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Published: Dec 19, 2022 22 min read
Courtesy of Amazon

Whether you're looking to purchase your first sewing machine or want to upgrade to a new one, picking the right machine for your projects comes down to three essential considerations: affordability, ease of use and machine type (computerized vs mechanical).

Since many sewers — or "sewists" if the proper term makes you think of sewage — tend to have a strong personal preference for either mechanical or computerized models, we also made sure to offer great choices for both.

Sewing machine buying guide: mechanical or computerized?

There are two main types of sewing machines: mechanical and computerized.

If you’ve ever sewn on a grandparent’s machine, you’re probably acquainted with the mechanical variety.

Many people remain very attached to these more traditional machines, and with good reason. They need little maintenance, hardly ever break down, and are true workhorses, able to handle tough fabrics with minimal fuss (so long as you use the right needles and tension).

In fact, all major brands carry both types because, despite the conveniences offered by computerized machines, many sewing enthusiasts prefer the no-frills experience of traditional, mechanical models.

Traditional machines offer other benefits as well:

• Affordability. You can easily find mechanical sewing machines under $100, though some models can cost hundreds.

• Ease of use. Mechanical models usually only have a few buttons to adjust so you can start sewing in no time.

• Durability. There’s some truth to the belief that older appliances and machinery last longer than modern ones. With less technology involved, there are fewer parts that can break. Additionally, the more technologically advanced the machine, the harder it is to find qualified technicians to fix them, and the more expensive it is to do so.

Not all mechanical machines are made the same, however. Plastic, cheaply made machines — like some marketed for kids, for example — might not last more than a couple of years. On the other hand, solid metal construction (like that used in traditional Singers) often means that machines can last for generations.

If you’re just beginning to sew, ask yourself whether you want simplicity or are willing to spend some extra bucks for automation. For example, computerized machines often have automatic needle threading, which is a huge convenience if you don’t have that much experience or if you have vision or mobility impairments.

And this is where computerized machines really pay off — making what used to be labor-intensive tasks much easier.

Other benefits of computerized machines include:

• Creative tools and customization. Computerized machines sometimes feature hundreds of different stitches — including the basics, utility, and decorative — so they let you experiment and get creative. Some high-end machines even let you input entire embroidery designs using an iPad or other tablet.

• Increased Automation. Automating tasks like needle threading, thread trimming, and buttonhole creation can be a huge time-saver, especially for people who sew daily. A machine that can start just by pushing a button, instead of requiring the user to constantly push down on a foot pedal, can also make sewing more accessible to those with mobility impairments.

• Added support. Some computerized machines include apps offering tutorials and support, and some with LCD screens include suggestions on choosing the right settings for the job at hand.

Sewing machines for beginners: How to get started shopping

If you just started to sew and aren’t familiar with the parts of a machine, shopping for one can seem overwhelming.

Here are some terms, features, and specifications you need to know to make sense of it all.

• Number of built-in stitches. Most sewing machines advertise how many different types of stitches they can make, ranging anywhere from 1 to 500.

More, however, isn’t necessarily better.

By all accounts, most people just need a few different stitch types: straight, zigzag, and buttonholes. In fact, one of our top picks and a favorite of experienced sewers around the world, the Juki, has just one stitch (straight).

Having said that, machines with a wider variety of stitches can be a lot of fun, giving you more tools to experiment and create. If you’re committed to sewing, splurging on a machine with a lot of stitches and automation could make your life a whole lot easier.

• Stitches per minute (SPM). Speed might not be much of an issue when you’re just starting; after all, most beginners will want to start slow to make sure they’re stitching correctly.

Once you have more experience under your belt, you’ll probably want to go faster, and a machine with a low top speed (anything less than 750 stitches per minute) will make sewing larger things like quilts, draperies, and tablecloths a time-consuming hassle.

Ideally, you want something with decent speed (at least 800 or 850 stitches per minute), so the machine is suitable for your experience level and a wide variety of projects.

• Types of fabric. One machine (usually) can’t handle everything. For denim, canvas, or leather, you’ll need a heavier, solidly built machine with a presser foot (the part that holds the fabric in place) that can be raised high enough to accommodate thick layers of fabric. And if you plan on tackling these kinds of projects frequently, then a heavy duty machine might be best for you.

