Sewing Machines

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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Sewing machine recs for intermediate sewer

April 2009

I am planning to replace my 28 year old sewing machine. I read all the archived messages about sewing machines. They were very useful for getting started and now I have some questions from a slightly different perspective.

1. If you don't do fancy stitches, are the computerized machines worth the extra money? They do seem to have features which would make sewing less a chore, like exact needle placement for tight corners and automatic tension regulation. (Or am I just hopeful?)

2. Are the computerized machines fairly reliable? I'd hate to be on the ''bleeding edge'' of technology.

My sewing consists mostly of tricky mending and cloth doll making (tight curves; sewing in tight places) with a few super-simple projects like large pillow covers. Some zigzag stitches but mostly straight. Fran

I just replaced my old mechanical sewing machine with a computerized machine (I chose a Janome 6260). I don't do embroidery so I wasn't interested in fancy stitches. What I do think a good computerized machine has given me is much greater control over the finer points of my sewing. For example, the needle up/down function keeps me from having to add a stitch to move the needle down (or up). Also, I can lock a seam by having the machine automatically reverse a couple of stitches or I have another function that automatically stitches a few stitches in one spot (another way to lock the end of stitching). Another thing is the greater choice in needle position (goes far to left or right). So, yes, for me I have more control and less frustration with a computerized machine. My machine is still new so I don't know about repairs, but I read a lot on the internet (try reviews for lots of reviews of various machines) and chose a model that people seemed universally happy with. Happy Sewer

Sewing Machine for beginning adult

Jan 2008

I am dying to learn to sew simple things like curtains and duvets. I don't want to spend too much on a sewing machine in case I hate it or am terrible at it. BUT, I don't want to buy a piece of crap that will fall apart in 30 seconds either. Any suggestions for a solid and inexpensive beginner (i.e. not hard to use) machine? j

I have an Elnita (made by the Elna company). It's nice, because it's very solid, but doesn't have a lot of complicated, super-fancy stitches and stuff to learn, just the basics. And it's relatively inexpensive. I've had mine for 10 years. Karen
I just bought a used White brand sewing machine from A1 Vacuum and Sewing on Park St in Alameda. It was only $90, is made from metal parts (it's from the 70s) and has been reconditioned so it runs perfectly. I broke down and bought a well running used machine because the plastic Singer I bought from Target was a frustrating piece of crap. I highly recommend A1 Vacuum and Sewing. The guy who runs the place is very smart (although a little grouchy), services all the machines, will give you free lessons on how to operate the machine and charges more than fair prices on his machines. Don't bust out the big bucks on a Bernina or Pfaff until you know what you're doing and don't buy a plastic Singer! Happy sewer
i have liked my kenmore that i have used for about 9 years. it has been good to me and seen me through a variety of projects (quilts, baby clothes, dresses, and curtains). it has the horizontal bobbin feature i find essential. that was always my biggest problem using other machines. i recently inherited my mom's sewing machine and was getting ready to post my kenmore on craigslist for $40. if you would like it, i have a lot of the extras that you need to go with the machine, too. drop me an email if you are interested or just want more tips on how to get started sewing. tami

Sewing machine for costumes & small projects

Nov 2007

I would like advice on the purchase of a sewing machine. I am not a sewer, but would like something for the Halloween costumes and hemming projects. The curtains in my bedroom are going on year 3 without being hemmed to the proper length. I highly doubt I would take up making my own clothes, however. I would like the machine to be functional and compact ( if possible). THANK YOU!

