Now that our hand sewing skills are more or less on the same page, it’s time for you to make a very important choice. You can be content with hand sewing and call it a day, or you can take the plunge into the world of sewing machines. For the many who have hand-me-down or years old sewing machines gathering dust on the shelves the answer is probably obvious, but what about the novice sewer who would have to plunk down a hefty chunk of change for a machine—perhaps only to give it up after a few weeks of frustration?
To decide if buying a sewing machine is worth it, you need to ask yourself a couple of questions, starting with “what do I want to sew?” If you’re a mender, historical reenactor, or only interested in sewing enough for simple crafts, I’d say to stick to your trusty hand stitchery. On the other hand, if you’re interested in hemming skirts or curtains, sewing your own clothes, or quilting, I would highly recommend you dip your toe into the mechanical waters and buy your very first sewing machine.
Before you skedaddle on out to your local sewing store (or national craft store if no local store is available), you need to arm yourself with a bit of knowledge so that you don’t end up dropping $1,000 on the top of the line machine that the salesclerk recommends for “anyone serious about sewing”. We’re not being serious right now; we’re learning. We’re looking for “hobbyist” machines, so we don’t necessarily need the top of the line Husqvarna, Pfaff, or Bernina brands. Brother is great and offers some inexpensive entry-level machines, and I have been happy with my good old Kenmore for a decade.
Whatever brand you choose, here’s what to look for in your first machine:
- Priced under $200. Anything over $200 will likely have features you don’t need, overwhelming you and making learning more difficult than it needs to be. (What good is a $200+ paper weight?)
- Multiple stitches. You don’t want to scrimp so much that you end up with a bargain basement machine that can only do a straight stitch. I recommend you look for a machine that can at least straight stitch, zig zag stitch, buttonhole, and blind hem stitch. As an added bonus, the zig zag stitch can double as a serger for homemade clothes!
- A lockable reverse function. My reverse setting requires that I hold an inconvenient lever whenever I want to sew in reverse, which means I’m more likely to physically turn my work than to sew in reverse.
- A free arm. If you don’t have a free arm (pictured), you will not be able to finish cuffs or other small hems, and there’s no point in dropping a couple of hundred dollars on a machine that only works for large projects.
- Bonus: A machine that offers a “drop in” bobbin feature. A machine with a traditional side-loading bobbin case (pictured) works just fine—and can be easier to clean—but drop in bobbins save you the headache of dealing with the traditional side loading bobbin case.
- Bonus 2: Lessons. Try to buy your sewing machine from a shop that offers free instruction on your machine’s operation. If you can’t find a local shop that offers free lessons, many big box craft stores offer inexpensive classes.
Hopefully the above tips will help you select a sewing machine that’s right for you, but don’t be afraid to ask further questions if you have any. Once you get your machine home from the store and set up at your work station (in my case: the coffee table), we’ll get up close and personal with its parts and inner workings—but that’s a post for another day.