Choosing a sewing machine

Buying a Sewing Machine

Buying a sewing machine is an important occasion. There are so many different makes and models out there which do all sorts of different things. Knowing which to choose can be quite a challenge. If you’re thinking of buying a new or second-hand sewing machine, here are a few essential tips to ensure that get the machine you really need.

Make a List of the Features you Want

Before you go anywhere near a sewing machine dealer, think very carefully about all the projects that you’re ever likely to want to tackle. Make a list to take along with you to the dealer.

Research Your Local Dealers

Ask sewing friends or tutors for details of any reputable sewing machine dealers in your area. Only buy from a dealer that will offer you help and instruction on your chosen machine before and after you’ve bought it.

Buy From a Reputable Dealer

Supermarkets, catalogue stores, shopping channels or newspaper ads will not be able to give you any advice on what you need. Once you’ve paid your money you’re on your own.

Choose a Machine with Separate Stitch-width / Stitch-length Controls

There are a number of budget sewing machines on the market that have many fancy built-in stitches but no separate stitch adjustment controls. You will soon find that these are of limited use. A sewing machine that has separate stitch width and stitch length controls can open up a whole world of possibilities by allowing you to change existing built-in stitches into something completely new.

Choose a Sewing Machine with the Facility to Drop the Feed Dogs

Choose a sewing machine that has a drop-feed facility (where the feed dogs can be lowered out of use) and avoid those that come supplied with a plastic plate to cover the permanently raised feed dogs. You can only do proper machine embroidery with a drop-feed facility.

Check-Out both New & Second-Hand Machines

Ask your dealer to show you his range of new and second-hand sewing machines. You may be able to pick up a good robust second-hand model that has all the basic features you need, for the price of a newer, flimsier one.

Check Which Presser Feet Are Included

Generally, new machines have fewer extras than older, second-hand ones. You will need:

–  a standard zig-zag foot.

–  a zipper foot.

–  a buttonhole foot.

–  a darning or open-toed embroidery foot (compulsory for machine embroidery but you may need to buy it separately).

Check Which Thread Reel Sizes Can Be Used

Choose a sewing machine that will take all sizes of thread reels. Machines with self-threading cartridges may look inviting and easy to use but they’re a real pain when the thread you want is on an awkwardly sized reel, which will not fit in the cartridge.

Choose a Front or Vertical Loading Bobbin for Machine Embroidery

If you want to try machine embroidery (and you will when you see just what you can do) choose a machine with a front-loading rather than a drop-in bobbin. These are more robust, easier for adjusting bobbin tension and much easier to dismantle for cleaning and snarl-ups.

Choose a Robust Machine

Whatever machine you choose, make sure it is robust enough to cope with your sewing needs but light enough for you to manage. And remember, you will probably need a dust cover for those periods between sewing projects.

Getting to Know Your Sewing Machine

You’ve bought the machine of your dreams, got it home and unpacked the box. Now it’s sitting there waiting for you to make the first move. What do you do?

Read the Manual

Before you do anything else – READ THE MANUAL – especially the sections on threading and winding the bobbin. Also, check that you have all the bits the book says you should have.

Practice Some Basics

Learn How to Thread Your Machine

Thread the machine top (spool) and bottom (bobbin) with a good quality polyester thread with a dark colour on the top and a lighter shade on the bottom. Threading really is the most important thing you need to know. Practise it until you can do it with your eyes shut.

Set the Default Stitch Settings

Set the stitch length control to 2.5 mm and the stitch width to 0. These are the usual settings for an all-purpose straight stitch.

Prepare a Practice Piece

Cut a large square of strong, white cotton or calico. Iron, fold in half and iron again. This will be your practice piece.

Practice Stitching Some Straight Lines

Line up the edge of your presser foot with the edge of the fabric. Sew a line of straight stitching keeping the foot lined up with the edge of the fabric all the way to the bottom. Repeat these lines of stitching, lining up the presser foot with the previous line of stitching until you have a collection of perfectly straight lines.

Check Your Tension

If you can see the bobbin thread on the top of your work, your top tension is too tight. If you can see the top thread on the reverse of your work, the bobbin tension is too tight.

If you have a machine with a top-loading bobbin, you will only be able to adjust the top tension. Experiment with this until your stitches look balanced, i.e. cannot see the bottom thread on top and vice versa.

Check Your Fabric Passes through the Machine Freely

Support the fabric. Hold it loosely in front of the needle bed with your right hand and loosely at the left of the needle bed with your left hand. Do not try to pull or push the fabric through the machine, just guide it gently. It is good practice to avoid putting your hands on the needle bed when the machine is in motion, both for safety reasons and to ensure that you’re not tempted to push or pull the fabric.

Learn to Maintain a Steady Speed

An uneven and jerky speed will produce uneven and jerky stitching. You do not need to be going at full speed but going too slowly will make it difficult to keep your stitching straight. Try and keep your speed to about half the machine’s full speed.

Try out the Reverse Lever

When you have a line of straight stitches try the same thing again but start and finish each line with a few stitches using the reverse lever on your sewing machine.

Try Some Other Stitches

Experiment with the built-in stitches provided on your sewing machine. Try altering the stitch length and width controls on each stitch. Don’t forget to keep your stitching straight.