Buying a sewing machine can be hard if you don’t know exactly what you want and what types of models are available.
In this article, we will explain what types of sewing machines there are and how to figure out exactly what kind of machine will fit your needs.
Table of Contents
First, we can separate all types of sewing machines in two groups: 1) Models for home use and 2) Industrial models.
In this article, we will only look at sewing machines for home use.
3 questions to ask yourself (to find the best machine)
Before we can find the perfect model for your specific needs, there’s a couple of questions you should start by asking yourself.
At first glance, it might seem like there are a lot of different types of sewing machines for you to choose. But unless you’re (only) doing specialized work like quilting or embroidery you should normally choose a good standard sewing machine.
Let’s dive in and look at some good questions to ask before you make up your mind.
#1 What type of projects will you be doing?
This can be a difficult question to answer if you don’t know much about sewing machines.
If you’re looking for your first model, and you don’t know exactly what you will be using the machine for, you should definitely go for a good standard model from one of the bigger brands. But stay tuned anyway, because we will educate you a bit before you go out shopping.
But if you know you will do some quilting or maybe you are into creative embroidery work, you should choose a sewing machine with a broader throat and a long free arm. But now we are getting ahead of ourselves 🙂
Just think about what types of project you like to do.
And if you don’t know that yet, and maybe you don’t even know what quilting and embroidery are, you should go with a basic sewing machine with as many features as possible.
#2 What is your budget?
The next question you need to ask yourself is how much money you’re willing to spend.
There are a ton of different sewing machines in all sorts of price ranges and you can definitely get a very good basic model for a few hundred dollars or even less. So don’t feel like you need to pull out of the big wallet in order to get a high-quality machine.
However, you also need to steer clear of the cheapest models and we will come back to what you should look for like a minimum of features.
#3 How tech-savvy are you?
Most people learn to sew on a mechanical model.
If you started sewing anytime before the year 2000, you have probably learned to sew on a mechanical model. Sewing machines today can be super advanced computerized models with a ton of features.
So you need to figure out whether you want a basic mechanical model or you should go for a more advanced computerized model.
That being said, you shouldn’t be afraid to try a computerized model. If you can operate a smartphone, you would definitely also be able to operate one of the computerized models. They are very straightforward in the design and with the touch of a button, you can easily find all the stitches and settings you need.
On the mechanical sewing machine, you will do everything yourself. When you take your foot off the pedal, the needle will stop at a random position.
On the computerized model, you can choose whether is the needle should stop at a high or low position. You also get a lot more stitches with the computerized models.
Another nice feature with the computerized models is related to buttonholes.
When your sewing a buttonhole on the mechanical model, you have to measure and do everything yourself. But with the computerized model that machine will actually sew the perfect buttonhole after it measured the button for you.
These are just a few examples of the differences treating a mechanical and computerized sewing machine. Unless you’re absolutely certain you cannot operate anything that is a little technical in the beginning, you should absolutely consider buying a computerized model. It might take a little a while getting used to but in the long run, you will really benefit from it.
What to look for on a sewing machine
If you are new into sewing and you don’t know exactly what type of machine is the right one for you? Again, you should definitely go for a good basic sewing machine.
The reason is that the more specialized sewing machines (as we will see below) are only good for one type of project and can often not be used for normal sewing projects.
Now the question that remains is what type of basic sewing machine you should get.
And this is basically a question about money.
It’s always nice to have a machine with a ton of features so you can do all kinds of projects down the road. Some machines are simply too basic and can only be used to learn sewing or if you are 12 years old.
Let’s take a look at the basic features you always want your machine to have, and then continued looking at more nice-to-have features.
Must-have features (for every sewing machine)
Before you get into the list of features you should always have on your machine, you need to know about these two elements of the machine:
- The throat size of the machine
- The extension table
This is the throat size:
Other types of projects will require and a good size extension table.
The extension table is the table part that extends to the left side of the needle. This is a great option to have when you’re working with bigger pieces of fabric or if you’re working with folding leg designs.
These tables can be built into the machine, but for most machines for home use, the extension table can be taken off so you can store it easily. Otherwise, they normally have to be mounted permanently on your sewing table which is not ideal for sewing in your home.
This is the table extension size:
If you get a good basic sewing machine with the long arm and a good extension table, you will definitely have a sewing machine you can use for many years to come.
Most of the machines from the top brands can do all kinds of sewing, But some sewing techniques are easier to perform on a machine with a bigger throat (long arm). Check the photos above, if you don’t know exactly what the throat and the extension table is.
These are the five basic features we believe every sewing machine should have.
1) Free Arm
You need to be able to remove the accessory tray to access the free arm.
Almost every machine today would let you slide off the accessory tray. But if you find a machine where you cannot remove it, you shouldn’t buy it. If you are looking at used models (or very old models) you might still be able to find a sewing machine without the option of a free arm.
