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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. “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 she is 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 New York’s 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.
If you are interested in being part of what Markus refers to as the “Me Made movement,” a sewing machine could be a worthwhile investment — 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 and got tips on which ones provide the best bang for your buck.
Should you buy a sewing machine?
While experts recommended hand-sewing for things like attaching a button, mending a hem or patching up a pocket, Markus and Frailing both agreed that anyone interested in developing apparel skills should buy a sewing machine.
“Sewing machines give a tighter stitch and are quite a bit faster than hand-sewing,” Markus said. “But I think learning hand-sewing as a foundation is a great way to start off.”
Best sewing machines for beginners, according to sewing experts
When it comes to sewing machines, there were four brands that almost all the experts approved of: Janome, Singer, Brother and Bernina. Among Frailing’s favorites are Janome, Singer and Brother — she said they are “easy to learn with” and are “well known in the industry.” Markus’ favorite is Singer: “I like any of the Singer heavy-duty machines,” she said. “It’s a very easy on-ramp for beginners and there’s not a whole lot of bells and whistles that they don’t need.”
Here are their top picks for beginners, 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 to use. 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. 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 boasts an automatic needle threader and has 32 built-in stitches: six basic, seven stretch, 18 decorative and one automatic 1-step buttonhole.
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. 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. It offers 19 stitches, including stretch stitches and a four-step buttonhole, and is designed to sew up to 850 stitches per minute, according to the brand.
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.
Types of sewing machines — and which is best for beginners
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 — they are fast and precise and sew many materials without much of a hitch, according to Frailing. This type of machine is pricier than the standard sewing machine you’ll probably see — some go well into four-digit price points, like this one from Consew that’s almost $1,800. Experts advise avoiding these machines if you’re a beginner.
Home sewing machines are “the most basic machines, and you can find them at hobby shops, online and in most hobby sections in stores,” Frailing said. “These are great because they’re beginner-friendly and good to use for almost any project.”
Home sewing machines can differ dramatically in price — this Singer sewing machine runs under $100 while this one from Brother costs almost $650 — and come with all sorts of speed settings and stitches to choose from. “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, though she encourages students to spend at least a couple hundred dollars. “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.”
As a beginner, Markus also said you should avoid sewing machines with “a whole lot of bells and whistles.” “And 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.” Markus recommended going to flea markets and church fairs or looking on eBay to find a good mechanical machine.
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 use 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.
Sewing advice for beginners
“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.
- 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.
- 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.”