Should I get a sewing machine?
April 6, 2016 3:12 PM   Subscribe

Am I a good candidate for a sewing machine? Please read my case and provide your judgement.

Reasons I want to get a sewing machine:
1. I wear a lot of tops that have very simple construction: sleeveless, 2 pieces of fabric, 4 seams, and some hems. Like this one. But they're hard to shop for because they always have one little horrible and absurd design decision (like the one linked above flares out for some reason and I need to fix this), or they're too long, or the fabric is terrible. They're also expensive and time-consuming and exhausting to go look for. So I need a sewing machine either to make the tops I want or fix the tops I buy.

2. I have the space - finally - probably. I have the space to set up a table probably.

3. I really like shopping for fabric.

Reasons I'm afraid of getting a sewing machine:
1. I had a sewing machine when I was younger - actually 2, we had an antique one and a modern one. I learned how to sew in home ec. I really liked the idea of being able to sew. But I never really got anywhere with it. I could never figure out how to set the various settings so I would continually have problems where the thread was a jumbled mess on the underside or the stitches weren't formed properly so the seam just unraveled completely. And neither my mom nor my mom's sewing friends could fix this for me. Maybe I'm cursed?

2. I had and continue to have terrible hand-eye coordination. I was never good at cutting a straight line or sewing a straight line, no matter how slow and carefully I went. Is this something I could teach myself?

So I'm really afraid of spending a lot of money on something that might be guaranteed to fail.

-I know I could probably sign up for some classes but I find it really hard to commit to anything outside my house or not on my way home from work. I'm also afraid of embarrassing myself.
-I know I can bring the tops I need to fix to a dry cleaners but this still involves committing to stopping off somewhere not on my way home from work and basically I'm just not going to do that.

OK What do you think? Would you advise me to get a sewing machine?
posted by bleep to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
I think you are a GREAT candidate for a sewing machine. Altering clothes can be very empowering.

To address your fears:
1. Modern sewing machines have gotten a lot easier to operate. Yes, it may feel like you are cursed, but you may have also used machines that weren't set right or kept properly conditioned. I have been so frustrated as well, trying to use a machine where the tension wasn't right, and having to spend untold time hunched over ripping out stitches, to the point where I questioned whether it was all worth it. It is.

2. Using a Rotary Cutter (Olfa) and a ruler have changed my life. Try it, and you will have The Power. Also, if you do use scissors, make sure they are really sharp.

3. You don't even have to spend a lot of money for a good sewing machine. I would recommend finding a brick & mortar shop if possible where they can walk you through the options, because shopping online can be terribly overwhelming.

You can totally do this!
posted by oxisos at 3:24 PM on April 6, 2016 [8 favorites]

As someone who works with machines daily and someone who shows folks how to use them, I vote: "Buy the machine."

My recommendation is a Brother cs6000i from Amazon, given your question. It is cheap but good for the kind of sewing you mentioned and has a great threading chart with it.

On a kind of non-sewing related note, nothing is guaranteed to fail and you aren't cursed. You have it in you to do this. I have no doubt of that. So many times people get all wrapped up in the idea that failure is imminent and it totally isn't.

All you need is a little practice on the machine itself and a little tutorial or two about how the machine really works.

Feel free to message me if you get stuck threading it or need some direction.
posted by Tchad at 3:25 PM on April 6, 2016 [7 favorites]

Perhaps do start with a sewing class - many fabric stores and sewing machine stores offer them, and that way you'll get good instruction in how to use the machine and its settings, thus avoiding the issues that cause the jumbled thread (or learn how to fix them easily.) Please don't worry about embarrassing yourself, beginners classes exist for a reason and professional teachers have seen it all! You may be able to YouTube classes if going to an on site class is really a deal breaker.

As to the straight lines - there are several things that will help you guide for cutting and for sewing, it's less an issue of teaching yourself than of finding the right crutch.

Finally, I'm sorry to confirm that it is a high entry cost hobby. Don't waste money on a crappy, low end machine. They cause so much frustration that you'll be likelier to abandon it entirely. A good machine will be much more fun to work with. Even a good used older machine is better than a new cheap one. That said, once you have the machine it isn't *necessarily* an expensive hobby to maintain, unless you only love the crazy lux fabrics.

Have fun!
posted by AliceBlue at 3:27 PM on April 6, 2016 [6 favorites]

Do it! Sewing machines have gotten easier to work and you just need some good tools like a metal ruler and really sharp scissors etc for your straight line cutting confidence to arrive. The cheaper machines are just as good as the expensive ones at simple sewing like you appear to need so you really don't need to invest much in one. Instead of thinking of it like a bunch of fears and obligations, think of it like any other small appliance purchase. Just because you have a blender doesn't mean you have to be a smoothie savant to use it.
posted by Mizu at 3:29 PM on April 6, 2016 [3 favorites]

I'm also a terrible cutter out-er who can't quite bring myself to buy a rotary cutter, and I've managed to successfully sew the kinds of tops you're thinking of making.

