Sewing Machine Shopping

Sunday, June 26, 2016 | By | Add a Comment

Sewing Machine Shopping

The fundamental tool for any dedicated cosplayer, is the sewing machine.  When you are looking to purchase your first machine, you will come to realize that there are many makes and models on the market, so it becomes difficult to decide on which machine you should purchase as your starter machine based on your sewing needs.  Finding the right sewing machine really depends on how you intend to use it, but before you give yourself a headache with all the possibilities out there, it’s worth asking some basic questions.  Here are 10 things to consider when purchasing a sewing machine:

  1. What can you afford? – Everyone has a budget and recognizing whether or not you can actually afford the machine that you want is the first step to choosing the one that’s right for you.  There is simply no point in looking at high-end machines if you have a limited budget.  Of course, there will always be a machine that offers much more if you spend more.  If you can only afford a $50 machine, then look around and see what quality second-hand machines are available, either at a dedicated retailer or on an auction site (but make sure any second-hand machine you buy has a warranty).  Remember that the cheaper the machine, the less likely it is going to last, so always but the best you can afford.
  2. How many stitches do you need? – Once you know your budget, you need to start thinking about what you really need.  What you need and what looks appealing are two very different things!  To sew successfully you only really need a straight stitch and a zigzag stitch.  These two stitches will allow you to do just about everything you want to do on a sewing machine.  Everything else depends on how you intend to use the machine.  Will you use other stitches on a regular basis?
  3. Can you adjust the stitch length? – While you may just use straight stitch and zigzag stitch, being able to adjust both the width and the length of these stitches can be invaluable.  Do you set your machine to the longest length and machine baste any new designs that you work on.  Do you set the stitch to its shortest length when you sew up wearable designs, to ensure small, tight stitches.  Do you constantly adjust the zigzag length and width for appliqué and finishing off edges.  While most machines offer variable stitch widths and lengths, some of the lower priced machines don’t, so it’s always worth checking.
  4. What attachments come with the machine? – Having a selection of presser feet can make all the difference to your sewing day, so it’s important to find out which attachments come as standard and which attachments are available to buy separately.  If you want to make clothing, then you should look for a machine that has a buttonhole foot, a zipper foot and a blind hem foot as standard attachments.  However, if you intend to make quilts, you will need a walking foot, a ¼” foot (the seam allowance for patchwork) and if you intend to freehand quilt then you’ll want a freehand embroidery foot.  For basic sewing, a selection of different width feet can be invaluable when switching between seam allowance widths, as well as for the zigzag stitch.  If the machine you’re thinking of buying doesn’t come with the feet you’d like, make sure they are available to purchase separately and that they don’t cost a fortune.  It’s also very useful to check how easily the feet can be changed.  A lot of machines just have feet that clip on and off, which really does save a lot of time if you find yourself switching back and forth between feet.
  5. How big is the motor? –  As a rule of thumb, the heavier the motor and the heavier the machine, the stronger the machine will be.  A strong, heavy motor will make it easier to cope with frequent use and heavier fabrics, such as upholstery-weight fabrics and denims.  A machine that is predominantly plastic will not withstand the kind of use that a machine with metal parts can.  Of course, if you know you’re going to need to transport your machine frequently, even if it’s just in and out of a cupboard, you need to decide if a heavy machine is impractical and whether you want to compromise with a machine that has a plastic body, but metal parts.  But the lighter the machine, the less it will be able to handle.
  6. What make is the machine and where is it being sold?  Brand really does make a difference with sewing machines.  All machines are not made equal and they don’t all have the same parts inside.  Back in the day, Singer made fantastic machines that lasted forever, but unfortunately these days, their machines are mainly made out of plastic, with smaller motors that just aren’t built to last.  So it’s not just about buying the name you recognize.  Always look at where the machine is being sold.  In a department store, you will be most likely to find brands like Singer, Brother and Janome.  These are all very successful brands, but they are more likely to be lightweight, hobby machines (Janome is the exception to this rule, as they’ve managed to produce both low-end hobby machines and high-end professional machines).  On the other hand, if you’re looking in a dedicated retailer, you’re much more likely to find brands such as Bernina, Pfaff, Huqsvarna and Juki.  These are all high-end machines that start off much pricier, but are aimed at and used by frequent stitchers.  These machines tend to be the ones mentioned by professional makers.  And they don’t tend to be available in the big department stores.  It’s always better to buy at the low-end of a good brand rather than the high-end of an average hobby brand.  And you should never buy anything with cartoon characters on it, because chances are it is not a good machine!
