How do I start searching for a sewing machine?
April 9, 2013 6:46 PM   Subscribe

I am looking to upgrade from my very basic, ten-year-old Elna 2110 sewing machine to something that I'll still be enjoying twenty or more years from now. I know what basic features I want, but I don't know how to translate that into a sewing machine search. There are just SO MANY sewing machines available that I'm unsure how to narrow it down. How do I articulate what I'm looking for in sewing machine-buying terms?

I'd consider myself an intermediate sewer. 90% of my sewing is clothing. The other 10% is quilts. I want something that can handle all weights of fabric, from silk to denim. It needs to have stretch stitches -- I have a serger (that I've never used because it needs to be tuned up), but I've also gotten pretty comfortable sewing knits with the stretch stitches. I'd like something that can do a decent buttonhole, reasonably handle a zipper, those sorts of basic clothing things. I'm a frequent sewer; I make most of my toddler son's pants and underwear, for example.

Otherwise, I don't need anything fancy. I'm unlikely to want to do any embroidery. I don't need a computer inside. Price-wise, $1000 is probably more than I can convince my partner to spend unless there really isn't another option; $600-700 would be more reasonable for us.

I'm self/internet-taught on all of this, so the right words are eluding me. How do I put this into appropriate search terms so I can find what I'm looking for? All the review websites are just lists of brands and models, and I don't even know where to begin with that.
posted by linettasky to Shopping (8 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Check your local listings for a sewing machine repair place. They will normally have used models and will also help you with refining what you want to particular makes/models.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 6:57 PM on April 9, 2013

For your needs, I would recommend a Bernina 215, which I would have sworn you could get from a dealer for about $800, but now I'm confused by the Bernina website $1200 MSRP. I really feel like dealers will have it for the price I remember. It will definitely see you through many years of sewing, and does a fine automatic buttonhole, to boot. Really, I think you can't go wrong with any of the Bernina or Husqvarna models in the price range you are talking about. But definitely look around for a good used model, and you may be able to get a whole lot more machine that you thought you could get.
posted by seasparrow at 7:26 PM on April 9, 2013

Yes, I think personally test driving is a good way to go, too. has a lot of ratings, but you have to know what type you are looking for. If you do go look in person, take a variety of fabrics to test out the features you want. I have a Bernina, and really like it, but you may have different preferences. If you want one to last, try to get a machine that has some nice metal gears/working parts, as they last much better.
posted by annsunny at 7:29 PM on April 9, 2013

Can you shop at Costco? This Singer model costs $329 and looks like it does what you want.
posted by conrad53 at 7:59 PM on April 9, 2013

I could have posted this question a couple of months ago. I sew clothing almost exclusively and I needed something that made an easy, nice button. I also didnt need 87000 different decorative stitches that every manufacturer seemed to be so proud of. I had around $600 to spend, and considered both the BabyLock Grace and the Janome Magnolia but ended up with the Janome for $400 because it had better local support. I love it and its a fabulous step up from my refurbished Brother. I read tons of reviews and all they did was frustrate me because you'll always find someone who hates whatever it is you're looking for. I went and tested each, and that's how I decided. Mine is computerized, but not crazily so.
I spent my remaining $200 on a basic serger and now I would never want to go without one--it's made sewing clothes SO MUCH EASIER.

I really think you could get a great machine for less that $600-700, especially if you don't want all the computerized bells and whistles.
posted by Mimzy at 9:09 PM on April 9, 2013

Is there a big sewing show/convention type deal in your area that you could go to?

My mother and I bought new machines that we're super happy with this fall by simply going to a big sewing expo and taking out list of wants and needs to the dealers on the floor. There were reps from every major manufacturer there with lots of models to try, and most of them were on pretty decent sales, too, because of the competition factor. Plus, they often have an option to buy the open box models used for the classes for low prices -- though those tend to be high end machines.

Basically, we walked into each booth, and I explained my required features, my nice to have features and my price range to a salesperson and they showed me one or two that would work. We tried them all briefly on site, picked the one we liked and bought a pair of them.

Other than the quilting, my requirements were quite similar to yours, by the way, and I completely, utterly fell in love with the Janome Sewist 625E. It tested about 10 zillion times better than any of the other machines on the floor that day.
posted by jacquilynne at 9:28 PM on April 9, 2013

DON'T buy at Costco or another big box. Go to a dealer, test them out. You can often get a floor model for a discount.

Berninas are awesome as are older model Husqvarna Viking, both of which you can get discounts on for older models.
posted by Sophie1 at 7:04 AM on April 10, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some of the price difference will be in parts that are better machined, and work better/longer. I have a cheap sewing machine, and I can tell, but I don't sew very much. Every sew-er I know loves an automatic buttonholer. I have always heard good things about the quality of Bernina.
Consumer Reports
posted by theora55 at 10:46 AM on April 10, 2013

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