Help me help my wife buy a sewing machine
February 12, 2016 9:20 PM   Subscribe

My wife is intermediate level at sewing, mostly making quilts and small simple garments (think pet clothes). Her cheap Singer sewing machine broke, and now she's having "analysis paralysis" trying to decide on a new one. Help!

She probably doesn't need crazy features like embroidery or wacky stitch patterns. But cost isn't a major concern, and she wants something really high quality that will last a long time. Features that make quilt-making easier are a huge plus. She usually pieces the quilt top together by machine, and either hand-quilts it, or has someone machine quilt it. I don't know that she'd want to get into the actual machine quilting, but if there's an all-around great machine that is good at that also, we'd love to hear about it. I'm sorry if my terminology isn't quite right, but I hope you get the gist...
posted by primethyme to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (24 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Why can't she find someone to fix her sewing machine?
posted by oceanjesse at 9:25 PM on February 12, 2016

Do you have space for a non-portable? I saw loads of older machines. when I looked on craigslist. Consider an older less plastic, as much metal as possible. Not sure what's critical for quilting but after market walking foot devices seem to be pretty cheap on ebay.
posted by sammyo at 9:33 PM on February 12, 2016

This is not really going to be answerable unless you give us a budget (you say cost isn't a major concern but machines go from about $150 to $14,000 so you're going to need to narrow it down somewhat) and desired features. And even then, honestly, you'll get better guidance if you ask over at, where they have tons of sewing machine reviews and many very experienced users who can point you to some solid suggestions based on your budget and desired features.
posted by HotToddy at 9:35 PM on February 12, 2016

It might not be worth fixing if it's all plastic. OP you can ask at your local sewing machine shop for 2ndhand, refurbished ones that are metal. I have a portable Kenmore from the 70s that's built like a tank.
posted by TWinbrook8 at 9:35 PM on February 12, 2016 [5 favorites]

This Sweethome article may help with the analysis paralysis.
posted by asperity at 9:36 PM on February 12, 2016

She needs to go to her favorite local quilt store during busy shopping hours on Saturday morning/afternoon. Somebody in the place will know all the answers to her questions. Seriously. If there is a quilting group at a local church or the library - seek them out. THEY KNOW.
posted by fluffy battle kitten at 9:41 PM on February 12, 2016 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: To answer a few questions:

She took it to a repair place, and they said that it was effectively unrepairable. The repair bill would have been roughly 2X what it would cost to buy an equivalent machine again, which is stupid. It seems like a good opportunity to upgrade to something better.

Regarding budget, if you really need one, say $5000. But based on the research we've done so far, it really doesn't seem like we'd need to spend anywhere near that much. Virtually everything we've looked at has been well within that limit, which is why I said cost isn't a factor. If there's something life-changing above that price level, we'd probably consider it. I'd prefer people just tell us what they actually use and find to be great, and if we it's crazy expensive, we'll cross that bridge when we come to it...

She went to what seems to be the biggest dealer in the area, and she felt that the sales person was very condescending and also really trying to just sell his pet brand, which lead her to want to do more independent research before going back. It's hard to know how much to trust sales people when you don't have a lot of personal knowledge of the product they're selling.

Thanks all!
posted by primethyme at 10:37 PM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

Good advice here in earlier answers. But based on your listed requirements, and without knowing any more information, my short answer would be to buy the $1500-$2000 model from either Bernina or Husqvarna. Really, you probably can't go wrong with almost any model from either of those brands. At that price point, and her skill level, those sewing machines will last a long, long time for her.
posted by seasparrow at 10:39 PM on February 12, 2016 [6 favorites]

I sent the question to a friend of mine who repairs them for a living (in Australia, if it matters).

