A sewing machine of my own
October 3, 2019 4:41 PM   Subscribe

As a teen and into adulthood, I sewed a little bit; hemmed pants, repaired split seams, whipped out an occasional curtain or table runner. Clearly, I didn’t love it because I haven’t touched a sewing machine in about a decade. But I also dislike shopping and if a bit of sewing can save me from that horror and prolong the use of clothing that needs a little TLC, then game on.

Example projects: I have some pajama bottoms that need new elastic in the waist. I want to get some linen fabric and sew some simple kitchen and hand cloths. I'd like to hem pants myself without having to rely on others or pay for alterations.

I’ve read all the posts here about sewing machines for the past several years, so I’m learning that machines have changed quite a bit. I’m about to dive into Wirecutter’s article about best basic machines, but any current model or brand recommendations from MeFi’s sewing aficionados would be most appreciated.

Parameters and questions: Anticipated use is likely only every 2-3 months. Price is not a concern as I’m not needing tons of fancy features, so I’d like something with a good track record. I think I’d like new as I definitely want something light enough that I can get in and out of a closet.

Do I need one with a free arm conversion?
How about an adjustable needle?
Should I look for one with different presser feet? Or a pressure lever?
Thinking I’d want straight stitch, zigzag, anything else? Overlock?
posted by dancing leaves to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (22 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Singer Heavy Duty is a great, simple sewing machine that can do all the things you are looking for, its quiet and not too heavy. It’s the best machine I’ve used that’s not an industrial or hugely expensive. https://www.amazon.com/Heavy-Duty-4423-Decorative-Automatic/dp/B003VWXZQ0
( I’m a costume designer and I teach sewing, I’ve used a lot of machines!)
posted by velebita at 5:10 PM on October 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Free arm is really something you would only need for quilting and the like in my experience.

You could consider just getting a good serger-overlocker to hem and edge. I took a class with sergers and was blown away by what I could do, but a good one (that is, one that isn't a misery to set up) is pricey. If I went that route, I'd make sure I had access to good classes as well.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:13 PM on October 3, 2019

Best answer: My partner uses a Janome 7330 “magnolia” and that’s what they taught students on for close to ten years. When I’ve asked them about it they said the 7330 is good enough that you don’t have to fight it and while it has a bunch of stitches you’ll probably not really ever use, it doesn’t have a bunch of extra crap that breaks, plus it has metal gears instead of plastic ones so it will last longer will less frustration. According to them the less expensive ones with plastic gears get worn out after a while and it becomes difficult to sew with precision.

They also say any singer from the 1950’s that does a straight stitch only is is the best entry level machine you can get and to go to a sewing machine repair shop in your area and see if they have any for sale. They said those machines will last forever, and if you find one on Craigslist it most likely will need to be taken to a shop to be oiled and aligned.

Hope this helps!
posted by nikaspark at 5:40 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: A free arm makes it easier to sew small tubes, like sleeves and the hems of pants. Most if not all sewing machines have this feature nowadays - really the regular sewing part is "free arm" and then there is an extra plate that adds more table room for flat sewing.
posted by muddgirl at 6:02 PM on October 3, 2019

Also I just watched this video from DIY queen withwendy which talks about the essential features of a new sewing machine purchase and shows three machines - low, medium, and higher-end. The low-end machine she shows would be perfectly fine for your needs - there is a whole next level of machine below that one (the kinds of machines available at target) in the sub-$100 range that are not as strong nor as durable.
posted by muddgirl at 6:08 PM on October 3, 2019

Best answer: I'm not a sewing purist, but I do all the things you mention, and I've made a queen-size quilt and multiple sets of curtains and a few baby blankets and basic purses and my kid's clothes until he got too big, on an absolutely nonfancy Brother machine I got at Target 15 years ago for $99. It's never given me a bit of trouble. It's got something like 25 stitches, but all I ever use is straight and zigzag. I think it was one of the best purchases I ever made.
posted by BlahLaLa at 6:09 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Some public libraries lend sewing machines or have sewing rooms where people can schedule time to use a machine. Some fabric/craft stores do this as well. You might look into whether this is available to you locally. If so, this may be enough for every 2-3 months, or it may be a helpful try-before-you-buy.
posted by Former Congressional Representative Lenny Lemming at 6:14 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

I second the comment fro BlahLaLa - any Brother machine in the $150 or less price range will be perfect for your needs. The XM2701 is under $100 and a great machine that will do what you need and last forever (as long as you clean it out and take care of it, of course). The CS6000i is great as well just a few more bells and whistles.

Do I need one with a free arm conversion? Nope
How about an adjustable needle? Nope
Should I look for one with different presser feet? Or a pressure lever? * and Nope
Thinking I’d want straight stitch, zigzag, anything else? Overlock? ** and Nope

* all machines come with a few presser feet most of which you will never use.
** all modern machines can do straight stitch and zigzag and bunch more which you will likely never use :)
Overlock is a different machine (think hems on a t-shirt - that double row trick). High end and expensive and you don't need it.
posted by susandennis at 6:21 PM on October 3, 2019

Best answer: I have the Janome 7330 Magnolia that nikaspark mentioned and I adore it. My interest in sewing waxes and wanes but not my love for my Janome! It does what it's supposed to do and looks cheerful doing it.
posted by HotToddy at 6:22 PM on October 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The Singer Heavy Duty machine recommended above is indeed supposed to be great. The one thing I've heard about it that gives me pause is that its pedal doesn't have great speed control - that it's slow or fast without much in the middle. I don't know if that's still true though, or have personal experience with it.

