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May 30, 2014

How to Choose a Sewing Machine, PART 1

Friends, after buying a car, is there any purchase more fraught than that of a sewing machine?

And I'm not just talking about one's first sewing machine.  Choosing a sewing machine is often more difficult for the experienced sewer; there's often more at stake and we're (usually) willing to invest more money (which widens our choices).

I think you know where I stand when it comes to sewing machines.  Today's post isn't about my preferences, however.  It's a guide to help clarify what kind of sewing machine you need.

The more thought you give to your own preferences, the easier it will be to decide.

Here are some questions I've come up with.  Please feel free to add to the list in your comments!

1. What kind of sewing do you do most often?  (i.e., mainly garments, leather bags, automobile upholstery)

2. Do you need elaborate embroidery stitches, and if so, for what?

3. What kind of fabric (or other materials) do you usually sew with?

4. Do you need a zigzag stitch or is most of your sewing straight-stitch?

5. Are you open to owning multiple machines or are you limited to owning only one?

6. Do you own a serger?  (This can eliminate the need for a zigzag stitch for knits)

7. Do you prefer a new model or are you open to vintage sewing machines?

8. Mechanical or computerized machine -- do you have a preference?

9. Do you want a machine that makes decisions for you (i.e, tension, recommended stitch length, presser foot pressure, etc)?

10.  Will you be having your machine serviced regularly or do you prefer a machine you can service yourself?

11. What is your budget? 

12. Do you care about the potential resale value of your sewing machine?

13. Do you need your sewing machine to include instruction/classes at the store where you purchased it?

14.  Do you need a machine you can easily lift and/or carry or is your machine unlikely to be moved?

15. How long do you expect your machine to last?

16.  What are your "deal-breaker" features?

There are a lot of things to consider before making a sewing machine purchase.  Most of all, you need to know yourself.

Reading other people's blogs, I'm sometimes surprised to hear how often sewing machines can't handle a sewer's projects, require constant servicing (or the purchase of expensive accessories), or are just incredibly fussy.

And what can be more unfortunate for someone just starting out than to struggle constantly with a machine that's not up to the job -- you don't know if you're causing the problem or if it's your machine.

In closing, readers, I ask you:

1.  How did you choose your sewing machine and are you happy with your choice?

2. Are there any questions from my list -- or other questions -- you wish you had asked yourself?

3.  For you beginner-level sewers, is there anything you've learned about your sewing style so far that, had you known this when you purchased your machine, might have led you choose a different model?

Coming Soon: Recommendations based on my sewing experience.

Have a great day, everybody!


  1. I think it's worthwhile to have a machine which can do most jobs even if you also have specialty machines like a serger. There will always be situations where working on one machine will be quicker or better. So I would always want a zigzag and an over edge stretch stitch, oh and a blind hem. I prefer mechanical and adjustable needle position is essential. I've also seen the complaints about machines not up to the job but I have to say I'm always skeptical. I have a Bernina 1008 today and it does sew most anything with a nice steady stitch. But before that I had a bottom of the line Janome which I put through it's paces: denim, swimwear, knits and binding. I didn't find much I actually couldn't do with the correct needle and technique yes my current machine does some things better but the old one was acceptable.

  2. My Sears Kenmore found me when a friend loaned it to me and passed away a year later without telling me who it belonged to. Her husband had no idea and the owner never materialized. It works all right but I am trying to find a vintage Elna instead. learned to sew on my mom's and my grandmother's. Great machines. I kick myself every day that I did not take my late mom's home with me when we were emptying her condo. Neither machine embroidered but I don't use that on the Kenmore anyway.

    1. I loved my Mom's Elna , too. But since she used it EVERY day it must have had the equivalent of 500,000 miles on it and it finally quit and parts are unavailable. I bought a mid range Janome who now owns Elna and I it. Bought it from a great dealer that let me spend a lot of time trying it out with my own fabrics and threads.

    2. Sounds like a Janome would make sense.. Unfortunately I have no room for multiple machines and I hear from an art quilting friend that her Janome is quite versatile.

  3. Great blog! I started with brand spanking new electronic Singer Confidence and a Singer "Heavy Duty" modern machine thinking I would be set for years. I found that all the extra stitch styles that came with the Confidence were not as necessary as I thought....and the Heavy Duty wasn't so heavy duty. They both died within 2 years. Granted, I sew every day, so they got heavy use. The Confidence started skipping stitches and the Heavy Duty had feed dog issues (I dropped them and they would not come back up). This is when I found your blog and got inspired to get vintage. My favorite is the Singer 201-2 for garment construction, and the 15-91 for when I have over 6 layers of fabric to move through. I like that I can maintain them myself, and that they are fairly inexpensive in comparison to brand new machines. I love that they have all metal parts and won't crack a gear like the new ones. I love that when I got them, I had to clean them and oil them and lube them up so I could bond with them. I now have 11 vintage machines ranging in age from 1889 (Singer VS2 fiddle base treadle) to my 201-2 from 1957. I have 5 set up for regular use and the others are more for collection/beauty sake, but they do work fine as well. They are all straight stitch as you know, but the attachments for buttonhole and even the zig zag attachment work just fine for me. I have a 403a that does zig zag and has pattern cams, but I don't use the cams at all....and I just use that machine for sewing on buttons, being the only one with zig zag. I do have a modern Singer Profinish Serger, which has been a good machine for 4 years. Your blog made me feel comfortable knowing that if I needed help with figuring out how to use it, there was a community of people out there that would and could help, which you have and I appreciate you for that! I am happy as can be with the machines I have now, just would like a Wilcox & Gibbs Chainstitcher just because they are delightful! Your list of things to consider is perfect. I wish you had written this blog 4 years ago! ;-)

  4. If you want a new machine (and that's the safest purchase), go to an authorized dealer. The brand doesn't matter. Honestly, they've all got good qualities. What matters is how it feels to you. You can test drive a car, and you can test drive sewing machines. The machines sold by Walmart,, and Target are made cheaply for those stores. The warranties are minimal, all of the parts are plastic, and they will vibrate off the table. It's a tool; always buy quality tools from reputable dealers.

