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Sewing Machine FAQ
Here is a compilation of a lot of what others have already about buying a
first machine, plus a couple of other comments. This FAQ also applies to
who are in the market for a new machine, having used one particular model
for a few(?) years. Many thanks to Salley Holmes and Lee Hinton for
helping me get this together.
First, if you're considering buying a machine as a gift for someone else,
the consensus is that you should give, perhaps, a card or a spool of
thread as a token of your willingness help to enable the recipient to
choose the machine that suits him/her best. By all means do some homework
to help him/her to narrow the choice down, but a sewing machine is a
personal item that should be chosen by the person who's going to use it.
Here are some questions to ask yourself before you shop:
- How and what do you sew? Are you interested in sewing clothes, home
decor items (slipcovers, curtains, etc.), sports costumes like skating,
- Do you want an embroidery machine? IS IT SOMETHING YOU WOULD USE OR
JUST SOMETHING YOU WANT? This is an important distinction to make.
- What feature(s) would you use and need? (Why pay money for
things you don't need and don't want?) If you do mostly quilting, then
maybe you only need a few stitches rather than a whole array of stitches.
- How easy it is for you to learn programming (a must in some machines)?
- How large a machine do you want (will you be taking it places), does
it pack up easily if you need to take it someplace?
- What kind of classes are given?
- Does it have a freearm and do you need one, what kind of extra feet
are available that you need, etc.
- Do I need a machine that can be updated with new cards, attachments,
Now, which machine is the best one?
There's no such thing as the one best machine just as there's no such
thing as the one best car. This FAQ can only give general advice because
there are so many sewing machine manufacturers and models out there. Once
you've narrowed your choices down you may be able to get advice on
specific models or even dealers from the alt.sewing,
rec.crafts.textiles.sewing, alt.sewing.mach-embroider (if you are looking
at embroidery machines) or uk.rec.crafts.sewing newsgroups.
Having said that, nearly every maker makes wonderful machines ... but they
all have had periods where they have made junk. You might want to read
your national consumer magazine to see if they have recently reported on
sewing machines - this would be a good place to at least start. Sewing
magazines occasionally run such features, too, so check them. Remember,
though, that no survey can cover all the available machines, and that a
sewing machine is a very personal item. What suits a reviewer may not suit
you. And talk to friends who sew to get their opinion on which makes are
reliable. After that, the person who is going to use the machine should
be the person to pick out what they want, within the constraints of your
budget, of course.
Your budget may limit your choices, but especially if you are new to
sewing, I would suggest going for an all purpose reliable machine with
fewer stitches rather than a machine with lots of stitches, but also turns
out to be picky about the type of thread you use, won't sew on thick or
thin fabrics, and sulks and chews the fabric up if you dare to LOOK at it
wrong. You need to know that your machine will be reliable or learning to
use it will be a very frustrating experience. Whilst it's a waste of money
to buy features you won't use, it's also false economy to buy a machine
that you'll "grow out of" if you can afford one with more features.
Unless you get a fabulous bargain in a private sale, one thing to also
consider is the dealer from whom you buy. A good, honest, reliable dealer
can help make your sewing experience wonderful, and help you pick the
right machine for YOU. Some dealers offer a trade-in/trade-up policy where
if you decide after a few months that you'd like a fancier machine, the
dealer will credit all or a large part of the cost of your initial
purchase to a better machine. Don't be taken in by the claims that
all-metal interiors are better than plastic: there's cheap plastic, which
may crack and warp, and there's nylon, which is lighter than and as
hard-wearing as metal and doesn't need lubricating.
The most basic machines are straight-stitch only, and old ones can be
picked up very cheaply from sale rooms, some sewing machine dealers, and
garage/car boot sales. The next step up is a machine that does zigzag
stitching. The basic zigzag machines usually do some sort of blind hem
stitch and maybe a couple of decorative stitches. Even if they don't have
a built-in buttonhole you can do a manual buttonhole with a basic zig zag
machine, but it's no fun after the first few. If you are planning to sew
a lot of clothes, buying a machine that has an easy buttonhole maker may
make good sense.
After that, the number of stitches increases (along with the price) and
you are in the realm of medium to high end sewing machines. Electronic
machines give the same penetrating power at all speeds and usually a
needle stop up/down option. Right at the top end, for several thousand
pounds/dollars you can buy a machine that will connect to your computer
and embroider images that you've designed on the PC.
However much you're planning to spend, you'll get more for your money if
you buy second-hand. People often trade in their old machine when they buy
a new one. A trade-in will be much cheaper than the same machine when new,
and if it's been serviced by the dealer and has a dealer's guarantee it
should be fine. There isn't much to go wrong with sewing machines. Unless
one has really been hammered - used non-stop - parts don't seem to wear.
Check the finish of the paint: if it's worn or has lots of nicks from
pins, it's probably been used a lot.
When you go to test-drive machines, take along samples of the type of
fabrics you'll be sewing. Dealers often use a stiffened felt-type fabric
for demonstrating their machines: almost anything will sew well on it.
Take samples of light-weight fabric such as fine sheeting or voile, and
some heavy-weight such as upholstery or denim. If you have a pair of old
jeans, cut off the leg and try sewing over the bulky seam. Also try out
the sort of things you'll be sewing - do you use a lot of zippers? You'll
need to test the zipper foot. Buttons mean checking the buttonhole
facility. Make sure that YOU do the sewing - don't just watch the dealer
demonstrating. If the dealer won't let you sew on the machine, leave the
When you've decided which machine is for you, there's the price. You
wouldn't buy a car at the price on the windscreen, would you? Well, a
sewing machine is just the same. Haggle (nicely). It isn't rude: it's good
business practice. Every pound/dollar you get knocked off the price is
another spool of thread to use on your new machine. Ask "Will you take
£xxx for cash?" "Will you throw in the xxx foot for that price?" Say
"That's more than my husband/wife/anyone else who isn't there wants me to
spend - can you knock something off?" "I like this, but machine xxx at
dealer yyy is nice too, and it's less". Don't push too hard, though: you
need after-sales support.
If you want extra feet, the quilting kit, or lessons, now is the time to
negotiate for them. You may be able to get them thrown in or at least
reduced in price.
If you're buying a lower-end machine, a good bargaining tool is to make it
clear to the dealer that you'll come back to him/her when you're ready to
upgrade to a fancier model. You don't have to tell him that it may not be
within this lifetime.
There's a frequent debate in sewing newsgroups about buying on-line. You
may be able to save a lot of money, but it will be at the expense of local
support. A machine bought on-line may not have a valid warranty. You have
to decide whether the money you'll save is worth the support and warranty.
Once you've got your new machine home, take care of it. Clean it out at
the end of every project, and give it a nice new needle after every 6
hours of sewing. Protect your investment by using good-quality thread and
needles. Oil it if the manual tells you to, and do bring it in to be
serviced if you notice something is wrong.
Most of all, tho, enjoy your new hobby!
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