Sewing Machine Buying Guide

When used to both repair and create clothes, a good sewing machine can save you money and let you be creative too. This sewing machine buying guide will help you understand your options.

Sewing Machines 101

Whether you’re new to sewing or a seasoned pro, there’s a sewing machine out there to suit your needs. The options range from basic, affordable, manual sewing machines to high-end computerized models packed with extras. To identify the best machine for your needs, you should consider what you’ll be sewing, how often you’ll be sewing, and even where you’ll be sewing. Once you’ve determined the type of machine you’re interested in, the next step is sorting through the many available features to ensure you’ll get the most value from your machine.

Types of Sewing Machines


Mechanical Sewing Machines

The mechanical sewing machine is a simple, inexpensive option that will allow you to perform basic sewing functions for you and your family. This type of machine features a hand wheel, which you can turn to adjust the needle height. It also has hand controls for adjusting the tension of the thread, plus the stitch length and width. While mechanical sewing machines may have fewer bells and whistles than other types of machines, you'll appreciate the dependability and ease of use when creating clothing, decorative stitches and more.

Electronic Sewing Machines

If you sew regularly, you may prefer the added convenience and stitch variety of an electronic sewing machine. These machines use an electronic pulse to time the needle's movements, resulting in more precise placement than the “pull and push” of a mechanical machine. This electronic placement lets you more easily create your favourite decorative stitches and patterns. The number of stitch types and features available on electronic sewing machines vary greatly depending on the model and price.

Computerized Sewing Machines

Whatever your skill level, you'll appreciate the speed, versatility and abundance of features available in computerized sewing machines. Though similar in many ways to their electronic counterparts, computerized sewing machines have the advantage of a built-in computer that finely controls all aspects of the machines' operation for precision stitching and embroidery. You can also program these machines to automatically produce many different stitches and complex embroidery patterns to achieve professional looking results with less time and effort. 

Embroidery Sewing Machines

If you wish to get more creative and productive in your embroidery projects, you should consider an embroidery sewing machine. Most are computerized, allowing you to easily personalize fabrics with decorative accents, monograms and more. Combination embroidery and sewing machines allow you to sew and add embroidery stitches at the same time, creating unique and detailed work. Some models even come with a USB cable that connects to your computer to conveniently upload embroidery designs directly to your machine. 

Quilter Sewing Machines

While it's possible to do quilting work on a regular sewing machine, you'll find that a specialized quilter sewing machine can greatly simplify the process, letting you focus on the creative aspects of your project. A key benefit of quilter sewing machines is they have a larger sewing area to accommodate the greater amount of fabric involved in quilting projects. They also feature knee lifts for hands-free raising of the presser foot, and special sewing pedals to more easily sew through multiple layers of fabric. 

Serger Sewing Machines

A serger sewing machine will help you achieve a clean professional look in your seams and edges. These machines use loopers to form a neat binding edge that won’t fray. Sergers come with a variety of thread-use options. By modifying the number of threads used, you can create different stitches for specific practical and creative purposes. While this type of machine is excellent as a finishing machine, you would still require a regular mechanical, electronic or computerized sewing machine for the bulk of your sewing activities.

Sewing Machine Safety Tips:

  • Keep fingers away from sewing machine needles
  • Wear shoes when operating a sewing machine in case of a malfunctioning foot pedal
  • Ensure cords of electric sewing machines do not become frayed or tangled
  • Turn off and unplug sewing machines when not in use
  • Dispose of used sewing machine needles with care

Sewing Machine Features

Weight +

When purchasing your sewing machine, consider what and where you'll sew most often. A lightweight model offers the flexibility of easy storage and transportation, a plus if you'll be bringing it along to sewing classes or tucking it away to make room for other activities in your home. A heavier model provides the stability required for large, weighty projects such as quilting.

Bobbin +

A bobbin is a small spool that attaches to your sewing machine and holds your thread. The majority of basic sewing machines have a front-loading bobbin. This type of machine requires you to remove the cover to access the bobbin and change thread. Some of the more advanced machines have top-loading bobbins. In this design, the bobbin is easier to load and often is visible behind a see-through cover, so you can easily monitor how much thread you have left.

Free Arm +

Most sewing machines come equipped with a free-arm attachment for sewing circular items such as cuffs, sleeves and pant legs. The free arm is located at the bottom of the sewing machine and is usually connected to an accessory box that houses bobbins, sewing feet and other items. You can remove the accessory box to access the free arm or keep it in place for a flat-bed sewing surface. The ability to slip fabric over the free arm allows you to more easily stitch small rounded areas.

Auto Thread +

Auto thread is a convenient feature that can save you valuable time, and the need to reach for your glasses. A hook-and-spring operation forces a loop of thread into the hole of the needle, so you won’t have to thread it manually. The efficiency of this automation means you can spend more time on your sewing creations and less time threading your sewing machine.

Needle Up/Down +

With a needle up/down mechanism on your sewing machine, you can select whether your needle will remain in the up or down position at the end of your seam. When you select the down position, the needle remains in the fabric, allowing you to easily pivot for a clean corner seam.

Knee Lifter +

A knee lifter is a convenient lever that allows you to raise and lower the presser foot of your sewing machine with your knee, keeping both hands free to control your fabric. A knee lifter combined with the needle up/down function works particularly well for moving large pieces of fabric in quilting or performing intricate stitches in embroidery.

Adjustable Presser Foot +

The presser foot regulates how tightly fabrics are fed through your machine while you sew. More pressure is required for thinner fabrics to keep them in place and prevent puckering; less pressure is used for heavier fabrics so they move freely without bunching. An adjustable presser foot lets you control the amount of pressure, ensuring fabrics are fed properly through your machine for smooth, even stitching.

Buttonholer +

Sewing buttonholes is a tricky skill to master, but it's much easier with an automatic, or one-step, buttonholer attachment. In newer sewing machines, buttonholers are generally included as built-in features. With the turn of a dial, you're able to create perfect buttonholes. Some lower-end machines come with less-sophisticated four-step buttonholers, which stitch the buttonhole in four distinct stages. During the stitching process, you must turn the dial after each step until the buttonhole is complete.

Tension Control +

Your sewing machine's tension control function regulates the tension of your thread. When thread is too tight, puckering can result. When it’s too loose, you can get loopy stitching. Many sewing machines feature a tension control dial, so you can adjust the thread tension manually. Some computerized sewing machines come with automatic tension control; the mechanism senses the thickness of your fabric and adjusts the thread tension accordingly.

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Sewing Machine Maintenance Tips:

  • Change sewing machine needles often to prevent damage to fabrics and the machine
  • Remove bits of thread and other debris on a regular basis to prevent buildup
  • Keep your sewing machine covered when not in use to prevent buildup of dust and lint
  • Oil your sewing machine as directed in user’s manual
  • Professionally service your sewing machine approximately every two years
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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