Another brand known for solid machines is Janome (on preview, as noted above). This basic machine should be equivalent to the Singer Heavy Duty, except that you can't adjust the pressure foot pressure. If you plan to sew a lot of knits or very thin fabrics, that might be a drawback. On the other hand, it's supposed to have better speed control.
posted by trig at 6:26 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would go to your local independent sewing store and try out their machines! I have a new Pfaff after having sewn for years on an 80s model; I learned to sew on a Singer. I would recommend getting a nice Singer, which would cost maybe a few hundred bucks at the store and would come with free service for a year or so.
posted by smorgasbord at 6:30 PM on October 3, 2019

I have three sewing machines, all secondhand, all pretty basic and just fine for the type of sewing you describe. I buy presser foots as needed online or at craft stores.

The machine I use the most is a discontinued Brother that's probably worth about $40 used on eBay - a friend gave it to me when she moved out of state. It's a trooper, easy to use and lightweight enough that taking it to a bee or a friend's is a non-issue. I recently picked up a 1980s-ish Kenmore at the thrift store for $35, took it home, plugged it in - it works fine.
posted by bunderful at 6:37 PM on October 3, 2019

They also say any singer from the 1950’s that does a straight stitch only is is the best entry level machine you can get and to go to a sewing machine repair shop in your area and see if they have any for sale. They said those machines will last forever, and if you find one on Craigslist it most likely will need to be taken to a shop to be oiled and aligned.

They are right. The attachements that you'll need to do things like zig zag stiches and whatnot are easy to obtain and very affordable and are just as idiot proof as the bombproof machine. Are they as easy as flipping a switch on a modern, expensive or cheap, machine [that won't last a century I promise you]? No. But they're not that bad and the base machine will never, ever let you down. Oh and it will sew through a tank's armor without skipping a beat.

Edit: we have a singer 99 by the way, it's great.
posted by RolandOfEld at 6:48 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

Got a craigslist special for $10 as it didn't work, needed slight adjustment (well a bunch as I'm an idiot and made it worse a few times:-) but a perfectly fine machine. Look for heavy, as in made of metal, so slightly older. If you have the space for a table machine they basically give them away.
posted by sammyo at 6:49 PM on October 3, 2019 [2 favorites]

Also manuals are available, sometimes it's five bucks as there's a small cottage industry of sewing stuff, but pretty much any are findable.
posted by sammyo at 6:51 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

A free arm makes working with closed circles like waistbands and hems of sleeves or pants much easier. Someone else mentioned how useful it is for quilting, I don't quilt so I have no idea what they are used for in quilting.

AVOID cheap machines that use only a single thread. You want an upper thread and a bobbin thread.

How about an adjustable needle?

You should definitely buy a machine where the needle can be replaced.
posted by yohko at 11:25 PM on October 3, 2019

Al good advice above! I have the heavy duty Singer, the Brother CS6000i, both purchased new. I also have 3 second hand machines-a Husqvarna Viking Classica v100, a Dial &Sew and most recently a Singer Slant-o-Matic circa 1959! The last 3 are all metal workhorses.

What I chimed in to say is the older machines are perfectly fine for your stated needs. if you think there's a chance of you wanting to expand you seeing skills to actually making clothing/accessories or projects, go for the new machines. They give you overcast, blind hem, BUTTONHOLES!! And more.

And if you go the used machine route, and there's not a manual, no problem. You can easily find manuals for old machines online. YouTube will show you how to use your sewing machine, and more importantly, how to maintain and service it. Take the time to learn how to clean, oil and lube and your sewing machine will last forever!
posted by LaBellaStella at 7:04 AM on October 4, 2019

Best answer: It sounds like a lot of people have wires crossed between a free arm, which you absolutely want for finishing wrist/ankle hems without splitting the whole arm or leg open, and a free motion foot, which is the accessory used for freeform quilting/embroidery. The latter is completely optional and easy to find aftermarket.
posted by fountainofdoubt at 7:32 AM on October 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

I also have a Janome 7330 and it’s great. I used one at a sewing studio and enjoyed using it enough that when my Kenmore (also very serviceable but no longer available) seized up and the repair shop wanted $150 just to look at it, I bought the Janome (from Bed Bath And Beyond online, with coupons). I’ve had it for ~4 years and I use it mostly for garment sewing (my wardrobe is about 50% me-made), plus occasional gifts and home goods.
posted by mskyle at 8:08 AM on October 4, 2019

Response by poster: Thanks to everyone who has, or will, post their rec's! I'm sure all the responses will be useful to various future visitors. For myself, I'm going to pass on seeking out used machines for a few reasons, the most important being this needs to be quick and simple, or I'll stall out on taking action.

A few comments: "Adjustable needle" refers to being able to align the needle in different positions, not being able to change the needle. I won't be doing quilts or embroidery. I like the idea of try-before-you buy -- I don't think local libraries have that, but I will try to find some local independent sewing stores.
posted by dancing leaves at 11:52 AM on October 4, 2019

Best answer: Being able to put the needle in different positions is very handy for things like installing zippers with a zipper foot on the machine and making buttonholes. If you are just doing regular seams it's not really necessary, though it might be nice to have in case you want to do a bit more with the machine someday.
posted by yohko at 6:47 PM on October 4, 2019

I am an enthusiast-level home sewist, and whenever these questions come up here or on Facebook, I just link to fellow Mefite Tchad's comment here, which I have permanently bookmarked. He gives you both a cheaper and a more expensive option, and why he thinks they are the best. He teaches sewing classes, so I figure he knows more than I do, and I've learned a lot from him.
posted by seasparrow at 10:33 AM on October 6, 2019

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