First of all, let me tell you, I LOVE old machines!! Your older machine from the 40’s, 50’s or 60’s is WELCOME in my studio…unless it is being used for a child’s class. These machine are not appropriate for kids. They also do not come with some features that give learning sewists a great start in the right direction.
i need to stress here that this sewing thing is an ART. For a long time now, this art has lost all respect as it was something only women did. Today, most schools have discounted this art to the point of extinction. It deserves all of your respect, and should not be something dismissed as “something Grandma did”.
Or seen as a DIY craft that the Town Recreation Department is teaching on Summer break. This is a industry worth well over 3.5 Billon just for the quilting enthusiast segment alone in 2011. This is a serious art…and you need a serious tool to grow with the art form.
For this art form you need a good POWER tool. A REAL sewing machine. Remember those watercolors you buy your children or were bought for you when you were a kid, with paints and a really junky paint brush of plastic bristles in the box? If your parents were aware of how junky that paint brush was, they bought you a real paint brush at the art supply store. Or maybe you made it all the way to high school before someone put that real paint brush in your hand. Do your remember the difference about how much more control you had with a real paint brush? The same thing goes for sewing machines. Today, most of the low end machines ($250 and less) are just like that paint brush that came in the box. They have little control, and you must learn some really bad habits to control them until you get a real machine.
So what makes up a “real machine”? This does:
I can’t say this enough. If you purchase your sewing machine at a big box store, you have NO support. I really don’t care what your warranty card says. If you are a buying a new sewing machine (or new to you), please buy if from a dealer. Used or new… these people often support what they sell. They have onsite technicians that can hear the weird sound the machine now makes when you hit a pin. There are some freelance techs that are out there, but often those people are only able to work on older machines as they have NOT been to a manufacturer technician class as they do not work for a dealer.
2) Retractable or Drop-able Feed Dogs (also known as “Drop Feed”)
What is a Feed Dog? Well, for starters..its not furry. Its the teeth that pull the fabric along, on the underside, when sewing. When working with unusual or thick fabrics like fleece, it is necessary to have these retract so that they do not damage the fabric or you inadvertently sew fabric that flipped over by accident because has been caught by it . On boxes or on Amazon reviews, you don’t often see this feature listed. What you do see is a “feature” mentioned when it does NOT have this: Free motion plate included. If you see a Free Motion plate or “Darning” plate, the feed dogs do not drop and are not appropriate for learning.
3) Movable Needle Position
To work on zippers and other tight spaced tasks, you will need both a zipper foot and the ability to move the needle position both to the LEFT and to the RIGHT.
Many entry level machines needles do not move, or they only move to one side. It is advisable to find a machine that moves to the LEFT and to the RIGHT. Moving the needle to only one side will make the student work harder to compensate for this.
The needle position also MUST start in the center of the foot upon turning the machine on. One of the top rated Brother machines auto starts to the LEFT. This causes confusion and many instances of ripping out stitches which builds frustration.
4) Sewing Machine frame is made of Metal
As machines have been getting cheaper and cheaper… these machines frames are being replaced by plastic. Although easy to lift, these machines produce bad stitching. It is best to find a machine that has a frame that is made of metal for stability.
5) Adjustable pressure foot control
When dealing with stretchy fabric like knits, or bulky and knit fabric like fleece, or a simple cotton, the pressure for the sewing foot needs to be adjusted to prevent ripples in the fabric or uneven fabric at the end of a seam.
6) Free Arm
This “Arm” is an area of the sewing bed that allows sewing for cylindrical projects like putting arm sleeves into a shirt, or to make slippers. The smaller this arm is, the more control you will have.
7) Motor Speed Control
To have control ON the face of the machine is essential to learning. Some computerized machines have it imbedded deep in the software. For kids or adults who are learning, look for a slide control that has a graphic of a turtle on one side and a rabbit on the other. Some times it looks like a play or fast forward graphic (like what you would see on a remote control for the TV) for some machines. This control is easily found when sewing and makes the learning process far easier.
I listed this last….Why? Well, often these machines are sold with the value of how many stitches it can do. This is where they are trying to fool you into thinking the machine is worth more… its not. Its not about the amount of stitches you get, but the QUALITY of the stitch. There are only really a handful of essential stitches your machine needs to have: Straight, Zig Zag, Elastic, Blanket, Blind Hem Stitch, Overcast and Button Hole stitch.
The rest are decorative stitches and are rarely used…except when your kid wants to go as a Hippy for Halloween and you are trying to make a really groovy shirt!
You may not be able to find a machine that fits ALL of these machine requirements for a cheap big box price tag. You will however be able to find ALL of these requirements via an entry level machine at a dealer. When looking for a dealer do NOT type in "Singer Dealer" into the search box.
Singer is not longer “Singer”. Singer is now owned by a conglomerate and more over, it is a big box brand. Singer of yesteryear used to be metal gears and huge power (and I mean power with a capitol P!) The Kenmore brand is in the same boat here. They are made to be big box store machines, with a low price point and a lower profit margin that does not cover much for support or repair. Instead, google one of the following brands to find a dealer near you: Bernina Dealer, Pfaff Dealer, Brother Dealer, BabyLock Dealer, or Necci Dealer. Check with your local Sew n’ Vac to see if they sell machines as well as repair them.
Optional Features (these are not necessary but are REALLY nice to have when you need them.
Quilting Table/Sew Steady Table
Needle Up/Down Switch
Quarter Inch foot with guide
Lots of other specialty feet are nice to have too... but are not required to start on your sewing journey.