Sewing Machines For New Sewists

John Lewis Sewing Machine

One question I get asked is, ‘What sewing machine do you recommend?’ That’s a little like asking how long a piece of string is, but I do have some thoughts.

The above is a £50 John Lewis mini machine. They’re so cute! But are they right for new Sewists? I bought mine second hand as a back up machine for when friends come round to sew, or for if I was ever going away and wanted to sew. (Worth noting that I never have dragged this machine anywhere with me.) It’s fun, it’s basic, it’s light – I’m not entirely sure it is the right investment as a newbie. You might spend £50 on this, then quickly realise that yes, you want to take this sewing seriously. You want a proper machine. Shouldn’t that £50 have gone towards something more substantial, with more options? I think so. I’d buy this, as I did, for a back up fun item to have around – not necessarily as your first machine.

Janome DXL 603

It’s definitely worth looking at what machines sewing classes use. The above is a Janome DXL 603 that I used yesterday at The Village Haberdashery. Sewing shop owners are going to look for something reliable for their classes. What I liked about this machine is that it had three speed settings, which is a great help for new Sewists terrified of the machine running away with them. It’s not the cheapest in the Janome range, at about the £400 price point, but you could shop around for a cheaper version. (This one is more expensive, because it has all those embroidery options you can see!)

So, what should you pay? I sourced my first Toyota machine for free off Freecycle. It was really heavy, which I loved – no way was I going to break this baby. It was eccentric – the feeder wasn’t brilliant and I had to use a scrap of fabric to hold the bobbin on whenever it needed winding. But it did me for a year of sewing! Then, I invested in a Bernina Activa 230 which I love deeply. I seem to remember this was somewhere in the £600 price point, so family and a loved one came in on the investment with me.

When I bought my overlocker, I saved up pound coins in a jar to pay for it! You could do something similair. In the meantime, ask around family and friends. I bet you any money someone has a sewing machine gathering dust. If you ask nicely, they might let you borrow it.

Lots of my readers will have their own knowledge and opinions. What do you think is a decent price point for an entry-level sewing machine? I suggested £200 to someone recently. Do you agree? And what’s your brand of choice?

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76 Responses to Sewing Machines For New Sewists

  1. You could do worse than a vintage Singer rather than paying for the baby machine from John Lewis.Most only straight stitch, but you can do a lot with just that. I don’t think I have ever had as good a straight stitch as from my old black and gold Singer, passed on from my Mum and used until it was traded in against a ‘better’ model. Sadly the better model never lived up to it’s promise.

  2. I have a very basic Singer. I has been working fine for me, but when I read some reviews (of course after I bought it) I was horrified just how many people had problems with it. I never had a problem with it that I didn’t cause (put the bobbin in the wrong way, threaded it wrong etc), but because of the reviews I wouldn’t really recommend it. However, I am thinking of upgrading now and still don’t know what to upgrade to, because a lot of machines just have more ‘fancy’ stitches, whereas I would like perhaps 3 needle positions instead.

    • Ros says:

      Yes! The first sewing machine I owned was an inexpensive machine that was a 16th birthday present. It had 3 needle positions and I didn’t realise how much I used that feature until I got my current machine which is better in so many ways, but doesn’t have that simple feature. More expensive doesn’t always mean you get the features you really want.

  3. I have a 1974 electric Singer with a range of straight and zigzag stitch lengths and widths. There are no fancy stitches but you do have quite a few options as to how you combine them and it’s possible to get a darning hoop and the like. I love the look of that little red baby you have there, but as you say, it’s not really for serious work. Fun and a backup, and that’s fine. If somebody is keen enough to want to buy a machine, it probably pays to do your own research, maybe try a few machines (if friends have them; or perhaps an instore demo of some sort) and then look at budgets.

    I can only say that in my family, we favour Singers and Janomes. I have a Singer machine, Janome overlocker; my sister has it the other way around. And like most folk my age, I learnt on a Singer treadle machine with only straight stitching options. You couldn’t reverse stitch, you had to turn your work around if you wanted to do that. But why would you? You finished all your ends off by knotting. Life has moved on and although I would sometimes love a treadle for the quietness and the slower sewing it made so easy, I’m very happy with my electric machine.

    Sorry for that lengthy ramble! I think I’m saying it’s somewhat a horses for courses question and to some extent the kind of thing for which “try before you buy” is sensible advice.

  4. ooobop! says:

    When I was ready to buy my first machine, my mum advised some reliable brands with a budget of no less than £200. I went for a Janome Sewist and still use it when I’m teaching my neighbours daughter as it is very basic and easy to understand. I use a posh Brother machine now. Only because Mr O bought it as a present for me otherwise the Sewist would still be a great go-to.

  5. Nay says:

    Borrow one to start with. Sewing is a bit like a new exercise regime, people start out with a lot of good intentions and a few months later there’s an expensive piece of equipment gathering dust somewhere… There’s no point spending money on a machine, even if it’s only entry level, if it’s not going to be used!
    I started with my Mum’s old Elna she got an an engagement present or something similar some 35 years ago. Perfect. I swear those old things could sew threw metal if you asked them to! I was given a second hand Janome My Lock around the same time. Then I was bought a new computerised Elna once I’d established that I had a desire and the skill to continue sewing.
    Funny – I’ve just realised I have no idea about buying sewing machines because I’ve never actually bought one!!

