Hi There! I’m Nicole Gilbert and you’ve joined the Stop Scrolling, Start Sewing Podcast. Are you new to sewing and want to start quilting but have no idea where to begin? Each Wednesday join me as I share the ins and outs of that quilt life. If you don’t have a sewing machine, have no idea how much fabric you need, or don’t know where the heck to stick that bobbin, this is the podcast for you.
Hi Folks! Welcome to episode 2 of the Stop Scrolling, Start Sewing podcast. On today’s episode we’re going to discuss the different types of sewing machines and what you should be looking for when you’re shopping. But first, a quick word.
Today’s show is sponsored by my free guide all about purchasing your first sewing machine. Head over to themoderquilterscircle.com to download your guide today.
Ok, so I have a quick note before we dive in. The following is for brand new machines. While all of these things still apply to second-hand machines. Machines from previous eras won’t have the same technology or capabilities. Just a little something to keep in mind. Ok, time to get started.
If you’ve ever searched for a sewing machine online you have probably be inundated with a flood of information. There is just so much to consider when you’re trying to find a sewing machine.
Currently there are over 100 brans of sewing machines on the market. You have to then choose whether you want a computerized, electronic, or manual model. And then you have to look into the basic functionality of those models. Whether or not you’re going to need an embroidery machine, an industrial strength machine, a quilting machine, or a long arm. It’s a lot to take in. SO that’s all without discussing the specs you want to have on your sewing machine. But don’t worry, we’re going to go over all of these things in today’s episode.
So I believe that the first decision you should make is the overall functionality that you’re going to need for your machine. Meaning, what do you plan on using this thing for? Myself, I’m a quilter, so I tend to lean towards getting quilting machines, duh. So what makes a machine a quilting machine is that there are several specific quilting stitches that a quilter will use. You’ll see models out there that have 100s and 100s of stitches. I can honestly say that I use the same 3 or 4 stitches on every single project. So I don’t really need all those extra stitches. Blanket stitches and zig zag stitches are my big go too. You’ll also want to make sure that the machine has a high power motor, especially when you get to the binding phase. A high power motor allows for consistency in stitches, both in speed and length and it’s just a must have for quilting machines. The majority of quilting machines do have higher end motors. The last thing that you’ll look for with your quilting machine is a large creative space. Many manufacturers refer to that as throat space and that is the distance between the needle and the motor of your machine. You’ll notice that on some lower ticket machines or non quilting machines that that throat space is just a matter of maybe 4 or 5 inches. On a quilting machine, up until you hit long arm, because a long arm is a whole different beast, that will typically be a space between 10 and 12 inches and you really need that additional room to work. If you’re working on a larger project like a king size quilt, you’ll be pushing through a blanket that is many, many feet wide and you have to roll that up and keep it going, and be able to work it without messing up your stitches as you’re sewing. So you need that extra space. It’s honestly the first thing I look for when I’m looking at a quilting machine. SO that’s the quilting machine.
Next up are embroidery machines. SO embroidery machines are those gorgeous machines that usually have a large computerized panel on them where you can set up to make beautiful pictures that honestly look like hand stitch or cross stitch for those of you who aren’t familiar with embroidery. It’s not really my jam, but I can totally appreciate the affect. An embroidery machine is special because it comes with a series of hoops that you stretch your fabric through and hook into the machine. The machine then automatically can produce those embroidered images. It does that by hooking the hoop into a special extension table that moves the hoop for you underneath the needle. Honestly, many of them now a days are like set it and forget it machines. They’re pretty flipping cool, if I do say so myself. I will say that this is the only type of machine where I do not suggest getting an older model. Simply because you want the ability to upload new images and pattern styles into the machine. And you’re only going to be able to do that with a newer model that takes a USB sticks, that allows for WiFi transmission, embroidery is your friend when it comes to embroidery machines!
Next up is the industrial machine. Industrial machines are those ones- I always think of them when I think of those big seamstress studios and they’re in warehouses and there’s like 40 people hunkered down on these gigantic machines. They have huge creative space, the space between the needle and the motor. And they are high speed and powerful. I don’t really see a need for a home domestic sewer to have an industrial machine, but that doesn’t mean that I still don’t really want one. It’s on the list.
