Sewing Machine Recommendation

Hello alt.sewing!
I'm looking for a recommendation for a sewing machine. I don't sew
myself so I don't know where to start. The machine is for my niece who
is turing 10 next month. She's been interested in fashion design for a
few years, and now she'd like to try making some of her own clothes.
I've had a look on Amazon and I'm not even sure what criteria I should
use for picking one out. I'm comfortable spending up to $300.
Does anyone have a suggestion for a model, or some thoughts on what
features I should look for if not a specific model?
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There used to be a "what machine should I buy FAQ but it's gone 404. Most here recommend that the person who will use the machine have input. That means take her to a shop and let her test-drive several machines.
A solidly built older machine is a great value compared to today's plastic miracles. My recommendation with that budget is to buy a well cared-for second hand machine. If possible find a sewing machine shop which takes older machine in trade. They should have serviced them, made sure they are in good running condition and offer a short-term warrantee. If there are no sewing machine shops in your area, try thrift stores, but be sure you ask for a demonstration to be sure the thing works, and has all the necessary parts and a manual.
I still have my Singer 401a, bought brand new in 1961,
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and still use it for all garment sewing. I have two back-up 401As, just to be sure I am never without one if it does have to be serviced. In the 49 years I have owned the original, it has never required repair. I also own a Singer Quantum XL5000, but I leave it set up for embroidery only, the 401As are my "real" sewing machines. In addition, I have two sergers (a Bernette MO2-3-4 and Huskylock 936) and a Babylock coverstitch machine. It would also be a real bonus if you could find someone to give your niece some lessons in basic clothing construction so she won't just get frustrated and quit. Check with her local fabric stores, they often have information about teachers and/or classes.
Reply to
BEI Design
In addition to this excellent advice, you might like to read my essay on buying a sewing machine:
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Since I wrote that, I had an extensive test of a Brother Innovis 10A. My review is in the Bamber's website:
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At the end of the description, click on the red line with Kate Dicey in it, and see what I did with this machine.
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Kate, just a heads up, Penny is no longer supporting the FAQ at
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I was going to supply it too, but tested first, and got an error message:
"Not Found The requested URL /~pennys/faq/smfaq.htm was not found on this server."
Too bad, it was very useful. I think I may have saved the text somewhere, if I can find it I'll add it to my site.
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BEI Design
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Give thanks for the Wayback Machine.
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Thanks, Kay also provided that one to me. I have saved the bookmark, this discussion seems to come up here several times each year.
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BEI Design
It still wouldn't be a bad idea to host it elsewhere and keep it up to date. It hadn't been updated since 2007, and it's still good advice, but it might could use some tweaking from time to time.
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Here is the text of the " FAQ: What Sewing Machine Should I buy?" (courtesty of the wayback machine at
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-Irene -------------------- FAQ: What Sewing Machine Should I buy?
About this FAQ: This document was written to answer the commonly asked question, ?what sewing machine should I buy?? There is no one answer. You should have a good idea of what your sewing needs and goals are. Reading this document may help you get clarity. Please note: no one brand is endorsed, it is a very personal decision.
Contributors: JJ, Penny S, Charlotte H, Sally Holmes, Sharon Hays (June 2003)
Information in this document:
* What machine should I buy? (read this FAQ for the answer to that) * New vs. Used * What to look for in a dealer * I want to get one as a gift for someone/ Which machine should I buy for my wife? * What about the tiny tailor, school machines, etc.? * Which is the best machine for $100/150/200? * Which machine is best for children to learn on? * What's the difference between an electric and an electronic machine? * Which features are essential/nice for certain sewing tasks? * Should I buy a machine from ebay/Costco/an internet dealer? * Should I buy on line? How do I test driving a machine? What about embroidery machines? * What about heavy fabrics and industrials? * What are some good sewing books to get started * Sewing machine links (reviews etc) sewing faq links
What machine should I buy? (read this FAQ for the answer to that) The answer is, "the right one for you". The purpose of this FAQ is to give you a list of things to look for and look out for, and to give you enough information to ask yourself a set of questions that will help you decide on your machine. The machine has to fit your needs and skill level. It has to be easy for you to use. It has to be comfortable for you to use. These are all very subjective things. Buying a sewing machine is very much like buying a car. You need to find what works for you. Read this FAQ, and know it comes from a lot of people who have spent a lot of time with a lot of sewing machines.
