I’ve sewn with three sewing machines in my small time as a sewist – my grandmother’s 1940’s Elna Grasshopper; some awful machine from the Warehouse; and my Janome DC2015. The awful machine from the Warehouse was awful because it was about $100, new from the shop and I could never get the tension right. I just wanted to learn to sew but what I actually spent ages doing was fiddling about with the dials and swearing.
Next came the Grasshopper. This is the machine that I *really* learnt to sew on. It was good to learn on because it was very easy to use – it only had one function – straight forward stitch. But after a few years this was quite limiting – I couldn’t do invisible zippers, button holes, zigzag stitches – it didn’t even go backwards!
So then I bought my Janome. The Janome is great. It sews well every time, with no hitches. I’ve never had to mess about with tension and I can sew just about anything I want. My only limitation is my skill level, not my machine!
If you’re an absolute beginner to sewing then you may not have your own sewing machine. Perhaps you’re currently borrowing your mum’s/ sister’s/ friend’s/ neighbour’s or you picked up one that you found in an Op Shop. If you’re thinking of buying a sewing machine, here’s a few tips from me. As always with the Absolute Beginner’s Guide, these pointers are purely my views and I encourage you to offer your suggestions too.
1. Decide what your budget is and try to stick to it. How often do you/ will you sew? Do you/ will you sew for pleasure or profit? (Or both?) How much money could you part with and not feel an horrendous amount of guilt? If sewing is new to you it can be pretty hard to know the answers to these questions and you may be reluctant to spend a lot of money on a machine. Realistically, a new sewing machine will start at around NZ$250 and can easily get up up NZ$1000. There is no shame in buying the NZ$250 machine – mine was the cheapest in the shop and on sale and it is perfect for me. Cheapest house on the best street right?
2. Try not to buy too cheap. If you’re going to buy the cheapest machine in the shop make sure it’s a brand you’ve heard of. Brands like Elna, Singer, Bernina and Janome have been around for years and have built built reputations for being trustworthy and reliable. Buying a well-known make of sewing machine also comes with guarantees – that the machine will have some warrantee, there will be parts in case it needs fixing and that someone will know how to fix it.
Buying secondhand could be a good place to start if you’re on a small budget but I would caution against buying anything more than a few years old. This, obviously, means excluding vintage machines. If you’re going to spend a few hundred dollars on a sewing machine spend the money on cool features rather than cool looks.
3. Buy computerised. Again, this is dependent on your budget, but if at all possible, buy a computerised machine – it will change your sewing experience. At the beginning of this post I said that I spent ages faffing about with the tension on my Awful Warehouse Machine. Well, my New Amazing Janome Machine is computerised. This means that the machine automatically changes the stitch length and tension when I change the type of stitch to, for example, straight, zigzag or stretch fabric settings. This saves a whole bunch of time, test scrap fabrics and swearing. I would highly recommend buying a computerised machine.
4. Read the reviews on Pattern Review. Basically every pattern in existence and every sewing machine created has been reviewed on this site by average Josephine Bloggs-Type people. Once you find a great deal see what people are saying about the machines.
5. Ask to try it. You’re making an investment and you should be able to try before you buy. A lot of shops have lots of machines set up and extra staff so that you can try them out with some help. I bought both my sewing machine and my overlocker from Sewing Machine World in Onehunga. Each time they patiently showed me how the machine worked and then left me alone to play around with the machine for about half an hour. This was great customer service.
So those are my pearls of wisdom – what is your best piece of advice for a new sew-ist looking to buy a beginner sewing machine?