And then lastly there is the long arm. A long arm machine is a quilting machine that has typically very limited stitches, less than 10. A lot of times they only have 1. They actually are oriented differently. The way that you sit you actually face the needle instead of the side when you’re looking at it. Many times you’ll see them loaded onto a large frame, like 10 feet long and you stretch out your quilt beneath them and you hold on to handles and guide the machine over your project. It eliminates the need for a large creative space because you’re not moving your project through the machine at all. The machine is actually being moved over your project. It’s really cool, they take up a ton of space, and honestly if you don’t have a dedicated sewing machine, you are not in the market for a long arm machine. A long arm machine is a very very specialized machine and should only be used in conjunction with a traditional sewing machine.
So that’s that. That should help you a little bit and decide now I want a quilting machine, an embroidery machine, and industrial machine or a long arm. Depending on where you are right now in the market.
Once you know what you’re going to use it for, I suggest figuring out if you want a computerized, an electronic, or manual model. SO I think of this, besides embroidery let me make that little caveat, an embroidery machine does need to be a computerized machine simply for the added benefits of really getting creative with what you’re making. You will be limited on a more basic embroidery machine. That’s just what it is. For the rest of machines, what you’re really looking for is quality. Bells and whistles do not equal quality in the sewing machine world. SO when I say that, you can go into your local Wal-Mart and get an electronic Brother or Singer sewing machine and you can pay about $100 to $150 for that machine. It is not a machine that is going to last you for the long haul, it is not a machine that has a good motor to get through quilt binding, but if you’re just starting out doing really basic projects honestly it should be fine to start you with. I personally would say, at that price point, get a manual machine. Now if you’re wondering. I’m getting ahead of myself, If you’re wondering what’s the difference between and electronic or manual machine.
A manual machine has dials on the front and there is usually 2 big knobs, and on those knobs one of them will have a bunch of letters so the letter goes with the corresponding presser foot. The other knob has the stitches. And typically it will also have what presser foot you use with that stitch to help you out a little. So you choose your stitch, you choose your presser foot and you’re on your way. just by turning the knob.
An electronic machine typically has a print out right on the front with all of the stitches that the machine can do and then there is a very small LCD window, almost like an old school alarm clock where you can press buttons up and down to choose your presser foot and to choose your stitch. So that’s an electronic machine.
A computerized machine typically has a little, it almost looks like a mini iPad built right into where the motor is on your machine. And the sky is the limit on these machines.
I own a machine in each of these categories. And they’re all great. They really are good machines. So please don’t think “Oh mine has knob selection, it’s a janky machine.” Because it’s not. I mean, it could be, you could have gotten a $60 sewing machine and that’s a whole nother thing. But what makes a machine a quality machine is the speed and heavy duty factor of the motor as well as the materials that the internal parts are made of. Which is why I often say, find a used machine. Those gigantic metal 1970s sewing machines will last you forever. They’re amazing. A lot of those machines that you get at a big box store are made of plastic and their parts are made of plastic and what happens is with the mechanics of the motor they snap and they break and they’re so inexpensive that the’yre not worth fixing so you go buy another one. So it’s this constant cycle and it’s just not worth it. Where with a metal machine, those kinds of things aren’t really an issue and when they become an issue. they’re not typically a one and done situation. It’s worth it to fix it. So I will always recommend getting a metal machine. And you’ll notice a plastic manual machine from Wal-Mart will run you about $100, an all metal manual machine that you buy at a dealer or a specialty shop will cost you a few hundred dollars. And there is a reason for that. You definitely tend to get what you pay for when it comes to sewing machines. So just keep in mind, I don’t suggest spending a ton of money. So there is no need to get a computerized machine unless you’re in the market for an embroidery machine. In which case you’re going to want to spend the extra money and have tha ability to add patterns and stitches that usually only come with a computerized model.
Ok, holy cow that was a lot. Now on to Brands. There are over 100 brands of sewing machines out there. Honestly, who really knows how many brands of sewing machines are out there, I’m sure there is a bunch that have never even crossed my radar, so there’s that. I ‘m going to talk about the most traditional brands that you’re going to come across in your searches online and in shops and dealerships near you.
So the big box brands, and when I say big box I mean Wal-Mart, Hobby Lobby, JoAnns, Michaels. The big box brands are Brother, Singer, and the lower end Janome machines. Brother machines are perfectly good machines, they are incredibly affordable, you can walk into a store and get one right away. I will suggest if you are looking at a brother machine to go over to a Jo Ann Fabric shop because they actually have a dealer within the store so they actually have some better models of Brother sewing machines than what you will typically find at Wal-Mart, so that’s something to keep in mind.
