Sewing Machines Types, Buying Guide and Reviews of the Best Models
Believe it or not, buying a sewing machine can become as difficult and complex as buying a car. Sure, you have to spend much less, so your potential faulty purchase may not be as consequential and troublesome, but nonetheless you have to be equipped with the right knowledge. Otherwise, you will just stumble in the dark, and buy a sewing machine that you won’t end up using. In the best case scenario, you will go through the hassle of returning it or ousting it as a gift.
Although some sewing machines perform equally well at different sewing projects, those are more of an expensive rarity. Knowing what you will use your sewing machine for will be the key that unlocks the right type of sewing machine. On the other hand, even if you have no idea whatsoever for its potential usage in the near and distant future, you still need to know what is available in order to hone in on the right sewing machine. One that will serve you for decades to come.
Table of Contents
- 1 Types of Sewing Machines
- 2 Sewing machine brands
- 3 Best Sewing Machines Reviews
- 4 Conclusion
Types of Sewing Machines
Two Main Categories: Domestic vs Industrial
We could approach the categorization of sewing machines from a variety of angles, but it’s always best to start from the simplest baseline and then branch out from there. To that end, if we apply two simple factors, usage frequency and function, we end about with two overall types of sewing machines which cover the entire spectrum: domestic and industrial.
When you see the images from the great clothing manufacturing halls with dozens of sewing machines lined up, there is no room for creativity and veering off the set parameters. Everything is repetitive and calculated.
Likewise, those sewing machines are uniform in their function and range of sewing.
Domestic sewing machines are the opposite of that. As the name implies, they are intended for home use which a much higher degree of versatility, since manufacturers have to cater to a much wider range of use case scenarios. They may not perform on the level with which a penny-saving corporation would be satisfied, but they do offer flexibility. This allows you to engage in clothing repair, dress sewing, quilting, sewing shirts and pants, curtains…all from a single sewing machine. Essentially, just keep in mind that domestic sewing machines are all about versatility, while industrial ones are all about performance and robustness.
Of course, non-industrial sewing machines will not be as sturdy and some may be better suited for certain sewing tasks than others, which is why we need to divide them even further.
a) BY SKILL LEVEL:
- Beginner – These sewing machines can come in all forms and price ranges. Most importantly though, best sewing machines for beginners are easy to use right from the box. What this entails is that they don’t overwhelm you with features but allow you to master everything they have to offer in a gradual, timely manner. This translates to having less than 50 stitch types, and being fully computerized so you don’t have to bother with manual thread cutting, needle threading, buttonhole making, and having an intuitive interface, either with a digital screen or with an analog dial. We have a separate guide with top sewing machines for kids that list the safest and easiest models to sew with.
- Intermediate – Sewing machines in this category are naturally, more complex to use than those meant for beginners. More functions, more settings and more possibilities are some of the basic traits of these models. They can do more than 50 but usually less than 100 stitch types. These machines tend to be semi-automated which means that most of their functions aren’t very hard to master but you do need some time to get a hang of it. When you read electronic in the name of the machine, you’re most likely looking at a model meant for intermediate users. Certain custom touches can be added to your projects when using these kinds of machines but don’t expect some top tier fashion designer possibilities, you get those with advanced models.
- Advanced – Hardcore sewing practitioners only. We can separate these sewing machines into two subcategories. First category consists of mechanical sewing machines. Sure there are some mechanical sewing machines out there that are advertised as beginner friendly but in reality, that isn’t quite the case. You need to know how to properly set up the tension, how to thread the machine, how to switch the presser feet and a whole lot more in order to use it properly. In other words, you need experience and only advanced users have that.
The second subcategory consists of computerized sewing machines. Yes, they are easier to use and because of that they tend to be great for beginners. But only certain models. Other computerized sewing machines have a ton of functions and are meant for designers and such. Over 1000 stitch types, along with decorative and lettering stitches, various buttonhole styles, adjustable work speed, adjustable stitch length, width and so on and so forth. Creative and experienced minds require very capable machines and these are the ones meant for them.
b) BY STYLE:
- Mechanical – Durable, reliable and old school cool. Sewing machines in this category are a no brainer, they provide you with nothing too fancy but certainly enough for whatever you need. These models usually don’t have automatic functions but they can have automatic threading systems or something similar occasionally. Dials are analog and any adjustments are done by hand which is why they should be handled by someone with at least some experience. They tend to be multifunctional which means you can work with various fabrics and create all kinds of projects, from quilting to embroidery. These babies go a long way and if you get one you’ll have it by your side for quite some time. Repairs can be made somewhat easily and because of that, they may serve you for decades.
- Computerized – The future is now and these models sure prove that to be true. Want to create a unique stitch? Make it on your computer and connect a computerized sewing machine to it. Voila, you can now sew that original stitch, no problem. You need a million types of stitches? Yeah sure, these guys got your back. It doesn’t even matter if you’re a complete beginner in the sewing world, quite a lot of computerized models are meant for inexperienced users and beginners.