  6. Bec Stitches says:

    I recently put a post about sewing machine recomendations and found most people suggested Janomes, seems they are the most realible and easy to use.. so will have to do some visits and tests..but not exactly sure what is good points to look for apart from buttonholes?

  7. annabelvita says:

    I’m not far off being a beginner myself and if my machine breaks I’ve got my eye on the Janome 525s. It’s about £230 and recommended by Which, plus it’s the machine used on the Sewing Bee! (http://thethriftystitcher.co.uk/great-british-sewing-bee-its-the-stitchers-star-not-their-tools/). I really really like a mechanical machine with knobs like this, it helps me understand how all the different settings work (my mum’s machine is mechanical but jut has different types of stitch with no ability to tweak the stitch length or width).

    My first machine was a freecycle seamstress sewing machine that didn’t even have a zig zag stitch, and had some other issues too. My current machine is a big beefy new home (janome) machine and I LOVE it. It’s a proper tank. The charity shop had had it serviced, so I knew everything worked. It was a great machine to learn on but I know I was lucky to get a good reliable machine for so cheap. If someone is chomping at the bit to get started you don’t want them to have to wait until they’ve found a suitable machine in a charity shop!

    If they really think they’re going to love sewing, they should buy from a local shop, they often have free lessons for new machines and would be happy to have you come in with any problems.

  8. Amy says:

    Two years ago when I started sewing I got a Toyota from Argos for under £200. Its not perfect but its pretty darn good value for money.

  9. Sri says:

    I got this one from John Lewis- http://www.johnlewis.com/john-lewis-jl110-sewing-machine/p317685?colour=White

    It’s good enough to get back into sewing after many many years, so its not too beginner-ish, Very functional- does what it says on the box. But a really advanced sewist might want something more fancy to do more kinds of stitches.

  10. debs2748 says:

    The first (borrow one or hire one to begin with) then the thing I would ask is: What do you want a sewing machine to do? What are you going to sew? To me buying a sewing machine is a lot like buying a computer. If you don’t play games you don’t need the huge processing power. If you are not into graphics you don’t need a mega graphics card or huge amounts of storage. Well with sewing if you only intend to make curtains or a skirt you don’t need so many bells and whistles either. On the other hand first enthusiasm gets us all. So thin of your first machine as a workhorse. You want a reliable fairly basic affair. I’d say one with straight and zig zag options including button hole capabilities. Not neccessarily automatic buttonholes either, 4 step is fine to start with. Go for one of the main machine makes, Bernina, Janome, Husquavarna Viking all of which are used in schools and seiwng classes. An decent all rounder will cost around £300 and should include a variable speed function as well (excellent for beginners and advance sewers alike). However before you invest in a new choosen machine try them out, go to a show and watch demo’s. You must feel comfortable with the machine and controls and in how they feel to you. Most of all enjoy.

  11. I bought the John Lewis 110 SE ( http://www.johnlewis.com/john-lewis-jl110-sewing-machine/p231405815 ) last year. I was a bit skint at the time so it was all I could afford but honestly, it’s brilliant – it cost £99 but i’ve made dresses, tops, skirts, cushions, bags etc and it’s never broken down or been temperamental. Plus it comes in lots of lovely colours (I got the lavender one).

    It’s a false economy to buy a £50 cheapy machine but it’s also unnecessary to spend £400 on a machine with lots of daunting bells and whistles. I’ll probably upgrade to a new machine in the next year when I get to a more advanced level of sewing but for now this machine is perfect.

  12. debs2748 says:

    Oh forgot to say I own a Singer (mums old one goes through anything straight stitch only), a New Home basic straight and zig zag (renamed Jenome in 80s) and a babylock overlocker. I have sewn for years and years and used to make dance show costumes and had costumes on a West End Stage. So not an insusubstantial amount of sewing. I was taught by Mum and Aunts and still sew for pleasure today.

  13. I got my sewing machine as a birthday present, after asking a few people to put their money together. It’s a Janome Sewist and I love it, it’s easy to use and can handle a lot of different fabrics (I’ve sewn denim and coating as well as light silks on this thing).

  14. Ugglan says:

    I just found my way to your blog and I want to leave my comment on this.

    I have a old Singer 201 for straight stitches and a 310K for making zigzag, buttonholes and other sems. I havent had the 319 K for very long but it works like a charm. My newest machine is a overlock Husqvarna s21 and its not nearly as user friendly as the old ones. So, my tip is to buy a old machine as a first machine. That is used and tried out and well functioning. I am never going to buy a new machine again…

  15. sewamysew says:

    I think you may as well fork out for a half descent one that you can grow into to avoid growing out of a cheapish one too soon. Price point AUS $400-$600.

    PS I think you may have to take down the Team Patrick badge! He keeps catching my eye so and I lose my place, very distracting!!

