7 November 2014

Choosing a Sewing Machine

Buying a sewing machine

“Which sewing machine should I buy?” is one of the most frequently posed questions I get in my inbox and Twitter feed... and something I’ve been meaning to write a post about for aaaages!

Whether you’re buying your first sewing machine, upgrading to a mid-range model, or looking to splash some cash on something flash, there are tons of options to choose from. I’ve only tested a fraction of the sewing machines that are out there in the world, so I can't tell you which are “the best”. Besides, choosing a sewing machine does come down to personal preference, so there isn’t really such a thing as “best” anyway :) But what I can tell you are the models I use most regularly and why I love them, and - perhaps more useful - some things you might want to bear in mind when choosing which machine to go for, depending on whether you’re a novice, improver or advanced stitcher.

Buying a sewing machine - Janome J3-18

Buying your first sewing machine

If you’re just getting started sewing and aren’t sure how much use you’re going to get out of a sewing machine, you probably won’t want to spend too much money on it. In which case, you might want to go for a mechanical model – with knobs as opposed to a digital display - as they are usually cheaper than their computerised counterparts.

The first sewing machine I bought was a J3-18 [if you're in the US, a similar model is Janome 2212], a great value machine (£139 at the time of writing) that served me well for my first three years sewing.

Mechanical sewing machines tend to have a limited number of functions, but that’s fine because you really don’t three million different types of stitches for most dressmaking projects – as long as you’ve got straight stitch, zigzag stitch and a buttonholer, you’re doing well.

Another consideration is whether you have a dedicated sewing space or whether you’re sewing on the kitchen table and need to pack away at dinner time. If you’re just getting into sewing, the latter scenario is more likely, in which case a lighter machine such as the J3-18 will be easier to manage. Models like this certainly aren't the snazziest, but they're relatively low cost and great for getting started - you can always upgrade later...

Buying a sewing machine - Janome DKS100

Upgrading to a mid-range sewing machine

If you’ve become a regular stitcher and looking for more functionality, then you might want to think about moving onto a computerised machine. Computerised sewing machines usually have a large range of stitch options, which is great if you want to try out different techniques or get jiggy with decorative sewing.

Perhaps more importantly, they are generally better at handling thicker fabrics or multiple layers of fabric better than mechanical models as they have more needle penetration power (behave). Plus they often feature snazzy extras, such as a one-step buttonholer or an automatic thread cutter – things you don't necessarily need but that will make your (sewing) life a whole lot easier.

We use the Janome DKS100 in our studio - omigawd I’m in love with this machine! It's got a good range of stitch settings - including my favourite, the kitty embroidery stitch (eep!). It feels nice and powerful, but although it’s a sturdy guy, it’s not too heavy to carry, so still easy to pack away when needed. I also think it looks really nice – modern squared-off edges and that turquoise face! Love love love.

Buying a sewing machine - Janome 6600P

Investing in a high end sewing machine

If sewing is a big part of your life, at some point you might decide to upgrade to a professional-type model with even more functionality. A high end machine with a powerful motor and strong guts will be able to handle all sorts of fabric types and multiple layers. They will usually be at the heavier end of the spectrum, but if you are a serious stitcher with a dedicated sewing table that probably won’t pose a problem.

The machine I use most often for personal use is the Janome 6600P [similar to the 6500P available in the US]. It sews fast, and the range of stitches is huge – you can choose from seven different types of buttonhole, and you can even programme it to write a sentence! A model like this costs around £1,200, so I wouldn't suggest it as a first buy, but it's a great investment for serious stitchers.

Final thought – you know the saying, “The best camera is the one you have”? I reckon you can apply the same sentiment to sewing machines. Maybe you don’t yet have the top-of-the-range model of your dreams, but whichever machine you have will serve you well in that it’ll enable you to get on with sewing stuff! Similarly, if you’re looking to buy a new machine, it’s always worth doing a bit of research, but too much research can sometimes become overwhelming and counterproductive, so my advice would be to work out what you really need, make a decision, buy the thing... and then get on with your sewing :)

If you've got sewing machine buying tips of your own to share, please do so in the comments!

