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The Top Five Things to Remember About How to Shop For & Buy A Sewing Machine

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Sewing requires some specialized tools, the biggest one being the sewing machine itself. If you're new to sewing, you might be tempted to get a machine as cheaply as possible. However, this is one of those cases where saving a few bucks now can end up causing you hours of frustration later. Purchasing a machine within your budget is necessary, but getting the cheapest (or free-est) machine out there is rarely the best option. We combined our own years of experience with expert tips from sewing machine sponsor, Janome America to bring you the top five things to keep in mind when shopping for a new sewing machine. We're talking here about entry-level or mid-range models for day-in-day-out sewing of clothing, quilting and home décor. We'll look at the top-of-the-line models that combine embroidery and other special features in future articles. Right now, you want to concentrate on ease-of-use, stitching precision, and reliability.

#1 Don't automatically drag Grandma's machine out of the closet or buy one for $5.00 at a garage sale.

Just because a sewing machine runs doesn't mean you're going to want to spend any time sewing on it. Even the most simple seam requires dozens of parts in the machine to be moving at hundreds of revolutions per minute – all in perfect sync. Anything that's slightly off results in skipped stitches, thread tangles, and bottles of Excedrin. Sewing is supposed to be relaxing. But a cheaply-made machine, or one with mechanical problems, will turn what should be a rewarding process into a series of frustrations. That's just a shame, because people often give up on sewing, thinking they just can't do it. In reality, the sewing itself isn’t frustrating, it’s the machine that's the challenge! You don't have to break the bank and buy the most expensive machine available, but you should buy the best machine you can possibly afford. A good machine makes sewing easier and the results more professional. 

The Janome 4120 QDC is a great mid-range option for sewing, quilting and crafting.

#2 Buy the right machine for how you want to sew.

You need a machine designed for what and how you want to sew. If you're planning to be a very occasional sewist, you don't need a feature-heavy model. First and foremost, you want a machine that makes good quality stitches. You also want something that's easy to use from the very beginning. You don't want to have to re-learn the machine each time you start a new project. If you're interested in sewing a lot of long, straight seams; you may find a very fast, straight-stitch model is your best choice. For most home décor projects, a mid-sized, portable machine with a decent selection of decorative stitches is ideal. If you're ready to get serious about home décor as well as adding in clothing and quilting projects, look for the following built-in features and specialty feet to make your life easier.

  • Automatic buttonholes
  • Specialty presser feet for inserting zippers, making precise quarter inch seams or sewing cording, piping or trims
  • A superior fabric-feeding system that can accommodate thicker fabrics
  • An automatic needle threader

A) Ribbon/Sequin Foot, B) Beading Foot Set, C) Piping Foot, D) Binder Foot, E) Cording Foot
For more about these feet as well as those shown below, see our expanded article on special-use presser feet.

A) Zipper Foot, B) Adjustable Narrow Base Zipper Foot, C) Custom Crafted Zig-Zag Foot

Knowing what/how you want to sew will help you narrow down the many choices available, and will allow you to tell a salesperson exactly what you're looking for. Below are some of those "ease-of-use" features we've been mentioning: a free arm, an automatic buttonhole foot, a top drop-in bobbin, and a great set of precise feed dogs with lots of helpful markings on the needle plate.

#3 Where you buy can be as important as what you buy.

Once you've decided on the basics of what you want your machine to do, you’ll need to decide where to shop. Most folks automatically think of Big Box retailers, such as Sears, Target or WalMart, as the best option for an economical machine. There are two reasons this is not always the best idea. 1) A good number of the inexpensive machines sold at these stores are basically disposable. Because of plastic gearing and the lack of an internal frame, they often can't be repaired when something goes wrong. 2) You get no support. A sewing machine requires service and support – maybe even a lesson or two, and you won't get any of that from a Big Box outlet. We're not saying all machines available at mass merchandisers are evil. Even Janome has some models available at these type of retailers. We are merely cautioning you about just grabbing a box off the shelf, assuming all machines are created equal simply because they've made it into a big name retailer. 

