For Me, Buying A Sewing Machine Is A Big Decision
I know it is the same for most of us. If I buy well, hopefully, the new machine will be a lifelong investment and even something I can give to my daughter eventually. However, I also know that if I choose badly, the new machine may be nothing but trouble and something soon discarded. And who can afford to waste many that way these days?
What is more, once I get accustomed to using a machine, it's a real disappointment when things go wrong and this can set me back days or even weeks on my sewing projects. Hence we should be extra careful when buying a new one.
A Few Things You Need To Consider Before Buying A Sewing Machine
1. Choose Your Features
The type of machine you buy should depend on the type of sewing projects that you undertake. Even though most sewing machines perform the basic function of sewing, there are certain additional features that you should consider. There are embroidery machines, machines with quilting features, those with options for stretch stitches and some even have specialty feet. Consider if you want to go with a basic model as you are likely to outgrow it once you start doing new projects. Get a machine you can grow into as your skills grow.
Another aspect of the machine's features is what accessories are available for the machine and whether standard accessories like presser feet will fit the machine. We've written a lot about presser feet over the years. If you want to know all about press feet, please review this article More presser feet than you will ever need.
2. Brand Origins And Materials
There are a variety of brands offering sewing machines like Singer, Bernina, Brother, Husqvarna Viking, Kenmore, Janome, Juki, and even Toyota. (One of the best machines I've ever owned is a Toyota.) While selecting a brand, you should take into consideration the country of manufacture and the material used for construction.
Many of these brands come from large industrial companies with long histories of quality products and some brands have remained true to their origins. These brands often, although not always, still manufacture in their home countries or countries with reputations for quality manufacturers such as Japan (Toyota), Sweden (Husqvarna Viking), Germany (Pfaff), and Switzerland (Bernina). Sadly, I've not been able to find any machines still being made in the US although there are rumors that Brother might have built a plant in the US. Try to choose a machine made in one of these countries. It will give you years of trouble-free use.
Unfortunately, other brands have been sold off or licensed to mass retailers or lower-quality manufacturers and their quality has slipped sadly. You often don't hear such good things about Singer, Kenmore, and even Juki these days. (I'm talking about the newer machines. I'm sure many of us have an ancient Singer that just won't quit. I certainly do.) I bought a small Juki recently for light work around the house. It was made almost entirely of plastic and has been nothing but trouble, unfortunately. Generally, lower-quality machines are coming from China, Vietnam, and sometimes Taiwan. Buy these machines with caution.
The price of a sewing machine can range anywhere between $100 to $700 or more. Unfortunately, good quality sewing machines are expensive, and the old saying “you get what you pay for” is definitely true for sewing machines like it is with so many other things.
Sewing machines made of plastic tend to be cheaper and may not provide sewing precision or durability over the years. Metal frames and construction is usually a better choice.
Generally, it is advisable to go for machines in the mid-range, where you can often find a good mix of quality and features at a reasonable price. The absolute cheapest machine is rarely the best option, but of course, only ever buy what you can afford.
4. Buy From A Dealer
When you buy a machine from a big chain retailer selling lot of other items, the salesperson is very unlikely to know the detailed ins and outs of each machine. Whereas when you buy directly from a dealer he will be able to guide you in selecting the right machine based on your exact requirements.
The sewing machine dealer will also be able to provide you with useful information on how the machine works, demonstrate it and teach you how to clean the sewing machine. For additional information on how to clean your sewing machine, please check out our article on the topic.
Some dealers still even offer trade-ins or trade-ups which can be good value. Dealers are also the contact point for warranty claims which can save you time and headaches in the future. Many dealers offer used machines that could save you a lot of money too.
After-sales support and access to spare parts is also important consideration. A general or mass retailer will not likely provide much or any support and almost certainly not stock spare parts, but your local sewing machine dealer makes their living on such often-needed services.