Singer. Everyone has heard of Singer. Singer started making the American sewing machine over 100 years ago and have incredible brand recognition. And I think it’s probably the first name that comes to mind when anyone thinks of a sewing machine. And for many years they deserved the reputation. I don’t personally believe believe that they deserve that reputation currently. But for good reason, because Singer Corporation has gotten so large they have purchased some higher end machine lines and so all of the really good bells and whistles are on those lines and Singer has become their budget, domestic line. One Singer that is totally worth its weight in gold is the Singer Heavy Duty. You can get one between $150 and $200 but it is strong and it will do an excellent job for you. SO if you’re on a budget and want a quality machine, that is the machine for you. For Sure!
Now you can also find Janome at these stores and it can be kind of a pull for a lot of these stores and it can be a pull for many people because they have the brand recognition of being a higher end sewing machine maker. I will say that the only Janome hat you can buy in these stores are crap. They’re made of plastic, they’re not great, I would personally avoid them. But if you want to feel like you’re buying something from a slightly better brand, you can get one at Hobby Lobby or Jo Anns. They are usually under names like ‘Easy Sew’ to give you an idea of where they fall in the market place.
So that’s what you can get at a big box store. Now, dealerships. Now I don’t know why, but they’re all Sew nVacs. So you can get a high end vacuum and a sewing machine in the same store. I don’t get it, but it is what it is. You can buy a dealership brand at either a sew n vac or a specialty fabric shop. Now these are great places to purchase machines, they have warranties and classes and education you can participate in and they typically come with the purchase of your machine. And every one of these brands that I’m about to discuss have some phenomenal machines and I will link to all of these different brands in the show notes at themoderquilterscircle.com/episode-2. So that you can get a little more familiar with them. Just keep in mind that just like a car, you’re not gunna be able to go to one shop to try all these different brands. You may be able to try one or two but you’d be hard pressed to find a place that carries them all. So you may be doing a little bit of searching and driving here and there to find one.
Now we just spoke about Janome in the big box brands, but Janome at a dealership is a whole different beast. These are amazing machines and their big sell, everyone of these brands has their own little quirk or twist about them. With Janome, they are all about high tech machines. SO their machines have WiFi capabilities and you can plug into your computer, you can design things on your computer and send it to the machine. If that’s your jam and your kind of thing, then Janome is the brand for you, for sure.
Now next up is the Juki. Juki’s flagship machines is a single needle high speed industrial machine. You’ve probably seen it a million times at your seamstress or tailor. I totally want one. Juki does make other sewing machines but that is their bread and butter,
Babylock is the next brand up. They’re known for overlock machines which is just a type of stitch, but they’ve expanded into all catergories. But they really do showcase their stitching.
On to Pfaff. Now Pfaff is my personal favorite. I have a Pfaff Creative Vision 5.0 and I’m obsessed with it. I think it’s beautiful, it does all the things. It’s an amazing machine. But Pfaff is now owned by Singer. So this is one of those high end brands that Singer brought into their portfolio and this is one of the brands that they put a lot of their innovation into. So the really cool thing about Pfaff is that they have something called IDT which is basically a systemized built in walking foot, which we now know all quilters need, it helps stabilize the stitches to be incredibly precise and you can just press play, yea press play, on these machines and it will just fly through your project with the most beautiful stitches. I mean German engineering, for sure.
Next up is the Viking Husqvarna which is so weird because whenever I think of Husqvarna I always think of our lawn mower, but whatever, Another high end European machine, this time from Sweden, that is now owned by Singer. So if you’re looking for high end machines that are made in American owned by an American brand look at the 2 highest end Europeans. Because the German machines and Swedish machines are now Americn machines and they’re awesome.
Last is Bernina. Bernina is known world wide. They are the European version of Singer, where they have huge brand recognition. T hey’ve been in business for over 120 years. They make phenomenal machines and they have kept their portfolio to only Bernina brand machines. So all of their innovation and all of their technology are in their brand. I have heard nothing but wonderful things about them.
And honestly every single one of these dealer brands is great. it really comes down to what you as a user are into.
So you can find your Singer Brother, Janome and Juki machines online which is perfect because #covid, we’re all looking for new ways to purchase things. But the rest will only be available through dealerships. Which is not really a bad thing except for the difficulty that COVID throws into the situation.
SO I know I know it’s a lot to remember. So I will putting links to all of these brands into the show notes. You can find those at themoderquilterscircle.com/episode-2.
Ok, so what if I want a regular machine, not marketed to industrial, or embroidery, or quilting. What am I looking for in a machine? I want something that is just good. And that is a very valid thing. A lot of you aren’t sure what you want to be making, you just want to be making. And you just want the ability to try different things and see what sticks. I get it, I’ve been there.
