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What to look for when buying that First Sewing Machine!

For you ’sewing-newbies’ here are some of the details on a sewing machine that you need to know about right away. As we progress we’ll learn more of the individual functions and their uses. For you ’sewing-sharps’ this might just be a refresher…

Your sewing machine is one of the most important pieces of equipment you’ll need to invest in. Here is a bit of help in selecting a good and sturdy machine, that should last you for many years.


Name-brand ???? Does really not matter. Naturally just like when you get used to driving a Ford or a Chevy and you’re satisfied with it you’re apt to buy another one, next time you’re buying a car. Same goes for buying a sewing machine.

First off you will need to determine what you're mainly going to be sewing . If you’re going to just do a bit of mending and a small décor project here or there you really don’t need to invest in an industrial strength 5000.00 dollar computerized sewing/embroidery machine with all the bells and whistles. However on that note, there are a few features some of the machines have, that are not absolutely necessary but sure can come in handy.

There is an enormous variety of name brands, models and types of sewing machines available, for all applications and for every budget.


This is my opinion and I always suggest the same to my first time sewing students. For sewing regular wear-ables and light home deco projects the basic machine that has a zigzag stitch, a built-in button-holer and a few decorative stitches will suffice.

However be forewarned if you’re planning on doing heavier sewing also such as jean shortenings, or an occasional reupholstering job the small plastic featherweight machines that you can buy for a 100 bucks at Walmart or on Ebay might not have enough strength. In that case you’re better off buying an older than 20 year old Singer, Kenmore, Brother... The older type of machines have mostly metal parts and stronger motors. (To be truthful, I'm 100% convinced that an older sewing machine (20-30 years old at least) will be a better machine than the little plastic thingys you find on the market today for any home sewer. (Sorry, little plastic thingy manufacturers)

My first Kenmore sewing machine! What a great trouper she was.

My first Kenmore sewing machine! What a great trouper she was.

In many ways buying a used sewing machine is the same as buying a used car. If you stop in and the machine is in immaculate clean condition either the person actually cared for the machine or just really didn't use it much at all. In either case that might be a good bargain. If the machine you're looking at is worn out looking, it might just be worked in BUT (there is always that little word but...) chances are that the machines is pretty well past it's prime and the parts are worn out and possibly not worth the money.

Here is a true story out of my life --- In '74, when I was expecting my son, my first baby, I bought my first new sewing machine, a domestic, basic Kenmore 'on time' from Sears . (It featured a straight stitch, zig zag, buttonhole and 7 dial up deco stitches and sold for 129.99). I loved that machine, it was my pride and joy and I used it every opportunity I got. It was a really strong machine much better than I expected as far as power went. I made many wedding and christening gowns, plus quite a few re-upholstering jobs for my friends and their families . Shortly after separating from my husband, I opened a small sewing/tailoring shop in '81, here I used the Kenmore as my main power-horse. That baby could go through 6 layers of denim without hic-upping even once. For 5 years that machine was used daily from morning till night.

Even though eventually I bought other sewing machines it was always my favorite and the one I went to if I needed perfectly perfect stitches. When she started to get a little tired I set her up as my button-holer only because she made the nicest buttonholes ever on either fine, medium or thick fabric. Till this day I have not found another machine that will do it like that baby did. My $7500.00 dollar industrial machine (a Yuki) doesn't come close to the easy handling that, that first Kenmore had.

A domestic sewing machine is just not made for that type of 'abuse'. By the time I decided to move her into retirement she would only sew nice when her insides was all filled and gummed up with lint and fluff. If she was clean, her worn out innards cluttered, clanged and creaked like a Sherman tank.

Why I told you this whole long litany is because, if I had been so inclined as to sell that sewing machine, even after the many years of service she still looked great. She had a few spots of worn away paint, a few small chips here and there, she didn't have the signs of old age on it, none what-so-ever. Unfortunately that poor baby would have been a very bad bargain for you to buy (unless you only wanted to sew buttonholes) while she was all caked in with lint, dust and fuzz.


In this busy, busy but expensive world of today a lot of people decide they want to learn how to sew, they go out and buy a top of the line machine (because the sales people want to make their commission) They use it twice then set it aside for five years. Next big house cleaning they put the machine into the garage sale with all the other unused goodies from around the house.