  16. knitbitch says:

    Those mini machines are really more aimed towards the youngster that want to sew just like mummy/daddy does. For that purpose it’s great. I had a mini-Singer and I absolutely LOVED it! I used to sew doll clothes on it and when I was about 10 I started sewing clothes for myself in the youth club and at home – at that point my mum decided I was old enough to use her machine. But the Singer stayed with me. In fact I’m planning to pull it out of the basement when my daughter turns 5 this summer and let her have a go at it.

  17. i have a fairly basic brother machine. i would really recommend if you have a sewing machine shop nearby to use their expertise! i spoken to the shop and could try different machines, they could show me how they worked, listen to what i planned to sew and recommend. you also get great after sales care! it was about £120 and the shop threw in free thread – about 15 spools i think. it’s done me ok so far. i was looking at the janome that someone above mentioned that they are using on the sewing bee. but not looking to upgrade yet.

  18. Awfulknitter says:

    I recently bought a new sewing machine and I am in love! But then I am lucky enough to be in the position to afford a Bernina, so you would hope I like it…

    I second the recommendation to get a second-hand machine as a first machine. I had a teeny little Elna and my mum’s old Brother for twelve years of dabbling. The main thing is to see how much you like sewing and finding out what you’re most interested in making – you don’t know what your spend/investment should be until you know these things. Sewing heirloom-quality garments might seem appealing until you realise you don’t have the patience for hours of fiddly finishing, so you wouldn’t want to invest in a machine with oodles of fancy embroidery stitches from the off.

    The other thing with a first machine is that it has to be reliable – if the machine jams up all the time and eats up the fabric with the feed dogs, then you’re never going to feel like you’re learning anything and getting somewhere. This is what happened to me. Older mechanical machines seem to get lots of praise (particularly Singers), so if you can borrow or buy one, then get it serviced, that’s probably going to be a better use of money (and hopefully involve less spending too).

  19. Helen Nicholson says:

    I have a Janome 6260 Quilters Companion, which I have had for about 5 months. I think it cost around £450 on line and it came with lots of extras like feet and a quilting extension table. I haven’t used every stitch and function yet, but having had a basic machine, I was keen to have some extras. I would find it frustrating to have a new machine and then find I was limited by its functions. As I also wanted to try more quilting, I would recommend a machine which you can fit a walking foot to, as it’s very handy for sewing knits as well. Janome make loads of extra feet, so that was one reason why I went for one of their machines in the end. My advice would be to think about all the things you might like to have a go at and then buy a machine that does all that and a bit extra too!

  20. My suggestion if you wanted to test waters at sewing is to buy a second-hand machine. With a 50/60 pound investment (if you don’t manage to get if for free) you can get a refurbished machine that is much sturdier than some wobbly modern options. I started sewing on my mom’s 1965 Singer…it’s electric and it’s got a wealth of stitches…even for sewing on elastic…ok, you need to change plastic dials but still…
    When I upgraded to a new machine I went for a Bernina Aurora 440 (now discontinued)…because I wanted the option of connecting it to the pc…I didn’t realize at the time that I needed a separate embroidery module! So it was poor judgement on my part. Though the machine itself works very well…I regret having spent so much money when I could have bought a cheaper computerized machine (like Karen’s Activa) for similar features. So my advice…if you get easily side-tracked with fancy gizmos is: pause a moment, ponder a bit and then make your purchase!

  21. Ros says:

    I have an Elna 3210 and I love it. My usual tips for people buying a first machine are to ignore the number of stitches. You won’t use them. I would try to buy a machine somewhere you could do a test run. Find one that you feel comfortable with. In terms of features, I’d look for one with a needle-down position, droppable feed-dogs, automatic buttonhole, zip foot.

    I’d also think hard about what you want to sew. I knew I wanted my machine to be able to cope with upholstery fabrics as well as dress fabrics, so when they showed me it sewing through 8 layers of denim without any problem, I was sold. If you mostly want to do patchwork, you might not need that.

    £200 is a good sort of budget to get a machine that will make it a pleasure to sew. Those little machines can be hard work to use if you’re trying to push them to their limits.

  22. Lisa says:

    Hi there, like many others I’ve got a John Lewis one110 (I think) which was about £100, and in a lovely shade of pink!! When I got it the lady tried to persuade me to invest in a more expensive one as if I was going to sew it would be more of an investment. I can sort of see her point as I love my sewing now, but to be honest for the types of projects I’ve done my pink one has been fine! .. I didn’t want to spend a fortune on my first one, just in case it all went a bit pear shaped, but glad to report that it didn’t!!
    Lisa

  23. Jude says:

    I did a lot of looking around when I bought mine 4 years ago and highly recommend janome sewist 525s. Sturdy three dial machine ideal for dressmaking and just over £200. It also comes with a hard case (sits on top rather than with latches but worth having and unusual in this price range). It got some good reviews on forums from dressmakers.

  24. I got mix reactions on it. My mom has a mini janone that is very similar to this and i can sew ok with it but having my more advance machine at home really makes me struggle to like it. In the other hand, its very light and perfect for sewing classes … If you can buy for less than £50 its a good buy otherwise the entry level Brother cost £105 and its miles better.

