A Very First Sewing Machine

Hey, everyone! Excellent news! So, my friend Jen has decided to take up sewing. Hurrah! Another one converted to the wonderful world of sewing. I met Jen when I was at school in February, she’s a wardrobe stylist and professional shopper, so of course we hit it off! And now she’s going to learn to sew.

But first, she needs to buy her very first sewing machine!

Since I sew a lot, she’s asked me what kind of sewing machine she should get, and where to find one. Now, you’d think I would have a good answer to this question, since I sew so much! The funny thing is that I don’t. I feel like I’m too far past being a beginner to remember what she’ll need! My machine is way fancier and does way more functions than a beginner needs. In fact, it probably looks overwhelming to a beginner, all those wacky stitches and extra machine feet.

This is mine – I love it! It’s pink. And it sews very nicely. It never lets me down! It does four different types of buttonholes, all of which I avoid using, but are still there when bound buttonholes just won’t do. It has a threading lever, or it did until I broke it over the summer. (I miss it, and still pull down the threading-handle to try to use it every time I change thread!) It does cool things like ‘leave the needle down every time you stop’ – which is a good function if you’re sewing something unruly. You can shift needle position from right to left, and gives you the option of 76 different stitches.

I feel a bit like a sewing machine snob looking at basic, entry-level, lower-priced sewing machines since I love mine and all its fancy functions. (Even if for most projects, I rarely use more than just a basic straight stitch!) I’m of the mindset that you buy the best you can afford, when it comes to tools. And fabric. Otherwise, you’ll be really frustrated when your projects don’t turn out nicely, and blame yourself when it could be the bargain-bin fabric acting up or the machine that’s never going to form nice, even stitches. Reliability is the most important thing for me. I want to know that when I turn to my sewing machine, it’s going to be there for me. Maybe that’s just me!

Did you know you can buy sewing machines at Canadian Tire? Walmart? Does $69.99 get you a decent sewing machine to learn on, or is she better off to spend a bit more? For some reason, and maybe it’s the sewing snob in me, I feel like I want my sewing machine to come from a sewing-machine store. Somewhere where the salespeople actually sew, and can help you find something that suits your needs. Both my serger and sewing machine are from sewing machine stores. (Serger is from Mason Sewing Machine in Vancouver, sewing machine is from Laura’s Fashion Fabrics in White Rock. Laura’s Fabrics will give you unlimited free lessons on how to use it, if you buy your machine there!) Does price matter, or do they all do basically do the same thing? How much does a decent, reliable machine cost? Does it really matter where you buy your machine from?

How about functions on a very first sewing machine? I feel like she needs to be able to sew straight stitches, zigzag, and a decent buttonhole. (Otherwise she’ll never want to sew anything with buttons. I have a pretty decent buttonhole-function on my machine and I still dislike sewing them!) Are there any other functions that are essential to getting started?

So I’m wondering if you guys could help me (and Jen) out. (She doesn’t know I’m writing about her and her sewing machine search today, surprise surprise!) What sewing machine functions does Jen, the beginner, absolutely need? Do you have a recommendation for a good beginner sewing machine? (Any types or models she should stay away from?) What was your first sewing machine like? Have you bought a beginner-level sewing machine here in Vancouver recently?

I’d love to hear your thoughts, ideas and suggestions for Jen’s first sewing machine (and anyone else who’s in the market for one). Thanks so much in advance!

, ,

123 Responses to A Very First Sewing Machine

  1. Emily November 2, 2011 at 6:12 am #

    I have a really basic machine, and have been sewing since February. My mom bought me a basic Singer, no computerized functions, because she trusted the brand and knew that I could learn the basics fairly easily. It has a four-step buttonhole, and comes with a few different feet, but besides that, it’s up to me! I actually really like it–I’ve taken sewing classes (not beginner) with women whose machines did so much for them, they needed help threading the basic machine supplied. At least I know that, with mine, I’ll be able to do the basics on any machine I encounter.

    I say, go as basic as possible (I think mine is $100 or so on Amazon) and work up from there. Part of the fun of sewing is learning how things go together, and I think you really have to start from scratch and then learn what you like and what you need before moving onto an upgraded machine.

  2. Marloes November 2, 2011 at 6:13 am #

    I was given my first sewing machine a long time ago (about 12 or 13 years ago) and I still use and love it. It is a Husqvarna and not one of the cheap end but it has decent stitches, about 28 and it works still fine. And has all the features I need or want as I don’t even use all of them. I would say that if you are investing in a sewing machine you should purchase one that gives you value for your money. That doesn’t necessary have to be one that is very expensive or has the most features. Just one that works for you. I would hate it if I bought a sewing machine only to find out after a year that it doesn’t do what I want and have to buy another machine. But a good second hand from a sewing machine store and has a good history of maintence would be fine too…

  3. Seraphinalina November 2, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Good question. I love my Huskystar, but I wasn’t the one who picked it out. My first machine was a hand me down from my mom and she did a bit swap around with a sewing machine store to get my machine and I think an upgrade for herself.

    I don’t understand people having multiple machines with each machine being dedicated to a type of stitch or process. I have a whole sewing room and I still don’t feel I have the space for that. I’d rather have one machine that does what I need. As you say, straight stitch, zig zag, button hole. A few other options for stretch fabrics would be nice, like an overcast stitch (nice for a faux serger seam finish too), lightning stich, but not essential.

  4. Alison Pattern November 2, 2011 at 6:18 am #

    Hi,

    I started sewing about a year ago. So this is the perfect topic for me :)
    I first purchased a machine off Kijiji. It ended up being a dud, cause basically I didn’t know what to look for. I then purchased a machine from Sears. It was around $375 and was a good machine to learn on. But, it wasn’t the smooth, it didn’t have the needle down option and it seized up a lot. I finally got so frustrated I bought a Janome 4030QDC. It was around $700, but the difference is quite noticeable. If I could go back, I would have just bought the Janome. I think I also would have tried to take some classes so I could get comfortable with machines and know what to look for. Your friend is super lucky to have you!

  5. Gillian November 2, 2011 at 6:19 am #

    Hi! I’m not sure if this would be true in Canada too, but a bought the cheapest sewing machine I could find in Japan a few years ago ($100), and it was CRAP! Could barely chug through two layers of cotton, let alone hem jeans etc! Very sad, and if it had been my first sewing experience I probably would have hated sewing! Instead, I bought the next machine up in price ($300, so a pretty big jump!) It’s a Brother Agneau D’or, and I love it! It never has tension problems, sews anything and never lets me down. When I moved back to Canada, I brought it home, because it’s that much better than the low-end Singer I have here!

    My advice is: If your friend can afford it, get something in the $200-300 range that will make sewing a pleasure. If she’s not sure about it yet, maybe she could borrow a decent machine from someone first to see how much she enjoys sewing?

  6. looloolooweez November 2, 2011 at 6:22 am #

    Thank you for posting this. I’m interested in sewing & I’ve got my eye on a few different machines, but there are so many options! It’s rather intimidating. I’ll be coming back later in hopes of getting some good advice from these here comments.

  7. Erika November 2, 2011 at 6:28 am #

    As a beginner I think it’s important that the machine doesn’t malfunction too much – that can take the spark out of anyone! Also, I understand sewing machines are generelly more reliable the heavier they are – more steel, less plastic = good.
    So for a durable, reliable machine that have basic stitches but not much fancy stuff, maybe a vintage one? I got my grandmothers old Bernina when I was 7. The machine is from the 50s, it weights like a small house, it has all the basic stitches, och it will sew through anything. I’ve actually converted a friend to sewing by teaching her on my machine! Now she has bought her own vintage sewing machine =)
    Of course there are great modern, new machines out there, but I think you’d get a better machine for less money when going vintage. But then I’m not exactley on top of the Canadian second hand market…

    Mine is an older version of this: http://www.ebay.com/itm/VINTAGE-BERNINA-731-FREE-ARM-SEWING-MACHINE-PLUS-/270844504391?pt=BI_Sewing_Machines&hash=item3f0f972947

    Mom has one of these, and it’s fantastic: http://www.ebay.com/itm/Vintage-Bernina-931-Sewing-Quilting-Machine-Loaded-Sister-930-/160674747334?pt=BI_Sewing_Machines&hash=item2568f613c6

    Hope she’ll find something she’s happy with!

  8. Steffie November 2, 2011 at 6:29 am #

    I have this machine: http://www.amazon.com/Brother-Affordable-60-Stitch-Computerized-Free-Arm/dp/B000JQM1DE/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1320240296&sr=8-1

    I bought it two years ago and it has traveled from Brooklyn, New York to Louisville, Kentucky with me. I’ve sewn TONS of stuff on it and it never fails me! In fact, my mom (who has sewn much longer than me) just bought one too and she really likes it. What I love about this machine is that it’s inexpensive, but it also comes with a lot of stuff– tons of stitches- including a few buttonholes, a handful of sewing feet, a quilting extension, etc. It’s computerized so it probably won’t last forever, but for a first machine it’s certainly done me well and I highly recommend it to other beginners :)

  9. Joolz November 2, 2011 at 6:32 am #

    I bought a fairly basic machine for my first sewing machine and although I sewed quite a few things on it, I really didn’t start actually enjoying the sewing process until I upgraded. My second machine (a Brother CS8080) was around twice the price of my first machine (¬£250 compared to an original ¬£150ish) but was ten times better to use.

    In contrast, I’ve since upgraded again, by about double the price (¬£500) to a Janome TXL607 and although it does some things better than the Brother, if I’m honest, I would say that it isn’t even twice as good, even though it cost twice the price. The jump from the ¬£150 machine to the ¬£250 machine was amazing though. I don’t regret the newest machine one little bit and wish I could have owned it from day one, but if I couldn’t have afforded it, then I would still have been very happy with my second machine. The only reason i bought the third machine was because my second machine broke down and while it was away for repair I dug my first machine out of the attic and found that it was just too awful to sew on once I was used to a much better machine. I decided to get a new one so that my second machine would now be my backup machine.

    One thing I wish I’d had from day one, and know I will always have on any machine I buy is speed control. Both my Brother and Janome have this function and I love it. At the slowest speed they both sew at about one stitch per second which is wonderful for sewing fiddly things, especially as it makes it possible to tap your foot on the pedal and get just a single stitch. They are also both possible to use without the foot pedal, although I prefer still using it.

    One thing I didn’t, and still don’t, like about the Brother is that the seam markings on the machine are marked from the needle being in the left-hand, rather than centre position – I find this somewhat counter-intuitive, although I didn’t really notice it until I got the Janome which is measured from the centre position.

