Sewing machines a plenty, which one is right for you?

Sewing machines come in a variety of shapes and sizes from simple to combination machines. The choice of which machine will be best for you will be determined by the purpose that you have for the machine.

Facts that will affect your choice

  1. How much money do you have to spend on this machine?
  2. Will you be doing this for yourself and your family – so hobby sewing?
  3. Are you planning on doing some heavy duty quilting, or will you have a professional quilt your patchwork?
  4. How much space do you have?
  5. Do you want to do things like couching and decorative stitching?
  6. Do you want to do embroidery too, on the same machine?
  7. How much money did you say you have?

Which sewing machine manufacturer makes the best machine?

This is a really good question, and one that is open to a lot of debate.  Frankly, the best machine is the one that has a service centre close by.  You want to be able to get the machine serviced regularly (about once a year, depending on how much you use it), and you want someone to help you if you get stuck.  To do this, you don’t want to go to the other side of the country, or the next county.

In South Africa, we get Elna machines, which are the exact same machine as Janome in the USA.  I do believe that there are a lot of instances where machines are simply labelled to be an Elna, Bernina or Janome but they come from the same manufacturer.  The brand is not as much the concern as where it is made.  Switzerland is my country origin of choice!

The manufacturer you choose will also be determined by your budget.  Husqvarna machines are really expensive, but Brother machines are more reasonable.  Now ask one of the representatives from either brand and they will tell you to choose theirs.  Remember that a Toyota will still get you to where you want to be.  The Rolls Royce is driven by a chauffeur :).  (No I don’t have a Brother, nor a Husqvarna)

Where to buy

I would stay away from machines that are available from your local Walmart or Makro.  Reason being that these chain stores are at the whim of the market, and they may sell something today that isn’t available tomorrow, and the sales people don’t know what they’re talking about.  Parts for the machine should be available and you want to get to know the people that are servicing your machine.  You build a relationship not only with the machine, but the people behind it too.  Always buy from someone who has a sewing background, and this is generally limited to your sewing machine outlet or a quilt shop.

Throat space of a sewing machine

Throat space in sewing machine terms is the area between your needle and the motor/working bits of your machine.  It’s where you get your hand or arm in, and it’s where you will roll your quilt if you’re going to quilt on your sewing machine.

I have made quilts on small machines (my daughter has inherited my first quilt machine, a Janome Jem Gold) where the size of the quilt was limited to cribs and a single here and there.  I now have a 12″ throat space which can handle a double or queen size.

How do you decide?  Take the largest throat space available in your price bracket, from the dealership close to you.  You may think today that you’re only going to make small quilts, until you realise that you’re not a novice quilter any more and want to take on a bigger challenge.

sewing machines example
Brother SE400 Combination Computerized Sewing and 4x4 Embroidery Machine
sewing machines example
Janome Horizon Memory Craft 12000 Embroidery and Sewing Machine

Combination machines

Right, you’ve decided on the brand, or maybe not yet….You are now faced with a bombardment of choices.  And some of them are combination machines.

A combination machine in my dictionary is a machine that can do normal sewing, and with a few adjustments can take an embroidery hoop and do machine embroidery.  There are a mighty number of these.

This is where a few of your considerations play a role:

  • Do you want to sew while you’re embroidering?
  • Do you need an embroidery machine or will a sewing machine do?
  • Can you be without a machine when the machine needs to be serviced?
  • Do you have space for multiple machines, or only one?

Personally I prefer machines for their designated purpose.  As such, I have domestic embroidery machines, domestic sewing machines (I collect machines like people collect fabric!) and a long arm quilt machine (singular, at the moment :)) . I don’t want to be without an alternative when one needs to be serviced, and I like being able to do some sewing whilst a simple embroidery design is being stitched.  I say “simple”, because you cannot leave your embroidery machine alone, and I don’t believe in multitasking – it’s a myth!

Husqvarna diamond embroidery machine

Many, many stitch choices

My sewing machine has a multitude of stitch choices, up to 144 different stitches including button holes, alphabets and heirloom stitches.  These are great to have, and I use a lot of them.  Not all the stitches will be used, and if you’re not making garments the chances are that you won’t ever need a buttonhole stitch, but then again you can do a lot with a buttonhole on a quilt!

For patchwork and quilting I would recommend that you have:

  1. Blanket stitch – a genuine blanket stitch, not that funny skew one!  Unless you do appliqué by hand, you’ll regret not having an appliqué stitch on your machine.  Again, my entry level machine doesn’t have one, and I got along just fine.
  2. Straight stitch with option to lenghthen the stitch.

Here are examples of the different stitches that are available with sewing machines and what a true blanket stitch looks like on the graph of a machine.

  • The multiple blanket stitch is difficult to manoeuvre around curves and points.
  • The overlock stitch makes it difficult to stitch around points and curves as well.
  • The double stitch blanket stitch doesn’t work as well because it doesn’t fill in well along the edge of the appliqué.
Blanket stitches

Foot business

There are, in my opinion, two feet that are important to have when you’re doing patchwork and quilting:

  • Darning foot – necessary for free motion quilting.  Entry level machines will probably have a plate to cover the feed dogs as well, since you don’t want them creating friction on your quilt backing.
  • Walking foot – necessary for stitch-in-the-ditch.  A walking foot ensures that different layers of backing, batting and top fabric are pushed through the sewing needle at the same rate i.e. you don’t get bubbling of the fabric where the bottom layer has been feed but the top layer is resisted by your hand.

A quarter inch foot is good to have, but you can still measure and mark your machine to get the size right.


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