There’s a vast range of machines available on the market, so making the right choice at the right price may at first seem quite daunting.
To help you choose, we've narrowed things down into pricing and feature categories:
- Basic Mechanical
- Basic Digital
- Basic to Middle
- Middle Range
- Top of the Range
- Combined Sewing & Embroidery
See also: Sewing Machine Jargon Buster - A to Z
Basic mechanical machines will generally feature stitches required for day-to-day sewing such as alterations, repairs, basic dressmaking and soft furnishings. As well as the plain straight and zigzag stitches, most basic models will have an overcasting stitch (sometimes referred to as overlock stitch) used for neatening seams, stretch stitch for sewing jersey fabrics, blind hem for invisible hemming on garments and a buttonhole – 4 step (not so easy) and 1 step (very easy).
You should normally expect to pay from £99 up to £250 for a basic mechanical machine depending on the level of use and how easy to operate you'd like your new machine to be.
For example, basic mechanical machines are actually more difficult to operate than their digital (computerised) counterparts.
With a mechanical machine, once you've selected your stitch, you'll then need to work out where to set the stitch width and length controls as well the required presser foot. That’s fine so long as you're prepared to go through the user manual each time you want to make a change. However, getting the settings wrong may lead to poor results, problems and frustration.
With a digital machine, selecting a stitch is simply a matter of touching a button or turning a dial. Important settings such as the stitch width and length are automatically chosen for you, but you can easily change them if required. Most digital models indicate which presser foot to use for the task at hand. In addition, you'll have much better control over the sewing speed and the needle stopping position - up or down, plus a choice of (1 step) buttonhole styles.
Stop / start button gives the option to run the machine with the foot pedal disconnected. Sewing speed can then be easily controlled with the slider on the front of the machine. You can of course, use the variable speed foot pedal in the traditional way should you prefer.
For a basic digital machine, you'll be paying from £240 up to around £350.
This range will fit the bill for those requiring a machine that’s not too basic, but would like some of the features found on the more expensive, high end machines and perhaps a few decorative patterns on top the basic construction stitches.
You should expect to pay from £300 up to around £600. Almost all models in this range are digital. Generally, the higher priced models will have a larger selection of stitches, some will have lettering and useful gizmos like an automatic thread trimmer that snips off the thread tails at the end of the seam.
Here we generally find that machines have a large number decorative patterns (usually a hundred or so plus) and will provide more choice when it comes to buttonhole style, lettering, overlock stitching, etc. Prices range from £600 up to around £1000. On the higher priced models, you'll find that some have greater variation on stitch settings such as a 9mm stitch width (most only go up to 7mm) and there are some with sideways stitching producing larger and more ornate decorative patterns and borders. Quite a few machines in this range have a larger than average sewing bed, which makes it easier to sew large quilting and soft furnishing projects. Some models may also have a knee operated presser foot (knee lifter) that allows you to keep both hands free to position the fabric pieces under the presser foot.
You can pay between £1000 and £2000
In this range, you'll find some models being referred to as “long arm” meaning they have a very large sewing bed to accommodate quilts, large curtains, etc. Some are supplied with a slide-on extension table (optional on other models) for easier fabric handling. The extra work space under the arm makes it less restrictive when free-motion stippling or embroidering. Some models include a range of special free-motion accessories that make it easier to maintain a more uniform sized stitch when stippling.
You'll find some machines have a built-in even feed (walking foot) that prevents fabric layers from shifting.
The range of decorative stitches on these machines is usually vast, and this can dissuade some customers from looking at the top end of the market. However, the points previously mentioned are well worth consideration if you are really serious about your hobby.
If you fancy the idea of being able to create large, multi-coloured embroidery as well sewing then take a close look at this range.
You can pay from just £800 right up to £7000. You'll find that the machines have a number of embroidery designs already built in and you can purchase special digitising software to use on your computer and create your very own designs. In addition, you can download embroidery designs from the web and transfer them from your computer to be sewn out on the machine.
So for your £800 to £1000 you'll get a basic to mid range sewing machine with basic embroidery capabilities and a maximum design size of around 100 x 100mm
As you move up the range, you'll find that the sewing features expand as well as the embroidery possibilities i.e. more built in and larger sized designs, on screen design editing with design combination, full colour screen with realistic design preview. And depending on price, the embroidery designs can go up to a huge 240mm x 360mm in size.
And right at the top end of the range, you'll find jaw dropping features such as built in embroidery design scanning that lets you draw it – scan it – sew it!
The range isn't so varied as the combination machines, but you'll still find they offer a reasonably good range of capabilities.
The main benefit with an overlocker is its ability to cope beautifully with a wide range of fabrics and particularly synthetic or natural jerseys; delicates such as silks, satins, chiffon and organzas, as well as other fabrics that tend to misbehave on your regular sewing machine.
Construct a garment with an overlocker and you'll see right away how much more professionally made the item looks. The seams will hang beautifully and are not puckered or wavy and the stitching won't break if the garment becomes stretched.
Using the four thread stitch formation; you can sew, trim and neaten two or more layers of fabric all in one go - this is exactly how commercially produced garments are constructed.
For the more traditional construction method; set the machine for three thread overlocking to firstly trim and neaten the raw edges, then sew the fabric layers on your ordinary machine - as in pressed open seams found on gents' trousers, etc.
Ever wondered how those gorgeous rolled edges are done - like the ones you see on bridal veils? Well, that's achieved using the overlocker's rolled hem facility - it's a standard feature on all of our overlockers.
Differential feed will prevent delicate slippery fabrics from puckering and eliminate wavy seams on stretchy fabrics.
As a bonus you can adjust the differential to produce gathering, or to achieve the very slight gathers that are sometimes required when setting in sleeves.
On first impression, newbies may find overlockers a bit daunting; they're actually quite a straight forward piece of kit, once you've spent a little time studying them.
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