One of the questions I am asked most often when I teach classes is "I want a new sewing machine- what should I buy? What features should I look for?" We are so lucky today to have so many wonderful machines to choose from. However because of the variety of choices, many buyers become confused and overwhelmed.
Purchasing a new machine is a big step. Your first decision will have to be how much you are willing to pay. Once you have decided that, then it's a good idea to make a list of 1. your sewing needs and 2. other features which you would like to have. Your "sewing needs" refers to the type of sewing you do most often ( ie making clothing vs. making quilts). Consider which features will serve you best.
Clothing: stretch stitch, multiple zigzag, friendly zipper foot, good buttonholes, freearm for sleeves, blind hemstitch.
Machine Quilting: machine bed size (distance between needle and vertical body housing to handle bulk of quilt), handles monofilament and other specialty threads, available walking foot and 1/4" foot for piecing, feed dogs that drop, single hole throat plate available, knee lift.
Machine Applique: adjustable satin stitch, blanket stitch, variable needle positions, open-toed foot available.
Of course there are some basic features which any quilter will want:
- 1/4" foot - it's proper use will guarantee an accurate 1/4" seam allowance
- horizontal AND vertical spool pin options- really great to have both
- straight stitch and zigzag - straight stitch for piecing, topstitching and quilting. Zigzag either open or closed (satin stitch) is for machine applique.
- needle up/needle down function - this gives you the option of stopping with the needle down in the fabric, leaving your hands free. It's a great feature.
- feed dogs that drop - for free motion quilting (stippling, thread painting, etc.)
- machine bed size - the distance between your needle and the vertical housing - the greater it is, the more room you have to maneuver the bulk of your quilt when machine quilting
- walking foot (also called even feed foot) This foot is a must for machine quilting, allowing all 3 layers of the quilt to feed through machine evenly with no tucks on the back.
- darning foot - this foot is needed if you want to try stippling and free motion work
- sensitive foot control - you should be able to sew slowly at a uniform speed. Some machines have a speed control, allowing you to reduce the speed to half the normal.
There are many other features available- talk to your friends and fellow Guild members to see what they like best about their machines.
Always "test drive" a machine you are considering. Try out it's features. See how easily the feet are changed. Does it have good tension? Can you access the bobbin easily? Is the machine quiet?
Is it heavy? Does it have a comfortable carrying handle? Does the machine respond immediately to reverse stitching or changing the stitch length? Is there storage for tools and accessories? Are there good quality accessories (feet) made specifically for this brand? Does it have a good light? Does it have adjustable needle positions? Of course there are always "more" features which would be nice, such as a signal when the bobbin is running low, needle threader, large library of stitches, extension table, and so on.
One of the MOST important considerations is the dealer. The dealer should be well versed and be able to answer all your questions. He/She should provide a reasonable warranty and offer service, repair and accessories on the premises. Instructional classes are a wonderful bonus. Ask around among your friends and sewing acquaintances and fellow Guild members concerning the dealer's reputation, as you will want to know that he/she is someone you will trust and be comfortable with.
The purchase of a quality machine is an investment - don't be rushed into a purchase by special offers, pressure from the dealer or an impatient companion. If you are looking for a basic machine, consider that after you have reached a certain level of expertise, you will want some extra features so you can experiment with new techniques and stitches. Consider your goals as a quilter and purchase a machine that will allow you to grow. And don't fear computer technology! It's here to stay. Don't be intimidated by computerized machines- just read the instruction manual and play until you understand how it works! You will soon come to love the computerized features.
We get such enjoyment from using our machines for this wonderful hobby. If you are constantly having frustrating problems with an old machine, perhaps it's time to treat yourself to an upgrade!