    I’m not going to recommend any particular machine (mainly because they seem to get called different things in different countries!), but I would suggest that a machine aimed more at experienced sewists than beginners is probably a much better purchase in the long run. If your friend can afford it, then the highest end mid-level machine (which is what I would class the TXL607 to be) would probably be all the sewing machine she’ll ever need. Then, of course, she’ll still have to buy an overlocker :).

    Here in the UK machines seem to start at around £99.00, but even for a beginner I would recommend spending at least £249 as the difference I have found for that extra £150 is amazing.

    Julie

  10. Sue November 2, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    I began learning to sew on my Great Aunt’s old blue 1967 Singer Style Mate. It is a pretty basic machine and is obviously mechanical. I’m glad I learned on it because it helps to be able to physically see how the machine works and understand the different parts. The instruction manual was also great and very helpful (and not too huge/annoying either, as many are for more modern machines!). I’m torn, though, about recommending an old used machine to a beginner as their first machine or a fancier electric one. I just bought myself this (http://www.amazon.com/SINGER-7258-Stylist-Sewing-Machine/dp/B003KK807M/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1320240529&sr=8-2) Singer 7258 Stylist Model Sewing Machine on amazon and I LOVE IT. It is so nice to have the tension automatically adjusted for me, straight smooth stitching, presser feet that are interchangeable among modern Singers, and, though I have yet to try the buttonhole functions, I feel confident that they’ll be relatively easy to use too (compared to what I had on the old Singer Style Mate). All in all, I’m glad I did learn on an old mechanical machine, and would recommend them to beginners, but once I was more comfortable sewing, I was SO glad to upgrade to a basic electric model.

  11. Nuranar November 2, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    My mother and I both have upper-basic grade (i.e. not computerized) Kenmore machines – those are from Sears – and we’ve been perfectly happy with them. We’ve sewn tons on them, including a lot of heavyweight stuff (thick wool, upholstery, &c.) and never had a problem. Before that, we used a 1960s Necchi that didn’t have fancy stitches (a buttonhole took 4 stitch changes) but worked really hard. Also lots of heavy stuff sewn on that one.

    I would recommend a machine with a drop-in bobbin. I understand that that’s a mark of a heavier-duty/sturdier machine.

  12. TM November 2, 2011 at 6:36 am #

    I moved out from home four years ago and couldn’t take my mothers Singer that she has had for more than 25 years. I had to get my own machine, so on a budget I also bought a $130 machine (Kenmore brand) from Sears, and while it works for me, it wouldn’t work for a beginner because it’s just so frustrating. The bobbin thread gets caught, and while I’ve only had it for about two years with three projects, and a couple mends, the motor/electronics are starting to break. I have to give the wheel a spin with my foot on the peddle, or else it takes off and can catch and wreck my fabric. So definitely don’t go with a Kenmore from Sears.

  13. Vicki Kate November 2, 2011 at 6:39 am #

    The best advice I can offer (as I’m in the UK) is to go to a store and use the machines! I spoke to a very helpful lady and explained that I wanted my machine for clothing, quilting and bag making. So it had to be able to handle denim or lots of layers and tiny, fiddly corners.

    I’ve got a Janome and it’s a trooper. it cost ¬£160, which is just north of $260 Canadian Dollars. It’s a one step button hole with a foot that guides it so the hole is the right size, I can lower the feed dogs and whilst it doesn’t stop with the needle down (something that would have been nice!) it does everything else I want it to.

    It’s a happy medium beween computerised and mechanical, so I’ve got wheels for stitch length, width, selection and a hand wheel, but as I’ve said when it stops the needle goes all the way up. There’s also a good selection of stitches and the manual is clear and easy to read – something that’s sometimes over looked!

    I really would recommend a research trip and trying a number of machines out though as Jen’ll soon find what she likes and dislikes in a machine!

  14. Rachel November 2, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    I was given a Viking Husqvarna Classica 100 about 5 years ago. It was my first machine. It’s not super fancy but I was suprised that for a simple machine it does so many things! It is a work horse. I never have had any problems with it. I have never even got it serviced! So bad, I really need to do that. Any time I am in a sewing shop and I tell them what kind of machine I have, they always tell me not to get rid of it, that instead of trading it, I should keep it and just get another one just in case the fancy one doesn’t work out. I love it! I make everything on it.

  15. Law November 2, 2011 at 6:44 am #

    My mum bought me a Toyota SPA15 for my Birthday last January, not sure if they are available in Canada though (my link is to a UK site, so sorry about that)
    http://www.home-sewing.com/epages/homesewing.sf/en_GB/?ObjectPath=/Shops/homesewing/Products/SPA15.
    Here’s a review of it from Lisa Lam who is an experienced bag maker and knows her sewing stuff
    http://u-handbag.typepad.com/uhandblog/2008/02/sewing-machine.html

    It has very basic stitches, doesn’t let you adjust the length but has a short and long straight and zigzag stitch option instead. It does have a couple of decorative stitches, a blind hem stitch and a 4 step buttonhole.

    It is so simple to use, and has more than coped with my less than delicate sewing technique. It takes universal sewing feet too, which is handy if you want an invisible zipper foot etc. I hear Janome do good basic models too. My recommendation would be get an entry level model from a brand you trust. It’s difficult as I don’t want to suggest that machines from supermarkets aren’t good, but sometimes the parts are not great quality and they aren’t built to last.

    I reckon $70 may be a bit low. My machine was in the £70-80 region (so $100 Canadian dollars). It really depends on whether your friend thinks she might continue sewing. She may want to get a machine the next step up, as it may have more features so will last her a few years, but if she is on a budget entry level machines seem pretty good these days. I will probably upgrade my machine next year as I do need a more advanced one now, but it’s lasted me nearly 2 years and I don’t feel like there’s any essential stitches / techniques that my machine just can’t do.

  16. Mary November 2, 2011 at 6:45 am #

    My first sewing machine (don’t laugh) was my grandmother’s White treadle with the old bullet bobbin. When I broke the belt, my Dad pulled the leather lace out of his work boot to make a belt so I could keep on sewing until we could get a replacement! When my other Grandma upgraded, my original White went to my cousin and I got Grandma’s Singer…another treadle, but Grandma had a motor wired in, so I had the best of both worlds. I still have that machine today…Love it! Back to the question of the day…what to look for in a first sewing machine…absolutely a straight, zig-zag and stretch stitch. The first two stitches for obvious reasons, but eventually Jen will want to sew a fabulous knit fabric she spies when she advances and it’s good to have a machine that will grow with her. Buttonholes are pretty standard on most machines these days and are pretty standard. I like to buy older machines and tune them up to give away to people I teach to sew (wish I was closer…I would totally hook Jen up), but I wouldn’t advise that to someone just starting out without a knowledgeable resource person who can help them. I would stay away from the cheap Walmart machines, because like anything cheap…you get what you pay for. When I was looking to replace my daughter’s machine (her old machine died after she moved to the UK), I went to my trusted dealer, and he recommended a machine with a top loading bobbin rather than a rotary hook bobbin (one that has it’s own case and loads underneath) because there is less thread nesting with that type of bobbin. I would recommend buying from a dealer, especially one that offers free lessons. Even though it costs more, the machine will serve you longer and the lessons will be priceless! And that’s what I think about that! :)

  17. patsijean November 2, 2011 at 6:54 am #

    A beginning sewer doesn’t know exactly what he or she will need. Many years ago, I read and article in Consumer’s Reports about purchasing a sewing machine. The point being that good engineering is not cheap and a machine that is a pleasure to use will actually encourage a person to sew more and get the value out of the machine. At the time, I was interested in the Viking #1+ as it was given a Best Buy rating and I bought it and now own a pre-owned BabyLock ESG3. Since the 1960’s I have owned 6 sewing machines including three Kenmores (the first was a cheapie of unknown brand and not pleasant to use). Since then, I have purchased the BEST I could afford at the time. Will any one machine have all the features? No, but the machine must sew a good straight stitch, good buttonholes for shirts and blouses, overcasting is a great feature, and zig-zags are good for knits. Will you use all the decorative stitches if you don’t sew heirloom or children’s garments? Maybe not. Do you have to purchase a very expensive machine? No. But do purchase for the future.

  18. Hannah November 2, 2011 at 6:56 am #

    I started sewing with my mom before I hit middle school, When I was finally using my mother’s Babylock too much, she broke down and bought me a ~$70 Brother at Walmart. While the machine had a lot of stitch functions, it broke down so often and caused so many errors that more than half my sewing time was spent frustratedly pulling at caught fabric or some other problem. Now, years later, my sewing skills have taken off because earlier this year I bought a Husqvarna Emerald of Craigslist for a third of its original price.

    I would suggest that route- a sturdy machine wih a reliable brand, that does perhaps 8 stitch functions. I wouldn’t suggest a computerized version because it’s honestly just one more thing to worry about and pay for maintenance on. If there’s a way to get a decent machine second-hand, definitely try it out, and go along with your friend to ensure the machine works properly since a beginning seamstress wouldn’t be able to check that herself. Best of luck!

  19. Becky November 2, 2011 at 7:09 am #

    I would definitely recommend NOT just getting the cheap $70 or whatever machines at Walmart. My first machine was a Simplicity brand one that my parents gave me for Christmas when I was a kid, after my mom started teaching me to sew. The machine was, frankly, a piece of crap, and half the time, I’d end up using my mom’s Bernina instead because my machine just couldn’t handle things. That same machine is now mine, because Mom passed it down to me when my grandparents got her a newer model Bernina for Christmas one year. It’s a fairly simple machine with minimal computerizing–it has some decorative stitches, but it’s mostly the basics–straight, zig-zag, buttonholes, etc. I have to admit that, as I’ve progressed, the blind stitch has been a nice one to have too. And it has been nice to have a few simple decorative stitches, for topstitching and embellishment purposes. And it’s held up really well– I just have to clean and oil it every so often, and I’ve never had to take it to the shop. So if she’s concerned about the budget, she may want to consider getting an older model second-hand machine–she can probably get a lot more for her money with a lot less frustration down the road. After all, you want her to LIKE sewing, right? ;-)

  20. Shel Baker November 2, 2011 at 7:13 am #

    I use a Singer 377 (http://www.google.ie/imgres?imgurl=http://www.sewingonline.co.uk/books/SINGER-377.jpg&imgrefurl=http://sewingonline.co.uk/library/SINGER-377-INSTRUCTIONS.html&h=400&w=500&sz=30&tbnid=aT6iZHDcz311-M:&tbnh=90&tbnw=113&prev=/search%3Fq%3Dsinger%2B377%26tbm%3Disch%26tbo%3Du&zoom=1&q=singer+377&docid=6PUA2XfuRwvZyM&sa=X&ei=i0yxTuL_KYOKhQeBkc3wAg&ved=0CDUQ9QEwAw&dur=499) i could only find a Google Image

    I bought this for €70 in a 2nd hand Singer shop, it was great when I was just starting off, it does Straight and Zig Zag stitches, no button hole options.