  25. lauriesannie says:

    Your machines evidently are more reasonably priced than in the U.S. I don’t think we could get a decent machine for $350 ish. What I have done, after reading a trusted blogger, is bought a second-hand Bernina 802 designed for home-ec classes. I bought it on eBay. And I paid about $225 for it. It weighs a ton which is a good thing and is a real work horse. It zig-zags so makes buttonholes but otherwise pretty simple. I own a couple of fancy Vikings but I always go back to this.

  26. Paola says:

    I spent my teenage years dabbling with my Mum’s manual Bernina. When I left home I spent $120 on a Singer. Believe me, I noticed the difference. I then bought a cheapish Elna. Not great either. Then I bought a Husqvarna, about $750. It was ok, but the bonus “self selecting stitch length” function and the “Dodgy buttonhole” function did me in. I invested in a Bernina 330 early last year, and my sewing has never looked back. My output has increased, purely because I know my sewing machine will not give me grief. I have a Bernina overlocker too – so I am Bernina all the way.
    If you are starting out with the sewing thing, though, and not sure if you will be in it for the long haul, at the very least check out the quality of the straight stitch, whether the machine makes a nice noise (it doesn’t sound as if it is straining), try out different fabrics, and check out the buttonhole. Get the machine that performs these basic functions for the price you can afford.

  27. Danka says:

    Freecycle is good, but another good idea for somebody who doesn’t want to invest lots of money into a first machine is Gumtree. Though not my first machine, I got an unbranded one for £50 from a fashion student. It still works like a dream!

  28. redambition says:

    When I was a teen, I used my mum’s 33 year old Singer. It’s only just recently finally given up from neglect! (On her part – she’s not a fan of sewing and has never serviced it properly). When I became interested in sewing again, I managed to get a 1970s Janome for free from a friend. Then when I decided I did like sewing, I had the chance to buy a fancy pants Brother machine for a fraction of its retail cost – so I took the deal! I’m still using the Brother today, with the Janome as a backup.

  29. ClaireE says:

    If you’re not sure about sewing then I think the recommendation to borrow one is sound. But if people want to buy their own I think you will be looking at £100 for a basic one but there is a chance you will outgrow it quickly or it may break. You also need to know what you want from the machine.

    I started out with a cheap Brother, it lasted a few years but once I really started to push the machine, it couldn’t cope. I decided to buy a machine using the ‘best I can afford’ principle and switched to a Janome DSK30. I haven’t looked back since!

  30. I haven’t bought a new machine since 1991 when I traded my Janome Combi for a Bernina 1120. They both did me proud, given the amount of serious sewing I put them through. When the 1120 blew its fufu valve finally after 21 years, I bought a second hand 1230, which I also love. And I adore the Bernina 730 Record from 1970 something we also have in our studio. We have some new mid range Janomes too, but I like machines that are more my age! These old machines cost between $300 and $1000 NZ, Halve that for pounds.
    We have old and new machines for our beginner classes so people can get a feel for what they like, before they waste money on a dud. It’s good for new sewists to try other people’s machines I reckon, so they can have a little understanding when they go to buy or borrow or score one. 🙂

  31. Fwaire says:

    I got the john lewis sewing machine for my first machine and I agree really. It was good and really did help me get the basics, but then I found I couldn’t do anything else.

    I do, however, think it would be good for a child learning to sew and just doing simple little projects.

    Now I have a better machine and love it and all it’s snazzy new functions! I’m going to give my little red one to my cousin who’s just getting interested in sewing 🙂

  32. franceparijs says:

    Interesting post. I’m glad I started sewing with a fairly good Singer (don’t remember the series # anymore), currently have a Brother NX-600 but I secretly wish to upgrade for a Bernina or any industrial machine – I tried to sew jeans-style topstiching with my Brother but was unable to finish the job, my machine was not amused. So, the next one will have to be a real sturdy professional thing!

  33. My first machine (as teenager) was a heavy vintage straight-stitch only Novum that my Grandma bought in the 80’s for £10 at a carboot sale. It was awesome for being fearless with – as at the price I wasn’t afraid of breaking it (plus it was so strong going through millions of layers of denim – as I had a “thing” for altering jumble-sale and charity shop fnds back then ratehr than “proper” sewing). The machine I have now is also a Novum – it’s a vintage Zig-Zag machine, that is strong, easy to use and reliable and it cost me less than £20 including courier costs (it weighed 17-18kgs IIRC!!) off of eBay a couple of years ago. The modern Brother mechanical machine I bought 12+ years ago for around £250 sits unused under a shelf – the tension has never been right (despite a visit to the repair shop).

    So, my own recommendation is for a beginner to spend £30-£40 maximum on a second-hand vintage zig-zag machine. Learn on it, be fearless and then keep it as your back-up machine (if and) when you choose to “upgrade” to something fancier. You never know – an older relative or friend might be looking to pass one on for free to someone looking to take up sewing – so ask around, you never know when you might get lucky 🙂

  34. Sabs says:

    I learnt to sew on a hand-driven Singer 1936 vintage that cost a fiver. It only did straight stitch and was a nightmare to do much on as I only ever had one hand to guide the fabric. But I loved it (and still do). My first proper electric machine is my current one – a Janome 525S (incidentally the same as they have on the Sewing Bee!) which cost about £230. I think it’s perfect – mechanical rather than computerised (really important for a beginner I think as otherwise it might be too complicated – well, it was for me!), lots of stitches without being overwhelming, easy to use and hopefully should last a fair while. I love mine and would def recommend it. Oh and I would also recommend going to a dealer and having a play on their machines before deciding.

