It is easy to get confused when shopping for a sewing machine; so many brands, features, price ranges, and more. It can be hard to know where to start! So let's break down some key elements to consider when looking for the best machine for you.
There are a few main brands that you are going to see when you go browsing for a new machine: Singer, Brother, Janome, Kenmore, White, Pfaff, Husqvarna Viking, Bernina, Babylock, and Juki. When considering brand, you want to think about how the machine is constructed and where the machine is made. Many brands no longer use parts made from metal, instead relying upon plastic, causing the machines to not last quite as long. In terms of where the machine is manufactured, consider whether having a product created in America important to you. If it is, then seek out a US manufacturer with "Made in America" on the box. My personal favorite brand for a mid-range price point is the Janome family of machines. I've taught on them for many years and they are consistent, well built, and easy to use for all sewing levels. I personally sew on older Husqvarna Viking and Bernina machines, but these are much higher in price and are only best when you are sure you are ready to jump into a serious machine.
I always tell my students that sewing machines are a lot like cars. They all do the same thing, but they are not all the same. Think ahead to the kinds of projects you might be interested in doing and match a machine with your needs. Some have the option for stretch stitches, some have a one-step buttonhole, others come with specialty feet, and some have special quilting features. What you want to avoid doing is getting a machine so basic that you out grow it quickly. And on the other hand, do not get talked into more machine that you know you would want, like special digital features or programmable digital embroidery stitches. Think about what you want to use it for down the road and go in with a plan. If possible, take a friend with you that knows a thing or two about machines to help steer you straight when the sales people try to impress you with shiny features. And just like with a car, give every machine you are considering a test drive!
The reality is, quality sewing machines are not cheap. Again, think about it like a car. I cannot afford the most expensive car on the lot, but I also do not want to buy the cheapest thing out there and be bummed that I shot too low right out of the gate. You want to get the best machine for your money. Mid-range Janome machines will cost from $300-$600. You can find Singer, Brother, and White machines at big box shops for very little money. Heck, even Ikea has a sewing machine in their shops now! If you buy a $100 machine, just have realistic expectations on how well it will perform versus a more expensive machine. Machines made of plastic will be less precise in the sewing because it's hard to have precision movement with plastic. The more you spend, typically the better the end result.
I highly recommend buying a machine from your local sewing machine shop. Not only is it nice to support your community, but a local shop wants you to be happy and will be there for you when you need face-to-face support. If you purchase your machine on-line or at a big box store, there is no one to call or to go to when you have questions or need help. Also, your local shop will sell all the matching accessories and specialty feet for your brand, so you can do a quick drop-in when you need more bobbins instead of having to order them on-line and wait for them in the mail. Many small sewing centers also offer classes to get to know the features of your new machine, so check for that as well. Not sure which shop is better than another? Go to the website of the brand you are considering, click on the "find a dealer new you" link, and go to a certified dealer. They will have more options and will be more knowledgeable than just a random shop.
Just remember that the key is to get yourself a sewing machine, first and foremost. Determine your budget and get the best machine you can for the price, because having a basic machine is better than having no machine at all!
Check out what Craftsy quilting instructor Beth Ferrier has to say about choosing sewing machines.