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buying my first machine

MlleHouse | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on


I am brand new to sewing (and brand new to the discussion group as well) and am buying my first machine.  Any comments that you can share regarding brands to look for/avoid as well as features that are a must would be appreciated.  I am looking to spend in the $200 range. Thanks!    -MlleHouse

P.S. What are your thoughts on buying a used machine?  I was told by someone that it may be my best bet for getting a great machine at a good price, but I’m hesitant about it.


  1. Jean | | #1

    My first serger was a used machine.  If your dealer will give you some kind of warranty on it--go for it.  Try to buy from someone who also does repairs.  Quite often dealers will have trade-ins on hand from people who just want to upgrade their machines when their older one still works great. Shop around.

    1. MlleHouse | | #2

      Thanks Jean- I appreciate the advice!

  2. BYDEZINE | | #3

    If a machine was well taken care of it could be a great deal.

    as for features don't settle for the minimum: a variety of stitches, a variety of presser feet, stopping in the needle down position, an automatic theader, and a well written manual.

    if you make clothing: a good automatic buttonhole, free arm , a blind hem stitch, stretch stitches for knits, 

    if you quilt : availibility of a walking foot and the ability to handle multiple layers.

    get the best machine you can afford because a good machine can really expand the kind of sewing you can do. oh and congratulations! sewing is a lifetime joy.

  3. jensauer | | #4


    You should also check out "31 Basic Machines and How to Choose One" in Threads issue 102 (aug/sept 2002). We've included a handy chart, which breaks down basic machines into different price ranges. We've also included a web feature at http://www.taunton.com/threads/pages/t00130.asp.


    Jennifer Sauer, Threads

    1. lindamaries | | #5

      I read that article. I know that the writers who have been sewing for a long while probably had trouble being unbiased when they were looking at the lower priced machines. It is so-o-o wonderful to sew on a really fancy machine that when a person goes back to a lower priced machine ---somehow it just doesn't seem as good, even though the lower priced machine would be very good for utility or beginning sewing.

      I've been sewing for a long time now and a couple of years ago I upgraded myself to a fancy kind. I don't know why I never did it sooner. I like to sew so much more now. My new machine runs so much better and just seems like I can make better quality clothing.

      1. carolfresia | | #6

        Linda Maries, I'm one of the authors of the Threads review of basic sewing machines, and in fact, until a few months ago (after the comparison article was researched and written), I used a very basic model myself (a Brother PS 1000, to be exact). It's a mechanical machine, with about 16 stitches, a 4-step buttonhole (no auto-sizer), and that's about it. But I liked it a lot, and in fact upgraded to a computerized machine (not a super-fancy one, either) recently only because, with the amount of sewing I did, I wanted a few more convenience features, in particular the needle up/down button, and an automatic buttonhole stitch. Still, the PS 1000 made a very acceptable buttonhole, and actually handled some tasks slightly more easily (for me) than my newer machine.  

        I've had fun trying out top-of-the-line machines, too, but, for the moment, I'm very happy with my two more basic versions (I haven't gotten rid of the PS 1000--it's a trusted friend by now!). I'd encourage new and seasoned sewers to try out several machines in their price range, and not be frustrated if they can't afford loads of bells and whistles. There are several really good options in the under-$500 range that should work for almost anyone.


        1. bbqbarbie | | #7

          I would love to know what you might suggest for a good machine under or about $500.  I have been sewing for years - mostly home Dec stuff and really hate to spend $800+  on a  machine.  I used the Kenmore for about 20 years but not convinced Kenmore is what it used to be 20 years ago.  Any suggestions?  Thank you.

          1. GinnaS | | #8

            Kenmores are now made by Janome and do seem to be reliable.


          2. bbqbarbie | | #9

            Ginna, do you own a Kenmore?  If so which model?  Or maybe it is the Janome you have.  Can you make a suggestion for me?  Thanks so much!

          3. carolfresia | | #10

            Check out the online comparison chart, and look in the $500 and under category. My favorites in that group were the Huskystar 224, the Kenmore 19157, and the White 2999. If you're willing to try to haggle, you might be able to get a deal in the $500 range on a machine that has a higher suggested retail price, in which case I'd consider the Elna 3007, or the Husqvarna VIking Freesia 415. I also like the Brother PS 1250, which was not included in this review, but is a nice, reliable machine.

            But try to get a dealership to test the machines and see which one you like the feel of. We all have our likes and dislikes regarding the sound of the machine, the position of the controls,etc. etc. Although it's possible to get used to pretty  much anything, there may be things you just can't stand about a particular model, or that you love and know you'd use a lot. Only sewing on the machines will let you find these things out.