  35. punkmik says:

    I have sewn with a basic Brother machine which me and my mum shared. Around 150 price point. Since I have been gifted a basic pfaff also round 100 to 150. O mainly use straight and zig zag so these basic machines do me 🙂

  36. Sewingjen says:

    Even for a child I think like you that £50 is a waste of money. Most kids don’t start till about 7 or 8 so an adult machine is fine they don’t need a mini version. My very first machine in (ahem!) 1964 was a “fully automatic” Pfaff and although classed as portable I was just about able to lift onto the table! and which i still have, its a workhorse with a semi industrial motor which sews through anything. However this was replaced, by a gift,of a Pfaff 1475CD in 1992. It failed in 2011 and the mechanic told me it was repairable, but as Pfaff have now ceased trading, Singer bought the name. So if you buy a Pfaff today it isn’t the peak of German engineering but a singer with a different name. I bought an all singing and dancing Janome, which I love but treat it much more gently than I did the Pfaff which I missed. I therefore bought a Pfaff 1473 on eBay and love it. The best thing about Pfaff is the built in “walking foot” which is a boon for patchwork and quilting bee’s!
    To back to which machine I would recommend the Janome XL 601 has all the features of the DXL603, but with only 30 stich patterns rather than 60, but for £100 less is a bargain.

  37. LinB says:

    For a rank beginner, you want a metal machine — or mostly metal — and fairly basic. The fewer functions a machine has, the less that can go wrong. I’ve never found Singers to be reliable, and reject them outright when friends offer me their dead relatives’ old machines. I like my basic Brother, bought new for about $200 US. It has straight stitch and ziz-zag, and is a sturdy little workhorse. (My serger is also a basic Brother.) I’ve since moved up to a Janome Quilter’s Companion bought second-hand for $80. I’ve got a second-hand Kenmore that came with a sewing cabinet I wanted ($35 used). All it needed was a good cleaning and some lubrication. I’ve got a second-hand Singer from the 1960s in a beautiful maple cabinet. Machine needs minor repair, but worth it for $35 used price because of all the many, many attachments and all the manuals, and a knee pedal. A good basic machine is best for a beginner.

    • LinB says:

      Oh, oh, oh! And on older machines, you can set the machine for reverse and IT WILL STAY IN REVERSE until you change it, leaving BOTH hands free to steer fabric. That’s the one feature that I miss most from my mother’s 1957 White machine, on which I learned to sew.

  38. CGCouture says:

    I would say to heavily consider purchasing a used, mid-level+ mechanical machine. The computerized ones might look cool, but they can be fussy, regardless of brand. Something simple and easy to use that has all the basics and enough extras to get your toes in the water. As a bonus, oftentimes they are cheaper and a good bargain in case sewing doesn’t turn out to be all they thought it would be. Some things I would personally look for?
    *Reputable and service oriented dealer that you trust and feel comfortable with!!!!!!!! *Adjustable needle position. *Adjustable presser foot pressure. *3 buttonhole types–keyhole, standard, and the stretch. *Lots of presser feet available (included is even better!) *Either a walking foot or IDT. After that, everything else is just gravy. 🙂

  39. I’ve recently recommended Sewing Machines Direct.co.uk to a new sewer. I bought mine for £119, they are slightly dearer now, but I bought the basic straight stitch, about eight zig-zag and a one step buttonholer as this is all I would need. The deciding factor for me was the AUTOMATIC TENSION -having fought for decades with more expensive models on this account, I am absolutely loving my SD761. Maureen

  40. Lizzy says:

    I’ve got a Bernina that I adore and it came with 6 feet which makes sewing life much easier. I have an Elna basic machine which I teach my children on, I’m too protective of Bernina to share! The Elna does have good tension and is very reliable.

  41. Pella says:

    I’m no help, as I sew on a mechanical Bernina bought aeons ago, new. The ‘what’s really useful for me list’ is short – decent straight stitch, zig zag, several needle positions, good feet, blind hem stitch.

  42. I use a Brother and it has been serving me pretty well and i heard an Elna is not bad too.
    Your blog has been an inspiration to new sewist like myself and this community is so vibrant. A pity we don’t have such an avid community in my country.

    Cheers,
    Adeline
    http://www.adesays.wordpress.com

  43. AnotherKaren says:

    Choosing a sewing machine is a bit like shopping for shoes. You’d love, love, love those cute vintage Dorothy shoes, or those pointy toed Manola Blahniks, but your feet, your purse and your lifestyle shout: “Move away from the display, stop dribbling and go look for some flat lace ups, for goodness sake”.