    1. Good advice! I found out about the cheaper models when I was shopping. I picked what I liked from online, then went to a dealer and got schooled! I bought from the dealer. A nice Brother Innovis quilting machine. Love it. Good for more than just quilting.

    2. It would make sense to a new sewist to go to the dealer for the machine AND classes, if anything to make the dealer know you exist and to get feedback on if this really is the machine for you. They might give you a better deal on another if the first one just doesn't work. Nicer if the dealer covers more than one brand, not beholden to one company whose machine may not suit your style (Bernina, I call you out!)

  5. This is a great post. I can't wait to read your next post. I have some sewing experience before I bought my Bernina. I read and researched as much as I can. I know that I wanted a machine to last and can handle anything I throw at it, mainly jeans, and heavy canvas. I've been reading about Pfaff, honestly, I wish their reviews were around when I was on the hunt. They have built in walking foot and it's cheaper than the Bernina! not only is it cheaper, it's great machine. The foot attachment costs a bunch! I didn't know I would need that, I wish I knew that going into it. With that being said, I do love my Bernina. I just wish it had the built in walking foot! The Bernina that comes with the walking foot costs 4k. Seriously!

  6. Gah. Don't ask me. I buy machines like some people buy lipstick. That said, like bicycles, I tell people to not buy new for their first one. For intermediate to advanced... it's going to come down to personal choice.

  7. I inherited my machines, so I never thought about what my needs were. And, honestly, I didn't start sewing until several years into owning a machine. Now, I wouldn't trade my vintage Singer Slant-o-matic for anything, but if I were in the market for a new machine my main questions would involve durability and portability. Computerized machines worry me with potential future compatibility issues, and many of the multi-stitch machines that I have seen need a crane to move them. My Singer is no lightweight, but I have carted it around enough to be glad that it isn't heavier.

  8. When I started sewing seriously I had an oldish Toyota. It was ok, but only had a few preset stitch options, I couldn't alter the width or length. The first new machine I bought and still have, is mechanical. It has about 10 different stitches, variable length and width control and an automatic onestep buttonhole. Which I use loads. However, it's plastic, lightweight, rather noisy and it's now second choice to a vintage bernina 707, which sews like a dream, but I only have one foot for it, so sewing zippers and buttonholes is done on my newer machine.

  9. i still used.the machine i love arned to sew on. 1969 Bernina, lovingly dubbed The Beast. My moyher purchased it new, I took over ownership in 1996,after much pleading, while working on my b.s. in fashion design.It still runs like a champ and i can mostly service it myself.
    I also have a serger purchased new in the early 1990s. i dont use it as much. and would still want the varied stitch selection of my bernina

  10. Lots of good food for thought. I have an observation about question 6 though, which is the main question I am struggling with when considering my new machine purchase. I started sewing about 1.5 years ago and at this point make about 90% of my clothes (haven't gotten up the nerve for jeans or bras yet). I like wearing knits, so I sew a LOT of knits and bought a serger very early on. My regular machine is a very cheap white that my mom bought me when I went to grad school "to make curtain" (direct quote). I can't believe I have sewn as much with it as I have, but I think its time for an upgrade. I have a hoarding tendancy when it comes to old things, so I have two old singer straight stitch machines (1 treadle and 1 electric) that both work and I thought I would use more than I do because, as you said in point 6, I thought I didn't need a zig zag function if I had a serger. Turns out thats not exactly correct, I don't need to use the zig zag stitch, but i do need the zig zag functionality in order to use the double needle for hemming (unless I'm missing something?). I had been leaning towards a whole newer, nicer regular machine, but now I am having second thoughts. If I'm mostly using my regular machine to hem knits, perhaps I should buy a cover stitch and use my vintage machines on the rare occasion that I sew a woven. Ahhh! decisions!

    1. I think you really do need a zigzag machine if you're sewing knits. No, you can't use a twin needle with a straight stitch. If that is truly the only time you'd use a regular machine then a coverstitch would be better. I do finish some hems with twin needles but others with a simple zigzag. Also a blind hem works very well with knits but requires a zigzag. Still I suspect if you had a zigzag machine you would use it for more than just hemming. I sew a lot of knits entirely by regular machine. For swimwear I find it preferable a simple zigzag is great for applying elastic. I've never owned a straight stitch machine but if I were to get one it would be with the intention of sewing wovens.

  11. When we were first married, my husband bought me a New Home machine without really asking me what I wanted. I had only sewed on Singers as a kid. I used that machine for 34 years without too much trouble. Now I only use Janome or New Home. I might be missing something, but I don't think so.

  12. I have an a 10 year old bottom of the line cheapo Singer. I got it as a student to quickly fix a hem or two. Now that I am learning to sew clothes, I find that it does the job (straight stitch, buttonhole, zigzag) for what I need even if it is noisy and plasticy. I have seen other sewing blogs with a bit of snobbery against machines like mine. But, I don't sew every day (no heavy use like on MPB), I don't have space in my one bedroom apartment for a fancy sewing room with multiple machines, I don't have the income to discard my machine because it's not the top of the line, and frankly my sewing skills don't yet warrant a professional grade product.