(Disclosure: Tilly and the Buttons is proud to be working in partnership with Janome. All views expressed on the blog are my own and I never recommend any products or services that I honestly don't love - that’s just not how I roll. This blog post contains affiliate links, which means that if you choose to buy something from Amazon after clicking on one of the links, they compensate me for the review with a small percentage of what they make from that sale. Thanks for supporting the blog!)

36 comments:

  1. Thanks for this post - my machine keeps breaking and I feel a little lost without it so have been looking for a good second machine for such times when the other is out of service.

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  2. I have a 30 year+ Bernina that I loved for years but I now use a Janome TXL607 which I love. I tried the Bernina again the other day and hated it - too clunky and no bits & bobs I've got used to on the Janome!

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  3. Great tips Tilly. I love the way you've said to just get choose one and buy so you can start sewing, I often spend way too long choosing before making a purchase. I've written a few tips for buying a beginners machine too if any one is interested:

    http://tadpegs.blogspot.co.uk/2014/10/a-guide-to-buying-your-first-sewing.html

    It is especially difficult to choose your first one when you have no experience. I'm looking forward to the day I can invest in a top of the range one, probably won't be for several years yet though. Thanks again. Zoe

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  4. Hi Tilly , I would like to say that I purchased a DSK100 after seeing it on your blog !

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  5. Tilly tell your readers to source their machines locally the help and advice an tuition I received at Pembertons in Stirling was invaluable the man their was lovely and price exactly the same as Amazon !!

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  6. I have a 30+ year old basic Bernina and it is the best machine ever. I know seamstresses who make couture wedding gowns using the same machine. I also have a new, fancy schmancy computerized Bernina that I also love, but not as much. It cost well over $4k (USA) and can do lots of things, but I agree with having a good basic machine first.

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  7. What's the U.S. equivalent of the DKS100? I don't see one on the Janome site, but I may be looking in the wrong place.

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    1. Janome America said the only equivalent would be the Necchi EX100. They said they make Necchi now so thats the model that looks like the dks100 except it comes in black, not blue. :(

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  8. I bought my new machine - a Janome CXL301 - at the Knitting & Stitching Show last month. It was a great opportunity to upgrade (from my Mum's 1960's Singer), and as they had special offers, I was able to get one slighter better than I could have otherwise afforded. I'm really pleased with it, and unnaturally excited about being able to do automatic buttonholes! My Mimi blouse is currently a WIP, can't wait to show you when it's finished :)
    http://knitsewgrow.blogspot.com/2014/10/a-brand-new-sewing-machine.html

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  9. I too have a bernina 910 which I bought in 1984. It's brilliant and I am reluctant to move to a computerised machine as I can maintain this one well myself. However I have started to wonder about an overlocker which would be a whole other post I guess!

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  10. I have one of the smaller janome gems series machine.....it's tiny but a really great travel or first machine. My big, fancy pfaff was out of commission and I made a wedding dress on this little dynamo. Don't get a garbage machine, but you don't have to spend a lot to get the job done. Tilly is right, straight, zigzag and buttonholes with do 99% of your needs...everything else is gravy. Janome makes dependable and pretty quiet machines..I am a fan. I have a bernina440qe, featherweight, janome gem, and a elna.....the will all sew something wonderfully from my ss only to the fancy schmancy one

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  11. I would also like to know the U.S. equivalent of the DKS100, and more about the kitty embroidery stitch!!!

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  12. We also use Janomes in our studio, 20/50 and 30/40. The 30/40 is computerised and I confess I hate it. It is the one that our sewing machine service place recommends to lots of people but it has a huge bulk head and if you are over 5' 6" you can barely even see the needle. There are so many things to consider when buying a machine, and sitting at it yourself to try it at the shop I think is essential. I LOVE Janome machines, but you do hve to take care about details like that.

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  13. Fantastic post! I'm actually looking into upgrading my machine soon, so this is super handy. Thanks for the tips!

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  14. I bought the Janome Hello Kitty machine that is for young ladies and men learning to sew. She is a bad mammer jammer! I made tucks in two pairs of jeans first time using her. Not a problem at all. Love it!

