Donna asks…

Which sewing machine?

Apart from several unfinished school projects I’ve never really learnt to use one, despite my late Nan being an excellent seamstress, and would like to have a go. I want a reasonably priced, basic sewing machine, but something that I can progress on also. I don’t need to overlock, nor embroider pretty patterns. Button holes may prove useful though.

Can anyone recommend anything please?



What I want for beginners in sewing:

– a machine that doesn’t scare you

– a machine that isn’t balky (cheap new machines are often very

balky or need adjustments often and are rarely repairable –

just too frustrating to learn on!)

– very good straight stitch

– good zigzag (4-5 mm is fine, more than that is gravy)

– a method of making buttonholes that makes sense to you

– adjustable presser foot pressure (which helps some fabric

handling issues)

– accessory presser feet that don’t cost an arm and a leg

(machines that use a “short shank foot” typically handle

generic presser feet pretty well. Some brands of machines use

proprietary or very expensive presser feet)

If the budget stretches far enough:

– blindhem and stretch blindhem stitches

– triple zigzag (nice for elastic applications)

– a couple of decorative stitches (you won’t use them nearly as

much as you think)

– electronic machine because of the needle position control and

because the stepper motors give you full “punching force” at

slow sewing speeds — mechanical machines often will stall at

slow speeds.

Please go to the best sewing machine dealers around and ask them

to show you some machines in your price range, *especially* used

machines you can afford. You’ll get a far better machine buying

used than new, and a good dealer is worth their weight in sewing

machine needles when you get a machine problem — often they can

talk you through the problem over the phone. While you’re trying

things out, try a couple of machines (sewing only, not combo

sewing-embroidery) over your price limit, just so you can see

what the difference in stitch quality and ease of use might be.

You may find you want to go for the used Cadillac. Or you might

want the new basic Chevy. Might as well try both out.

Suggested reading: John Giordano’s The Sewing Machine Book

(especially for used machines), Carol Ahles’ Fine Machine Sewing

(especially the first and last few chapters) and Gale Grigg

Hazen’s Owner’s Guide to Sewing Machines, Sergers and Knitting

Machines. All of these are likely to be available at your public


Used brands I’d particularly look for: Elna, Bernina,

Viking/Husqvarna, Pfaff, Singer (pre 1970), Juki, Toyota

New “bargain brand” I’d probably pick, if new was my choice:

Janome (who also does Kenmore).