#4 Find a local dealer and take advantage of their classes and other stuff.

The Janome Magnolia 7325 is a basic electronic machine that goes way beyond the basics.

If you're dipping your toe into the world of sewing, having the expertise of a sewing machine dealer on your side can make your new experience so much more rewarding. Even if you aren’t looking to spend very much on your machine, your best option is a local dealer. You might be surprised to find that dealers, who offer service and support for your new machine, have models priced very competitively with the Big Box offerings – and you get far more for your investment. A local dealer can help you with any problems that arise, and many offer classes on a particular model of machine or on sewing in general. Better still, your dealer offers a connection to a sewing community – so you can hang out with other sewing enthusiasts and share your passion for pillows... or quilting, or clothing or anywhere your creativity takes you.

#5 Do a little shopping on the web first, then visit a store for a hands-on demo.

Visit the websites of machine companies, check out their selections, and learn which kinds of features are available on the various machines. You can do a lot of research online before you even walk into a store. When you're ready to buy, the final step is to make sure you "test stitch" on your chosen machine. Ask for a hands-on demonstration and go over the types of projects you are excited to get going on. By taking a little extra time in the store, you'll be ready to start your first project as soon as you get your new machine home and out of the box. Take a look at our Out Of The Box Basics article for set-up tips as well as a handy guide and definition table, showing a machine's main parts.

The Janome Horizon Memory Craft 8900 QCP: a machine experience so smooth,
easy and worry-free – it simply takes you away.

Following these tips will allow you to be more confident in your sewing machine purchase – and much happier with it for the years to come. 

Our thanks to Janome America for their help narrowing down the top five shopping tips. For more information on their complete line, visit janome.com or a Janome America dealer near you


Comments (25)

sewingmachinereviewer said:
sewingmachinereviewer's picture

Thank you so much for such amazing tips to get the best sewing machine. 

shehnaz kadri said:
shehnaz kadri 's picture

Really liked the article . Very usful and helpful.The option like Automatic Buttonholes,Feet presser,Zipper optiopns ,In built stitches option,LED display options ,

jay said:
jay 's picture

Hi! I plan to buy a handy and good sewing machine but have no idea which should i purchase. any suggestion? as i love to do some handcraft like dolls. at the same time i am a kindergarten teacher who wish to expose the sewing machine and the stuff to the children. ^^ Jay 

C. said:
C.'s picture

All four of my machines are Janomes and I love them all.  When I bought my 6600 six years ago, my friend was trying to decide on the 6600 or a husquvarna.  She chose the husquvarna and to this day is still so very sorry she did.  Not at all as user friendly as the janome 6600.  She loves my machine.  I have never had one problem with any.  My hubby just purchased the 8900 for me, so if any of you have anything to say about it or any good tips, please email me.  Also, I have the 9700 and want to sell it to get an updated embroidery machine that will accept the computer things.  Don't know whether to try a janome embroidery only or a brother.  Was considering the brother dream maker or one of the janome.  Any suggestions on either would be of great help.  My email is cmthot@hotmail.com.....thanks.  Claudia

Christi295 said:
Christi295's picture

Such a great article! As one who has sewn for years, I have forgotten what it must be like starting from scratch as far as buying a machine is concerned. Each machine I've "moved on to" satisfied needs as my skills and sewing projects advanced.

I whole heartedly agree with finding a dealer you can trust to help you find a machine, even if you're sure you want the one your friend has! Even if you live in a remote area that doesn't have a shop near by, having service support and helpful tutoring is invaluable, no matter that you might have to drive a few more miles to get it. They also have, most of the time anyway, older models of some very nice machines that have been serviced and are ready to go - you can get a great deal on a used model from a dealer, it might even come with attachments and pressure feet that you would not get with a new machine. I got my first Janome and Bernina models that way, and I was never sorry. 

lindijanej said:
lindijanej's picture

I just found your article after buying a new machine last weekend! lol I am glad to say, I did all those steps first and have had a written list of my main requirements so I could tick them off as I looked. Actually, I have gathered information for about 6 months. And guess what? I bought a Janome Horizon Memory Craft 8900QCP. It's a dream! :) I shopped around on the internet for the best deals, then rang a local dealer and they said they would match any price I found elsewhere (their price was the same as the best anyhow). Unlimited lessons as and when I require them, too. 

