Sewing Machines: Basics and Recommendations

Today, sewing is easier than ever. Nicely-performing mechanical sewing machines with a good assortment of features, can be purchased for as little as $75 (online discounted price) icon. You can shell some more dough for an electronic/computerized model -- they provide additional convenience features and hundreds (or even thousands!) of stitches.

The latest electronic/computerized sewing machines can be almost robotic in convenience. Using sophisticated built-in computers electronic/computerized models can:

  • suggest the appropriate presser foot to use
  • divine the correct thread tension and stitch length
  • size and sew buttonholes
  • automatically cut thread

Combination embroidery/sewing machines, which first appeared in the mid 1990s, combine the features above with outstanding sewing and the ability to create professional-quality embroidery.

You don't have to break the bank to get a handy, versatile, and long-lasting sewing machine. Here's a quick run-down of the two most-popular types of sewing machines people shop for:

Mechanical sewing machines (what's a "mechanical"): Based on our research, we recommend a Sears Kenmore 15218 as a superb starter. It's only $179, sews very nicely on a wide variety of fabrics (in single and multiple layers), and it's great for denim. This model is also relatively lightweight, and it generously includes five presser feet, an automatic buttonholer and needle threader. The Brother 270 icon, $299, is rated to be slightly better on corduroy and zippers. It also features a better (longer) warranty (1 year) than the Sears Kenmore model (only 90 days). Given the two, we would opt for the Brother 270 icon.

Electronic/computerized sewing machines (what's a "computerized"): These normally feature pushbutton controls, an LED screen, are able to make many decorative stitches, and other handy features. Well-rated and affordably priced models include the Brother PE 300, and the Singer Quantum 9910. Both are around $500. The Brother is a great machine: It includes a fantastic automatic needle threader and 49 selectable stitches. The Singer Quantum 9910 doesn't sew as nicely but it does let you program in letters. If you've got the bucks, consider models by Husqvarna (Quilt Designer II, $2,800) or Bernina (650, $1,000) -- these are superb-performing, super-reliable and durable electronic machines.

More Details on Popular Brands and Types of Machines...

Singer, Brother, and Kenmore account for about 70% of all machines sold in the United States. Certain European brands, including Bernina and Husqvarna Viking, are increasingly becoming more popular because the sewing-machine market is shifting -- basically, people want more features and are willing to pay for it.

"Mechanical" sewing machines: "Mechanical", today, simply means these models don't come with electronic convenience features. You still have to plug them in. Mechanical models require you to control, most features by hand. These machines are generally cheaper than electronic or sewing/embroidery models, and handle most of your basic sewing job: repairs, hems, simple clothing, and certain crafts projects. Most folks looking to buy sewing machines choose mechanical models. Expect to pay: $75 - $500.

Electronic/computerized sewing machines use microprocessors to automate many tasks users manually do in mechanical units. In these models, expect to find touchpad controls, a "view screen", several presser feet for more-challenging jobs like topstitching and pleats, and lots of decorative stitches. Expect to pay: $300 - $1,200.

Sewing/embroidery machines combine the functions of dedicated embroidery machines and regular sewing machine and you get a hybrid sewing/embroidery machine. The sewing/embroidery machine holds a hoop under its needle and moves the hoop in four directions as the needle sews. The user pushes a start button, monitors the operation, and changes thread colors periodically. Most embroidery machines today require you to link them to a personal computer to access all their capabilities. Expect to pay: $1,000 and up.

Our online catalog contains a comprehensive selection of sewing machines, embroidery machines and related accessories. Browse the catalog by category.