Tool Tip. Do quality tools lead to better sewing?

better sewing

As time goes on I seem to accumulate more and more sewing tools.  Nothing wrong with that of course.  I always am quite frugal with my spending though and wondered about whether it is worth spending more to get a ‘better quality' tool that would give me ‘better' sewing results or last longer.  What do you think?

So I thought I would look at some of my budget sewing tools and some of the more expensive alternatives, and consider if it was time to upgrade.  Let's have a look at the differences and I'd love to know from you if you think one is better than the other, where it might be worth investing more money or where the budget option is good enough.

Sewing machines

Ok so this seems like a very obvious place to start, with our home sewing machines.  Mine is a basic Brother that I brought back very carefully in my hand luggage from a weekend shopping trip to the USA.  I got it in Walmart and it cost about $150.  better sewingThe exact model is discontinued but its very similar to this one, the Brother CS6000i which is the number one best-selling sewing machine on Amazon.  When people write and ask what machine would be good for a beginner on a limited budget I always recommend this one.  One of my sewing blogging buddies has it and swears by it.

better sewing

Now I LOVE my machine, but you could say I really don't know any better.  It's the only one I've ever used.  I know that you can spend a LOT of money on a sewing machine but does it make your end results any better?  Will your sewing be better if you have a ‘better' machine?

I recently attended my first ever sewing event, at Sewing Holiday (review of the event here), and all of the machines there were provided by Babylock.   My first chance to try out another machine.  I used the Rachel, which is a lower end beginner machine, similar to my Brother.  In fact it looked very similar, had all the same features and stitches, worked the same.  It was nice to use, smooth, perhaps a little quieter although that was hard to tell in a busy classroom environment, but I didn't notice that my sewing on this machine was any better than on my machine at home.

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The price for the Babylock Rachel – list price is $599, although dealers will often discount or give you a special at around $500 I'm told.  So that's 3-4 times what I paid for mine, for a machine that does exactly the same things.  I'm going to be controversial here and say the Brother is my choice because of the great value for money if you are looking for a starter machine.  Mine has lasted me 3 years in a very salty humid environment, still works perfectly, has never been serviced, and I don't see myself outgrowing it any time soon.

That's not to say that there aren't other machines worth investing in.  Some machines are undoubtedly better than others and some will deal better with certain applications than others.  Plan to sew a lot of bags, home decor or thick layers?  Then you'll need a machine that can bust through those layers easily and feed them smoothly, and not all of the lower end machines can do that well.

BRTHR-011985_MicrositeHeader_FRIf you are lucky enough to have a larger budget for your machine, the sky is pretty much the limit on how much you can spend, and which of the premium brands you can pick from.  I know someone who actually owns this Brother Dream Machine – can you believe it!  Built in lasers and all sorts of other cools things she told me about that I can't even imagine – sounds space age to me.  She tells me that this machine will certainly improve your sewing because the stitching is laser guided, has a digital dual feed for total accuracy (and lot of other amazing features), but with a price tag of around $12-14,000 dollars, that's not something I'll probably ever be able to afford in this lifetime.


Brother USA – if you are reading, I'd love to try one.  Send it over for me to ‘review' 😉  I'll send it back, maybe….

Modern or ‘vintage'? Plastic or metal?

When we talk machines in the sewing chat group, many still swear by their older or vintage machines for reliability and quality.  As the saying goes, they don't make 'em like they used to.   Does heavy still mean quality when it comes to machines?  Is an all-metal body/frame/workings better than the more modern materials?  I once read an article from a sewing machine repair man that argued that many of the more modern plastic components were better these days than the older ones, but as usual I can't find that again now when I want to link to it.

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The insides of a Bernina

I cant say and would have to leave that up to you to decide.

If you want to take a good look inside the Brother CS6000i linked to above, here is an excellent discussion on Pattern Review where you can look inside at all of the parts.  You might have to login or register to see it though because I think it's in the forums section.  There are a lot of comments both in support of budget machines and totally against them, so it's an interesting read.

better sewingIn Conclusion

No, you don't need an expensive machine to sew well.  I think I do pretty well, although obviously I'm still learning and have a way to go, but my budget machine enables me to create things beautifully and I'm very satisfied with it for my current level of expertise and the projects that I am likely to make. That's not to say if Brother, Babylock or Bernina or someone else called me up and asked if I would like a free top of the range sewing machine, that I would turn them down (still waiting on that call…) but the less I spend on my machine the more money I have left to spend on fabric!