• One-step versus four-step buttonholes. Certain machines have the capacity to create buttonholes in one step; that means they go back and forth over the fabric creating the hole with the press of just one button. Machines that advertise four-step buttonholes require you to make all four sides of the hole yourself.

• Free-arm machines. “Free-arm machines” let you remove part of the base where the fabric is usually placed, giving you more space and flexibility for awkwardly shaped or tubular items such as cuffs, hems, collar, or underarms.

• Quilting. Some machines (like a few of our top picks) are labeled as quilting and sewing machines. Machines meant for quilting have a larger work area and, in some cases, even an extension table for added space. Anything with a work area of 9" wide by 6" high can be considered adequate for quilting.

A quilting machine also usually includes a dedicated foot with a quarter-inch seam allowance, helpful for piecing fabric together.

• Embroidery machines. Embroidery machines are specialized equipment, and, well, they cost as such, often running into the thousands of dollars. Modern embroidery machines are highly computerized and will basically do a large portion of the work for you. You can even import your own designs via USB.

• Attachments. Most machines bring a few different “feet” (the part that holds the fabric down while the needle does the sewing), and you can also buy dozens of different types depending on your needs.

For most types of sewing, you’ll need a multi-purpose foot that works with straight and zigzag stitching, as well as a buttonhole and a zipper foot. If you’re interested in sewing knits, jerseys, and other stretchy fabrics, a walking or even feed foot — which can prevent the fabric from stretching out too much while it’s being sewn — will be useful.

• Smart technology. Sewing machines, like every other piece of machinery, are getting smarter. Even the older brands are releasing apps to accompany their newest computerized machines.

For example, Singer has the Sewing Assistant App, while Brother released the MyDesign app. Embroidery machines go even further, with options to draw and customize designs on tablets and then import them into the machine via USB connection.

Best sewing machines

1. Best overall (mechanical): Juki TL-2010Q

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Mechanical (some computerized parts) │ Weight: 37.8 Pounds │ Max speed: 1,500 SPM │ Stitches Included: 1

One of the top-rated machines on the market is the Juki TL-2010Q. It sells for about $900, but for those who are committed to their sewing, it’s worth every penny.

Japan-based Juki is known for superior quality industrial sewing machines; the Juki TL-2010Q is a lighter version of those, offering almost the same high performance and precision at home.

Like the other Juki model on our list (which we chose as best for quilters) it’s blazing fast, reaching 1,500 stitches per minute; even at its top speed, however, the stitching remains consistent, and users report that there’s hardly a missed or uneven stitch even in thick fabrics.

It features industrial-style thread trimming (meaning you can trigger the cutting mechanism with the foot control), and offers graduated speed control, which helps cap your speed for the work that needs a steadier hand.

The Juki TL-2010Q is also highly versatile, with an expansive, well-lit work area that can be made even larger with the included extension table. This, along with the free arm capability, make it an excellent choice for quilters as well.

There’s one major drawback. It only has one stitch: straight. There are no zigzag or decorative stitches at all. This, however, hasn’t stopped people from all over the world from declaring this their favorite machine due to its reliability, power, and quality stitching.

Want more variety of stitches? Consider this excellent choice:

2. Best overall (computerized): B77 Bernette Sewing Machine

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Computerized │ Weight: 22 Pounds │ Max speed: 1,000 SPM │ Stitches Included: 500

Sleekly designed and easy to use, the B77 by Bernette (part of the Bernina family of sewing machines) is hailed by some reviewers as the best machine they’ve ever sewn on.

The Swiss-designed B77 can do nearly everything with the touch of a button — from needle threading, to thread cutting, to reinforcing the end stitches without having to reverse sew.

Most importantly, it produces impeccable and even stitching in any type of fabric, from thick folds of denim to slippery, stretchy knits.

The 5" color touchscreen is extremely easy to navigate, and lets you pick from 17 different types of buttonholes and an astounding 500 stitches — subdivided in folders for easier access, including unique ones like animal and plant shapes.

