Which Sewing Machine Should I Buy?

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

20 thoughts on “Which Sewing Machine Should I Buy?

  1. Hey this is a great guide and I completely agree with the vintage sewing machine sentiment. My boyfriend found an old Brother from the thrift store for $20, I`m not sure how old it is but it`s all metal and such a beaut! He lugged it home too, without a car! Then I met him and now someone actually uses the machine, almost like we were meant to meet (am I talking about the machine or my boyfriend…:P ) Anyways, mine happens to have a zig zag stitch and button hole function. The only thing I need now is a serger….would you be making a guide for that? Because I really do need a serger…

  2. great post! For my first sewing machine, i bought one that was about $100 dollars and a chain craft store and i wish i had the chance to try it out before i bought it. Not only does this specific machine jam horribly (not user error i promise) it just cant handle alot of fabric or work for very long. It really kept me from ever enjoying sewing when you spend 3 hours on a 30 minute project because of jamming and a fickle machine. Luckily I found a like new Kenmore Ultra Stitch 12 in its case in my parents garage! Its from i think 1982 and it really is a workhorse! Its sturdy, perfect stitches, and never had a problem with it! Always make sure to do alot of research and TEST THEM BEFORE YOU BUY 🙂


    1. Yes, I learned that mistake the hard way, myself! Those cheapo plastic machines are more like toys than sewing machines.

  3. I purchased a White (Singer) 1466 model sewing machine from Goodwill for around 40 dollars. It is made of steel and built into a table, allowing the machine to fold down out of sight. Although portability is not one of it’s strong suits, I think it is going to last me a while. It does absolutely everything I need it to (including zig-zag) and it is very good quality. I can’t remember what years this model was manufactured, but I think it was early 70’s. Definitely a good buy!

  4. Really like the post. Also the precious replies of all. I liked the option of buying JAnome marvela. It has 7 in built stitches which is moe then enough more beginners. The application like Fixing,Quilting,Rolled Hemming,Smocking are really good and beneficial. It really gives good designer output.

  5. Vintage sewing machine can take on difficult task even leathers. Their motors are stronger but only more noisy.

    I see a lot of easy modern home sewing machine and nothing still beat my 187 Merritt in terms of strength and robustness

    However, there are a lot of useful function for computerize sewing machine that makes my life easier. As you said, ome stitches though we never use or really need.

    Thanks: Nice article

  6. Considering latest features and economical price, I suggest that brother cs6000i can be considered one of the best sewing machines for tailoring in the economical range.

  7. I’m glad that you mention purchasing used machines that have lasted for a long time. If you do this, it would probably be a good idea to take it to a quality sewing machine repair shop. This could give you the chance to fix any problems so that it’s in good condition. Taking your machine in regularly would probably help it last even longer and give you the chance to fix problems before they get to be an even bigger issue so that you can sew whenever you want to.

  8. Hi, I just bought a Janome HD3000. It is heavy duty. It has all the basics. The reason I went with that is that I had its predecessor New Home (now Janome) 920 from 1981 that finally died after 3 people sewed the heck out of it and that obsolescence thing happened for getting parts. I feel very good about this new machine so far. It is like having a 4-wheel drive for your thick fabrics, but is fine for general sewing. Super basic but solid. I negotiated a 3 year service plan into the deal with the local dealer, because I don’t trust any manufacturers these days, and regular maintenance is a good idea.

  9. Hi Lex,
    the tips you provided was really great. the user should understand the market and their need as well to get a good machine for themselves. for the heavy duty job the buyer should go for a heavy duty machine or some expensive and advance regular sewing machine. thanks for the tips

  10. My granny was really cool when I asked her If I can use her vintage singer machine. I’m going to give it a try. As I mostly work on denims, I think everything will be just fine. However, I’m currently using Brother DZ3000 and its great.

  11. Hey, I like your concept of choosing sewing machine. I agree with your concept of the vintage sewing machine. Really nice tips. Thanks for sharing this with us!

  12. Fantastic post! For my very first sewing machine, I purchased one which has been about $100 bucks plus a chain craft shop and I wish I had the opportunity to check it out until I purchased it. Does this particular machine jam horribly (not user mistake I guarantee ) it simply cant manage alot of cloth or function for long. It actually kept me out of enjoying sewing once you spend 3 hours on a 30 minute job due to jamming along with a machine that was twisted. Fortunately I found a like new Kenmore Ultra Stitch 12 in its own case in my parents garage! Its from I believe 1982 and it is in fact a workhorse! Its sturdy, ideal stitches, and never really had a issue with it!

  13. Hey, I like your concept of choosing a sewing machine. I agree with your concept of the vintage sewing machine. Such an amazing article Thanks for sharing this with us!

  14. Singer are very good, never had any major problems with them. Brother is another excellent brand, but as you I am also a fan of vintage sewing machines as I do have one of my own. It’s more than 50 years old and still works flawlessly… I think mainly it’s because it’s all mechanical, no electronics whatsoever

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