Should I buy a sewing machine?
April 3, 2020 11:46 AM   Subscribe

How have you found having a sewing machine materially useful? Or is it more of just an aesthetic hobby?

I learned to using a sewing machine in high school home ec and used to sew quilts with an older friend when I was a teen. I’ve never really had a practical use for having a sewing machine of my own, so I’m curious— have you ever found a sewing machine to be genuinely useful, or is it more of a hobby?

I am not against gadgets, I have a soy milk maker as I am a vegan and drink soy milk every day. I am just struggling to think of a use for a sewing machine beyond making homemade cloth masks right now (which I may start doing). I can do some mending by hand, not sure a machine will help me much there. I don’t plan to make my own complicated garments.

To reuse the soy milk maker example, I love it because it provides me with a staple food, simply and cheaply. I am wondering if there are similar applications for a sewing machine.
posted by stoneandstar to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Hobby, but if you like making things, it's a great hobby.
posted by plinth at 11:52 AM on April 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

More of a hobby. I suppose it's easy enough to breakout for some curtains, but I tend to find that hand sewing in more useful for any repairs I might do and the level of craftmanship required for something I want to regularly display/use in my home is far above my capabilities and often it's just cheaper to buy the item new.

It also depends how much space you have. I don't really have the space in my apartment to set up the projects I'd like or hold on to the supplies or fabric required.

(and on that note, if anyone in the Charlotte, NC area would like to come pick up a perfectly fine 10 year old sewing machine I'm happy to give it away to get some life into it- especially if you'd like to sew some masks, just send me a PM)
posted by raccoon409 at 11:53 AM on April 3, 2020 [7 favorites]

Do you find it difficult to find clothing that fits you/do you have any interest in doing your own clothing alterations?
posted by btfreek at 11:54 AM on April 3, 2020 [5 favorites]

My sewing machine has a "darning foot" that basically reinforces a small rectangular region of fabric with a grid of stitches: a kind of mending that is very time-consuming to do by hand. (And very difficult to do anywhere as neatly as the machine can.) The machine also does embroidery, so there's another possible application of interest if you get the right model.
posted by XMLicious at 11:59 AM on April 3, 2020

It sure is handy to have but I certainly don't use it all the time. You can get a good, solid machine for under $200 new or even less from a sewing machine repair shop. So I guess it all comes down to what you'd want to use it for right now. I wouldn't buy one just to have one.
posted by dawkins_7 at 12:00 PM on April 3, 2020

I go in phases, it seemed indespensible in my 20s and 30s when I made about 1/3 of what I wore, was in the SCA, and had friends that threw costume parties.

But these days I leave it sitting for months. I was without a working machine for about 6 months a while back, and filled half a notebook of project ideas. When I did get my replacement machine I think I made 1.5 of the projects. That said I've been making masks this week, and would not want to sew through those layers by hand.
posted by buildmyworld at 12:00 PM on April 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

If you are into hiking/backpacking, you can save money making your own gear. Check out /r/MYOG for examples.
posted by exogenous at 12:01 PM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I've been thinking about getting one -- I have some stuff held together by massive quantities safety pins that would be easy to machine sew: two large sofa cushion/pillows; a big quilted case for a small music keyboard. Curtains would be nice, too.
posted by amtho at 12:03 PM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'll often go six months between uses, but when I do it is very useful. Mine is a Hello Kitty sewing machine (made by Janome) which I have used to sew lunch bags, pillows, Halloween costumes, and to reupholster a chair. It wasn't happy about sewing through 4 layers of upholstery fabric, but worked in a pinch. If you have space to store and don't overspend for your needs, I think it's valuable to have available.
posted by past unusual at 12:13 PM on April 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

