How To Choose a Sewing Machine

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This is my baby. It is 26 years old this week. My Dad got it for me for my college graduation and it has never let me down.

The only thing it has needed in 26 years is a new light, some oil and a few cleanings.

Let’s discuss some factors when choosing a new machine. What do you look for? What do you want it to do? What is important to you?

Do you want to buy new or used? What is your budget?

If you’re looking to sew basic items of clothing and home decor, you probably don’t need alot of fancy stitches.

Maybe you just want to use the machine a few times a month. Maybe more.

Let’s explore a few things:

First of all, look for a machine whose bobbin winds on the top of the machine. Many machines advertise that their machine winds the bobbin in the case right below the needle and you never have to move the bobbin to another location. You can just sew right after you wind the bobbin. That sounds pretty alluring, doesn’t it? Well, I’ve sewn on many machines like that and heard from many frustrated people and the problem is that the bobbin thread tends to get all caught up in the bobbin case and the result is a huge tangled mess. Then, once you get the tangle out, which can take about half a day, it happens again. And again. And pretty soon, you don’t want to sew any more. Well, I’m here to tell you, it’s not your fault. It’s the machine.

Also, beware of the bobbins that unscrew in the middle. These are another source of frustration as the thread invariably gets caught in the middle area causing a bird’s nest of tangles as well.

Singer sewing machines are notorious for this. I’m not saying that all Singers are culprits, but most are like that. The very old treadle Singers don’t have that problem, but most made since about 1965 are problematic. People keep buying them because when people think of a sewing machine, they think of Singer.

My mom got a brand new Singer when I was 10, and she didn’t sew, so that meant it became my machine. It’s a wonder I ever kept sewing. Do you own a Singer? I’d love to hear from you if you have a Singer that you love. Tell me what model it is so we can promote it.

I happen to like Bernina the best. I have sewn on Viking, Pfaff, Singer and Kenmore machines (and a few other obscure brands.) I liked the Viking and Pfaff all right. They weren’t Bernina, but that’s just me. The Kenmore I have in my possession works just fine. It was my step mother’s. I am going to give it to one of our daughter’s as her first machine.

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It stitches well. It doesn’t have fancy stitches and it’s a little loud (all things I could live with), but it does have one feature I’d have to get used to: I have to hand crank the fly wheel to get the needle out of the fabric at the end of the seam. I’m not big on that, but if you’re new to sewing, you could get used to that feature if that doesn’t bother you. Maybe not all Kenmores are like that anymore. This one is pretty old. Do you have a Kenmore? Do you like it?

The Bernina I have is made entirely of metal parts. No plastic, folks. As I mentioned above, I have not had any trouble with it. I do oil it when I should and keep it free of lint, but that ‘s all the maintenance I do besides a tune up every few years where they clean the tension dials and other mundane stuff.

The interesting thing is that no matter who I take it to for the tune up, they end up begging to buy it from me. They know how good it is. I know how good it is, and there’s no way I’m going to sell it!

It has basic stitches and about 12 embroidery stitches, that I haven’t used often. It sews a great looking seam, and it’s just plain reliable. Now, the features it doesn’t have are: a built in button hole maker (I’ve done just fine without one, but it would be nice) and a buttonhole stitch (which would be nice if you want to machine buttonhole stitch on a quilt). Other than that, it’s got everything I need or want. To get those features, look for a newer model.

They began making a computerized version soon after this model. I don’t really want one as they are much higher in price and I don’t need a computerized model. If I were desigining my own quilts or embroidering designs I downloaded from the computer, then maybe. If that is what you’d like to do, check into them. I just looked at a new computerized model last year and it was nearly $10,000. I nearly fell to the floor. But that one had all the bells and whistles. It threads your needle, it cuts the thread, etc.

Bottom line, go to a dealership and test drive one first.  Try all the makes and models.  Take notes on which ones you like and why.  Ask if you can take one out on loan for a few days. Most places will let you. When I get mine serviced, they give me a loaner so I can keep my business going. If you don’t like that one, try another until you find the perfect match for you.