  13. SeamsterEast at aol dot comMay 30, 2014 at 7:06 PM

    I started on a (too) small industrial to do cushions on a hurricane damaged sailboat I bought. Got a chance to get a handcrank Singer zig-zag (bad choice, wouldn't do four layers of Sunbrella). Then bought a Sailrite LSZ machine, which is still my go-to machine for canvas, sails, and blue jeans. Bought an old Pfaff 130 for regular clothing, then an Elna Lotus, then a Bernina 910, my now go-to machine for most clothing. The only stitches I ever use are straight (canvas and most clothing), zig-zag (sails and knit clothing), and buttonhole. I also own (and use) a pinking shears, and own (but seldom use) a new Brother Serger. BTW, Sunbrella canvas and resinated sailcloth are different breeds of cats from home use fabrics. I wouldn't recommend trying either on a home sewing machine. Not worth the cursing and crying.

  14. I started with a Brother Xl2600I because it was inexpensive and rated highly. I didn't want to buy a used machine at first, because if it was troublesome I might not want to sew. I still use my Brother, but I caught the vintage machine bug, so I have several. For a first machine, I say simplicity of operation is the primary choice. Then if you decide you want to sew more, by then you will know what features you most desire.

  15. although I sew for many years, I consider myself a starter because I don't sew that much and because my skills are the skills of a beginner.
    A few years ago my boyfriend who had a lot of money wanted to spoil me for my birthday with a big present : he wanted to buy me a sewing machine.
    We visited several stores and talked with the people from the store.
    I preferred a mechanical one because I believe they are a lot easier to fix when something's broken and because I think it is more stabilize than an electrical one.
    My boyfriend is very fond of ' branding ' and he wanted me to have the best one.
    I didn't want it to be too complicated because that would confuse me and raise the risk of problems.
    In one of the shops the man who worked there said that the mechanical ones where for grandmothers, not for young women like me. i felt a bit offended by it so I bought my ( or better : let my boyfriend buy me a ) sewing machine at a shop with very very old owners who took the time to explain me everything, who didn't feel the need to insult me being old fashioned, who didn't want me to buy a lot of stuff I don't need and who where a lot cheaper than other shops. Sadly the husband died a few years ago and since a few months, the shop is closed...
    I wanted a mechanical one, good quality so I would never ever have to buy another one and my friend wanted an ' good brand '
    He bought me a bernina 1008 and it's the best ( and most expensive ;) ) birthday gift - no gift in general - I ever received !

    Your tips are very helpfull and complete !

  16. Definitely in the vintage camp! I'm another Angela who sews on a Singer Slant-O-Matic 401, and I love it:) I love mechanical, all metal parts because they don't tear up, I can do maintenance myself and the metal just feels good. Features I want in a sewing machine: adjustable needle position, adjustable tension, adjustable foot pressure, zigzag, twin needle capability, sturdiness, ability to sew pretty much any fabric. The 401 has all this plus quite a few decorative stitches. I don't want the machine to make decisions for me because my appliances are not usually as smart as they think they are;)
    My 401 came in a desk, so it is not super portable, but I love all the flat sewing surface that comes from being in a desk. It also has the option of using a knee controller instead of a foot controller, and I have found that I like that better, too. In the area I live, there are always good vintage machines on craigslist at very affordable prices. However, not everyone is going to be comfortable with a vintage machine, and that's fine, too.

  17. there seems to be a lot of choice in your neck of the woods. When I was thinking about sewing I went around some dealers and all the machines were around the 500 dollar mark (even if the Australian dollar is worth about the same as the US dollar, things are more expensive here). Now that seemed like a lot to spend on something that I wasn't sure I was actually going to do, so instead I just bought the cheapest machine I could find (Singer scholastic 8280 I believe, according to the reviews only about 1/3 are still working after the first year) and went with it. Mine is still going strong, it does everything I need it to do and it only ever gave me problems when I made a mistake. I haven't gotten it serviced, because the service of 150 dollars is more then what it cost in the first place.

    I did look at getting a used one, but even the crappy Brother ones that sell here for 150 or thereabouts, cost like a 100 used, so I didn't think it was worth going down that route. I recently found a vintage Pinnock (an Australian make) from the 60s in the street, so I have to see whether that is still working when I get around to it.

  18. Very well thought through post! I would also go to a nearest machine dealers and test drive the machine. Also, do your homework and check out machines online for features and price. Sometimes less known manufacturers offer more feature for the same money.

  19. The first sewing machine I ever remember seeing was this weird looking all black hunk of metal in an old wooden cabinet with swing out drawers which my Mom would occasionally use. When I finally started sewing in college 40 years ago, it was that Pfaff 130 that got me started. The first machine I actually bought was probably one of those colorful Japanese clones that I bought at Goodwill, I think I paid $10 for about 1973. Later, when I became more serious about sewing, I bought my own Pfaff 130 from a dealer for $200, a lot of money in the '70's for a college student. If we would have had such a thing as the Internet and blogs like Peter's I would have just bought the 130. Since then I have collected an array of domestic and industrial machines, all necessary since I do lots of sample sewing. Oh, and I inherited my Mom's Pfaff which I have set up for buttonholes, and my original 130 is in it's portable case ready for traveling if need be.

  20. Never having sewn, I read/watched reviews of various machines and selected the Janome 6500P. It's arguably too much machine for an absolute beginner but I found it easy to operate and has performed very well. Although I now prefer vintage machines, I still like this one quite a bit. I've grown into it.

    Shortly after acquiring the Janome, I purchased a vintage machine because the price was very low and I like the way it looks. It turns out that as a bonus it sews extremely well, albeit requiring a bit more attention. And so I think my experience underlines differences in learning style: is it best to buy a machine that has more features and does more for the user in order that they focus on their projects or is it better to buy a machine that requires more input from the user to operate, thus reinforcing (and hopefully improving) their understanding of the sewing process?