    Friends offered me their machines and I couldn’t get going on them because I couldn’t thread the blessed things and I couldn’t put the bobbins in properly. When I eventually succeeded with the threading hurdles, I became Lewis Hamilton in a Formula One car, careering around fabric on two wheels with the pedal stuck to the floor. Talk about road rage!

    So I went into a proper sewing machine shop (Bambers near Manchester) with a list of ‘comfy shoe’ requirements: a needle threader; a drop in bobbin that you can see; an alternative start/stop to the footpedaI; knit stitches, overlocking stiches; one stop button-hole procedure, a selection of feet; a good manual (fail!); good back up support from the retailer (win!). It was a Brother Innovis 10A: normal price £250, but this one was pink and unloved so it was £189 I think.
    It’s like a pair of sheepskin lined slippers when on her best behaviour but can be a pair of dirty smelly plimsolls when she doesn’t like the thread. But she’s still the best £189 I’ve spent in a long time, bless her.

  44. Lynn says:

    I have a 23 year old Pfaff. I love the Dual Feed Technology (built in walking mechanism). Heavy material? Thin material? Slippery fabric? None of it is an issue. It all just feeds right through brilliantly. I am not in need of a lot if embroidery stitches. I just never use them. But the straight up sewing I do is super easy on this macine. I am thinking of getting a newer Pfaff sewing model.

    Oh, and I love my Baby Lock Imagine overlocker. Air threading and automatically adjusted tensions — need I say more?

  45. Lizzie says:

    I purchased my first sewing machine last summer – it was a birthday present from my parents. I got it for £100 off gumtree, it was a singer talent 3233 which was pretty much brand new – the owner bought it and never really used it. I love it! Granted in time I may want to have a better one, and definitely would love an overlocker in the meantime, but my singer is perfect and really good value (it still retails in John Lewis for about £230). I’d recommend to anyone to look there. Also check in sewing shops – they may know someone looking to upgrade

  46. Gjeometry says:

    Oh, such a timely post!! My first machine that I got for Christmas was a new Singer. Not a very well made machine and it has broken down TWICE in that time. So, instead fixing it this time, I am currently borrowing my mom’s Kenmore and shopping around to see which machine to buy. I will bookmark this and check out the machines you talk about and look at the comments to see what others think. Thanks Karen!

  47. Sewingjen says:

    I agree with another Karen, Bambers in Manchester know everything there is to know about sewing machines and have tons to look at and try before you buy. So armed with a list of wants and a price in mind they will come up with the goods. Yes go to a good dealer rather than a swanky department store

  48. I think anyone looking at buying a sewing machine has to buy the best machine they can afford. If its for dressmaking then there are some things which are important to consider, a decent buttonhole stitch, reverse stitch, Zig Zag and a decent straight stitch. There is no need to have lots of embroidery stitches. I have a Pfaff, I love my Pfaff it glides along and is sturdy and the bobbin winder is really easy. I started out on a non electric hand Singer which was my Mother’s and then when I was about 12 I was allowed to use the electric Singer. I think its important to buy a sewing machine from a reputable dealer who provides after care service.

  49. mia mcnab says:

    My first machine was a Janome MyStyle, bought for me as a 1st anniversary gift – 18 years and still going strong, now in the care of my 12 year old. It has fewer bells and whistles, but does all the basic things very well. Ideal for starting out.

  50. Joelle says:

    I have (as my daily driver) a vintage Singer 406A. It has a great variety of decorative and useful stitches, although I don’t really use all the options. And since I got it from my grandma, it came with all the attachments and accessories–ruffler, roll hem, button-holer, etc.
    I think some people might be concerned about maintenance of an older machine, but that is no biggie, either. I did pay to have it serviced over Christmas time, which was about $75, but it ran like a dream before hand, I just wanted all the fluff blown out and oiled (which I think I could do on my own next time–there are plenty of videos on youtube). Also, replacement parts are still available, any my machine is from the 60’s. I’ve bought needles, extra bobbins, and slant-shank feet at http://www.sewingpartsonline.com, (no compensation offered there).

    My old machine was a late 60’s Pfaff, and it still works great for my sister, too. I will say that both weigh about as much as a small child, so I don’t ever move them. Ever. I would consider getting a cheap mini for taking out of the house, though! : )

  51. Salma says:

    I was previously sewing on my mothers old Singer Merritt 1812 from the late 70’s and it’s a wonderful machine that had that glorious 3 needle position feature. When I moved I bought a Janome Magnolia 7330 (the computerized model in the series) because I really wanted something that was lightweight, but sturdy enough for advanced projects and of course a one-step buttonhole (I love it!). I’ve had it for 10 months now and I’m really happy with it but I really recommend going to a sewing machine dealer and trying out the machines.

  52. Julie Cruickshank says:

    My dh bought me a John Lewis machine in January (Scotsman – waited for the sale!) I have been sewing for years using my Mum’s Elna Club until which is 23years old and was a brilliant machine. I have made crafty bits and three pairs of curtains on my new machine and I am really pleased with it. It was around £250. I would say it’s horses for courses….like cars (but much more fun)

  53. mrsnsfamilymatters says:

    My first machine was £100 Silver which was a present, it was ok for lightweight sewing eg cushions but not much more. I now have a very reliable Janome DC4100 which I love. It cost £450 3 or 4 years ago. I’m really happy with it. I think to start get one for free if possible and save up for a reasonable entry level Janome/ Bernina you should be good.