"As long as it's not a Brother, or a cheap-ass Semco. Bernina are still owned by the same FAMILY that started it. Janome and Elna share parts like crazy."
posted by Sunburnt at 11:03 PM on February 12, 2016 [2 favorites]

More from my Strayan friend, the sewing machine repair man:

"Singer's quality have gone way down in recent years.
Not sure about Pfaff (sp?) but Mum had one for years and years, not that it got used much.
Bernina ARE expensive, however. BUT they're a solid piece of kit; the Bernette range from Bernina are they're more affordable stuff. Oh, and Bernina own the factories wherever they're made, and pay the workers properly. [He discloses that he sells Berninas.]

Brother used to be good back in the 70s etc, but they're all plastic now. I've had a couple come in to be serviced, and EVERYTHING was screwed into the back cover. They had the absolute smallest amount of metal in the machines they could get away with.

*MOST IMPORTANT* if this person's gonna buy a machine, Buy from a DEALER! not a Walmart/best buy/etc. We have people coming in all the time saying they bought their machine from Spotlight (fabric superstore thingie) and after it walks out the door, they don't want to know about it."
posted by Sunburnt at 11:23 PM on February 12, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a Bernina 1008 that fits your requirements, look into that model. It's simple and built like a tank. Pfaffs are also great.
posted by The Toad at 1:12 AM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I grew up sewing and my mom had a sewing business. I have the same Bernina 1130 that I learned to sew on and it is rock solid. Bernina and Juki have been great machines in my experience.

Don't buy from that dealer you mentioned-in my experience, they will treat you similarly with every subsequent interaction, repair, and upgrade.

Get a Bernina in the 1k-2k range, you won't regret it.
posted by fake at 4:36 AM on February 13, 2016

If money wasn't an constraint, I'd be getting a Bernina. Find a dealer and get a demo. Or hell, just check out what people do with them on YouTube.
posted by oceanjesse at 4:41 AM on February 13, 2016

I was in just about the same situation and went to my quilt store. Was recommended a Husqvarna, which have several models starting at $350 and going up from there. It's what that particular store uses to teach classes, so they have several and say they're extremely durable.
posted by Miko at 4:56 AM on February 13, 2016

Best answer: I'll heartily second the Bernina 1008. It is the machine I always recommend if someone tells me they want a home sewing machine that needs to be tough and versatile. You can find used ones for $300-400US and a new one runs between 800-1200 US. They are real lifetime machines.

You may want to look into some of the long-arm machines available. Janome and Viking are two brands I've used at the home sewing level and both felt nice, but they are a little pricey at 3000-4000.

If you want a machine that is simple and sturdy, I would recommend something like an old Singer. Like really old. Like a Singer 99 from the 20s or 30s or a 201. You won't get a ton of stitches, and you may or may not get a reverse, but nothing stays up to abuse and stays very repairable.

I would warn you to consider the Bernina 1008 the base model. Berninas cheaper than the model 1008 tend to be not worth much, IMPO. Better off buying a Brother cs6000i off of Amazon.

Speaking of which, if she is in the market for an in-between machine that will do all kinds of stitches and be there while she shops around for a lifetime machine, I really can't recommend the Brother cs6000i enough. Perfect little machine for an in-between while she shops for the longer-term one.

As someone who used to work for a sewing machine manufacturer, she is exactly right to be wary of the seller. The sewing machine world is built on up-selling and all kinds of gross trickery. My rule is that unless I have an outside personal relationship with the salesperson, I believe absolutely nothing they say if I have no experience of it. Nothing. The culture in those places is worse than the used car sales culture of the 60s and 70s.
posted by Tchad at 5:38 AM on February 13, 2016 [7 favorites]

Bernina all the way. I grew up with the machines - my mother had a basic Bernina from the late 70s that was still working 35 years later. I have friends with modern Berninas that sew beautifully. I myself have a 1970s Bernina I bought off ebay for a hundred bucks; it didn't need to be refurbished because it had basically never been used (I am SOOOOO lucky). Mother and grandmother also had Bernina sergers that did beautifully. Have I mentioned Bernina?

Pfaffs are very good machines too.