    Knowing what I know now, I would have skipped the Janome and purchased a $25 vintage Kenmore zig-zag machine with a cam stack (but not necessarily including a cam assembly for decorative stitches), preferably with a low shank, a built-in buttonhole drive (excellent buttonholes on Kenmores, btw), 1.2 amps, and in a table. Such a machine would cover all bases for any beginning project. I would later add a dedicated straight stitch for shirts and other items where seams are at eye-level and must be precise (I chose the Singer 201-2) and a serger.

    Now having purchased a number of vintage machines, I have found yet another hobby: sewing machine repair.

    Great topic, Peter. Thank you!

  21. I inherited a Necchi from my gram about 10 years ago, and it nearly put me off sewing all together. The machine was cheap, had a tension problem that no repairman could ever fix and the bobbin winder never worked. (In her defense, it was her back up machine, and she was a very talented seamstress and sewing crafter). I made a few garments on it, and was so traumatized by the experience (hours and hours to finish simple things!) that it took me almost a decade to get back to sewing. In the meantime, my gram passed away and I inherited her Cadillac of a machine, a Bernina 801, which is a dream machine. It apparently does everything including taking your laundry to the cleaners. :) I'm still exploring all the ways of this machine, and am very much a novice sewer, but I'm finding my way. I'm thrilled that the machine has an overlock foot and stitch, so I don't have to purchase a serger just yet (don't have the space for one, and I'm not ready for knits yet), and I've been happy so far with how the machine sews, and the portability of it. I have a sewing desk for it, but no room for the desk so the desk is in basement storage at the moment, so I keep the machine in its carry case in a cabinet in the living room and pull it into the kitchen when I want to sew. It is a little awkward, but works for my current space needs.

    My mother has a Pfaff and I dislike sewing on it very much. It is the least intuitive machine I've ever worked with, and the buttonholer put me right off buttonholes for months (and I still can't bring myself to do them by machine on the Bernina; I just handwork them)

  22. When I first started learning to sew, I bought the most basic Janome for about $200. A year later, I traded it for a Janome 3160QDC, because there were some things about my first one that were starting to get on my nerves, and I got a good trade-in at the dealer's. I like the 3160; it's user friendly, and it is very light weight (it only weighs 12 pounds), which makes it quite portable for taking to classes. I find I like the needle up/down and the thread cutting feature more than I thought I would. As I said, I like the machine and would recommend it. But my heart really belongs to my other machine: a 1947 hand crank Singer 201k in pristine condition, which I love with a passion. This machine has the most beautiful stitch I've ever seen. It's the opposite of portable, so it sits at home in the place of honor on my sewing table. I think I have a bit of a bias in favor of mechanicals, but both kinds are useful in different ways. I think starting out, especially if you're a complete beginner like I was, you don't even know what you don't know, so it can be hard to get the exact right machine right off the bat. But luckily, we can have more than one. ; ) I like both of mine, but if there was a disaster and I could only save one, it would be the 201k!

  23. My first sewing machine was bought for me. A walmart brother, special........ that thing has some very special issues. My second sewing machine and last sewing machine is exactly what I wanted. I decided I wanted an older singer sewing machine. I didnt want to spend much at all. I lucked out. I got a singer 15-91, with all attachments and doo dads and original oil can, for FREE out of the newspaper. I am its second owner. Now my daughters first sewing machine is a singer 15-91 anniversary edition. Also gotten for free. After that my luck ended. I can say I am very happy with my sewing machine.

  24. I like new machines, I am not really into vintage machines apart from the fact they look good. I have two vintage machines that others are using one is a Bernina and the other is a Kenmore. I have a Brother and I love it. It does everything I need and has embroidery stitches which I do use often. I have only been making projects for the home, but just started making toddler clothes again. I think it is important to get a machine that fulfills your sewing needs vintage or new. I only have one machine, but I am hoping to buy another one that has more embroidery features but so far they are too expensive.

  25. I think most beginners are better with a good used high quality machine with a minimal # of stitches. I have helped young people with their sewing and I am appalled at the cheap plastic machines sold at the big chain stores. I can't sew with them and I've been sewing nearly 50 years. The stitch quality stinks, and they vibrate, move around and are plain flimsy.

    Until I was 21, I sewed on a Singer 15 Treadle machine - Easy to use and sews through anything. If you learn to use all the attachments on these old Singers, your sewing will look professional. I used the hem roller feet, flat fell foot, the gathering foot, the pintuck foot, the edgestitch foot and had a buttonhole attachment. Treadles are also good for a little light exercise. If you have the room, treadles are just fantastic machines to learn on and they are so simple to oil and fix.

    In college I borrowed a friend's Elna Lotus, which was a great little machine. I wanted one just like it. The friend didn't sew much but I sewed all the time. For my 21st birthday, after sewing most of my clothes for years, I received a SEARS KENMORE 158 10302, which was a small, modern-looking, portable machine in a hard plastic case decorated with flower appliques. It still works. It took care of most of the sewing I did. I worked in retailing in NYC and this little thing made all the fashionable clothes I desired and got me through a tailoring course at FIT. Then I decided to sew a coat and a toweling bath robe. This required a machine with a full-size head. If you can believe it, my father would not let me have the treadle. I finally bought my own Elna, the machine I had always lusted after. I bought a used 20 year old 1960 Elna Supermatic 2 with all the cams. The coat and toweling robe were easy to sew and this machine allowed me to get into Heirloom sewing with some of the specialty stitches. I used all the same Singer specialty feet on this machine. I think learning to use specialty feet adds more to your sewing than a machine with a zillion stitches. Specialty feet would be a priority for me.