We want to be able to access the free arm for a lot of different purposes:
- Hemming pants
When you want to hem a pair of pants you need to be able to slide it onto the free arm of the sewing machine. Otherwise, you would be sewing the two pieces of fabric together and you wouldn’t be able to put your leg into the pants.
The same thing goes for sleeves which are also a tube-shaped piece of fabric.
- Round garments
For all round and narrow projects, you need to be able to slip the tube unto the arm. This won’t be possible if you cannot remove the accessory tray or the extension table.
2) Buttonhole Stitch
Another basic feature we need on our sewing machine is the buttonhole stitch.
Most machines will let you do buttonholes. Some machines will do it in one step while other machines do it as a four-step process. Either way is fine as long as you can do that buttonhole.
There’s a good reason we want your machine to be able to do this. Because it is very difficult to sew a buttonhole by freehand without help from the sewing machine. This is not something you need to think about if you are looking for a computerized model.
They would all have a wide selection of buttonhole stitches to choose from right out of the box.
If this is your first machine, you don’t need a ton of different buttonhole stitches to choose from. One or two will do the job just fine. Normally cheaper sewing machines will do a four-step buttonhole which is fine in most cases.
3) Automatic Needle Threader
You also want an automatic needle threader.
Believe me, after threading your machine hundreds of times, you will really want this feature.
Just like the first two features were mentioned above this is also something you can expect from all decent sewing machines from the bigger brands. But if you’re buying a used model or you are looking at some of the cheapest models on the market you should definitely check this option before you buy anything.
When you have the automatic needle threader system, you won’t have to mess around with a needle in order to hit that little eye of the needle with the thread.
Just by sliding the thread down the shaft of the needle the automatic threader arm will make sure you hit a bullseye every time.
Each brand has its own system. And they are all doing a really good job for the most part. So there’s no need to worry about this if you’re going with one of the bigger brands. If you are buying a machine for an elderly person or a kid, you should make absolutely sure the machine can thread itself.
4) Enough space around the work area
Some sewing machines are so tiny little that you cannot really work with it.
Make sure the throat of the machine isn’t too narrow.
You need to be able to have a certain amount of fabric at the right side of the needle, and if the throat is super narrow, this is simply not possible.
Otherwise, you will have troubled sewing projects like curtains (long pieces of fabric) as well as basic embroidery projects etc. You need to be able to move the fabric around without touching the machine. Try to sit in front of the machine and a imagine sewing on it and make sure you can reach around the needle area easily.
It’s also really nice to have an extension table with enough space to the left side of the needle. But that is not a clear must-have, so we’ll leave that to the nice-to-have section.
5) Make sure it is still being produced
The last thing on our must-have list is something most people don’t think about until they have a problem with the machine.
When you need to take it to the shop one day it’s very important that they can actually get a new part to replace the broken part. If the machine is not being produced anymore the price of the different parts tend to go up significantly.
If the machine is not being produced anymore the repair shop will have to buy used machines in order to get the spare parts. This takes time as you cannot know which part still function well on a broken machine.
It’s not the best solution for you either, because replacing an old part with another old part might only buy you a bit of time before it might break again.
This is an important way to future-proof your machine and make sure you don’t have to spend more money than you have to when you need to get it repaired.
Here’s a good list of other features you might want on your machine as well.
(Depending on what types of projects you like to do.)
It’s really nice to have a lot of creative stitches to choose from. Once in a while, you might feel like doing a creative project with your machine and you have a lot more options with a wide selection of stitches.
You don’t need an embroidery machine in order to get a good selection of creative stitches.
Most computerized models would’ve come with a great variety of stitches, especially if you’re willing to pay at a couple of hundred dollars for your machine.
Here’s a sample of stitches you can do on the standard sewing machine from Singer:
This is a sewing machine that cost around $300 and it’s one of the five most sold sewing machines from the last year (according to Amazon). You can find it here at Amazon.
Getting a model like the one above might save you a lot of bucks in the long run. If you want to do a lot of embroidery projects in the future you might have to buy an additional sewing machine with these options, if you did not get it with your first model.
A long extension table
This is also a really nice feature to have.
Make sure the accessory tray isn’t too small. You need space around the needle in order to work with the fabric properly. Having that extra space at the left side of the needle will also make it a lot easier to sew straight. Otherwise, the fabric will easily fall down on the left side and it will create a pull on the fabric. When that happens your machine will pull left.
There’s a reason we wrote to separate post about “why the machine might pull left“.
We also need extended table space when we are working on bigger projects. If you are sewing a dress and you move the fabric around to get all the small details right you would really benefit from having a good long extension table for your machine.
What if I don’t know what types of sewing I would be doing?
As we mentioned above a good basic sewing machine from one of the bigger branches is often the best way to go.
This is especially true if this is your first sewing machine and you don’t know exactly what type of project you are going to take on. With the newer basic sewing machine models, we can do all sorts of projects. The same is not true for the specialized models as we will see in the next section.