You don't want Brother. Everyone I've ever known who's had a Brother has seen it fall apart within a few years. Exception made for their sergers, however. Also seconding that modern Singers are not worth the money these days. Even display models don't sew regular stitches.
posted by fraula at 6:38 AM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I was in your wife's position at the start of the year and finally brought home a new machine this week. I love quilting but also do garments and other things, so a big priority for me was having large throat/neck space to push the larger quilts through. (I had been sewing on a $125 on Amazon Brother machine whose plastic parts also gave up the fight.)

I first looked at Berninas--I think the 550 and 570 models--but couldn't bring myself to spend that much, although I was tempted. After visiting several dealers in NYC, I popped into a Joann's when I was in Colorado two weeks ago and got to play with the Husquavarna Viking Sapphire 960q. They were selling it for $2500, but my local dealer was able to get it for me for $1700, plus the extension table. I've only had it two days but it's such an upgrade from my original and had everything on my short list.

Good luck. I know how hard it is to narrow down!
posted by icaicaer at 6:47 AM on February 13, 2016 [3 favorites]

I have a quilt-level hand-me-down Janome MemoryQuilt that I love. (My stepmom is a quilter and used it for 10 years before i got it.) That thing runs like whoa. I take it in every year or two to get it maintenanced.

I'd recommend Janome.
posted by heathrowga at 7:02 AM on February 13, 2016

My Mom got a refurbished Bernina for about $700, and its amazingly well built, with metal components (unlike the crappy plastic of my Brother) and its heavy, sturdy, takes abuse without complaint. It does have some fancy stitch patterns, but you don't have to use them. She got it from a Bernina dealer.
posted by genmonster at 7:06 AM on February 13, 2016

I love, love, love mid-market Janome machines. I have a Sewist 6250, but it's no longer available -- but that sort of model, which has features like needle up/down, variable speed, automatic button-holing, etc, but which doesn't have all the fancy electronics is, in my opinion the sweet spot of sewing machines for most people.

I don't know where you're located, but my favourite way to buy sewing machines is to go to a sewing festival that has a big marketplace and try a whole bunch of them at the same time. Develop a list of features she specifically wants for the kind of sewing she does, and then go from booth to booth asking them to show you machines that meet those criteria, but don't offer a ton more features than she's asking for. Sit down and sew a few things. They'll have samples to use, so she should create stacks of fabric that approximate quilting.

Favour Janome, Elna and Juki over Husqvarna, Bernina and (as long as you don't go to their low end which blows) Pfaff, and favour all of those over White, Brother and Singer.

Make sure she's buying from a dealer that's near you or at least a company that *has* a dealer near you, or you'll have trouble getting it serviced later.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:51 AM on February 13, 2016 [1 favorite]

I have a early-80s vintage Singer that I love, and because Singer still manufactures parts for all their machines, servicing it is still affordable. They're garbage now, though--don't buy a Singer made after the 80s. If I had a $4000 budget I'd buy a Bernina--most of the pro seamstresses I've met seem to have one.
posted by Nibbly Fang at 12:23 PM on February 13, 2016

If there is a sewing studio in your area that offers classes, they probably sell their machines from time to time. I bought my machine from a local sewing studio knowing that it was a sturdy well-cared-for machine that wouldn't otherwise be within my budget. They'll have good info about repairs as well.
posted by sadmadglad at 2:24 PM on February 14, 2016

If you want a machine that is simple and sturdy, I would recommend something like an old Singer.

Seconding this. I don't know much about quilting, but I believe the old Singer 221 "Featherweight" portable machines are popular with quilters.

Most of the old domestic machines are very robust. My treadle-operated Singer 27 (112 years old, $20 on craigslist) can sew bicycle inner tubes onto leather, and it's a beautiful piece of furniture to boot. A Singer 66 or 99 may be more compatible with modern bobbins, though. Many of the later (40s-60s?) machines are basically the same, but with an electric motor instead of the treadle, and sometimes with a few extra features like reverse and maybe zig-zag.
posted by sibilatorix at 3:43 PM on February 14, 2016

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