And outside of quarantine, you can often pick one up for free or cheap. I get offered free machines every couple of years, just 'hey you sew, do you need this machine my aunt gave me?'
posted by buildmyworld at 12:17 PM on April 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have a cheap-ass (like $40) sewing machine that does nothing but the basic stitch. I'll use it to sew up rips in pajamas or to make little sacks because I got tired of breaking out the needle and thread and taking an hour just to put a hem on something. But I'm a bit of a punk or something.... I use cut off bits of old flannel shirts as a washable seat cover. The el-cheapo sewing machine does that just fine.
posted by zengargoyle at 12:18 PM on April 3, 2020

I feel like it's kinda a hobby-plus, if that makes any sense. I've had one for about 15 years and really only started using it much last summer, but the skills I'd picked up as a kid sewing with my mom came right back. When I had some ideas about how I could have improved on the products we used to sell at an old crafting job of mine, I was able to try them out really quickly and actually ended up opening an Etsy shop that I've run for a few months now! It's a hobby that easily lends itself to becoming more if you find that there's some sewing application you're really into (also quilts rock and shopping for cool fabric is incredibly fun!).
posted by augustimagination at 12:29 PM on April 3, 2020

I am probably the wrong person to ask. I cannot remember a time where I did not have a sewing machine. Do I use it daily? No, but I do use it at least once a month for something. I'm a quilter and I periodically make clothes when I get annoyed by the fact that I can't find the things that I want in the stores.

I made my prom dress and almost every pair of jeans that fit until I was 20. I was in the SCA and sewed near-constantly during those years. I've made baby quilts for almost every friend who's had a child in the years I've known them. I repair my husband's work clothes or outdoor gear. I've made curtains and blankets for every place I've lived. I've made purses, bags, and pillows just cause I think they're cute.

Back in the day, fabric was cheap and making clothes was a cheap way to have very nice things that didn't cost that much. Now, you can get cheap as hell clothes way cheaper than you can make them, but if you are shaped differently or have unusual taste, sewing can find you a way to cool clothes that no one else has.

But yeah, it's a hobby tool. If you get into the puzzle construction-ness of sewing clothes or quilts, then it's a hobby that you might enjoy.
posted by teleri025 at 12:33 PM on April 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

Depends on what you want to use it for. Clothing-wise, I've found it's almost always cheaper to buy, although you can put time into tailoring if that's your bag, or into making specialty stuff you can't find in the stores. Quilts are cheaper bought than made, but you can make nicer quilts than you can buy.

But it's considerably cheaper to make pillow covers and upholstery than it is to buy them. Regular curtains are more of a break-even if you don't have cheap fabric shops in your area, but the machine does give you a lot more options than you'd have without it. (If you're the sort of person who likes custom window-treatments, a machine and learning to make your own will likely be cheaper than buying them.)

I also find it useful for gifts -- baby quilts, aprons in novelty prints, etc. are fast and always a hit. Also, mending goes faster and often holds up better when done with a machine.
posted by pie ninja at 12:37 PM on April 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

I grew up in a house with sewing machines and consider them to be a useful tool, like a power drill. I don't use it often but am glad to have it when needed. I've done things for the house like hemming curtains, making a washable cover for an ugly old ottoman, and other random boring stuff to save money. I tend to do small sewing repairs by hand, but that's because it's quicker for me than getting out the machine and setting it up (not an option to leave it out). And I like sewing by hand--as a kid I used to make little hand-sewn dolls. For me, hand sewing is the hobby.
posted by zennie at 1:08 PM on April 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I have a fairly basic Janome that I bring out of the closet every few months to do basic clothing repairs and alterations. I do it because I enjoy it and grew up with doing basic sewing; it probably makes a very small amount of economic sense to do it myself vs paying to have it done, but even basic repairs takes some time so that is maybe a wash.