I would feel fine about buying a sewing machine in your shoes, but you might also consider seeing if a friend has one you can borrow for a few weeks to test out (I've lent mine out to friends a few times - basic sewing machines usually come in a case or carry bag and aren't hard to transport)
posted by snaw at 3:55 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Brother/Project Runway co-branded machines are inexpensive entry level machines intended exactly for people like you: beginners interested in clothing construction. They're priced so teenagers could reasonably save up. They're made by Brother so they're good machines. I'd call myself an intermediate machine sewer and I adore mine. Brother wants to get you hooked cheap and become your supplier.

Your local seeing machine store (you have one!) will have classes and one-on-one tutoring. They are very nice. They won't make fun. They've seen old biker dudes who want to learn to make their own leather chaps and 10-year-old girls who have a burning need to make doll clothes. You won't be their clumsiest or most annoying customer by a long shot (I used to teach an embroidery class in mine's space and watch the machine classes come and go, I promise you, there are MUCH WEIRDER AND LESS COMPETENT PEOPLE THAN YOU who are totally normal to the sewing store owner).
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 3:57 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yesssss! Do it! It does sound like the machine you had when you were younger had tension or timing problems, either of which can lead to the frustrating issues you described. I second recommendations for a rotary cutter, good pair of shears and a straight-edge.

Depending on the kind of sewing you think you'll be doing (if you don't care about fancy embroidery stitches/automated buttonholes for example) a vintage machine could be a good option - BUT if you go the vintage route buy one from a service/repair shop rather than taking your chances at yard sales or whatever. (That comes later when you bring home the pristine, solid metal 1953 Necchi you stumbled across in a thrift shop, and start obsessively monitoring Craigslist for others. Ahem, ask me how I know.)

I definitely defer to Tchad's recommendation for a modern machine, although Peter Lappin's recent review of the $99 Hello Kitty-branded Janome 14412 from Target was surprisingly favorable. I also know a couple of people who like their no-frills Ikea SY machines.

In general, it is an amazing time to learn skills like sewing - there is so much content on YouTube, demonstrations of various techniques and garment construction! I'm generally in the "take a class" camp when it comes to learning new skills, but other than the 5-10 minute hands-on session Mrs. usonian gave me on her machine, I've managed to pick it up as I go thanks to the internet. I will say that the danger of getting into sewing your own clothing is that it can be easy for your project queue/fabric stash to outgrow the time you have to spend on it. (Ahem, again.)

Anyway, do it! And (if you live near one) sign up for Jo-Ann Fabrics' snail mail and email lists, and get their smartphone app; they'll flood you with coupons for both fabric and other stuff (with the right timing you should be able to get shears, a rotary cutter, and cutting mat for 40-60% off.) And keep an eye on the circular for their occasional pattern sales, where they'll blow one company's patterns out for $1-2 apiece. Etsy can be a great place to find cheap patterns too. Good luck & have fun!
posted by usonian at 3:57 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

You are a GREAT candidate for a sewing machine. It sounds like the machines you learned on before had Issues, maybe with the tension. Issues are very easy for an experienced sewist to deal with (OK, not always easy, but with experience you can usually recognize the difference between "This is my machine being stupid" and "I am bad at this").

A rotary cutter and a good, large cutting mat will revolutionize your ability to cut stuff.

If you don't want to take a sewing class, there are a bunch of online video sewing lessons that are really good for demonstrating techniques. Craftsy has some, Burda has some, etc. But I would suggest that you take an introductory "get to know your sewing machine" class which should only take a couple of hours and will make sure that you know the basics of use and maintenance.

Get a basic but high-quality mechanical machine without a lot of electronic bells and whistles for your first machine. DON'T get the cheapest machine--they are notorious for having tension inconsistencies.

Yes! Go forth and sew!!!
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 4:09 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

What everybody says here!!
posted by Melismata at 4:15 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes yes get it. You will figure out a protocol for troubleshooting when your thread tangles. Nine times out of ten when mine does it's because there is fuzz or a stray thread that I need to brush out of the bobbin compartment.

Yes try a rotary cutter. Also get a pair of Gingher dressmaking shears with a half off coupon from Jo-Ann. They are the best, I use mine and my rotary cutter equally.

If you want to sew knit fabrics: you can do this thing too, and no, you do not need a serger. You need special jersey needles, maybe twin needles, and maybe an overlock foot. There are tutorials and Craftsy classes aplenty for this.
posted by clavicle at 4:25 PM on April 6, 2016 [2 favorites]

It's much easier to use a commercial pattern and make the sort of simple top you want from scratch than to buy one ready-made and alter it to suit. So go look at patterns for these tops, then read the directions. You'll see that they are as easy to make as you expect them to be. I would nth the idea of buying a very basic, entry level sewing machine. I was totally happy with an $80 Brother machine until I rehomed it when my mother gifted me her fancier machine. A quick orientation class or perhaps a patient friend who knows how to sew should be all you need to get comfortable with your new machine.
posted by DrGail at 4:38 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

If you have a sewing machine shop nearby, they usually give free lessons if you buy the machine there, plus you have a good contact for questions, maintenance, and repairs. (And you're supporting small local businesses instead of Amazon etc. Yay!)
posted by cecic at 7:05 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Another yes totally go for it. Especially if you have room to leave it set up. There are great youtube how-to's and if you go for a craigslist special (got one for $10) there are pdf's of manuals, sometimes for a few bucks. But take it on as a long term project, I've taken several 'pauses' to think and calm frustration.