Which features are essential/nice for certain sewing tasks? Quilting: walking foot, large bed, seam allowance guide. Clothing construction: seam allowance guide, stretch stitch/zig-zag for knits, needle-down, automatic button holes, adjustable bed (both large and narrow), various special purpose feet... Other features that are nice to have, some might consider essential: multi position needle, knee lift.
Should I buy a machine from Costco/Walmart/discount store? Should I buy on-line (ebay, internet dealer)? The received wisdom is NO. It is a cost/benefit tradeoff and generally the amount you (might) save is far less than the ensuing headaches are worth. In general the quality of machine available at a discount store is poor. In either case, there is no opportunity to test drive the machine. The warranty is usually with the manufacturer, far away, not your local shop. There is little or no instruction or customer support. For all these reasons, a well-built used machine from your local shop is a better value.
How do I test drive a machine? ?Play? with it. Bring the materials you intend to use in your work (silk, lycra, denim, rip-stop, faux fur, tulle?) and try it! Change settings on the machine (stitch length/style and speed, forward/reverse, etc.). Are the mechanisms where you?d expect? Does the machine respond as you?d expect? How is the stitch quality? Much like a car there are sewing machines that ?fit? a driver better than others. Only you will know your best fit.
Which is the best machine for $100/150/200? There is no best machine to buy. If on a limited budget, it is better to look for a used machine at a thrift shop or local dealer who may give a limited warranty and will service the machine if necessary. You should buy one that you can try out on your own material, using your own thread and needles. If it performs to your liking, then it's your machine. If you are unable to try it out using your own supplies, leave it where it sits.
Which machine should I buy for my wife? I want to get one as a gift for someone (wife etc) None!! Let her go out and try out different machines so that she can decide which one she likes. Give her a gift certificate. A sewing machine is a very subjective thing. You have to like the way it handles when you sew. It's like buying a car: If it suits the person using it it's the right machine.
If you've read this far, you should understand by now that there is no "one size fits all" in the sewing machine world. Unless you've been told (by the person receiving the machine) a specfic machine, at a specific store, for a specific price, don't buy a sewing machine for someone else. Instead, give that person a card with a note saying you'd like very much to give him/her a sewing machine. Then set a date and go shopping with that person.
Which machine is best for children to learn on? A supervised child can learn to sew on any machine available to them. If it works properly, the experience is a pleasure. So called "toy" sewing machines are ineffective at the least, and frustrating at the worst.
What's the difference between an electric and an electronic machine? An electric machine is powered by a single electric motor that turns gears, belts and cams and cranks. electric machine An electronic machine has a built in computer that runs a series of motors. electronic machine
New vs. Used The appeal of a new machine is obvious. It is NEW after all. If you want absolute, top-of-the-line, newest features in your machine, this is the way to go. However, if your budget is limited, or you are just starting out with your very first machine, used might be a better route to go. Often dealers will take old machines as "trade-ins" on new machine purchases. (Just like trading in your old car for a discount on a newer one.) Then the dealers will usually go over the trade-in models and make any necessary repairs before they sell them. Some dealers will also offer warranties on the reconditioned machines. It is sometimes possible to buy a very advanced used machine (e.g. it has a high number of different stitch functions, or it is computer controlled) for less money than a basic new machine. As always, try them out and see what fits you best.
Note: there are many old, reliable classics out there. Lots of sewists cruise thirft stores and garage sales for machines. Many times you can't try these out, or they need work and/or parts... but if you are feeling adventurous this may be another way to go. The risk is that your $15 machine many need $100 worth of service, but it may also just need cleaning and oiling... caveat emptor...
