Take a look at any online craft retailer and what do you see?
Dozens upon dozens of sewing machines.
Do you really need all of them for a simple sewing setup?
Of course not.
However, if you don’t at least know:
- the different types of machines
- the fabrics they sew
- the top brands in the industry…
How on Earth will you ever sort through the endless assortment of sewing machines you DON’T need…
To find the one or two you actually DO need?
The answer is…you won’t. And you’ll make some pretty dumb purchases, and waste a lot of time and money in the process.
So to spare you the headaches that so many of us newbies go through in the beginning…
I’ve compiled the following comprehensive guide which outlines everything beginners should know how to choose the right sewing equipment for their home craft studio.
Sounds good? Then let’s begin.
The 2 “Umbrella” Categories
One of the first things we all learn…
Is that the two “umbrella’ categories of sewing machines are:
- Industrial equipment
- Domestic / Home equipment
95% of the sewing equipment you will ever use…
Will fit into 1 of these 2 categories. That part’s real simple.
The harder part is understanding the 8 KEY WAYS in which they compare.
So let’s cover them now. Starting with…
1. Stitch Options
The Beginner’s Rule of Thumb states:
Industrial sewing machines are more stitch-specific; performing one stitch really well.
Domestic sewing machines can do every type of stitch pretty well.
While the truth of the matter is far more complex, it’s a good rule to start with.
2. Stitch Quality
Industrial machines specialize in one stitch.
Therefore, they produce a cleaner, better-looking stitch.
Domestic sewing machines will usually require a little extra fussing to get the stitch just right.
3. Production Speed
The upside of domestic sewing machines is that they operate at a much slower pace.
As we mentioned above, you’ll sometimes need to fuss with the stitch to get it just right.
By operating at a slower speed, you can easily control the machine reducing the amount of fussing required.
Industrial machines allow you to sew extremely quickly. That’s the benefit of the machine specializing in one stitch.
4. Fabric Flexibility
The downside of domestic sewing machines is that they have smaller motors which cannot handle all types of cloth and fabric.
Home machines generally CANNOT handle larger cloth and thicker fabric.
Made with commercial production in mind, industrial sewing machines CAN handle larger cloth and thicker fabric.
5. User Type
Being built for commercial production means that industrial sewing machines can be operated for longer periods of time.
The General Rule of Thumb is that you cannot use a home sewing machine for more than 5 hours at a time.
If you go over 5 hours, you risk burning out the motor.
Industrial sewing machines can easily work for more than 5 hours at a time.
It should be pretty clear by now that industrial sewing machines can handle heavier projects.
Thread capacity and type is no different.
Industrial machines can easily handle thicker thread and larger cones.
You’ll use thicker thread when sewing through heavier cloth or thicker fabric.
Domestic sewing machines need to use lighter thread with smaller cones.
However, because you’ll be using your domestic sewing machine for smaller projects, this shouldn’t be a problem.
Because you’re going to be doing smaller projects with home machines, you’ll only have to clean and maintain them every few months.
Of course, it’s great practice to clean the machine after each use. But that’s not necessary
Industrial machines are going to require a bit more maintenance if you’re using them for long periods of time.
Both types have readily available replacement parts.
Plus, any brand that we recommend below will have exceptional customer service.
8. Price Tag
When comparing the best domestic sewing machines to the best industrial sewing machines…
- Domestic sewing machines max out at a mere $400-$500 a piece. However…
- Industrial sewing machines can cost as much as $2-5 grand EACH.
While that may seem terrifying to some…
Don’t worry, because there are plenty of options available for budget craft studios.
Which is Better for Sewing?
Many beginners INCORRECTLY conclude that industrial sewing machines are somehow better than domestic sewing machines for sewing.
And from what we’ve covered so far, it’s not hard to see why.
But the truth is…NEITHER machine is better overall…and NO machine on the planet is perfect for EVERYTHING.
That is why, more than just these two umbrella categories….
Sewists use a WIDE range of sewing machines, each one tailored for specific tasks.
In this next section, we’ll cover each of them in more detail…
The 4 Sub-categories of Sewing Machines
- Electronic Machines
- Computerized Machines
- Overlocker Machines
- Mechanical Machines
Now here’s a little more on each one starting with…
1. Electronic Sewing Machines
You’ve seen these countless times on TV and in movies…
You know the cliche scenario?…
Where the beautiful mom is sewing a costume for her kid’s play?
Well the sewing machine you see is ALWAYS an electric sewing machine.
Because not only does it look great on camera… it’s also the standard machine for sewing.
Electronic sewing machines are operated by a foot pedal. The pedal controls the speed of the motor.
The harder you put your foot down, the faster you sew.
And since they’re so easy to use and work on so many types of materials…
It’s usually the first machine on a new sewist’s shopping list.
In this post I show you which ones I recommend:
2. Computerized Sewing Machines
Computerized sewing machines do everything that electric sewing machines do and so much more.
These are the best sewing machines for beginners.
Computerized sewing machines come pre-programmed to know the correct tension, length, and width for each stitch.