- Electronic – Sewing machines in this category are basically halfway between mechanical and computerized. For easier use, many functions are automated and don’t require you to fiddle with them a lot. Dials are sometimes analog and other times in a form of a LCD screen or illustrated depictions with buttons. You can’t connect them to a computer but they are pretty smart and they do cut your work time with helpful functions like automatic threading, thread cutting, automatic presser foot pressure setting and more.
c) BY TYPE:
- Sewing machine– They do what their name says, sew. Put two pieces of fabric together and it will make it into one. Nowadays most sewing machines intended for home use can do multiple kinds of projects. But not a lot of them are equally good at each type of work they can perform. Instead, they tend to be great at a certain one and solid or bad at others. Well, sewing machines are best at connecting two pieces of material by stitching them together like those sewing machines for clothes
- Embroidery machines – You know all those pretty drawing-like patterns and designs you can see on pillows, dresses and such? That’s embroidery. Embroidery machines are specialized in that field of work particularly. There are a few types of embroidery and they can be separated into those that are done manually and automatically. Manual ones are done with a machine capable of zigzag stitching. Automatic ones are done with the help of a computerized machine. Pattern is made on a computer and then transferred to the machine which finishes the embroidery by itself.
- Quilting machines – These machines make your bedsheets into works of art. Quilts are a tough material to work with, with all the layers and padding it’s quite hard to sew through all of that. Quilting machines don’t have any problems with that though. With their help, you can basically do embroidery on quilts with ease. Some models even mimic quilting by hand, which is cunning but pretty cool.
- Serger/Overlocker – Machines with the ability to create high quality seam work and edge finishing are known as overlock and serger machines. Actually, if we are to nitpick then there is a difference between those two. Serger is a name used in North America. Yes that’s it, you thought there’s more to it? I fooled you nicely then. Anyway, these machines work at high speed and instead of bobbin feeding, they have a system of loopers fed by multiple thread cones. Overlock machines are used for reinforcing seams and improving their durability and for creating decorative kinds of edges and such.
d) BY USE/FABRICS they handle:
- for leather – This material is pretty demanding and it can’t be handled without a proper machine designated for such work. Adding leather pieces to clothing by hand is practically impossible but quite easy with the help of the leather sewing machines. This kind of work usually costs a lot of money so having your own machine capable of performing such tasks is really convenient and economic. Keep in mind that normal sewing machines can’t handle leather and that’s why these bad boys exist.
- for upholstery – Yet another type of work that’s a big no no for normal sewing machines. Furniture restoration and decoration is a very complex kind of sewing work because it covers a lot of different areas like cover sewing, stuffing, leather sewing and more. It just can’t be done properly if you don’t use the machines that are meant for that. Upholstery machines can handle any type of fabrics used for such projects with ease.
- for denim – heavy duty machines that can handle heavy fabrics in multiple layers. Check out this post that features the best sewing machines for hemming jeans. Denim can be a real drag. It’s hard and tough so it’s very difficult to penetrate it by needles which aren’t designed for such a feat. Luckily, nowadays a lot of domestic multifunctional sewing machines can conduct such work due to them having an option to work with hard fabrics. Despite that, it is better to use a model mainly intended for denim sewing because naturally, it does that way better than multifunctional ones.
- for canvas – Similar story to that of denim. The material is far from soft so piercing and stitching it is a very difficult task. Sewing machines capable of handling it are powerful, usually fast and they have specialty needles and presser feet designed for working with canvas. Tents, sails, backpacks and similar are all made with these machines.
- sewing machine for draperies, curtains and home décor items
e) BY SIZE:
- Handheld – They fit in the palm of your hand and look a loot like a stapler. A stapler on steroids but still, a stapler. You can do the most basic sewing work with these, patching up a hole or stitching two small pieces of fabric together. Any more than that would be torture, I imagine.
- Portable/mini – A bit smaller than the usual sewing machine but with almost identical capabilities. The key to their size isn’t really in removing parts that normal models have but instead keeping all of them and making them as compact and as smallest possible. Great for students or pupils who need to carry a sewing machine to and from school on a daily basis.
- Full size – Not a lot to say here. Electronic, computerized and mechanical all fit into this category, as long as they aren’t heavy duty models. They fit on your work desk but won’t exactly cover its entire surface.
- Heavy-duty – Big size, tough frame and pure power are their main traits. Sure they are pretty heavy and can take up some space but they get the job done alright. Proper powerhouses that are usually capable of working at high speeds and with almost any kind of work. Metal frame makes it very durable so they tend to live to old age.
Industrial sewing machines are those that are used in factories and large sewing workshops. They are a tad expensive but they do last a very long time and break down very rarely. Even if they do, they are easily fixed and can continue working quickly.