However if you have the budget and can afford it, yes, treat yourself to a really nice quality top of the range machine with all the bells and whistles, dealer support, good warranty, sewing lessons included and more.  You won't be sorry and it will probably last you a very long time with very little trouble.

Remember – A skilled workman can create a masterpiece with any tools, but the best machine in the world can't create a beautiful dress if you don't know how to sew well. As one of the sewing members said “Dior didn't use an expensive machine like mine, but look at what they sewed.”

Feel free to disagree with me in the comments.  I love a healthy honest debate.  Tell me about your machine, and why its worth paying so much more for it.

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Affiliate disclosure 😉  Nope, I'm not a representative of Brother, Babylock or anyone else and don't earn a commission if you buy a Dream Machine!  But if you do, let me know what it's like!

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77 Responses to Tool Tip. Do quality tools lead to better sewing?

  1. Vlierbloesem says:

    I learned to sew on my great-grandmom’s old Singer machine. Expensive at the time, at 100 Dutch silver florins. It is still working fine.

    My mom later bought a cheap electric machine. It was a drag.

    My own first sewing machine was an all metal fantasy brand, made by Brother. At 500 silver Dutch silver florins it was the most expensive and best I could afford. Maintenance is a breeze. It is so easy to take of the outer parts, for cleaning and oiling. That was about 5 years ago and is is still working, though I have used some repairparts from I recently bought secondhand twin that has cost me 20 Euro. There is no way to obtain parts for this machine otherwise. Now and before no sewingmachine shop wanted to service this machine, since it is a fantasy brand. But I can do it all myself.

    A newer ‘computerized’ machine was gifted to me. It is the expensive Brother Pacesetter PC8500. Only about 20 years old, but a tiny litle part is worn out and Brother Europe says the machine is to old for servicing. They do not deliver parts anymore.

    I will not buy an expensive new machine, for it is not an investment.Just throwing money out the window. The wellknown brands think it is O.K. to let the customers pay a lot and refuse service after a couple of years.

    For automatic buttonhole and many automatic stitches, I recently bought a Singer 6180. Definately a low end machine, but with the modern features that I missed in the old machine. I know plastic does not last as long as metal. It is not designed for easy repairs. Difficult to get inside and the plastic will not survive taking apart often. But it will do for now.

    This Singer was bought at Lidl for only €100.- and it came with a flow. The factory setting was wrong: the needle was set to low. But with adjusting a screw that was repaired. Now it works well. This machine is made in Vietnam. Spareparts can be ordered in China for cheap. I expect that service will not last long, so I have ordered some parts in advance.

    I know there are nicer machines, but in the absence of good service, for how long will they function well?

    I think it is not wise to buy expensive machines from an industrie that does not maintain service.

  2. Barbara Funk says:

    I learned to sew on my mom’s old singer. It would zig zag and straight stitch and that’s it. when I got to Jr high, they had machines that went so fast! LOL. After being without a machine for 20 years, I bought a cheapo Brother from Walmart, a more frustrating experience I can’t remember It couldn’t hold tension, stitch length was uneven, what a piece of junk. I hardly sewed, hated it. When My mother-in-law passed, I inherited several machines, mostly to old and complicated to bother with, and her wonderful school model Singer (she taught Home-ec!) I love to sew, now, this machine is such a pleasure. My skills have improved enough, I’m considering a new machine with more bells and whistles, but I know I’ll keep this old girl set up for basics, can’t go wrong with her.

    • Nicci says:

      Hi just reading the comments of so many fellow sewers is great . Thought this art was in decline but reading this is truly inspiring . Like so many of you I learnt to love sewing on my grandmothers treadle singer machine ( she sewed I treadles) I picked up so much from her , she used to be a seamstress and designer back in the 1920’s so old techniques were passed on , I love to sew and have taught both of my sons aswell , proudly they can make and repair all sorts of items and make things from scratch ,(even without a patten so grants memory lives on . Anyway last year I went shopping for threads and found a great bargain sewing machine for £85 thought maybe it would be a second machine to my older Toyota model but I have now completed several large projects like massive curtains and ballgown son this amazing little machine (love it to pieces) it’s a black plastic casing from great British sewing bee and does basic stitches . They say a good workman never blames there tools so I’m in agreement that it s not what you have its how you use it 😄👍

  3. Roch says:

    Passing this on from a seamstress who literally puts miles or kilometers on her machine: she uses a good basic machine. When it wears out, she just replaces it with another $100+ machine. She will buy several when they are on sale. Not worth the hassle doing otherwise.