    Its great and it has done the trick, but 2 years in now, I really need a new machine, ill always keep this one as a back up, but i really want a machine that does button holes and the Faux Overlock stitch

    If I could go back to when I originally bought the machine, I would prefer to have a few more functions, so when I naturally moved from beginner to intermediate I didn’t have to buy a new machine, I could just use the advanced features as I advanced myself!

    Im dying to read everyones recommendations, and hopefully get some tips for my next machine (again ill probably go 2nd hand with the same shop, better features but still at a reasonable price)

  21. Nikki November 2, 2011 at 7:17 am #

    Yay for new sewers!! I always recommend that people buy the nicest machine they can afford. Do NOT buy the cheapest one out there because it will get frustrating pretty quickly. I use a Pfaff, but they are pricey, so in my opinion, a Brother or Kenmore is the next best thing. Also, going too basic will only mean she may want a fancier machine within the year if she really takes to sewing–then she’ll probably wish she’d just bought a nicer machine with more functions in the first place!

  22. Bri November 2, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    My first sewing machine was a really old kenmore of my moms and I used it for about 8 years until moving on! I only ever needed a straight stitch, zig zag occasionally and a buttonhole and it did them all! Of course this was recreational so if your friend is planning on using this for her work also she may want to start with a better investment in a machine. I never use any fancy stitches though so she probably wouldn’t either!

  23. Lorenna November 2, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    I will also recommend the Brother CS6000i ($169USD on Amazon). It comes with every attachment you could ever want for quilting and many other feet as well (buttonholes, zipper, etc). It always stops in the needle down position, has a large variety of stitches, And it is a really easy machine to use and learn on. The manual is also really good for beginners trying to learn when to use which stitch type. It is definitely not a heavy-duty machine (read: don’t try to sew through heavy canvas), but for apparel sewing, it works quite well. Also, it has TONS of good reviews on Amazon, further suggesting it is a pretty solid beginner sewing machine.

  24. Ashlee November 2, 2011 at 7:29 am #

    I have to agree with everyone saying it’s a bit better to spend as much as you can on your first machine. I’ve been fortunate enough to inherit two fantastic vintage machines that I currently still use. I started out on my Mum’s Kenmore from the 70s from, and now while that’s sitting waiting to be tuned up (for the past year, hehe), I’ve been working on a Viking from my aunt… not sure what the year is, but it’s olllllld. She was an absolutely amazing seamstress before she passed away, and made all of her own clothes on this very machine. I love knowing that I’m following in her footsteps! I have had no issues with the machine, it has all of the basic stitches I need as well as a few fancier ones for finishing touches. It’s sturdy, durable, and has clearly withstood the test of time!

    Last year when both machines were getting tuned up, I borrowed my boyfriend’s Mum’s machine for a week. It is a brand new machine from Walmart or Zellers. I can’t recall the brand, but it was a very basic machine, and the quality wasn’t there. I’m sure it would work for minor hemming jobs and the like, but it wasn’t up to snuff for what I needed it for! So essentially, newer isn’t always better, but spending what you can on your first machine (and really, any subsequent machine), is definitely the way to go!

  25. Rebeca November 2, 2011 at 7:36 am #

    I have been sewing for three years but I’m still a beginner (I could call myself an Intermediate if I were able to sew the Minoru jacket in two week’s time, am I right? Well, for the looks of it, it would take me six weeks, so let’s say I’m a beginner, hehe).

    I own a very basic Singer machine:

    Things I couldn’t live without: straight stitch, zig-zag stitch, four-step buttonhole, hidden hem stitch, the possibility to change the foot. The feet I use the most were not included with the machine and I had to buy them apart: invisible zipper foot, and regular zippers (sewing those with a standard foot is a nightmare!). If the machine has zigzag stitch then you’ll have a very good chance that you can use twin needles with the machine, and they are essential to hem knits.

    My life would be easier if my machine had two spool holders, both vertical, but as it happens, it only has one and it’s horizontal, so in order to sew with a twin needle, you have to be creative.

    Things I haven’t needed so far: any decorative stitches, or a self-threading needle.

    My last piece of advice is to invest in both a sewing machine AND a serger. If I didn’t have my serger, I would have to finish all my seams with a zigzag stitch and trim the edges with scissors painfully one by one, and that would have discouraged me from sewing ages ago.

    Hope this helps…

    PS: My Singer sewing machine cost about 100‚Ǩ in a Lidl supermarket and it’s working fine, but the day it breaks, I will have to buy another one, because Lidl won’t repair it and neither will any specialized store. I think when that day comes I will buy a much fancier machine that makes at least three different kinds of buttonholes. My serger is a Bernina 800DL, it cost 500-600‚Ǩ (can’t remember) and is wonderful.

  26. Kitty November 2, 2011 at 7:41 am #

    I love to sew but at best I’m an advanced beginner so perhaps my machine preferences will be helpful. In the past I had both a Bernina and a Viking Husquevarna and also a Viking Huskylock serger. While I think both of these brands are very well made, they are very expensive and have the huge added costs of special bobbins and feet! And the Huskylock serger was so complicated to thread that I never used it again after it took me 8 hours to thread once.
    So I did research on various sites, including pattern review and chose a Brother Project Runway sewing machine (model PC-420). It came with lots of free feet and I haven’t had to buy anything additional for it except inexpensive bobbins from JoAnn’s. I liked the Brother sewing machine so much I also bought their serger (model Lock 1034D) which takes me less than 5 minutes to thread.
    Although I was worried about the quality of these low priced machines I found out that almost all sewing machines are made in the same Chinese factory and the quality has been fine, no problems at all. I hope this helps!

  27. Zilredloh November 2, 2011 at 7:50 am #

    Hmmm… This is a really good topic.

    I actually have 2 sewing machines, neither of which came from a shop. The first I bought myself from an old neighbor who couldn’t get it to sew properly (turns out she just didn’t set the tension correctly). It’s a Pfaff hobby machine and it rocks! I can sew literaly anything on it from silk to wool coating. Being a hobby machine it does the basics (8 different stitches) and only has a few feet.

    The second machine my mom bought me at an estate sale for $20. It’s an old JC Penny brand machine, but its from the 50’s/60’s and is all metal. When I took it to the repair shop they couldn’t stop telling me what a beautiful machine it way. heh It does more than the basics, but again it’s not a new machine that does 76 different stitches. The good thing about it is that my feet are interchangeable between both of my machines.

    I someday dream of a Bernina but both of mine work just fine.

    I think if your friend has you to lean on for advice about sewing she doesn’t need the support of a brick and mortar shop.

    I’d recommend she either snag a great deal by going on craigslist or some estate sales to get a basic, yet nice old metal machine. That way she can continue to learn and progress on a sturdy, used machine until she finds that she wants to invest a bunch more money to get the machine of her dreams. :)

    I still love my basic, Pfaff hobby! Great for beginners since the fabric never slips and I’ve never had an issue with the feed-dogs sucking down even the softest of materials (bemberg or chiffon).

  28. Lunachick265 November 2, 2011 at 7:56 am #

    I learned to sew on my mom’s Singer. She got it as a wedding gift in 1977-it was a great machine then and still sews basic stitches and buttonholes beautifully. I’ve asked her if I can have it, but she won’t give it up, even though she has a newer machine as well.
    When I moved into my own place, and needed to make curtains, I got an entry-level Brother machine for $99. I have to say, I hate it. The worst thing about it is the tension-it’s very persnickity and often messes itself up for no reason. Every time I thread the machine, I struggle with adjusting the tension so it sews a nice looking seam. It’s frustrating.
    For that reason, I would reccomend that your friend not buy an inexpensive, lower-level machine. I’ve seen a few people buy a used, but still good quality machine, from a dealer. Those people still got lessons and a warranty from the dealer, but they spent less than if they bought a new one. The machines were only a few years old, and they’re very happy with them. I’m still waiting on my mom to change her mind about giving me the Singer :)

  29. Magali November 2, 2011 at 7:57 am #

    The best thing is really to go in a sewing store and try them out, buy the one you are comfortable with. Most sewing stores only have brands you can rely on and they give you a small class on how to use your machine.

  30. Brianna November 2, 2011 at 8:02 am #

    I’ve been sewing for about two years and I’m still using my first machine. I have a Singer Inspiration 4228 and I absolutely love it. It has everything a beginner needs – straight stitch, zig-zag, 1-step buttonhole, etc.

    But more importantly, it has features that have allowed me to step beyond the basics – a blind-hem foot and stitch, an overlocking stitch, a stretch stitch, and many more. I LOVE the stretch stitch option – since I first tried it out I’ve sewn a ton of knit tops dresses with no fear. I think this is important for a beginner to garmet sewing because knits can be the easiest and most rewarding things to sew if you have a machine that can sew them.

    After two years of pretty constant sewing (including making a queen-size quilt and sewing plenty of denim hems), it’s still going strong and I’ve never had any problems with it whatsoever. I got it for Christmas from my parents but it’s around $270 on Amazon. You could probably find it cheaper elsewhere – mine’s from Sears. I know eventually I’ll want to get a more advanced machine, but I like that my current one has allowed me to really expand as a sewist.

  31. Mary November 2, 2011 at 8:11 am #

    This is a question I get asked frequently as I work in a fabric store. My first recommendation is to avoid buying an inexpensive machine in a big box store where you grab the box off the shelf and go. Purchase your machine from a store where you get to try out the machine before you buy. Go for a demo and then sit down and try out all the features that are important to you. Try sewing the straight stitch, zig zag, stretch stitch, blind stitch and the buttonholes. Check the stitches on your sample. Is the tension good? Is it easy to adjust? Are the controls in a comfortable location for you? Make sure to try a few different brands of machines as they are all slightly different in the way they operate. By trying out the different machines you may discover features that you like and were not aware of. Make sure that the store will give you lessons on the machine and do make time to take the lessons.
    I’m all for buying used or reconditioned machines if they are quality machines that are in very good condition. Sewing machines are an investment. In Vancouver you are looking around the $700.00 range to get a reasonable quality machine.

  32. Amy November 2, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    I would recommend against getting the cheapest one you could find. I had a cheap Singer to start and it darn near turned me off from sewing. I now have a more expensive (about $600) Janome and it’s such a joy to sew with. I would recommend getting a mid-level machine or just go for the best she can afford if she really plans on doing any heavy duty sewing.

