Sewing Blog

Which Type of Sewing Machine Is Best for a Beginner?

When you’re just getting into the world of sewing, you might feel stuck when choosing your first sewing machine. With so many types of sewing machines suited for beginners, you may feel like there are too much options. I often receive emails from beginner sewers asking which sewing machine is the best one to start with.

Well, the truth is that there’s no one best choice. As always, it all depends on your needs, budget, location and what you plan to sew.

Let’s get rid of this confusion and talk about the different types of sewing machines and the features you should look in a machine that will work for you for years.

Types of sewing machines

Leaving out the embroidery machines (which belong to a totally different category), there are three groups that all sewing machines fall in:

  • Manual
  • Mechanical
  • Computerized

Manual sewing machines

Vintage Manual Sewing Machine

Photos licensed via Creative Commons

Manual sewing machines are the vintage sewing machines your grandma and great-grandma used. Sometimes you can find them in hand-me-down shops, thrift stores or yard sales.

They don’t need to be plugged in to sew because they have a foot pedal that makes the presser foot move. While they are super nice to have, I wouldn’t suggest one of these as a first sewing machine. Antique, manual machines come with fewer stitches (just the straight stitch and sometimes the zigzag) and they’re really hard to coordinate your foot and your hands.

Mechanical sewing machines

Most modern machines for beginner are mechanical machines. In my personal experience, as a lifetime owner of a few mechanical sewing machines, I think they’re best for beginners for a few reasons:

  1. They won’t cost you an arm and a leg (so you can spend more on fabric!)
  2. They are easy to care for yourself. While you may not be able to fix a broken sewing machine, you can definitely do regular cleaning maintenance and put some oil on the metallic joints, saving money in the long run.
  3. If you choose your machine wisely, it will last a very long time, without needing too much extra maintenance.

Computerized sewing machines

At the other end of the spectrum, you will find the computerized sewing machines. These high-tech machines have a lot of functions (most of them you will never use — and I mean never!) that are likely overwhelming for a beginner.

Computerized Janome Machine

Computerized sewing machines takes care of a lot of things, like adjusting tension, remembering settings and producing consistent stitches from start to end.

While you may want a computerized machine in the future, I’d suggest starting with a mechanical machine first. This way you’ll be able to judge if you really need all those bells and whistles. Plus, these machines are usually higher in price than the average mechanical machine.

7 sewing machine features you can’t do without

No matter your skill level, there are a few basic features you’ll need right off the bat. Plus, there are a few features you will certainly appreciate having as you become more skilled.

Here are those must-have features, in no particular order, so you can check them off while choosing your first mechanical sewing machine.

1. Presser feet

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - Types of sewing machines for beginners - included specialty feete

A basic sewing machine should come with at least a buttonhole foot and the regular zipper foot. Many modern entry-level sewing machines come with more presser feet, and it’s a good thing. You’ll find yourself playing with them in no time!

2. Accessory compatibility

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - Types of sewing machines for beginners - low shank extra specialty feet

While your first sewing machine should come with the few accessories named above, you may want to purchase additional accessories and presser feet. Make sure your machine is compatible with universal feet (you will find them labeled as the low shank or the slanted shank feet). This way you’ll be able to add variety to your sewing projects.

3. Stretch stitches

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - Types of sewing machines for beginners - basic stretch stitches

Although you can sew knit fabrics with just a zigzag stitch, a triple zigzag, a three-step zigzag and a triple straight stitch will make your machine even more versatile. If you plan to sew knits, this will save you a lot of headaches!

While you’re at it, check that you get a decent variety of other stitches — at least 10 to 15 — to play with.

4. Stitches adjustable in length and width

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - Types of sewing machines for beginners - wdth - length and backstitch

You want to be able to adjust both the length and the width of your stitches, separately. This is important to fine-tune each seam — you may want different lengths and widths for baste stitching, buttonholes, stretch stitches (just to name a few).

