Your Guide to Purchasing the Best Sewing Machine You Can Afford

I shared my experience in procuring an extra attachment for my home sewing machine in the last post, and how much more happy I am with what the results I am getting with my Pfaff.  Before you shop, I’d like to assist you in being armed with the information you will need to buy your optimal sewing machine.  This information is meant to provide an overview of what is available to you so that you can narrow down your choices.

Shopping With Confidence

Have you been eyeing that cute inexpensive sewing machine at your local big box store, thinking it could be a great deal?  Do you drool at the sight of the amazing computerized embroidery machine in your craft magazine, gripped with fear of its price?  Are you interested, yet weary, of the old sewing machine you perused at the second-hand store or your neighborhood garage sale?

You are not alone; many sewing enthusiasts have been there!  In the world of sewing machine procurement, the options, opinions of  others, and even your own wants can deceive you.  If you are like me, you’re juggling a bunch of other things, and don’t have a lot of extra time to waste in making mistakes.  However, because you are doing the work to evaluate your needs and to arm yourself with relevant information, you are on your way to making a wise investment in a sewing machine. We are ready to consider what is to be expected out of sewing machine manufacturers at different price points.

Lowest Machine on the Totem Pole

Let’s begin by reviewing the options and features in a sewing machine priced under $200.  Taking into account what every good machine should have, it may very well be missing one or more needed features.  On the other hand, machine in this price bracket may suffice if you are going to use it less than once per week, for small repairs or small tasks, or maybe to make the occasional piece of clothing.

Nevertheless, if you are sewing anything but light to mid-weight fabrics, you may end up fighting with this light duty machine; and losing the battle when the machine succumbs to wear and exhaustion (example: no slip covers made of mid- to heavy-weight upholstery fabric on this kind of machine).

Because sewing machines that are priced less than $200 are light- to mid-weight, you may find that the machine moves around a lot when strained by a very large or heavy weight project and strained by your effort in feeding it through the machine.  If you use this weight of machine with any heavy weight materials, know that you will need to have it serviced more than annually.  Depending on the machine, the service will cost somewhere in the neighborhood of $75 each time it is serviced (unless you purchased a service package at the time you bought your sewing machine that takes care of the maintenance costs).

This entry-level sewing machine probably does not include a cover, and making a button hole is easy, but might require multiple steps and probably some other manipulation by you to get the buttonhole stitched.  The stitch selector is likely a knob, and the machine probably includes a zipper foot and buttonhole foot as accessories.  You may have the option for changing the needle positioning (moving it right or left of center).  Sewing machines in this price range are classified as light use or light duty machines.

Features and Capabilities Galore

There is a bit of variation in what is offered by manufacturers in the following higher price points, so be aware that it is possible to find a machine that offers more options within a lower price range.

$200- 299 

All of the basics that you can find under $200, plus:  free arm, drop in bobbin, automatic threader, includes the same feet as machines under $200, but also probably a satin foot and hemming foot, various needle position options, a few dozen stitch styles, 1 or 4 step automatic buttonholes (or possibly multiple button hole style options).

Manufacturers in this range are Brother, Janome, Singer

$300- 499 

Features include all in the previous price range, plus: one step button hole, soft cover, push-button stitch selector, embroidery foot and overcasting foot, it will have a 1- or 4-step automatic and possibly multiple styles of buttonholes, more than 50 stitch style options, it also might accommodate thicker fabrics.

Manufacturers in this range are Brother, Janome, Singer

$500 – 799 

Includes all of the features in the previous price range, plus more options like a computerized selector, embroidery functions, more space between needle and body (a longer head to make managing lots of fabric easier), stitch speed options.

Manufacturers in this range are Brother, Janome, Singer

$800 +

At the low end of this price level, many of the basics appear again, and even though the options are more basic (knobs vs. buttons) there are more standard features than what are available in the $200 entry level machine.  These include features such as a free arm, varied needle positioning, multiple feet, etc.  Machines in this price level are heavier duty and very reliable. These machines will last decades, and need few if any, repairs besides regular maintenance.

Manufacturers in this range are Bernina, Elna, Husqvarna Viking, Janome, Pfaff

Next Steps

What are you to do with all of this information?  Let’s distil it down into these key questions:

  • What kind of demands will you place on this new machine?  Light or Heavy?
  • What kinds of fabrics, and what thicknesses will you primarily sew?  Thin, Light-Weight, Natural Fibers, or Thick, Heavy-Weight, Varied Fibers
  • Which stitch styles will you need?  Basic Straight Stitch, Hem Stitch, and Button Hole Stitch, or Embroidery, Specialty Button Holes, Free-Motion Stitching
  • How often will you sew?  Once per month or daily?  3 hour lengths of time or 10 hour lengths?
  • How will you pay for this machine?  In one cash transaction or on a credit card paid over the next few years?

What is required of your future sewing machine should depend on an assessment of your skill level, sewing purposes and available finances – not appearance or extravagant options.  By taking inventory of your specific needs as well as the capacity of machines at different price points, you are ready to find the one that suits your skills and requisites.

Let’s go shopping!  In the following post, I’ll give you a tool for helping make sense of the price ranges and features, plus tips for a smooth and fruitful transaction.  Which machines are appealing to you?  Is it based on features or price?

Continue on to the next in this series by clicking here, or choose from the options below.

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