What to look for in a dealer You want all the same things in a sewing machine dealer that you want in a car dealer. Most only sell one or two brands of sewing machines. If you have a specific brand in mind, start by looking for a dealer that carries that brand. You want them to be able to service the machine once you buy it. Ask about that before you buy. Some will offer free classes with machine purchase. Ask about that. Also you want to look around the shop for accessories for your machine. You want to know that they stock (or can get quickly) any accessories you may want for your machine in the future. Ask about that too. You want to be comfortable with your dealer, like you would with a car dealer. You will be seeing them again when you bring your machine in for routine service, or when you come to buy other things for the machine. Do they let you take as long as you need to test a potential purchase? Are they friendly and helpful?
What about the tiny tailor, school machines, etc.? Tiny Tailor, HandyMender, Stitch N Go, etc.: Most of these machines are not what their ads claim. Almost all the ads claim that you can sew anything and everything with these machines. Several of them claim to work just like "bigger, bulkier, more expensive" machines while using 4 AA batteries and costing under $40 US. Here's just a few things they don't tell you: These things only do one type of stitch. Usually it's something close to a machine straight stitch, although they often only use one thread. If the stitch is formed with one thread, it won't "lock" together and will pull out with only a slight tug on either end. A real home sewing machine uses a variety of stitches all formed with two threads. These machines often don't have feed dogs. Feed dogs are what pulls the fabric to be sewn under the needle. With these machines, you have to pull the fabric with your hand. That means you could easily pull too much, too hard and snap off the needle. In short, these machines just don't do the same things as real sewing machines, and are just not suitable for every day, general sewing.
School Machines: This is a sales technique that is used widely and often. Most of the time, it's a ploy to get customers in the door. The pitch is usually an ad in the local paper saying that a local school system is selling off new or slightly used machines at huge discounts because they bought too many of them. Sometimes the ad says that a dealer ordered a huge lot of "school machines" and for some reason they were then not purchased by the school system. Almost always the sale is held at a hotel or convention center of some sort, sometimes just in the back of a truck in a parking lot. This should already sound suspect to you. If it's a school system selling off surplus items, they usually have an auction on school grounds. If it's a local dealer that ordered too many machines, why would he compound his expenses by renting space somewhere when he has a store that could house the sale? Normally, when a customer shows up to buy one of the "greatly reduced school models," they are shown and encouraged to buy much more expensive machines that the seller just happens to have on hand. Also, the seller normally turns out not to be a local dealer. Instead, the seller is often from out of state, and they say up front that they will only be in town for ONE day, so you need to buy RIGHT NOW. Being pressured to buy any machine, without any time to think about it, is always a bad sign. These "sales" are best avoided all together. If you do decide to attend one, remember that you may get a basic machine really inexpensively, but you will have no dealer support after the fact, and likely no warranty or guarantee of the goods. Caveat emptor.
What about heavy sewing and industrial machines? An industrial sewing machine is a heavy-duty machine. There are many different types; most are designed for either a certain range of fabrics or a specific type of stitch or sewing. An industrial is very powerful, fast, and typically more single-task suited than a regular sewing machine. A typical industrial will do 2000+ stitches per minute as compared to 600-800 on a home sewing machine. Industrials also have separate motors, usually between 1/3 to 1/2 horsepower, and are built into a large table that takes up quite a bit of space. If you are going to be sewing heavy materials, multiple thickness of heavy fabrics, or quantities of items, an industrial machine might be a good investment.
The problems with using a home machine for heavy fabric are generally not enough 'piercing power' for many heavy fabrics, an inability to feed difficult and thick fabrics properly, and an inability to use the extremely heavy (upholstery nylon) thread that may be needed for strength. Again, here is where you need to know your sewing machine's "personality". Some home sewing machines will handle anything that comes their way, others will give you fits. If you decide you need an industrial, watching the want ads is a great way to find one.
Can you recommend some good books? Reader's Digest Guide to Sewing The Singer Sewing Series
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I intend to do just that as well. I could not find the original link to even go to the way back thing Glad it popped up. I will have to find the link stuff as well.
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Ron Anderson

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