This type of deal mostly can be a good bargain. However here are a few pointers you have to consider BEFORE spending your money. After all even if you spend only 25 bucks on a sewing machine, it's too much if the sewing machine is only usable as a boat anchor.


Here is a sketch so it will be easier to explain what parts you will need to look at:

  • Make sure that the machine is free running--- by that I mean--- move the side or balance wheel (#12 in the sketch) round and round, if it moves free and doesn't give the sounds as if it's slurping or grinding, the innards are not rusted or ceased up.
  • Lift up the machine so you can look into the underside check if there is any rust showing. (if the machine was kept in a damp basement for seventeen years chances are it is a boat anchor and quite useless for sewing. (now if your Dad, hubby or big brother is a handy fellow he might get this machine cleaned up if you can buy it for a few dollars, but only if it's surface rust otherwise it can only be used for parts... )
  • Have a look at the needle or throat plate (#4 in the sketch) if there are many deep needle marks on the throat plate chances are that the timing is slightly off... (in most cases the repair shop can quite easily fix this). But at any rate you should consider getting a new needle or throat plate as the needle marks could snag fine fabric. Another reason for these needle mark could also be that the sewing project done by that particular machine were too heavy and the fabric bent the needle which then hit the plate and in most cases broke the needle (like the seam allowances of jeans for an example)
  • At a garage sale chances are you won't be able to test out the machine or the stitching but you can ask, some people are quite forthcoming and they will pull over an extension cord and you can at least see if the machine parts spin and turn freely and are not ceased up.
  • The rule of thumb when buying a used car at the side of the road is that for every dollar you spend you should expect to spend the similar amount on repairs and clean-up etc. The same goes for a sewing machine that are offered at garage sales. With other words if you're buying a sewing machine for 50.00 dollars chances are the sewing machine repair shop will charge you that same amount for a tune-up and re-settings.
  • On the other hand if you go straight to the sewing machine repair shop, they often have refurbished or secondhand models on sale. Most of these are trade-ins from sewers that are upgrading. These are already repaired, fine tuned and set up, ready to sew up a storm with their new owners. These machine will cost more than the garage sale finds but... best of all these machines will be in good working order and may also come with a short term warranty.
  • When buying a used machine make sure it has the extra tools, basic attachments such as extra presser feet (#2 on the sketch), usually in a small little box included. The two most important presser feet that you will need are the all-purpose or zig-zag foot and the zipper foot. The original owner's manual would also be very helpful. Don't forget the foot pedal or control... and if this is lost it could cost you up to $60.00 to $80.00 for a replacement.
  • Adjustable free-armed or flat sewing bed... again this depends on what you're going to be sewing. If you're planning on doing a lot of quilting the flat bed machine will be better for you. If you're buying a machine to mainly do mending on clothes the free arm machine is the one for you.
  • Another thing to consider when buying any type of sewing machine new or used is the space that you have in your home. If you have a spare room in which you can set up a sewing corner then the sturdy wooden cabinet model might be okay. Most of these cabinets are built to include a storage pit which allows you to recess the machine when not in use. However if you're going to use the dining room or kitchen table then the portable table top style will be more convenient.
  • Talk to sewing friends and family to find out what some of the universally respected brands are (I know I said at the beginning of this hub that it makes no-never-mind which brand you buy but (again that silly little word) some machines do have a better reputation than others. Also when buying a used machine at a garage sale it is helpful to know what some of the big names of sewing machines are. Knowing this will help when you're making the decision to buy. If it's a common name like Singer, Janome, Brother, Pfaff, Euro Pro, Bernina, Viking, Elna, White. Husqvarna, or Kenmore etc you're guaranteed to find replacement parts easier and at lower prices than for an obscure machine no-one has ever heard of... (again that doesn't mean that a solid machine with an unheard of name won't make a great addition to the family) Many years ago I bought a leather sewing machine by the name of Ugra, my repair shop had never heard of it and worst of all we couldn't even find sewing machine needles for it. Eventually we found some needles (as thick as roofing nails) that are made in Belgium that work for this Russian made machine. This machine was strong enough to sew many layers of hard leather even shoes.