5. Test The Sewing Machine
Before finalizing on any one brand or machine, you should always test the machine. You'll almost certainly be able to do this at a dealer but probably not at a mass retailer. Take some swatches of fabric and thread with you to the store and stitch the fabric to see how the machine works. Does it do everything you want it to? How does it work with the fabric and thread you use most often? How is the quality of the buttonhole? This is one of the keys to a garment looking professionally made or not.
You should pay special attention to the smoothness, noise, stitch quality, and stitch options of the machine. If you don’t like it, try another one until you find a sewing machine that you like. The more types of fabric you can test with the sewing machine, the less likely you're going to get any surprised later when you use it for the first time say on a stretchy knit fabric or light sheer fabric.
6. Buy Local If Possible
It is often advisable to purchase your new sewing machine from a local shop. This way you are not only supporting a local business but also making sure that help is at hand if you need it.
When you purchase the machine from a big shop or through an online store, you may not always get the after-sale service as expected. You also won't have anyone to turn to if you need help and guidance on how the machine works or to make repairs.
We know it's not always possible to find a local sewing store anymore, unfortunately, but it's in all our interests to continue to support the trade when possible.
7. Read The Reviews And Do Your Homework
There’s an enormous amount of information available these days on the internet. The web has become the primary information source for many, if not most, people these days and it is a great tool to use when trying to research a new sewing machine. There are a number of good review sources for sewing machines.
I've always found that Consumer Reports is a good place to start when looking for relatively unbiased reviews and information about a product. You may want to check out their section on sewing machines HERE. They also have a useful video on understanding the different types of sewing machines available.
Another great resource is reading through the comments on Amazon from people who have bought particular machines in the past. If you have a look at the machine below, at the time of this writing, nearly 6,000 consumers have left reviews and comments on the Brother CS6000i.
8. Ask Your Friends Or Join A Chat Group
It is always advisable to seek the help and advice of someone you know who knows about stitching and sewing machines before zeroing in on a particular model. There's usually nothing better or more trustworthy than first-hand information and feedback from an acquaintance.
If you don’t have a neighbor you can ask, and join one of the online chat groups about sewing. Here at So Sew Easy, we think we have one of the best online chat groups around where you can get the opinions of nearly 19,000 members (at the time of this writing) and which you can find on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/soseweasychat/
This group is extremely active and I'm sure you'll find someone with information about pretty much any sewing machine you're thinking of buying. However, to keep the group focused and useful to its members, the chat is a “closed” group which means you have to request to join. Because we review every new potential member, there can be a short wait to get in from time to time, so please accept our apologies if there is any delay. We always do our best to keep up.
9. Shop The Sales
Like with any other product or commodity, sewing machines will go on sale quite frequently and you can save a bundle. Sometimes prices can be cut in half or even more for brand-new, modern sewing machines. Figure out what machine you want and then keep a look out for when it goes on sale.
10. Consider the Second-Hand Market
While new sewing machine prices have come down a lot in recent years, sometimes you can get a lot more for your money if you buy a good used machine. There are plenty of ways to find a second-hand machine from your local classifieds or bulletin boards to Craig's List or eBay. As mentioned above, sewing machine dealers often recondition and sell used machines.
You can even potentially buy a good quality industrial machine that will last you a lifetime for a fraction of its new value. We wrote an article about this recently so you may want to review it: Do you need an industrial sewing machine? for more ideas about this. I bought an industrial Pfaff 563 machine made in Germany a few years ago. It's an absolute workhorse and I have no doubt it will help me sew thick fabrics like denim, multiple layers of fabric, and even leather for many, many years to come.
Hopefully these tips will help you with your choices when next you're thinking of buying a sewing machine. If you have any other good ideas that we should share with everyone, please leave your thoughts in the comments below. We always love hearing from you!
I had a Singer CXL that I loved. It was 25 years old and needed a part, but Singer no longer made that part. I had to buy a new machine–and it was not a Singer.