5. Backstitch functionality

The vast majority of the seams you’ll sew will be backstitched on each end, meaning you sew a stitch in the opposite direction to seal the seam. You can’t just turn the hand knob backward (it won’t sew!), so the only way to backstitch with a button/leverage to push. It’s a must have, no matter what.

6. Adjustable needle position

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - Types of sewing machines for beginners - adjustable needle position

This is a missing feature, on my sewing machine. I have to admit that, when I chose it (more than 15 years ago), I hadn’t seen a lot of machines with that functionality. But this can make a whole world of difference when topstitching, using an edge stitch presser foot to get consistent results.

7. Free arm

Sewing hems on pants or sleeves is way easier if you can free your sewing machine arm. This is usually achieved by pulling away the base/case out toward the left so you can slip the sleeve on and sew it in the round!

Serger Pepper 4 Craftsy - Types of sewing machines for beginners - free arm

A few more considerations for choosing your sewing machine

Go for a heavy-duty metal frame

If you plan to sew a lot, I suggest choosing a sewing machine that has a metal frame inside. You can’t see this from the outside, but you can try lifting it — if it’s heavier than you expected, it probably has a metal frame. Or, you can always ask the dealer.

Here’s another trick: Search for spare parts for the machine make and model you’re interested in, and look if the parts are plastic or metal. If they’re plastic, you may want to consider a different machine.

Brand matters

Choose a sewing machine from a well-known brand, no matter which one it is. This is because you will be able to find spare parts and accessories, and you will have an easier time finding someone to service your machine if needed.

38 Comments

Mary D

While a lot of the decision on what machine to buy for a first timer may depend a lot on budget, I would truly recommend having a mechanical (and or a vintage) machine in the mix. By vintage I am not talking about the non electrical ones, but the older Kenmores, Sears, etc. They usually have several utility stitches plus buttonhole stitch that covers a lot of sewing projects.

I taught my sister and niece to sew last year and gave them a vintage Kenmore 8 stitch and Babylock 1550 to continue their sewing adventures. Both mechanical and they have plenty of stitch choices. The Brother Project Runway type machines are low priced, contain a multitude of stitch choices and can be a good choice of a newer machine for beginner sewers. It all really depends on what type of sewing one will do.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Mary, and thanks for adding your comment!
I agree with your point of you, with just one little reserve: if it’s your first sewing machine and you’re going to self-teach yourself, be sure to choose a just-serviced vintage machine, with an available manual and you’ll be all set for success 😉

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Joan Lemon

Get lots of demonstrations from different dealers, where possible. Most reputable dealers will demo a machine and let you try out also.
‘Go on line to view the various makes and types of machines and what they will do, before you begin your search, and do not rush!
Most good dealers will offer a free “beginner’s class after purchase.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Joan, and thanks for adding your tips!
They are really valuable: I am a fan of online research but actually trying the machine is def better 😉

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Pat

I wouldn’t consider machine that didn’t have a needle up/down feature. You can set it so that when you stop moving forward it stops either above or in the fabric. It makes turning corners much easier and ensures that when you stop in the middle of a run for some reason, you will continue from exactly the same point.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Pat!
Thanks for replying 🙂
In 35 years of sewing, I have never owned a sewing machine with this feature, although I agree is a cool one… just I don’t think it’s mandatory for a beginner who’s just approaching to this world, since you can achieve the exact same results by turning a hand knob (and saving money). After a few seams, it becomes a sort of Pavlovian conditioned reflex 😀
I think you’ll agree we’re in the field of personal preferences (and low budgets = story of my life!)

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Melissa Parish

Excellent article. I have a Brother LX2763 and it is great for a beginner. I have been sewing less then a year and I am hooked. So in hindsight, I wish I had known to look for a machine with an applique stitch. That is my only complaint. But at the end of the day, my basic Brother LX2763 is the right machine for me. It cost less than $100 and it is very durable.

