The long-running Project Runway continues to inspire viewers. Those of us who sew are coming up with lots and lots of great new outfits for ourselves, friends and family members.
Runway fans who do not already know how to sew are enrolling in sewing class and learning to sew in record numbers.
When it comes to buying a sewing machine, far too many people who have never before touched a sewing machine are investing in machines that they are simply not ready for.
Instead of whipping up the fantastic wardrobes they dreamed of, lots of brand new sewing machines are languishing away in closets because their owners are frustrated over not being able to operate them.
My advice to the beginner… Rather than spend a small fortune on a fully loaded sewing machine from the start, why not consider purchasing a machine with fewer features and trading it in for one with more to offer when you are ready to take on more.
Nearly every company that manufactures sewing machines offers machines for all skill levels and ages – from the very young to the senior citizen who was too busy to learn to sew when they were younger or who sewed for a while and then stopped because they were busy with career and family obligations.
Types of Sewing Machines
There are two basic types of sewing machines – mechanical and electronic or computerized.
Mechanical sewing machines
Mechanical sewing machines are the simplest to operate. There are fewer parts to break and fewer things can go wrong while working on a mechanical sewing machine.
For those who like a technical explanation, the mechanical sewing machine was the very first sewing made. Originally, they were operated manually, by a hand crank or a treadle.
The original sewing machines did one straight stitch only and when the machines were operated properly those stitches were beautiful, neat and evenly balanced.
Today’s mechanical sewing machine is electric powered, but like its predecessor, has a limited range of stitch options.
Nearly all modern mechanical sewing machines have straight and zigzag sewing, making it possible for the user to perform every essential sewing task, including make buttonholes and finish seam edges.
Some mechanical sewing machines even have automatic needle threaders. Many have manual on board thread cutters as well.
Not only are mechanical sewing machines less costly than computerized machines, they are very easy to care for. With a little bit of training, anyone who uses a mechanical sewing machine on a regular basis can clean and service their machine at home.
This means less down time and fewer visits to a service center. The only reason you should have to take your mechanical sewing machine in for servicing is if something on it wears out or breaks.
If your mechanical sewing machine is operated and maintained properly, repair visits are very few and far between… you won’t have to take it in often.
Electronic sewing machines
Electronic sewing machines have more working parts, starting with a motherboard. Electronic sewing machines have fewer features than fully computerized machines.
They usually have a monochromatic screen or a digitally lit screen that displays stitch number and sometimes stitch length and width settings and offer a broad selection of utility and decorative stitch options. The stitch options on a fully computerized sewing machine are almost endless.
Fully computerized sewing machines
Fully computerized sewing machines come with USB ports which make it possible for them to be connected to your computer, enabling you to download software from the internet, which means your sewing machine has the potential to never go out of date.
With a computerized sewing machine, you can embroider, quilt and create your own combinations of stitch patterns that you can use whenever you want.
Although it is possible to perform simple quilting and embroidery tasks on a mechanical sewing machine, your options are pretty much limitless with a computerized machine.
When it comes to computerized sewing machines, you can get a machine that offers basic computerized functions, like stitch selection or a machine that is fully computerized and loaded with all sorts of push button features.
In order for a computerized sewing machine to operate at maximum performance levels, it is necessary to take it in for servicing by an authorized service provider at least once a year.
If you use your computerized sewing machine heavily, it will be necessary to take it in for servicing more frequently. Each service call can cost up to $100.
Which Machine is Best for Me?
Although I am certain some will disagree – especially dealers – I advise all beginners to start with a mechanical sewing machine.
In my opinion, this is the best way for a true beginner to fully understand the workings of a sewing machine and to master the basics of machine sewing.
My first sewing machine was a hand crank model that was given to me when I was eight years old. In addition to making doll clothes and small accent pieces for the home, I also learned all about the inner workings of all sewing machines.
While going underneath a sewing machine head learning about all the gears, how they work and what they do is boring, it is essential when it comes to caring for your sewing machine.
I don’t recommend that anyone go that far back, but a simple mechanical sewing machine is very easy to learn to operate and maintain. With fewer parts and fewer functions, there is less to remember while learning a new skill.
The age of the sewing student is a consideration as well. Elementary school children and senior citizens or people who are technologically challenged should definitely start out on a mechanical sewing machine.
People in middle or high school or above and older people who are technologically savvy, may be able to learn on certain computerized sewing machines. However, not all computerized sewing machines are designed for use by beginners.