Out of curiosity, and knowing I was writing this post today, I got on ebay and saw that my model Bernina (930 Record) is going for $995.00 with 23 bids and 4 1/2 days left on the auction. My guess is that it will probably go for around $1200 by the end of the auction. I’ve seen them go for around $1600. It just depends on the availability at the time you are buying one.

So, look on ebay and your local Craigslist and newspaper. Check with your sewing machine shop and quilt shops in the area and ask around. It’s worth your time and perseverance to get a good machine. Think of it as an investment because you will hopefully get years and years of reliability out of it.

Do you like the machine you own now? Why or why not? I’d love to  hear about it. So would the others who read this post.


18 Responses

  1. Bernina is my favorite too! My mom gave me her old bernina when I was 8. I used it for 20 years (after she had used it for about 15 year too!) I wouldn’t have had to replace it if my dog hadn’t run into the room as I was sewing and sit down on my presser foot! That “burned out” something…can’t remember what.
    I now use a Brother sewing machine. I haven’t had any problems with it in the past 3 years.

    • I have heard people say they really like Brothers. I have seen some models at Walmart, so that may be a really good choice and I bet the price is right! Thanks Michelle.

      • I have bought 2 there and was disappointed with their whimpiness. I bought Brother because I like the brand. When I needed to replace a part the mo# was non-existent. Wierd. Hence, I bought the second one and used the first for donor parts. It was bottom of the line so I guess I got what I paid for. It was good for light knits and embroidering a thin wedding dress. It is best to go to a store with a bag of fabric that will be the type your sewing. Spend a few hrs. Do not let the sales person rush you with, “there is only one left”… Check all kinds out find what fits you. Good Shopping!

  2. Thanks so much!! This is a very timely and useful post. I am just off to buy my first adult machine now!

    • Thanks, Kate. That’s awesome! Let us know what you end up buying and what kind of sewing you like to do.

  3. I have only heard great things about Bernina and I wish I could own one but I opted out for a New Home (Janome) almost 20 years ago. Can’t remember having any trouble with it except when I tried to use really thick thread to sew jeans once. I did not realize at the time that home machines are not designed to handle thick threads. The shaft, I am told, is too small.

    I also have a Janome 1600P which works quite well for the biz because it can handle any weight of fabric but it does not zigzag. It is a quilter’s machine and the size is appropriate for home use and it stitches at least 1200 stiches/min but I don’t sew that fast–yet. Don’t think I would recommend it for industrial use.

  4. I have a Viking 6570 that my Grandmother bought me in 1979. I have sewn most of my son’s baby clothes, two wedding dresses, a dozen bridesmaids dresses, a leather jacket, and hemmed countless Gis. (What you wear in Karate – the good ones are made out of heavy duty sail cloth!) However, my machine gets cranky and sometimes refuses to zigzag if I neglect her. I also have a Viking serger, that is another story!

  5. Hi I am so glad that I found your blog! I love my Bernina 145 I bought about 15 years ago. The things I wish it had were: 1) knee lever to raise/down foot. I could probably buy one for it now but very expensive. 2) threader! I didn’t feel I needed when I bought it but now I really want it. How can you manage without it? 3) power to sew through thick thick jean. It is very powerful, yet I couldn’t sew through inseam hem of my husband’s Levi. I used Jeans 100 needle. I think I’m supposed to be able to do that. After all, it’s Bernina. Can your machine do without a fuss? I don’t know what other home machine can do that.

  6. Hi! Found this page today to get an opinion on measuring & hemming mens pants. I was coming up with different lengths on both legs and still don’t understand why. I finished the job regardless and hope the guy is pleased with the hems. If you have any thoughts to share on this, it would be appreciated. Such as measure 1 leg & cut both by this measurement or measure each leg, etc. Also, good to know someone else with a “vintage” Bernina. I bought mine about 34 years ago (an 801 model, all metal), was all I felt I could afford. If I would have known then, what I know now, I would have gotten one a step or two higher. However, I’ve been totally satisfied with this machine and its “my baby” too. With regular maintenance & occasional tune-ups, like you said, it runs like a top and just as quiet.