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Nancy Birger

If you have zig zag stitch on your machine you can do appliqué. Set it for a very narrow length and width and use a fine matching thread or clear or dark 004 policy thread.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Thank you, Melissa, for adding this (and for your sweet words too!).
As Nancy added (thank you, Nancy), you can mock-up an appliqué stitch with just a zig-zag. I always use it and works like a charm (and for 100$ your sewing machine was a deal, indeed!)

Happy sewing to both of you 🙂

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Maxine Reece

The only other thing that really matters to me is a reputable dealer who can teach you how to use your machine and can handle any problems that may come up. Very important!

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Maxine, and thanks for adding your tip!
I totally agree with you, having a real person that can help you learning can be a great boost if you’re so lucky to live next to a reputable dealer (sadly, I don’t… booooo :()

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Gina M

Customer support and classes are also extremely important. Sometimes the best brand choice for YOU can be determined by dealership(s) closest to your home/work. Like the old TV sitcom, “Cheers,” a place where everyone knows you by name/model of machine. If you live remotely, does the machine brand have on-line classes, YouTube, or is there one on Craftsy, etc?

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Gina!
I totally agree with your point of view: as I wrote at the beginning of the article, there’s no “ultimate perfect sewing machine”, just “the perfect sewing machine for you, at this moment”.
Thank you so much for adding your tips <3

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Jennie

Mechanical machines from the 50s and 60s are the work horses of mechanical machines. They are simple to use, some have straight and zigzag stitches, others have cogs that create special stitches. These machines with sew through heavy fabrics like leather. The best part is that they are metal, easy to use and repair. They are usually inexpensive too. I just bought a Singer 327k to add to my Babylock.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Jennie!
I agree with you, they are work horses. I would just suggest, for a beginner, to make sure to have a just-serviced sewing machine and to have a manual available: they can be hard to understand and thread, sometimes… nothing too bad, but for the first time sewers, they can be daunting, in my humble opinion. It certainly depends on the model and brand, by the way!
(I love old Singer, btw ;))

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Linda P

Isn’t that Janome 2030 computerized?

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Jackie Davis

I believe that there is a quote “When starting out purchase a machine for the sewer that you want to become”

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Terry Sheldon

But you don’t want to spend that kind of money when you’re a beginner and don’t even know if machine sewing will “stick.’

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Jackie and Terry!
As always, the truth sits is right in the middle: you want to spend enough money to get a great tool that you won’t outgrow too fast, but not too much that you will regret later if you see you don’t like sewing… And with his in mind, I’ve compiled my list 😉

Happy sewing <3

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Reese

I do agree with much of your thoughts on a machine for a beginner, but I think you missed the boat on some things to consider. I agree…the best machines for a beginner are the mechanical type, either manual or motor run.

I will disagree with the premise that manual machines are “really hard to coordinate your foot and your hands.” Maybe for some, but with a little understanding of what works best for the individual to co-ordinate themselves, it’s quite a natural rhythm for many, dare I say most, that are willing to try it. If a child can learn on a handcrank, surely an adult can as well, treadles are not the only types of manual machine. There is a lot of information out there now, in groups and on youtube, on how to use treadles and handcranks, and how to use the tools for such vintage machines.

Same with the mechanical motored vintage machines, which IMO ranks up there as the most ideal beginner’s machine for the following reasons: Basic stitches, and they do them well; the beginner sewer also can learn sewing machine maintenance on a machine that is solid and easy to clean/repair by oneself, back to basic stitches; the beginner sewer can learn how to troubleshoot machine stitching issues with less worry of messing up their machine, takes a lot to “throw out timing” or other issues with a vintage motored or manual mechanical machine; the beginner sewer learns how to not depend on those extra overcast stitches to make a clean and professional finished product; the beginner sewer doesn’t become dependent on computerized options (ie:needle up/down) that takes part of the exercise of thinking through the sewing process away; there are tools that one can find that make the options of buttonholes and such a non-issue, and can find how to use them on youtube and blogs with a click of the a search; free-arms can make some projects easier, but aren’t necessary to accomplish those projects; backstitching option isn’t a dire necessity, helpful yes, but there are other methods you can do to accomplish a solid locked seam; adjustable needle can be handy, but so is an adjustable foot for edge-stitching/hemming/cording/zips and such; if the beginner sewer is desiring to machine applique, or use decorative/finishing stitches, there are vintage mechanical machines that offer stitch options, either built in or with cams. I could go on and on, and some of my points were skimmed over in Monica’s article which was linked.

