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.

better sewing

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 cool 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 a 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 repairman 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.

better sewing

The insides of a Bernina

I can't 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.

Related articles

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

  1. Jan says:

    I had a perfectly good , basic sewing machine that, with my serger, traded up to a new, more expensive babylock. It was an impulse buy and I now feel uncomfortable using it. I do use it, and I do feel good about my projects, but I know I could have made the same items with my other machine.

  2. Favy says:

    I grew up using Singer “straight stitch only” machines and not knowing any better thought they were the best! After getting married, my new in-laws knowing that I loved to sew, bought me a fairly low end Brother machine. I called it my “Oh Brother”, if that gives you any indication of how it sewed. When I finally could afford it I replaced Oh Brother with a mid-range Pfaff. It was a floor model and I paid $500 for it in 1985. That little jewel sews like a champ still today, although I don’t own it anymore. I bought the top of the line Babylock sewing/embroidery machine in 2004. Her name is Bella, and she sewed beautifully but not with a lot of strength. She’s been rebuilt twice and still sews well as long as it’s not on heavy materials. I went to work at a Janome dealership, and now own 3 fantastic Janome machines. (By the way, Janome makes Kenmore, Elna, and some Bernina machines.) My love of sewing includes using those decorative stitches that so many people don’t know what to do with! I sew clothes, quilts, and very creative wall quilts, cushions etc using embroidery and decorative stitches. My opinion, is that machine quality counts for a lot, having used cheap machines and the highest end machines. Also, seeing those low end machines coming in for servicing at our shop, many of them are pure junk. O course, I love the statement about the sewists skill level being most important. I’ve seen ladies with the high end machines make junky quality things, and I’ve seen videos of people in 3rd world countries using manual, straight stitch only machines creating masterful embroidery, cutwork and all manner of beautiful creations. So, it’s a bit of both isn’t it, skill, creativity and materials all combine together to either come out with good or poor results. What matters is are we enjoying the process because we like how our machine(s) function, or not?

    • Favy says:

      Forgot to also mention that I do own 2 old straight stitch only Singer machines! A lovely little Featherweight and a pretty 99K. Both machines sew very beautifully. It’s too bad that Singer sold out their name to a company that now makes junk machines. Brother does make the high quality Babylock too, but they also make very high end Brother machines available in sewing shops, in addition to the lower end machines they sell in big box stores, with supposed vast difference in quality. All in all, I own 5 sewing machines and 1 serger. And sergers are another topic you might want to address sometime!

  3. Nancy says:

    I have a 30 year old Janome Combi 10 that I will never part with; however, I recently bought a Janome MC9900 and what a difference! I still love my Combi but I am really enjoying the ease of sewing with the new Janome and there are new perks with new machines (like automatic threader; automatic buttonholes, stitches especially for knits etc) that make everything much easier. I also am enjoying the embroidery function that comes with my new machine. We recently found my Grandmother’s old White machine and I’m dying to get it serviced and test it out too. One thing I will say though, the old machines are really built well and if they have been well cared for are gems.

  4. chilebeanz says:

    I learned to sew on Singers and my first machine was a Singer. In middle age I got a new computerized Bernina, and you’d have to shoot me to get my now nearly 30 year old macine away from me. I will use a Bernina until the day I die. Like anything, cheap will disappoint, and quality always wins. Keep it clean and oiled, take it in to a GOOD dealership once a year for a checkup, and it will perform perfectly like my Bernina 1130. I still get offers from dealers who will pay me what I paid for it so long ago. It is the one possession I love above all others because it does what I ask it to, every time. Don’t give me diamonds which do nothing for me; I would prefer a great sewing machine. I have dressed myself and my family with it, decorated my homes with it, and earned a living with it when I needed to. Nothing else in my life has done as much for me as my Bernina. I have even been known to kiss it goodnight.

  5. montystacy93 says:

    Once I spent $4500 on a Bernina that had timing issues after my first diaper bag and had to go back to the shop. I then sold it on ebay. Before that, I have used an Elna 3017 – basic machine – that is still going strong with my daughter. I have had several Kenmores and 2 Singers. By far the worst machines I’ve had were Singers; I simply cannot get along with them. My most favorite machine that I use religiously is a 1950’s Morse Fotomatic with cams for some special stitches. It is a workhorse, will sew through anything, and parts are metal and universally still available. It will still be working when I’m gone. Best of all the stitches are amazing top and bottom. All of that being said, I do agree that there are great new basic machines, and that the machine doesn’t make the seamstress. A machine that you enjoy using can make sewing that much more pleasurable. Bells and whistles appeal to some and not to others. My next investment will be a dedicated straight stitch machine like the Juki TLQ, I think.