          4. GinnaS | | #11

            I own a 15 or so year old Janome/New Home - a MC6000 which is now considered a golden oldie.  I work for Sears selling refrigerators which in my store is right next to the sewing machine area.  None of the men who sell in that area know anything about sewing and since I sew I am often called upon to assist customers. 

            My boss has just given me permission to take home manuals, videos, and CDs so I can learn more about the new machines.  Haven't been able to get him to let me take home the machines yet.  He'll let me work on them in the store but I work on commission only and really need to stay in my department so I can sell refrigerators. 


          5. lin327 | | #12

            Pardon my interrupting here, I have a fifteen year old Kenmore, with the Janome name on the seriail number plate, and it has been my best friend in the world.  It's the thirty stitch model.  It almost reads my mind, and is like an extension of my creativity.  I've put it through he** and back, and it's never given me an ounce of trouble.  I know there are fancier machines out there, but I love my old one! 

        2. ShelleeWA | | #13

          Hi Carol,

          I'm in the market for my first higher end machine... I currently have 3 machines... an old Singer (in a cabinet with a knee press), an old Singer Featherweight (which I love -- but it only goes backwards and forwards) and a 20 year old 10 stitch Kenmore (which I hate).

          Through my research... I've come to the conclusion that I need something that I can "grow" into. Right now, I primarily do quilting, apparel and home decorating type projects... but I want to be able to get into embroidery at some point (sooner rather than later).

          I've looked at the Brother PC-6000 and PC-8500 (NO Disney PLEASE), a variety of Vikings (545, Platinum and drooling over the Designer series), Pfaff 2140, 7570 and 2044, and the Janome 9000 and 10000. I haven't been into the Bernina shop... I probably don't dress "appropriately" enough for that particular shop in the wealthiest part of town!

          I'd like the machine to be easily updateable -- not dependent only on "cards" for new stitches or patterns. Plus some of the newer features -- needle up/down, auto buttonholes, auto thread cutter, etc.

          Do you or anyone else have any strong opinions one way or the other on any of these models or even others I haven't mentioned?

          Do you recommend buying from a dealer (new or used) vs. say on E-bay?

          Any assistance will be greatly appreciated!

          1. daynamay | | #14

            i too am looking for a machine--i have my grandmothers old featherweight--which unfortunately skips stictches but otherwise is a sweet little machine and an 18 yr old white--which never did sew.....now i want to teach my girls to sew and get back into it myself---have looked at the janome 10000, pfaff 2140, viking designer, and babylock ellagio---actually i started at the lower end and worked up to these--each dealer has something different to say--but some say the janome is the best and others cant say anything negative about it---a few dealers who do repairs say the janome never comes in, the babylock does--for boards that go bad and the embroidery attachment goes bad---so says one dealer---the pfaff and the viking seem to be marketed completely separate in my area--so it is hard to get opinions--everyone used to carry pfaff but no longer does......i get the feeling it was a marketing/political decision..... but is not helpful in comparing...cuz when the dealers knock the product you really dont know why!!---also in my travels in teh internet i have found few--but no negative comments about the janome....probs with the babylock and pfaff...one dealer told me the computer stuff on the viking is not interchangable with other lines....dont know if this is true and didnt explore cuz my gut was i didnt want a viking--even though teh ladies were great and it is marketed thru joanne's fabrics here....try sewingworld.com--its a great site too!!--good luck--i hope someone who owns these machines will write us back too

          2. Tish | | #15

            Dear d,

            I have my mother's featherweight, and it barely runs.  However, these machines are very fixable.  It is really worth it to take it to a reputable repair shop and have it reconditioned.  The featherweights are legendary and very collectable. 

            I would never sell mine.  My mother bought it for herself when she first started teaching and until I was about 16 or 17, all my clothes were made on it, even heavy winter coats!  But I'm going to have it reconditioned.  Just knowing that I have it and it works is wonderful.  My father bought a reconditioned featherweight for my sister in the last seventies and my mother gave me hers when I was expecting my first baby-over twenty years ago.

            Treasure that featherweight!  Tish

          3. daynamay | | #17

            my featherweight too is dear to my heart and i would never get rid of it even if it doesnt work--cuz--yes it sewed all my clothes growing up...i sould probably try again to get it fixed.

          4. carolfresia | | #16

            D, Are you interested in simply sewing and teaching your kids to sew, or are you committed to getting into machine embroidery as well? Because you can get a really great sewing-only machine for much less than the high-end combination machines you're discussing, and it would be a lot more straightforward as a teaching tool. If you're ambivalent about embroidery, make sure you don't let a dealer talk you into something that you don't need or want. You can always upgrade later; good dealers will even offer very nice trade-in options (some will give you your entire purchase price back if you upgrade within a year of the original purchase--you can't sneeze at that!).

