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HELP! What Sewing Machine Should I Buy?

Updated: Sep 3

The objective of this blog post is to share some quick tips on what to look for when purchasing a sewing machine whether you are a beginner sewer or an experienced sewer who, like me, was reluctant to put to rest an old clunker!

You Usually Buy What is familiar to You

In the “olden days” customers bought machines based on what they grew up using. My mother, sisters and I first sewed on my mother’s Sears, Roebuck & Company sewing machine, the iconic White model bolted down to a mahogany cabinet. (Go to the SL website, click the menu, and hit About Us > Karen M. Williams. Check out the nurse’s uniforms and pastel Easter dresses my mother made using that White model sewing machine!) I, on the other hand, as a teen had also been sewing on Kenmore machines while taking sewing classes for four years at the Sears & Roebuck store located at Lincoln and Reading Roads, in Cincinnati, Ohio. (By the way, the facade is still standing.)

In 1972, when I graduated from college with a Home Economics degree, I purchased a Sears Kenmore Model 1756 Zig Zag sewing machine for $300. That was the first credit purchase I made after starting my career. I used that machine until we started fighting each other over mechanical issues. The Zig Zag served me well despite the way I abused it by not oiling it regularly, and not taking it in for regular tune-ups. I rode it hard and long.

What Sewing Machines to Consider?

Continuing my story... Buying a new machine was a daunting task. I had not bought a sewing machine in over 40 years. In the 21st century my Kenmore was obsolete! I needed a machine, and I needed it ASAP because my Kenmore had bit the dust. I needed to finish an outfit within the week.

The major classic machines on the market today -- Singer, Pfaff, Janome, Juki, Bernina, Husqvarna/Viking, Brother, and Elna -- are now modernized, some are electronic, and many are computerized. At the time that I was searching for a new machine, I was in a hurry but knew what I needed and liked the brand featured on the famous Project Runway TV series. I needed a new machine that day and I had found a Brother sewing machine with the features I wanted. It was staring me down at the store. It was the price I wanted to pay. And it was a floor model. So, I bought it and took it home to finish my sewing project.

Buy the Best Quality Machine You Can Afford

First of all, I would not suggest you buy your machine like I did -- quickly and without doing some research and comparison -- especially if you haven't sewn before. However, if you are an experience sewer you may know what you are looking for.

Buy the best quality machine you can afford but not necessarily the one with the most features. Do not overbuy. Purchase a machine that will fit your needs today. Companies are always coming up with new models and new features, and you will always see something new that you might like to buy. In the article "Your Sewing Machine Buying Advice" by Annie O’Connor, darylquilts says, “NO one machine does it all. Price is not always an indicator of a good machine. Used machines can be just as good as new, it depends on where to buy them and what they are.

Before going to a dealership, research sewing machine models in Consumer Reports, ask people you know who own sewing machines, and visit sewing machine dealerships. Sounds like buying a car, huh? Is it that serious? Well, depending on the cost of the machine it can be a serious investment. A good dealer will spend time with you to find out what features you want. If you are a beginning sewer it might be best to start off with a substantial machine that does basic stitches and has a limited number of decorative stitching features. The machine should include at least the following feet: blind hem, overcasting, zipper, buttonhole, blind stitch, and possibly a rolled hem foot.

Also find out if the dealership offers classes so you can learn how to operate your new machine. Plus, do not forget to ask about the warranty as well as whether the dealership offers repairs. I have a major contention with dealerships! It is the same policy I have with car dealers. If they are rude, appear to be uninterested in you as a customer, and try too hard to up-sell, then say to yourself, “Next!” There are too many “sewing fishes” in the sea to be treated inappropriately. Ask as many questions as necessary to get the answers you need.

At SL, it is often an interesting experience to see the types of sewing machines folks bring in for me to teach them how to operate. Often the machines are not substantial enough for the respective customers' needs, and although new, tend to have irregular stitches, create unnecessary noise, jam constantly, are often noticeably light in weight, have very few sewing feet, are difficult to thread, and have little to no features. I realize that people can only purchase what they can afford, but saving a little longer to purchase the right machine can alleviate a lot of frustration. How will you enjoy sewing if the sewing machine has problems before you begin your first sewing project?

My recommendation is to expect to spend around $300 on a new machine. It would be better to save up and get a better operating machine than to waste hard earn money on something that is unsatisfactory. And another thing, I have been burned more than once when people sold or gifted me their USED machines. In my experience, used works...until it doesn't. And when I cannot figure it out the problem, I have to take the machine to a repair shop, paying at least $100 to have it looked at and more money for repairs.

Q & A

1. Is it OK to buy a sewing machine online? Online vendors may be unable to provide immediate help or lessons regarding the operation of your machine. Consider this story: I bought a Cover stitch machine online. It did not come with an instruction booklet. I called the company and was told to go to YouTube to find a video. Guess what? The video was not in English. So, I decided to call a local sewing machine store, and they refused to help me even if I paid for a lesson. I then called a second store, that was able to sell me a lesson for $100. In the end, what I thought would be an economical purchase proved to be very frustrating nightmare. By trial, error, and time wasted, I am still learning to operate the machine.

2. Where can I go if I need help operating my sewing machine? Come see me! SL offers a two-hour class, Operating a Sewing Machine or Serger, for only $40. I have worked with many types of sewing machines and can usually figure out how they operate if I have access to a manual. If think this class is right for you, call the store at (514) 4-I-DO-SEW, register and pay.


  • Purchase a machine based on professional recommendations and referrals from friends, or test drive various models and draw your own conclusions.

  • Never rush to purchase a machine or feel forced into a purchase that does not fit your present needs.

  • When purchasing a new machine, consider spending between around $300 for a basic machine with practical features.

  • Avoid buying used, non-certified and untested machines. This is generally a waste of money.

  • Whenever possible, purchase a machine through a reputable dealer that can provide educational support and repairs.

  • If you decide to purchase a sewing machine online, SL may be able to assist you in the how-to of operating your new machine as long as you have access to the manual.

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