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Sewing Machine Buying Guide

Whether your sewing skills are beginner, basic or advanced, there’s a sewing machine just right for you. Find your model and must-have features.


The sewing machine has a split personality. It’s a tool that helps with basic sewing repairs and projects. And it’s also an instrument that lets people express their creativity through fashion or crafting. Before buying, you need to ask, “What will I be using my sewing machine for and how often.” The answer could mean spending $200 or $2000. Next, you want to be familiar with sewing machine terminology, so you can judge which features are must-haves and which you can do without. This guide outlines common features and terms to help you with shopping, and provides a troubleshooting guide for after you’ve made your purchase.

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Key Features

As sewing machine technology becomes more advanced, the range of features offered keeps growing. What do these options do and are they right for you? Below is a list of common features, starting with what you’ll find on more economical models and progressing to high-end machine options.

Horizontal Bobbin

Picking up the top thread as it passes by, the rotary action of this drop-in bobbin creates a much straighter stitch. Unlike older machines that have front-loading bobbins, tension adjustment and replacement of thread is now easier.

Stitch Width

This feature allows sewers to adjust the width of certain stitches, such as zig-zag, to fit the fabric or project design.

One-Step Buttonholes

Avid sewers will appreciate the ease of using a one-step buttonholer to create professional looking buttonholes. Some sewing machines can be programmed to create buttonholes automatically.

Computerized Machines

Tackle complicated projects and get professional-looking results with an easy-to-operate computerized sewing machine. Home sewers will appreciate the versatility of computerized models where stitches can be programmed with the touch of a keypad.

Automatic Tension

Manually adjusting the thread tension on a sewing machine can be intimidating to beginner sewers. An automatic thread tension mechanism sets and adjusts the balance between the bobbin and needle threads according to the type of fabric being used.

Variable Speed Control

This adjustment lever controls the maximum speed of a sewing machine no matter how hard one presses on the foot control. Sewers with a heavy foot can set a slower speed and not worry about having the fabric get away.

Start/Stop Button

This allows sewers to operate a sewing machine without using the foot pedal. Start and stop the machine with one touch.

Auto-Lock Button

This button allows sewers to secure the end of a seam without using the reverse button or tying off, resulting in a clean finish.

Embroidery Options

Want to go beyond simple repairs? Turn a plain T-shirt into a work of art or create monogrammed hand towels. Whatever the project, electronic and computerized sewing machines are designed to create beautifully ornate patterns and designs on fabric.