First: NEVER buy a machine because you think you'd like to learn to sew. Take some lessons first. Find out if this is a craft you'll truly enjoy, and what aspects you like best.
NEVER buy your child a "toy" machine. She'll get frustrated and decide she doesn't like to sew. Children as young as 6 can be taught to use a standard machine safely.
Second: Don't buy a machine purely on reputation. Years ago I had two ancient machines and needed to upgrade. I knew Viking made a great machine, so without doing my research I went to the Viking store and spent a small fortune on one of their low-end machines. Having a machine that sewed properly made a huge difference in my enjoyment of sewing, and within a year I wished I'd spent the same amount of money for a less expensive brand with more features. Learn from my mistake!!
Third: Ask sewing friends about their experiences with different brands and different dealers of machines. If several people mention the same kinds of problems, or rave about the same machine or dealer, pay attention!
Fourth: If you buy a new machine, get it at a sewing machine store. Here in Pocatello we have four: Sperry Sewing Center, Gary's Bernina, Brady's, and Jones Sew-N-Vac.
Why get your machine at sewing machine store and not a big-box store or online? Several reasons:
- You can try the machines before your buy and get all your questions answered, something you can't do at the big box stores.
- The dealers provide free instruction on the use of their machines (Brady's lessons are at their Idaho Falls store).
- If your machine malfunctions during the warranty period you can just drop it off at the store for repair. If your big-box-store or online bargain breaks, you have to ship it somewhere else.
- When your machine needs cleaning after the warranty period, you'll already have a relationship with the dealer.
- You can always call your dealer with how-to questions related to the use of your machine.
- Buying attachments and upgrades is easier if you've got a relationship with your dealer; you almost never get the wrong part, and if they make a mistake it's on them. Order the wrong part online and you'll be out time, shipping expense, and sometimes the price of the part as well.
Fifth: Think about what you want and need from a new sewing machine.
- Does the machine have a needle-threader (important if you've got older eyes or an unsteady hand)?
- Do you want to sew jeans, leather, or lots of fleece? Upholstery fabric? Look for a heavy-duty machine with a presser foot that can be raised extra high to accommodate the thickness.
- Do you have big hands? Look for a machine with a wide throat--the open space between the presser foot and the right-hand section where the controls and brains are.
- Do you have daughters or granddaughters? You might prefer a machine that has a lot of embroidery stitches to dress up those cute little-girl clothes.
- Do you have problems with your feet or knees? You might prefer a machine that can be run with a push button instead of the foot pedal.
- What extra presser feet come with the machine? You need a buttonhole foot and a zipper foot, at the very least. Other useful feet for everyone are an overcast foot for edging seams and a blind hem foot. I also like the button foot (yes, you can sew on buttons using your machine!).
- Do you want to focus your sewing on slipcovers and other home decor projects that require heavy fabric? If so, stay away from super-light machines.
- How easy is this machine to thread?
- How easy is it to wind a bobbin and put a bobbin in
- Can you see how much thread is left on the bobbin without removing it from the machine?
- How expensive are accessories, such as specialty presser feet and bobbins?
Sixth: Try all the machines in all the stores that have the features you
want. Look at models a little above and a little below your ideal price point; you might find that you can pay less, or you might decide to spend a little more to get just the right machine. Bring little pieces of the kinds of fabric you plan to sew to experiment with. Spend plenty of time trying machines. Don't let the sales person do all the sewing while you stand back and watch, and don't let him or her intimidate you. If you feel rushed or intimidated, you haven't found the right store.
Next: Buying a used machine.