I bought a Husqvarna-Viking ''Huskystar'' about a year ago for about $150. I chose their most basic model, as my objective in sewing was about the same as yours. I have been VERY happy with it. They actually have a trade-in program, which basically gives credits your purchase price to an upgrade within a year of original purchase, in case you decide you want more features after all. JoAnn stores in Concord and Dublin have sales reps (I think JoAnn rents them the space or something), and there may be other dealers closer. In case you are considering buying anything off Ebay, etc, I would discourage it. I had terrible problems with the Singer I bought from Ebay and had no one to go to for help. Erin
Choosing a sewing machine is like buying a car. First, you need to try it to determine whether you'll be comfortable using it. Second, if you purchase from a sewing machine dealer--and I think that's better than getting a Target special--the price is negotiable. If nothing else, ask the dealer to throw in a few spools of thread and a pack of needles. That said, if all you want is a machine for hemming, look at getting a used portable machine for under $100. Otherwise, ask for a low-end Janome/New Home. Having a good tool makes all the difference. I'd stay away from anything new by Simplicity or Brother because I don't think they're made well. The new Singer Featherweight is OK. If you do end up enjoying sewing, you can do other things besides make clothes and there are several fine quilting shops in the area such as Qulit Fans that teach beginners. Betsy
If you don't sew often, avoid machines with zillions of stitches. You will never use them. For day to day work, hemming, and halloween costumes, you'll use straight stitches and zigzag. Every machine since 1950 has these. Look on Craig's List - search for Sewing Machine. On any day, there's several dozen for sale, one or two for free. A dad that does the family sewing
I purchased a Kenmore sewing machine from Sears. It can do various types of stitches and buttonholes, but I use it mainly for making curtains, pillows and hemming. (I do very little sewing of clothing anymore.) It works quite well for basic sewing and can stitch thru denim pretty well. I bought it about 3 yrs. ago for about $150. Unfortunately, it doesn't come with a cover so I just put an old pillowcase over it. I've been sewing for 40 years(!) and love it much more than my old Singer. like my Kenmore
You probably would do just fine with a basic Singer machine that can be bought at Target or other big-box store for around $100. Or find a used machine on Craig's List eBay, etc. For the type of projects you're describing, which are pretty simple and straightforward, I wouldn't pay more than that. CC

Sewing Machine for a beginner

Sept 2004

Hello, I'm a beginning to learn how to sew. I took a class at Stone Mtn. Daughter and loved it, but found their machines too expensive for me to afford. I'm living on an extremely limited budget and would like to buy an affordable simple machine to start with. Someone in the class said she has a Simplicity that she baught at Walmart and loves it. Any recommendations? Chiara (510) 652-6205 Chiara

My mom gave me her EuroPro Model 7130 recently. She is an expert sewer, I am an advanced beginner. My projects have come out great, including button holes. The machine is great fun to use. Patty
my daughter has been taking a drama class which employs a seamstress to make the costumes. i myself have been interested in learning to sew, so i asked her what she recommended for a beginner like me (in my 40's) or even for my daughter to start to learn on (she's 8, but excellent dexterity). She showed me the machine she bought at Costco for the drama program and told me why it was so great as a beginner machine. Check out the Costco website -- It's the Brother machine for $179. If that's beyond your budget, they have other options, some less than $100. One great thing about Costco is that you can bring back anything for any reason, any time -- just keep your receipt. And I'm pretty sure you can return an online purchase to any of their stores (double check this). Good luck. john
Hi! I take a sewing class in Lafayette from a teacher who also teaches at Stone Mountain & Daughter. Anyway, I wanted to be sure you checked out Janome sewing machines. I've had one for a few years (had an Elna before) and adore it. Check out their website at to compare the different models. I bought my sewing machine from and had a great experience with them. They sell the machines cheaper than anywhere, free shipping, and no sales tax! Very responsive to questions on the phone. Very professional. They sell Janomes ranging from $1700 to $140. Hope that's within your price range. I have heard the reliability of the new Singers & Simplicity machines is poor, & would hate for you to put your money towards something that won't sew well for you. Good luck finding something! Christina
I would highly recommend the Sewing Machine Shop in Walnut Creek. They have 2 great beginner machines, the Pfaff 1020 (for about 200 bucks) and the Pfaff 1040 (for 300). The big advantage, as far as I'm concerned, of going to a Sewing Machine Shop, rather than a dept. store or Costco, is that they will A) give you free lessons in how to use it and B) Trouble-shoot (also for free). In the past, when I've had trouble, I'll just bring my machine in and someone there will help me figure out the problem. Jennifer

Sewing machine for a novice

June 2004

Can anyone recommend a good, durable, easy to use sewing machine for a novice who wants to learn how to make clothes? Something that will last the years and doesn't weigh a ton, but isn't made of plastic parts (am I dreaming?)? I'm not interested in anything programmable because i am completely clueless in that department. Thanks in advance! Laura