    • Hi Mildred,
      Thank you for writing! I usually ask the customer if they have one leg longer than the other. Most customers know. If they do, I measure them separately. I’m not familiar with the Bernina 801 model. I’m so glad you love your vintage Bernina. Aren’t they great?!!

  7. I’ve used Singer and Brother machines for sewing business. Metal /metal innards models – Singer 99k, 9960, Brother PC2800. So far so good!

  8. I splurged and bought a Janome Horizon MC7700QCP a couple years ago. It is the best machine I have ever sewn on. All steel, though, and very heavy to carry to sewing circle, so I bring an older Kenmore machine that I have used for years and sewn many quilts on. It is considerably lighter. My first machine was a singer, and I also had an older Singer or Kenmore that had the “cams” for decorative stitches. Those were dinosaur days!

  9. I am having the sewing machine blues and would love to hear from others. For 35 years I had a Viking I bought in 1979. Boy what a workhorse that was.I sewed every day on everything you can imagine. I never had any I never had any problems with that machine. I only took it in for yearly servicing whether it needed it or not. Then a few years ago it started getting a bit glitchy and parts were no longer available so I decided to finally get a new machine. I looked at many of them but ended up getting another Viking. The sapphire. Nothing but problems and unfortunately an unethical dealer who would not hear any of the problems or honor the promise to give lessons. Finally I took it to another Viking dealer who immediately determined that the mother board was defective. However, because he was over 50 miles away and I needed a local dealer for lessons and help I knew I needed a machine from a local dealer. They only sold Bernina’s, phaff, and janome.

    I splurged big time on what I thought was the best of the best, a Bernina 750. But oh no, it has been a tempermental fussy princess. I have had that in the shop more often than not, costing me valuable time and even runed client projects. Finally, the dealer felt it should be sent back to the factory to let Bernina decide what should be done. Repair or replace or???? Meanwhile, it is prom and wedding seaso so they gave me a loaner, a Brother, Innovis 4000d.

    And are talking to me about the idea of making an even trade for something else. A Brother? A Janome? What? My criteria is first and foremost reliable performance on any kind of fabric. I do custom sewing and alterations. Not a hobby quilter or embroiderer so need need good ultility stitches-darning, hemming on all kinds of fabric. I also make my own sew in labels so really have liked the alphabet stitches that I can adjust width and length. ( not just small and large_

    When the B-750 works, it is a dream. It has infinite flexibility.It is abit complication. The brother is so user friendly and there’s a lot I like about it, but already am finding limitations.

    Those of you who sew garment, home dec, chiffon to leather and canvas what do you use. What have your experiences been with new machines. What do you recommend? Do any of you have that Bernina 750? How do you like it. It mine a lemon or are they all temperamental and fussy. I was even told the only thread it would take is Mettler. It literally will not sew jeans top stitching or silkier threads. A $7,000 machine.

    Sorry this is so long, hope you can get the main idea here.

  10. Hi Linda, I am going to start my custom sewing and alterations business in a spare room in my home. I am looking forward to reading more of your blog since you have so much knowledge. I know your blog will be a great resource. I have sewn pant hems by hand which is ok but I think a blind stitch is more professional looking and of course faster. I don’t want a large industrial machine and I have seen some smaller heavy duty type blind stitch machines for about $200 to $350. What are your thoughts on what I should be looking for?

    • Hi Anabel,
      Personally, I’ve never owned a blind stitch hemming machine. I bought a blind stitch foot for my machine and it works great, so I never felt the need to invest in a separate machine. That price sounds very low for a blind stitch machine. The last time I saw a used machine was about 15 years ago for $750. You might Google the reviews on that particular machine and see what other people say about it.

  11. Loved your article. Good advice. I have a Bernina 900 Nova and have loved it. Also I have the Bernina virtuosa 150. I sew every day just for fun.

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