How to choose a sewing machine

Since the economic downturn hit, interest in traditional crafts has soared. Rather than buying new, many of us now prefer to make our own. Along with home baking and vegetable growing, sewing has become fashionable again.

How to choose a sewing machine

Needlework can be a great hobby. Not only is it immensely satisfying to make something yourself from scratch, you’ll also save a packet on expensive shop-bought items. Many people find craft-type projects therapeutic too. Sewing by hand is a slow, laborious task but investing in a machine will get the job done in a fraction of the time.

Getting started
Sewing machines have improved in leaps and bounds from the ones many of us remember from home economics lessons at school. They’re now much less cumbersome, easier to operate and more lightweight too. However the sheer range of models on offer is bewildering so which one’s right for you?

Models for beginners
Before parting with any money, ask yourself how often you plan to sew. If you’re a complete novice, anything too fancy (or complicated) will be a waste of money. At this stage it’s not worth paying extra for an upscale design with functions you may never use. To get a feel for different machines, visit a specialist sewing shop. They will offer advice on suitable models and may even demonstrate them for you.

What to look for
When choosing a sewing machine, check that it has the capacity to sew several different stitches. The absolute minimum should be six stitch options. John Lewis sells an own brand mini model for just £59. This type of basic machine will be ideal for simple alterations and repairs as well as lightweight curtains and soft furnishings. Other respected brand names in the industry are Singer who have been making machines for 150 years, Brother and Elna.

Weight and storage
Bear in mind that sewing machines can be extremely heavy so if you intend to carry your machine around with you, look for a lightweight model. Also think about storage. If space is limited, you will need one that’s easy to pack away quickly. A hard case is more practical than a soft cover.

Getting help
If you’re a complete novice, it might be worth investing in sewing classes to help you pick up the basics. Finding your way around a sewing machine can be a daunting prospect for first timers. Established manufacturer Janome lists details on their website of needlework classes and workshops taking place around the country.

Making your own clothes, even if it’s just children’s costumes, will be far easier with a more sophisticated machine. More advanced designs are also suitable for embroidery. Look for a ‘free arm’ which is good for adjusting cuffs or trousers and sewing sleeves. Another essential is an automatic buttonhole option, while an integral needle threader will save hours of frustration!

Overlocker machines
These are used mainly to finish off hems and seams neatly but can also have decorative stitching options. The main benefit of this type of machine is its ability to sew a seam, finish the edge and trim off the excess fabric in one step, doing this faster than an ordinary machine. An overlocker can be useful for simple tasks like curtain-making or taking up hems but can’t insert buttonholes or zips.

Computerised models
Capable of virtually any sewing job you can think of including delicate embroidery and quilting, top of the range machines will require a hefty investment. Expect to pay at least £300 for a good one. Experienced sewers will love the versatility of these hi tech machines which can produce hundreds of different stitches, both functional and decorative, at the touch of a button. Most also have machine feet for inserting zips. Some computerised machines even have the ability to memorise previous projects which could be a useful feature if you want to make the same garment again at a later date.

Care and maintenance
When buying a machine, look for companies who offer long guarantees or extras. Coopers stock most of the top brands and also provide a 15 year annual service on all their machines (carriage free for the first two years). They also list ex display and secondhand models on their website.