The 5 most sold sewing machines
We have written and a separate article about the top5 most sold sewing machines in the United States.
This is a very good place to start if you are looking for a basic model with as many features as possible at a low price point.
5 special machine types for special projects
You can get specialized sewing machines that only do special tasks like quilting, embroidery, cover stitches, etc.
Note: These specialized machines can typically not be used for normal sewing. But a good standard sewing machine can often to some extend be used for specialized tasks like embroidery, quilting etc.
These are the six special types of sewing machines:
- Serger/Overlock Machines
- Quilting Machines and Sewing/Quilting Combo Machines
- Quilting Machines
- Embroidery Machines
- Sewing/Embroidery Combos
- Coverstitch Machines
This might sound very confusing but it’s really not.
If you want to do basic sewing projects with your machine (hemming, buttonholes, straight sewing, etc.) we can pretty quickly rule out some of the categories for you. As you will see below, these special types of sewing machines are only for specialized work.
Let’s take a good look at the 6 different types of specialized sewing machines, and briefly go over what they are used for.
This is a very specific type of machine that you will only use for specific tasks.
The Serger machine will have up to 5 threads going at the same time. It will trim off the edges of the fabric as you sew, and finish the edges all at the same time. So this is not your average sewing machine.
You wouldn’t buy this machine unless you already have a good standard sewing machine.
I have one of the Bernina sergers and it’s a really great machine to have. It lets me trim off the edges as I sew. It saves me a lot of time. But we only bought this machine after we already had a good standard sewing machine.
Quilting Machines and Sewing/Quilting Combo Machines
As mentioned above, having a machine with a long arm is always a nice option. This is especially true when we talk about quilting.
First, we need to look at what quilting is.
When you’re making a quilt you are sewing two pieces of fabric together, which are layered on top of each other. Historically, people would do this in order to get the most out of worn clothes. Instead of throwing out a blouse with a hole in it you could cut it up into several pieces and use it for quilting.
So as you can imagine, when you’re sewing together lots of little pieces of fabric you need to move the fabric around a lot. This also means that you need extra space around the needle area in order to move everything around easily.
Therefore we always want a long arm on a sewing machine we primarily will use for quilting.
You can get quilting machines which will only to quilting and you can also get crossover machines which will do both. This could be a good option if you will be doing a lot of quilting as well as standard sewing projects.
Make sure you know exactly what you are buying if you are looking at special quilting machines. You would only use this machine for quilting so if you’re looking for a home machine to do lots of different projects, this is not your dream machine.
As the name indicates these machines are primarily used for embroidery work.
When you doing monogramming or you want to sew a logo design unto a piece of fabric, this is the type of machine you will be using.
Some of these machines look like ordinary sewing machines.
We also have special embroidery machines with multiple needles. These are very specialized machines that you can really do normal sewing projects on. Most people will primarily be using their machine for ordinary sewing projects like hemming and fixing a buttonhole.
If you do not own a standard sewing machine already, and you want to do an embroidery task once in a while, you should go for a high-end basic sewing machine model. Most of the more advanced standard sewing machines will have a lot of embroidery stitches to choose from.
This model from the Singer brand, for example, will do up till 600 different stitches and many of these stitches could be categorized as embroidery.
So you should definitely go for a machine with a high number of stitches to choose from if embroidery projects are your hobby.
Sewing/Embroidery Combo Machines
This is the kind of sewing machine we mentioned above.
They will be a nice standard sewing machine but they would also be well-featured with a ton of embroidery stitches to choose from.
So if you’re looking to only buy one machine and you like to do some embroidery work as well, this would be a type of machine to go for. The stores might not categorize these machines as a combo or crossover machine. They might be listing them as standard sewing machines, because most of the more advanced sewing machines, from the last couple of years, all have a ton of stitches to choose from.
Cover stitch Machines
The cover stitch machines are the last type of machine.
This is again a very special kind machine and it will only do one type of stitch. You would mostly use this machine for hemming and you will notice that it has multiple threads going down from the top. Just like the sergers and in many ways, this machine is comparable to the serger machines.
The cool thing about using a cover stitch machine is that the hems you can do will be super stretchy. A hem made from a cover stitch machine will also recover well after being stretched.
You can also get crossover machines which are partly a cover stitch machine and a serger. As we have seen above there are a lot of crossover and combo machines. These are typically good options for you if you are into special types of sewing.
So unless you would only be sewing hems this is not the machine you’re looking for.
Now we have looked at all the different types of sewing machines and we have also shown you what we believe you should look for with a basic sewing machine.
The term “basic sewing machine” can be misleading. We are not referring to a simple sewing machine when we use the word “basic”. We are simply making a distinction between the specialized models and a normal sewing machine.
And as we have mentioned a few times in this article, you should always go for one of these normal sewing machines if you do not know what types of projects you will be doing in the future. Or if you are a beginner.