  33. Andrea November 2, 2011 at 8:15 am #

    Kate from See Kate Sew just wrote a “sewing machine guide” post (found here: http://seekatesew.blogspot.com/2011/10/faq-what-kind-of-sewing-machine-do-you.html). She compares all the major brands and concludes that Bernina is one of the best overall, but they’re incredibly expensive ($800?) so Brother should be your choice if you can’t afford a Bernina (they’re more like $200). I use a Singer but I’ve never used anything else, so it’s hard for me to determine if its quirks are unique to Singer or are just because I’m so clumsy and impatient as a sewist!

  34. Lauren November 2, 2011 at 8:21 am #

    ooh this is something i feel very very strongly about. no, you (general “you,”, i mean!) don’t need a super fancy machine for your first one – but you also do not need to buy a $69 plastic one at walmart! eeeek! i get a lot of flack for this, and i’m not ashamed to say that i’m a sewing machine snob… but i just don’t think it’s possible to buy a decent machine for under $250-$300, unless it’s used/vintage.

    i have a pfaff too – a 7570 – & i love it :) mine is super early 90s – the buttons are dusty pink & light blue & that weird blue-green that the early 90s loved so much haha. but it is WONDERFUL. i love the “needle-down” option & the bobbin light (for when you’re running low. genius!) & the dual-feed.

    anyway, definitely send her to a sewing store. you can find a low-end pfaff for around $300-$500, depending on features, and it won’t be a crappy machine (in pfaff’s world, “low-end” means “low features,” not “piece of shit made out of plastic that is going to tangle every stitch you sew mwahahaha”). if that’s not in her budget, they also usually have great used/vintage machines that have been serviced & are functioning perfectly.

    and speaking of being serviced – you can get that needle-threader fixed! mine broke off – they’re flimsy little things – and i had a new one put back on during one of my yearly machine services. it cost less than $20. and now i can thread needles with ease again! yay!

  35. Carley November 2, 2011 at 8:25 am #

    Hi Tasia,

    I always tell my students to NEVER get a machine from Walmart, London Drugs, Canadian Tire or Costco! You are not being a snob, those machines are the lowest of the low! Those stores will exchange it for you but they can’t help you if you have problems. My student came for a private lesson this week and brought a SHARK! OMG! It was horrible! Thankfully she had borrowed it just to try. She went right out and bought a good machine the same day!

    When you buy from a store that specializes in sewing machines (and sometimes vacuum’s too, but what the heck!) you can try them out, the person there is knowledgeable AND they will teach you how to use your machine! If you have problems you can take it back and they will sit down with you and work it out!

    My personal favourite is Janome, I have the 2nd computerized model that was on the market, it’s 28 years old and still going strong. I have Janome’s for my students to sew on. I call them “entry level” computerized machines. They were around $500. Brother has a good entry level computerized machine the Innovis 40, it was featured on Project Runway a few years ago.

    I tell my students that if they can afford it to go for the computerized if only for the “needle up and down” button! It is HUGE not to have to keep turning the handwheel! The entry level machines will have about 30 to 40 stitches.

    Fraser Sewing near metrotown has the best prices for machines that I have seen. They carry Janome, Brother, Bernina and Juki. They have many models on display so you can test drive to your heart’s content! They specialize in sewing machines only and carry industrial too, much like Mason’s. They have a big sale on Nov 25th to 27th but their everyday prices are really low!

    • Alice November 2, 2011 at 2:54 pm #

      @Carley: thanks for the Fraser sewing tip! I was noticing that they have a lot of reconditioned machines for <$100!

  36. Carley November 2, 2011 at 8:31 am #

    OK, I just have to post twice!

    The first sewing machine I purchased for my self was a Singer Featherweight! As you probably know, these machines pretty much have a cult following now!

    I bought it for $50 and then traded it in when I got my “proper” sewing machine a few years later. I got $50 on my trade in and was pretty proud of myself. Now, of course, you are lucky if you can get these for $250. I could shoot myself that I got rid of it but at the time I needed that trade in!

    These little machines weigh in at 12 lbs and do a perfect straigt stitch! Plus they are so darn cute!

    Sadly the Singer quality plummeted, they have been plagued with tension issues. The name still sells though, after all these years!

  37. Doreen November 2, 2011 at 8:44 am #

    When someone starts to sew they need a machine that is simple to understand and operate. So, I always recommend a simple vintage machine that is all or mostly metal. That usually means being made before about 1965 or so. This keeps the cost down but definitely more important, it keeps the frustration down. The sewer is able to concentrate on learning to sew rather than how to fix a machine. If the person falls in love with sewing and wants to upgrade, they can keep this first machine as a backup and it will last a lifetime. Plus, an all metal machine can handle almost anything you might like to sew.

    I was in the middle of sewing costumes for a school play and my 35 year old Elna’s motor simply died. (But she sewed practically every day for those 35 years so I more than got my money’s worth!) Not having the time to wait to get her fixed, I ran to Walmart and got a machine. It was either a Brother or Singer, I really don’t remember. But it just goes to show that brand name meant nothing. I barely got the costumes done with this cheap machine. And the frustration of the machine was awful. What a total waste of money! I could have found a good vintage machine for less than the cost of this machine. I couldn’t get rid of it fast enough.

    You need a good straight stitch with easy tension control, zig zag stitch, adjustable foot pressure, basic feet, and drop in bobbin – just because it is easier. A foot pedal with speed control is cool to start out with but not entirely necessary. What more do you really need to get bitten by the sewing bug? Okay, the needle staying down, the automatic thread cutter is fantastic, and moving the needle from left to right is great to have but certainly not necessary. There are a few, but very few, extra zig zag/fancy stitches that will be used.

    As far as machine made buttonholes, IMHO you can never do better than a vintage buttonholer attachment on any machine, including TOL brand new machines. The buttonholes are beautiful (especially the keyhole and eyelet) and not homemade (always go around twice), easy to align, and fast. The first time you put it on the machine it may seem confusing but after that it is a breeze. Of course, you must make sure the machine is set to a straight stitch rather than zig zag. Use it once and there will never be any fear of buttonholes or going back to sewing machine buttonholes. Can you tell I love it?! When purchasing one you must get the same shaft length as your machine. Most attachments and machines are short shank but long or slant shank are also available.

  38. Carley November 2, 2011 at 8:45 am #

    OK, my favourite topic, I just can’t stop!!

    I was just reading some of the other posts and I want to caution Canadians from buying machines online that come from the US, or from popping over the border to buy one. We have different models in Canada and our service stores will not be able to service the machines from the US.

    Also, I was always rather snobby about Brother machines but the new ones are great! Remember too, the Brother that you buy from Walmart is not the same as the one you will buy from a proper sewing machine store. Unfortunately these companies will create super cheap versions just to sell at these stores, it gives them a bad name really!

    You can get fabulous deals on Craigslist but you need to know what you’re looking for! I would recommend going out for lots of test drives and finding out what you like and what the price is, then look on Craigslist. I got the Babylock Imagine for $700, almost brand new! Regular $1800 with taxes! $700 seems like a lot and might scare away someone that didn’t know what they were looking at!

    If you buy off Craigslist just take it in for a tune up (@ $60ish) and you’ll be good to go!

  39. Jessica November 2, 2011 at 8:48 am #

    So I learned to sew on my mother’s rather intense Singer- I don’t remember the model, but it was one of the higher end ones when she bought it (which must have been sometime in the early-mid 80s. It was a great machine.

    My first machine that was my very own (that I still have and use as my primary machine- until I can convince myself to leave it behind and take on my mom’s old singer- she upgraded a few years ago to something Husqvarna-y) was one of the Singer Featherweights. I think it’s the Featherweight II to be specific. As one of the commenters just before me mentioned, thread tension has been an issue, but once I learned the ins and outs of my tiny temperamental machine, things have gone pretty smoothly, and I’ve been pretty satisfied for the 4 or so years that I’ve had it. My only big complaint is the speed- it never gets going too fast, which makes sewing long straight seams reeeaaalllly boring.

    The best thing about this machine (also as previously mentioned) is the weight- it really is a compact, lightweight little thing, which is wooooonderful because I get together often with a friend of mine for quilting parties, and I love that I can just dump my machine into a little rolly case and bring it along with me.

    Granted, it is *very* basic, only a few stitches, one kind of buttonhole, and nothing computer-based. That said, I’d definitely recommend something like this for a beginner because it is easy-peasy to learn to use, and there’s nothing to big to mess up. Plus, as an intro machine, they are crazy cheap- which is great if you’re just looking for something to learn on until you decide what’s worth your increased investment.

  40. Amanda D. November 2, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    I was told to stay away from modern Singers and Brothers since they are made of plastic parts and don’t do the job as well as other brands. I tried a modern Singer from Target and when I was sewing I could smell what seemed like plastic burning! I returned it right away and went to my local fabric store and bought a Janome with a free lesson on how to use it!

    By that point I knew I was hooked with sewing so, like you said, I bought the best machine I could afford. It wasn’t worth dealing with a cheapo machine if I was just going to upgrade in a couple of years. My machine isn’t computerized but I like it that way :) There are cheaper Janomes than the one I bought. My friend has a more affordable modern Singer from Target and it’s just fine for her (but she also doesn’t sew that often and basically just makes pillows or alters RTW clothes). Maybe that’s the way to go until she decides she likes sewing enough to upgrade?

    All you need as a beginner is a straight stitch and zig zag stitch. An automatic buttonholer is also great. I’m 2 years into sewing and am glad I invested in a quality machine when I did.

  41. Jeanette November 2, 2011 at 8:53 am #

    I just saw that costco.ca has a Brother 7500 on sale for 199.00 in a couple of weeks. It seems pretty nice and has a bunch of feet, etc And, the good thing about Costco, is that you can always return it if you don’t like it after you try it.

  42. Marcy November 2, 2011 at 9:03 am #

    You’ve got so much input, but I thought I’d add mine anyway because I just purchased a new-to-me machine and am in the market for a serger.

    You can get good deals second-hand, but you won’t get free user classes and you might have to get a tune-up. For a new sewing machine, I purchased a used one from a sewing machine store. That ended up being the best deal.

    For a serger, it looks like it’s going to be less expensive to keep an eye on sale ads and get the tune-up and pay for classes, just because the price disparity for a good serger is greater than for sewing machines.

    The machine I had would skip stiches and jump out of tension (it was very light) and the new-to-me machine is VERY heavy but it could sew through anything thanks to its rotary bobbin case (as opposed to oscillating). It has

    I agree that a cheap machine may take all the fun out of sewing and it’s hard enough when you’re beginning so it would be better to get a quality machine from a sewing machine center that will offer owner classes, or borrow one from a friend for family member to see how serious you feel about it before investing.