    I have since upgraded and am now on my third Bernina, a 350. It's marketed as a beginner machine, but I do not need more, nor will I use all the fancy stuff. In fact, I did not use most of the functions on my previous Bernina, a 1630, which was top of the line for its' time. I do use all the specialty feet and the Bernina stitch qualtiy, stitch down function, knee lift pedal and sturdy machines are hard to beat. Of course I couldn't use the 1630 feet on the 350, so all new specialty feet was a big investment. However, I use the feet; I don't use fancy stitches and embroidery. I prefer to embellish with hand embroidery, although I will use a scallop stitch, fagoting stitch, zigzag and pinstitch. I will say the buttonholer is idiot-proof. I think buttonhole stitching is the one thing that has vastly improved over the years with all machines. A quality buttonhole would be one reason to get a new machine, as far as I am concerned.

    If you sew clothing you need a strong machine which will sew a quality stitch. If you want to decorate fabric then a top of the line embroidery machine is for you. If you are beginner, it is better not to be confused by a too fancy machine. Learn to use all the feet and you will be amazed at what you can do.

    1. Thanks for this. I am on a mission to learn how to use all the feet for my 201. I'm not there yet! The ruffler frankly terrifies me. But the hemmer feet are amazing.

  26. I had a conversation recently with my sewing friends about whether I should get a new machine. My basic level Elna is still going strong, but I'd like something with a greater range of automatic buttonholes. The verdict was that the machine being used in our local secondary schools might be worth a look since schools need sturdy equipment that is fairly intuitive and tend not to go for millions of fancy stitches which I know I don't want. the other comment was that I should test drive first with some flimsy difficult fabric like silk chiffon. Both sound like good ideas to me!

  27. I bought my first machine after using my MILs 1960s TOL Janome for about 5 years and went looking for the modern equivalent. Couldn't afford that, and went to the local dealer looking for a $500 one. At that point I did some garment sewing and the occasional soft toy. The sales person recommended a different one to the one I went there for, which was on sale for the same price but had a few more stitches and could take thicker fabrics under the foot. That machine is 12 now and has seen me take up bag making and quilting too. The only thing it can't do is free motion quilt well (it nests) and I did always miss the needle up feature from the old heavy metal monster. My new machine fills the gaps that the mech can't do, but I regret ever giving the monster back.

  28. My first machine was a modern singer, and to be honest, I dot use it much. My boyfriend bought it for me t the time to hem up his pants when it cost him too much to take them to the alterations place! I still have it - it has a blind stitch…

    … my main machine however is a singer 201-3k. It was my grandma's, and my Aunty was just going to send it to the dump, until I made grabby hands and took her home. I love it to bits! I don't really need zig-zag, and I have three different attachments for buttonholes. I also have a janome serger.

  29. I started with my mother-in-laws 1959 Elna, then bought a 1919 Domestic treadle. I used the treadle for clothes and for costuming. In the early 90's I bought a Singer touch and sew, and used it for clothing, alterations, costuming and quilting. That machine is with my daughter now.

    Though I afford pretty much any machine I want; what I decided on and use the most often are my Singer 301 and 401a, a Janome mid-arm quilter and a Babylock serger. When I retire I'll buy a long arm quilting machine. The only thing that I wish I had that I don't is a stitch regulator on the mid-arm.

  30. I have a 8 year old Kenmore which was my only machine and it works fine, but Peter aroused my interest in vintage with his posts about the Singer Featherweights. A good friend of mine gave me a 99 in its cabinet that was stored in her mom's basement and hasn't been used in 20 years! After some cleanup and oiling she runs like a champ and is 64 years old....well needless to say, that was it for me! I then set my sights on a Rocketeer and found one in mint condition on eBay, but like a lot of vintage machine collectors I kept reading about the legendary 401a and asked the guy who sold me the Rocketeer to find me one and he did!! As beautiful as the Rocketeer is, I found it to be very fussy when sewing knits, but the 401 sewed them with no problems whatsoever........I truly believe that the 401 is one of Singer's masterpieces! I keep that Kenmore for quick buttonholes, but my mainstays are my vintage machines. Whenever I go to Walmart's I look at the cheap plastic machines that they're churning out from China under what was once the greatest name in sewing machines and l'm glad I own my vintage Singers. I wouldn't trade one of them for all the computerized machines they make today! My 3/4 sized, cast iron 99 is the one who I go straight to when dealing with heavy denim hemming and she never fails to bite right down and sail right through! It's vintage all the way with me!!

    1. Scorpionblue, now you have me all in a lather about the 401a!

      The Rocketeer does have its moods.

      Peter is the gateway to a vintage machine obsession and collection.

      Off to Craigslist...

    2. Well you know they say the 201 was the best straight stitch machine ever created by Singer and the 401 is touted as it's best zig-zag.......I haven't run across a mint 201 yet, they don't come cheap neither does the 401 and I can attest that you won't be disappointed if you do find a good me! It lives up to it's legendary status!

    3. Keep looking for those deals, everyone -- they're out there!

      In a single weekend I was able to snag my 201-2 Centennial (almost mint -- must not have been used much at all) and a 15-90 (identical to the -91 except w/ a standard belted motor rather than direct drive and in excellent condition although not quite near-mint, so now I have both potted and standard drives) and a Kennie 158.1756 in a cabinet and loaded with accessories. The 201 was $35, the -90 was $15, and the Kenmore was free because the owner is moving and had to get rid of it.

      It's raining sewing machines! Go get yours!