Singer makes basic machines that won't break the bank. I upgraded from mine only 2 years ago -- I had it since I was 10 years old! It had some plastic on it, but lasted and was durable. I have a friend who has found good working vintage (heavy) singer machines in 2nd hand stores. She takes them to a sewing machine repair shop and gets them serviced and they're good as new. That takes more shopping time, but they are beautiful too! You may check out some repair shops that also sell machines. They may have used ones for sale. While it is true that all you need is forward, reverse and zig- zag, my life is so much better with the programmable machine. Though I've been sewing for a long time, I'm not very good at it! My machine makes buttonholes for me -- something I never mastered with my bare-bones machine. happy with the bells and whistles
I purchased a janome from a wonderful store - Lafayette Sewing Center. Plastic is pretty much what is used - the bigger question is whether to get a machine with a computer chip. What is great about the Lafayette store is you can try a machine for - I think its about 4 months but confirm with them- and then upgrade if you need to. This is what I did. Cannot reccomend them enough. Worth the short drive thru the tunnel. Tc
Check out Sears for a Kenmore. Basic. Reliable. Good value. you can also try Viking. With my machine, the most important features are: straight stitch & zig zag. The rest I rarely use. It's imporatnat to be able to back up easily; it's nice to be able to remove the footplate & just stitch a free straight stitch (to repair a hole w/o a patch); it's nice to be able to remove some of the base so that you can insert a sleeve, and sew around it w/o trouble. Ease of threading needles, threading bobbins, changing needles, changing stitch width (for zigzag) and length is important. Mine also has a little built-in storage tray for things like other needles & bobbins. janet

Sewing machine for teen

November 2002

I am looking for a recommendation regarding a good sewing machine for my teenage daughter. She is very interested in designing and sewing her own clothes, making craft projects etc. I would like to get her a machine that would be easy to use, but sophisticated enough that she would not be frustrated using it. Any suggestions about what I should buy and/or where I should look? Lori

I recommend going to Sears and getting a Kenmore machine. A relatively inexpensive on would be perfect. I spent about $150- (maybe less) on mine about 2 years ago (just like your daughter i love making & fixing clothes and making crafts) and learned how to sew by reading the SIMPLE directions it came with. I thought I'd have to take a class but those Kenmore instructions are very easy to follow. Mine does pretty basic stuff, but also has some neat zigzag stitches. I think that would be great, and you can always get her another one as she progresses & have her take a class. The first nite I taught myself to sew I made a simple bag for myself! jami
Check with Kathy Osborne at the Sewing Machine Shop in Walnut Creek. She ''wowed'' me with her knowledge and was a good salesperson without being *overly* pushy. They have machines there from $199 up to $7000 (yikes!)925-937-7575, 1661 Bothelho Drive. It seems like a great resource for serious sewers,too. - Former seamstress
You can't really go wrong. The basic way that sewing machines work has not changed much in the last century; I have sewed quite successfully on an ancient machine powered by a treadle! There have been some innovations in the way the bobbin threader works in newer models. Buy something used or get a cheaper model (Elna, Singer, and Kenmore are fine makes) new. Don't spring for the bells and whistles. If you're still at sea, I suggest you go to a non-chain fabric store (Stone Mtn and Daughter or Poppy Fabric are two East Bay institutions) and ask for a recommendation. My machine, incidentally, is a Kenmore made by Sears; I learned on an Elna when I was in 4-H 20 years ago. virginia

Sewing machine & lessons for learning to sew

October 2002

I am interested in buying a sewing machine and need some advice about what brand or model would be best. I would like a somewhat basic one, but as I plan on improving, I would need one that extend beyond the bare-bone features. I am willing to pay more for one that will last some time. Also, and advice about where I could take reasonably priced sewibg classes. I am especially interested in learning to sew clothes, toddler and adult. Thank you.

