Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Sew You Want to Learn to Sew?

Janome Magnolia 7318 Sewing Machine

If you've been thinking about getting a new machine, because yours is too hard to work with, too old, too complicated, not complicated enough, I'd highly recommend the machine linked above (yes I get a tiny commission if you purchase one, no obligation though).

First off, you should consider why you want the machine, do you plan to sew, quilt, embroider, make garments, make tote bags?  If you answered yes, then here are a few features you'll probably want:

1) A thread cutter, yes some machines are SO basic, they don't have that nifty little thread cutter on the side of the machine, it's handier than grabbing the scissors all the time.

2) The needle stops in the UP position. Again, the most basic machines will usually be sort of "lazy" and when they stop sewing, the needle stops wherever it was when it was sewing, which is sometimes still down in the machine. When you need to sew items quickly, it's ideal for the needle to stop UP.

2a) *Super nice to have feature Needle Down button* On the flip side, it is handy to have the ability to tell the machine to put the needle DOWN (and even better if you can set it to ALWAYS put the needle down, but that's usually a feature in higher end machines) because any time you need to turn a corner, you'll want to put the needle down so that you can maneuver the fabric without messing up the stitches. If you don't have a needle DOWN button, you can always turn the flywheel toward you and put the needle down.

3) Variety of presser feet. Check to see which feet your machine comes with, ideally you'll want a button hole foot, zipper foot, darning foot (has a circle) and basic straight stitch foot, If you plan to do any quilting, check to make sure the machine has either a 1/4 inch foot (when you line the fabric up to the side of the foot, you get a 1/4 inch seam) OR the ability to move the needle OVER to make it a 1/4 inch seam and not change the foot. Also for quilting you'll want the ability to purchase a walking foot at some time.

4) A nice to have option is a needle threader attached to the machine. These usually take some practice to get comfortable using but they are very nice for threading that tiny needle.

5) Drop in Bobbin I'd recommend a drop in bobbin for a beginner. From my experience using various machines in my own store, the drop in bobbin is a good option for several reasons. First of all, you can very easily see when it is running low or out of thread. Second, the access to the bobbin is so much easier when it's on the top (obviously) but that makes life less frustrating when you have to change out the bobbin. Personally, on my mid line Bernina, it's a front loading bobbin made of metal, and while I love the feel of the quality of it, sometimes the idea of having to hunt down a shop that carries the bobbins that cost $2 is sort of annoying.

A caution about plastic bobbins, they are NOT all the same. Some bobbins have a slight curve to them and won't work in other machines. Be sure that you buy bobbins for your machine and perhaps even mark them somehow to ensure they stay with your machine.

*Nice to have feature* If you're interested in spending a little more on a machine, you might look into one that has a knee lift lever the KNL allows you to just swing your leg over to the right and push a lever that will actually raise the presser foot on your machine. That's handy if you need to maneuver fabric quickly. I never knew what that was until I learned to sew at a shop when I was learning the features of the Berninas I was going to sell. The shop owner required us to learn to use the KNL and I'm glad she did because it's very, very useful.

So, that's my (not so)short two cents on what to look for in a sewing machine. The mid-range machine will last a long time and give you many years of sewing success. I have a Janome Sew Precise in my shop (no longer in production) and it does well, even over three layers of fabric, including batting. If there are any other features you can't live without on your machine, please feel free to post here and share! I'm not a huge expert on sewing machines, I'm just sharing what I have experienced working with several different models of machines. I am asked at least three times a week what to look for in a machine and this is the result of those discussions.

Happy Stitches,

P.S. Another reason I recommend that machine from Amazon, besides my affiliate commission is that they offer FREE shipping and it's cheaper than what you'll find on other websites. Even in a large city like San Antonio, TX, it's difficult find a decent machine locally without having to pay more than a couple hundred dollars.


  1. i love this post! i just bought my first sewing machine (a janome!) last week. i only wish i lived in SAT so i could take some classes!


  2. I also like buying from Amazon because they do not charge sales tax - and in TN, that saves me an additional 10%!