Boscogregg said:
Boscogregg's picture

I'm the proud owner of a Janome 12000, the reasons are simple:  I have a good reliable dealer for service and supplies, stitching and embroidery is of the highest quality, and it's easy to use.  This is my 4th Janome (I just keep "trading up") and I've loved each one!  Ooops, I almost forgot about my Janome Platinum 760 for taking to classes, it's a sweetheart of a machine, too!

Helen W. said:
Helen W.'s picture

I have a Janome MC3500 and wouldn't change it for the world.  Have never had any trouble with it, and I have really pushed the boundaries with it.

Cara Drew said:
Cara Drew's picture

I think the operative theme here is what to look for when BUYING a new machine. I have a 1920s Singer treadle which works well but I wouldn't go looking for one to buy, nor would I recommend one to a new sewist. I also have a Janome 2101, MC4000 and a 300e for all my embroidery needs. I also have a Toyota on a quilt frame and a Toyota overlocker (serger). The reason I have Janome is simple: they're well built, but most importantly they're easy to use.

Sunnie Mitchell said:
Sunnie Mitchell's picture

This article should be the first thing every machine buyer reads! I teach a 'total newcomer' course and have to insist my would-be sewers resist the urge to haul Gran's 70s-80s machine out of the cupboard unless they bring a receipt from a qualified repair tech affirming the machine has been serviced and is in perfect working order! I also make sure they don't bring a car boot sale (UK version of flea market) or jumble sale (UK version of garage sale) machine to the first class! In fact, I discourage them from bringing a machine at all - I provide three machines to learn on, including learning if they really want to sew:) Saves many a new sewer a very expensive mistake. 

Pamela G. said:
Pamela G.'s picture

I own a 1963 Kenmore that was most likely made by Janome. It is never given me a bit of problems. I learned to sew on this machine and still use it. Solid steel case! I also have a Bernina 550QE I love, a Brother Quattro for embroidering, and a Babylock Serenade that drives me crazy. Think I am going to sell it and get either a Janome or another Bernina!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ Pamela G - If you are serious about trading in the Serenade, try a test drive at a dealer on the Janome Horizon Memory Craft 8900QCP - I think you'll really like it. 

babs4008 said:
babs4008's picture

I've been sewing off and on for many years.  I have a Bernina 1130, two Viking Husquavarnas, and a couple of vintage Singers, but my sewing didn't become truly enjoyable until I bought a second hand (like new) Janome 6600P.  My sister had the 6600P, and when I tried it, I knew I wanted one for my own.  Don't get me wrong, I love my Bernina and Vikings, but the ease of use and features of the Janome have quickly made it my go-to machine.  I have not had one minute of trouble with it, and it sews everything effortlessly.  If I do encounter a problem, it is always user error.  It is easy to use, and I look forward to sewing with it.  Yes, it cost more than my other machines combined, but it has helpled me bring my sewing to the next level because I use it so often.  I am so glad I bought this machine.  And no, I am not affiliated with Janome in any way.

Catherine M said:
Catherine M's picture

Good tips. I bought a machine on craigslist for $150. Tried it with the fabric and thread the seller had in the machine. seemed to work good. At home the thread just balled up and it wouldn't sew. The seller wouldn't give money back. Took it to be repaired and it cost $225 (included vacuum/clean) , but i could have bought a new machine and wish had because the dealer who fixed my machine had good brand models (new) for that much.