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  15. If my trusted Bernina 1000 Designer should ever leave me - I've had it for over ten years and my mother for over ten year before that - I would without a doubt either go vintage (heard a lot of great stuff about the Singer featherweight) or a new mechanical Bernina 1008. In my opinion, the more fancy gadgets on a machine, the more things that can break. The most important thing in a machine is that the stitch is good, and I've read so much about stiches that jump, are different length, and different tenison (all with the same settings) and I was so surprised to hear it - never ever been an issue with my Bernina. That said, I'm a vintage girl and I use vintage techniques when I sew. I don't need a pretty kitty stitch... :) One last thing - don't buy any machine without testing it! A machine could have had wonderful reviews but still not suit you. A sewing machine is - I think - a very personal thing.

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  16. I have a Frister and Rossman Cub7 which I inherited from my Grandma. I didn't choose it, but I love it dearly and have refused offers to get an upgrade as a present. Whenever I take it in for a service the guy in my local shop raves about the cub series, they are workhorses that just keep going - a great buy secondhand if you can find one.

    I would like to echo Nicky Put the Kettle on - if you are buying a machine, go find a local specialist if at all possible. I know that my local specialist (David Drummond of Edinburgh) lets you use the machines to try them out. He also does repairs and servicing so he knows how the machines last and the long term issues they have. They may also be able to help you look for a second hand machine if you want to get a cheaper option and advise what would be good buy (also a good option for a beginner who doesn't want to spend too much).

    The one extra essential function I would add to Tilly's list for a basic machine is twin needle stitching - this is a really useful function that I use all the time, and offers a very professional finish with little skill required both on wovens and knits, which is a great thing for a beginner.

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  17. Dear Tilly, I can't tell you how happy I am that your sewing machine brand of choice is Janome! I have been sewing with Janome sewing machines for years. I started off with an old Singer inherited from Mom when she didn't want it any more, but then when I found a better job in my younger days I purchased a New Home sewing machine - Janome bought this brand, but I think, although I could be wrong, that New Home was the brand marketed in the United States by Janome?? Anyway that sewing machine still works and the other sewing machine was a gift from my Mom - the Janome Memory Craft 10001. I still plan on sewing my own clothing. I'm working with Lutterloh patterns. I like your style choices. I tend to like retro sewing and clothing - 1940's, 1950's and even 1970's and 1980's. I still haven't made anything yet, but I figure when I get the patterns to fit properly and can test sew them in muslin then I will get going - yeah famous last words. You inspire me a great deal! Thanks! Kathy

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    1. Yes, I got a New Home 8000 almost 22 years ago, and then a 6600P. Funny thing, I'm in the US and bought my 6600P here, but I'm not seeing them advertised any more. I *love* mine. My first sewing machine was a Kenmore and it sewed a great straight stitch and buttonholes. I had to wrestle with it a bit more, but the stitch itself was beautiful.

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  18. Both my machines are Janome a Mystyle 22 and the QC 6260. I love them both.

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  19. Good advice, to which I would add the following:
    To anyone who thinks they are getting serious about sewing (garments), I would highly recommend buying a serger instead of stepping up to a fancier sewing machine. For apparel, I find that a serger is so useful ( both for knits and for seam finishing). The only "fancy stitch" that I feel I really need on my sewing machine (BabyLock) is the 1-step buttonhole. :-)

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  20. I say whatever cash you have, spend it on quality—buy a simpler model from a good brand, rather than a lower-end machine with more "features." Engineering does make a difference in keeping the stitches even and the tension right, which means you'll spend much less time cursing at your machine.
    Also, it's good advice to get a machine from your local dealer. Many have free "intro to your sewing machine" classes you can take, and mine at least was super helpful. I also have a basic Bernina which I LOVE.

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  21. I definitely agree that the best sewing machine is the one you have (until it breaks...). I sewed happily on my mom's '80s Singer Sonata, which was a low-end, mechanical machine. But it had a buttonholer (4 steps), thread cutter in the back, and a bobbin winder, which was a LOT more than my friends' machines had. Sadly, it broke this summer.