Some great basic features to look for:

  • easy bobbin winding
  • drop-able feed dogs (great for mending or free hand embroidery)
  • a variety of needle positions ( great for top stitching)
  • adjustable stitch width and length
  • a variety of stitches such as: straight stitch, zig zag, buttonhole (or satin stitch) a stretch stitch is necessary when sewing knits and a few decorative stitches.
  • easy reverse stitching button
  • free arm (to make stitching in small openings easier)
  • flat bed table needed for machine quilting
  • needle threader (great for old eyes)
  • thread cutter (time saver)
  • built in light (good light that shines onto the presser foot)
  • an on/off switch, so you can turn off the power rather than just unplug the machine.

Shop around when you're buying a NEW sewing machine!

If you're going to take the plunge and buy a new machine rather than a used one again talk to some friends or to the people at your fabric store… Everyone has an opinion of what makes a good sewing machine. MOST IMPORTANTLY KNOW EXACTLY WHAT YOU"RE GOING TO BE SEWING WHEN YOU GO MACHINE SHOPPING. Keep in mind most of the sales people are on commission--- the bigger the price of the machine the more money they will make off you.

Shop-around, sit in front of them and try them, or ask for demonstrations of how to use them. Don't buy the first machine you see. Just like a car some machine are comfortable right off the bat some are not. Usually the sewing machine stops offer free lessons of how to use their 'species' of machines especially if they're the loaded computerized models that need a pilots license and graduate school diploma to operate. (I'm just kidding) None of these machines are quite that complicated. BUT there is that little word again... as a beginner sewer you won't recognize what some of the uses really are and you could get frustrated with a machine that has just too many functions for it's own good.

However if you really feel you need to have the top of the line machine make sure you take those lessons and don't be shy about asking explanations until you are comfortable with all the gidgets and gadgets on your machine. These lessons may mean the difference between knowing how to use your new helper or just having an expensive dust collector. Also remember that should have proper Warranty and service on a new machine. The going average is 25 years on the machine head, 2 years on parts and 1 year on labor.


With proper upkeep a good solid sewing machine CAN last a lifetime if you're careful and choose the right machine. To keep your machine working just right remember to get it serviced after every 300 to 350 hours of sewing or every two years. Keep your machine in a location with regulated temperature so that it stays dry and clean. The garage, attic or cellar are NOT suitable. What I mean by this is that the machine should be kept inside so that it doesn't warm up then cool down then warm up again and thus get condensation etc. on and in it. After every couple of hours of sewing brush out the lint, fluff and thread shrapnel (use a vacuum and/or use a C02 can of condensed air, you know the kind you can get for cleaning computers and keyboard etc.). Oil your machine regularly at least after every 30 - 40 hours of sewing.

If you know you're not going to have time to sew for the next few months... give the machine an extra good cleaning AND oiling. Place a scrap of fabric between the presser foot and the feed dogs... (this will catch all the extra oil).

TIP: Recapp

When shopping for a sewing machine have an idea of what you will be using it for. (The sales person will ask…and if you hmmm and hawww they will convince you that you just can’t do without the computer-aided functions) As each feature adds to the cost of a machine check them all out but don’t buy any that you’re sure you will never use.

Your goal is to find a sewing machine that you’re comfortable with and that will do what you want or need it to do.

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Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on January 13, 2012:

Christine, thanks for coming by for a visit

regards Zsuzsy

Christine on January 06, 2012:

This was exactly the type of information I was seeking. Thank you:-)

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on January 19, 2011:

CollB, simple is good, the more gadgets a machine has the more hassle it is to run. Even I who does a lot of different type of sewing do not use half the gidgetry that's added onto the machines that are available today.

thanks for taking a look and for commenting

regards Zsuzsy

CollB on January 19, 2011:

I've a brother sewing machine and it's a simple one which is I use for sewing a few basic clothing items! Thanks for sharing this hub.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on December 10, 2010:

Thank you Support Med for taking a look and for commenting.

