Sewing machines: How to buy a sewing machine Types of sewing machine explained
Electric sewing machines
A basic electric sewing machine contains a motor in the body which drives the needle in the top part of the sewing machine and controls a bobbin and feed dogs in the lower part under the needle plate. See Jargon buster for more detail on the parts of a sewing machine.
The motor is driven by a foot pedal which usually offers a range of speeds - the harder you put your foot down, the faster you sew. The feed dogs automatically feed material to the machine under the needle.
These models allow for a reasonable range and size of stitches, which are selected by turning a dial. They are much faster and more accurate than old-fashioned manual models.
Computerised sewing machines
These do everything that ordinary electric machines do, plus an awful lot more. These sewing machines are controlled by computer chips with the correct tension, length and width programmed in by the manufacturer for each stitch style.
They are operated using a touchpad and computer screen, and you can download programs from your PC. The machine can memorise past work and will also store hundreds of different stitches for you to choose from.
Overlocker machines are used to stop fraying and give a professional finish to the seams of a garment.
Their main purpose is to neaten seams which they achieve by trimming while sewing.
An overlocker sews faster than a sewing machine and there are attachments available that enable it to be particularly useful for stitching rolled hems, gathering and attaching bindings.
You can use an ordinary machine to neaten an edge but you have to cut the fabric yourself, then set the machine to zig zag stitch, which takes time and creates a slight ridge.
You can buy an overlocker in addition to your sewing machine but you can’t use an overlocker on its own as it's limited in what it's able to do.
Manual sewing machines
Generally limited to some old heritage models, manual sewing machines are operated by turning a hand wheel as you guide the fabric under the needle with the other hand.
The only place you’re likely to come across one of these is an antique shop, museum, a schoolroom or perhaps hidden away in the loft.