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Sewing Machine Basics

Choosing a Machine

There are a wide variety of machines available, in an even wider range of prices. In general, the more your machine does, the more it will cost. But how much do you really need your machine to do? Having your sewing plans well in mind before you shop can save you from paying for features you never use.

Basic Sewing Machines

The bare essentials you’ll need for construction sewing are straight and zigzag stitching in a variety of lengths and widths. Most, if not all, modern machines will also do a hemstitch and make buttonholes, possibly with an attachment. Most machines will offer a few other stitches as well that are more or less combinations of straight, reverse, and zigzag stitches.

If you’re planning on doing a small or moderate amount of sewing, this may be as much as you’ll ever need. This type of machine starts around $100 at a discount store and can go up to the neighborhood of $1,000, depending on the brand of the machine. The more expensive machines may be less prone to failures and last longer than the cheaper models. Consider, too, whether you are buying from a dealer who offers service as well as sales.

Computerized Machines

The next step up from the basic machine is the computerized machine. These offer a lot more versatility—from fancy edging and appliqué stitches to computerized embroidery patterns. Most computerized machines make any kind of stitch adjustment as easy as touching a button. They offer features that can be real time-savers if you are doing a great deal of sewing, like the option to set the needle to stop in the up position when you are doing regular stitching or to stop in the down position if you are pivoting around an odd-shaped piece.

Manufacturers have been putting computers in sewing machines for around thirty years. These have gotten better and, relative to other machines, less expensive. The discount-store price for a computerized machine is around $250. For machines from higher-end makers, you can expect the price to take a $400 or $500 leap above their noncomputerized models. You can easily spend well over $1,000 for one of these sewing machines. When shopping, consider whether the machine is limited to the patterns in its memory or if you can buy discs of additional stitching and embroidery designs to add to its versatility.

Specialty Machines

There are some sewing machines with very specialized uses. Rather than replacing them, these are meant to complement regular sewing machines in one particular area. The most common of these is the serger. A serger will clean-finish the seam allowance edge as it sews a seam. Some specialty machines have attachments to allow them to do additional things like gathering or rolled hems. Extremely stretchy fabrics can be sewn on a serger without stretching them out of shape. The serger is also faster than a regular machine and saves the additional step of finishing the seam allowance. If you will be doing a great deal of construction sewing, you may find a serger to be worth the extra expense. They tend to cost more than regular machines, starting at $200 in discount stores to upwards of $2,200 for the top of the line.

Used Machines

Parts are still available for some surprisingly old machines. In fact, some older machines—from the 1960s or earlier—may have fewer plastic parts in them, and it’s the plastic parts that need replacing the most. Because of these facts, it’s not as big a risk as it might seem to buy a used machine.

Old machines sometimes go at garage sales for under $30. Add to that a $30 to $50 fee to have the machine cleaned and serviced, and your investment isn’t very great. Chances are the machine can give you years of service.

Be a little cautious of buying a used machine that contains computer chips unless you’re buying from a dealer who resells trade-ins and who will stand behind the machine if there is any problem with it. Computerized machines can be expensive to fix, so you want to be sure it works before you buy it.

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