Guide to buying your first sewing machine
Your sewing machine will be your biggest investment when you start sewing and there are so many ranges on the market it can be a little overwhelming when it comes to choosing a model. Thinking about what you are going to be using it for will often be the starting point and of course budget constraints. A visit to your local sewing machine stockist would be a good idea, you’ll be able to test various machines and get a feel for the different brands and whether you have a preference for a computerised model.
My last machine was given to me by my grandmother-in-law and was made by Husqvarna and was decades old. That said, it was a great robust little machine that I certainly put through it’s paces, and only when it kept getting stuck on reverse did I decide it was probably time to upgrade. I now have a Husqvarna Emerald 203 which is a computerised machine with more stitches than I’ll ever use! I have to confess in the four years I’ve had it there are foot attachments that I have never used and I have to keep the manual next to the machine because even now I still need to look certain things up!
The screen display tells you which presser foot to use depending on the stitch selection, tension guide, stitch length and needle position. I do love this machine but it’s rrp was over £600 however the Emerald 103 was nearly £200 cheaper but when I went to order the machine I was told that because they didn’t have the 103 in stock they were fulfilling orders with the 203 model, so I was more than happy!!
On my dressmaking course we used Janome non-computerised machines, that were around the £200 mark, they were simple to use, had all the basic functions we needed including one-step buttonholes, variable needle positioning, interchangeble feet and a stretch stitch. I did miss the one button function of needle up/down, reverse stitch and automatic needle threader that my machine has but when you test out machines you’ll get to know what functions you want.
A good no nonsense beginner’s machine has to be the lovely colourful ones sold at John Lewis. My daughter has the entry model in Cornflour Blue, they start retailing around £60. I have used this and was pleasantly surprised by the stitch quality, the only downside is they are a bit noisy but if you can cope with that, it’s a great basic machine. Ideal if you really don’t want to spend a lot of money and just want to see how you get on with sewing.
All machines will come with standard attachments (straight, zigzag & zip foot) but you can add to this by buying additional presser feet – my most used is the invisible (concealed) zip foot, that will allow the insertion of a zip without it being visible on the garment. Basically there is a presser foot that will help with most sewing tasks including gathering, adding bias binding and blind hemming to name a few. Whilst it would be lovely to have all of these feet, they are not cheap, retailing at £15-20 per foot for my machine. I have seen cheap bundles of presser feet, a generic brand, but I’d be too worried about damaging my machine so it’s a case of buying just what I need when I need it.
Look at the insides of your clothing, the seams will have been finished with an Overlocker. This is a machine that trims and finishes seams in a single action. They will give a professional finish to your garments and using one is so much quicker than using an overlock stitch on your sewing machine. However you need to be a confident machinist before you use an Overlocker, it is all too easy to cut into the garment by mistake!
My model is a Brother 1034D, retailing around £200, and I am happy with it. Again, I need to keep the manual to hand, there are different foot attachments that I haven’t needed to use yet, but for finishing seams it’s great. I would highly recommend investing in one if you are going to be making garments on a regular basis.
There is nothing more frustrating then when you are in the middle of a project and your machine becomes temperamental. Always go back to basics and start by:
- check the machine is clean by removing the bobbin and using a cotton bud to remove any lint that has built up in this area
- re-threading the machine – always have the take up lever in the highest position when threading
- check the bobbin is inserted the right way and the thread runs freely
- re-wind the bobbin if it looks unevenly wound
- use the same thread for the top thread and bobbin and ensure it is of good quality
- tension adjustment – if seams are puckered or the thread keeps jamming/breaking, then check the tension setting
- Needle issues – check the needle size is the right one for the fabric you are using and has not come loose in the needle clamp
- Change your needle regularly as a bent or blunt needle will cause problems, new project new needle is a good idea!
If you are still having problems having checked all the above, then contact your local sewing machine store – it might be a good idea to get your machine serviced.