Sewing Machines Buyers Guide
From the following list, decide which features you require BEFORE buying your machine as they cannot be added after. That said, don’t pay for features you will never use.
Entry Model to £199.00
In this price range, quantity is very often considered more important than quality. Customers will regularly decide to purchase one machine over another because it has more built in stitches. However, when you consider that the vast majority of sewing will be done using the straight or zig zag stitch, the amount of built in stitches becomes less important.
Having 30 fancy stitches is not very helpful when your machine is struggling to stitch the heading tape to your half made curtains! Therefore, basic quality, width and / or length adjustment, and, if you intend to use them, buttonholes (1 step or 4 step) are all important considerations and the number decorative stitches should only be a factor if they are going to be used regularly.
£200.00 to £249.00
In this price range, the machine should have a top loading bobbin and also be equipped with adjustable foot pressure and a heavy duty feed dog. A hard cover should be supplied and an automatic needle threader may also be fitted.
£250.00 to £849.00
In this price range, the machine will be computerised having features such as various buttonhole styles (including keyhole) and stitch memory. It may also have built in alphabet and numbers.
£850.00 to Top of the Range
In this price range, the machine will have automatic hoop embroidery capabilities, built in embroidery designs and computer link.
Front or Top Loading Bobbin
This is where the bobbin case has to be removed from the machine so the bobbin can be loaded into it. Found mostly in the lower price bracket, this mechanism has been around for years. Also known as a CB (central bobbin) machine, the hook oscillates back and forth around the bobbin case picking up the thread and forming the stitch. Although not as refined as the top loader, kept lubricated and free of lint and it will give little trouble.
Unlike the front loading design, the bobbin case remains in place for threading and only has to be removed for cleaning. This system is easier to use as the bobbin drops in from the top and if fitted with a see thru plate, the amount of thread left on the bobbin can be easily seen. Other advantages are because the hook rotates rather than oscillates the machine is quieter running, causes less vibration and less likely to jam.
Some manufacturers use a combination of the two and produce an industrial type system which is front loading but rotary. This mechanism has similar qualities to the top loading mechanism.
Flat Bed / Free Arm
Today, it will be difficult to buy a machine without this facility. An attachment box or table can be removed from the machine converting it from a flat bed to free arm. The free arm can be used for any difficult to sew areas but especially trouser hems, etc.
Separate Length / Width Controls
Some machines, mainly in the lower price bracket will not have adjustable length AND width controls. Instead of 3 dials (stitch selector, length and width) they only have 1 (where the width and length are preset for all patterns) or 2 (usually stitch selector with variable length). It is a huge advantage to anyone who will be using more than just the straight stitch to have separate length and width controls so each stitch pattern can be set exactly to suit the fabric.
Adjustable Foot Pressure
Again, this is more or less standard on mid range machines and above. This facility is a must when sewing bulky materials (such as fleece) which can be difficult for the machine to feed evenly. The presser foot pressure can be increased making the feed dog grip the material and sew perfect even stitches. The pressure can be reduced when sewing delicate materials such as silk which may easily mark.
Some machines have "automatic" foot pressure, the idea being the pressure adjusts for the thickness of material placed under the foot. In theory, a good idea but in practice, these machines may not cope with the full range of fabric weights.
6 or 7 Piece Feed Dog
The quadrilateral 6 or 7 piece box feed dog helps grip the fabric as it is being sewn delivering perfect even stitches. Excellent for buttonholes and other satin stitches.
Nearly all machines have an automatic buttonhole facility. 4 step buttonholes, where the user turns a dial to sew each side of the buttonhole are mostly on the entry models. The 1 step buttonhole is by far the easiest and a must for users who regularly sew buttonholes. The button is loaded into the buttonhole foot and the machine will sew the 4 sides of the buttonhole in 1 step to match the size of the button.
Special stitches, available on all except the most basic where the machine sews backwards automatically as well as forwards to achieve various stitch patterns. Handy not only when sewing stretch fabrics but also for when reinforcing seams, overlocking or when decorative stitching is required.
Electronic Speed Limiter
This refers to an adjustable slide which sets the maximum speed that the machine will sew with the foot control fully depressed. Therefore, you don’t have to "hover" your foot over the foot control to sew at a steady speed. Very handy when quilting or sewing around curves, corners, etc. Machines with this adjustment also have the Needle Up / Down feature (See Below).
AC and DC motors
AC motors are usually found on basic to mid range machines. DC motors are often fitted in computerised machines or mechanical machines which have electronic speed control.
DC motors have the advantage of being more controllable and offer better needle penetration at slower speeds.
Needle Up / Down
This button lowers the needle into the material so you don’t have to turn the balance wheel.
Handy for pivoting around corners, etc.
When the machine stops, the last stitch will have been completed and the needle will always stop at the end of the needle bar stroke.
Auto Lock Seam Stitch
Found on computerised machines, this feature locks the stitch by automatically reversing at the start of the seam.
Again found on computerised machines, this enables the user to string patterns together.
This is a guide built into the machine which recommends which presser foot, tension, stitch width and stitch length to use for that particular stitch. Like having the instruction book in front of you at all times. Mostly found on computerised machines but also on some mechanical machines.
Built in needle threaders are helpful but certainly not essential. A small hook locates behind the needle and through the eye. The thread is then placed into the hook and is taken through the eye as the hook is withdrawn.
Modern tension units give very few problems provided they are threaded correctly and so automatic tensions don’t have huge advantages over regular tension units. Leaving the tension dial midway, around 4 or 5 (on a 0 to 10 scale) and providing the same thickness of thread is used both top and bottom, the tension dial should rarely need adjusting whether automatic or not.
Only handy for users who do free hand embroidery or darning. If the machine does not have this facility then it will have a plate to cover the feed.