Buying a new machine should be fun – after all, you’re excited about all the beautiful things you see yourself making once you have it! But making a decision can be rather daunting.
New vs 2nd hand: I find my clients are usually surprised how affordable a new sewing machine is and often consider buying 2nd hand before looking at the prices of a new machine. Currently, you can buy a new machine for almost the same price as a sewing machine service would cost. So I suggest buying a new machine as you just don’t know which parts are worn and may give in at any time (this might not be the case for industrial machines and overlockers).
But please DO save any sewing machines your family might not be using anymore – older machines are very sturdy and often work perfectly well after a good clean and a bit of sewing machine oil. If it is seized up or you are looking to pass an old machine on, please consider donating to a charity like Workaid who will fix and put it to good use.
Function: You only need 3 stitches on your machine to do basic and even intermediate sewing – clothing repairs, alteration, making garments, interiors and some but not all upholstery (projects with thicker fabric will require an industrial sewing machine):
- Straight stitch: Basic stitch used for most construction
- Zig-zag stitch: is used to sew around the edge of fabric (to prevent fraying) if you do not have an overlocking machine. You don’t need an overlocker – it simply looks neater and more professional and saves time by combining the straight stitch and anti-fraying stitch into one, so saves time.
- Button hole stitch: At some point you will need to make button holes (not as daunting as it might seem) so good to have.
- Adjustable stitch length: This allows you to set your machine to any variation of stitch length – machines without this can only be set to specified lengths: usually small, medium or long stitches. It is definitely a benefit to have complete control of the length, especially for appliqué.
- Adjustable stitch width: Most machines have a variety of width options for zig zag stitch. A separate stitch width selector dial is preferable as it also adjusts the needle position when doing straight stitch and will therefore help precision sewing when attempting more advanced dressmaking techniques. Essentially if you plan on sewing zips and can afford it, get it!
Bobbin position: Top-loading (drop-in) vs front loading: Generally speaking, a top-loading bobbin slot, is easier to work with. Front loading bobbins are more fiddly and there is a bit more likely to get thread jammed. Don’t be concerned if your is front loading – it’ll work perfectly fine!
Where to shop: In store or online is fine. I suggest you buy your machine from a sewing machine specialist (as opposed to online 2nd hand websites or a department store or your cousin Vinny) who has after sales support, technical advice and helpline, parts and sometimes offer a free session to get-to-know-your-machine once purchased. You may never need these services but if you do you’ll probably get them free in many instances.
Machine supplier prices are not more expensive so it’s a bargain to have this peace of mind and support at hand. You’ll probably get your machine back sooner and have direct contact with the supplier who usually have a technical / repair workshop. A department store is likely to send their product away for investigation / repair to the supplier.