  43. CGCouture November 2, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    My SIL has a low-ish end Brother and it seems to be an excellent starting machine. It’s a CS-6000i, I think. It does beautiful buttonholes, and I think it’ll do everything your friend will need until she decided whether she’s serious about sticking with it. It’s also a relatively inexpensive machine that you can find at Wal-Mart (or a brother dealer, which is where I would recommend getting it).

    If your friend isn’t quite as budget conscious, a Juki would be an excellent choice too. I wanted a Juki, (they are amazing!) but couldn’t find a local dealer that I felt comfortable doing business with. Elna might also be a good choice (but it was the same dealer as Juki). I haven’t tried a Bernina yet that has impressed me, especially on buttonholes, but that could just be luck of the draw, because I’ve heard great things about them–especially the vintage models (and I’ve never tried a vintage Bernina).

    I like my Pfaff well enough, but it’s not a machine I would recommend to a beginner. I have a 2038 that does horrific buttonholes 99% of the time and is just kind of finicky. However, if she wanted to start with a mechanical Pfaff, I’ve heard great things about the more “vintage” ones. In fact, vintage machines of most brands seem to have good reviews, and they are built to last.

    Whichever machine she buys, she should make certain that she gets a good deal on the accessories (get all the feet you can at one shot, because they can be hard to find when you’re desperately searching for one for a certain project) and that whichever machine includes lessons on using it, or at least a run through before purchasing so that she knows how it will perform. Bring scraps of different fabrics that she’d be using and try it out. I would bring some heavy topstitching thread to see how it handles it, especially jeans topstitching thread if she thinks she’ll ever try jeans–have her sew through multiple layers of it with the heavy thread.

    Hope that helps some!

  44. Erin November 2, 2011 at 9:10 am #

    I’m a newbie as well and have an old Kenmore I found at Value Village which works great! Came with all the original feet and instruction book too. Seems like a good idea to get a machine that is going to work well (not just the cheapest basic machine out there) so getting something second hand is great for keeping the cost down if you’re friend isn’t sure how much sewing she’s going to do.

  45. Holly November 2, 2011 at 9:19 am #

    I had a kenmore machine for 13 years that never let me down, I made a lot with it. I finally decided to try something different this year. After comparing prices here I actually hopped just over the border to quality sewing and vacuum in Bellingham and bought a cheap brother that had rave reviews. It worked wonderfully until all of a sudden the needle arm moved permanently and the needle started hit the plate on the bottom. Luckily this store has an upgrade your machine for the first year policy and I brought it back. You get to put the full amount you payed for your first machine towards your replacement and they did it for me without even blinking, didnt even open the box i brought back to check it. They are super friendly and also Offer free usage lessons if you need them. The drawback is that you need to take it over the border to their store to fix. Like you I bought my serger from mason sewing and had a great experience there, I did the try before you buy option which could work really well for your friend too. $150 for 3 months and the money goes towards the purchase if you buy it or choose a different model.

  46. Lisa C. November 2, 2011 at 9:23 am #

    I have this machine: http://www.walmart.com/ip/Brother-50-Stitch-Limited-Edition-Project-Runway-Sewing-Machine-CE5500PRW/14237605 & I absolutely love it! It has some pretty nice gadgets and comes with 5 different feet. I haven’t had any issues with it at all and have used it for sewing anything from chiffon to leather. I would totally recommend it!

  47. Sigrid November 2, 2011 at 9:34 am #

    I really believe that if you don’t want to spend a lot of money, the best bet is an older metal machine. They tend to last forever, are easy to maintain and will chug through just about anything. You can buy an older, reconditioned Japanese machine like a Sears Kenmore for less than 100.00 and it should last forever and have the basic stitches you need like zig-zag, blind stitch etc. As for buttonholes, I have tried everything and am convinced that those old attachments that you screw onto the presser bar are the best.

  48. marian November 2, 2011 at 9:52 am #

    My first machine was a Janome 419S. I bought it in 2003, and I still use it heavily. It’s mechanical (which I prefer — I only take it to the shop when the timing feels off, otherwise I can fix it myself) and it’s mostly metal parts. It complains a little when I have too much fabric — maybe 6 layers of medium weight denim, otherwise it’s a workhorse. I absolutely adore sewing on my vintage Singer 401. I honestly don’t use many of my stitches — only straight, zigzag, maybe blind hem, and buttonhole. Look for a machine where you can set the needle position to the left, right, and center. I wish I had a zipper foot that I can use to the left or right on my Janome — my Singer’s zipper foot is adjustable. Find something where you can purchase multiple feet for — 1/4″, invisible zipper, etc. I’d like to swear by the Bernina (school’s machine) — and a professor of mine prefers Bernina for the most part, but she cautions that the newest models aren’t as precise as the ones they were putting out maybe 10-20 yrs ago. A dealer talked me into buying the Viking Emerald 118, which is nearly a Huskystar. Oh, how I hate it! It’s a pile of finicky plastic that cowers at the sight of anything heavier or lighter than muslin. Don’t get swayed by fancy what-have-you. Get something that’s reliable, easy to maintain, makes beautiful utilitarian stitches, and the ability to use different feet. sewing.patternreview.com has pages and pages of machine reviews.

  49. Valerie November 2, 2011 at 9:56 am #

    How lovely that your friend wants to learn to sew!

    I started with a low-end Brother (~US$ 100) from Costco. It worked great until I needed a more complicated machine. I think a straight stitch, zigzag stitch, zipper foot, Invisible zipper foot, Buttonholer, and blind hem are all the beginning sewist really needs (mostly what I use too, to be honest). The sears Kenmore machines are, I think, rebranded Janome machines these days so that’s not a bad option. My mom’s Kenmore (a rebranded singer) lasted her through 20+ years and countless dresses, kid costumes, etc.

    I eventually got a Pfaff that I love, and was gifted a babylock esante so I gave my Brother machine to my sister (who doesn’t sew really all that much). I bet your friend has family or friends who have old sewing machines sitting around that they don’t use at all!

  50. Lashell November 2, 2011 at 9:59 am #

    My first machine was a mechanical Euro Pro. It had no bells and whistle but it worked fine for any project I used it for. I actually still have it. When I saw that I was really going to get serious about this whole sewing thing I upgraded my Brother Embroidery Machine, which I love. I also have a friend who was interested in learning to sew. The first thing I told her was buy an inexpensive machine from a reputable brand. She bought a Brother machine for $70 from Overstock.com. It has a nice amount of stitches, has speed control, drop in bobbin, and different buttonhole functions. I’m glad that she bought an inexpensive machine because after about 6 months she realized that sewing wasn’t her thing and gave the machine to me. She doesn’t feel to bad about it because she didn’t invest a lot of money into it. So I would suggest for anyone just starting out to get a inexpensive machine from the reputable brands like Singer, Brother, Janome and if they find that this is something they really want to do then upgrade to something a little more expensive. The worst things is having some expensive item taking up space reminding you that you plunked down over $300 for something you will never use.

  51. Elisabeth November 2, 2011 at 10:02 am #

    I think most of my advice has already been said by previous commenters, but I’ll throw my two cents in anyway. When I bought my first machine several years ago, I got a Viking Emerald 116 (which is what I sew on today). It cost a bit more than I wanted to spend, but after trying both it and a low end machine, it was clear I would be happier with the Emerald, mostly because of the motor. It was very obvious that the low end versions had a low end motor and that was going to cause me problems when I wanted to sew heavier fabrics or even if I just did a lot of sewing. I would compare it to the difference between driving an entry-level low price car to driving a nice mid-range sedan. The higher end is smoother, quieter, and lasts longer.

    As a beginner, I’ve pretty much used the straight stitch, zig-zag and recently the overcast stitch as I’ve started sewing knits. The one thing I truly wish I had on my machine was a variable speed control switch. My mom has one on her Janome and it is the best. As a beginner, it can be difficult to get the right speed with just the pedal alone, especially if you want to go slow.

  52. Lauren November 2, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    Pfaff for the win!
    I also have a Pfaff, both for my sewing machine and serger, and looove them.
    My personal advice is to get a good sturdy basic machine. Although my machine has some basic fancy stitches, I really don’t mind not having more. I don’t think ‘d use them even if I did have more, and I know I’d rarely ever use an embroidery machine. So a good basic stitch, zig zag, buttonhole, and blind hem, and you’re good to go.

    • Lauren November 2, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      @Lauren:
      I’d also like to ditto the old buttonhole attachments are better than ANY machine buttonhole I’ve ever run across. I an old metal machine I found at a thrift store and it’s just hooked up for buttonholes, but I guess a beginning sewer wouldn’t really need two machines. But still! Those old metal machines are beasts and really hearty, if you can find one in good shape. I found an old metal Pfaff in the cabinet at a thrift store for under $40 and that thing’s a workhorse. And gotta stress, with the older machines, that it’s good to get them checked out to make sure the belt’s still good and get them cleaned up and oiled properly. Oil is very important!

  53. Natalie November 2, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    I would recommend that she take some basic sewing lessons first and try different machines, that way she might have a better idea of what her needs will be. Then, if she decides sewing isn’t for her, she won’t have invested in a sewing machine. I’ve sewn on all kinds of machines-White, Bernina, Necchi, my mom’s ancient Singer. When I went to buy my my first sewing machine, I looked at reconditioned Bernina machines. I couldn’t afford one! So instead I bought a midline Kenmore at Sears for about $200. I’ve used it for about seven years and haven’t had any problems with it. I do think for a new sewist I would buy one from a sewing shop where you can take classes and learn how to use your machine, rather than buying one from Sears or Walmart. That could save a ton of frustration and discouragement.

  54. Justine November 2, 2011 at 10:09 am #

    As a beginner, I found researching machines pretty stressful. In the end I pushed my budget up to the ¬£230ish it cost for a Janome Sewist 525s and I’ve not had any problems so far. The reason I felt able to spend that was because the second hand market is so strong,(in the UK anyway) that I felt confident that if I hated sewing I could sell it on at a good price.

    I bought it from a sewing machine shop, which I found useful – but to be honest, the first shop I went in was very intimidating and unfriendly. As a beginner I found second hand machines a minefield because I had no way of “looking them up” to see which were good. It’s fine telling someone to test them and see, but when you are a beginner you don’t know what “feels right” or not!

    My advice as a beginner would be, if you have a sewing friend who can help, then try and get an old machine for all the positive reasons above. However, if you’re on your own, then get a new machine that you can read reviews for online, then go try in a sewing machine shop. Oh, and don’t forget to haggle! While I was in the shop, two separate people came in an bought more expensive computerised machines and paid full price just like that! Independent shops are often fine with friendly haggling. I asked for a lower price and got a small cash discount, then got some haberdashery thrown in when they couldnt knock off more.

