Due to popular sites such as Etsy and Craftsy and a slew of sewing influencers flooding social media, the art of sewing your own handmade creations is booming, say experts. “The DIY movement is huge right now,” said Kristine Frailing, owner and creative director of The New York Sewing Center. “Especially with TikTok and Instagram. It’s a new way of learning.”
Frailing, who runs sewing classes daily in the summer for ages 6 and above, said her classes are always at capacity. “It’s more cost effective, and people are becoming more aware of the issues of sourcing and sustainability,” she said, adding that there’s also a new trend toward upcycling, or reusing items to make them into new creations.
Sandra Markus, a professor in the design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology, said people today use sewing as a means to express themselves, and she noted that it’s much easier to do so compared to several decades ago. “When I grew up, you went to the store and bought a McCalls [pattern] or a Butterick. Or if you wanted to spend more money, you bought a Vogue. Now there are tons of indie pattern companies offering ways to express your own style or ways to hack the current styles,” she said.
Best sewing machines for beginners, according to sewing experts
When it comes to sewing machines, our experts highly recommended Janome, Singer, Brother and Bernette – the more affordable Bernina line – as the brands that are most cost-efficient, reliable and easiest for beginners to learn on. But as a novice, you might not know what to look for before buying one. To help, we asked experts about the best sewing machines for beginners, along with insight on which models provide the best bang for your buck. Here are their top picks, each reasonably priced and packed with novice-friendly features.
“Bernette is the daughter company of Bernina, and their quality matches that of the Berninas,” Frailing explained. The machine features 23 stitches, and you can adjust the width, length and pattern of a stitch by turning one of the three separate knobs at the top of the machine, says the brand. If you’re set on a computerized machine, you can opt for the Bernette 37, which includes a few more stitches and can sew wider stitches than the 35 model.
This mechanical machine is Markus’ favorite and the one she recommends to all her students. “It will last forever,” she said. “It has everything you need, and it’s impossible to break.” The 4452 includes an automatic needle threader and has 32 built-in stitches: six basic, seven stretch, 18 decorative and one automatic 1-step buttonhole, according to the brand.
The 05 Crafter is the machine for “creative all-rounders,” according to Bernette. Markus highly recommended this machine for younger sewers who want to make leggings and swimsuits. “The 05 is geared toward younger sewers who want to make cut-and-sew knits, so they will need a toothier machine like this one to handle them.” This Bernette model can work on fine fabric as well as strong denim, says the brand. It offers 30 essential stitches, including the one-step buttonhole, as well as a blanket stitch and Lycra stitch for super-stretchy materials. It also has two LED lights to illuminate what you are working on.
This model from Brother comes with 37 built-in stitches and an LED work light. The brand says the machine includes a jam-resistant top bobbin to hold a spool of thread and an automatic threader that the brand says is meant to easily push a thread through a needle. “This Brother is very useful for someone that is into quilting, because it has a very wide table that most don’t have. I’ve worked with a lot of Brothers — it’s a great beginner brand that will last you a long time, and the price point is wonderful,” said Frailing.
Bernette’s most basic model, the Sew & Go 1 is a great entry-level machine, said Markus. At 15 pounds, it’s also great to travel with or move around the house. It’s one of the more affordable beginner machines on the market at under $200, but since it’s a smaller investment, it has very basic features — just 10 stitches, which can be selected via a simple touch panel or stitch dial, along with attachments to sew on buttons and zippers.
This mechanical machine is on the pricier side, but it’s loaded with features, said Frailing. It offers 21 stitches, including stretch stitches and a four-step buttonhole, and is designed to sew up to 850 stitches per minute, according to the brand. It also has bright LED lighting.
This machine is one of Frailing’s favorites. “It’s affordable [at under $200] and has all the features you need to get your sewing hobby started,” she said. “This machine will also last through the years and has the ability to sew lots of different materials and projects.” It includes 12 built-in stitches, a dial for pattern selection and adjustments for the width and length of stitches.
How to shop for a home sewing machine
Industrial versus home machines: Generally, sewing machines will fall into two broad categories: industrial, or commercial, and home, or domestic. As the name implies, an industrial sewing machine is meant for professionals in the apparel industry and not for the average beginner. They are fast and precise and can sew heavier materials such as canvas and leather without a hitch, said Frailing. Yet some of these sewing machines can go well into four-digit price points, like the Consew 206RB-5, which sells for about $1,800. “Home sewing machines are the most basic, are beginner-friendly and good to use for almost any project,” said Frailing.