Sad to see this is happening with all the sewing machine companies.
I have an old Brother LS-1217 that was given to me by someone that I used to work with. That machine is a beast, but I am looking for a more modern up-to date machine. My husband is helping me trying to find one. Alas nothing as of yet. While I am looking for a new machine, mine decided to not work anymore. So I pulled it apart found out the problem with a couple of videos on youtube, and low and behold it is missing a little micro mini nut where the arm and the white bobbin teeth thingie came out, and the bobbin won’t spin. So looks like it is an easy fix, hopefully.
Just reading all your comments. I have an ole Elna overlocker, still functions fine but the cutter is getting blunt and I can’t buy the cutter so guess needs to go for a service. I’ve had it serviced few years ago and paid nearly $200. I also had an Elna air electronic but unfortunately after years of getting serviced too, decided it would be cheaper to purchase a new one. So bought just a basic one. Becoming very noisy now. I see there’s a special offer on a Brother Simplicity computerized SL500. Reading some reviews, it states it also has a cutter so consequently may not need my overlocker. Would anyone in this forum be able to give me some advice on what you think I should consider 1st and do? Would be greatly appreciated.
I do like that you recommend testing the sewing machine. As with any appliance you definitely want to try before you buy. That way you know that you’ll be comfortable with the sewing machine you ultimately choose.
My first sewing machine was a misfortune. I bought it in a garage sale(a long, long time ago in a galaxy far away….1974 ish) a Singer Futura. I was learning how to sew with a machine. It was more like learning how to fix the machine, cry from ripped fabric, and bad stitches each time. No wonder it was $50. I gave it to a sewing shop to use as parts. Walking out I saw it a used Bernina 930 Record! That was my first Bernina and still have it. Then I bought the demo 1230 for college. When I got married my husband traded it in for the 1630. 1630 goes through 6 layers of blue jeans without a skip of stitches. Amazing machine. my latest Bernina family member is a B750QE. Like the other Sewing Sisters, Once you got the sewing bug, you are in trouble. You know that extra bedroom or attic or basement, well in do time it will be your Sewing sanctuary/sanity room! Have fun sewing! I do. PS – wait till you go buy fabric. You will need another room.
I see you got a Bernina bug. Great choice, I completely understand the need for another room.
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I am fortunate to have 2 antique sewing machines over a hundred years old. One is a singer treadle machine and the other is a singer model 66 red eye. Both are gorgeous and perform better than anything made today. I also have a singer featherweight that is almost as old as I am 68 and also performs as if manufactured yesterday. I also have a brother mechanical multi stitch and a brother computerized with hundreds of stitches and while I like them both and they are easy to use they will never live as long as my singer antiques which were built to last forever. I used to have an old metal kenmore zig zag machine that made many hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of draperies for my window treatment business until it finally gave up last year after 40 years of faithful service. If you ever have an opportunity to get one of those praise your lucky stars. They don’t make them like that anymore.
You are indeed a curator and a very lucky lady to have collected such amazing pieces. I could only dream!
Do your homework on the different machines. Find one right for you and is an affordable price for you. Number 7 is one that I whole heartedly good with.
Husqvarna Vikings are no longer made in Sweden. Their design team is there but their SMs are manufactured in China. Ever since they came under the umbrella of SVP (along with Singer and Pfaff) their quality has gone down. As for the higher end Jukis, they make some of the best rated machines out there. I’m told there lower end machines aren’t that great though. I’ve owned TOL Brothers and Vikings, a mid level Bernina and higher end non industrial Jukis, and I have to say the two Jukis I have are the ones I use most. I’ve read in a couple different forums that Berninas and higher end Jukis are made at the same factory, but of course, you can get lemons from any SM company.
Berninas are all made in their own factory, it used to be that some of their overlockers were made in the same factory as Juki but this is no longer the case.