  6. Manuela Wilhelm says:

    I agree with Linda, who wrote … “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 I move countries frequently I work on a cheap, basic Singer machine I get from a discounter store, and that I always sell on before the next move. The main feature of the machine: it sews, full stop. No fancy high tech aids or gadgets, and I think this made me a better and more skillful sewist.

  7. Kathleen says:

    I have a Brother very similar to yours. I love it! But I also own a 30 plus year old Kenmore that I never really appreciated until I purchased the Brother. My Brother is a little finicky about anything thick -fabric or thread. And it doesn’t like sequins at all! Refuses to sew. Now I don’t sew sequins everyday. In fact, I have only done it twice, but it was nice to have “old faithful” to depend on. I tried my hand at sewing jeans. My Brother didn’t like the thick top stitching thread either. I find it nice to have both machines. From what I have read, many people that sew for the public as a home business prefer the older all metal machines.

  8. Elina Grohn says:

    I agree that it really is more about the sewers skills that about the machine. However I used to have an old Husqarna machine and that was an hopeless case. You couldn’t sew any fabric that was too thick or too fine, using special stiches like three step zig zag meant that the thread would break constantly, and it needed service constantly or it would’t sew anything. Finally I had the possibility to get a new one, a Bernina 1008. It’s an old model but boy what a difference! Sewing is simply much more fun when you have a reliable machine that does what’s it supposed to do.

  9. I have been using the same Brother sewing machine for 54 years and I have no complaints. I inherited a Brother computerized machine and a friend and I couldn’t figure out how to use it! Guess I will have to have lessons to figure it out, but I wonder if it is worth the trouble at this stage of the game!

  10. Bonnie Barnes says:

    One thing that Hasn’t been mentioned is what kind of warranty is offered by the company. This can be a real issue especially when someone purchases a rather cheap machine. Some have a 30-day and if you are lucky maybe 6 months to a year. The higher end machines (Bernina, Pfaff, Viking) offer great warranties but you have to take them to an “authorized dealer” for any repairs. Of course, if owners would keep their machines clean, especially in the bobbin area, they would last longer. At least once a year they should be cleaned by an expert. I sold and have been a real Viking fan but since they moved production from Sweden to China they are not what they used to be. I am on two Yahoo groups devoted to Vikings and there are many, many complaints. My older ones, including embroidery, are great but were made with more steel and in Sweden.

  11. Judy Kaye says:

    When I married back in 1976 my new husband bought me the latest top of the line Pfaff sewing machine. It was a good machine when it worked but it had to go into the shop about every 4 to 9 months. Always when I was under the gun and had to have something done on time. I would always end up finishing the item on my grandmothers treadle sewing machine which was also top of the line in its time and had every attachment available at the time. I still have that old machine the Certificate of Warranty is dated May 27, 1915. My electric is a Brother Embroidery machine, not top of the line but it does everything I want it to and should it lack something I always have Grandma’s old stand by.

  12. Christine Swan says:

    Back in the late ’60s, my husband bought me a Brother. I loved it and did a lot of sewing on it. Later on, (about 35 years ago), he bought me a Singer Touchtronic 2000. I really loved that machine. It developed problems and one of the major parts was a pc board. Singer no longer makes it so I ended up buying a used and reconditioned Pfaff Creative 1471. It is wonderful. I love the IDT and the needle down and the different stitches to try out. Pfaff is a great brand.

  13. As a fairly new sewer I bought my first machine October 2012. It was one of the A Line series, a Baby lock Audrey. For a first time sewist who was doing a lot of home decor (making curtains because we’d had a home and I had to replace everything) I quickly found out you DO get what you pay for in terms of machine’s overall ability to deal with heavier fabric AND throat space to get larger projects through the machine.

    I upgraded to a Pfaff Creative 2.0 in December 2012 because I decided I liked the idea of embroidery too. The difference between this machine’s smoothness and stitch quality was amazing.

