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How to Choose the Best Beginner Sewing Machine

There are as many different types of sewing machines as there are sewists. The best beginner sewing machine for you might not be the best for someone else. It’s a good thing you have a lot of choices.

At the same time, those choices can be overwhelming. 

Fear not. If you understand your needs and know what’s out there, making the right choice is easy.

How to Pick the Best Beginner Sewing Machine

Choosing a great first sewing machine comes down to two things. First, you need to know your own needs. Then you need to know the market.

Step One: Know Yourself

A sewing machine is a big purchase. What’s more, your first sewing machine is a purchase you’ll remember for the rest of your life. Of course, you want that memory to be a happy one.

So there are a few things to consider before you press “buy.”

First, you want to get your money’s worth. You want maximum features at minimum cost. What’s more, you don’t want to pay for features you’re not going to use.

Also, you don’t want to lay down a lot of money for the wrong sewing machine, or worse, one that’s only going to sit in your closet.

Before buying the first machine that catches your eye, ask yourself the following:

  • What do you see yourself making with your sewing machine?
  • How confident are you with your present sewing skills?

Whether it’s your first sewing machine or your fifth, the best sewing machine is the one you’re going to love using. And the first step is knowing your own needs.

What’s your sewing goal?

Do you see yourself whipping out your own runway fashions? Or maybe you want to try your hand at a cheerful quilt. Perhaps machine embroidery is more your style.

However you see yourself as a sewist, there’s probably a sewing machine for that. A quick internet search will turn up a huge number of sewing machine types, including:

  • All-purpose sewing machines
  • Quilting machines
  • Embroidery machines
  • Sergers

And more.

You might wonder whether that $20 mini sewing machine would make a good sewing machine for beginners. Alternatively, you might think to splurge for an expensive do-it-all model for your first sewing machine.

However, in our experience, the best beginner sewing machine isn’t an expensive craft-specific model with all the bells and whistles.

Why not?

Well, complex machines can be intimidating for new sewists. Moreover, some semi-pro and professional craft-specific models don’t actually do regular sewing. And, it goes without saying that they can be expensive.

Rather, we think an all-purpose home sewing machine is often the best sewing machine for beginners.

What’s your skill level?

Be honest.

If this is your first sewing machine, your experience is probably limited. And that’s fine. There are plenty of simple models that can get you up and sewing right out of the box.

On the other hand, maybe you’re up for a challenge.

In that case, then a more complicated model can stretch your skills and help you to grow in your craft.

In either case, be honest with yourself. Don’t buy a machine so complicated that it terrifies you. By the same token, you don’t want a model so simple that it bores you before you even get started.

Look at the product. Do the controls look friendly and easy to master? Can you understand at a glance what each button, knob, and dial does? If not, are you willing to spend a bit of time with the manual?

Examine the specs. Will the machine do everything that you want it to? Will it help you to learn those new skills that you’ve been dreaming about?

The best beginner sewing machine for you will tick all of these boxes.

Step Two: Know Your Machines

Once you have a handle on your needs, it’s time to see what’s out there. That can be overwhelming.

There are a lot of different kinds of sewing machines, and many can make a great first sewing machine. Others, however, are less suited to novice users.

Mechanical sewing machines 

Mechanical sewing machines are the simplest kind of sewing machine.

First, they have a limited number of stitch designs. Usually, that means a straight stitch, a zigzag, a buttonhole, and one or two stretch stitches.

In short, they can do everything most sewists need to do, but they don’t have a lot of bells and whistles.

Also, as the name suggests, you control things like stitch length and width with knobs, dials, and sliders. There is no on-board computer.

Finally, mechanical sewing machines tend to be less expensive than other types of sewing machines.

On one hand, some users may find a simple sewing machine limiting.

On the other hand, though, other users will enjoy a mechanical machine’s ease of use. And, quite frankly, manual controls allow a sewist to fine-tune their stitches in a way that’s impossible with push-button computerized controls.

If you want to get started sewing right away, and don’t want to keep flipping back and forth between your machine and the manual, then a mechanical sewing machine may be for you.

Electronic sewing machines

Electronic sewing machines offer a compromise between mechanical machines and high-tech computerized models. Basically, they have a simple onboard computer, but it’s not as advanced as that of a computerized sewing machine.

The simple computer inside an electronic sewing machine makes certain features possible that are impossible with a mechanical sewing machine.