    One thing to bear in mind is the weight and bulk of boxed machines are – make sure you don’t have too far to carry it to the bus stop!

  55. Sally November 2, 2011 at 10:28 am #

    I use my mom’s Singer Merrit 1812, she got it sometime in the late 70’s/early 80’s and it works like a dream! tell her to try finding an older mechanical one until she knows what she likes and doesn’t like! And with all old machines, its worth it to get it properly oiled and cleaned up by someone before she starts!

    • Amelia November 2, 2011 at 11:32 am #

      @Sally:
      So true, the key to a happy vintage machine is getting her tuned up yearly and oiling her regularly. Which reminds me my featherweight is thirsty….

  56. Allison November 2, 2011 at 10:47 am #

    Lots of responses already!!

    When I started out, I bought a middle of the line (ish) bernette for bernina, and i think it was in the $250-300 range. It was a total piece of crap. I was constantly battling tension issues that would resurface EVERY SINGLE TIME the machine was re-threaded. And it was hugely frustrating. I could pull the top thread out and everything that had just been stitched would fall apart.

    After several months of dealing with it, and returning it to the dealer twice to have it serviced, they allowed me credit to upgrade to a real Bernina. I believe I have the activa 220, which I absolutely love. Any issues I have related to it are totally user generated, and no fault of the machine. It stitches beautifully and reliably, and after two years haven’t had a single issue with it. It’s definitely made sewing a joy.

    I definitely am with everyone else, that your friend should go to dealers and try out several different models that might be within her price range. Discuss the option of returns if she takes it home and it ends up being something she doesn’t quite like. Quite franky, I’m partial to the Bernina, but I’m fortunate to live in an area that’s big on quilting, so quality machines are easy to find at several different locations and several different brands.

    She should really consider what she’ll be sewing, if apparel is what her focus will be, I’m doubting she’ll need a whole lot more than a good straight stitch, a zig zag and a buttonhole. All those other embroidery stitches are practically useless.

    She’ll save herself a lot of pain if she can afford to invest in something of good quality to begin with…. and it’s worth it just not to have the headaches!

    I bet she’ll find something good though, with a friend like you!

  57. Amelia November 2, 2011 at 11:30 am #

    I sew on a 1940’s Singer Featherweight and it has one stitch, basically one function. I have many attachments like a buttonholer and all the feet but basically it does one thing and it does that one thing absolutely beautifully. I agree with others who say that a beginner should be able to rely on their machine and not have to hassle with the actual machine while they are trying to learn to sew. Talk about taking the wind out your sails when you can’t even get out of the gate because you have an ill-tempered machine. I have been sewing on my machine for years and it is my only machine. I might someday like to get a fancy Pfaff or Juki but really I have never felt limited in my creativity by my basic machine. I love it and can’t imagine not sewing on it, girlfriend never lets me down, she’s a workhorse. I will be stepping up my game by getting a serger this Christmas so I don’t have to finish all my seams by hand….I am going to finally take the plunge on this upgrade. I encourage your friend to invest in something quality above all else. It’s better to get the top of the line simple model than the cheapest “fancy” one, at least that is my opinion. Happy hunting to your friend.

  58. Corinne November 2, 2011 at 11:38 am #

    unfortunately I don’t have time to read through all the posts and I apologize if I am repeating anything already suggested. One great place to find a machine that is good and carries a warranty is at a machine dealer. Many, many people upgrade to the newer shinier model every year or so. They trade up. I know my dealer always has a nice selection of great quality machines. They check them out thoroughly, offer lessons, provide warranty. Just a thought. Also the cheapest machine is usually the cheapest, tension problems, timing issues etc. I have a friend who bought one, so frustrated gave up on sewing all together. A mid-range machine offers all the basics plus room for grown when skills advance.

  59. Stephanie November 2, 2011 at 11:51 am #

    My first machine was a solid workhorse that chugged through several slip-cover projects with no problem, but was in some ways a dud. I didn’t start loving sewing until I upgraded to a computerized Babylock (paid around $600, way less than list for this model).
    MOST IMPORTANT FEATURES for a beginner, IMO, are anything that minimizes hassle and frustration. On my list:
    1) Adjustable presser foot pressure. My first machine was not adjustable, and even for quilting cotton the setting was too tight, so the top layer of fabric ALWAYS distorted, not matter how many pins I used. Every seam, and every project, was a frustration because of this one issue.
    2) Easy-peasy bobbin handling: if it’s a pain to change the bobbin, whether to refill or switch thread colors, that’s one more thing to suck the fun out of a project. DROP-IN bobbin is a MUST for me.
    3) Needle-up/down option is super.
    4) Adjustable needle position… adjustable in micro-increments, not just left/right option. Moving that needle one thread-width over, for example, can improve the look of an invisible zipper insertion.

    Nice to have:
    5) Needle threader and thread-cutter button. I could live without these, but don’t want to.

  60. Dana November 2, 2011 at 11:52 am #

    My first own sewing machine, a Janome, was a birthday gift. I kept my eye on sales at my local sewing centre, Sawyer’s, here in Victoria. I bought a machine I could “grow into” because I had a maximum dollar amount to spend in mind. In my opinion it is well worth the time and money to shop at a local store, as they will also be your ongoing resource and repair person. I knew my primary purpose would be garment making so I ended choosing a machine with the stiches I’d need for that, not a whole lot of other fancy options I’d never use.

  61. Jenny November 2, 2011 at 11:54 am #

    I’m also a beginner, and I bought my first machine last year, new and from a dealer as I wanted the service. A Janome SUV 1122 from Fraser Sewing in South Burnaby.
    I wanted to be able to make clothes, use stretch fabrics (my mom’s old machine could not), alter jeans, play with scrap leather materials, etc. I walked into 2 dealers and asked for a recommendation on a decent beginner machine with <$300 price range, and they both recommended the 1122 based on its functions for its value. The machine also has a one step buttonhole (which I have yet to try). Fraser Sewing is now open on Sundays (super convenient!) and is having a sale from Nov 25-27. Store display machines are 5%-25% off, while used home sewing machines are 50% off.

  62. VictoriaR November 2, 2011 at 12:04 pm #

    I think getting a good used machine is the best for a new sewer. You can get a really decent mechanical, metal machine for less than $100 (US). I have done a lot of looking on craigslist. I have an old Singer I bought in 1971, but have been in the market for something with more features and have been looking on craigslist. It is sometimes hard to determine what a machine can do from the add, but Pattern Review has sewing machine reviews that I have found really helpful. It takes a little while, but there are a lot of machines out there for not much money.

  63. K-Line November 2, 2011 at 12:31 pm #

    I’m still using the Brother electronic machine from Walmart that I got when I started sewing 2 yrs. ago – that and a top of the line Babylock serger :-) I would def recommend getting a second hand mechanical machine. The ones from the seventies and before are veritably indestructible and they are well priced online. Having said that, my machine has mostly done the trick. It’s bad with buttonholes (which I just don’t do) and struggles with really heavy fabric. It could have a better free-arm. Nonetheless, it’s stood me in good stead. I can’t complain.

    • Emma November 2, 2011 at 1:05 pm #

      @K-Line: My current (and first) machine is a free second hand Singer from the 70s or 80s and it’s fantastic. Indesctructable as you say!

  64. Lucy November 2, 2011 at 12:49 pm #

    I have a 1975 Elna SU that I got for $100 Kiwi ($80 Canadian) off Trade Me – our version of eBay. I think it’s a great machine for beginners – it’s all mechanical and you can do the fancy stitches, you just need discs for them, so it’s not this overwhelming list of options on the front of the machine. But to be honest, mine came with about 10 discs and apart from playing with them when I first got the machine I haven’t used them. It’s heavy enough that it doesn’t move around, and when I got it serviced the guy said that they just don’t die. Unlike cheap plastic ones, which aren’t designed to be fixable.

    I guess it depends on your friend’s budget, but as a beginner I don’t like dropping a huge amount of money if I’m not sure I’ll like the hobby. Good quality Elna or Bernina is a great way to get an excellent machine without a big outlay to start. You can always upgrade!

  65. Sewingdina November 2, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    I still use the Husqvarna Optima sewing machine I bought as a beginner around 15 years ago (which lay dormant for around 14 of those years). It was a reconditioned machine from a small sewing machine shop / dealer. He recommended all those years ago that I get a reconditioned one because I could get one that was more top of the range in its day and did a bit more, but for much less than a more basic machine brand new. They usually come with a guarantee and so if there are any problems you can return it.

  66. Alice November 2, 2011 at 1:38 pm #

    I’ve used my mom’s entry level Janome (priced around $220) since I started sewing a year and a half ago; it’s a little workhorse, though it does struggle with thicker layers/going over criss-crossed seams and I’m not super keen on the button holes. I get birdsnests of thread on the underside occasionally – though that may well be my fault. I’m looking to upgrade to something that can handle thick fabrics and make gorgeous buttonholes – esp now that I’m wanting to go deeper into tailoring. I don’t want any more features than my current machine has, just more power!

    It sounds like I really dodged a bullet with this Janome and by not buying a cheap machine!
    I wonder if the entry-level Kenmores, made by Janome, may be good for Jen? They come in at well under $200.

  67. Inge November 2, 2011 at 1:48 pm #

    I just wrote a piece about the machine I inherited from my grandma. I also have a pfaff with about 21 stitches, more than enough for me.

  68. hungrypanda November 2, 2011 at 2:04 pm #

    As a sewing teacher, I get this question a lot. I always recommend my students to go to a reputable sewing machine repair shop and buy an old one. The ones that are built like a brick and have been fixed by the shop. Really, you just need straight and zigzag. Feet can be purchased later on via ebay, etc.

    I find a lot of beginner sewers are quite hard on their machines, and the cheap $80 machines from walmart just can not take what they throw at it. The old metal machines are also easier to repair, a lot of the cheap machines don’t even come apart properly. Another selling point is that if the older machines probably will not lose a lot of their value when your friend decides to upgrade/move on to another hobby.

    The best thing you can do for your friend is to take her to your favorite repair shop and try out the machines with her.

  69. Mary November 2, 2011 at 2:05 pm #

    So many people have responded that I know you really don’t need my input. But this is a subject near and dear to my heart. I believe that the number one thing when buying a sewing machine is WHERE you buy it. If you want to buy a simpler mechanical machine and pay a little less, do so, but buy it from a dealer who will give lessons and stand behind the purchase. Nothing is worse and more expensive than a sewing machine that is used as a doorstop. There is nothing more frustrating to the beginning sewist than a machine that will not keep the tension, or does not thread easily and so on. All machines can have issues, and it is great to have the backup you need to get your machine fixed, or help with your sewing issue. I have owned many machines and sewn on many more, and I would say again choose your dealer carefully and they will help you find the best machine for your money.
    Mary

  70. Monica November 2, 2011 at 2:11 pm #

    I do the majority of my sewing on my Pfaff Creative 4134 — even though I use it for mostly garment sewing (and bridal) it’s actually an Embroidery Sewing Machine!
    The extra features (the IDT and stitches and ability to move the needle, etc) are AMAZING!!