    After using the Creative 2.0 for 11 ms I had an opportunity to upgrade to a top of the Line Pfaff Creative Pro and haven’t looked back… While my SKILLS are not particularly better my sewing definitely is as the machine makes sewing so much easier and fun 🙂

    I have since also added a portable Pfaff Passport 2.0 for taking to classes and piecing work etc because it was built hardier than my babylock.

    So yes I think having a better machine can improve the overall quality of what you produce, but not necessarily give you better skills.

  14. Carol Sewell says:

    I often wonder if sewing would be easier on a new machine, but I guess I really don’t want to find out. I inherited the 1960’s era Viking that my grandmother used and that I’ve been sewing on since I was about 8. It’s beginning to show some wear – my widest zig-zag setting now causes the thread to break and the incredible low gear has frozen-up, but it’s still sewing strong. This machine gave me a limitless wardrobe when I was a fashion-concious teenager, has given me custom made jeans, a cordouroy sportcoat for an old boyfriend, a child’s sleeping bag, numerous quilts and an endless stream of gifts for my friends and family.
    I guess I’m just agreeing with you, Debbie. A good basic machine that meets your needs is enough.

  15. Brenda says:

    Also I might add that the Janome machines tend to have a larger harp area for quilting than the other lower end brands. Juki’s are also supposed to be very high quality machines and some have a very large harp for quilting although I have never sewn on one I have seen many positive reviews.

  16. Brenda says:

    I am beginning to be a sewing machine collector. LOL! I have my Grandmother’s Singer Treadle machine from 1925. It still sews beautifully. I bought an inexpensive Kenmore when I first started learning to really sew. It had all kinds of issues and was loud. As well as I also abused it some I am sure, as I was learning to sew.
    When I tired of wrestling with it, I bought a midrange Memory Craft 4000 made by Janome. I loved it! I have had it many years and still sew the majority of my sewing on it. I love that that Janome machines are all metal inside. Mine does a lot of decorative stitches, has twin needle capabilities, does all kinds of buttonholes and has several needle positions as well as up and down needle settings. I recently bought a Singer 401 A which I have been told was one of the best Singers. It is from the 50’s. It has lots of decorative stitches and is solid metal. Inside and out. Although not super heavy because the outside is cast aluminum. I love it too! It will go through about anything you can fit under the foot. Quilters love this machine so I bought it partially for that. Although my Janome handled my first quilt just fine and I love the feather stitch I used on it, to stitch in the ditch on my Jelly Roll quilt.
    I also have a Janome serger. My second one. The first one I was a little hard on and got it jammed and it stripped the lower looper gear. I used it for quite awhile. It was much better than the Walmart Brother one I tried though and much more quiet. I have a MC 300E embroidery only machine. It is made by Janome and I love it too! I love the machines being separate as I can sew and embroider at the same time. Although when going to classes if you need a sewing machine and an embroidery machine it is at a handicap there. Which for me it doesn’t matter too much as there is always an extra sewing machine available where I go for embroidery classes. So in saying all that. I do love my mid range Janome for most of my sewing. BUT in researching for a lower cost machine for my 8 year old Granddaughter, for Christmas. I decided on buying her the vintage Singer 401 A like mine as it is solid metal inside and out and she won’t be able to tear it up easily. She could learn on mine some before Christmas and if something happens to it, I can pretty much watch a You Tube video and I think I could fix about anything that could go wrong with it as long as I have the tools or hubby does. I figured an 8 year old might get rough with a machine but my daughter could also still sew on it if need be and it has many of the stitches you would want. Although no feather stitch. I was disappointed about that. Unless there is a cam for it out there that I haven’t discovered yet. I went back and forth between a new lower end Brother or Janome or the vintage one and finally decided on the vintage one for her. Oh I also have my husband’s Bernina Record that needs repairing. Both it and the Singer 401 A and the 1925 Singer Treadle have really nice straight stitches. The Bernina is also all metal but needs freeing up to be able to zig zag and do the decorative stitches in it.
    So hope this might help others if they are trying to decide. I found I was a bit rough on my first machine trying to sew through thick layers and gathers of some of the doll clothes I was making at the time, so I wish I had learned on a more heavy duty machine.