  4. Jo Ann Anthony says:

    At this time i am 64 years old so I have had some experiences with machines. I started out with push pedaling my grandmother’s old singer i did the pushing and she did the sewing. Once she realized how keen i was on sewing. She taught me on the other old singer with a knee bar. my feet would have never reached the pedals. And i must say, I sewed my fingers then and i have never broken that habit. Then as time went on, we moved to portables. The first one, I don’t know what it was, was wonderful, but i kinda missed the table singer with the push bar. The top of this one (it was bought in the early 60’s) had light blue “textured cover”. It really screamed 60’s. The sewing machines in school where singer’s and another brand, White maybe. I can’t remember.

    When I started buying my own machines, i bought a singer, and i was really disappointed and gave it away, then I got a kenmore, and another and another. My oldest still has my last one.

    Then I went big and got a MC Janome. I forget the number. After a few years the step motor went on it and I gave it to my second daughter. She still hasn’t fixed it. We have to have a talk about that. And I bought a MC5700. I had also realized by that time that janome made kenmore and Elna. The Kenmore and Elna didn’t quite match to the memory craft 5700 so I stayed with Janome. But today i want to try and order a brother CS6000i to take camping with me and my horse. All in all mistakes are usually driver error, but don’t get me wrong, there are crappy machines out there. But before getting rid of it…service it and keep it cleaned and oiled especially the mechanical ones. Oh. I have a mechanical school Janome too.

    gee, certainly talked to much.

  5. Michelle C Faustermann says:

    I have a cheap brother also and it is well over 10 years old. I love it. There’s nothing I can’t do with it. I make bags, clothes, stuffed animals, you name it.

  6. MJ says:

    Buy the best machine (metal parts) you can afford and it pays off. My experience shows to buy the best machine with metal insides is the way to go. 30 years ago and just out of school and on a low budget, I bought a Singer for me and one for my mom as a gift to replace her worn out old Singer. Total garbage, would not hold tension at all pretty quickly. Learned the hard way – plastic insides!! I bought a little better Singer as a gift for my mom and it was garbage also. Total waste of money! Learned my lesson and about 27 years ago, I saved up to buy a computerized Bernina – heavy as can be a perfect machine all of these years. Almost no maintenance and cleaning and it runs like new. The last time I got it serviced, the guy told me I could sell it anytime for big money. So it has cost me very little per year and per project.

    When I give advice or gifts now for machines, the best deal is the Baby Lock BL9. Excellent beginner machine or extra machine at a low price. I have bought and recommended many.

    • Mayra at So Sew Easy says:

      I too have a Bernina, an over locker that is a trusting as a labrador! But, I most say nothing equals experience when it comes to machinery. Thank you for taking the time to comment!

      • MJ says:

        Like Deby says in this post, she does well with her machine, and I am so happy for her! But no amount of sewing experience (or money) can overcome a machine that does not work well or cannot hold tension and adjustment. And it is just no fun! The repair costs can exceed the cost of a new machine, and beginners are likely to quit.

    • cheryl says:

      I agree I also 30 years ago bought a brenina computorised sewing machine and to this day I have had four different machines in my life time and the brenina is by far the best ever and it still runs perfect with no defects and matnence once every five to ten years. My new dream machine is 3years old and needs to go in for a fix on the threader wow what a sad thing it was tripple the price and I use this machine daily as i have with my brenina this one will not last 30+ years but someone will get my Brenina when I die I am sure it will still run for them all metal and the computer still works like a charm. I love to sew everything from Quilts to clothing, home furnishings bags just about anything and I also Embroider whic is why I bought the Brother sorry now should have bought the Brenina, oh well live and learn.