I recently purchased a pretty good sewing machine at Sew Images, that specializes in Bernina machines, located in 4172 Piedmont Avenue in Oakland (510-601- 8739). They also have classes there, although a bit pricey. I heard you can attend cheaper classes (approximately $40 per semester) at the UCB night school. But you would have to wait until the spring semester. Jeesun
This last weekend, after extensive research, I bought a Janome 4623 LE Plus at the Sewing Machine Shop in Walnut Creek ( The list price for this machine is $699.00, but they sell it if for $439.00 plux tax (about $465 total). It's a great machine for clothes and quilting. I'd been using a basic Singer for the last 22 years which I finally wore out and this one was recommended to me by a number of sewing professionals. It has a one-step buttonholer (much nicer than a 4-step) and it has an overcast stitch which mimics a serger. I don't do machine embroidery or anything like that, though this model has 23 stitches in all, including smocking. And it sews like a dream. If overcast and one-step buttonholes aren't high on your list, I believe the Janome 4618 sells for $339.00. They are extremely helpful and knowledgable at the Sewing Machine Shop and also give lessons; their website will tell you the price. However, when you buy a machine from them it comes with a class specific to that machine and it goes over all the stitches as well as maintenance and oiling. It's a real workhorse of a machine which is what I was looking for. And it was worth the trip to Walnut Creek. Anyway, thought I'd put in my two cents. Hope this helps. Davi
I did the same thing a few years ago when I decided to learn to sew in earnest:I bought a really good machine from a well- recommended dealer,Cecilia at Sew Images on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland (one block below the Piedmont movie theater). She sells Bernina machines which are very reliable and come in a range of prices. You'll have to decide whether you want your machine to be computerized or not (I vote for yes!). She also sells some gently used machines so you could probably get a good deal there.

As for classes a 3-hour class is included with the purchase of your machine. By all means take it! Other dealers ought to have similar offers. I have also taken other classes (day and evening) both from Cecilia at Sew Images and from excellent instructors at StoneMountain on Shattuck Avenue in Berkeley. Laura

Threads magazine recently did a comparison of sewing machines and posted their results online along with a tip sheet on choosing a machine. I think the website is jd

Where to see different brands of machines

May 2002

Well my Singer sewing machine has broken and the man at the repair shop says it isn't worth fixing. (It wasn't a very expensive machine, and the repair will cost too much.) So I am now in the market for a new one. The repair place sells machines, but only two brands, Pfaff and Brother. I would like to look at a larger variety. Can anyone recommend a place to go to see some different brands? How about recommendations for good brands? I do some quilting,and have occaisionally made some clothing, curtains, etc., all light weight jobs. But I would like a machine that I can use when hemming jeans too. Suggestions? Rose

For serious sewers, I'd recommend either a Viking or Elna sewing machine. They're pretty expensive, but Elna makes a basic machine, an Elnita, that doesn't have any of the fancy stitches, is less expensive, but still very high quality. Karen
Another outstanding brand is Bernina. These machines are made in Switzerland, are very reliable and have an excellent warranty. While the computerized models are expensive, the line also includes some non-computerized machines that are supposed to be equally good. It is a good idea to shop for a dealer who will give you good service; most dealers include a free class on learning to use your machine. I bought mine at Sew Images on Piedmont Avenue in Oakland (one block below the Piedmont Theater). Cecilia Franklin, the owner, also carries a few used machines that can be a very good deal. I did a lot of internet research before settling on my Bernina; it is worth subscribing to a few discussion groups devoted to specific brands in order to figure out the pros and cons of various brands/models etc. I really splurged on my machine but I have never regretted it; it handles jeans and other heavy fabrics splendidly. Laura
Unfortunately, quality in sewing machine manufacturing has really gone downhill, so much so that the cheaper brands (Brother, Singer, etc.) are not even worth buying. While you could get a Singer in the 1970's which was a great machine, the modern ones are just junk -- can't handle fabrics of various weights (in fact will tear up anything lighweight), and don't do well with stretchy fabrics either making stiches that are too loose or too tight. They seem to only work on mid-weight flat woven fabric. If this is all you will ever have to sew, it may be OK. One problem with the machines is that the cheaper brands don't have tension controls that actually work. Sewing machines really benefit from precision machining, as the parts can move thousands of times per minute, and you really do need even tension control of the threads if you want a stitch that will not be too loose or too tight. If you really want a sewing machine, then you should buy a high-quality brand like a Bernina (for sewers) or a Pfaff (for crafters). Although I was really nervous spending a couple thousand on a top-of-the-line Bernina (while I was a graduate student!), it has actually been the best money I ever spent, such high quality and I am sure that it will last 30+ years (I've had it for 10 already, and it's still perfect). There are also much cheaper entry-level models. There is no point in buying a machine that is so frustrating that you won't use it. My Bernina is so easy, even my husband (who is not a sewer) uses it. Marguerite
Correction -- the brands that I recommend are *Bernina* for sewers, and Pfaff for crafters. I accidentally recommended ''Viking'' instead of Bernina. Sorry to anyone who read my post, sleep deprivation is ruining my mind. Marguerite