  7. How noisy is the machine? – This is something that very few people think about when looking at machines, but once you’re actually sewing it can really affect how and when you use it.  If you’re like most people and only have time to sew in the evening, (after work or when the kids are in bed), it can be a shock to get your lovely new machine home and discover that it sounds like a pneumatic drill and is keeping everyone in your household, including the neighbors, awake.  If you’re worried about the amount of noise you’re making when you sew, you are far less likely to use the machine.  So it pays to take your time when you’re choosing your machine, and research quieter machines.  Just keep in mind that if you’re testing the machine in a sewing shop, the ambient nose levels are likely to be quite high, so it can be really hard to judge just how quiet your machine really is.
  8. Mechanical vs. computerized? – Most of the high-end machines on the market are now fully computerized, with touch screens and programmable stitch sequences.  But they come at a price, and if budget is an issue then the question of whether to buy a mechanical machine or a computerized machine needs to be asked.  Modern mechanical machines tend to be lighter (even if they have a strong motor) because they have less parts, which makes them easier to carry around.  They are also easier to maintain, with covers that can be removed so that the motor can be oiled. Servicing is often cheaper as a result.  However, most of the good new machines are computerized or electronic, meaning that the machines have stronger motors and extra power, so they don’t struggle with heavyweight fabrics and constant use. Computerized machines also tend to have superior stitch lines, with more evenly spaced and therefore stronger, stitches.  They also have a lot more sewing options.  Computerized machines can be programmed, so that specific stitch sequences can be remembered, and they offer huge selections of decorative and embroidery stitches as well as automatic tie-offs, and thread cutting.  Which you buy really does depend on your budget, but if you’re going for a mechanical machine, it’s best to buy an older, high-end model, rather than a cheap, plastic model. It will last longer and even if it only offers the basics, it will withstand a lot more use.
  9. How often will you use your machine? – Everyone that sews wishes they had more time for it than they do.  If you recognize that you’re the sort of sewer that will probably only get the machine out every few months, to hem clothes or make some new cushions, then a high-end, all-singing, all-dancing machine may not be the best investment.  But a good quality electronic machine may enhance your sewing experience and encourage you to start sewing more often.  If you know that you’ve been bitten by the sewing bug and that the only thing standing between you and daily sewing is the lack of a good machine, then buying the best you can afford gives you plenty of scope for growth.  If money is an issue, recognizing your own sewing expectations is essential. If you rarely sew now, a new, expensive machine that requires a lot of learning is not necessarily going to make you sew more. But a solid mechanical machine that covers all the basics and only requires threading and plugging in will seem less daunting.
  10. What are your sewing expectations? – This is another question that will help you to recognize if your desire for that amazing, expensive machine is based on wishful thinking or a genuine need.  It’s also designed to find out whether you’re holding yourself back due to lack of confidence in learning something new.  If the thought of learning how to use a new machine fills you with excitement, then a machine with lots of options and exciting possibilities is the one for you.  But if the thought of all those buttons and programs makes you break out in a cold sweat,then there’s a chance that the huge instruction manual and all those symbols and patterns may put you off using your new machine.  Equally, if your ambition is to make heirloom quality quilts, then buying a machine that only has basic attachments will hinder you from achieving your goal and will most likely leave you feeling frustrated.  And if you want to get to the point where you can make your own clothes, then spending money on a machine that has variable stitch lengths, over-locking stitches and the ability to switch to a twin needle will be a good investment.

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Category: Cosplay, Fashion

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