  7. Alex says:

    I think there is definitely a difference in quality between cheap and expensive machines. I have a metal 1974 Elna which I bought second hand 20 years ago for (then) about US$175. I have had mine serviced maybe two or three times and it is still going and doing well for “normal” use (clothing, lights bags and totes including denim and supple leather). My daughter had a cheap plastic one which did not even last three years with light use! But there are limitations to my machine. It has only four different feet and no automatic button hole maker (I avoid button holes like the plague), and it has no adjustable foot pressure. I like the really expensive modern machines that do embroidery 🙂 If I bought another one I would probably still prefer a “better” machine second hand than a new machine for the same price, but I would make sure it came from a reputable dealer with some sort of warranty and back-up support. I agree that to cope with heavy leather and furnishings you probably need to spend six to ten times what you would spend on a mid-level machine, or buy a dedicated second hand industrial machine.

  8. Jane says:

    Budget or higher quality – it all depends on what you want to sew and what you really can afford.

    The thing is:
    Budget machines don’t have a motor as strong as the higher quality machines and most of the time the feed is just “not the same”. (I try to keep the terms here simple…)

    If you sew “basic” things, mend a few garements, maybe home decoration or even a bag or purse (when you do not mind using the handwheel as soon as you have to tackle more than 6 layers of normal “quilt weight” fabric) – a machine for 150 to 200$ will do the job.

    But: once it comes to high precision work, like intricate piecing where 1/64″ matters, or, lets say, sewing leather purses and bags, sewing the most delicate fabrics like thin silk and so on, a budget machine will not really be able to give you any satisfying result at all.
    In fact: Try sewing 4 layers of leather with a budget machine and most likely they will even break – without the option of having it fixed because fixing would cost more than the machine is still worth.

    Now, where does “budget” end and where does “pricey” start?
    Well, if you say that your budget ist 500$, then I usually tell my students to either look for a used but serviced machine that once cost around 900$ or just keep saving and choose another 150$ machine for the time being. You can’t really get high quality for 500$. It is still the “budget” segment in sewing machines. (Janome has a few machines for a bit less than 800$ that do a pretty good job on thin leather and silk though…)

    If you are really shooting for high quality, you need to save up to 1500$ to 2000$ to get you something that will last you for 15 to 20 years (when you get the machine serviced regularly and take good care of it).

    I am a Bernina girl these days, since Pfaff just isn’t what it used to be any longer.
    My trusty Bernina aurora 440 has gone many ways with me – though the most delicate fabrics like thin silk, loads of jeans that I have sewn for my twins up to mending my leather pants that I used to wear riding my motorcycle.
    Surprisingly, you were showing the “mostly metal” interior of exactly this machine in your post. There is no way for the little mechanics to shift and move within that solid metal frame. The machine sits on the table like a rock and just does its job.

    In my classes, I have had loads of students having trouble with their “discount” machines, especially when it comes to “heavy duty” seams when we are sewing bags. The nice ones among them, who blame themselves first before blaming the fabric, the thread or even the machine, usually get the chance to give the same seam a shot on my machine – which usually teaches them the lesson that their machine just isn’t made for making bags.
    “You wouldn’t ask a skinny 7 year old kid to lift 200 lbs in the gym, right?” – “Yeah!” – “So don’t ask your sewing machine without a proper feed and without a strong motor to do hard work like that!”
    It happened quite often that the same ladies came back with a new, pricey machine for their next class with me 🙂 So there must be something about it.

    If, however someone is completely new to sewing and has never had a sewing machine, I usually recommend that they go asking around family and friends if someone has an old sewing machine that is no longer in use.
    Most of the time, there will be an old lady with a good old “boat anchor” from the 60s or 70s that is still a great machine – which you mostly get for nothing… clean it, oil it. search for the user manual online and have ablast with a sewing machine that will tackle most beginner sewing up to intermediate sewing, and no fuzz with purses or thick fabrics.
    Not to mention that it gives time to save money for a fancy sewing machine (although: once you are in love with a good vintage machine, you will probably stick to it… they are easy to maintain and easy to repair IF something is broken… mostly it will just be a belt or some rubber rings that did not survive half a century…)

    All in all I agree with your post: 150$ or 500$ – it makes no difference.

    Differences start at 1500$ for new machines.

    A trusty Singer “boat anchor” from the 70s is worth more than any new plastic sewing machine that you can buy for up to 750$ these days.