They’re operated using a touchscreen LCD.
Some of the even more advanced ones are operated from your computer.
They can even learn patterns that you’ve used before.
Here are the ones that I recommend:
3. Overlocker Sewing Machines
Overlocker models are specifically designed to stop fraying and to give your garment seams a professional finish.
One downside is that they are used in addition to a normal sewing machine…as you can’t use one on its own.
Neatening seams is a breeze with an overlocker machine.
Overlockers trim fabric as they sew. This creates perfect seams each and every time.
If you didn’t have an overlocker machine, you would have to cut the fabric yourself, then perform a zigzag stitch.
This can be pretty complicated to do.
Overlocker machines are what you need if you want to create perfect seams.
Here are the ones that I recommend:
Last on the list…
4. Mechanical Sewing Machines
These manual machines are operated by turning a handwheel as you move the fabric through with your other hand.
95% of machines for sale aren’t manual sewing machines.
Newer machines have much more emphasis on accuracy and efficiency rather than vintage appeal.
Everything on a mechanical sewing machine is manual, including threading.
These machines aren’t that practical. One upside is that they make great decorations and conversation pieces.
If you want to buy one that’s functional (and pretty cool), check out some of my recommendations:
Sewing Machines by STITCH
Now that we’ve covered the 4 TYPES of sewing machines…
Let’s examine things from a different angle, and order them by STITCH, to see which machines work best on which fabrics.
First up, the first popular stitch in all of human history…
The chainstitch has been used since sewing machines were first invented.
It’s a simple stitch that has many practical purposes.
However, there are two major drawbacks:
- The stitch is NOT self-locking
- Stitch direction CANNOT be changed much from one stitch to the next
While neither of those is a deal-breaker, they do make doing anything other than basic sewing kind of a pain.
They do have a purpose though. Here are our sewing machine recommendations for doing a chainstitch:
- JUKI MCS-1500: Amazon
The next stitch was invented to replace the chainstitch…
The lockstitch is the most popular stitch in the world.
It’s performed by most household sewing machines. Industrial single-needle sewing machines also use the lockstitch.
With the lockstitch, two threads are used – one coming from the needle and the other from the bobbin or shuttle.
The sewing machine interlaces the two threads at each needle hole by the bobbin driver.
Because of this simple, yet genius design, the lockstitch can be performed anywhere on the fabric, not just near an edge.
You can find our recommendations here:
- JUKI TL-2010Q: Amazon
3. Overlock Stitch
The overlock stitch, which is also known as the serger stitch, or serging, for short, is formed from multiple threads, needles, and loopers.
Typically, a the overlock stitch is performed by one to four threads, one or two needles, and one or two loopers.
As we mentioned in the beginning of this chapter, overlock machines will cut the fabric as you’re sewing so that your seams are clean and precise.
The overlock stitch is typically used for:
- Garment seams in knit or stretchy fabrics
- Garment seams where the fabric is light enough and doesn’t need to be pressed open
- Protecting edges against raveling
Common overlock machines usually have two to four threads; with the ability to be configured for several varieties of stitches.
You can find our recommendations here:
- JUKI MO-1000: Amazon
The Coverstitch is done by two or more needles and one or two loopers.
Like the aforementioned lockstitch and chainstitch, this awesome stitch can be performed anywhere on the fabric.
It’s formed by manipulating a thread below the material that’s being sewn, forming a bottom cover stitch against the needle threads.
An additional looper above the material can form a top cover stitch simultaneously.
The coverstitch is widely used in garment construction – particularly for attaching trims and flat seaming, where raw edges can be finished in the same operation as forming the seam.
Here’s our recommendations:
- JUKI MF-7923: Amazon
Last on our list…
5. Zigzag Stitch
The zigzag stitch is very similar to the lockstitch. It’s a back and forth stitch that’s used when a straight stitch won’t work.
The zigzag stitch is great for:
- Preventing raveling of a fabric
- Stitching stretchable fabrics
- Temporarily joining two work pieces edge-to-edge
The back and forth motion is created by a component of the sewing machine called a cam.
When the cam rotates, a follower that’s connected to the needle bar, rides along with the cam and tracks the stitch indentations.
When the follower moves in and out, the needle bar is moved side to side.
Older sewing machines cannot natively do the zigzag switch. However, you can usually get an attachment that will enable this.
This isn’t necessarily ideal though. If you’re going to do the zigzag stitch a lot, you should get a machine that can natively do the stitch.
Here’s my recommendations:
- TechSew 20U43: Amazon
Sewing Machines by BRAND
For the final section of this post, let’s take a moment to discuss BRANDS.
The deeper you get into the world of sewing, the more apparent it becomes that virtually ALL of the top sewing machines come from a small group of 5-6 big brands.
Specifically, these here, in no particular order:
- Laura Ashley
Click any of the above links, and what you’ll find is a list of the top sewing machines from each company.
Go through each of these articles and by the end, you will know 95% of the top machines in the sewing industry.
And your chances of making a stupid purchase will be second to none 🙂