Beginner's sewing machine for a 7 year old

Nov 1999

Can anyone recommend a good beginner's sewing machine for a 7 year old? My daughter is interested in learning to sew, but I'm afraid a regular machine will be too big for her to work with, and the ones I've seen in toy catalogs don't seem like they can really do anything (please correct me if I'm wrong.) What about these mini machines I've seen that are advertised as being for mending? Might one of these be a good starting point? Thanks!

I have been sewing for over 30 years and I would not recommend a sewing machine for any child under at least 12. It is too easy to be injured, either by having a needle go through a finger or having a needle or straight pin break and go off flying into the face! When I was a very young girl I did have a toy sewing machine, but it was pretty worthless. There are many things a young girl can learn about sewing that can be done by hand. I learned how to embroider, then I learned how to make doll clothes by hand. I also remember making small stuffed toys--all by hand. The first quilt I made (7 years ago) was made entirely by hand. I recently finished a quilt made of over 1,000 hexagons, all by hand. You might want to call Stone Mountain and Daughter in Berkeley and see if they have a sewing class for kids. The Sewing Machine Shop in Walnut Creek may also have a class for kids. I don't know if machines are involved. Good luck with your search. Unfortunately, my own daughter has no interest in sewing! Olga
My son started using our sewing machine when he was 6 and 1/2 to sew straight seams and has been using it on and off (under close supervision) since. It's not too big, he used it standing up and that worked just fine. Veronica
One person wrote to say that they didn't think sewing machines were appropriate for children under 12. I disagree. I started at age 9 or so, and didn't have any trouble. I was never intimidated by the sewing machine, unlike some other folks I know. I feel that waiting till 12 will miss that window of learning that children have (they say that kids can learn ANYTHING more easily before age 10). I would recommend a class, however, at least to start. Teaching your own child anything can be a challenge (which is why I admire and wonder at those who are able to successfully homeschool their kids)! And in a class they will be likely to emphasize good technique and safety. One of the concerns the other writer mentioned was having a pin break and fly up into the eye of the child. Proper technique dictates that the pins be removed right BEFORE you sew over the seam where they were, which should eliminate or at least dramatically reduce this particular hazard. It slows you down to do this, but it is much safer. Good luck Dawn
I began sewing on my mother's Singer Featherweight sewing machine at the age of nine. I started with larger doll clothes and progressed to my own school outfits by age 11. I remember my mother being very nervous when I first began, but I sewed all the time and never had any accidents. That Singer was a very stable weighty machine (despite it's name), simple straight forward and backward stitch and not overly fast (my current machine is much faster). I always felt it a perfect basic machine to learn on. I still really enjoy sewing... I believe those old models are still around used, although I have no idea of prices....
Someone mentioned the Singer featherweight in a recent recommendation... we have one that my grandmother first owned- it is wonderful for straight stitching (perfectly even stitches), although that is all it can do. Because of this particular excellence, though, old ones are in high demand by quilters and will probably run around $400. However, I was just looking at an ad this morning for a Singer factory clearance in Concord, and it seems that they do make a replica of this machine- for $88 (and I think it said it could do button holes, too), as well as a newer version still called the Featherweight. As for when you teach your child, my mom helped me make a dress for myself at age 5, and then my interest hibernated until about age 12, when I started sewing using my mom's scraps (hence, I specialized in baby clothes!). I have been sewing every since and it is one of my favorite hobbies (which I unfortunately have little time for!). By all means, if your child is interested, let him/her get started! You can get electric scissors that won't cut skin which is what I remember using as a young child. Good luck! Naomi