And by I, I mean you.
It’s one of the most common questions in the sewing world, heard from beginners and seasoned seamstresses alike.
A few notes about what to expect from your sewing machine:
If you are buying new, you should not expect a machine under about $150 to be able to handle heavy duty work, i.e. several layers of fabric, denim, fleece, etc. I really wouldn’t expect any new machine under about $300 to be able to handle heavy duty work, at least not very well, though some machines will claim to be heavy duty anyway.
I must advise against buying sewing machines at Walmart. Walmart contracts (and often forces) companies to outsource the manufacturing of their machines to Walmart’s cheaper factories. The result is a machine with the same brand name and model number as sold in other stores, but of lesser quality (thus the lower price). I learned this fact the hard way.
Vintage Machines are King (or Queen)
If you’re on a budget, consider buying a used machine, particularly the vintage all metal models. In fact, even if you’re not on a budget, I’d highly recommend looking into vintage machines before buying new. I’d take a vintage machine over a new one any day. There’s a reason they’ve lasted 30, 50, 100 years. (And that’s the reason sewing machine manufacturers started making the all plastic hunks of junk in stores today… if your product lasts 50 years, it’s going to be a while before you get a repeat customer.)
Oh vintage sewing machines, how I love thee, let me count the ways:
- Vintage sewing machines are workhorses. My vintage machines laugh in the face of heavy fabrics.
- Vintage machines were made at a time that quality manufacturing was the norm.
- Vintage machines are CHEAP!!
Where do you find vintage machines? Start out asking around your family. Lots of moms and grandmas have perfectly good machines stashed away in the attic. Can’t get much better than free!
You can also often find great vintage machines on Craigslist, Ebay, and at garage sales and thrift stores. I have a 1940’s Singer 301 that cost me $30 at a garage sale.
What to look for: If a vintage machine works, you’re pretty much golden. When you’re out looking, take a scrap of fabric and a spool of thread with you to test the machine to make sure it does work. If you can’t test it and you buy it anyway, only to get home and find out it’s not functioning, find a sewing machine repair shop and take it in. A repair and a tune up (which even a working machine could benefit from) will still cost hundreds (and even thousands) less than a new machine of the same caliber.
A few possible issues with vintage machines- most of them lack the dozens of decorative stitches that come on newer machines. Honestly, for most people this shouldn’t be an issue. Decorative stitches are one of those silly things stores like to brag about on the machine specifications, but no one ever uses them. 400 decorative stitches, la de da! I’ve been an avid seamstress for 7-8 years, and I’ve probably used the decorative stitches on my machines once or twice.
Some machines (the Singer 301, for example) are straight stitch machines, meaning they don’t even do a zig zag stitch. (The 301 does have a zig zag attachment, but it really isn’t convenient or practical.) A zig zag stitch allows you to make buttonholes, sew with stretch fabrics, do bar tacks, and more.
How to decide if you need a zig zag machine:
- If you need a machine that can be used to make a variety of things (clothing, bags, curtains, pillows, etc.) you should have a zig zag machine.
- If you know you will be doing a lot of heavy duty work (leather, denim, items with many layers), a workhorse straight stitch machine would be fine.
- If you have room for more than one machine, a heavy duty straight stitch machine is a fantastic asset.
- If you know you’ll only be able to have one machine at a time, make sure you get a zig zag machine.
- If you are new to sewing, get a zig zag machine.
The second issue with older machines is a by-product of their indestructible all-metal construction: they weigh a TON. These are heavy heavy machines. If space, storage, and especially portability is an issue, a new machine might be a better idea.
Now that I have hopefully made my case for vintage machines, on to the new machine recommendations.
Sewing Machines for under $100
Sewing Machines for $100-150
Sewing Machines for $150-200
Sewing Machines for $200-300