      As an aside, I prefer the 201 to the -90. The full rotary hook is smoother than an oscillating and the difference in bobbin capacity (class 66 vs. 15) is only slight. The 201's harp size is slightly larger and the arm is higher (good for a tall guy like me) and its light is mounted on the front (and integrated) rather than the back of the arm, something else I prefer. I find the illumination superior on the 201. Both, however, are wonderful machines and provide an ideal sewing experience (for me, at least). Japanese clones of the 15-90 are commonly found and are also very good and usually very cheap (thrift stores, etc.).

    4. Wow talk about a bargain bonanza! Where did you find such incredible bargains??!! Nowadays people have caught on to the value of those machines,( no doubt due to the internet) and would never sell them that cheap! That's incredible!!

    5. Scorpioninblue,

      I'm on a 401 mission, and you're to blame, you sewing siren!

      Just bought a second 201 (first one needs a new motor, I'll get around to fixing that). Meanwhile, you sing of a zig-zag, and I am compelled to share in the experience.

    6. Scorpion and others, I've found craigslist to be the best source. Weeks will go by w/out any good deals and then Bam! -- 4 or 5 absolute steals will appear, so you need to keep watching. And be willing to sometimes drive quite a distance. (Technically, the 201 was more than $35 if you factor in the gas money it took to drive the roughly 45 minutes there, 45 minutes back. However, it was up in the mountains, the day was beautiful, and my friend and I packed a lunch. Well worth it!)

      If you know a bit about repair, even better deals can be had; many machines that need TLC are free. Also, it pays to be able to spot a gem in a dark or blurry photo or a nice machine under a coating of dirt.

    7. In the Hartford, CT vicinity you would never find a good 201 for less than $100! I blame Ebay because many non-sewers go there and check out the you know how that goes. In reference to the 401, I almost had a stroke when Johanna found one for $35 in the Big Apple, either the seller was just anxious to sell or was totally ignorant of it's value! I paid $135 for mine from a guy on Ebay that I bought my Rocketeer from. I was lucky enough in the fact that he fixes his finds so mine has a great motor and beautiful finish. I'm going to have him find me a Kenmore for my young niece who expressed an interest in sewing. If you find a good seller on Ebay get their email address or remember their id.

    8. Hey Test!

      I know exactly how you feel! I tried my hardest to resist my urge to buy that machine, but was soon overpowered by all of the great things I read about it, along with a comment a machine repair man told me, he also told me that the Rocketeer doesn't like knits and he was right on the money!! So that clinched my decision to buy the 401. You're hooked! LOL! Happy hunting!!

  31. I had a Kenmore that my parents bought for me when I was in Junior High. I always hated sewing until I was in my 20's and started quilting. I upgraded to a high end Viking (on sale) and discovered that I didn't really hate sewing, just hated my machine that constantly had tension issues. After 20 years, my local repairman was unable to get replacement parts and I bought a $300 Singer designed for quilting (larger throat plate and arm extension.) The darning foot was cheap and I broke it in the first month just from basic use. Meanwhile, a friend took my old machine home with her to a neighboring state and was able to get it repaired. So my conclusion: buy as nice of a machine as you can afford - mid level or higher. Find one with as few stitches as possible, I never use more than 6 anyway. Higher prices usually come with convenience features like needle threaders that I have always been thankful for.

  32. Great questions! I have a Pfaff 362 that I inherited from my mother in law, and it is the best machine I have ever sewn on. It's cast iron and weighs a ton, though, so if I couldn't leave it set up all the time in the sewing room it would be a real pain. I also have a 10 year old Viking that still sews well. I would dearly love one of the newer high-end machines for some of the features like stitch regulation, but I can't believe that they sew any better on the basics than an older machine. It seems they load up with stitches that no one will use. For a beginner, I would look for something used with a good straight stitch and easy bobbin replacement. Avoid frustration!

  33. Fifteen years ago or so I was finally ready to invest in a new machine. I thought I would like a Bernina but after driving a considerable distance to the dealership they wouldn't let me try it unless I was going to buy it even though it was on a table and ready to sew. Needless to say, they lost me as a customer.
    I went to Sears and bought a Kenmore 385 which I like very much and has a nice button hole attachment which does pretty decent button holes which was a requirement for my new machine.
    Never had any problems with it until recently but didn't have time to bring it in to be serviced and I needed a machine right away for a project.
    I bought a Brother Project Runway via Craigslist (pictured above) that was virtually brand new. It was and is a life saver. It's a very nice beginner machine and I highly recommend it.
    I finally brought my Kenmore to the Sears service center where it was whisked away and ready for pickup in two weeks. Extremely friendly service at a mere $99.00 and they patiently let me test it to make sure it was fixed.
    I am also forever indebted to Michael for his recommendation of the Brother 1034 serger. It's a great machine, easy to thread and came with a carrying case, tons of extra thread and blades.
    The only "luxury" feature I might like would be a self threader because the old eyesight ain't what it used to be.

    1. I meant Peter not Michael who I was indebted to. Oops!

    2. One thing I can say about Kenmore's is that they are not as fussy with tension as Singer's are, a very reputable seller made that statement once and its the total truth.......they don't require the amount of adjusting a Singer machine does. I would give a vintage Kenmore to a young sewer before I would a Singer.

