Almost anyone can find a use for a sewing machine. Whether you need to hem too-long jeans or too-long curtains, monogrammed gifts, make baby blankets, or just have fun with textiles, a sewing machine will greatly expand what you can do. And while there are a few beginner machines on this list, sewing machines are devices that can last for decades with enough patience and care. Most of the experts we spoke to mentioned the importance of maintenance: “All machines, no matter what, will need to be serviced at some point,” says one long-time customer and anesthesiologist. Christine Miller. Stores often specialize in brands or styles of machines, so “you might want to know who is in your area who can actually service your machine, because that’s so important.”
Best overall | Ideal for beginners | Best all-rounder | Best All-Round Upgrade | best serger | Better madness | best antique | Best vintage
Device type: Sewing machines are a large and diverse category: there are hundreds of stitch types and functions they can perform, and each machine offers a slightly different set of uses. Typically, a traditional sewing machine uses two threads to sew a straight stitch and can also sew a preset selection of specialty stitches, such as a zigzag or smock stitch. (Beyond the basics, some sewing machines have other functions, such as the ability to sew buttonholes or do basic embroidery.) This list also includes sergers, also called sergers, which use three or four leads and cuts and finishes the stock. edge of fabric in one pass and sewing machines with embroidery capabilities.
There’s a lot of crossover in these types – my sewing machine has a setting intended to replicate an overlock stitch, for example, and with a bit of skill you can sew a basic straight stitch on a serger – but the category will tell you what your machine is designed to be best and what it will frequently do with the most ease. Like many devices, deciding which sewing machine to buy is a balancing act between general purpose use and a higher degree of specialized efficiency. “You don’t need the most sophisticated machine in the world to do most sewing at home,” says Millar, and for general use it’s best to start with a standard sewing machine with a good range of utility stitches. If you have something specific in mind, like quilting or making finished garments, a specialized machine can save you time and stress.
Quality of life characteristics: While not strictly necessary for a well-functioning machine, several of the experts we spoke to recommended features that make repetitive tasks easier, especially threading needles. A machine ‘has to be really easy to put on’, says pastry chef and home sewer Mayan Zilberman, especially when you’re just starting out, “because if it’s not easy to thread, then every time you get a jam or need to change thread colors, that’s another excuse to give up on the project.” Jessie Randall, founder of shoe brand Loeffler Randall, also praises her machine’s auto-cut feature, which she says “saves so much time and thread, which is important for someone who constantly sews and who wants to be frugal with his materials”.
Computerized versus mechanical: Some modern sewing machines are computerized, allowing for a wider range of customization options that would not be available on a mechanical machine without a microchip. Still, many experts we spoke to prefer mechanical machines for their simplicity and generally simpler repair process. “Digital machines can have a mind of their own,” says Bryn Taubensee, designer and co-founder of Vaquera. “You really don’t need it with bells and whistles – a straight and zigzag stitch is all you really need.”
Sewing machine, 14 stitches | Mechanical
This simple and powerful Janome machine is a favorite of graphic designers and home sewers Tracy Ma, who received it as a birthday present from her husband. (“My mother-in-law Susan is a pro-quilter and her quilting buddy raved about this machine,” she says.) Ma describes the machine’s aluminum construction as “incredibly tough” and appreciates its compact footprint. “It’s perfect for New York homes because it locks into a tiny little thing and you can slide it into your little closet,” she says. “I’ve never had any problems with it. I have recommended it many times over the years to people who have never sewn before.
Sewing machine, 15 stitches | Mechanical
“What sold me” on this Janome machine, says strategist writer Kat Gillespie, “is its companion series youtube videos apparently aimed at teenagers looking to hem their Depop jeans. Gillespie named her turquoise Easy-to-Use machine the best thing she bought in 2021. She likes that it’s easy to turn on and start using, and says it’s “not overloaded or underpowered.” -loaded with features”, a useful quality for beginners.
Sewing and quilting machine, 600 stitches | Computerized
Jessie Randall, founder of Loeffler Randall, says her Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 “sits right at my dining table, like a sixth member of my family.” She says the machine has held up well to frequent use on a wide range of projects: the machine “can do so many things, including quilting, embroidering, doing hundreds of different stitches and joining fabric”. She’s used it to sew pillows, quilts, Halloween costumes, scrunchies, prototype Loeffer Randall slippers — and, during the pandemic, more than 1,200 fabric face masks. Randall also likes its time- and material-saving features, like an automatic thread cutter: “When you’re done sewing, you can press a little button and it cuts the thread really close to the fabric… When I sew 30 face masks at a time or quilting, those extra thread tails really add up.
Sewing machine, 100 stitches | Computerized
For a computerized machine with a wide range of uses, pattern maker Angela Wolf recommends the Brother Pacesetter PS500, which “provides great high-end features at a mid-range price” like one-step buttonholes and automatic reinforcement stitches . (She also recommends the Packet PS100which retails for $150, as “a more economical model for true new sewer beginners”.)
serger | Mechanical
Designer Rhi Dancey, the founder of his eponymous brand and heavy duty serger user, has a second hand industrial machine by cult Japanese brand Juki which she says is “really, really, really good” and that her studio uses “all the time”. Taubensee also loves her home model MO 654DE: She has two of them, and they “have held up well for almost seven years,” she says.
Sewing and embroidery machine, 991 stitches and stitch design function | Computerized
If you’re ready to splurge on the sports car of sewing machines, three of the experts we spoke to mentioned the Swiss company Bernina as an ambitious brand, inspiring cult user loyalty for its reliability and engineering of high quality. Zilberman’s mother gave him a Bernina sewing machine as a gift in high school, which she compared to “[getting] a spaceship so I can go to a local college. At first, Zilberman was “really overwhelmed with all the different functions it had,” but once you get acclimated, she confirms it really is the best.
Sewing machine, straight stitch only | Mechanical
“It’s almost become a status symbol to have an antique featherweight,” Millar says. Produced from 1933 to the 1960s, these machines have a dedicated following among sewers for their proven reliability. “It’s incredibly powerful. It can sew through leather; it’s so, so strong. It makes a really neat clean stitch. Because of the machine’s “ridiculously long” production time, Millar says, it’s also easy to find spares and accessories. Its cast aluminum construction adapts to about 11 poundsabout the same weight as similarly sized plastic machines on this list.
The featherweight is also popular for its aesthetic: “It’s really cute, fits in any apartment in New York and has a really cute box,” says Millar. In addition to platforms like eBay, there are plenty of online sellers specializing in vintage featherweights – and if you want to splurge on a custom color machine, Millar mentioned the company serious sewingwhich sells featherweights painted to order in 30 different colors, such as candy pink or forest green.
Sewing machine; multiple stitches including zigzag | Mechanical
Taubensee strongly recommends buying a vintage machine, which she prefers for its all-metal construction. She particularly likes the Singer 401A, made from 1956 to 1961, which she calls a “great vintage machine” that’s still “really solid” even decades later. “Since they are purely mechanical, anyone can figure them out and fix them…I used a YouTube video to disassemble, clean and maintain my machine, which was really fun to learn,” says Taubensee. She always has the machine serviced by professionals and, like Millar, mentions that period pieces are easier to find with a model like the 401A which was mass-produced in its heyday.
Rhi Danceyfashion designer
Kat Gillespie, Strategist Writer
Tracy Magraphic designer
Christine Millerhistorical customer
Jessie Randall, Founder of Loffler Randall
Bryn Taubensee, designer and co-founder of Vaquera
Angela Wolfmodel maker
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