How do you choose a sewing machine or overlocker?
What if you are new to sewing?
Yes, it can be confusing to choose from so many brands and models, but there are features worth looking for. Obviously your budget has some bearing on your shopping, but beware of the pitfalls of budget machines and overlockers. Unfortunately, many people often choose the cheapest model thinking they will upgrade if they decide sewing is for them. However this often leads to disappointment, as cheaper/budget models are more difficult to thread and use in comparison to better made, more expensive models with more features.
Always buy the best you can afford.
All brands carry a range of seemingly inviting budget priced machines, but it is wiser to do your research and save a little more money before making your purchase. People often say "But I only want to do basic sewing". That may be the case, but mid-range and higher level machines are more user friendly (less annoying) and give better results.
You can make this decision simply by testing more models and spending a little more. Feel free to shop around and test different brands, but PLEASE purchase your machine from a reputable independent sewing machine dealer. Dealers provide lessons, and are easily accessible for questions and maintenance.
I was in the Post Office one day and to my horror, they had a sewing machine for sale on the counter. THEY DON"T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT SEWING AND CAN'T OFFER YOU THE AFTER SALE SERVICE YOU DESERVE. Try taking your machine to the Post Office for a service and picking up some thread and a spare bulb while you are there!
The same applies to national chains where you simply pick the box from the shelf and scan it at the checkout. Some budget models don't even include the most basic feet such as zipper foot, definitely a sewing essential. It is a wiser investment to purchase a machine that you can grow into, rather than one that will make do.
Having said that, beware of technology. This particularly applies to machine embroidery. There is no point buying a top of the range machine today because it is a super special if you know you won't get to play with it till you retire in 5 years by which time it may have been superceded. It is best to wait until you know you will have the time to get the most out of your investment.
Features worth paying for on a sewing machine ...
*Fully adjustable needle position ie the needle can be moved from far left to far right in small increments (such as 0.1). This enables you to position the needle exactly where you need it for applications such as sewing in zippers, applying piping and trims, ditch stitching and easy alignment for sewing seams and hems.
*One step buttonhole. This enables you to make multiple copies of perfect buttonholes every time. Most machines also have a variety of styles suitable for different fabric types or decorative buttonholes.
*Built in needle threader. Not essential but definitely handy as our eyes age. And being built in means you can always find it. But treat them with care as once out of alignment they are almost useless.
*Stitch Width and Stitch Length Selection. This enables you to choose the precise settings for each stitch for best results. Mechanical machines usually have dials/knobs which don't have incremental markings. These are adjustable, but not easy to repeat accurately. Electronic and computerised machines have precise settings which can be repeated accurately. Check the settings though, because some increments are 0.5 whereas others can be as small as 0.1 which is much more precise.
*Needle centre position. You will find it much easier to follow your sewing if the needle is in the centre of the foot. Also check that the gap of the foot is centred. The 15mm/ 5/8" guideline should be the distance from the centred position.
*Feet. Check what feet are included with the machine. The very basic necessities are Zigzag foot for general sewing, Zipper foot (adjustable is best, but rarely comes with the machine), Buttonhole foot. Quilters also use a Quarter Inch Seam foot, and a Walking/Even Feed foot, and maybe a Free Motion Stippling foot. Of course there are many other very useful feet available, but it is important to have the basics first. If you purchase extra feet always buy the brand of your machine for best fit and results. Make sure you also have a decent screw driver and cleaning brush (a soft paint brush is a good choice).
*Adjustable Speed Control. This enables you to sew at a precise speed (whether that is fast or slow) for increased accuracy when needed. Some foot controls have a high and low setting , but this is simply a maximum setting and you still need to try and control the speed as you sew.
*Good Lighting. Most machines only have 1 light, so check it's brightness. This can be improved by using a daylight desk lamp on your sewing table. Newer and bigger models are now available with more lights in the sewing area.
*Stitch Selection. Firstly check how easy it is to select your chosen stitch. Sometimes you have to scroll all the way through the range which can become tiresome. Secondly study the available selection. Decorative stitches vary greatly from model to model. Quilters will like Applique stitches (sometimes called buttonhole stitch, of hand stitching origin) and Sculpture Stitch. It may be that you find a favourite stitch only on a handful of models.
Overlocker tips ...
Ease of changing settings
Some base models require you to unscrew feet and plates in order to change from a standard hem to a rolled hem. Mid range models are usually more user friendly and only need to flick a few buttons.
Free Arm option
A free arm on your overlocker enables you to overlock circular areas more easily eg sleeves without the bulk being in your line of vision.
Always a challenge on overlockers, some more so than others. The most difficult are models which have the workings above the work area, or require a long thin threader to pass the thread from left to right under the mechanism. Not impossible to work with, but you just need to be aware of the options when shopping.
Several brands now feature self threading models which are a delight to work with, however they are a little dearer, but so worth it.
This list is by no means absolute, but I believe these features are important when making your decision. Sometimes you don't realise things could be better until you try to use it. My aim is to give you food for thought based on my many years of experience as a user and a retailer so that you can make a wise purchase and enjoy your sewing as a result.
My final tip, after doing your research, unless you are desperate for a new machine today, wait until they come on special, usually a couple of times each year.