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Sewing Machines Buyers Guides

Not sure what sewing machine you're looking for?

We understand that there are so many brands and different models to choose from buying a new sewing machine can be a confusing time. So we have created our Buyers Guides for you to look through and hopefully help you decide on the right machine to suit your needs.  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.


What is the difference in quality?

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 number 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. There are two types of bobbin fittings at this price range front loading* and top loading**. You may also find some entry-level computerised models in this price range.

£200.00 to £249.00

In this price range, most machines may have a top loading bobbin, 1 step buttonhole, adjustable stitch width and length, adjustable foot pressure, heavy-duty feed dog, needle threader, drop feed. A hard cover may be supplied with some models and you may find more computerised entry-level models.

£250.00 to £849.00

In this price range, you are at the top end of the mechanical models. You will find that most models are computerised at this price level. With a computerised machine you get extra features like Speed limiter, Needle up/down control, Stop/start button (see below). Generally, the computerised models have more stitches. As you go up in the price range of the computerised models you may get font stitches (alphabet and numbers), memory function, stitch combination, underbed thread cutter (scissors button - machine cuts the top and bottom threads). Some models have a larger throat space which is ideal for quilting or for larger projects. You may also find lots of different extras with certain models, like extra feet (walking foot, free hand embroidery foot, 1/4" foot) or extension tables and quilting kits.

£850.00 to Top of the Range

In this price range, you will find these model will have hundreds of stitches; utility/quilting/heirloom/decorative/fonts. Most models at this price range have larger throat spaces from approximately 8" up to 13". Some models will have auto tension. You are also entering into the machine hoop embroidery models (Please check our machine embroidery buyers guide for more information).


Front or top loading bobbin explained

Front Loading

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.

Top Loading

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 flatbed 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.</p>

Stretch Stitches

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&rsquo;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).</p>

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&rsquo;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.

Stitch Memory

Again found on computerised machines, this enables the user to string patterns together.

Information Window

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.

Needle Threader

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.

Automatic Tension

Modern tension units give very few problems provided they are threaded correctly and so automatic tensions don&rsquo;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.

Drop Feed

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.


Overlockers Buyers Guide

A common misconception is that an overlocker will do everything that a sewing machine will do and more. Overlockers are professional machines which are used together with a sewing machine and not instead of a sewing machine.

Although they can be quite versatile, the basic task of an overlocker is to trim and wrap the edge of the fabric, preventing it from fraying. The overlock stitch can be seen in the construction of most factory made garments.

They can also be used for sewing seams, rolled hems, attaching tape, elastic, beads, etc and blind hemming. However, some tasks require special attachments and not all attachments are available for all overlockers, especially the lower priced models.

The process of choosing an overlocker is different from a sewing machine. Whereas the price of a sewing machine increases as the capability and amount of features increase, features available with an overlocker are not as extensive. Instead, most overlockers will perform similar tasks but the more expensive overlockers will cope better with difficult fabrics and will also be easier to thread.


Under £200.00

These overlockers are ideal for general domestic situations.

A 4 thread machine which can be converted to be used as a 3 or 4 thread and it will have a differential feed. Other standard features are an easy to follow colour coded thread path, adjustable stitch length and cutting width and an instructional video or DVD will be included.

It may also have an easy change rolled hem device and include some extra attachments.

£200.00 - £300.00

These overlockers will include all the features of the previous price range plus be capable of trimming and overlocking a wide range of fabrics from delicate lightweights to heavy soft furnishings.

The tensions units will be the "lay in" type and the left looper will have an easy threading device.

As well a 3 or 4 thread combinations, it may be capable of being used with just 2 threads and it will have an easy change rolled hem.

Over £300.00

These overlockers are serious professional machines which will be of solid construction and capable of daily use. They may have unique features such as the Jet Airs which "blow" the thread through the guides (or tubes as they are on those models), computer controlled or automatic tensions which adjust for various stitch combinations and built-in cover hem.


2, 3, 4 or 5 thread

As the price of overlockers has come down, 3 thread overlockers have largely been discontinued with 4 thread machines replacing them as the entry models.

Not every task requires 4 threads to be used so 4 thread overlockers can be used with only 3 threads and some of the more expensive models can be used with 2, 3 or 4 threads.

5 thread machines are even more versatile offering a variety of stitch combinations.



Where as a sewing machine has a top thread and a bobbin thread underneath, an overlocker doesn&rsquo;t.

A 4 thread overlocker, for example, will have 2 needle threads and 2 looper threads. The needle threading is similar to that of a sewing machine but the loopers are instead of a bobbin.

A right (or upper) looper is again, straight forward to thread but may require tweezers (included with every overlocker). To thread the left (lower) looper may require tweezers or may have an easy threading device.

Threading is often the biggest concern for customers buying their first overlocker but every overlocker displays a colour coded thread path and they also come with a video or DVD and a fully illustrated instruction book.

The easiest way to rethread an overlocker (although often frowned upon by some demonstrators as they say the customer doesn&rsquo;t learn to thread their machine) is to cut the threads at the back and tie on the new colour. The threads can then be pulled individually through the guides.



Each thread has its own numbered tension control (same colour as the appropriate thread path) which are factory set for a balanced stitch and it is helpful to make a note of these numbers for future reference.

The entry models have the "wrap around" front tensions which are on the front of the machine and providing the user makes sure that the thread is located correctly in the tension unit, threading is straight forward.

The mid to upper range machines have the more user friendly "lay in" tensions which are situated along the top of the machine.


Stitch Combinations

2 thread

Uses one needle and the left (lower) looper threaded. This stitch is the most basic form of overedging and simply wraps the edge. Ideal for situations where you don&rsquo;t want the edge to be too bulky. However, the seam will not be secure and a lockstitch would be required.

3 thread

Uses one needle and both loopers. This stitch is ideal for overedging single layers but will need a lockstitch for secure seams.

4 thread

The most popular combination using 2 needles and 2 loopers. This can be used to sew secure seams as the second needle acts as a safety stitch preventing the seam from coming undone.

5 thread

These can have a variety of combinations but the most popular gives a straight chain stitch away from the overedging stitches/


Differential Feed

Every full size overlocker on the market today has a differential feed but, although it can help to give a neater finish, it is often neglected.

This feature adjusts one of two individual feed dogs and by doing so, gives better results when overlocking lightweight or stretch fabrics.

When stretch fabrics are overlocked using a machine with a standard feed, the fabric may appear wavy and fluted. By adjusting the differential feed, the edge will be flat and the finish will be neater.

Similarly, lightweight fabrics may be puckered after overlocking but this will be corrected by adjusting the differential feed.


Rolled Hem

This finish is ideal for lightweight fabrics, especially bridal.

It is achieved by using one needle, three threads and by adjusting the tensions and using a very short stitch length, the edge of the fabric will roll over and is encased by the closed up stitching.


Cover Hem

This stitch can only be achieved using a cover hem only machine or a combined overlocker and cover hem machine.

Used mainly for hemming and covering a raw edge in one operation, the stitch wraps the edge under the fabric and has double or triple lines of stitching on the right side.