I guess I see a sewing machine as part of a basic household repair kit, just like I have a hammer and screwdrivers. But it's not truly essential and if it broke I'd replace it eventually, but not with any urgency.
posted by Dip Flash at 1:10 PM on April 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

No, not for you. It seems that with what you have outlined for yourself you don't need to have one on hand. You know the basics of handsewing and mending so you are pretty skilled. The best thing to do is either borrow one from someone if you do *need* a machine or be gifted one and eventually pass that one on to someone who *needs* one. If you have fun money to spend on one then sure, why not. There are a bunch of under $100 ones that work "good".
posted by tipsyBumblebee at 1:19 PM on April 3, 2020

Data point: my wife used to sing with Sweet Adelines. Her sewing machine (and serger) ran overtime when it was time to make costumes for competition season. Every so often the stuff gets pulled out these days for simple alterations (hemming, etc). So it's useful, and at least as useful as some of the tools in the garage: rarely used but lifesavers at the right time and place.
posted by jquinby at 1:20 PM on April 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Practical and hobby. I learned to sew so I could hem and tailor my own clothing because nothing ever fits me, even as a child, and have saved a lot of clothes from going to the garbage by fixing, mending, or re-purposing. I made my own wedding dress which was a big wedding expense covered haha, but also I only had the skills to do that from years of LOVING making clothes for fun. That's the good thing about craft-based hobbies: useful AND fun!
Because I can sew, there is a lot of volunteering I am now qualified for. Masks aren't the only cloth goods people need, even if it's just helping your local school do costumes for the play.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 1:42 PM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: It's a useful tool that I am glad I have, and I can't do much more than sew a straight line. Fortunately, a whole lot of sewing is just straight lines! I've made curtains, sewn a few quilts, pegged pants, done small repairs, sewn 1,000,000 Girl Scout badges onto vests, and am about to start making cloth masks.

If you have the space to store one and can afford to buy it, I can't think of any reason not to have one in the house.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:15 PM on April 3, 2020 [1 favorite]

I have probably saved enough on curtains over the years to pay for every machine I’ve ever bought. Everyone talks about making things like clothes, accessories or toys, but curtains are sodding expensive and also about the simplest thing to make. Also, in my experience curtains are whatever size my windows aren’t, so even standard size packs need adjustment.

Aside from that, they do come in cheap and are also available second hand so it doesn’t have to be a huge investment if you want it for very occasional use and have some room.
posted by How much is that froggie in the window at 4:21 PM on April 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I bought a vintage straight stitch sewing machine when I was a teen, partially because I thought that vintage machines were cool, and partially out of an actual desire to sew things. I have since then also bought a newer vintage machine which does lots of fancy zigzag stitches, but I still prefer the other one for 99% of tasks. I've also become possibly more interested in the accumulation of vintage machine facts than in actual sewing -- it's like nerd catnip, and I'm a very susceptible nerd.

I don't sew all the time, but I go through phases of doing lots of sewing (various combinations of repairs and alterations, historical re-enactment, experiments with zero-waste pattern drafting). I like having a machine, and I'd be annoyed to be without one. Knowing that I can make alterations easily factors into my garment-buying decisions. I like being able to repair things quickly. I like being able to resize t-shirts (which I regularly acquire at tech conferences, not always having guessed the size correctly). I like being able to make simple garments from scratch.

You may find that if you have a machine you will be able to think of a lot more things that you can use it for, if only because information about projects is likely to be adjacent to information about machine use. On the other hand, I have tools that I seldom use (but don't necessarily regret buying). Your mileage may vary. Either an interest grabs you or it doesn't.
posted by confluency at 4:46 PM on April 3, 2020

Between hemming curtains and a couple of dresses it paid for itself in a year.
posted by gatorae at 4:54 PM on April 3, 2020

Best answer: A sewing machine will never beat mass production for price or speed for the things mass produced. If you want anything not currently mass produced, the comparison is to hiring someone else to custom make that; whether that’s cheaper depends on how relatively well-paid you are.

