) and you really don’t want to keep it – check out the charity Tools For Self Reliance who send refurbished Singer Sewing Machines to women in Africa.
Question 5. My lovely friend Karen recently asked for my advice on buying a sewing machine (hence this post). She is a proper techy (She introduced me to both my Iphone and Mac laptop). She told me that her current machine was “O.K” she just “didn’t love it”. I told Karen that there is currently no “Apple” equivalent of a sewing machine (feel free to correct me if you think I’m wrong). Apart from some improvement with computerised embroidery, I truly believe that sewing machine have only got worse in recent years not better. As for “loving” you machine, there are some people who prefer UPVC windows and others who prefer wooden windows. Personally I’ve always been a “wooden” windows kind of girl (can you tell?). I just don’t think you can ever love UPVC on windows or sewing machines – no matter how shiny it is.
My very own sewing machines featured above are: Husqvuana Viking and Singer Hand Crank which was made in Clydebank in Scotland – it will be 100 years old next year.