You’ve caught the bug and there’s no getting rid of it. Congratulations! The sewing bug is one of the greatest around. Of course, now that you spend all your spare time sewing, you may realize you want a machine that can keep up with you. There’s a lot to choose from, in fact it might seem overwhelming when you see all the features you can choose from as you move beyond basic. We’ve put together a list of the top ten features to look for on more advanced machines, so you can figure out exactly what you want and have the confidence to shop with knowledge.
Janome is our Signature Sponsor here at Sew4Home, and we really love their products. But, no matter what you choose, the biggest and most important thing to keep in mind when buying a more advanced machine is to shop at a sewing machine dealer. Don’t be sucked in by the big box retailer. You need a place to go when you have a question, or need support, or in the event your machine needs service. These are the kinds of things you can expect from a dealer. A new, more advanced sewing machine can be a serious investment; you should have a friendly place to go whenever you need something. If you want to read more about shopping for your first machine, check out: The Top Five Things to Remember About How to Shop For & Buy a Sewing Machine.
First time or repeat customer, you should always ask to sew on the machine while you are shopping. This is a great list of features to ask to be demonstrated.
This one is huge. It makes sewing so many different project SO much easier! When you press the needle up/down button, it will make sure the needle always stops in either the up or down position at the end of your seam. Most of the time, you’ll select down. This means the needle will remain in the fabric when you stop, so you can pivot a perfect 90˚ and start the next seam cleanly. This is also great if you’re doing intricate applique work that requires you to maneuver around turns. And you’ll also use it all the time if you’re quilting because it lets you contemplate your next turn without skipping any stitches.
Locking Stitch Button
Just like it sounds, this button locks your stitch for you, basically making it so you don’t have to sew backward (or back-tack) at the start and end of a seam. This is especially helpful if you are sewing with decorative stitches, because you can make the end of your stitching contain an invisible lock stitch, so the decorative stitch pattern is undisturbed.
One-Hand Needle Threader
This is a needle threader built into the machine. Usually, you pull down a special mechanism, which catches your thread and pokes it through the eye of the needle for you, so you don’t have to strain to see. It’s a great time-saver and minimizes frustration.
One-Step Sensor Buttonhole
If you’ve ever made a buttonhole, you will understand how wonderful this feature is. It works in conjunction with a special foot and a sensor on the machine. You place the button you’ll be sewing into the foot. The foot then works with a sensor on the machine to create a buttonhole perfectly sized for the button you are using.
A knee lift is a lever that hooks into the side of the machine and hangs over the table to your – well, to your knee. Otherwise, why would they call it a knee lift? When this apparatus is plugged into the machine, it allows you to raise and lower the presser foot by pushing the knee lift, so you can keep your hands on your fabric. This works especially well with the Needle Up/Down button, allowing you to maneuver large pieces of fabric or do intricate work with both hands.
Automatic Thread Cutter
This feature is something found mostly on the very high quality machines, but it is fantastic! When you touch this key, it snips your top and bobbin thread for you. On some models, the feature can even be programmed in, so it will snip your threads at the end of a stitch. Once you sew on a machine with this feature, you will wonder how you ever lived without it.
Speed Control Slider
This is like the cruise control of sewing. It helps keep you on task if you want to go slowly and carefully or pushes the limit when you’re ready to roll, like when stitching long, straight seams. It also helps eliminate that jerky blast of speed when your foot spasms on the foot control after too much sewing! And, you can slide it while you’re sewing if you’re one of those folks who likes to change her mind on the run.
Adjustable Foot Pressure
For the majority of sewing jobs, the standard pressure with which the foot rests on your fabric is fine. For specialty sewing, being able to manually adjust pressure is a plus. For example, thin and pressure-sensitive fabrics (like velvet), require a reduced pressing force, while thick fabrics and fabrics with a smooth surface (like vinyl) require a higher pressing force.
Truly automatic thread tension can only be accomplished by computer sewing machines that have electronic sensors to measure fabric thickness or electronic tension motors to set tension by stitch type. Metered top thread tension measures fabric thickness and is the best auto tension technology. Auto tension by stitch type ignores fabric thickness, so you may have to adjust with a dial or on-screen. Mechanical sewing machines only have numerical tension dials to manually adjust tension for the different fabrics, threads and needles.
Superior Feed System
The SF System is unique to Janome models, however some other manufacturers offer some similar options. The key is in those rows of little grippy teeth you see. They’re called “feed dogs” because they are what’s “feeding” your fabric along as you sew. The SFS is a 7-piece feed dog system that supports fabric on all sides of the needle: front, back, left and right. This provides smooth, consistent, pucker-free sewing on a wide variety of fabric types.