These include:

  • Speed control
  • Programmable needle position
  • Manual start/stop
  • Generous selection of stitch designs
  • Increased selection of buttonhole designs
  • Push-button control of stitch length and width
  • Automatic thread tension

These features aren’t strictly necessary. In fact, you can go quite far without them. However, many sewists find that these additional functions make sewing easier and more convenient.

Electronic sewing machines tend to be a bit more expensive than mechanical sewing machines. However, the price range is quite wide. What’s more, if you do your research, you can often find great deals online.

If you want a first sewing machine that will stretch your skills and grow with you, then a computerized sewing machine could be a good choice for you.

Computerized sewing machines

Singer introduced the first computerized sewing machine, the Touchtronic 2001, in 1978. It was revolutionary at the time.

However, technology advances fast. As a result, today’s computerized sewing machines have features and functions that Isaac Merritt Singer probably never even dreamed about.

Like what? You might ask.

Well, in addition to the functions listed in the previous section, advanced computerized models can provide some truly astonishing features, including:

  • Touch-screen controls
  • Hundreds of stitch designs
  • Monogram fonts in several different alphabets
  • Editing stitch and embroidery designs right on the machine
  • WiFi and/or USB connectivity
  • Uploading your own designs onto your machine
  • The ability to combine stitches into sequences
  • Stitch sequence memory
  • On-board video tutorials
  • Sensors to tell you when your thread is running out

You won’t find all of these features on every computerized sewing machine. However, if you research carefully, you can find a machine with a combination of features that you need.

The downside of advanced computerized models is complexity. These machines’ interfaces can be intimidating. Also, it can take years to explore and master all the features and functions of a computerized sewing machine.

But maybe that’s what you want.

If you’re a serious beginner, and the idea of mastering complex technology excites you, then an advanced computerized model may be the best beginner sewing machine for you.

Sewing machines by level

Your sewing machine search may include a combination of domestic and industrial sewing machines.

Fortunately, it’s pretty easy to tell the difference.

Industrial machines tend to be focussed. They do one thing, they do it well, and they’re made to do it all day long.

Industrial sewing machines also cost a lot. And many of them are enormous.

However, you’ll find a range of levels even among domestic sewing machines. It’s important to know the differences.

All-purpose home sewing machines are just what they sound like. They perform a variety of basic functions that equip them for different crafts.

You can use an all-purpose sewing machine for making clothes, housewares, quilting, and more.

Some all-purpose machines come with crafting accessories that make them more attractive to crafters, particularly quilters. These might include a detachable wide work table and even a machine embroidery hoop.

All-purpose sewing machines come in mechanical, electronic, and computerized variations. You’ll find a wide range of complexity among all-purpose machines. Likewise, you’ll find a wide range of price points.

Intermediate sewists who want to pursue a specific craft at a higher level may choose a semi-professional sewing machine.

Semi-pro machines are often quite a bit more expensive than all-purpose sewing machines. They often have more stitch functions, as well as advanced craft-specific features such as:

  • A knee lifter (for quilting machines)
  • Built-in embroidery designs
  • On-machine embroidery design editing
  • Multiple thread capacity

Professional (or semi-industrial) sewing machines tend to be one-trick ponies. Like industrial machines, they’re tough. They’re also quite expensive.

Professional-level sewing machines are great if you’re starting your own business. A pro machine doesn’t make the best sewing machine for beginners, however.

Specialized sewing machines

Your search for your first sewing machine may also turn up a variety of specialized sewing machines.

Although we think an all-purpose model generally makes the best beginner sewing machine, if you go far enough in your chosen craft, you may eventually want to invest in a specialized sewing machine.

Quilting machines

Quilting machines come in a variety of forms.

Some manufacturers dress up all-purpose sewing machines with quilting accessories to appeal to aspiring quilters. You might find, for example:

  • A detachable extra-wide quilting table
  • A heavy duty metal frame
  • An extra-high presser foot lift to accommodate multiple layers
  • Extra quilting and decorative stitches
  • Included specialized presser feet, like a walking foot

This type of machine can take a hobbyist far. However, there may come a time when you want more advanced quilting features. A semi-pro quilting machine may include:

  • An extra-long throat to accommodate large projects
  • A knee lifter

Professional quilting machines are a different animal altogether. A high-speed straight-stitch only machine is one choice. A large, prohibitively expensive longarm quilting machine is another.

