Buying A Sewing Machine

Perhaps the most frequently asked questions on the sewing newsgroups are "what kind of a machine should I buy?"; "The model X is on sale, is this a good deal?; and "I want to do this on a sewing machine, which one is best?"

It's hard to give specifics about individual machines. Like cars and computers the models and features change somewhat from year to year, and it is nearly impossible to tell just by looking at the thing what kind of quality and "ride" you'll get from it.

Many sewers will recommend you get one from Elna, Bernina, Viking, or Pfaff, because these manufacturers have a quality reputation --at least in the high-end (expensive) models. But, realistically, most of us cannot lay out $2000 for a sewing machine. They also sell low-end machines for a fraction of the cost of their fancy models, but these machines are comparable to other manufacturers in the same range.

So what can you do? The answer is to do your homework. I know, it isn't easy. You have to drive all over town, or let your fingers do the walking, but you have to compare models in your price and feature range. You have to test every single machine for yourself, talk to the dealers and discuss service contracts and warranties, and negotiate prices. You have to do this for yourself, because prices and service vary from town to town, and state to state, not to mention availability of certain models or brands. If I got a good deal from my local store last year, it isn't going to help you, halfway across the country, to know about it.

Before you begin shopping ask yourself some questions. What do you plan to use the sewing machine for? Do you need certain features for this? What other features are important to you (types of stitches, position of pedal, free arm etc.) Does the machine have to be portable for classes or moving into a closet when you're done? Who else will be using the machine? How much can you afford to spend?

Arm yourself with a note pad and a pen, a list of sewing shops and department stores, and plan a couple of free afternoons to just look, without commiting to buying anything yet. When you get to each shop, ask to be shown models with your desired features and in your price range. You may discover the two don't meet. Be prepared to change your price for the features, or change features for your price. Don't be fooled by "sales" that really aren't. What is the normal price of the machine? Is it ever sold for that amount, or is it constantly "on special?" Is this the dealer's sale, or the manufacturer's?

One of the things to consider is what you are getting for the money. What is the warranty? Will they do tune-ups or cleanings? Do you get any classes on using your machine? Your relationship with the dealer is an important part of the purchase. If you feel uncomfortable, pressured, or patronized, you're going to have a hard time when you need to bring the machine in for any repairs or maintenance.

Is the machine sturdy? (Give it a whack, shake it, does the case twist?) Are the insides metal or plastic? Is there a handle to move the machine? Can you lift it and move it yourself? What accesories/attachments come with the machine? Or are the special features built-in? Are they useful to you? Can you get more accessories easily and at a reasonable price?

Remember that features like zig-zag, buttonhole, and reverse stiching are standard items on today's machines. You can also expect a small packet with a couple of extra bobbins, some extra machine needles, maybe a tiny bottle of lubricant and/or a brush for cleaning the bobbin case. The higher-end machines often come with several feet or attachments, or other goodies. Don't let anyone try to tell you this is a special just for you if you buy it now.

Take in some samples of what you sew and test them. Do not let the salesman sell you on the "It'll sew through a wood ruler" demo. Salesclerks use these machines every day and make money off of it. Try the machine yourself. Is it comfortable? (It will be unfamiliar at first). Does the light show your work area? How does the machine run? It should be smooth and quiet. Does it sew smooth corners? Chances are the sewing table won't come with the machine, so don't let that influence you.

Go to other stores around town and compare similar models. You aren't BUYING at this point, but getting a feel for similar featured models in the same price range. Don't be afraid to look at demo models or trade-ins that might be in perfectly good condition but offered at a clearance price.

When you are done looking GO HOME! Think about what you saw and tried. Consider your options. Are there any machines you really liked? Disliked?

You'll answer your own questions soon enough.

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This page last updated on: January 2, 1997.