The screen even gives you an advanced look at what the stitch will look once you make it. That is, you can adjust the size of the stitch and see on the screen what it will look like. It will also recommend the right presser foot for the fabric, making it great for beginning sewing enthusiasts.

Four bright LED lights (most machines have one or two) completely illuminate the workspace, letting you work late into the night if you want to. Unsurprisingly, the B77 is also really fast, reaching 1,000 stitches per minute.

As to the drawbacks, Bernette provides a much shorter warranty than other machines — two years on electronic parts; 10 years for the mechanical parts. In comparison, Brother provides a warranty of 25 years on its products (although not on the electronic parts).

3. Best for beginners: Singer MX231

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Mechanical │ Weight: 13 pounds │ Max speed: 850 SPM │ Stitches Included: 60

If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly mechanical machine and an all-around great deal, take a look at the Singer MX231. While it might seem bare bones (and it is), as already mentioned, mechanical machines offer a long list of benefits, including simplicity, durability, and affordability.

The MX231 features everything beginners need, with the reliability offered by the oldest name in American sewing machines.

With 23 built-in stitches and 97 different ways to apply them, it covers the basics and gives you plenty of room to create.

Unlike many other mechanical machines, this model does offer automatic one-step buttonholes and an automated needle threader. Additionally, the presser foot can be raised high enough to accommodate thicker fabrics like denim and, like most Singer machines, it has enough power to handle them well.

The MX231 is simple enough to be newbie-friendly; to help the learning curve, Singer offers a Sewing Assistant app and plenty of YouTube videos to help beginners along.

4. Best heavy duty machine: Singer Heavy Duty 4452 Sewing Machine

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Mechanical │ Weight: 15.7 Pounds │ Max speed: 1,100 SPM │ Stitches Included: 32

Part of the heavy artillery in Singer’s arsenal, the 4452 has long been considered a must-have by sewing enthusiasts who regularly tackle thick canvas, jeans, or leather.

The 4452 easily sews through even the thickest fabric, offering smooth, even stitching both in front and back.

While lauded for its ability to take on the toughest materials, the 4452 does well with more delicate items too, and includes an even feed/walking foot for particularly slippery or stretchy fabric.

Though not particularly heavy (weighing a bit over 15 lbs), its solid metal interior and sturdy construction make it firm enough to handle large items without moving.

It’s also one of the fastest home machines, reaching 1,100 stitches per minute.

The 4452 features an impressive 32 different stitches (including seven stretch and 18 decorative ones), and fully automated one-step buttonholes.

As to the drawbacks, some reviewers have found the included light does not do much at all; others have had problems with the bobbin getting stuck. Additionally, it doesn’t include a “needle up/down” feature, which many might find annoying.

You can also try:

5. Runner-up best heavy duty machine: Brother ST150HDH Sewing Machine Strong & Tough

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Computerized │ Weight: 18.7 Pounds │ Max speed: 850 SPM │ Stitches Included: 50

If you’d rather have the conveniences of a computerized machine that can handle pretty much everything the Singer Heavy Duty can, the Brother ST150HDH might be for you.

This model features 50 built-in stitches and five types of automated, one-step buttonholes, plus a box feed design that many find makes fabric move a lot more smoothly. It provides an expanded workspace (the Singer doesn’t), which makes it more comfortable for quilting and other large sewing projects.

Like other Brother machines, this model offers a graduated speed control with three speed settings. It has an up/down needle feature too, which the Singer lacks.

Do note, however, that the ST150HDH is considerably slower than the Singer — 850 stitches versus 1,100 stitches per minute — so if speed is a major concern, the Singer is your best option.

6. Best for quilters: Juki TL-2000Qi Sewing and Quilting Machine

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Mechanical │ Weight: 37.8 Pounds │ Max speed: 1,500 SPM │ Stitches Included: 1

Juki makes some of the most reliably high-quality machines in the market, and the TL-2000Qi is a shining example.

The TL-2000Qi is great for sewing all types of things, from clothing to quilts; but it has several features that make it ideal for even advanced quilters.