  54. Laura says:

    I learned on the cheapest Singer (1507), which looks better than the minis but is still pretty basic. At 80 pounds I think it’s a pretty good deal!

  55. C. Richelle says:

    I have a machine i just absolutely love, its a Brother, but after many many years of fighting with old, and even older singers and kennmores its like a dream. I got it at on a deal from a local sewing store and since then I’ve just been inspired to get better and make more and more garments. So now I’m wondering, should I invest in a serger/overlock machine? Will i use it enough to justify the cost and learning how to use it?

  56. Sadie says:

    I’ve got an entry-level Janome – it cost about £100 and does straight stitch, zigzag, and 4-step buttonholes (though I have yet to actually make a buttonhole!) and came with a zip foot and blind hem foot. It’s not fancy, but it does everything I want it too and wasn’t too much of an investment for a hobby I really wasn’t sure about!

  57. grtescp says:

    I learnt to sew with a hand driven vintage singer, a gift for my 8th birthday. Later I was given a Toyota that was ok, and then last year I inherited my grandmothers Bernina 730 record – it is almost 45 years old and still sews like a dream. I teach a bunch of friends to sew and they have all bought the IKEA machines – they are simple and clunky, but not mini and sew well enough and I find them comparable to the Toyota I used for 25 years or so!

  58. Helen says:

    Excellent timing – a work colleague asked me about sewing machines last week. Had to admit that the reason I chose mine was because it’s the one they had at The Make Lounge and therefore I (kinda) knew how to use it! I’ve not used every stitch yet, but boy was I glad of the automatic buttonhole setting the other day.

  59. I received an entry level Viking as a gift and the salesperson gave good advice – stay with something that makes adjustments (length, width, stitch type) mechanically rather than computerized. They are likely to be more reliable. I’ve since heard my model is one that hasn’t been updated in ages, which is good b/c the newer models are more cheaply made.
    In about 1.5 yrs of (still beginner) sewing I have only used 3 stitches – straight, zig zag and blind hem. Where I think you can find value even as a beginner is in getting various feet – those have helped a ton with zippers and topstitching – and various needle positions. When I realized I wanted to really improve my quality I bought the entry level Janome serger rather than upgrading my sewing machine. There’s no point at this stage. And, don’t get sucked in my all the decorative stitches unless you KNOW you will use them. Those add a ton of cost.

  60. Katrina says:

    I’m on Team John Lewis Mini. It was my starter and I sewed pretty heavily on it for 2 years before ever considering upgrading! It is most definitely a proper machine!

    Plus, if you’re a total newbie and liable to make the machine do something it doesn’t like without realising, this machine is the best option. Much better to accidentally wreck a £50 machine in your first few months getting serious than a >£150 one!

  61. Roobeedoo says:

    I used a second-hand Singer for about ten years of serious beginner to intermediate sewing. It was a straightforward mechanical (electric) machine – but no computerised bits. My mother’s expensive computerised Singer went wrong every time she used it! When the Singer started to show signs of strain, my husband paid for a birthday Bernina. It was probably around the £200 mark. I like it a lot 🙂 Again, no fancy computerised stuff to go wrong. For a beginner, I think all you need is a straight stitich, and a zig zag, with the possibility of doing button-holes.

  62. Gaenor says:

    I have only been sewing for a couple of years, although I do seem to have acquired a number of machines in that time (oops). I started with an inherited vintage singer (201K – 1955) which just does straight stitch but is a fantastic work horse, very easy to control and nothing to go wrong. I also have what is basically the same machine, but 3/4 size which I am using to teach my son to sew on – not that the size is an issue, but it means I don’t have to give up my sewing area while he works! I have also had a couple of 1960s mechanical machines with zig zag features which can be useful, but are more fun than essential really (at least until you know what you want to do with this sewing thing). The bonus of the old machines is that you can often pick them up for £20-£30 and often all you need to do is clean them up and perhaps check the wiring before you get started.
    (www.bygaenor.blogspot.co.uk/2013/03/goodbye-mr-smith.html)

    By contrast I sometimes use my Mum’s Huskvarna which has far more features than I will ever use, and even she sometimes bemoans the loss of her old non-computerised machine.

  63. eronoe says:

    I say everyone should invest in a good straightstitchmachine and a decent serger, that’s what the pro’s use and that’s basically all you need! I have a 40s cast iron Singer straightstitch in good condition that costed me about £30 and a cheap Singer serger I bought new for about £1500. And that’s all I need both for my homesewing and for professional samplemaking that will be sent to massproduction. The only thing I can’t do is bottonholes but that hasn’t been a problem so far, for the first ten years I borrowed a bottonholer occasionally and a few years ago I bought one because I hade some money I needed to invest.

