Meet my darling, my Elna Lotus- this is the machine i learnt on. If i ever have a brick and mortar store she would sit in the window. Excuse me for getting nostalgic, but it’s the machine my mother learnt on too. My Ouma bought it for her when she was a kid to learn to sew, and when i was 10/11 and showed an interest in sewing, my mom gave it to me. It’s old, but it is quality. It has served me well, and i am so happy i learnt on this machine. I don’t use it any more as i don’t want to abuse it with the quantity of sewing i do, but it’s still amazing, and every time i get it serviced the service man tries to buy it from me. Apparently they are quite collectible now. No way dude, he’d have to pry it from my cold dead hands. Oh did i get distracted with my anecdote? why yes, yes i did. Let’s begin again, sans teary eyed nostalgic meg…
A question i get asked a lot is what sewing machine is best for a beginner sewer. It’s a very hard question to answer!
For one thing, there are a tonne of different brands and much like cars, what machine is “the best” will really depend on who you ask- it’s a very personal decision.
So instead of suggesting a particular machine as “the best beginner sewing machine”, i’ve put together some tips for choosing a beginner sewing machine.
Decide what you’re going to be sewing. For example, I sew mainly apparel (yeah you knew that hehe) so since I don’t quilt my needs are different to a quilter. There will be functions that i cannot live without that a quilter couldn’t care less about, and vice versa. Do i need 300 decorative stitches? No. So you need to make sure the machine you choose fulfills your specific needs. Now, given that i don’t know much about quilting, please keep in mind that some aspects of my recommendations will apply only towards apparel sewing.
Invest in mechanical over computerized. If you are mainly going to be sewing apparel I recommend getting a mechanical machine. Basically when you are looking at machines you will see mechanical machines, and computerized machines. There is often a huge bump in price from mechanical to computerized, so you can save money there if you don’t need the computer functions. There is also less that can go wrong with a mechanical machine, and there are a lot of computerized functions you really don’t need as a beginner, so it’ spending money on things you don’t need.
Try and find a second hand machine. There’s really nothing worse than starting a new hobby and spending a lot of money on equipment and doodads to get started, and then finding out… you hate said hobby. That is one of the reasons i think it’s a good idea to try and find a second hand machine first – maybe you have a friend or relative who could loan or give you a machine to try out? It’ll also give you a good idea about what you want out of a machine when you buy one. Another thing to keep in mind with second hand machines, is that you can often get a good quality machine really reallllly cheap. It was sad how little i sold my machine for when i left the USA – the person who bought it got a deal – you could too!!
Choose a low priced model from a good quality brand. I do not believe in cheap machines. Now please don’t misunderstand – i don’t mean i’m against low prices – i mean i am against poor quality, cheaply made machines. Don’t let the sticker price be your only guide. The problem with cheaply made machines is that they don’t work as well and will cause you more problems than you need. I’ve seen issues like inability to sew even stitches or in a straight line, machines rattling, getting caught on even slightly thick fabric – or just plain breaking for no apparent reason (happened to my SIL). It’s not worth your money. I recommend buying a lower model from a big name brand like Elna, Bernina, Brother,Viking, Pfaff and Singer (thought i have heard rumbling that Singers quality is slipping).
Make sure the machine you buy has all the functions you need. I’m old school and don’t really care about fancy functions, in my opinion you only really need a straight stitch and a zig zag stitch. You can sew pretty much anything with those stitches. You don’t need to have an overlocker/serger to sew stretchy things (they’re nice machines but not necessary) a zig zag will suffice for a beginner. However it is imperative that you be able to adjust stitch lengths and widths. Another thing that is important if you are sewing apparel is a free arm. I did not have this on my first machine (pictured above) and doing sleeves was hell, hell i tell you!! I often do my buttonholes with a zig zag stitch, because i’m a control freak (and a freak in general because i enjoy it) – but you may find a good 1 step buttonhole function very useful.
Buy in person not online. Yeah i love online shopping too, i really do, i buy almost everything online – but would you buy a car, or a house without seeing them in person first? no. You really want to try out your sewing machine first, shake it a bit to make sure it’s sturdy (i’m not kidding hehe) and generally get a feel for it (i’m a huge believer in gut feeling). Also, a lot of sewing stores will provide added services when you buy a machine with them. Things like classes – or just the ability come in and ask questions if you are having trouble. Heads up, most big chain stores won’t be as helpful as smaller boutiquey sewing stores.
Take a class, read a book, and definitely read the manual. I guarantee you that if you sit down in front of a brand new sewing machine and just start sewing without any preparation you will cry. Or at least throw your hands in the air and give up in frustration. Like any skill, you need to learn the basics. The first place you should start is your sewing machine manual. I am a huge fan of the manual. It will tell you how to thread your machine, maintain it, trouble shoot and most manuals will provide instructions for basic sewing. I also recommend reading some books – you don’t need to buy a tonne, or you could just borrow from your library. If you need some recommendations for beginner sewing books, here is a list of recommendations for beginner sewing books i compiled last year. If you are not the book type, and find it easier to have someone physically show you what to do – i definitely recommend taking a class. Most good sewing stores are providing classes now – actually a lot of the brick and mortar stores that stock my patterns run amazing classes. Or if you’re really lucky, you can rope in a friend or relative to teach you the basics. My mom taught me the basics of sewing when i started out! And don’t forget, we have the internet :)
Have i missed anything? Please feel free to chime in if you have any tips for buying a beginner sewing machine, or if you just want to put in a good word for your awesome machine!