    My sisters both sew on Singer / Kenmores (available at Sears and JoAnns) and they are hearty, basic machines!

  71. Sheryl November 2, 2011 at 2:26 pm #

    I have a Janome 6019 QC which at the time of buying came with a walking foot, and three other feet and quilt guide. I love it. It gas a threaded, buttonhole and 20 different stitches and a hard case. It never let’s me down. I was given a Brother basic machine when I was 21 by my Mum who has always sewed. It was good but I had to make sure I hung on to the threads when setting off which I dont have to do with my Janome. I have also used industrial machines in the past of many different variety and I would say that the only other thing I would wish for is a needle that is left down every time you stop. That is really handy. I would say go for the best you can afford. I did with mine and have been chuffed with it since.

  72. Melissa M. November 2, 2011 at 2:46 pm #

    My grandmother found my sewing machine at a garage sale, it’s a very old Sears Kenmore (50+yrs and counting). The only problem I have with this machine and it’s probably me and not the machine is knits. I also found another model just like mine on ebay and bought it but haven’t tried using it yet, so far it looks just fine. I bought a cheap Singer beginner machine from wal-mart as well as a serger, years ago. I hated both of those machines and ended up giving them to goodwill. All the plastic parts didn’ want to work well with each other. I couldn’t get it to work so I couldn’t expect my daughter to make it work and like sewing if I gave it to her. I personally look for older models, mostly metal parts when it comes to a basic sewing machine. I hear good things about pfaff, janome, huskarvana (sp?) and brother machines, especially the Janome for beginners. Best of luck

  73. Deanna November 2, 2011 at 3:02 pm #

    Unlike most people, I say go ahead and get the cheapest thing you can find! That’s what I did. I decided one day that I would learn to sew so not knowing if I would love it or hate it, I bought the cheapest thing I could find off of Craigslist. That way if I hated it and never wanted to sew again, it was not a huge financial loss. Money was tight at the time too.

    True, it was cheap and frustrating but I feel like it really built character as they say. I had things get caught in it and had to rethread by hand so many times that it basically forced me to open it up and see how it all works. I never would have done that with an expensive machine. I have since upgraded after the projects I wanted to work on got more and more advanced and I am happy with the upgrade, but the cheapo first sewing machine that I cursed at many-a-time still holds a special place in my heart and it helped me to know what I was looking for in the upgrade.

  74. Stephanie November 2, 2011 at 3:27 pm #

    My first sewing machine (that is still at my parents’ house) was a very basic Singer with an automatic buttonhole function. Even the one I have now here in Italy is a basic Singer, but it’s mainly because I don’t use most of the fancy functions and I like my machines to be as manual as possible. Seriously, if I found a sewing machine that functioned by hand-crank or bicycle power I’d totally buy it =)

  75. Alicia November 2, 2011 at 3:28 pm #

    Buy a machine that is of good quality–even if it has less features. A basic refurbished (often older) machine will last you much longer than a cheap new fancy looking but can’t sew much POS from China. I sew on a twenty year old refurbished Bernina, and I wouldn’t DREAM of sewing on anything else. Plus you never end up using all the fancy bells and whistles anyway!

  76. Rebecca November 2, 2011 at 3:51 pm #

    Never buy cheap. In my opinion. I bought a cheap machine for my daughter so she wouldn’t be tying up my Bernina (LOVE it) when I wanted to sew. What a mistake! Beginners do not need the frustration of shoddy tools. I would definitely go to a sewing machine dealer. In good ol’ Lancaster Co., PA, USA we have a Bernina dealership run by plain Mennonites. They will fix anything. And make most of their own clothes. That’s who you want to buy from.

    Always buy a machine with all metal parts; that’s more important than stitch selection. If you can’t afford a new machine with all metal parts, buy an older model from a reputable dealer. Those workhorses will last forever and do, at the very least, straight stitch and ziz zag. All you need in the early days.

    Hee. I just read Alicia’s comment. Consider me the amen pew.

  77. Dana November 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm #

    Hi. I only really started sewing about a year ago. I had a bit of a false start with sewing on a cheap basic machine that was a real pain about 15 years ago but gave it away when I gave up on the idea of sewing. This time round I brought this
    http://www.amazon.com/Singer-Confidence-Electronic-Sewing-Machine/dp/B00176WYGY
    it was middle of the range price wise, I was looking at something cheap but my husband insisted that I wait and we saved for something a bit better than what I could really afford.
    I live in Australia and the cost was around the $700 mark on special. I did a lot of research on line, I think it is really important to read the customer reviews to find out what people who are using your machine are saying about it. I prefer to buy from a fabric or sewing shop but if you have done your research and you can get it a lot cheaper from elsewhere I would go the cheaper option, especially if you are going to be teaching her anyway.
    My machine has some great functions including auto button hole, needle down, auto tension and needle threader. I don’t think that having these things takes away from the learning experience I think it makes it much easier to learn to love sewing, then when you are familiar and more experienced (or when you become addicted to vintage) you can go back and learn the harder (old school) aspects of sewing.
    Good luck to your friend.

  78. Kristin November 2, 2011 at 4:20 pm #

    My grandparents bought me a cheap Singer about 10 years ago, probably @ $80 and it discouraged me from sewing because it was hard to use, this summer I got this one:

    http://crafts-sewing.hsn.com/singer-perfect-finish-sewing-machine-and-serger-set_p-6303535_xp.aspx?webm_id=0&web_id=6303535&sf=ct&attr=211&ocm=ct|211&prev=hp!211

    and I’m in love, I wished I would of had a better machine starting out because it is amazing how much easier sewing on a good machine will do. I know this isn’t the best machine on the market but for starting out it is great for me. I love the start/stop button so you don’t have to use a foot controller, because I don’t have a steady foot :)

    Good luck!

  79. Jessica November 2, 2011 at 5:03 pm #

    I decided to buy my first sewing machine last summer and wanted to get a vintage machine that would do zigzags and straight stitching. I also wanted a vintage one to avoid the too much plastic issue new electronics seem to have. I bought one off kijiji for $50 and it’s great. I am a beginner so it’s just enough to deal with. Now I have to find a new case as the current plastic one is cracking badly…..

  80. judidarling November 2, 2011 at 5:08 pm #

    Please think about buying a good, used machine. Most of the lower end new machines are throwaways; you simply can’t enjoy learning on a machine that won’t hold a stitch, has a wonky bobbin and a buttonhole that screams “loving hands at home.” My first machine was a mechanical Singer–heavy, limited to several stitches and requiring a separate buttonholer, but that baby could really sew. I used it for years, through college and beyond. When I was looking for a machine for my sister-in-law, I chose a reconditioned Kenmore 158, and she’s delighted with it. Lots of smart features, and at less than $150 including a buttonhole attachment, it was a steal. Look around, don’t rush, and enjoy.

  81. Angela W. November 2, 2011 at 5:14 pm #

    My grandmother started me sewing when I was nine (28 years ago now!) and I used my mother’s Kenmore sewing machine from Sears. The rumour was that a high end line made the Kenmore machines for Sears and I believe it…that machine was only replaced a few years ago and only because my mother started quilting and needed more than her Kenmore could offer.
    My first personal machine was a BASIC SInger and not the plastic parts Singer – the metal parts Singer. I’m so glad that they ditched the plastic parts…they were ruining their reputation.
    It was replaced with…a Kenmore. (I would love to own a Husqvarna – it is a dream!) I’ve only had to take it in for repairs once, after my husband used it (he is now banned from the machine).
    For an affordable basic machine, my heart lies with both the old school SInger or a Kenmore model.

  82. Denise November 2, 2011 at 5:32 pm #

    My machine is a Kenmore, which at the time (maybe still now) was made by Janome. it does about 10 stitches, is mechanical, and does one basic buttonhole. I got it when I graduated university, which was *ahem* 15 years ago. It still goes like stink, and I’ve only taken it in a few times for servicing, but I take the time to do basic maintenance. I tell my students to get one, since it’s still only about $200.

    My dream, too is a Husqvarna. I know the one I want, and I have a special savings account, which is about 3/4 of the way there…………

  83. Mav November 2, 2011 at 7:36 pm #

    I bought my Kenmore from Sears three years ago. The salesperson was so helpful; I went in to buy one that I thought was good for $199, but she suggested I buy a better model for the same price (on sale) and gave me a contact of a lady who gives lessons in case I needed help. It’s a great machine, hasn’t given me a problem yet and hems jeans easily.

  84. Sewist from the South November 2, 2011 at 7:37 pm #

    I take continuing ed classes at FIT. A tutor recommended I get the cheapest Brother machine, which is the 2600i. That was a few years ago. I would spend a little more money than I did, but would only be concerned that machine could make a good straight stitch and maybe a zigzag. Make sure the feed dogs will accommodate thicker fabric. I get the buttonholes done at a place in the Garment Center because home machines don’t do a good job. If I needed embroidery stitches I’d probably try to get that done outside too.

    One of the revelations of taking classes at an industry school is that work is specialized. If you need grommets, for example, it’s fine to go somewhere and have them inserted if you can afford it Specialists with special machines do a better job.

    I would never buy from Walmart on general principle. I suggest Amazon, which generally has excellent customer service.

    • Sewist from the South November 2, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

      When I grow up as a sewer, I’ll consider buying a Juki industrial with a servo motor. The feet are very cheap. I’d also like to have a Bernina, but some people think that Bernina’s chief claims is as an excellent marketer and that you get more value with an industrial, which I know how to use. I also think that Bernina is a bizarrely snobbish company.

  85. Tanit-Isis November 2, 2011 at 7:48 pm #

    I have a bottom-end Janome which cost around $200 four years ago. It does a selection of basic stitches in straight and stretch format, one kind of buttonhole, and that’s about it. I think it’s a great basic machine, and about the right price-range. I would go for quality/brand over fancy features, definitely—a machine that skips stitches or has tension issues or eats fabric will turn someone off way faster than not being able to do programmed monogram embroidery or whatever.

    If she’s looking for something under $100, I’d look for a good-quality used machine.

