What Sewing Machine Should I Buy?

I am often asked what machine I recommend and that is always a difficult question to answer. There are so many things to consider:

  • How will you use the machine? Embroidery? Piecing? Quilting? Bag making? Garment sewing? Each use requires different features so be sure to look for a machine that does what you need.
  • Is there a good dealer for that machine in your area? Can you take classes to learn to use your machine better? Will there be someone close and conveniently-located who can service the machine? Can you get more bobbins, new feet, and other accessories quickly and easily? 

  • What is your price range? My advice: Get the best machine that you can afford but don't buy things that you won't use. There are some essential features for a machine that I would insist on having: needle down, ability to move the needle position, ability to drop the feed dogs quickly and easily, ability to adjust bobbin tension quickly and easily, etc. Extras like an embroidery module and even automatic needle threaders just aren't as important to me so why spend extra money on them?

  • How much space do you have for a sewing area? I have been tempted to buy a fancy embroidery machine but, aside from the point that I'd probably rarely embroider anything, it would mean buying a whole new sewing table and completely revamping my sewing room. Not gonna happen any time soon.

I have two Berninas, a Juki, two Janomes, and a Pfaff and I love and use each one of them for different reasons.

  • I do the majority of my sewing on an older Bernina 1080. I also have a Bernina 1130. These machines are almost the same. Both are work horses which go through lots of layers with ease. I especially love Bernina's ¼" foot and their zipper foot  (more about those later). Those two feet are probably the reason that I sew on the Bernina more than any other machine. No one makes feet like Bernina!
  • My Juki TL-98Q is strictly a straight-stitch machine so I cannot use it for zig-zag stitching or decorative stitches. However, if I am just stitching straight lines, the Juki goes significantly faster than any of my other machines and I can fly through a project. It produces a beautiful, even stitch, too. I especially love the thread cutters on the Juki — I can operate with a tap of my foot.
  • I have a small Janome Gem which I love for taking to classes. Its small size and light weight make it really simple to transport. I can even take it as a carry on when I travel by plane.
  • My larger Janome 6600 has lots of fun decorative stitches and even an alphabet. I actually bought it largely because I wanted to embroider poetry in curved lines on quilts. . . something that I still haven't done, but one day. . . I like to use this machine for machine quilting but rarely use it for assembly of projects because I prefer the feet on my Bernina.
  • Because my staff also helps with a lot of my sample sewing, I recently added a Pfaff 420 to my studio equipment. Though I haven't used this machine very much, my assistant (who always sews on a Pfaff) loves the way the foot moves up a little as you stop stitching and goes down by itself. She assures me that I will love that feature. I do love the built-in walking foot on the Pfaff and its beautiful, straight stitch and am looking forward to working more on that machine soon!
Here are some "must-have" features to look for in a machine that will be used for quilting or purse making:
    • Needle down: One of the most important extras to have on a sewing machine, this feature ensures that the needle will always stop in the down position. This is especially important when free-motion quilting, but is a feature that I would not give up for anything. Get it!!
    • Good machine feet: As mentioned before, I use my Bernina 1080 more than any of the other machines that I own (even though those machines may have other atttractive features) because I LOVE the Bernina feet. Here are the basic feet that you'll want to have:
  • Ability to lower the feed dogs:  In order to free-motion quilt successfully, you must be able to lower the feed dogs so that YOU move the fabric rather than letting the machine move the fabric. Check out how the machine is designed for you to accomplish this task. On my Bernina, it's a simple turn of a dial on the right side of the machine. On my Janome Gem there is a button that slides on the back of the machine. Make sure that the button or dial is easily accessible and easy to engage. I've seen machines where the bed of the machine must be removed in order to engage/disengage the feed dogs. That would be a real hassle when you're trying to quilt!
  • Extension table: Check out the size of the bed of the machine and any extra extension table that comes with the machine. You need a flat area around the needle on which to lay your fabric. You need room to rest your hands to hold the fabric in place. The larger that area, the better. It's hard to get a good stitch if you fabric is falling off the side!
  • Open arm: The ability to remove the bed of the machine so that the arm is open is a great feature that is especially helpful for garment sewing. I also appreciate this feature when I am sewing purses and bags, such as when I topstitch around the top of the bag. 
  • Throat space: More room between the needle and the right side of the machine makes maneuvering pieces much easier. If you want to make larger purses and bags or if you plan to machine quilt, look for a machine with a large opening in this area. 
    • 1/4" foot: This foot is essential for sewing accurate 1/4" seams. You can get 1/4" feet with or without guides on the side. I prefer the foot withOUT the guide. The Bernina foot also is designed so that I can sew accurate 1/8" seams and 1/16" seams. And it's completely open in front of the needle so I have great visibility. Love it!
    • Zipper foot: A zipper foot enables you to sew on the side of the foot instead of down the middle. This is helpful as you can get into tight places. Look for a foot that gives good contact with the fabric as you want to have good control as you stitch. Don't forget that you'll need to move your needle to one side or the other of the foot before stitching.
    • Walking foot: A walking foot makes the fabric on the top move along with the fabric on the bottom so is essential for machine quilting.
    • Darning foot: A darning foot doesn't put pressure on the fabric so is the foot you need when you are free-motion quilting. There are several styles and sizes. I like the closed foot and the open foot which gives me more visibility. 
    • Open-toe embroidery foot: This foot it completely open in front of the needle and has a wide opening so that it is easy to see where you are stitching. I use this foot anytime that I am stitching with decorative or zig-zag stitches.