It took me a while before I bought my very own sewing machine. When I started the academy I borrowed an oldie from my grandmother, but did most of the sewing in school. After a year or two I bought my first sewing machine. There were a gazillion machines to choose from, it was overwhelming! After weeks of googling, shopping and interrogating other sewists...I finally decided on a Pfaff Classic 1525 and never looked back :) It rocks and I still use it as my main sewing machine. Once I started working with interns and I needed another sewing machine I opted for a second-hand Pfaff Edition 130 which is another stellar machine. They are work horses that (with the help of many interns) have sewn hundreds and maybe even over a thousand garments! Below you’ll find a couple of tips and thoughts that will hopefully help you in your quest for your first sewing machine.
BORROW BEFORE YOU BUY
- Even if you can only borrow a sewing machine for a month, it will help you make a better choice. You will learn what features you love and it gives you an experience to compare other machines to.
If you have a dealer with a good reputation, consider buying a used sewing machine.
- You will get more machine for you money. I find that in general the older machines have a higher quality build, more metal and less plastic.
- Score a few sustainable karma points by buying second hand.
WHAT IS A GOOD BUDGET?
- €100, - or less will get you started, but you might want/need to upgrade once you get serious about sewing.
- €300, - / 350, - with this budget, you can find used sewing machines that are basic but good quality. My used Pfaff Edition 130 was in that range and the used Bernina 1008 machines I've seen were also in that price range. They are both machines that you can happily work on for years.
- €600, - and up. This is a good starting point for new high-end models. They will have basic options, but a sturdy build.
WHAT STITCHES DO YOU ACTUALLY NEED ON YOUR SEWING MACHINE?
Straight, zig zag and a buttonhole are essentially all you need for basic sewing. In addition, I commonly use the straight stretch stitch and a stitched zig zag. Those last two stitches will take your sewing even further.
- Straight: This is what you will use the most.
- Zig Zag: Finish edges, sew fabrics, sew on buttons and create a bartack for reinforcement.
- Buttonhole: It doesn't matter how many steps your machine needs to make a buttonhole, make sure it looks good.
- Stretch stitch: Use it to reinforce a crotch seam or sew a woven stretch fabric.
- Three step zig zag: Is a handy stitch for sewing on elastic, finishing edges, sewing stretchy fabrics and making lingerie.
BASIC FEATURES TO LOOK FOR
- More than 3 (left - middle - right) needle positions. I switch between needle positions, for top stitching, working on narrow seams, sewing on buttons, etc. It helps me get better results and It makes my sewing life so much easier.
- Free arm. Although you will manage without, it's a great feature when sewing sleeve cuffs or hemming pants. If a machine doesn't have a free arm you might want to reconsider buying it.
- Presser feet. You want a standard presser foot for zig zag and straight, a zipper foot for sewing on regular zippers and a buttonhole foot is all you need to start sewing, however a blind zipper foot would be a nice bonus! You can always pick up special feet along the way, once you specialize in certain fabrics or finishings.
- BONUS FEATURE. It's certainly not a deal breaker when choosing a machine, but I find it a cool feature on my Pfaffs and I wanted to mention it. IDT is a double transport system that is built into many Pfaff sewing machines. It helps to feed top and bottom fabric pieces evenly through the machine. I find it easier to work with slippery fabrics, thick layers and it helps when matching a print or seams. I believe that other brands offer a special foot to create the same effect.
WHAT BRANDS TO BUY?
- Ask your sewing friends & family & the internets. I can only tell you about the brands I have used which are Pfaff and Bernina. I swear by Pfaff, but Bernina is a close second. I've worked on a couple of Bernina 1008 machines that were awesome. Please note that all my experiences are all with models that are at least 10 years old.
AT THE DEALER
- Shop local, because it's easy to return with a quick question, for a demonstration or when your machine needs maintenance or a repair.
- Shop on a quiet day so your dealer has time to answer your questions and set up a machine for a test drive.
- Test drive! Make sure you test the machine or a couple of machines before you buy.
- BYOF or Bring Your Own Fabric (yeah, I just made that one up). They have fabric scraps for you to test the sewing machines, however if you plan on working with specific fabrics, bring a piece and see how it handles your favourite fabric.
- Go often (or give them a call). If you want to buy second-hand, it might take a while for them to get what you are looking for.
- Wait for a deal or ask for a deal. I always ask if they can do something with the price. If they won't drop the price they might give you accessories for your machine. Just by asking I have saved money, got free serger cones and accessories. Need new tools too? Buy everything at once for a better chance of them offering a deal.
What are your top tips for buying a sewing machine? Please share in the comments!
PS: Keep in mind that my experience is primarily in dressmaking you might want other features if you have other plans.PPS: Check out some of my other sewing tutorials on bias binding, mitered corners, sewing corners on a narrow hem