So over all, yes I agree…just felt like there was a dis-service directed towards the basic mechanical machines, esp. the manual ones.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Reese!
Thank you so much for sharing your (highly shareable) point of view with us!
As I already wrote to answer to another similar comment, my only concern would be in being sure:
a) you get a just-serviced vintage machine, to avoid starting with an out-of-timing machine,
b) you get a manual with it (since on YouTube it’s harder to find old machines’ videos on threading/troubleshooting and I’ve experienced some model/brands are not that intuitive to start with).
Just my personal opinion, by the way. As I’ve said you really added great information and value to this topic… thank you So Much <3

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Karen

I agree – computerized machines are ok but the mechanical ones are less temperamental and you don’t have to have a dealer handy all the time. I had a Kenmore for close to 40 years before a move from Ga to Tx killed it – or close enough. Basic zig zag, stretch stitches, and a few attachments and you are good to go. Wouldn’t hurt the new sewists to learn basic hand stitches for hemming, button holes, different types of button attaching, embroidered appliqué like on crazy quilts, etc. I currently have a Janome Memory Craft 6600P – but I would discourage a beginner on it. Also, I would encourage newbies to join classes or clubs sponsored by sewing machine dealers – usually there are experienced sewists that will mentor and befriend the novice.

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Nel

Whenever I buy any ‘appliance’ from a vacuum or toaster to a washing machine or fridge, I try to find a repair shop or on-call repairman and ask two crucial questions: 1) what kind of machine do you see for repairs the LEAST? 2) what brand or model of machine is used in commercial contexts?

Find the vacuum that’s used on cruise ships and in hotels or by office-cleaning services in your area; find the kind of sewing machine that is used in ‘shops’ where people make clothes all day long, all year long; buy the washing machine that the repair guy tells you he almost NEVER gets repair calls on. Ask your mechanic – not your car dealer – ‘which car would you buy if YOU needed a car for my purposes?’

A dealer is paid to sell you his/her company’s products, but a person who specializes in repairs – especially if he/she has been in business for a long time – can tell you the brands and models that will serve you for a long, long time with minimal repairs and with good availability of parts and supplies. They’ll also tell you when you can just not bother taking the optional ‘appliance insurance’ because you’re unlikely ever to need to use it.

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CherryGingham

I would call myself an experienced beginner. I have had a lot of problems over the years with electronic tension control on low end ‘computerized’ machines, that seems to be at the heart of nearly all 1 star reviews.

Now I’m on a very solid, basic, completely manual, highly adjustable machine, the singer 4423 heavy duty and I couldn’t be happier. Sewing is suddenly easy.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi Cherrygingham (love your username!), thanks for your lovely comment.
I totally agree with you: sometimes less features equals more flexibility and heavy duty… LESS IS REALLY MORE 😉

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CherryGingham

Hi Irene. I’d like to thank you too, for this article. I think these tips will help out a lot of beginners. This is the advice I wish I’d had when looking for my first machine.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

These words totally made my day! This is why I write: to help beginners quickly find their love for sewing, skipping the boring paths.
Thank you, CherryGingham 😘

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Mable Diez

I am appreciate with Irene Valle. This article is so useful for bargainer. Do you need to stay up with the quick evolution of fashion trends? Would you like to save extra cash? does one need to be artistic and apply your own skills? Then you most likely would like a Sewing machine at home. Sewing machines aren’t simply meant for garment factories. Most homemakers have a minimum of one sewing machine at home.
Some people simply like to produce their own garments exploitation their own styles. Some square measure simply obsessed with the craft, while some invest in it to be able to begin a business. Meanwhile, some simply need to possess one though they’re still learning to use the machine. Nonetheless, there’s nothing wrong with all of those reasons as a result of owning a sewing machine could be a sensible investment. you’ll eventually discover the advantages of getting one when regularly using it.
To cut the long story short, we have a tendency to complete that having a sewing machine is a bonus. We’ve come back up with the explanations why you must conjointly consider owning your own sewing machine.

