What sewing machine should I buy?
June 21, 2012 7:18 AM   Subscribe

What kind of sewing machine should I get my beloved for her birthday?

For her birthday Madame has requested a portable sewing machine. She intends to use it for occasional repairs and alterations.  I imagine that if it were relatively uncomplicated to operate, she might be motivated to embark on slightly more ambitious projects as well. What model should I get to maximize her immediate delight and future happiness in the $150 range?
posted by Jode to Shopping (16 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
The best answer is to go to a sewing machine repair shop or dealer and buy her an older machine in good repair. Older machines have many more metal parts and are more than adequate for the purposes you describe. You should be able to get a nice older Singer for your money, complete with attachments, etc. Ask the dealer to help you select and do not get talked into buying one of the newer computerized machines that can embroider, etc. They are not nearly as useful and will cost much, much more. I sew all the time; two of my machines are Singers from the early sixties and the other is an older Kenmore.
posted by Jenna Brown at 7:54 AM on June 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you want a new one, the Brother CS6000i is great. I make a lot of clothes and quilt. It's just fancy enough to make things easier (magically easy buttonholes!) but doesn't have a million useless extra functions.
posted by artychoke at 8:01 AM on June 21, 2012

I agree with Jenna. I've got two older portable machines, both around 20 years old. I got them for free. One's a Pfaff retired from a high school home ec. program, and the other a Kenmore that I picked out of someone's trash. A little lubrication and minor adjustment, and they work fine. They are probably quite a bit heavier than a new machine, especially one in the price range you're aiming for, which might be an issue if she plans to carry it around a lot.
posted by jon1270 at 8:03 AM on June 21, 2012

Response by poster: There is an inoperative Singer Genie 353 in the attic. Is it worth repairing? Would her sewing life be easier with something more modern?
posted by Jode at 8:05 AM on June 21, 2012

Best answer: Let's face it. You (like me) know nothing about sewing machines. My wife is a serious quilter. She has three active machines and three on the shelf. She could have, but hasn't, spent as much as $9000 on any one of them. Yes, really. Your best bet is to take her with you to several dealers, discuss her needs and have her tell the shop owners just what she wants to do and how she wants to use the machine. Several of my wife's friends have machines that were given to them by their husbands, bless their hearts. They wish they had been able to be there when they were purchased so they could have gotten what they needed and not gotten what they didn"t need on their machines. In your price range a good used machine is a good idea, only if it fits her needs.

Good luck.
posted by Old Geezer at 8:05 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Looks like the Genie is a rather desirable machine.
posted by jon1270 at 8:12 AM on June 21, 2012

I'd get some colors and paper, or clip art, or a friend. Make a coupon good for one sewing machine. Take her shopping. That's what I do when I want to buy someone something that I really don't know enough about, or because it would please them immensely to have a free pass to "go buy the whatever".

I wouldn't go in totally ignorant; shop a few places and have a few talking points, "See hon, this one looked easy to set up, but I thought you might light fancier stitches, so I couldn't decide without your input ..."
posted by tilde at 8:19 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Nthing Tilde -- choosing a sewing machine may not seem like a personal decision, but it surely is. I've been sewing over 50 years, on just 3 machines over that time. I love(d) the ones I chose myself; the one chosen for me (my mom's machine) was a pain.

When I bought my current machine, I tried out about eight or nine machines (as in sat down and SEWED on them - straight and decorative stitches, buttonholes, etc.) and ended up with a machine I had initially rejected out of hand when the shop owner first suggested it. Give her a coupon and have fun shopping with her (well, be patient anyway).

Also, as Old Geezer alludes to, just a heads-up that $150 is the VERY bottom of the price range for sewing machines. You can find them, but how 1) comfortable and 2) durable they are tend to be a lot harder to find in the low price ranges. Check Consumer Reports -- they have good information about the durability and ease of use of a wide range of brands. Maybe include the article with her coupon?
posted by summerstorm at 8:32 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

portable you say? my good friend (who just happens to be head tailor at the l.a. opera) carries her machine around in one of those 'stewardess bags' (thats what i'm going to call it ;) you know...the kind of small suitcase with an extendable handle and wheels (hers is smaller, height-wise, than most i've seen...just-right sewing machine size and it fits behind the drivers seat of her car)
posted by sexyrobot at 8:57 AM on June 21, 2012

I think "portable" might not mean what you think it means in terms of sewing machines. All of them are portable. Some of them are fitted into a stand or cabinet that is used just to hold the machine (and would be screwed in - like how you screw a camera onto a tripod, nothing custom). But most of them have a handle (all new ones likely do) and if not, they aren't that big to just pick up and move around. Then there is something like this - portable sewing machine. Do not buy it or anything like it, it will never work great even for small sewing projects.

I think that, especially for your price range, a used machine from a sewing machine repair shop would be perfect.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:39 AM on June 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

I got a Brother project runaway sewing machine from I think Walmart. It works fine, is computerized which I wanted and has like 80 kind of stiches, most I never use. Cost around $200 and is great for the occasional sewing projects like curtains etc.
posted by pakora1 at 10:14 AM on June 21, 2012

What summerstorm said: $150 is the VERY bottom of the price range for sewing machines

I bought a $99 one in 1988 (the rest were $350 and up) and basically wore it to pieces. I sewed probably an outfit a week on it, mended endless things, gave it a good solid 3 work hours a week. I took it for a tune up just short of the 1 year anniversary and they basically said I'd worn all the nubs and cogs off. It wasn't billed as a "portable" sewing machine but it was smaller than the standard machines. Now adays, "portable" usually means cat-sized and cheap plastic.

Eventually I bought a $300 one (1992 - used Mom's until then or didn't sew) and it's served me well. I don't do as much sewing but I get it tuned up at least once a year or when the tensioning won't help. I also have a cheapish (the accessories, $$$$$) embroidery machine and I've jammed it up enough that I've not used it because I haven't had the time to really suss out how to unjammed up the issue.

My favorite, though, was the machine whose sole "fancy" stitch was little duckling outlines in a row ...
posted by tilde at 10:24 AM on June 21, 2012

seconding the Brother CS6000i. I believe it's the highest rated sewing machine on amazon, even though it's entry level. (almost 1000 reviews, 4.5 stars! unheard of!) it's even in your price range. I bought it a month ago, and so far, I'm in love.
posted by changeling at 10:40 AM on June 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

I second looking for a used machine. Your local sewing machine shop might have a used trade in.

My current machine, which I bought for $20 at an estate sale originally cost $425 when purchased new in 1972 which is over $2,000 in today's dollars! So, be prepared for sticker shock at the shop.
posted by vespabelle at 1:10 PM on June 21, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks for all the excellent advice. We've made a date to go shopping. Here, as elsewhere, opinion is split between a good used machine and the Brother CS6000 -- whose owners seem overwhelmingly satisfied. I'm guessing that no one expects the Brother to still work in 10 years but that older machines will last indefinitely. To the occasional sewist, would the convenience of the one outweigh the durability of the other? 
posted by Jode at 2:55 PM on June 21, 2012

Response by poster: Madame chose a 1950's Singer like her mom's -- a choice I could not possibly have anticipated. The helpful repairman lauded her selection: "The best machine in the store."
posted by Jode at 11:33 AM on June 22, 2012 [3 favorites]

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