Since they are used in factories, they’re specialized for only one kind of work and nothing else. If you need a different kind of work done, you’ll have to go to another part of the factories where they use those kinds of machines. Mass production, baby!
These industrial machines can be separated into few categories and subcategories so let’s check that out together.
a) BY DESIGN OF NEEDLE POST
- Flat Bed – This one is very similar to traditional sewing machines. Both the needle and the arm extend to the base. They are used for stitching flat pieces of fabrics together.
- Post Bed – With bobbins and feed loopers inside a vertical column 10 to 45 centimeters high, rising above its flat base, these kinds of machines are great for emblem attaching, boot and glove making.
- Cylinder Bed – In short, this is the negative version of flat bed. Since they possess a narrow horizontal column, fabric goes around and under it. Cylinder size is between 5 and 16 centimeters wide. This machine is meant for sewing cuffs, hats, shoes and such.
- Off the arm – Rarely seen today, this type of sewing machines have to be manually fed with fabric along the horizontal column axis by the operator. Used for attaching sleeves to shoulders.
b) BY STITCH TYPE
- Lockstitch – A while ago we mentioned overlock machines if you remember. These are nearly identical to those. However, unlike overlock machines, these ones have a bobbin system. It’s all about the edge work with this one.
- Chainstitch – Embroidery machine but a bit more capable. The chainstitches are more detailed than regular embroidery and can make more curved lines. Because of this, the patterns look more natural and they can fool people into thinking that they were done by hand.
- Zig-zag – Zig-zag stitches are used when reinforcing certain fabrics and buttonholes, when working with s stretch material, and when temporarily joining two pieces edge to edge. Since this kind of stitching requires a certain technology, machines made before 1950 cannot perform this work
c) BY MOTOR TYPE
Not much to talk about here, there are two types of motor, servo and clutch.
- driven by Servo motor – Servo motor is more energy efficient and uses less electricity. Makes no sound when not in use.
- driven by Clutch motor – The clutch motor on the other hand, spins forever, even when no one is operating it.
If you are just getting started in the world of sewing machines, you have to learn the ropes first. We have a whole section “Learn to sew” dedicated to just that, but if you want a head start check the following first:
Sewing machine brands
- Brother – This company has been in the game for over a century and it has made quite a name for itself. They make sewing and embroidery machines for both beginners and intermediates in the world of sewing. Competitive prices and stylish designs are their trademarks.
- Janome – Number one sewing machines manufacturer in the world, this Japanese company left a big mark in sewing history with a lot of useful inventions and improvements. They offer a vast number of sewing machines, from simple basic ones to fully computerized embroidery beasts, whatever you wish for, they probably sell it.
- Singer – Everyone knows Singer, and that says a lot. They’ve been around for more than a century and a half and they’re still going strong. Reliable, quality sewing machines of all kinds with great support. A living legend of sewing.
- Juki – Another Japanese company and once again a great manufacturer. From industrial machines to household models, they cover a lot of ground and they do it well.
- Bernina – This one is a bit different from others. Swiss company with a nice history behind it. Style and precision are their traits, just like their watches are. Modern sewing machines and a modern design.
Best Sewing Machines Reviews
1. Brother CS6000i – Best Computerized Sewing Machine
Sewing and quilting machine intended for intermediate users. Capable, affordable, not overwhelming, plenty of easy to use features, a lot of customization possibilities.
2. Singer 9985 – Best All-purpose Electronic Sewing Machine
Fashion designer’s dream. A ton of functions, plenty of customization options, capable and trustworthy, a lot of complimentary accessories.
3. Janome HD1000 – Best Mechanical Sewing Machine
Long lasting dependable sewing machine. Very small chances of malfunctioning, easy to use and therefore appropriate for both beginners and experienced sewists. Affordable price for a guaranteed long term companionship.
4. Singer 14T968DC – Best Overlocker Sewing Machine
A professional tier machine. Sew seams with amazing speed on this easy to use overlock machine. Sturdy and reliable, great for advanced sewists.
5. Brother SE400 -Embroidery Machine for home business
Computerized sewing machine which excels at embroidery. Offers a great number of customization options like stitch lettering fonts and stitch adjusting. A must have for intermediate embroidery enthusiasts.
Let’s make this conclusion short and sweet, shall we? No machine is the best at everything, that kind of thing doesn’t exist. There are those that are great at one thing and decent at others but there are also those that don’t actually excel at anything and are fairly good at everything.
Specialized machines are usually the best at that one thing but can’t really do anything else well. Which is why they can’t do an entire project from start to finish by themselves.
This is why there are industrial and household machines out there. If you have the means to use a couple of machines by yourself then by all means, buy industrial models for your house. Or if you don’t care about the long term economic plans, go get nothing but multifunctional sewing machines for your factory.
It all comes down to you and your decision. We showed you everything you should know now, so whichever choice you make, it will surely be the right one.