“Marriage, such as it is practised by catholicism, is nothing more than a stitch in the heart, neatly done.” (Victor Hugo, 1802-1885)
In the UK, despite the emancipation movement and steps made towards equality between the sexes, the last dregs of patriachy still consider sewing a purely feminine activity, as though men were capable of doing everything except sew clothes and do housework.
Yet learning to sew means that torn or worn clothes need not be confined to obsolescence – instead of buying anew, they can be repaired or recycled. This means taking sewing classes, then finding the right sewing machine according to very specific criteria – a computerised or a mechanical sewing machine, for example?
My mother always told me that it’s not the tool that makes the clothing, but the tailor (or dressmaker).
And it’s true that you don’t need a professional sewing machine to repair a garment. But considering the impressive range of industrial sewing machines and budget sewing machines, the choice can seem difficult.
You want a good sewing machine but you don’t know the technical details of each of the brands? Read on to find out everything you need to know to pick the right sewing machine for you.
Learn also which fabrics to select for you sewing projects.
It’s like buying a guitar: there’s no point in buying a the newest high-end Takamine or a handmade Spanish classical guitar if you’re just starting out in music. It’s the same when learning to sew. The type of machine you choose will be different depending on how often you sew and what sewing projects you need it for:
Computerised sewing machines have lots of programs – but do you need them all? Photo by osiristhe on Visualhunt.com
So before going out to buy a new sewing machine, try to think about how you will be using it. A beginner dressmaker or someone thinking of only using it occasionally won’t need a high-end industrial sewing machine.
Find out also if your sewing kit has all of the essentials for your sewing projects.
There are different stitches used for sewing – top stitch, zig zag stitch, overcast stitch, gathering stitch – but most sewing classes don’t start explaining sewing stitches until you are more advanced.
So someone taking beginner sewing lessons won’t need a sewing machine with 150 different stitches, especially since most machines are equipped with the two basic stitches (top stitch and zig zag stitch) as a matter of course, enough for simple little sewing projects you can enjoy.
The most basic sewing machine stitches are straight stitch and zig-zag stitch. Photo on VisualHunt.com
However, to give wing to your creativity or make more advanced sewing projects, a more sophisticated sewing machine will help you develop your sewing skills and make progress on your sewing techniques.
For example, if you want to sew clothing, you should get a sewing machine that works for all types of fabrics (jean fabrics, canvas, knit fabrics, etc.) and which will let you make neat buttonholes and lovely gathers on your shirts, dresses and skirts (with an invisible hem, if you please) or take in your trousers. There are special quilting feet and quilting machines if that’s your passion, and embroidery machines let you design and program colourful motifs.
Finally, look at how much space the sewing machine takes up: if you don’t use it very often, you might want to look for a mini sewing machine that is easy to store. But if you use it a lot, a large sewing machine that will stay in place, with a work lamp and maybe even a cabinet, will be the thing for you.
To sum it up, the main criteria for choosing your sewing machine will be:
Complete your starter sewing kit with these essentials…
Just like a car or a musical instrument, price is a very important and sensitive variable when buying a sewing machine. What budget should you consider when you want to sew on an invisible zipper? What does the invoice say for a genuine Brother sewing machine? Sewing machines can cost anywhere between 100€ to more than € 1000 – so you should take some time before opening your pocket-book.
You need to consider what you want out of your new sewing-machine: do you want an overlock machine to save some time, a simple sewing machine to learn how to sew – and repair your clothes – or an industrial sewing machine for advanced sewing classes and high-end sewing projects?
A low-priced beginner sewing machine will cost somewhere between £60 and £100 pounds. One example is the Silver Crest, regularly available through Lidl, the German discount supermarket chain. A middle-range sewing machine costs £200-500; industrial sewing machines can go up to over £8,000.
