Fuzzy pricing, warranty loopholes, inconsistent service, and other issues can make shopping for a sewing machine a tangled mess. For instance, you’ll find straightforward pricing at major retailers, but these stores tend to sell fewer models and their repair services vary—some offer no service, others might provide only a list of places to bring your machine, and some might send out your sewing machine to be fixed. Independent dealers might appeal because they service the machines they sell and might even offer sewing lessons, but since they set their own prices—and some won’t quote them over the phone—comparison shopping among independents is not easy.
No matter where you shop, learn about the important features below so you can get the right machine for your needs.
Look for our upcoming report on sewing machines, which will be online next week.—Kimberly Janeway
Adjustable presser foot Controls how tightly the sewing machine holds the fabric in place; various settings prevent puckering in fine fabrics and stretching in knits.
Adviser programs Found on LED screens, these recommend stitches, settings, presser foot and more.
Auto tack Makes a few stitches close together that serve as a knot.
Automatic buttonholer Sews a buttonhole in one step, eliminating the need to stop and turn the fabric or manipulate selector dials. This feature is preferable to a four-step buttonholer, which makes a buttonhole with a forward zigzag stitch, bar tack, reverse zigzag, and finishing tack.
Bobbin-thread lift Brings the bobbin thread to the sewing surface so you don’t have to insert your fingers under the presser foot.
Feed-dog adjustment Lets you drop this toothy mechanism below the sewing surface for freestyle embroidery, darning, or quilting.
Free arm Allows you to stitch small circular areas when working on cuffs, pant leg hems, armholes, and other areas.
Needle down Lets you place the needle in an up or a down position when you stop, making it easy to lift the pressure foot and turn a corner with out a jump stitch.
Top-load bobbin Lets you drop the bobbin directly into the machine without fiddling.
Essential information: Read our most recent blog posts on sewing machines, including this inside look at our testing, tips on making costumes and getting the most of your machine, and details on an organization that helps kids.
February 2009 update: Our report on sewing machines is now available online. Find the best sewing machines in this report.
I've been sewing for many years, I've sold machines and repaired them as well. I would NEVER suggest a top-loading bobbin machine. The tension is inconsistent thus causing the thread to knot into a mess.(aka: thread throw-up) A front loading bobbin is just as easy to load, typically holds more thread, and is much more reliable. Also, if you run out of bobbin thread, you can always put a new bobbin in without taking your work off. Just bring the new bobbin thread up, hold your threads, take a couple of tiny stiches to lock the threads, and continue! Also, if you are going to do some heavy sewing (draperies, leather, etc) I suggest an older machine with a DC motor. Those machines will sew through anything and they last forever if you take care of them. I hope everyone learns to sew. It's a living skill!
I agree about the front loading bobbin. A top loading bobbin might be more common and look easier but you will be sacrificing stitch quality and you will be asking for headaches. Also, I recommend a rotary front loading bobbin as opposed to an oscillating bobbin since it guides the thread around instead of just halfway around and letting it drag itself around the second half. It just creates a better stitch. It really does make it easier on you when you run out of thread in the middle of something and just have to reach under to change the thread. I work part time for a dealer and have heard time and time again that front loading bobbins are the way to go. That is probably why most of the top of the line machines have them. I hope this helps, shopping for a sewing machine has been a nightmare for me and I am a sewing machine sales person!!!!
I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don't know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.
I am trying to find a great sewing machine cabinet. Does anyone have any recommendations?
I would so appreciate any feedback on moderately priced long arm quilting machines. I do not need a stand/table. I have already purchased one which is satisfactory but am so disappointed in the sewing machine. Does anyone have any suggestions. Thanks so much, jan