Where to shop. According to Frailing, you can buy a machine on Etsy or at Michaels, Amazon and Walmart, as well as hobby stores. For a lower-cost option, Markus suggested hitting flea markets, church rummage sales and garage sales. “Dealers always have a few secondhand ones for sale as well,” she said. If buying one online, she prefers going to a place where you can try them out first.
Understand the reasoning behind the various price points. Home sewing machines can differ dramatically in price. “When buying a sewing machine, one should consider what type of investment they want to make. You can buy a $99 machine and you can buy a $5,000 machine — they both essentially do the same thing,” Markus said, adding that a fair price point for a quality beginner machine is between $200 and $350. “A $79 machine is not really worth buying,” she said. “They get jammed and they can’t really deal with a lot of thicknesses of fabric.
Avoid all the bells and whistles. As a beginner, Markus also said you should avoid sewing machines with “a whole lot of bells and whistles. You don’t want it highly computerized, because you don’t want to have to spend a lot to fix it. You want to put the money into the body of the machine,” she said. “All you need is one with a great zigzag and straight stitch.”
Pass on the minis. Mini sewing machines are more affordable than other types, but they should be avoided, Frailing said. “These machines are very small, inexpensive and only for very minor uses, like fixing a hole or something small on the go,” she explained.
Types of home sewing machines
The most common kinds of home sewing machines can be categorized into five basic types according to their features and how they operate.
- A mechanical sewing machine is the easiest home machine to understand, and both Frailing and Markus agreed that this is the best type for beginners. “As a beginner, you are going to have a lot of times when you aren’t doing things properly, like holding the material too tight when pushing it through. So you are more likely to damage the machine,” Frailing said. “A mechanical machine is less costly to fix.”
- An electronic sewing machine, also referred to as a computerized machine, features automated controls that function through touchpad screens or dials. “It has a lot more precision and it has a memory. You can set it to a stitch to the millimeter and it will record what you are doing so you can do it again,” Frailing said, noting that while these are great machines, they’re also more expensive. “You should decide if you really like sewing before you invest in one of these.”
- An overlock machine (or serger) is meant for more advanced garment production to sew seams together, especially stretchy materials. “Most people who are serious sewers tend to have these. It gives a professional finish,” Frailing said.
- An embroidery machine is designed to help with decorative details, but it can only embroider. “Want to add a letter, name or shape to a garment? This is the machine for that,” Frailing said, adding that some sewing machines also have the ability to embroider.
- A coverstitch machine is usually used to help create hems like the ones you see on commercially made clothes (like the bottom of a T-shirt). These are also common for athletic wear to allow for stretch, Frailing said.
Best advice for beginning sewers
“Learning to sew sounds easy enough, right? That is usually what I hear from someone that purchases a machine for the first time,” Frailing said. “It can be, but it really takes practice, patience and time to learn how to do things properly and efficiently.” Before turning on your sewing machine for the first time, here’s what experts recommend doing.
- Watch tutorials. Find videos about specific models or from the brand you buy from for best practices. “YouTube and TikTok are great sources of sewing information these days,” said Markus. “I watch Instagram reels all the time. I am amazed at how well they can demonstrate sewing techniques in 30 seconds or under.”
- Don’t throw away your user manual. Take your time setting up your machine properly, practice threading it and stitch on some scraps before diving into your first project, said Frailing.
- Start with smaller, simpler projects. “I tell my students to start with something simple, like a Scrunchie, so they can have success at the start,” said Frailing. “You don’t want to start off trying to sew a wedding gown.”
- Check the thread. “If your machine isn’t sewing the way you expect, chances are there is something wrong with the way it is threaded,” Markus explained. “When troubleshooting, the first thing I do is re-thread my machine and make sure everything is in the right place.”
- Buy an extension table. “You need a large, flat surface to work on, and most machines don’t come with an extension table anymore,” said Markus. “It’s hard to sew without one.”
Meet our experts
At Select, we work with experts who have specialized knowledge and authority based on relevant training and/or experience. We also take steps to ensure that all expert advice and recommendations are made independently and with no undisclosed financial conflicts of interest.
- Dr. Sandra Markus is a professor in the Fashion Design department at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. She holds a doctorate in technology from Columbia University
- Kristine Frailing is the founder and creative director of The New York Sewing Center