What is the right sewing machine for you?

*** Updated 11/15/2017

The short answer: the best one you can afford to buy. Good engineering costs money, plain and simple. If you really want to learn how to sew, you are going to need to invest in a piece of equipment that will make your new hobby enjoyable rather than an exercise in frustration. If you buy a machine for less than $100 don’t complain about it to me. I warned you. Also, buying a sewing machine is like buying a car – it’s personal. I like touch screens and push buttons and hate rollerballs and dial-a-stitch controls, while you might prefer them.

First, let’s talk about some things that make my top 10 7 essential features list for a sewing machine:

  1. Needle up/down control. This is a button that causes your needle to always stop in the “up” or “down” position when you stop pressing on the foot pedal.
  2. Needle position control. If there is one thing I really despise in a sewing machine, it is a couple of stitch selections with preset needle positions (left, center, or right) rather than the ability to move the needle to 5, 7 or 9 different needle positions during sewing.
  3. Automatic buttonhole. One that looks decent, please.
  4. Stitch length adjustment. Another “feature” that makes me scream is a bunch of pre-set stitch lengths. Let me control my own stitch length, puh-leeze.
  5. Stitch width adjustment. Read #4. Ditto.
  6. A motor that is strong enough to stitch through at least 4 layers of heavy denim. I like to make jeans, after all.
  7. Loads of accessory presser feet.

OK, now we can talk about sewing machine manufacturers. Bernina. I like Berninas. I think Berninas are best. I have owned Berninas for almost 40 years. Couldn’t be happier. So that’s my BEST advice. But if you don’t want to spend upwards of $1000 for a sewing machine, here are a couple of other options that might take you a long ways on your sewing journey.

  1. Pfaff and Viking are also premium brands, and there are loads if my friends in ASG who happily own these machines.
  2. Janome. I LOVE Janome, and I think they are the best engineered “lesser cost” machines. Full disclosure, I do own 5 of the now-discontinued Janome DC 2014 model. All of my beginning students sew on these machines, and love their ease-of-use and simplicity. Since I purchased these machines, Janome has discontinued this product line, which is too bad because it was a machine at the just-under-$500 price range that I think was a great value.
  3. Brother is the brand I most often see kids bring into my sewing studio. I am not in love with Brother machines. At all. They are not nearly heavy-duty enough for my needs, BUT if you are willing to spend at least a few hundred bucks, and preferably $300-$400, you can get something serviceable. ***UPDATE 1/21*** One of my most awesome sewing-student-moms informed me that you MUST ask your Brother dealer whether the model you are looking at has internal METAL moving parts. Thank you, HeathC. 😉 Metal moving parts = better engineering = less likely to fail/cause stitch problems = happier sewing student = happier sewing instructor. One quick test for metal – pick up the machine. Metal machines are heavier. Duh.
  4. I am least familiar with Babylock sewing machines, but they make a damn fine serger and coverstitch machine.
  5. Singer. Generally I don’t allow Singers to fraternize with my Berninas.
  6. Toy machines for kids. My comment on those machines cannot be published.

Where should you purchase a sewing machine?

  1. For gawd’s sake do not order a machine on the inter-net. Would you order a car you had never driven from an online source?
  2. Find a great dealer and test drive LOTS of different models. And manufacturers.
  3. Be sure to also test used machines. People trade up for new features, so it is easy to find good quality, used machines from reputable dealers that have been completely serviced.
  4. Craig’s list. NOT! Unless you are really familiar with sewing machine functionality (which you aren’t because you are reading this), you don’t know enough to buy a used machine from someone on Craig’s list.

Oh wait. You want to know SPECIFICALLY what machine to buy? And where? If you live in the greater Seattle area…..