I hope you're having a nice holiday season

regards Zsuzsy

Support Med. from Michigan on December 09, 2010:

Will definitely keep this hub in mind when I decide to buy. Voted/rated.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on November 28, 2010:

GrammaLinda, thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

Unfortunately not even the new Bernina's are as good as the old ones used to be. (and before I ruffle anyone's feathers, that is just my opinion... after 'test-driving' one of them a few months back... definitely not as smooth as the one my Mom had for many, many years)

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on November 28, 2010:

Johnny I haven't heard of an AMI hand sewing machine before, but if it works for you then that's all that matters.

thanks for commenting

regards Zsuzsy

GrammaLinda on November 27, 2010:

I know they cost a good bit more, but a machine made with a metal chassis is the only way to keep from having to replace the sewing machine in a few years. I sew on a Bernina, which is all metal construction, and the additional feet make it a dream to use lots of different sewing techniques.

Johnny Joe from USA on November 07, 2010:

Nice hub. We have an AMI hand sewing machine at home and it works great. This machine works great for both experts and beginners. We can also carry it anywhere I want. The color of the machine is red and I love the color very much.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on November 06, 2010:

writer83, good luck with your sewing machine hunt. thanks for taking a look and for commenting

regards Zsuzsy

writer83 from Cyber Space on November 05, 2010:

I enjoy sewing.Maybe because i always see my grandmother before. I love to buy my own sewing machine soon. Thanks Zsussy!

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 03, 2010:

Rebecca E. please tell your friend to keep looking around for another old machine like the broken one. I bought one a few years ago that I keep stealing parts from for my industrial machine.

thank you for reading and commenting

regards Zsuzsy

Rebecca E. from Canada on October 03, 2010:

she love to fix it again, but the parts are no longer there, but still it was a good machine. She is missing on sewing right now, but she's loving the hubs you have ( I drected her here to read this hub) she says all you have said is so true, so from one sewer to another, many thanks

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on October 01, 2010:

Rebecca E. how sad that the 40 year old machine gave up the ghost, I bet she feels as if a part of her just up and left. Good luck in hunting for the 'just right new baby'.

regards Zsuzsy

Rebecca E. from Canada on October 01, 2010:

you are a life saver! I am currently looking for the sewing queen in my family, (as a surprise her 40 year old sewing machine gave up the ghost) and as a surprise the family is buying her a new one, this just saved me a whole lot of pain! many many many thanks!

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 29, 2010:

vikassingal2002 thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

regards Zsuzsy

vikassingal2002 from India on September 29, 2010:

Nice Info.....

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 16, 2010:

bayoulady, sewing is just about the only thing that don't mind doing even though I have to. I had tailor shops for more then 30 years.

Glad you dropped by

regards Zsuzsy

bayoulady from Northern Louisiana,USA on September 16, 2010:

Enjoyed all the info, thoughI don't sew anymore. I got burnt out on sewing because when the kids were little I HAD to sew to stretch the budget.I agree, the older machines are made better because of the metal parts.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 15, 2010:

singlmomat52, what's your singer doing? or better said not doing?

Always glad when you take the time to check out my hub

regards Zsuzsy

singlmomat52 on September 15, 2010:

Zsuzsy This is a great Hub!! I loooove a sweet sewing machine. Mine is broke at the moment. I usually fix my own but cannot fix the problem with this Singer. Lots of great tips to lead one in the right direction in choosing the right machine for them. Thanks for a very nice hub, as always!!

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 15, 2010:

Hiya Sally's Trove how are you? Time for a coffee? You're right about the old machines being reliable. And the best of all they actually do what they were made for. Seriously my poor old toaster gave up the ghost a couple of weeks ago. I went to replace it... all I want is a gadget that makes toast... I don't want it to play music, tell me the time nor do I need the damn thing to calculate the circumference of the earth and compare it to my mid section... all I want is toast. The one and only one with just the one function of making toast I returned to the store because it toasted the bottom half of my bread only...

I don't mean to grumble but enough already with all the computerized stuff... I don't want to have to replace it every two years because it doesn't fit my color scheme... all I want is toast.

Sorry now that I got that off my chest... How are you and the your family? Well I hope.

Greetings and kindest regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 15, 2010:

Sir Greek... I so sorry, I shall strive to do betta next time. Hahaha, just like a typical male, pick the prettiest... is the machine blond too??? ooooh that was mean of me, wasn't it?