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Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

Thanks, Mable!
I totally agree with you.
I would also add that using a sewing machine is a great skill to teach a child, to help his fine coordination.
Thanks for sharing.
Irene

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Granny

Excellent advice. Buy what is serviced locally. Many times you can find reliable second hand machines from schools and estate auctions for very small price. Buy a mechanical basic machine with basic stitches. The machine I bought new over 40 years ago with seven stitches, two speed motor is still going strong today. Yes, I did outgrow it and now have a computerized one for embroidery, fancy stitches, etc. Enjoy!

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Jackie

I have purchased many used sewing machines. I use them to make a quilt or two just to make sure they are working well. Sometimes I have to down load a manual. Then once they are working well and I know the machine I find it a new home for them with someone just starting to sew. Someday they may want something different, but a sewing machine and some fabric can evolve into a life long passion. I’ve assisted many beginners. Although I own several computerized machines my favorites are still the old mechanical ones from the 1950’s.

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Madeline

Thanks for the article! Selecting a machine can be so confusing for an absolute beginner, as there are so many different features available (and corresponding terminology!).

I would like to suggest a correction. The article states “[m]ake sure your machine is compatible with universal feet (you will find them labeled as the low shank or the slanted shank feet).”  Slant shank was a Singer exclusive – machines with it include models like the 301, 401, Touch & Sew, Futura and Athena/Touch-Tronic series. Low shank and slant shank are not the same and are not interchangeable, unless you have a later model slant shank machine that uses clip-on feet and have the right width foot for the “ankle”. Most slant needle machines took screw-on presser feet, though. You can buy generic presser foot adaptors to convert an older machine to take universal clip-on feet, but the original feet tended to be of higher quality.

Hope this may be of some use! 🙂

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Mariana

Great article, Irene!

And so many valuable considerations in the comments!
I love the features you’ve covered and especially your advice at the end about the metal frame. I agree 100% that plastic parts (in the actual working ‘inside’) in any type of sewing machine are the worst and will brake soon. Every sewer should avoid those type of machines. It’s for a purpose why all industrial machines, designed for a non-stop factory work, contain only metal parts.

Thanks a lot for sharing all this! I’m happy to find this and other of your articles here on Craftsy. Great work.

Cheers from Down Under,
Mariana

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Elizabeth

I agree: a serviced, used mechanical machine is a good choice. I bought a used Bernina 731 machine in 1979 that served in a school home economics classroom. It survived a lot which I could tell partially from the swear words carved into the base. With me it survived a flood! It still works like a dream even with a crack in one of the two non-metal parts. Now my daughter has it and I have a 830 which has a buttonholer and a few more fancy stitches. It’s heavy!
During high school my mom bought a more modern singer, when they were changing to plastic parts. I could never really get the tension to stay right.

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Irene Valle // Serger Pepper Designs

Hi, Elizabeth!
Thanks for adding your personal experience to this topic. I love to read about old sewing machines that might narrate us so many tales if they just could speak 😀
I think it all depends on how much reliable is the man who services the machine (hubby fixes sewing machines and sergers at his day job, and he sometimes tells me about machines that had their timing totally ruined by someone who thought he was a good repairman :/
Happy sewing,
Irene // Serger Pepper Designs

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Eli

Hi Irene,
I was looking for this from a very long time. Thanks to you for sharing such good knowledge and I would like to thank you for your advise regarding the metal frame.

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Sarah

Great post. Very good information. Thanks for share.

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