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How to buy the best sewing machine

Sewing machine features to look for

By Jess O'Leary

Article 3 of 4

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Sewing machine features to look for

Whether you want a sewing machine for making curtains or mending clothes, this guide reveals the useful sewing machine features to look for.

If you want to sew thick fabric or create button holes, you’ll need to ensure your sewing machine has the right features for these tasks.

By choosing a model that already has all the handy features and extras you’re likely to need, you’ll get the maximum amount of use from your sewing machine and you’ll be able to complete a wide range of useful sewing tasks.

If you already know what you want, our brand reviews can help you narrow down the choice of which model to buy. Thousands of Which? members have told us what they think of their sewing machines. They’ve rated their machines on factors such as whether it’s easy to use and whether it’s value for money – so we have customer scores, reliability scores and star ratings for all the big names, including Brother, Janome and Singer.

To see the results and compare brands, check out our guide to the best sewing machine brands.

What types of fabric will you use with a sewing machine?

Before you buy your sewing machine, it’s helpful to think about the type of fabrics you’re most likely to work with. Basic machines will easily handle cottons and slightly heavier cloth but may struggle with denser fabrics, such as those used for making soft furnishings.

Thick fabrics

Thicker fabrics, such as fleece and denim, require a longer stitch length than thinner fabrics – check that the machine you're interested in offers a genuine choice of long and short stitches.

Delicate fabrics

Delicate fabrics need light handling. If you're using them the majority of the time, pick a machine that lets you reduce the pressure of the presser foot so you’ll decrease the risk of snagging your fabric on the feed dogs.

Check whether the sewing machine comes with a Teflon-coated plastic foot, which sometimes works better than a standard metal foot on delicate fabrics. Also make sure that you can buy a fine needle for your brand and model of machine.

Look for a choice of long and short stitch lengths, and check the machine can be fitted with a fine needle for sewing delicate fabric.

Stretch fabrics

Sewing stretchy fabrics is a challenge; look for a sewing machine with a stretch stitch, which will help you get the best results.

Curtains

Look for a machine with a large sewing bed or extension table, which will make it easier to handle large panels of fabric. You'll also want one that can cope with sewing multiple thicknesses of fabric of different weights.

Sewing machine features to look for

Every sewing machine will have certain standard parts, such as a feed dog, sewing bed and stitch selector, although it’s not always easy to identify what the part actually is from its name.

For a step-by-step guide to what the various sewing machine parts do, and for help deciphering the lingo, read our sewing machine jargon buster.  

Buttonhole function

Most modern sewing machines enable you to sew a buttonhole easily, with specific stitches and accessories. There are various types to choose between:

  • an automatic buttonhole feature measures the size of your button and automatically creates a buttonhole of the correct size.
  • a one-step buttonhole feature automatically creates a buttonhole, but you may have to tell the machine which size of hole to make.
  • a four-step buttonhole process involves sewing each side of a buttonhole individually by selecting stitches sequentially to create the left side, top, right side and bottom.

Auto-thread function

Once you know how to use it, an auto needle threader is a great time-saver and removes the need for passing the thread through the needle manually.

Knee lifter

Found on only a few sewing machines, a knee lifter is a lever that can be pressed with your knee, allowing you to lift the presser foot and drop the feed dogs without taking your hands off your work.

It enables you to move the fabric freely for quilting, sewing around curves and embroidery - ideal for large projects, or giving you an extra hand for fiddly jobs.

Sewing machine carry case

Check whether your chosen sewing machine comes with a carry case or if you'll need to buy one separately. A hard case, rather than a soft cover, makes it much easier to store and move the machine around.

Accessories

Unless you choose a machine from a manufacturer that sells a wide range of accessories, make sure it has everything that you want to use, or think that you might need in the future.

You can’t add basic features, such as extra stitches, more stitch options or different needle positions, to a non-computerised machine.

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