Beyond £200, the quality of the manufacturer and the available options will influence your choice of sewing machine, for example:
Remember that a sewing machine with an adjustable stitch length and width will be more comfortable to use than a non-adjustable one, which will come with its own list of little annoyances and work-arounds. To sum it up, here’s a table with all the criteria according to price, sewing level and expectations:
|Less than £100||£100-£500||More than £500|
|Sewing level||Beginner sewing||Intermediate level||Professional level|
|Use||Basics||More comfortable sewing||Can sew anything in any ways|
|Importance of make and functions||minor||high||Deal-breaker|
The type of machine you buy also depends on the use you will make of it.
Most sewing machines work on a knotted stitch principle, with upper and lower threads coming from thread bobbins. The lower bobbin is at the heart of the whole mechanism.
There are several different types of sewing machine on the market, ready to succour a needy seamstress.
Mechanical sewing machines are best for small budgets, but they were also quite sought after by professional tailors and seamstresses for their versatility, since everything can be adjusted manually.
Singer is one of the oldest sewing machine companies out there. Photo by Internet Archive Book Images on Visual hunt
And who hasn’t lusted after a Singer sewing machine with a presser foot, as old as sin – or at least, as old as 1851 at most. However, you need to know this kind of sewing machine like the back of your hand. It’s better to wait until you have some experience before making lovely dressmaking creations on old, purely mechanical or electrical sewing machines.
You need to know exactly how your mechanical sewing machine works to use it properly.
A computerised sewing machine will be more expensive, but it is ideal for a beginner sewer. This beginner sewing machine will do most of the work thanks to its automatic adjustment – length and width of the stitches, threading, automatic buttonhole stitch, programming different stitches – making it easier to use.
No need to know all the gears and levers on your old Singer, Pfaff, Brother, Bernina or Husqvarna sewing machine. This type of machine is a comfortable sewing tool and, as an added advantage, electronic machines are quieter than mechanical sewing machines. What is more, electric sewing machines have become easier to repair than mechanical ones, as the evolution of technology has negated the need to dismantle the whole sewing machine to find the problem. Now, sewing machine repairmen often only need to plug in a cord or update the machine’s software.
|Mechanical sewing machine||Electrical sewing machine|
|Adjustments||Manual (you need to be versed in the machine’s “anatomy”)||Automatic|
|Noise||Can be very loud||Quiet|
|Repairs||Can be complicated||Digitalisation facilitates certain repair tasks|
|Use||Very precise operation for intermediate or advanced sewers||Ideal for beginners|
|Price||Small||Middle to high|
Now, computerised sewing machines are often easier to repair than mechanical ones. Photo by sparr0 on Visualhunt
Now on to the different sewing machine companies. Though certainly you will find a good range of products online, if you’re unsure of what you need, a real-life haberdasher’s will give you the best advice.
From the 19th century until fairly recently, Singer was the non plus ultra of sewing machines both among housewives and tailors. But with the rise of globalisation, many new firms have come onto the market with excellent products that shook Singer from its throne. At the top you will find sewing machines by Bernina (beginner sewing students should opt for the Bernina 215, easy to carry and simple to use), Husqvarna and Pfaff (durable, powerful and easy-to-use). A Pfaff Passeport 2.0 or 3.0 is ideal for your first sewing classes.
These are considered to offer the best quality, but there are others:
Here are the different machines summed up according to their functionality and prices
|SilverCrest SNM 33||Singer Starlet||Husqvarna Viking E10||Singer Simple 3232||Pfaff Smarter 160 S||Janome Skyline S3||Pfaff Expression 3.5|
|Number of stitches||33||16||20||40||23||120||200|
|Buttonhole stitch||Automatic, 4 steps||4 step||4 step||1 step||1 step||7 steps||16 steps|
|Weight||6 kg||7.5kg||6.3 kg||7.5 kg||6.3 kg||10 kg||10.6 kg|
Right! You have your whole sewing kit together, with all the accessories: sewing machine, bobbins, threads…But how do you learn to sew? By taking sewing lessons online or at home. See you on Superprof for your first sewing course!
Learn more about sewing supplies and accessories you can use on your projects.