Always glad when you drop in

hope 'de' wife and you are fine

regards Zsuzsy

Sherri from Southeastern Pennsylvania on September 15, 2010:

Wonderful advice all the way around, of course! I still have my Singer 301, a gift from my grandmother when I was a kid learning to sew. It is a true workhorse, having enough strength to sew denim and canvas, and it has a huge assortment of attachments. I agree completely that an older machine in good condition is the way to go for your first. They are easy to use, reliable, and still very reasonable.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 15, 2010:

seashore456, if the hub was of help then it was well worth writing it.

Thanks for taking a look and for commenting.

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 15, 2010:

Audrey I'm that antique too, just lets always remember that antiques are worth lots... sooner or later everyone around us will get the hint...haha

hope you and your gang are doing great

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 15, 2010:

Peg, I feel your pain. A fire destroyed my tailor shop a little more than 5 years ago and I still miss all the machines and gidget and gadgets that I had accumulated over a lifetime.

Thanks for taking a look and for commenting.

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 15, 2010:

ainehannah thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 15, 2010:

Hello, hello, thank you for taking a look and for commenting.

hope you're well

regards Zsuzsy

De Greek from UK on September 15, 2010:

Good advice, only 6 years too late for me. I walked into a Singer sales shop, looked around and pointed to what looked like the pretiest and more business-like machine and asked them to send it home. I wish you would not be sos lazy and write these things in time!!!! :-)))

seashore456 on September 15, 2010:

Excellent Hub Zsuzsy! i know nothing about sewing machines and this is really useful information.

Audrey Kirchner from Washington on September 14, 2010:

My first machine was a Kenmore too and think I had it for 25 years before getting my new one! Before that, I had an old White pedal one that I sewed on since I was 13 years old. Gosh - that would make one of us (or both) an antique! Great information on how to get going.

Peg Cole from North Dallas, Texas on September 14, 2010:

My first sewing machine was a Singer Zig Zag about 5 years newer than the one you had. I regret that I sold it at a garage sale when I got tired of lugging it around after 20 years. Now I really miss that machine. We spent many hours together creating wardrobes and costumes and mending. Sniff sniff.

Aine O'Connor from Dublin on September 14, 2010:

Really enjoyable hub with loads of tips for newbies, thanks.

Hello, hello, from London, UK on September 14, 2010:

Well done and good advice. I have been sewing for years. I love it.

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 13, 2010:

Barb, if the hub helps then it's well worth it.

Thanks for taking a look and for commenting.

regards Zsuzsy

barb t from Denver on September 13, 2010:

Hi Zsuzsy, Thank you for taking the time to do this information for us newbies. Have a wonderful Blessed day.

Beth100 from Canada on September 13, 2010:

I'm good Zsuzy. How about you? I been trying to decide upon a new one for her or give her my old Bernina. Decisions, decisions! :)

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 13, 2010:

Sagebrush_mama, finding some replacement pieces especially for the machines with the plastic housing can be quite frustrating.

Always glad when you come over for a visit.

regards Zsuzsy

Zsuzsy Bee (author) from Ontario/Canada on September 13, 2010:

Hiya Beth, how are you? I know exactly what you're talking about... there is no such thing as a simple machine that does basics anymore. Unless you buy the little plastic thingys that work for two months exactly before the plastic starts to wear off.

Thanks for coming by for a visit

regards Zsuzsy

sagebrush_mama from The Shadow of Death Valley...Snow Covered Mountain Views Abound! on September 13, 2010:

I picked out an inexpensive one for my birthday a couple of years ago...I'm pretty much a novice. Should have spent a few dollars more...plastic piece broke, which I forgot about, 'til I pulled it back out a year later...took a lot to track down my piece, and to replace it...uggh!

Daughters are putting it to use, now, though, taking 4H sewing classes!

Thank you for the tips on buying!

Beth100 from Canada on September 13, 2010:

I've been sewing since I was quite young, and my daughter is now (finally!) interested in sewing too. I decided to go and buy her her own sewing machine. Oh my! I didn't realize how fancy some of these machines are now a days. Thanks for the tips -- makes buying so much easier.

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