            That said, I know a number of people who have used and liked all the machines you mentioned. Test-drive them, and also consider which dealer you think you're going to want to work with in the future.


          5. daynamay | | #18

            thanks for the food for thought--i guess my interest in sewing starts at that sweet little featherwieght and then skips up to the top of the line--any machine in between doesn't entice me more than that little basic machine--okay automatic button holes ARE nice!!--but beyond that all those decorative stitches dont do much for me unless you can create something really cool --and that takes me right up to the embroidery machine-my personality is to do it once, top of the line and then work with it---i'm not saying that it is the most rational approach--i must say i didnt knwo that you could trade up that way --my husband does this all the time with his tropical fish hobby--the tanks come and go ,up and down, equipment gets used traded sold and upgraded---he has a great time--thinks he's getting great deals---i suppose i should think about that...thx for your note--it was really helpful to think this thru--d

          6. ShelleeWA | | #19

            Sounds like you've been doing the same research I have... :)

            I've pretty much ruled out a Viking Designer 1. I don't like the fact that a $6000 machine still uses a FLOPPY disk... old, old, OLD technology. Plus I have used a Viking Lily a few times in different classes -- and wasn't impressed with the way it handled changes in layers of fabric -- my old singer featherweight does a better job!

            I absolutely LOVE the Pfaff 2140... but can't justify spending $6000 on a machine just yet... too busy with work and family. Need to be able to get some ROI (return on investment) by selling my services with that kind of machine. Have been watching the ones for sale on e-Bay... stupidly, I let the $3500 one get away. If you are looking for a FAST high end embroidery/sewing machine -- this is a great machine... approaches 1000 stitches per minute doing embroidery. The rest (including Janome) are 800 or 900.

            Pfaff 7570 is another on the trade-in market -- it was the Pfaff top of the line until the 2140 came out this year. A Viking/Pfaff heirloom sewer tells me that the Pfaff stitching is more 'filled in' than the Viking and does a great job.

            Bernina 180E -- just don't like the 'user interface'... those little, tiny buttons don't make any sense at all.

            Janome 10000 -- Doesn't have the reputation that the others have... BUT I love the fact that you can update this machine with either a USB connection of ATA PC Card -- FAST, FAST, FAST. Janome has that one right for sure. I wish I knew more about the reliability of this one!

            Elna -- I haven't even looked at... anyone else want to weigh in on this one?

            I also looked at the PC8500 and ULT2003 (Babylock Ellagio's twin). I wasn't overly enthused from a sewing perspective -- but the embroidery capabilities are out of this world!

            Right now -- I have an old Singer Featherweight (dates from the late 40's) that I wouldn't trade for the world. This is the machine you should teach your daughters on!! (Save the computerized/high end one for your own fun until they have learned for awhile!!) Fix that Featherweight -- you won't regret it.

            I also have another old singer (in a cabinet) that I will probably loan to a friend. And last... I have a 20+ year old Kenmore 10 Stitch that I hate... it has never worked right. I recently started sewing avidly again... and need a new machine that gives me what I need now and allows room for growth.

            Carol Freesia also suggested buying 2 machines -- one for sewing and another for embroidery... because WHAT will you do when the embroidery machine is tied up for HOURS? :) Still looking into that idea!

            Good luck to you D... Anyone else with opinions?

            Happy Holidays to you all!

          7. daynamay | | #20

            hadnt thougth about the embroidery machine being tied up doing its thing.....fixing the featherweight looks better and better--maybe a different repair man can make it stop skipping stitches....

            i have the same thoughts on the viking, ...the pfaff i didnt like the feel of as much as the janome...and teh different dealers/repair people say they have trouble with it but i dont know if thats a line or really true

            it s a good idea to teach the girls on the featherweight --i pulled it out tonight --just have to get it serviced

            thx for your thought d

          8. daynamay | | #21

            ps what did you think about the sewing/embroid of the janome vs pfaff??  the repair people also say the janome's never come back for probs-----again--is that really true?? the one guy said the babylocks blow boards....and pointed out the connection of the embroidery arm--very small and loose and is connected to a board in the arm---which breaks cuz of the loose design---so he says.....makes sense ---but is it true??!!

            good luck to you too---its fun to shop for machines isn't it!! d

          9. ShelleeWA | | #22

            One of the biggest selling points of the Pfaff 7570 and 2140 is the IDT -- integrated dual feed -- big PLUS for quilting -- no additional "walking foot" needed. I have been obsessive about quilting... and have also heard it's a great feature if you work with higher loft material such as fleece (something else I'm interested in working with).