    When I started looking up what type of machine to get to replace my beloved Singer, I was shocked at how many more features came standard with base models! I originally went into the search saying I needed a buttonholer (didn't matter how many steps), a bobbin winder, and an overlock stitch (but I didn't NEED that, just thought it'd be nice). I knew I wanted a mechanical machine rather than a computerized one, because I thought the computerized ones were a bit soul-less.

    But after some searching, I decided on the Janome Magnolia 7330. It has THREE types of ONE-STEP buttonholers (a fact that I realize is probably not that amazing to anyone who's been sewing on a modern machine), as well as a million other things I thought I would never use. But what has amazed me is that all of these extra features have improved my sewing skills, and pushed me to learn how to use them in my designs.

    I guess what I am trying to say is that it can be good to get a machine that has more features than you think you need, because you'll learn new skills you didn't even know you could learn.

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  22. Hi Tilly. I absolutely love my Janome DC3050. It is fantastic. If it failed, I would not hesitate to buy another, as it does an awful lot of sewing! How wonderful to be working in partnership with them. Congratulations!
    Incidentally, my last two Coco tops can be seen here:
    http://carolineparadigmdesign.blogspot.co.uk/search/label/Coco%20top.
    ATB. x

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  23. Hi! Not sure if my last post went through but the Janome dks100 is sooo pretty and I am thinking of seriously buying...can you post of video of this in action. You cannot find any review videos of this model anywhere :(

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  24. I bought a Janome 3300 beginner's machine as I really didn't know how much I would enjoy sewing. It's a sweet little thing. The problem is that within a couple of weeks I was frustrated at not being able to work through a few layers with batting. It wasn't very thick at all, but became stuck. Now I'm limited, and I LOVE sewing. I'm trying to make book covers but can't get the corners through. Unfortunately, I went past the return date and bought 2 new feet which aren't cheap. So I can't justify buying another machine.

    I would suggest that unless it's something you just want to have a bit of fun with, that you go for an intermediate machine that can take more layers. Because even a beginner might want to start with simple quilts for example.

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  25. I was just about to buy the Janome Memory Craft 6500, when the seller reminded me that it has no free arm. I had noticed that, but otherwise forgotten about or dismissed it. However, before I take the plunge, I would like to know whether you have any difficulty sewing in sleeves on your 6600. Do you use a different machine for that purpose, or how do you manage, without a free arm, and space to fit the armhole over the machine? Thank you.

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    1. Hi Ann, I don't sew sleeves around a free arm - I prefer to sew them with the loop on top of the machine, right sides out, if that makes sense. I find they're less likely to stretch or shift the fabric layers if they're not pulled around the machine. I hope this helps!

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  26. I needed a new sewing machine as have had the urge to make my own showclothes (I show an American Quarter Horse) so its 'Bling all the way!' I'm a real novice and a tad nervous too. I had an old Toyota that I bought in Argos years ago but I never really got on with it. I have opted for the Singer Confidence 7465, and I love it! :0)

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  27. I'm considering buying a new machine, and because I live in an apartment, I need a QUIET machine. I often like to sew at night, after work, dinner, house cleaning, etc., but there are rules about making noise after 8:30 PM. I cannot afford to buy a house, so a quiet sewing machine is really necessary. I now have a 40 year old Singer, (definitely not quiet) and am considering a used Bernina or maybe a Janome. I quilt, but cannot do free motion quilting on my old Singer because the feed dogs are stationary. I want a machine that allows me to drop the feed dogs for free motion quilting. I also want to make clothing as well as quilting and thread painting. I've read that Janome can be a noisy machine. Does anyone have any thoughts on which brand will provide quality and quiet all in one model?

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  28. Well, I've always had Brother machines but my Innovis600 has packed up after only five years, and I'm thinking of defecting to Janome! I realise this article is from eighteen months ago, but it was the DKS100 that caught my eye- seeing that you use one Tilly, might just have made up my mind for sure! Thanks! :)

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  29. Hi, Hobbycraft has Janome 4400 at £109, what's the difference between this machine and Janome model 521?

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