  17. ellellbee says:

    I don’t agree that budget machines are just as good. As beginner machines, you can’t beat the Brothers. Over the years I have had a Singer, 2 Kenmore and then upgraded to a still fairly low end Brother. All machines had issues: missed stitches, tangled bobbin thread, broken thread, wrestling the fabric to try and keep a straight seam but not succeeding. I just thought it was normal to get frustrated when sewing. I finally could afford something better and researched a lot. Interviewed all my sewing and quilting friends to get their opinions. One friend bought a Pfaff 30 years ago and spent what was a month’s wages at the time. It is still going strong. The IDT system appealed to me. I went shopping and compared. The Pfaff just felt so much better than the Elna, even the Janome. I bought the Pfaff Performance 5.0 and am so pleased with it. It is just such a relief to not have to fight my machine. I am a beginner quilter, mender, occasional sewer and often fabricate stuff in heavy fabrics like cordura, denim, vinyl for storage pouches in my vehicle and boat, seat covers, holders for all sorts of things. It is just plain easier with my Pfaff. A joy to use. I sigh with pleasure every time I use it.

  18. Michele says:

    It still comes down to the skill of the user. You choose the machine that best fits your skills and what you want to make.

  19. Linda says:

    Something to 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.” A good basic machine and lots of practice will do most sewists just fine.
    I learned to sew on a Singer 201 that was my seamstress grandmother’s. When I got engaged I bought myself a Pfaff 1222 & sewed with it for many, many years. Upgraded to a Janome QE4800 … bought myself another Pfaff 1222E then a Pfaff 1222SE (bought and sold two more Pfaff 1222’s as well). Got into collecting machines for 4-Her’s to use .. so now the herd consists of 222FW, several Singers (301, 237, 357, …) Thinking about selling the Janome cause I only use it for the decorative stitches … the rest of my machines sew a straighter stitch and I would never give up the Pfaff’s EVER. When I teach sewing I teach the kids to use just the basic stitches and they do just fine.
    If I manage to sell the Janome I “might” replace it with a Pfaff Passport.
    BTW there is a wonderful compilation about sewing machines at …

  20. JB says:

    I bought a reconditioned Husquvarna Viking 1100 and used it happily for 5 years before the bobbin holder broke. The machine was getting noisy and some of the fancy stitches got out of alignment, so I took it in, only to learn that a basic check out cost $100 (I hear now it is $150) plus parts and the bobbin holder cost $70-some dollars. Not knowing if additional parts were necessary, I decided the $170 could be better spent on a Brother CS6000i. I assumed this would wear out in a couple years, but it has been going for almost 3 years with no problems. It really is a versatile machine, although not as powerful or “solid” as the Viking. For the money it seems like the best investment for an amateur seamstress .
    P.S. While the Viking and the Brother both make acceptable buttonholes, when I want a high quality keyhole buttonhole, I get out my mother’s 1942 Singer Featherweight with a buttonhole attachment.

  21. natalie says:

    I think if sewing is your lifelong passion, you need to invest into a top quality sewing machine. Sewing machines now have the functions of sergers/embroidery/quilting machines. It better to invest into one quality piece than have three or four sewing machines.

    • ellellbee says:

      I agree. Finally upgraded from a fairly low end Brother ($300 CA), which seemed like a dream compared to my old Kenmore that it replaced. I bought a Pfaff Performance 5.0 ($2400 CA). I cannot believe the difference in ease, quality of stitching, features. Even the needle threader on my Brother would only work sometimes. Never a hitch with the Pfaff. The IDT system replaces a walking foot and I use it almost all the time. It is just a joy to use. Still haven’t figured out all the bells and whistles but what features I have learned are very impressive. I used to have to fight my Brother to sew straight sometimes by wrestling the fabric to keep it straight. Unless I have a lot of fabric dragging over the edge, I can pretty much let go and let the Pfaff do it on it’s own and it stays straight. I wish I had had the money for a good machine decades ago. This Pfaff is a dream come true.

    • I wouldn’t like to think I had everything in one machine, should it go wrong then you have nothing. I have a Silver 9300E that does some fancy stitches and I can attach different feet to make some jobs easier. I also have a Husqvarna Babylock, which is about 25 years old, and I use it often. I also have a Standard machine in a wooden treadle case. This is about 70 years old and is a brilliant machine. I can use it if there is a power cut as it uses foot power. it sews anything from fine silk to heavy denim and leather, just changing the needle. I wouldn’t want to be without my treadle machine. It doesn’t do the fancy stitches, but the straight stitch is very even and looks perfect on every type of fabric.

