What you get at each price point
A low-end machine is fine for a beginner sewer. It will sew a variety of fabrics and basic stitches and is suitable for basic repairs and simple garment construction. Check that clear instructions are given, on both the machine itself and in the manual, for how to thread and operate it.
The upside is that there are no computerised components so not much can go wrong. The downside is that once you become more competent at sewing, you’ll probably want to take on more complex tasks that will be harder to do with the basic features of the cheaper machine, and impossible if you want to move on to embroidery or quilting, say.
Assess your long-term skills and needs before you buy, to save having to upgrade to a more sophisticated machine down the track.
Our experts chose this as their preferred machine overall. A mid-price machine has a much larger range of features, stitches and capabilities and would suit anyone from beginners to advanced — though one expert commented that an absolute beginner might be overwhelmed by the number of stitches available.
It’s likely to have most of the capabilities that make sewing simpler, and similar features to a high-end machine, apart from specialised embroidery and the ability to download designs direct from a computer. The LCD screen displays are easy to follow and the large variety of stitches/features are conducive to a much wider range of crafts than the basic model.
A machine at this price would be for the serious sewer only. Like the mid-range machine it has a long list of extra features and capabilities to make sewing easier, but what makes it twice the price is its embroidery features, which include being able to download designs from the internet and edit them on screen.
It should come equipped with all the bells and whistles, such as a colour touchscreen, power-saving mode and PC card slot, but most likely only the serious embroiderer would find all its functions useful.
Before deciding on a machine, try it out in the shop to see if it’s right for you. Take a selection of fabrics with you that you’re likely to use, such as denim, cotton and silk. Try out a variety of stitches and check their quality. A good machine will produce tight, even stitches without puckering.
Visit big craft shows in your area, or major state-based shows like the Royal Easter Show, as manufacturers often have excellent deals available at this time.
If you want a good list of features without the $1500 price tag, consider a secondhand machine from a local dealer. Ask the retailer for a warranty and try the machine out before you buy.
Check the warranty.
To keep your machine shipshape, follow the cleaning and oiling recommendations in the manual. For optimum performance, it's recommended you have it serviced every 12 months or so, but if you maintain it well yourself it may not be necessary so often.
Find out if you can return it to the shop where you bought it for repairs. If not, where will it have to go?
It’s a good idea to take lessons after you buy your sewing machine, which your local sewing dealer may offer as part of the package. This will help you learn what your machine is capable of.
For people with a disability
- Models with touch-button controls would be more suitable for those with dexterity problems — models with slide controls and dials would be very difficult to set accurately.
- Models with clear, well contrasted labelling would suit those with poorer eyesight, and models with a speed selector that allow the machine to run at a lower speed could also be an advantage.
We explain some commonly used terms.
The bobbin holds the bottom thread that forms the stitch by looping together with the needle thread. Sewing machines have either a front-loading or top-loading bobbin.
These are the jaw-shaped teeth that move the fabric through the machine. The feed dog can be dropped for tasks like button sewing and embroidery.
This fits over the feed dogs, with a hole that the needle passes through.
This can be levered up and down, and when down it holds the fabric against the feed dogs. Different feet are used for different jobs and come supplied with your machine — or you can purchase additional feet.
Most machines require you to adjust the thread’s tension to suit different types of thread or fabric. The mid and high end models we looked at have automatic tension for general sewing.