            Another thing not to ignore about any machine -- the drop in bobbin vs. verticle. I love the idea of a drop in bobbin -- but some "extreme" sewers pointed out that if you ever need to adjust the bobbin tension (some forms of embroidery require this) -- you can't do it with the drop-in bobbin machines.

            A disadvantage for Janome (in my book) is the area to the right of the needle -- it didn't have as much as the Pfaff... another must have for quilters... we need our SPACE...

            Janome 10000 has the makings of a wonderful machine -- you just need to decide what works best for your own needs. Sometimes it comes right down to pricing as well... the owner of the Pfaff/Babylock dealership where I live said that is much of the reason that some people have selected the Babylock Ellageo over the Pfaff 2140.

            Definitely get your featherweight fixed -- even if you decide not to keep it -- they are going for quite a nice $$$ on the resale market.

          10. daynamay | | #23

            thx shellee!--my husband wants me to go buy a machine this weekend----cuz he wants me to have it --very nice--but i must get thru the xmas card stamping with the kids, and the cookies for teachers and neighbors, and misc gifts---and then....sounds like i should go back and look at the pfaff and janome again--the pfaff lady made a big point about the vertical bobbin--she said the drop in's heat up and break---didn't say anything about the tension however--verrry interresting...should bring some fleece to both plces --cuz kids love fleece--gotta  be able to sew that.....thx for your thoughts--happy holidays.....d

          11. ShelleeWA | | #24

            I am happy to report that I will have a Pfaff 2140 as a Christmas present... managed to find one used at a decent price! I'm so excited!!

            Happy Holidays to you and yours as well... maybe NOW I can get down to the serious business of getting ready (for real) for the holidays... instead of obsessing about which machine would work for me!


          12. daynamay | | #25

            copngratulations!!--that's soo exciting!!--i cant see beyond the xmas lists and decos to take that final look at machines....the sat after xmas is the big day for me----have o get to try the pfaff again before that--maybe tomorrow right after work.....enjoy!! d

          13. daynamay | | #27

            wellll---i bought the janome10000--so far so good--ladies at the shop seem to know what they are doing---the only ones in the area that seem to know janome....made my first teddy bear--a little pulling but i'm sure that's cuz i dont have the technique down.... hope all is well with your pfaff!! love d

          14. ShelleeWA | | #28

            Congrats on your Janome 10000! What made you choose the Janome over other machines? (Just curious...)

            My Pfaff 2140 is great -- sews through ANYTHING. Made a flannel nightgown for a friend as a Christmas gift... and the machine sewed through 5 and 6 layers of heavy flannel without a glitch. Used some of the decorative stitches on the nightgown too -- they are so NICE.

            I haven't tried the embroidery capabilities yet -- ordered some thread today... so that will happen soon!

            Happy New Year!

          15. daynamay | | #29

            hi shellee--just liked the way it felt to sew on it ---from the moment i sewed on it...--and liked the built in embroidery attachment--guess i traded that for the built in walking foot.....  liked the reliablility that multiple sources said it had... and found a knowledgable dealer--ok she's 45 minutes away --but she's great on the phone too ...so it was a trade off--have been fighting with the computers so havent gotten to sewon it as much as i would like--have to get the serious error messages showing up on my computer  fixed tomorrow so i can hook something up to the machine and experimetn!! enjoy your new machine!!

          16. daynamay | | #30

            ps a whole selection of embroidery thread came with the machine so thats the first thing we did--that was very cool!!there is a technique to it though so thats the next step--some folks on the web suggested getting a whole spool of cheap embroidery thread and just practicing techniques --over and over they said....

          17. elderdk | | #31

            I have my second Elna - an Exquisit which I have really enjoyed.

            I have also just bought  my second serger from Elna.

            I also have an old Viking that I have loved.   I only looked at Viking & Elna.  I chose Elna because of the dealership.  They have always helped me whenever I needed it and I want to see them stay in business.  I think the dealership is the most important part of the purchase.  Of course, you have to like the machine but what good is it if you can't depend on the dealer.

            Good Luck!

          18. Francie | | #26

            Personally I would stick w/ a delaer - you get usually free classes, and phone help etc.     I have a Bernina, and can update stitches from web - mine is a 170QPE, which is no longermade - believe me, I don't fit in the "wealthy" bracket, but the Bernina's are in same price range as Vikings -

            I am very satidsfied w/ my 170 , but Bernina also has lower priced machine w/ embroidery units etc - the 165 is a new one. 

            Check out Bernina - and where you sweats and sneaks - that's how I shop at the one I frequant.


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