  64. Tugba says:

    I’ve got a Janome J1024. I think I paid around £150-£200 for it. I’ve had it for about 4 years and it’s still going strong! I intentionally didn’t opt for a computerised model as I’ve heard horror stories of this element of the machine not working and then needing a costly sum to fix (£300 was what one lady was quoted!). I’m not sure if anyone has had a similar experience with computerised machines? Saying that, I do use the Janome CXL 301 at work, which is a computerised machine and it is a nice machine. It has the speed settings, which is great for beginners and is a lot less noisy than my machine at home. I do find it’s far more temperamental when it comes to free machine embroidery and leather (which I do alot of) and generally, I think my J1024 handles my abuse better than thisCXL 301.

    And as you mentioned machines used in sewing classes, I work at Sew Over It, a sewing cafe in London, and the Janome CXL 301 are our machines of choice!

  65. 1107nikki says:

    I used my grandmothers hand Singer machine for my first 25 years of sewing. Occasionally borrowing one for buttonholes etc cos mine only did straight stitch. About 7 years ago I bought a John Lewis machine for £100. The machine is not fancy but it does zig zag and straight stitch. It’s actually made by Janome for John Lewis. It’s also just had first service and the chap was really impressed with it. I can’t see my replacing it for some time to come. So I would recommend freecycle for newbies then buy what you can afford, then there’s no chance of wasting too much.

  66. Jill says:

    What a lovely and informative blog can’t wait to see more. I started sewing properly about a year ago, having always owned a sewing machine I only ever used it for making little curtains and anything ‘straight’, that was until my niece had her daughter, I decided I wanted to make her a dress, which I did, however, my 30 year old sewing machine had more or less given up, I decided to treat myself and bought a Toyota, I’ve not looked back since, I make bags, quilts, dresses will have a go at anything. It’s has given me such confidence and I’ve realised that I can actually sew and I now keep looking at that Janome, I might have to find one to try, my an upgrade early next year !!

    Jill

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  68. Kerry says:

    I’ll tell anyone who’ll listen that I was recommended a Janome Sewist 525s by a sewing machine repairman as being a good quality machine that he said was reliable. I absolutely love it, it sews like a dream compared to my basic Singer (bought new, £80) which could be fussy. I also think the Janome was the machine that the contestants were using on the Sewing Bee too – never got a good look at it from the front but I’m 99% sure it was the same as my machine.

  69. Hazel says:

    When I first started sewing properly I was using a cheapie machine that was bought in Lidl for ‘just in case’ fixes. It was ok but really not robust enough for what I wanted to make. So we made a trip through to Stirling to Pembertons who are specialists in sewing machines. I had a checklist of what I wanted and a pretty tight budget (being a student and all). After a quick chat I was recommended to buy the Husquvarna Viking Emerald 116. It only has 16 stitches but is equipped to sew leather and has some rather awesome stretch stitch functions and an automatic button hole. Of those 16 stitches, I think I actually only use about 6 so I’m glad I wasn’t talked into something that I wouldn’t use. My machine cost £249.99 which I think is about the average price for a good basic machine. I’ve battered my machine over the three years I’ve had it and it’s never failed on me.

    We also use these machines in my work for quilting and dressmaking classes and have done so for the past 5 years and none have needed replaced or repaired. That’s got to say something! Also working in a fabric shop, we have people complain about their machines all the time and it seems like the big names (Singer, Brother etc) aren’t as good as they used to be and that our customers are favoring Janome & Husuqvarna.

    I love my little Husky soo much, that when I bought my overlocker I stayed brand loyal and bought the Huskylock S21. I know both of these machines will last me a long time, if not forever!

  70. JacX says:

    So much good advice here! It definitely is a good option to borrow if you can to start. I think the small lightweight machines look cute but really don’t do the job – and that’s not going to encourage you to continue.
    I learned on my nan’s faithful old Singer, which my sister has and we never had a problem with it. However, it does just do the basic straight stitching.
    We also had a Husqvarna at home, which had more features, but they weren’t that sophisticated at the time – and solid, basic, reliable stitching is what you need.
    I currently have a Janome 8077 which I find a pretty good all-rounder. I’d like to try out the embroidery options but can’t justify the expense (or room!). It’s certainly true that you can be impressed in a shop by the range on a machine but realistically you just are not going to utilise all those features, so it’s not worth it for most people.
    Lastly, certainly agree that some local shops offer great advice and lessons – for instance, in Cambridge there is very helpful shop that offers a class once you have tried out your machine at home. And if you have a machine from school you know it’s going to be reliable – it has to be with the use it gets by kids!! (and incidentally, they are usually Bernina or Janome – mid-priced).

  71. ellie says:

    I’m actually going from a mini (purple) that I was given for my 21st birthday as I was desperate to learn to sew. 2 years on, I’ve made 2 patchwork quilts, bags, clothes and gifts. However, although it had a good crack at them, I always knew I was pushing it to the limit. Now I’ve saved up and looking to invest. I’ve been researching and testing for weeks and finally decided on a Bernina, which I was advised in the first place! Hopefully I’ll pick up the 330 at the weekend. I chose it for the brand quality (7 yr guarantee atm). Also when I tried it, it was simple to use for a relative beginner, and glided through LOTS of layers with next to no noise! I cannot wait as it beat everything else on the market hands down!

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