To start, there’s the weight. While Juki calls this a portable machine, the TL-2000Qi is pretty heavy at around 40 lbs. This and its sturdy construction make it ideal for large projects and keeping vibrations to a minimum. Its expansive work space is well lit and large enough to accommodate rolls of quilting fabric, and it can be made even larger with the provided extension table.

The TL-2000Qi is also lightning fast, zooming along at up to 1,500 stitches per minute (compare that to 800 to 850 stitches per minute of lower-priced machines on this list). However, it lets you regulate speed, giving you the option of capping it at 200 SPM, for detailed work and appliques.

This machine gets rave reviews (87% give it 5 stars on Amazon), and users praise its ability to create impeccable, professional-quality stitching in even thick material.

At the same time, many cite the fact that it’s not the best machine for beginners and has a steep learning curve. For intermediate and advanced quilters, however, this could be a game-changer.

You can also try:

7. Runner-up best for quilters: Juki HZL-F600 Full Sized Computer Sewing and Quilting Machine

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Computerized │ Weight: 21.6 pounds │ Max speed: 900 SPM │ Stitches Included: 225

If you’d like the quality of Juki with the additional convenience provided by high-tech machines, try the Juki HZL-F600 Full Sized Computer Sewing and Quilting Machine.

In addition to providing almost everything the TL-2000Qi does, the Juki offers 225 built-in stitches, 16 different types of automated buttonholes, lettering fonts and automatic needle threading.

Unlike its mechanical counterparts, the F600 comes with plenty of opportunities to customize its operation, including programming the needle in the up or down position, setting up the foot control to control thread trimming, and programming patterns or stitch sequences to run once or multiple times, among other things. It also provides a sewing guide on the LCD screen in case you need help. Take note, however, that this model is considerably slower than the TL-2000Qi, capping out 900 stitches per minute. (Mind you, that’s still pretty fast.)

8. Best for low prices (and kids): Singer M3330 Making The Cut Sewing Machine

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Mechanical │ Weight: 14.3 Pounds │ Max speed: 800 SPM │ Stitches Included: 23

While there are plenty of toy machines made for kids who are starting to sew, these products — often made with plastic parts — can break quickly and produce stitches that easily come apart.

If your child is interested in sewing, you may not want to buy one marketed just for kids. Instead, it’s often best to get a basic sewing machine that is light (but not light enough to be flimsy), compact, simple to use, and affordable.

The M3330 Singer certainly checks all of these boxes and more, all for about $150.

While beautiful to look at, the M3330 is solid and efficient, true to the Singer brand name. Made of mostly metal parts, it’s still light enough to carry to sewing circles or just from room to room.

Features include basic decorative stitches (23 to be exact, however, see our section on stitches above and how many do you really need in most situations), a presser foot that lifts high enough for denim, and built-in needle threading.

It offers automated one-step buttonholes, making buttons a cinch, even when you’re just starting out. The M3330 also features twin needle capacity, helping you get that polished, professional decorative detail look to hems and cuffs.

This might not be the fastest machine (it will sew between 700 and 800 stitches per minute). However, for kids, beginners, or casual users, going a little slower isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

You can also try:

9. Runner-up best for low prices: Janome 2212 Sewing Machine

Courtesy of Amazon

Type: Mechanical │ Weight: 15.6 Pounds │ Max speed: 860 SPM │ Stitches Included: 12

Janome is a renowned name in the sewing machine world, and this affordable entry-level model offers the quality associated with the brand, as well as many of the conveniences of higher-priced machines.

Twelve built-in stitches include both basics and stretch ones; the foot can be lifted extra high for thicker fabrics, and it has a top-loading bobbin, which many find easier to use than the front-loaders. It also has free arm capability for those tricky cuffs and hems.

The machine is fast for its price range, reaching 860 stitches per minute. This model is among the smallest and lightest in the Janome line, making it really easy to take to classes (whenever that’s possible). Users praise its even, solid stitching even in thicker fabrics.

Despite its low price and light weight, the 2212 is solidly built and can handle denim and canvas (albeit probably not as smoothly as a heavy-duty machine). One drawback is that it doesn’t have an automated one-step buttonhole feature.

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