  22. Angela says:

    Good question! I had a Kenmore from Sears about 30 years ago. We didn’t have much money, so I stayed with an inexpensive brand. The thing would never ever hold its tension at all, drove me up the wall. I ended up getting a Viking that was a LOT more money but stitched so much better. Long story – currently I have a Bernina and a Pfaff. I like them both for different reasons, but do think that trying to shop at a dealer is good – so much more help available after the purchase. Doesn’t matter if you get their most basic model available, whereas at a Walmart you are on your own for things that don’t require a return but rather some knowledge.

  23. The features you will use regularly are the only thing you need to worry about for a first machine, or even a second. I sew a lot of projects with leather, so decided to go with a Singer HD 4423. Not the fanciest machine in the world, but it will handle two layers of 2 to 3 0z. garment leather for check book covers and the like or three layers of heavy denim to hem jeans. It will also handle lighter fabrics with ease. I’m not a fancy sewer, and the straight and zig zag stitches are the only ones I use to any extent. Got it for about $130, with free shipping from Amazon.

  24. Daniela says:

    my grandmother bought a new Pfaff 262 sewing machine over 50 years ago – which I now call mine. It is still working great. I have tried out a few (cheap) modern machines but definetly prefer my vintage machine.
    Exept for a few parts on the outside everyting is made out of metal – it seems to be built for eternity! (I doubt that the dream machine will last that long.)
    Even though I love my machine, I sometimes long for a second one with (modern) decorative stiches and probably even an embroidery feature. My dream would be to stay with Pfaff, but I definetly can’t afford the fancy ones…

  25. Gina B. says:

    I upgraded from my 10-year-old Kenmore 16324 to a computerized Kenmore 19233 (made by Janome, it’s the same as their 5100) because I wanted speed control, up/down needle and a few other functions that make my bagmaking easier. It’s been worth every penny.

  26. Suzi says:

    I have never even sewn on a computerized machine, so I can’t compare them. Just call me a vintage person with a vintage machine. Having said that, I am fascinated by older machines, and my machine is simple to care for and understand and will sew through anything. And on days when I want to throw my work computer across the room, it is charming to be using something without a computer chip. But I am glad your machine has worked out for you. You would definitely have exceeded your baggage allowance if you had tried to bring home a vintage machine. And I agree that it’s skills and patience that count more than the machine for most people.

  27. darla says:

    Great article and spot on. I have a few machines and you get what you pay for. Machines are like people. You learn to adapt to the quirks. If you want to sew, you’ll get used to anything your budget will allow!

  28. Laura says:

    Thank you for this post! Your statement or quote at the end really hit home for me! Until 2010 I worked for a (small business) company that used what I would consider top of the line tools; I’m talking soldering irons that cost thousands of dollars. We manufactured scientific grade CCD cameras from the ground up. Afterwards, I worked for an even smaller business repairing cellphones- mainly iPhone 4/4s, and 5 at the time. I was the only employee in 4 stores that could solder, and I was using $10 RadioShack tools… Successfully! It was much more difficult without a microscope and 720 degree Fahrenheit soldering iron, but it was do-able.

    I have found that it seems there are a few of us that get a “lemon” sewing machine, and it’s a frustration and sometimes disheartening turnoff… Thankfully, my skills and learning how to figure out how things work helped me diagnose and repair my two main issues, and now my low-end machine runs much more smoothly (it took me months before I even realized there was something wrong with the machine and not me). If I could go back, I would have done more research rather than buy from Walmart and pay more money ($130) for my Singer, and instead have gone to a dealer and gotten the comparable Brother machine like yours for less money and less headache!

  29. robbie says:

    Basic entry level sewing machines will always have their place among sewists. I have the Brother you mentioned, a Janome New Home (both purchased through and a vintage Kenmore (cost me $15–needs a new cord). I have made wadders on these ‘low budget’ machines and I have also created garments that received stellar compliments. I don’t think extra bells and whistles make a difference when your skills are mediocre. In the seventies, I took sewing in school and the machines were very basic–two stitches–straight and zig-zag, no serger, overlock, button-hole, etc. The teacher could flawlessly copy designer originals in record time on these machines. Her wardrobe was on point. I, however, struggled to make an a-line skirt with a zipper. It was pitiful. Bottom line, when your skills improve, the quality of your garments improve–the machine used is only a tool.

