How to Choose a New Sewing Machine

How to Choose a New Sewing Machine?

I finally did it!  It took me two years to save enough money and do the research, but I finally bought my new sewing machine!  I settled on a Bernina 590.

Isn’t she gorgeous?!

Choosing a new sewing machine is up there as one of life’s big decisions.  They are anexpensive piece of kit and once bought will likely stay with you for a very long time.  They may even be passed down the generations.

If you ask a woman what her most treasured possession is, she may well tell you that it is her engagement ring or some other valuable piece of jewellery that also has sentimental value to her.  If she is passionate about sewing though, it could well be that her most treasured possession is her sewing machine.  So – how do you set about choosing the right one for you?  I’ll talk you through the process I went through before deciding on the Bernina 590.  I’ll also tell you the things I love about this machine as I have got used to using it over the last few months.

Buying a New Sewing Machine - Some Questions to Ask Yourself

What kind of things do you enjoy sewing? 

Quilting – there are features built especially for you – e.g. lots of space to the RHS of the needle for rolling the quilt into.

Making clothes – Buttonholes will be important and maybe a freehand system + the ability to sew sleeves and small areas easily.

Embroidery – there are dedicated machines for this if this is all you want to do.  Do you want lots of built in stitches at your fingertips, or are you more interested in the ability to do free motion embroidery?  Do you want be able to link up to specialised computer embroidery software?

What would you like to sew in the future? 

The machine should have the capability to grow with you.  This is an expensive purchase and you don’t want to be thinking in 6 months time – I wish I had XYZ on this machine!  Have a think about what sort of sewing you might like to do in future and make sure your machine will stretch to meet your aspirations.

Do you sew because you love it or because you need to? 

If you just need to make the odd repair to some trousers, or run up a simple pair of curtains now and then, a basic machines is probably all you need.  Even the basic machines these days come with a great range of features.  If this is more of a hobby for you – something to while away the hours with – then you might want to indulge yourself a little in some of the features the machines at the higher end of the range have to offer.

What features do you like about the machine you currently have? What do you dislike? 

My first sewing machine was a trusty Brother with a few built in embroidery stitches.  What I loved about it was how sturdy it was – and it has sewn beautifully for 30 years, making me a wedding dress to be proud of in that time.  It’s ability to drop the bed to create a small area for sewing sleeves or tiny things is great too, for someone who is into miniatures.  What I didn’t like was how difficult it became (as my eyes sight challenged me increasingly over the years) to thread the needle.  I hate the way the bobbin thread runs out in the middle of a seam too and how difficult it can be to bring the bobbin thread up through the fabric sometimes.  The weight was a downside too – sometimes, it was just too much trouble to pull it out of the back of the cupboard hoist it up onto a table and get started on a project.

Do you want to carry your machine around or leave it in one place?  

This is an important question.  The larger top end sewing machines are really heavy – too heavy to take to a sewing class.  Enthusiastic sewers often have more than one machine and own a lightweight fairly basic model specifically to take to classes.  If you have the funds for only one machine and want to take it to classes or out and about, make sure you can pick it up and transport it easily.

Do you want to get into making your own embroidery designs, or are your content to use the built in designs?  

If you want to build your own designs – for example from photographs or images – you will need a computerised machines capable of being used with digitising software.  This is another whole purchase decision!  As I write, there are no machines with embroidery software dedicated to MAC.  You can use Bernina software via a Bootcamp installation of Windows, although personally, I find the thought of that a bit disconcerting.  This means that you need to budget for a Windows PC/laptop to run the software as well, if you are a MAC user (as many crafty design minded users will be). 

Each manufacturer makes its own range of software and the file extensions are different for each one.  Have a look at the features of the software that is designed to work with the machine you are interested in and make sure it does all you want it to do.  Again, think what you want to do tomorrow as well as what you want to do today and make sure your purchase is future proof.

Some of the projects I have enjoyed since I bought my sewing machine use the design software capability.  Have a look and see if this is something that interests you?

How much room have you got to keep your machine?  

Some of the top of the range machines these days are REALLY big!  Have you got room to store it?  Where will you use it – is the table sturdy enough?  You may need to consider investing in a cabinet to keep it in to make sure that it is well protected when not in use, but easy to kick into action when you want to get creative.  The HORN range of cabinets are purpose built for sewing enthusiasts.  Sturdy and built for a lifetime of use, which is why you rarely see one up for sale second hand (unfortunately as they are not cheap!).  You need to be careful about which cabinet you choose though as not all of them will accommodate the largest machines.  The Horn Eclipse has a lovely pull out leaf at the back that you can use as a cutting/craft table.  Heavenly?!  The cabinets have an in-built air lifter which you can use to lower your sewing machine down into the cabinet easily when you are not using it.

Horn Sewing Machine Cabinet
Horn Sewing Machine Cabinet

If you are into embroidery, how big do you want to go?  

The machines at the top of the range are able to take large hoops, which mean that you don’t have to re-hoop your work – you can just let your creativity flow.  If you are only doing small pieces, then this won’t matter.  If you want to turn out large scale textiles/pictures etc., then this could be a feature you could kick yourself for not researching better.

Manufacturer’s Guarantee  

This is a question worth asking – all manufacturers differ.  You should get a minimum of 3 years – but some machines come with 7 or 10 years – the longer guarantees give you confidence that you can get your dream machine fixed if it goes wrong.  It is worth thinking about how you would do that too.  Is there a dealer local to you, or would you have to send the machine away to be fixed?  As they are heavy things, this could be a deciding factor for you.

What sort of after sales support is available?  

Sewing machines come with so many features these days, it does help if there is someone you can go to to ask how it all works and make sure you get the best out of your machines.  Some manufacturers offer free training sessions.  Others have good on line support – either via the machine itself or through the internet.

What are your “Must Have” Features?  

This was my list – but yours may well be different, depending on what sort of sewer you are – or want to become:

  1. At least 7 year manufacturer guarantee
  2. Local dealer and plenty of after sales support available
  3. Capable of doing embroidery
  4. Computerized – able to use design software
  5. Large touch screen on the machine
  6. Stitch designer available on touch screen, so you can design your own stitches
  7. Plenty of space to RHS of needle
  8. Fast sewing speed – 1000 sitches per minute
  9. Automatic Needle Threader
  10. Automatic Thread cutter
  11. Automatic buttonholes
  12. Full shank foot (as opposed to snap on)
  13. Knee lift, for hands free sewing
  14. Dual feed (good for slippy fabrics)
  15. Able to fit into a Horn Eclipse sewing cabinet

Tips and Tricks

If you do decide to go ahead and purchase a Bernina 590 after reading this, there are a couple of tips and tricks I can share with you.

The automatic needle threader only works when the needle is raised as high as it can go.  I spent a while being frustrated by this!

The 590 comes with jumbo bobbins, which are a great time saver.  Also, they only fit into the case one way – so you no longer have to worry about putting it in upside down and getting loopy stitches.

Lastly, I found the hook and bobbin case a little difficult to insert correctly for a while.  The video below was a great help.

Happy Stitching!

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