Oh when you get to the point I suspect going slow to do a straight line is the wrong approach, getting everything arranged and a smooth steady motion makes for straightness. Starting with a large scrap(s) of similar material to make sure tension is good and to get the rhythm.
posted by sammyo at 7:07 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

So I'm really afraid of spending a lot of money on something that might be guaranteed to fail.

What's a lot of money to you? My old machine died and I just grabbed an $89 Singer entry level model. It's nothing amazing but it does the trick for the simple things I like to make. It can more than handle those kinds of tops. So chances are you can find one easily for under $100, and that's without coupons and stuff. You can always upgrade if you get more into it.

And seconding the fact that new machines are way, way easier to operate and less sensitive to having exactly-perfect settings.
posted by Miko at 7:09 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yup, +1 to get an introductory machine. I have a $90 Brother one that's done great! (Though as an intermediate sewer there's a few features I'd like that it's missing but I don't sew enough to need a different machine. Maybe someday.)

A couple things to help:

1) Put masking tape on the line below where you sew that measures the seam allowance. There should be a coordinating line for that seam allowance on the sewing machine near the needle. Put masking tape there. Now you can just line up the raw edge you're sewing to that tape for the project you're working on. Easy to keep straighter lines. In my high school sewing classes we called this "sewing on the edge of the tape" so that we all didn't need to measure or worry about all the different markings.

2) Definitely get a rotary cutter and coordinating mats. I desperately need one, but again, I barely sew, so I just try to cut neatly.

3) Watch YouTube tutorials. There's even some great ones for setting up your type of machine. I assume you had issues in the past because your machine wasn't threaded or tension set right. Sometimes you just keep threading the machine "wrong" when it feels right. Something like having the bobbin set the wrong direction.

But yeah, should seem fine. Worst case you can sell it Craigslist or gift it to someone.

Keep in mind that fabric can be expensive. So I vote for getting used to taking in some seams on some shirts you want to alter and also look for remnant fabric on discount for your first few tries.

There's also great stuff online for making your own pattern fitted to your measurements. It's a great way to keep making the same item.
posted by Crystalinne at 8:25 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

I recently started sewing again, after abandoning projects years ago, thinking they were cursed.

What changed? I bought a new machine instead of a refurbished used one. Modern machines are a dream to work with. No more thread jams or weird tension issues.

There are also a million excellent sewing blogs out there, many with sew-alongs that take you through projects step by step. I especially like the Grainline Studio patterns and tutorials. They make even complex projects (collar stands! Plackets! Yokes!) go smoothly.
posted by third word on a random page at 9:05 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes get it! You sound far more deserving of a sewing machine than I am given your ambitions, and I love mine and find it totally worthwhile to own. I also sew unevenly when left to my own devices and suck at threading, but my cheap Brother machine makes it almost impossible to screw up.
posted by gatorae at 9:16 PM on April 6, 2016 [1 favorite]

Yes - you totally should. I am you a month ago, more or less. After a lot of research, I settled on the Janome Magnolia 7330. I'm very happy with it. PM me for more details or even just to gab about sewing!
posted by xiaolongbao at 5:59 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

Adding to the "yes" chorus. I didn't have one for a while (no space) and finally got one when we moved to our current house. I don't use it a ton, but it is SO NICE to not have to hand-sew things that need mending.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:28 AM on April 7, 2016

There are lots of helpful sewing tutorial videos on YouTube and many will address specific problems. Maybe start out with some cheaper fabric so you get used to the process.
posted by soelo at 7:35 AM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

I had a sewing machine when I was younger

Me too, and my mom was an excellent seamstress and quilter. I also bombed out of it when I was young, because... well, because I was young and impatient and unrealistic.

I've been sewing again for the last few years, and finally got a machine two years ago. I have to say, that 20 year break did me good. Now I know how to temper expectations with realistic goals, how to seek out and acquire new skills with patience and focus, and how to improvise or set out on my own when instructions don't make sense. Plus: YouTube exists now and good LORD is it one of the most amazing resources around. Being able to watch someone perform a task that you want to imitate is ideal, especially when you can pause, reverse, replay as much as you need.

I'm not the greatest at garments, but I'm getting better. I'm much more interested in quilting and craft, and I am so glad that I have a machine.

Have fun!
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 8:56 AM on April 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

Yep, get a sewing machine.

I'd look for something simple and well-reviewed (many of the suggestions upthread are probably good), and not the absolute bottom of the barrel cheapest thing, because they are complex gadgets that rely on lots of precision machinery.

I thought I was incapable of machine sewing until I found a treadle-operated Singer from 1904. It's simple enough that I can't get confused playing with the settings. It's robust enough that I can't mess it up even sewing denim and canvas.

An ancient cast-iron beast is probably overkill for making light tops, but there exists a machine that won't give you trouble!
posted by sibilatorix at 9:48 PM on April 7, 2016 [1 favorite]

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