  30. Jan says:

    Just to let you know, brother makes baby lock, so you were probably using a comparable machine!

  31. Minesamojito says:

    Another Bernina lover here, mines a (2nd hand) 830 record. Two years ago I decided that I wanted something a bit more high tech and treated myself to a Janome mid range machine. Whilst there were things about it I loved (led lighting, magic scissors, up/down needle, more needle positions, more stitch options) the things it didn’t do well outweighed all of these; the buttonholes were awful, sewing with a twin needle was at best temperamental, and it loathed thick fabric. I kept going back to the Bernina to do the things it didn’t like, in the end it sat on the shelf for 12 months before being listed on eBay. Is my Bernina a quality tool? – you bet! Did it cost the earth? nope. And the Janome? No thanks.

  32. Leila says:

    The right sewing machine absolutely affects the quality of your sewing. One of my sewing machines is a lightweight portable Janome without adjustable presser foot pressure. I can’t sew an even seam allowance on this machine no matter how hard I try. And straight top-stitching? Forget it. It also won’t sew heavy fabric. This machine vibrates so much I can’t see what I’m doing. Plus it has a front loading bobbin and likes to “eat” thread all of the time, so I’m always untangling a mess of jammed thread from inside the machine.

    My main qualifications for a good basic machine are a heavy machine bed, drop in bobbin (these don’t eat thread like front or side mounted bobbins) and adjustable presser foot tension. You don’t have to spend a lot of money for a machine that’s easy to sew on, though. I like sewing on vintage machines, and I have no desire to “upgrade” to a fancy computerized model. I could buy another vintage machine (or two) every year for what it would cost just to service an expensive machine. My vintage machines mostly just need to be oiled, and I can work on them myself.

  33. Karen Thompson says:

    The main thing I’ve found about the budget machines is that over time, the straight stitch is no longer very straight. I started with a cheap Singer many years ago, upgraded to a low-end Babylock at one point and then after 7 years or so had the same problem. Now i have an older Pfaff I bought off ebay and even though it’s older, so far so good. I think you can get good results with very basic machines and think spending 1000’s of dollars on a machine is crazy unless you are running a business with it.

  34. RainDayPerson says:

    Here’s my context: I grew up in the 70s using my mother’s Kenmore machine – that’s a Singer in Wolf’s clothing FYI – and here’s where the issue could arise – a cheaper machine may be a limited run of a design by a subcontractor – and parts and service might be hard to find in coming years. The Kenmore was a passable machine, but we couldn’t repair it.

    My second machine was a wonderful, expensive top of the line Elna 9000. Computerized, and after 25 years of loyal performance the computer board decayed, and parts were expensive or impossible to find. So – I can’t complain about the value for investment, but longevity became an issue when the company didn’t last.

    I picked up a Brother for $7.50 at a thrift store to get me through the absent machine, and it got me through just fine, but I couldn’t get parts for it either. It’s my backup machine still, but I can be a little choosy.

    My third machine was a rebellion – I wanted a metal machine, as inexpensive as possible, and manual (no computer board!, I declared). But the reliability and consistency I loved in the computerized Elna was missed – I found the feed dogs pulled the fabric to the left, and my precision for heirloom garments was lost. BUT I could trade my machine in on a better more expensive model – so the name brand was worth it!

    So I bought my fourth machine – my Husqvarna Viking Opal 690Q and I am in love – it is precise, and has bells a whistles I love. Parts and Service are, of course, available (it’s only been a year of ownership) – and I hope / expect that they will be available 25 years from now. I hope that the company will excel in developing it’s customer service.

    I guess the question is – how long do you expect your machine to be serviceable? – I think most of us expect our machines to last at least 10 years…. I believe a solid dealer network is a sign of longevity, honestly.