Rebecca Grace said:
Rebecca Grace's picture

I own a TOL computerized modern machine, plus two Singer Featherweights, one made in 1935 and the other made in 1951, that I really, REALLY love for piecing quilts and I would recommend those vintage machines over any modern machine to beginners.  No one builds anything that solid today.  Modern machines that cost $1,000 or more often lack basic features like adjustable presser foot pressure that comes standard on every Featherweight machine made since 1933.  The straight stitch on a Featherweight is absolutely without parallel, and it's such a basic, easy machine that just about anyone can learn to use it well AND maintain it themselves.  All of the attachments are high quality, and although it only does a straight stitch forwards and backwards, that is really all a beginning quilter or garment sewer needs.  It's portable, it's lightweight, and you can very usually find one for $300 or less.

TERRY WEISS's picture

I have 3 Singer 301's and they have the same exact motor and bobbin system as a featherweight. The pressure adjustment is critical to sewing well - I have a Brother P2600 which is a great machine, but without the pressure adjustment, it balks at very thin and very thick fabrics. I also have a Kenmore 1040, a wonderful little machine that is my stand by for difficult fabrics.

Patcole46 said:
Patcole46's picture

Shop for dealer that appreciates your business and also gives beginner classes.  Hang out at the store and see if the customers are welcome after the sale.

Judy R. said:
Judy R.'s picture

For me one of the primary tips is buying from a reliable dealer who will be there to help you and has reliable machines to buy. I got a basic machine from my dealer many years ago and as my sewing skills improved and my needs advanced, I have upgraded several times from the same dealer.  

LoriWinColorado said:
LoriWinColorado's picture

I made the mistake of buying an inexpensive machine at Sears, and it was defective right out of the box!  I learned my lesson and invested in a quality machine and went from frustration to completed, beautiful projects immediately!  Everything that is said here is true.

NancyS said:
NancyS's picture

I have a wonderful Janome Combi 10 - I've had it for 25 years and while, I take VERY good care of it, it has been a powerhouse and is still going strong.  On my wishlist is an automatic needle threader and automatic buttonholes with a few choices of b.h.  and maybe embroidery feature.  But I'm not going to give up my Combi while it's still taking care of all my sewing needs.

Marcella said:
Marcella 's picture

I think the information is spot on, especially the part of finding a good dealer! The other thing is: a machine with lots of stitches is usually more versatile, literally...it moves better and lighter in all directions.Ofcourse we don't really need automatic buttonholes, lots of stitches or embroidery but it is so much fun! I learnt to sew on a second hand oldfashioned machine 40 years ago and if I have to I can still make clothing with straight stitch only but boy am I happy to have a lovely modern sewing machine! Makes life easier and fun! Greetings from Holland, Marcella

Nancy Davis said:
Nancy Davis's picture

I've been sewing 70 yrs..have used old ones, bought 5 new ones over the years.. I've found a good sewing machine mechanic can make most old ones work very well..some are really better made than new ones. (of course they don't have all the bells and whistles...)  Right now using one about 2 yrs old..have to drag out the instructions a lot, if I'm not using it every day. A good , even straight stitch is a valuable thing.

melissasews said:
melissasews's picture

This is good information, but honestly most new sewing machines are OVER Priced and wont last.  Most are TOO featured rich for the average sewist.  Do we really need 2000 stitches???  I sew on and OLD 1950's machine and I love it! Simple and a great stitch!  I know your sponsored by Janome, but I think there is nothing wrong an older machine!

Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home said:
Liz Johnson.Editor.Sew4Home's picture

@ melissasews - thanks for your comment; there is certainly an exception to every rule and recommendation, and we're glad to know you are happy with your machine, which I bet you take very good care of. We've just heard so many sad stories about people who feel like they're sewing failures when the frustration is not in their skills but in their machine. If you shop for a quality brand, there are lots of great options that are wonderfully built and moderately priced. In many ways, they are better than ever. I certainly agree I'd be hard-pressed to use 2000 stitches, but a good collection of decorative stitch options is pretty fun.