Recommended Mechanical Sewing Machines for the Beginner
Children 4 to 7 years of age
You wouldn’t expect a child this young to really make much of anything. There are a few toy sewing machines on the market that you can give to a child this young.
By watching them play with these toy machines, you will be able to determine if they have any aptitude or interest in sewing before investing any real money in a machine for them. It’s also a great way to keep them off of your machine while learning the basics of how a sewing machine works.
Like anything else, some of these kiddie sewing machines are better than others. I recommend the very inexpensive Singer Pixie Plus. It’s not anything you could use to really sew on, but it’s a good teaching tool for the very young.
Another option is the much advertised, Dyno Easy Stitcher. You may have seen it advertised on HSN or QVC. This one is not as good as the Singer Pixie, but if you just want to teach your little ones about the parts of a sewing machine and how they work, it will do just fine.
Machines for the Beginner Older than 7 Years of Age
Once a child is able to read, they are ready for a real mechanical sewing machine. Although reading is not actually necessary to operate a sewing machine, I find that a child who is able to read above the first grade level is more likely to be able to operate a mechanical sewing machine with ease.
The mechanical sewing machines I like best for use by children are simple to thread, the bobbin winding and insertion process is uncomplicated and stitch selection is very easy. The great news is these mechanical sewing machines are also great options for anyone who wants to learn to sew.
There are many more selections in this category. Pricing options are varied as well. My recommendation is to take a close look at all of your available choices and make your final decision based upon your budget and your assessment of the ability of the person who will be using the machine most often.
A sturdy mechanical sewing machine that will last for many years. It is easy for a child to use and great for use by adults, teens and senior citizens.
A great machine for the beginner with bright LED lighting, easy to use function controls and more stitch options than many other machines in its class. The Brother LX 2500 doesn’t have the best stitch quality, but it is a good learning tool.
This is a wonderful machine for children to use. The color is appealing, especially to young people, function dials and buttons are large and easy to operate and it is lightweight.
The oversized function dials and buttons are great for children. The Janome HD 1000 is built to last. You don’t have to be a beginner to appreciate this one.
Anyone who prefers all metal construction in a mechanical sewing machine will love it. The stitch options are limited, but it has everything necessary for basic sewing and the heavy duty construction means that you don’t have to worry about parts breaking or wearing out before their time.
This mechanical sewing machine is so powerful, I wouldn’t recommend it for use by children unless there is very close adult supervision. The Janome HD 3000 simple to operate, but it is also a very powerful machine that will give you years and years of flawless service.
Janome’s Hello Kitty series is designed for the young home sewer. The ironic thing, however, is that I have yet to get my hands on a Hello Kitty machine to review.
That’s because dealers in my area limit their display space to machines with greater return on their investment. I certainly understand the logic behind this policy and have no real complaints.
I like this one for use by children. It isn’t too fast, and the stitch quality isn’t the best but the Juki HZL 25Z is easy to operate and an excellent learning tool.
This may not be an ideal machine for the student who is older than 10 years of age, because I don’t think they would want to use it once they get beyond the beginner level, but it certainly is a good choice for children or people who are not sure if they want to continue sewing after they learn the basics.
Easy stitch selection is the key feature on this one. The stitch selection process on this one is possibly the most user friendly, least complicated of all the newer sewing machines I have reviewed.
I wouldn’t expect it to last for generations like the vintage Singers, however. The plastic construction makes it light enough to carry to sewing class, but it the new Singers aren’t anywhere near as durable as your grandmother’s old Singer.
Actually newer than the 3116, but with a stitch selection process that is not as user friendly. It might still be possible to find a 3316 at a local retailer. If you have a choice, my recommendation is to go with the older model.
Like the Singer Simple 3221, the stitch selection process is less user friendly, but this one offers more stitch options and a few more features. In my opinion, this one is best for the student who is at least 10-12 years of age.
The Singer Promise 1409 is a long way from my favorite sewing machine, but if you are in the market for an inexpensive sewing machine on which to teach a child to sew, you may want to consider investing in this lightweight basic mechanical sewing machine.
Recommend Electronic Sewing Machines for the Beginner
There are lots of electronic sewing machines on the market that I believe are good for the beginner who is 10 years of age or older.
I don’t recommend these machines for children young than 10 because they are a little more challenging to operate. There are, of course exceptions to ever rule.