But these fall outside the purview of this article.

Embroidery machines

Embroidery machines also come at different levels.

Many entry-level computerized sewing machines have a variety of decorative embroidery stitches. These provide ample opportunity to experiment and create.

If you outgrow embroidery stitches, however, and want to move on to pictures and text, then an embroidery machine can help you to do that.

Even lower-level embroidery machines can offer an array of really fun features, like:

  • The ability to upload and use your own designs
  • Onboard design editing capabilities
  • Extensive memory to save and re-use your favorite designs

Be careful, though. Many advanced embroidery machines don’t do regular sewing. So you may need a separate machine for other types of sewing.

Sergers

Serging means sewing a seam while simultaneously sealing off the seam edges. A serger (or overlocker) is a sewing machine that does this and only this.

A serger uses three to six different threads simultaneously. It does not do regular sewing, and it doesn’t have decorative stitches.

If you’re planning on sewing garments, a serger can be an excellent investment. However, we wouldn’t recommend it as a first sewing machine.

The Best Beginner Sewing Machine: Features

Now that you understand the market, it’s time to talk features.

Dealbreakers

Your mileage may vary, of course, but these are a few features that we don’t want to do without.

One-step buttonhole

Most sewing machines come with a one-step or a four-step buttonhole. You can get by with a four-stepper, but why would you want to? Check out the difference here.

A one-step buttonhole isn’t just easier. It also allows you greater consistency, in case you need to do multiple buttonholes. Also, if you use an automatic buttonhole foot, you can tailor the size of your buttonhole to a specific button.

Automatic needle threader

Do you hate trying to thread a hand-sewing needle? Now imagine trying to jam that fuzzy thread-end through the eye of a sewing machine needle. You’re working at an angle, and there’s no wiggle room.

An automatic needle threader is an inexpensive, low-tech tool that makes threading your needle a snap.

Even the lowest-level mechanical machines often have an automatic needle threader. But be careful. Some sewing machines do not.

Reverse stitching

Almost every sewing machine has reverse stitching capability. This is essential for locking your stitches at the beginning and end of a row.

It’s also helpful for sewing curves, angles, and other fiddly tasks.

Free arm

A free arm sewing machine allows you to detach part of the base in order to create a smaller workspace.

Why might you want a smaller workspace?

For one thing, it’s essential for small, circular work like collars, cuffs, waistbands, and hems. Here’s how it works.

https://youtu.be/UFvrdrratu4

Most sewing machines have a free arm, but plenty do not. So check carefully before you buy. Especially if you’re planning to use your machine to make clothing or housewares.

Nice to have

There are other features that aren’t strictly necessary, but which can make sewing easier.

Start/Stop button

Most of us start and stop the sewing machine with the foot pedal. But if your foot pedal breaks, a start/stop button allows you to run your sewing machine without it.

Also, a start/stop button allows you to make a one-step buttonhole with a single touch. And that’s very convenient.

Finally, a start/stop button is an important accessibility feature for people who are unable to use the foot pedal.

Manual speed control

Again, a lot of us use the foot pedal to control our sewing machine speed. But manual speed control allows you to set a maximum sewing machine speed using a slider.

It’s like cruise control for your sewing machine. If your foot slips, you won’t lose control of your work. And again, if you can’t use the foot pedal for whatever reason, manual speed control allows you to adjust your speed anyway.

Programmable needle position

Most sewing machines start with the needle in the “up” position by default.

However, if you sew long enough, you’ll find that for some projects, it’s more convenient if your needle starts and stops in the “down” position.

A programmable needle allows you to set your default needle position where you want it for any given project.

Unnecessary

One way that manufacturers justify a higher price is by loading a machine up with features most people never use. What different people consider essential varies, of course. But some features are gimmicks, plain and simple.

These may include:

  • Hundreds and hundreds of stitch designs
  • Onboard “social” features like sew cams and live broadcasting from your machine
  • Excessively large accessory packs

Choosing the Best Beginner Sewing Machine

At the end of the day, your first sewing machine should be one that you’ll use over and over. For this reason, an all-purpose sewing machine is often the best choice in terms of price and features.

Additionally, knowing your own goals and needs will allow you to pick the right type of sewing machine, and at the right level.

Did you find this information helpful? We’d love to hear about it in the comments!