Advice on getting your first sewing machine is something that gets asked a lot and is awfully hard to answer. I certainly don’t want to encourage somebody to buy a machine that they end up leaving in a closet, or worse, one that does not work very well and only leads to frustration and more expense. Somebody recently emailed asking me for sewing machine advice and this is what I came up with. (I have some book suggestions below, so if you already own a sewing machine, you might want to skip down there.)
– You can learn to sew from a book but taking a class will give you a better feel for what is normal, like how you should (almost) always backstich at the beginning and end of a seam, how fast you can expect to go, when you really need to iron before proceeding (almost always). You can also get a feel for this by watching old Martha Stewart sewing segments, or sewing shows on PBS or HGTV.
– A lot of new machines appear to be expensive because they contain computers that are capable fancy stitches and embroidery, and are able to use a lot of software. Unless you’re a hardcore textile geek who is moving past the basics, I don’t think these are necessary. Beyond using the buttonhole feature and the occasional zig-zag stitch, you’re unlikely to use many fancy stitches.
– Having a free arm is worth spending a little bit more, in my opinion. A free arm allows you to hem cuffs and finish the tops of bags easily. My own machine does not have a free arm and I found I was at a disadvantage when making sturdy bags as gifts this past Christmas.
– A common theme for new stitchers is fear of the tension knobs. This leads to a near religious fear of touching or changing them, and lots of fretting over broken threads being your own fault, not the machines. I am guilty of his myself. But the owner’s manual will show how to use these and one should adjust them whenever needed. Throwing your own machine out of sync is frustrating, but understanding how to get it to work again is important.
– Do you need a serger? Really, not until you’re making a large part of your own wardrobe.
– See this diagram understanding a sewing machine at MarthaStewart.com, a machine manual and any basic sewing book should also have this.
– See this animation of how a bobbin works at Craft, it’ll keep you from wondering and possibly help you untangle threads if they get stuck.
– What sewing machine brands are good changes all the time, so it’s difficult to recommend one company. Viking, Pfaff and Bernina are good names, but these can be pricey machines for a beginner or occasional stitcher.
Here are some books you might find useful or inspirational.
Reader’s Digest Complete Guide to Sewing
When I entered college as a costume design major, this was the book we were instructed to bring to draping class. Well, mine was an older edition with hilarious 70s clothing and housewares projects in the back. This book has complete instructions for all sorts of clothing construction and I still use it as a reference.
I’ve seen this referred to as the bible.
Sewing 101: A Beginner’s Guide to Sewing
Start at the beginning.
Sew U: The Built by Wendy Guide to Making Your Own Wardrobe
Built By Wendy shows you how to create your own wardrobe.
Lotta Jansdotter’s Simple Sewing: Patterns and How-To for 24 Fresh and Easy Projects
This book comes with patterns tucked away in a special pocket, I love this book. You can read what I wrote about it here.
Simple Sewing With a French Twist: An Illustrated Guide to Sewing Clothes and Home Accessories with Style
I’ve only peeked inside this book but it had plenty of inviting projects.