Fay Nichol, owner of Sunshine Sewing and Quilting in Margate taught her 7 year old granddaughter how to sew on an electronic machine.
She pointed out that children are now very accustomed to working with electronics and have no real issues with electronics. As a rule, however, I still feel that the simpler the machine, the easier it is for children to learn, especially younger children.
Baby Lock Grace has lots of features that are normally found on fully computerized sewing machines, like a built in buttonhole maker.
Normally I would recommend that beginners learn to make their own buttonholes before stepping up to a machine that makes buttonholes automatically, but this machine is an exception to that rule.
It comes with 40 on board utility and decorative stitches, which, in my opinion, is a lot for a child to contend with, but a good option for the older sewing student.
A good machine for the beginner who is computer savvy and not at all intimidated by technology. The BERNINA 215 has many more features and options than I would normally recommend for a beginner, but it’s simplicity and ease of operation make it a good choice for the older beginner.
This one has more features and options than the 215. It gets a nod for the beginner only because it is easy to operate. Again, I do not recommend this machine for use by children or for people who are ill equipped to handle lots of different options while learning the basics of sewing.
Like the 330, the 530 gets a nod for beginners only because it is easy to learn to operate… that is if the student is computer savvy, can handle a lot of options while learning and has already decided that they will be sewing for a long, long time.
This machine is good for home sewers at all skill levels because it offers so much yet isn’t overly complicated to use. I do not recommend it for use by children or anyone for whom all of the additional bells and whistles may be problematic.
The stitch quality is great and it’s light enough to carry to sewing class. This sturdy electronic sewing machine is a good choice for just about anyone who is learning to sew.
This is one of the best machines for stitch quality on the market today. The Husqvarna/Viking Opal 670 is user friendly and easy to learn. For a computerized sewing machine, it is one of the few that I recommend for use by computer savvy beginners with very little hesitation.
I recommend the Sapphire 930 only for those sewing students who are very computer savvy and not at all challenged when it comes to working with lots of buttons and stitch options while learning to sew.
It is loaded with lots of features and the stitch quality is superb. In addition to not being intimidated by a machine with so many features, the beginner who purchases the Husqvarna/Viking Sapphire 930 should also be committed to sewing for a long time because it is not by any means a low cost machine.
This cute little number is very child friendly. It’s easy to operate and fun to work on. The quality of the stitches is very good and best of all, the Magnolia 7330 is built to last.
Each year, the folks at Janome put out a machine in the DC line. The only perceptible difference is the color on the faceplate. The one I reviewed was the DC 2012.
It is a very user friendly machine with all the advantages of a computerized machine and all the uncomplicated functionality of a mechanical sewing machine.
It is a wonderful machine to learn on and the extra features make it a great choice for intermediate and advanced level home sewers as well.
So, if you are an advanced home sewer with a sewing student in the house, the a sewing machine in the Janome DC series might be an ideal choice for your household.
This is the machine Faye Nichol, the woman who owns Sunshine Sewing and Quilting used to teach her seven year old granddaughter to sew.
Perhaps it was easy for Fay to teach her little one to sew on the 3160 QDC because she eats, sleeps and breathes sewing machines. I, for one, would be hesitant to allow a child so young to start out on this one, but maybe that’s just me.
I do believe this would be a good choice for older children and teens who are learning to sew. The 3160 QDC is a tough little sewing machine that is easy to operate and very user friendly.
Not only is the Janome Jem Platinum 760 user friendly, it is also a sturdy dynamo of a sewing machine and very light… light enough to take to sewing class.
The quality of the stitches will please any seasoned home sewer and the light weight makes it a great travel companion.
It can go to the dorm room or on vacation and take up a minimum amount of space. If you are looking for a sewing machine that is easy for a beginner to take to class and also take along on vacation, consider this one.
I like this one because it is easy to learn. However, I do not recommend it for use by anyone who is not comfortable with having to go through a few steps to get a desired stitch or to perform certain tasks.
In my opinion, an adult could manage quite will while learning to sew on the Janome 2160 DC, however, a child or even a senior citizen who is returning to sewing after a long absence from the sewing machine might find this one challenging.
I like the on board assistance you get with this LED screen. When you make a stitch selection, the machine tells you which presser foot to use and walks you through the stitch length and width selection process. A teen or adult should be able to master sewing on this one with ease.