SO the features I think you should look for in a new machine are a built in or better yet and automatic needle threader. I do not care how young you are, when you’re threading that needle you will feel like Betty White. These sewing machines have excellent LED lights, hopefully you’re sewing in a bright room, but as soon as you hunch over and get close to that needle, you’re blocking all that light. So an automatic or built in needle threader.
Also automatic bobbin winding. This is one of those things where an inexpensive or low end model may not have bobbin winding, which stinks. But know that you can also get a bobbin winder, it looks like a little case like the size of a pencil case and you can set up your spool of thread and bobbin and it will wind it for you. I know for a fact that they sell them at hobby lobby for like $20. So it’s not the end of the world if you really really want to stay at a lower price point. But bobbin winding is a must. Do not hand wind your bobbins, it’s not ok, it will end up being a cluster mess for you, please don’t do it, it’s not worth it.
And then next up I would say snap on presser feet. So some machines come with special presser feet that need to be screwed on and the machine comes with a little screwdriver which is actually pretty cute. And they’re great. There is honestly nothing wrong with them, they actually have a great firm connection to your machine and I get why people like them. What I don’t like about them is that typically have very specialized attachment points to your machine. Meaning you can only buy additional or replacement presser feet from that company, which can be a drag because knowing that, those presser feet can be expensive. Now with snap on presser feet, they are almost always universal which means you can get one for like 10 bux on amazon. Maybe a higher end walking foot you pay $30 for but that is a huge huge difference than paying a few hundred dollars for a specialized walking foot from the manufacturer. So that is something I will not compromise on and I don’t think you should either.
Also check and see how many needles the machine can take. Some will take a modified twin needle and some will take 2 or 3 needles. I personally do’t care about this at all, but that’s because I quilt. I very rarely have to use a twin needle. Occasionally if my binding bias tape is very wide I’ll use a twin needle, but it’s pretty rare. I’d rather use a zig zag stitch, but that’s just me. But for those of you who are potentially interested in making your own clothing or other types of handicrafts, a twin needle might be something you should keep in mind. Most machines take a modified twin that has a single post and other machines have places for individual needle.
Now bobbin loading type is a big one as well. I feel like I’m giving away all my secrets. I hate bobbin cases. Bobbin cases are pains in the butt. I don’t like the idea that to use a bobbin case you need to remove the front of your machine, remove the bobbin case, insert your bobbin, insert the bobbin case back in the machine and then put the front of your machine back on. The reason why I say that is because the alternative, which is a drop in bobbin, there is just a little trap door under your needle. You slide that door out. You drop the bobbin in, hold the end of the thread and close the door. It takes about 5 seconds to do. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve cried over my bobbin, so I wouldn’t want the added hassle.
For quilters the next thing I want you to look for is retractable feed dogs. At the beginning you’re probably not going to use retractable feed dogs especially if you have a walking foot. But if you’re feeling a little froggy and you’re getting a little fancy and you want to be able to do free motion quilting, which is quilting where you hand draw onto your fabric, for lack of a better way to describe it, and your hands move the fabric underneath the needle. Now, what a feed dog is, they are the little teeth underneath the needle plate that grabs the fabric and pulls it through the machine as you stitch. By dropping those you’re able to move the fabric in any direction that you want. So it’s really important to have retractable feed dogs if you want this machine to grow with you.
And lastly is presser feet and I know we touched on them already and I went on my own little stint and tangent on that, but I want you to check and see what presser feet are included. So I really expect there to be some buttonhole feet, I want there to be a quarter inch seam allowance foot, ideally there would be a walking foot, but most general machines don’t have them. Side note, most quilting machines have them built in or include a snap on walking foot. This is why you need to check on what comes with what because there are so many different types of presser feet out there. Most machines come with 10 or less, so really look and see what you’re getting with the machine you purchase.
Also, I said last, but I forgot. Also, look for stitch length. N ow, I’m saying this from a quilters point of view, but when I am basting the quilt sandwich together, sometimes I use basting clips, sometimes I use basting spray, and sometimes I use basting stitches which are just really long loose stitches that I throw up the middle of the project to keep it all together and then when I’m all done I pull them. Now some machines that are not wuilting machines are limited in the length of stitches and don’t have a length suitable to do that with.
So there you have it. It’s a lot of information and shopping can feel so tough cuz you know, COVID. That’s why I put together a guide for you that outlines the steps for choosing and purchasing a sewing machine. You can get that guide at themodernquilterscircle.com and you can follow this episode and all past episodes at themodernquilterscircle.com/podcast
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