    • Carol Raabe says:

      Jane, your experience matches mine. when i was a kid (i’m 70 now) our budget was so tight we sewed with Kenmore and Montgomery Ward machines. At one point, Mom and i would switch machines depending on the weight of our fabric. Using those basic machines taught me a lot about sewing things that are now done automatically. A lot of those old macines are still around and would, imho, make better first machines than a basic new machine. After a few projects to get the feel of sewing, buying a more modern machine will feel less daunting. But research carefully. My favorite research technique is to read tons of reviews on the internet, skipping 5star reviews altogether, reading lots of 2’s and threes to what kinds of problems users have, and 4’s to see if users like the machine in spite of complaints in 2’s and 3’s and why. Also, if you can get an experienced sewer to try out a used machine with you, that would help.

  9. kathy Banfield says:

    I was just considering a new Brother sewing machine! For the last 25 years, I’ve been sewing with Pfaff machines, and I’m thoroughly disgusted. I recently paid over $200 to have my Hobby 1040 repaired, and now the feed dogs don’t work! UGH! My favorite machine of all time was my Viking 990. When I purchsed it, it was considered the top of the line, but price was no issue to me since I lived with my parents and had a great job as an RN.I wish I had kept that machine, but the motherboard was shot and I wanted a similar machine that had embroidery features.I couldn’t afford another Viking, but the Pfaff wasn’t cheap, either! On a brighter note, I’ve had no issues with my Pfaff Coverlock serger.I love that machine!

  10. Helen Tulip says:

    I was told that the motherboard in computerized machines do not last much more than 10 years, and replacing them is quite expensive. My 70 year old Featherweight is still going strong. Mind you, they were expensive machines in their day, but I would grudge the money unless I was convinced of the value, Helen

  11. Nikki R. says:

    The price one pays for a machine is not as important as the reliability of the manufacturer — the overall quality of the full line of the machines. I spent 20 years using an inexpensive Kenmore just fine, until the clutch gave out. That said, I now own a Janome Horizon MC 7700 — a rather more expensive machine than my old Kenmore, but much better suited to quilting — both the piecing and free motion quilting — than a lower end machine. I could have spent more for the same features from a different company, but Janome had the right price point with the reliability reputation I desired.

    Note that the model of Brother you use is indeed very popular, but other Brother models are not. Brother has a very uneven reliability reputation — some are great, some are disappointing. Sites like PatternReview provide good critical guidance in choosing a machine to suit one’s particular needs and budget.

    Just my opinion, of course.

  12. Heather says:

    I learned on old singers – one grandma had a 500 series Golden Touch & Sew and the other had a 403A. My first machine was a 70s Singer. I upgraded from that to a mechanical Viking & have since moved on to a new Viking Sapphire. I miss the no-nonsense workhorse nature of the mechanical Viking. It just needed TLC (generous lubrication) of the stitch selector – a known issue with that particular model. I love my sapphire, but I refuse to mend dirty horse blankets with it (a task that my mechanical Viking did willingly with the promise of a cleaning).

    I’ve since purchased machines similar to my grandmas’ machines for the nostalgia, but I intend to use them to teach my daughter on. I appreciate the fact that I have been able to service them myself while the Viking sapphire may be self-lubricating, but it isn’t owner-serviceable.

    Outside of special stitches and button holes, the differences between the modern and vintage machines is like the difference between driving a car with an automatic transmission and a stick shift – if your skills are lacking the more expensive machine isn’t going to help.

  13. Leni says:

    Hey Deby, I have got a Brother machine, too (the anniversary model) and I love sewing with it! It is my first machine I got from my mum when I started being interested in sewing 3 years ago and so far the only problems I had were due to my lacking skills=) The machine is about 220 ounds on amazon uk and I think it’s a great beginner’s machine! Cheers from Germany, LENI

  14. Eileen says:

    I’m having trouble here in the UK aactually getting my brother sewing machine serviced. There is a shop in the city but they hgave a 5 – 6 week turn around and will charge £90. My local machine repair man won’t touch Brother and doesn’t know of anyone that can service it for me. Now, I know that Deby is in the Caymans but do any of her fans living in the UK know of any Brother servicing agents that they can recommend? I’m aware that I will have to pay shipping costs etc but it’s got to be a better deal tha
    n the one I can get in York.

What do you think?