My only real complaint about the Pfaff Passport 2.0 is the stitch selection touchpad is not friendly to finger nails. My nails are not excessively long, but the buttons are difficult to engage if your nails are more than ¼ inch beyond the tips of your fingers.
I do not necessarily recommend the Passport 2.0 for use by children younger than 10 or 12, but anyone at or beyond the middle school level should be able to operate this machine with little supervision.
The Pfaff Ambition Essential is just that – an ambitious effort for a beginner. If you decide to purchase this one for your beginner, I recommend that you also make sure lessons come with it.
Nearly every dealer offers classes with the sale of every sewing machine to make sure the purchaser knows how to operate their new acquisition.
I believe a beginner who purchases the Pfaff Ambition Essential would benefit greatly from these lessons and supplemental lessons as well.
In the review, I said this machine is good for beginners because it is very user friendly. That does not mean, however, that a beginner should expect to be able to sit down and start sewing on this one right away.
For machines in its class, the stitch quality isn’t the best, but the Singer Stylist 7258 is an acceptable learning tool for the beginner who is at or beyond the middle school level.
I do not recommend this machine for younger children because it is not as user friendly as a mechanical sewing machine. Nor is it the easiest electronic sewing machine to operate.
A beginner who is not intimidated by mechanics can function well on this machine, but do not expect to be able to pass this one along to your children or grandchildren.
There are an infinite number of vintage and used sewing machines available for purchase. If you are in the market for a sewing machine for teaching purposes only, you may want to consider visiting a local dealer that specializes in sewing machine repair and ask their advice.
You could also inquire about trade-ins at any reputable authorized sewing machine dealer. Very often, you might be able to find a refurbished sewing machine for less than half the cost of a brand new machine.
Nearly any sewing machine made before the mid to late1980s would be a good choice for the beginner. The machines made before the mid 1980s were generally made entirely from metal and the parts last almost forever.
I know one woman who is still sewing on a Singer that she inherited from her grandmother who inherited it herself. I have two vintage sewing machines in my own sewing room and they both work as great as they did when they were first purchased.
In fact, a sewing machine repair profession recently told me that my oldest machine, a Fleetwood E188 will outlast my lifetime and that of my granddaughter as well. Unfortunately, they don’t even make Fleetwoods any more. There are still a few out there, however.
My experience is that old Kenmores, Singers and Pfaffs are wonderful, especially for students. It’s almost impossible to break one of these workhorses and because of their age, they are very inexpensive.
You will probably be able to find one of these gems for less than $100 online, at a shop where sewing machines are repaired and sold or at an estate sale.
If you do not get yours from a dealer, be prepared to have it serviced and possibly refurbished. If that is the case, the investment is well worth it, so don’t fret over having to put a few extra dollars up to make sure it works properly.
Whether your sewing student is four or 84, the right and perfect sewing machine is available. Buying a sewing machine – even for a beginner – is very much like buying a pair of shoes.
If the fit is not just right, it will not be worth your while to make the investment. Before making a decision to purchase a sewing machine for the beginner in your life, take several things into consideration:
- The age and aptitude of the person who will be using the sewing machine most – purchasing a machine that is too far above or beneath their initial skill level will result in the machine not being used.
A machine that is too complicated will frustrate the student, causing them to possibly lose all interest in sewing. One that is too simple for the user will have the opposite effect and they will be bored.
If this is the case, you could very well find yourself shopping for another sewing machine in just a few months. I strongly recommend that younger children and senior citizens use mechanical sewing machines only.
- Your budget – do not spend more money than you can reasonably afford.
- Space – will the sewing machine be set up permanently or packed away when it is not in use? If your space is limited and you cannot leave it out, you should consider only lightweight portable sewing machines.
A heavy sewing machine will spend much more time in the closet because it is too much trouble to take out and put away.
Learning to sew is a fun experience when the student is using the right sewing machine. Years ago, it didn’t matter which machine you used because they all pretty much alike. That is no longer the case.
So many factors must be taken into consideration now-a-days that shopping for a sewing machine has become almost as important as shopping for a new car. In fact, some of the computerized sewing machines on the market cost as much as a good used vehicle.
Take your time when looking for a new sewing machine, especially for a beginner. A home sewer who is adept at working on sewing machines is far more adaptable to adjusting to a new machine that is not a perfect fit than someone who knows very little about sewing.
It isn’t difficult to make the right selection. It just takes a little time, some thought and finally some serious shopping around.