  34. I just went through this process and asked many of those questions of myself. I was sad when my Singer Quantum CXL bit the dust, because I was so accustomed to it. But I know it had its weaknesses. I haven't been bitten by the vintage bug, so I knew I wanted a computerized machine. I spent a long time on Pattern Review reading sewing machine reviews. I also asked a question in the community thread for Berninas and got lots of good input. I ultimately bought a used Bernina 440 QE for a very good price on eBay. A very good price, but still much more than I had originally planned. I got caught up in the Bernina mystique. But I am happy with my purchase. Very happy. I do think that I could have bought the Juki that several people recommended that was half the price and been happy, too. Peter, your questions are great! I think it's important to also ask if you will be the only one using it. I do let my daughter use my machine, too. I feel like I have to be in the room now when my 11 year old is using the Bernina. I didn't feel that with the Singer. Thanks for taking on this topic! I am starting to take notes, though, on the star vintage machines. I may just succumb, if the right opportunity comes along.

  35. I find sewing machines are a personal choice. My inventory is as follows;
    1. Babylock 4/3/2 serger (proline-097), easy to thread, reliable, uses standard needles, easy to clean an maintain, sews thru alot of heavy weight material
    2. Janome Compulock, pokie, 5 thread serger, but I like that the computer tells you how to setup, everything swings out for easy threading
    3. Janome 7993 - easy to thread, easy to use.

    Sewing Machines; New
    2 ->Kenmore 27 stitch mechanicals, work well, reliable , Kenmore 50 stitch electronic machine, works well much like the mechanical, easy to use and i like the multi needle place, speed control and the needle up/down, Singer Fashion Mate 70 plus stitches, does a pretty good job for the price

    Sewing Machines Vintage:
    3 - Singer 15-91's 2 gear driven, 1 belt driven, I love these machines use them for heavy work, denim, leather upholstery (going to upgrade the motor to 1.5 amp at some point for serious speed)
    2 - Singer 301's one in a table, one not, they work great .. i love the speed on them 1500 spm, makes me feel like I am sewing on a industrial
    1- Singer 401, including all attachments cams etc, I have some stitch quality issues with it and don't use this as much now
    1 - Pfaff 332 with all attachments etc, works great, not using it as much but love the embroidery on it.
    2 - Sears Kenmore an 1802 greenish thing, and a 1803 in a table with everthing - I LOVE THIS MACHINE, THE SPEED, STITCH QUALITY, THE POWER.
    1 - 99K, don't use it as much but will upgrade the motor etc

    Why do i have so many: well I setup a production line when I am garment sewing or doing home dec, I think thru the construction details, I setup all the machines and I move quickly from one to then next so I can get garments made very quickly from one machine to the next, so no switching out thread attachments feet or anything.

    Machines going forward: mostly like Juki - domestic (F600 Exceed, 735 Serger, T2010 quilt machine) as far as industrial will go with Juki, zigzagger, buttonholer, chain stitcher and a blind hemmer of some sort.

    I think the message with everything is as you gain experience your taste for machines changes, I have had a hard time convincing myself to buy a pfaff creative performance or a bernina 780, due to price and other factors .. Juki domestic machines are great and the price point for features is awesome. One other good machine is the Janome 7700QCP, fully featured, heavy professional machine which gives alot of sewing value for the dollar.

    Oh my final vintage sewing machine purchase will be a Singer 201-3 with a belt driven motor in awesome condition, i will also upgrade the motor to 1.5 amps and super charge this thing.

  36. After reading Peter's blog and hearing him talk about vintage machines, I recently acquired a Singer 99K & a 201-2.. I marvel at the beauty of the stitches on these 2.
    Then a friend cleaned out his storage area and gave me his Mom's old Kenmore 158-1410. All of them are wonderful. I also have a HV Freesia 425 that I sewed on for years. It cost alot of money at the time and it has lots of stitches. It'a great little machine. I love a zig zag to do knits. I have used some of the other more decorative stitches but not much.

  37. I love to talk about sewing machines :-)

    Six months ago, when I got "serious" about sewing, I bought a Janome mid-range mechanical machine, for around $300. I don't like it. It can't handle heavier fabrics (no hope to make chinos), and it jumps around the table. It's very basic - no needle up/down, speed control, etc.

    Two months ago I bought a Pfaff from the 1980s (labeled "made in west germany", so definitely from before reunification). It is fantastic! It has needle up/down (more useful than you think), speed control, bobbin indicator. Most importantly, it is smooth as silk through everything I've tried it with.

    I also have a Pfaff 4764 serger bought off Craigslist. I got a good deal. Let's just say that the person selling it had no idea what it is worth.

    I sew every day, so my machines get some use. The Pfaff is in the shop for a routine servicing, so I'm on the Janome for the next two weeks.

  38. I choose a heavy duty one with metal frame, quality was importent. I choose a manually, i dont care for computers. It was importent to me that it had a blind hem stitch and could do a propper button hole.
    The only thing that bothers me about the one i choose is that it jams so easy, it seems to need retreading way to often and it becomes a point of frustration

    1. Sympathy for you! Keep looking for a higher quality machine that doesn't jam. It might help your machine to have a mechanic look at it--sometimes a small expert adjustment will make it work much better.

  39. Why I chose my Pfaff Select 3.0 :
    - metal parts
    - durable
    - built-in walking foot
    - prettty
    - variable needle positions
    - reliable
    - quiet when in use

    At the time I didn't want a computerized machine. Besides I couldn't afford one either.

    When I was ready to buy a serger choosing Pfaff seemed obvious, because I'm very pleased with the sewing machine.
    However, my local shop recommended a Juki serger, which proved to be excellent advice. The sound of the motor is to die for.

    Based on my experience with the Juki serger my dream machine would be a Juki Exceed sewing machine.
    Regrettably I can't afford it.