I sew professionally, and the best domestic machine I have is my vintage Pfaff 260 in its original cabinet, purchased for $25 about 15 years ago from a thrift store. After some initial fixes and a tune up from a local mechanic, it has performed flawlessly for me ever since “Tony” fixed it. It is all metal, and has great piercing power for heavy fabrics, but still has a light touch with delicate fabrics. I use the zigzag option often, but rarely the embroidery stitches. An oiling every few months, and this workhorse never fails to produce good work for me.
The message I think I’m trying to convey, is that the right vintage machine will outperform any of the new models. Even this machine is over 50 years old, with its all metal construction, will outlast and sew better than its all-plastic contemporaries.
Hi John, I think you’re right. They just don’t make them like they used to. Thanks for the comment and regards.
I live in Australia and I have a Bernina Record that is 40+ years old. It was made in Switzerland but when I enquired about a more modern machine I was told that they no longer make them in Switzerland but instead they are manufactured in Thailand.
Hi Christine, I am going to go and explore this rumor, please give me till the end of the summer to find out what is going on. Deal?
Mayra, I believe what Christine said is true, the vast majority of Bernina machines are no longer made in Switzerland. Recently, I bought a fairly inexpensive Brother machine because I needed a quick replacement for another Brother machine I had that apparently never really functioned out of the box, and I wanted more time to research a better quality machine. I had my eye on a Bernina and nearly passed out when I saw that it would cost around $1,800 USD. In doing some internet research, I came across a blog post written with information from the poster’s husband, and it’s hilarious what he found in HIS research about sewing machine “parentage” these days (spoiler alert: most of them are made in China, Taiwan, and Japan – even the “Swiss” and “German” machines). I wish I could find the blog post, it was incredibly informative. If I locate it, I will come back and comment with a link. In any case, I *think* he found that most Berninas these days are made in Thailand or Japan, and that only their high end machines (probably those costing $5,000 USD and up) are made in Switzerland these days.
Hi Kimberly, thanks so much for you comment and adding this additional info to the post. The Bernina website is pretty ambiguous. They talk a lot about “Swiss precision” and “Swiss tradition” but don’t actually say they manufacture much in Switzerland anymore. Still I’ve not come across a poorly made Bernina yet. Other brands have clearly declined as production has moved to low cost countries. It is certainly still possible to manufacture high quality products in these places. After all everyone’s iPhones, iPads and such are all made in China and the quality is pretty good. Perhaps Bernina is doing the same. I’ll have to do more research. Will keep you posted.
Hi Mayra, I have done a google search on Where are Bernina Machines made now and came up with the following site
It would seem that most of them are made in Thailand under strict quality control from Switzerland. However there are a few good comments on the Pattern Review site from members who have also been doing research. I agree with you that I have never come across a bad Bernina but then mine is over 40 years old. I think my sister bought it in 1973
WOW Christine, you are a very lucky girl, old machines are just the best, all made in metal inside and out! Thanks for the info!
Thank you Kimberly! I think the key is to buy a machine with metal parts and not plastic. I still would love to pay a visit to the factory.
Christine, whatever you do, do NOT get rid of your old Bernina unless it’s now worthless and completely inoperable! They truly do not make them like that anymore. I know someone with a newer Bernina and she thinks it’s a piece of junk. If your Bernina works, hang on to it as long as possible!
Hi Kimberly, I have no intention of getting rid of the old Bernina. It is the best workhorse I have ever had. I have a top of the range Husqvarna SL200 bought in 1973 that also is all metal but it is not as good as the Bernina. I see online some people are willing to pay almost double what I paid for it new.
Another source for used machines is a dealer shop. Because they take trade-ins, they have a variety of used machines which have been cleaned and serviced at the shop. Often the machine came from the shop new. I bought a Husqvarna Viking this way.
Hi Tracy, thanks so much for your comments. I think we’ve mentioned that both in points 4 and 10. I definitely agree that you can often get great value used machines from your local sewing machine dealer. Thanks again and kind regards.