  1. Pick something in the 3xx series or higher from Sewing Machine Service, also known as Bernina of Renton. Notice in the lower right corner they were just awarded Dealer of the Year for the western district a couple of years back. Those are MY guys.
  2. I have heard mixed results about Quality Sew and Vac dealers, but I think they might be the only option in our area for Brother and Janome. Go in and try out a few different models, and definitely have them sew through 4 layers of heavy denim. Pretty much any motor can sew through quilting cotton. Try to avoid the Project Runway/Hello Kitty/ or any other co-branded machines. You are paying something for that licensing, and it is not reflected in better engineering.
  3. There is a Viking dealership in Renton, so you could check out Viking and Janome there. No inside info on their customer service tho, sorry.

Good luck, and happy sewing!


33 Responses to What is the right sewing machine for you?

  1. Hi: Please change the title of your article to ” Only buy Bernina’s ”

    Are you perhaps a sales person for Bernina’s as you don’t have anything
    good to say about any other brand and there are many terrific sewing machines just as good or better than a Bernina. It sure sounds like you are getting paid to push them. Very disappointed in your article as it did not give me any information to help buy a sewing machine only YOUR brand.


    • Thanks for your comment Meril, and sorry my post/important feature list was not helpful. I am not a salesperson for Bernina, or currently affiliated with them in any way. What I do have is 50 years of experience sewing with various Bernina models. I also see many, many brands in my teaching studio – both their flaws and good points. In my opinion, the only other brand I commonly see that is worth purchasing is Brother – with the caveats that the internal working parts are metal. My purchasing criteria are likely to be different than many peoples as well – I look for value over the long term. I still own my original Bernina 830 Record that was purchased almost 40 years ago – and it works perfectly. Best wishes on your sewing machine shopping!

  2. Hi Maris, thanks for the information, really informative. I currently use a a Brother which was given to me, works OK but the amount of sewing I do I have been considering updating to a Bernina. (I have tried out a few models) Your article is great and just confirms for me that Bernina seems the way to go. Also, thanks for the tips on what to look for regarding stitch length and width control. Think I’ll also be looking for a machine that offers adjustable foot pressure.

  3. If you have not tried a Janome, then please do not put Janome in the same category with Brother. I urge you to try a Janome 6600 or 8900 for quilting.
    Try piecing and then try FMQ on one. They are a high quality machine, metal frame and parts, with all the features a quilter would want. The 6600 is a real workhorse, the 8900 is a smooth quiet machine with 8mm wide stitching if you need it. I owned a Bernina many years ago, paid a fortune for it and everything I bought for it cost a fortune as well. For the price and quality try out the Janomes. I am not a dealer, I am a sewist for 50 years.BTW, I owned a Brother for about five minutes, had to take it back. Lots of good engineered machines on the market. Shop around if you are wanting to get a good machine. Best wishes for those looking.

    • Thanks Diana! I think I have only had 1 Janome come thru my studio in nearly 4 years, so my experience with this brand is very limited. I do have a couple of friends in my local ASG who have purchased smaller Janomes as second machines – and been very happy with them. Thank you for your notes about this brand, and also the specific models. I will definitely be on the lookout for Janomes and see if I can get some personal experience with them.

    • Diana – I bought a Janome DC2014 – and love them! They are such a great machine for my beginning students and a very good price. what I appreciate is that they still have the features I consider critical, PLUS high-quality engineering. I have not looked at any other models because I was specifically looking for machines that parents would be interested in purchasing for their kids. But I would definitely suggest people investigate Janome – VERY impressed with this brand.

  4. Maris, like Diana, I too love my Janome. I have the 8900 and it is a great machine. I considered Bernina, but after researching both machines and having previously owned a Janome for 13 years (and it was still working great when I traded it in on my 8900) I felt the price difference was not worth it and the Janome has everything I could want in a machine.


    • I love hearing that Wanda! I totally agree that Berninas are high-priced, and get the fact they are not within everyone’s budget. And since my goal is really to promote sewing as much as possible, I want to know about other good quality machines I can recommend to students and their families. I also feel that you need to buy a dealer as well as a machine, and I have heard that the Janome/Pfaff dealer in my locale is not stellar. But that is hearsay – no personal experience on my part. Maybe I will wander over and test out some Janomes! Thanks for your help Wanda!