  35. Gertrude says:

    I used to have a Singer machine. I had for over twenty-five years. It had an automatic bobbin winder – by that I mean you did not have to take the bobbin out or unthread the machine. You just pressed a button and the bobbin wound . It was great. But then the button hole feature went and it would have cost way too much to fix it so I bought a new on – Janome. My new machine has the auto needle down feature but that is the only thing I like better. I still miss my old Singer after six years with my new one. 🙁

    • That bobbin feature sounds amazing! Lots of people are commenting that their new machines are OK but they still love and prefer their original or older machines. I wonder if we just grow attached to them and their funny ways 🙂

      • Gertrude says:

        Apparently that feature didn’t work on most machines and so they stopped having it. When I bought my new machine they said that this feature was just being offered again but only on the high end machines. I forget to mention that I paid over $500 for my Janome and that was a mid-range price! I think my new machine was a lower range machine. I am not happy with it but I can’t afford to upgrade. 🙁

  36. Willemien says:

    Well, I guess it really depends on the machine. I had a €40,- machine when I first started, a Toyota. I thought it was fine, until one day I worked on my mother’s machine (don’t remember which one) but things like bias binding suddenly went a lot easier.
    Later I bought the Pfaff Passport 2.0 which is my dream machine. But it cost me €600,-.
    So in my case, I would definitely go for the more expensive machine!

    • I totally agree that there is a point at which a budget machine is too cheap, not reliable, not sturdy enough or is more a toy than a real sewing machine. Not saying your Toyota was like that of course, but sometimes only spending a little more takes it from toy to economy sewing machine. We’ve all seen them, meant to attract girls to sewing, but likely to put them off for life!

  37. I have a couple of machines that I use and I use them for specific things. I have the Brother CS6000i and love it for the reasons I bought it. It is lightweight (great for travel), has a plethora of stitches and does great buttonholes. I can quilt on it in a pinch. I have a Janome 1600P that I truly love. I bought it for quilting specifically but it is a great machine for any straight stitch project. It is heavy duty and sews through just about anything. When I was looking for a quilting specific machine, I looked at the Viking. It was EXACTLY the same machine as the Janome. Apparently Janome built it for Viking (they also made the Pfaff Grand Quilter). The only difference was the accent color on the machine and the fact that Viking wanted $1800 for the machine and the Janome (with every accessory imaginable) was $950. I would be willing to bet Brother and Baby Lock have an agreement. That Baby Lock looks an awful lot like the Brother! I often suggest the CS6000i for new sewers. For the price point I don’t think you can get a better machine. If mine falls apart in another few years of use, I will gladly invest another $150!

  38. Stephanie B. says:

    I agree, you don’t need a fancy machine to sew well, but there are a few considerations to keep in mind. Mainly, what you will be sewing with said machine. I started with the same model of Brother machine as you and it served me perfectly well for many years of making clothes and accessories… until I got into modern quilting. Now, it still works fine for piecing, but trying to shove a rolled up quilt through that machine is a major pain in the backside, so I finally splurged on a much ‘fancier’ Brother machine with a bigger throat specifically for quilting. The new machine (which cost about six times what the old one did!) has more bells and whistles than my old one, but in my opinion those don’t make it a better machine. The fact that it is quiet and smooth and easy to do large quilting projects on is what makes it worth the money for me 🙂

  39. Debbie says:

    Hey Deb,

    I also have a Brother it’s a bit fancier than the budget model, but it sews beautifully. It’s especially great at sewing lingerie. I do sew quite a bit of denim, mostly hemming and it totally balks at going over the thick seams. Even when I cut a portion of the seam out to decrease the thickness of the layers.

    That machine isn’t my only machine though. I have several others – mostly vintage Singers – for great piercing power. The best places to find a good all metal vintage machine is at your local thrift stores. My 301 and 401a are awesome machines. One is a straight stitcher and the other does a variety of stitches.

    I love old sewing machines. There’s just something about the way they’re engineered that appeals to me.

    Love the article on sewing tools. Very interesting subject.


  40. Anna-Jo says:

    I have a Bernina 1001 which is an old, low-tech model I bought second hand (for more than I could have bought a budget new machine!). I absolutely love it: handles any material I throw at it and is extremely robust. The downside is it’s really heavy to lug around to classes and new presser feet cost an arm and a leg, but I’m still really happy with it. I just wish I had a few extra features like needle down and a three step zig zag.

    If and when I upgrade, it will have to be another Bernina!

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