  86. khyaati November 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I’ve been using my mothers trusty old Bernina 830 ever since I started sewing. Its built like a brick and heavy as hell but sews wonderfully. She got it her 21st present and still has the original receipt (NZ$749 from 25 years ago). I’m not sure how much cheaper Bernina’s go for now, but they are a reputable brand and I would recommend one of the more basic models as a starting point if you want it to last and be trustworthy. Naive me thought it would be a nice parallel to get the new Bernina 830 for my 21st…. Turns out its in the vicinity of NZ$14,000. No jokes. Absurd. But as long as it stitches well and can do all the basics, an basic model from a good brand is what I’d recommend :)
    p.s. I totally understand your snobbery when it comes to machines and do think that the price you pay is what you get :) :) :)

  87. Alice November 2, 2011 at 7:51 pm #

    I have a Bernina 830 and I got it of craigslist for $425. I grew up sewing on my Mom’s Bernina 831, and recently got my own when I moved out. My sewing machine is older than I am! I have sewn on multiple plastic machines, and Pfaffs in High School. Nothing compares.

  88. Catholic Bibliophagist November 2, 2011 at 10:27 pm #

    The Bernina 1008 is a good basic mechanical machine. We used these at a garment construction class I took at the local junior college. It’s got a good four step button hole, standard utility stitches, and a few decorative stitches. It does not have the knee lift which the higher end Berninas have, but otherwise it’s the perfect machine for a beginner. It’s not cheap, but it’s very well made.

    Insider tip: It comes with a clip-on zipper foot which is not very good. (Cost cutting measure on Bernina’s part, I guess.) Invest in a standard Bernina zipper foot (#4). Your zippers will go in much more easily and you will be soooo much happier. If you prefer Invisible Zippers, buy the special invisible zipper foot (#35). It makes inserting invisible zippers so easy that you won’t believe it.

  89. Jane Elise November 2, 2011 at 10:53 pm #

    My best friend just bought a sewing machine to learn to sew on. We decided that she should go for a mid-range machine that was straightforward to use but had enough option for her to grow into. She has made two skirts so far and she is very happy with her choice. She spent about $AU400. She could have bought one for much less but she wanted to still be able to use the machine in a couple of years when her skills were more advanced. I had a really basic machine for 15 years and it ‘did’ but now I have my mum’s mid-range machine and I LOVE IT. I think a really basic, low cost machine is good if you want to just mend but not very exciting if you really want to get into sewing.

  90. Caroline November 2, 2011 at 11:01 pm #

    Ag! No knee lift! How do you do it Tasia!?

    Anyway, I like the advice above of either taking lessons to try out machines or going to several dealers to try all their machines. One will feel right.

    Avoid machines that are so light you could throw them across the room. The more plastic parts and computerized buttons, the worse off you are, IMO. Buy new but that said, avoid sewing machine dealers — man, they are rugged sales people and in my experience, rarely want to get you on what you need, but rather on what they need to move.

    Have her go with her gut. She doesn’t need a rocket ship of a sewing machine to discover she loves to sew. If she hates it, nothing lost. If she loves it, she can buy tons of machines and constantly upgrade — like the rest of us! :)

  91. Zete November 3, 2011 at 1:38 am #

    I started to learn on my grandmothers machine. Old, pedal operated machine like this http://makingtoys.files.wordpress.com/2011/09/69409940_2-vintage-singer-sewing-machine-los-alamitos.jpg . Straight stitch only (and seriously – what else do you need?)! Used it quite a lot, even broke it once – had to replace the leather strap. It was a perfect thing to learn – I felt great control over the machine. Actually I was a bit scared of electrical sewing machines after my mom tried to teach me some basic sewing when I was a child – i could not control the speed of machine and was afraid I’d sew my fingers off eventually – the foot pedal was just too sensitive.

  92. Micaela November 3, 2011 at 1:53 am #

    Hola,
    Yo tengo la máquina de coser http://www.pfaffmachines.co.uk/sewing-machines/pfaff-select/pfaff-select-4-sewing-machine.htm la compre en esta web y estoy muy contenta, vivo en Barcelona y me llego en una semana, me han hecho un montón de reaglos por comprarla, y los gastos de envio han sido baratos.
    Es mi 2da m√°quina, pero la considero la 1ra porque la otra era muy mala y no funcionaba bien.
    Un señor que se dedica a arreglarlas me la recomendo, dice que como 1ra máquina es muy buena, cose de todo y va muy suave, y puede coser a mucha velocidad.
    Y es cierto todo lo que me dijo y m√°s, cose cosas muy gruesas y casi duras, sin inmutarse, estoy muy contenta y satisfecha con esta m√°quina.
    Estoy muy contenta y es muy recomendable.

  93. irene whelan November 3, 2011 at 2:13 am #

    i learned to sew as a child back in the 1950ies in an old treadle sewing machine .i then went on to work at sewing .i have stiched on every machine under the sun .so here goes .forget about fancy machines .to many functions to go wrong .get a basic stright sticher with a zig zag option ..an older model .all metal if you can .you will sew knits .and strech on a machine on this if you change to a ball point needle .and set your zig zag to small size .for normal to heavy fabrics and stright stiching you wont beat an older industrail sewing machine ..that has been serviced .if you clean and oil your machine .it will go forever like a rolls royce .good luck .and happy sewing .

  94. Esz November 3, 2011 at 3:56 am #

    I bought a 1964 Singer 338 off eBay for $60AUD.

    I chose it because it’s all mechanical – with no computerised parts. It does a few different stitches with the aid of some cams. That said, I’ve only ever used the zigzag and straight stitch.

    I have a buttonhole attachment which I dont use much, preferring to make Roman buttonholes (I think that’s what they’re called) – much easier than bound!

    I figured since I’m going to be making clothes from vintage patterns, I need a vintage machine. It’s a sturdy and pretty thing. Love it!

  95. Cassandra November 3, 2011 at 4:14 am #

    I have an old low-mid end Janome and it does pretty well.

    If your friend is going to be sewing clothing I would look for:

    – a machine that has a metal body (some of the really cheap ones don’t)
    – a machine that includes a zipper foot, preferably an invisible zipper foot too
    – one that sews buttonholes
    – a left/right needle shift
    – zig zag stitch

    Also look for a machine that has clear measurements marked out on the metal plate under the needle (and make sure they’re in your preferred unit of measurement!) and it doesn’t hurt to look for a machine that has the threading guides clearly marked.

    New sewers are really scared of threading and rethreading the machine – it’s important that it is easy to understand.

    I really like it when the metal plate guides for seam allowance are marked way in advance (closer to the front edge of the machine).

    And, finally, if you buy from a sewing store you should be able to test feed in some fabrics to see how the machine copes. I would bring some tricky ones (in addition to thin and thick cottons): like jersey or something with spandex, double knits etc.

  96. Ann November 3, 2011 at 5:47 am #

    I know there’s already a million comments, but just wanted to say when I started a couple of years ago I went the vintage route and for me, it was a mistake. Even though I immediately got my machine a tune up, it never worked right. The tension was always wrong and I was frustrated all the time. Finally I gave up on it and my mom got me a Janome 500 as a present. I was sooooo much happier! So far so good. Maybe someday I’ll upgrade but I don’t need to yet.

  97. Caroline November 3, 2011 at 6:07 am #

    I learnt to sew on my mum’s Bernina 730. She bought it second hand – probably in the 70s – and it’s been going strong ever since. I’ve found it a lovely machine to sew with, it has all the basic stitches that you need, as well as a lot of other stitiches/functions I’ve yet to try out. I like the fact that it’s so well made and that it’s all mechanical – keep it oiled and serviced regularly and it will keep sewing like a dream – love it!

    I sometimes think about saving up for something that would do a few fancier things, but to be honest I think that I would still sew most things on the Bernina, as it is so reliable. I think if i was to buy another machine I’d probably buy an overlocker, rather than another sewing machine. On a purely aesthetic note, I think it also looks much nicer than modern machines.

    I think the most important things to consider are that the machine has all the basic stitches and functions, and that it is well made – therefore it’s probably better to spend as much as you can afford in order to get a good quality machine that will last.

  98. Tasha November 3, 2011 at 6:49 am #

    My first sewing machine is still my sewing machine, ha ha! I’ve had it about 12 years now, even though for many of those years it sat in the closet not being used. It’s a Singer 5050. I think it cost about $100 or a little more (I think I actually bought it refurbished online). It sounds similar to what Emily has. No computerized functions, does a 4-step buttonhole, has many basic stitches, and came with a few different feet. It’s straightforward and easy to thread, and, well, works like a basic sewing machine. I liked it because when I got it, it didn’t feel too overwhelming. I was able to follow the manual easily to figure out things I didn’t know how to do. I probably went with a Singer because I knew the name brand at the time. It’s been a very reliable machine.

    The only thing I wish it did was an overlock stitch as I don’t really have room to keep a serger around too. From my manual it looks like one of the stitches I can do, but I don’t actually see that stitch on my machine. It’s a mystery. ;)

  99. Kim November 3, 2011 at 12:25 pm #

    I wrote a related post about this on my blog awhile back in a post called “Selecting a Sewing Machine: (link: http://sassycrafter.blogspot.com/2010/09/selecting-sewing-machine.html).

    Basically, I think the el-cheapo machines from big box stores are okay if you’re on a limited budget, but they really aren’t ideal. Since they’re made of plastic parts, they don’t behave as well as a quality machine. Plus, they’re essentially built to be obsolescent. So after a year or two of sewing, you’ll be in the same boat — ready to buy another sewing machine.

    Older used machines that are in good working order are often a better choice for the money.

    Or tell your friend to save her pennies and buy an entry-level machine from a reputable dealer. She should be able to get one for ~$300 that will do everything she needs.

    Good luck!

  100. Jennifer November 3, 2011 at 12:37 pm #

    Great question! While you already have plenty of answers, I thought I should show Brother a bit more love. When I decided to take up sewing a few years ago, I did a fair bit of online research to find the right machine. I looked for a machine I could grow into but that wouldn’t be a huge loss if I didn’t enjoy it. I chose the Brother CE5000PRW and still love it! I got it at Walmart (no yelling please!) for around $130? but only after confirming it was identical to the one sold in the local sewing shops for $300+. It’s very easy to use, computerized, has a wide variety of stitches, including 5 buttonholes, comes with all the feet a beginner could need, and can sew on any fabric I throw at it. I’ve since purchased an invisible zipper foot, a rolled-hem foot and a walking foot. That’s it. (And contrary to online rumors, you can buy generic feet.) My only caution with this machine is to not skimp on thread. Coats and Clark gave me tension problems and skipped stitches but with Gutermann or Mettler, it sews beautifully!

    Whatever machine she chooses, I’m sure she’s going to love sewing! :)

Leave a Reply