I sew partly because mass production is using such sleazy, shoddy* material. Clothes expensive enough to be made of durable cloth are all v expensive (and, for women, rarely utilitarian). Also, as soon as I learned to make halfway decent welting, my home goods looked more expensive than anything I’d buy.)
posted by clew at 4:56 PM on April 3, 2020 [2 favorites]

* originally terms for bad weak material
posted by clew at 4:57 PM on April 3, 2020

Best answer: It's like a bicycle. About $100 for a mediocre new one. Mostly for fun when you are a beginner, but if you like it, it gradually gets more and more useful. Some people become dedicated mountain bikers on weekends, or bike commuters; some people leave it in the garage except when they feel like it. Some people make a quilt or fix pants a couple times a year; some people get into making all their own clothes or competition quilting. And like a bike, it has pretty good resale value.
posted by blnkfrnk at 5:43 PM on April 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I really like mine for making quick pouches, which kids always seem to want more of for collecting things or wearing junk. We've made purses, curtains, a little clothing, mostly for kicks. pillow covers in matching fabrics, that sort of thing. I use it mostly for knocking up random junk, and Mrs. Naib does neat well thought out projects.
posted by Naib at 6:15 PM on April 3, 2020

If you have an hourglass figure, you can quickly learn to do simple alterations on the waists of your own shirts and pants.

This means you can buy larger size garments that properly fit the largest parts of your body (in an hourglass, this would be hips / bust / shoulders). Then alter them to fit them correctly to the smaller parts of your body (ribcage / waist).

So... shirt buttons will no longer gape at the bust! Shirts fit in a more flattering way! And pants don't gape at the back waist, or slide down off the waist to give a weird dropped-crotch effect. It's magic!

The quick way to do this:
Put the garment on and eyeball where it doesn't fit.
Take it off and turn it inside out, then put it on again.
Pinch the too-big parts, securing with lots of safety pins.
Put it the right way again and test the fit.

When it fits right, use thick colourful thread (I use embroidery floss) to roughly baste a line through all your pins, taking in the needed amount of fabric, and shaping the line so it curves out to nothing at the ends.

Put the garment on right-way out, eyeball and adjust.
Be prepared to unpick your lines and do it again.
Make sure you leave ease- enough room to sit and move.
Be patient, especially at first.

Once you have the fit the way you like it, machine-stitch your lines, unpick the embroidery floss, and enjoy!

The first time I did this, putting darts into a simple shirt took me 90 minutes... I can dart a shirt in 15 mins now.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 7:56 PM on April 3, 2020 [3 favorites]

Best answer: I can't sew very well. But I can make curtains, shopping bags, pillow covers, and pouches for camping gear. I can usually repair clothing.
I'd say it's a combination of hobby and useful; I use it for useful things, but I could also throw money at these needs/wants instead. So the fact that I choose to DIY them is the hobby aspect. It's saved me tons of money over the years and allowed me to re-use good materials that otherwise would have been thrown out. So there is also an environmental aspect to it.

With second hand machines being as plentyful and cheap as they are, if you can spare the space, I see no good reason not to own one.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:39 AM on April 4, 2020

have you ever found a sewing machine to be genuinely useful, or is it more of a hobby?

Well a sewing machine is not a hobby, it is a tool. Much like any tool, you could use for a hobby, or you could use it to sew things to sell, or you could set it on a table and just let it collect dust. You could sew clothing just because you like to sew clothing, or make clothing for someone who has trouble finding a good fit in off-the-shelf items, or make adaptive items for people who have trouble using regular clothing. You could sew ordinary items and know that they are made by you, not some person in a factory who you feel isn't being treated well.

It seems like you just want to do mending and make masks. Some people like tools that are kind of overkill for the job they are doing, but that doesn't mean the tool isn't genuinely useful. But it will take some time to learn how to use a machine, and you can probably sew yourself several masks in that time instead.
posted by yohko at 2:12 AM on April 4, 2020 [2 favorites]

One factor to consider is that even a cheap, basic sewing machine should last you for decades. You can get it serviced when if bits start getting out of kilter or it makes a funny noise. It's not the kind of thing you need to upgrade every couple of years.
posted by harriet vane at 3:36 AM on April 4, 2020 [1 favorite]

I got my current Singer for $2 at a yard sale. I got the one before it for $5 at a yard sale. If we ever get to have yard sales again, one might just fall into your life.
posted by bink at 9:58 PM on April 4, 2020

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