  40. I started on a not-quite bottom of the line Singer, which did the job for a few years, then started not holding tension. So I traded it on a Bernina 1020, which I traded for a Viking Quilt Designer :-( . I *thought* I needed more stitch options, but as it turns out, I rarely use those, but DO like the extra harp space it has. I do not regret getting the Viking, but did regret trading, so I found a used Bernina 1031, shortly after buying a Singer 15-91 because the Viking can not handle the seams while repairing insulated canvas overalls and jackets. Not that I *like* doing the repairs, but when they cost $100+ to replace, you do all you can to extend their life. And that 15-91 has lead to a 66 treadle, a 28 handcrank, a 221, and a 201-2. All those old ones have a quiet silky smoothness that the new machines with their step motors just can't match.

    1. Thank you Just Gail. I just read your reply to my husband to show him I am not that bad, I don't have nearly as many as you! ♥

  41. Here are a few other questions that might be added to the list (some are closely related to previously posted questions):

    Do you (intend to) sew for yourself and/or for others? Who are those others and what might they need from your sewing?

    Are you looking for a machine to fulfill your every sewing dream or a tool that will do a job? Do you have specific projects in mind or are you more in love with the idea of sewing, not sure what you will specifically make?

    Some sewing machines are combination sewing/embroidery machines. Are you interested in embroidery? Would you like that option even if you might only occasionally attempt an embroidery project?

    Do you have space in your home for a dedicated sewing area or will the machine have to be put away after each time it's used?

    Will you be setting aside a scheduled time to sew or will you sew whenever you can find some spare time? Do time constraints have any influence over your machine budget?

    Do you have any physical limitations that might make certain machines difficult? Are there any features that might assist with these limitations?

    Do you know someone who is handy with machines and tools? Are you open to learning to repair your machine(s)?

    Good machines don't cost much to maintain but no machine is maintenance-free. Have you thought about what you can afford beyond the purchase price? What about accessories and attachments?

    Some brands require specific, proprietary parts and specially trained technicians. Are you willing to search for and pay more for such parts and service?

    Is the brand name of your sewing machine important to you?

    Is the appearance or cosmetic condition of your machine important to you? Will your machine be located in an area where others will see it? Do you intend to display your machine in addition to using it?

    If purchasing a new machine, have you considered warranties and authorized dealer contracts?

    Do you know anyone who has the machine you're considering? Are you a member of online groups or sewing clubs dedicated to the brand or type of machine you intend to purchase?

  42. I use two machines almost all the time. One is a 1923 White Rotary Treadle machine, and the other is a 1913 New White Peerless handcrank. Which one I use just depends on if I'm sewing downstairs or sitting on my bed.

    I have almost every attachment made for them, which lets me do _most_ everything a modern machine would do (although zig-zag or stretch stitch would be nice). They have enough power that I've sewn everything from tiny, fragile doll clothes to leather and canvas on them.

    If something goes wrong, I can fix them with a screwdriver and a bottle of oil. I wouldn't trade them for anything. I _do_ have some extra machines that I would happily trade for s serger though.

  43. I've written a list. It's like a desperately seeking ad in some ways. It's everything I want from my next machine. Lots of musts and some shoulds.
    Things range from adjustable stitch length to on off switch. Both things I don't currently have. It's going to be invaluable when I buy my next machine this summer

  44. Thanks for such informative post. It is useful to sewing beginners. Well I have brother sewing machine since form last 5 years and I can say it is completely worth to buy.

  45. Great topic! I have a Pfaff 6091, I beleive the the last of the Varimatic models. Wish ir ha d presser foot pressure adjustment. My dealer has long since gone, and I've wondered what I might look for if my machine died. I have heard that new machines "aren't made like that" anymore.

  46. I started learning on a Singer Scholastic from the 70's, but did not know how to take care of it, and rehomed it when i started having too many issues. Looking back, it probably only needed an oiling, but i did not know that, and wasn't worth the cost of repair plus cab ride back and forth....
    replaced it with a refurbished of the exact same brother runway at the top of the post. worst. purchase. ever! foot pedal would do nothing, nothing, nothing as you are pressing, then suddenly start going top speed. since the machine casing is all plastic, this caused the machine to bounce all over, making it impossible to sew anything.
    that one simply got junked, not rehomed, since i was already frustrated from cleaning thread jams out of the machine before i even got to use it the first time! (it shipped with thread jams, not pleased).
    decided to try again, this time purchasing a vintage machine from goodwill. brand tag says national, but it is made in korea and similar enough to a riccar 6950 that i can use that manual. THIS machine was worth every cent of the $20 i paid! good variety of stitches for a beginner, heavy enough that it does NOT dance when sewing, and the price was hard to beat.
    someday i do hope to have more machines, but as a beginner i realize i need to get my skill level up before it is worth even $20 for another machine.
    in the future, it is vintage all the way for me. great price, and good sturdy construction. i would rather have to oil my machine daily than pay 10x (or more) for a machine that is not as well built.

  47. The photograph of the last sewing machine you have shown, the BERNINA 1008, is the one that is used in my sewing class and I HATE IT. It is so ugly and horrible to use that I don't use it because I can't use it. I am a novice sewer/seamstress and I have never made one garment in my sewing class but make them at home on my sewing machine (JANOME SEWIST 525s) and bring my work into class, which for me is very impressive because I thought I would need step by step help all the way.

    I HATE BERNINA machines. When I was at school there were five VIKING machines and the rest were BERNINAs, and even though I was the only girl who liked sewing it was still dressmaking scissors at dawn when it came to the sewing machines because none of us liked the BERNINAs. In the end our teacher had to rota them by register name. If BERNINA were the only sewing company left in the world I would stop sewing. Or do it by hand. That's how much I hate them.

    Cee Jay/Leigh on Sea, Essex, England, Britain

  48. Hi;

    I have failed to find Part 2.
    Will you, please, provide me with the link to Part2?

    Thank you


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