  5. If you want to try a Janome, check out Issaquah Sewing and Vacuum. I bought my 660 from them and they were very nice to deal with and have been helpful in the ensuing years. the 6600 is a solid machine with great reliability. The new 8900 looks great but I am not interested in the cost to move to it. And my 6600 sews many layers and like a dream.

    I just received a new to me, Bernina 1130 and am enjoying finding what a nice machine it is. I have looked at Berninas in recent years but the cost is just too prohibitive for my situation. I appreciate what you shared and hope you can understand that those of us who feel the same passion that you have for your Berninas, for our Janomes, Pfaffs, Viking, etc. just want to make sure our brand is seen with respect too 😉

    Thanks for being open to comments.

    • Thank you so much for your comments Michelle. I am very sorry if I seem like I do not respect other brands. The truth is that I have not ever owned any other brand, AND I do see lots of sub-par machines come thru my studio. Most of what I consider to be sub-par are the less-expensive models of Brother and Singer, frequently purchased for kids. The reason I describe them as sub-par is because I find myself spending a great deal of my time working with them to get them to handle the sewing jobs we are attempting in sewing camps. Sooo, I do not think that every model from a brand is necessarily sub-par – BUT – I also genuinely believe that you need to spend a certain amount of money to get a well-engineered machine. It is frustrating to me when parents buy a very cheap machine, and I watch their child struggle in class or sew camp trying to get a level of performance from it that the machine just won’t give. My fear is that the child will think SEWING is not fun, when in reality the problem is THE MACHINE she is using. I have my machine biases for sure – and those biases are based on SOME data – but I certainly am not an expert in all brands all models. I am anxious to try out some of the Janomes, and I promise to report back on my experience! Thank you for letting me know how much you love your Janome!

  6. Sewing can only be done if a person is having some passion towards its job. and also has some purpose to it. Best selection while sewing is the selection of machine..

    Brother PQ1500S High Speed Quilting and Sewing Machine is multi purpose machine and is having built-in automatic needle threader in it. But it is not recommended to use in those countries who doesn’t support 120 AC even voltage adatpor is connected to it.

    Though its little bit expensive than the rest but still its best..!!

  7. My son was recently cast in a major role in his school play. His school can’t afford to buy costumes for the play, so they’ve asked me to help make costumes. My old sewing machine broke a couple of years ago and I still haven’t bought a new one. It would be nice to buy one that works better this time. I should find a sewing machine that comes with feature #6. My old sewing machine didn’t have a very strong motor, so it died after I tried to use it to stitch through three layers of heavy denim. I don’t want that to happen again, so I’ll be sure to get a sewing machine that can stitch through at least four layers of heavy denim.

  8. Hi Maris,

    Thanks for sharing this post. Well, I want to share some tips for before buying a sewing machine. Such as- Check repair policies, Get the best machine you can for what you can spend, Buy from a dealership, not a big chain store, Sit down and sew on the machine, Bobbin winder ability, Get an idea about what you’ll get for your money in various price ranges and Compare your budget to the price machine you want. Are you agree with me?

    Barbara Harris

  9. This is a very helpful article. I can’t count the number of times I’ve told family members to spend a bit more to get a quality sewing machine instead of the cheapest thing they can get. It pays to get something made well and reliable than to save a few dollars. Thanks for sharing!

  10. I am 60 years old and have always wanted to learn to sew. I have purchased a couple of very low end machines over the years (under $200 from department stores such as Kenmore) . No wonder I have had bad luck with the most basic stitching, making bobbins etc. Maybe it’s the machine and not me (?)

    • Thanks, Julia. I have watched loads of kids struggle with low end machines, and as soon as they start using a better quality machine their stitching generally improves. Obviously not EVERYTHING can be attributed to a poor quality machine, but they sure don’t give you any help, either. Keep on trying to learn to sew – it is such a wonderful hobby!

      Happy sewing,

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