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Conversational Threads

Looking for cheap starter sewing machine

Nammymom | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

Hello everyone,

I’m new to this site, and not a sewer yet…  I’m looking for your advice about buying a basic, inexpensive sewing machine.  This is something I want to learn, but at this point I’m not sure how much sewing I’ll be doing so I don’t want to spend several hundred dollars or more.  I looked at some of the posts, which are great, but a little (OK, a lot!) over my head.

Can you recommend a decent starter machine up to say $200?

What I’d like to sew eventually are simple nursing dresses, pants, babyclothes, teddybear plus bear clothes.  Don’t think at this point that I’ll get into quilting or embroidery much.  I realize mine are lofty goals.  Part of my desire to learn sewing is that there are too many gorgeous fabrics, and I daydream of wearing them.  Also, nursing dresses are pretty spendy and I plan on having lots of kids and nursing years.  There, that’s my true motivation!





  1. moushka | | #1

    Nammymom, If you're not sure how much sewing you'll be doing, look into buying a used machine. You will get more machine for the money. An older Bernina, Viking/Husqvarna or Pfaff will give you superior stitch quality at a lower price. Lower-priced or older models will probably not have a lot of fancy stitches or automatic buttonholes, but will give you a chance to see if you like sewing enough to upgrade.  

    If you are set on new, check out the on-line Threads article on buying a basic machine. You can download a chart of thirty-odd basic machines that the Threads editors tested last year. Janome makes several good basic machines (nayy). If you are planning on sewing small items like soft toys, the one feature I think you need is called "needle up/down." It allows the needle to stop in the fabric when you lift your foot from the peddle so that you can pivot or re-adjust the fabric without manually turning the fly wheel - a big timesaver. Also, check out http://www.patternreview.com  for lots of machine reviews. $200 is a bit low for a good quality item. A more realistic budget would be $300-$500. You can always re-sell a good machine but you won't be able to give away a clunker!

    As you are new to sewing, you might find that "buying the dealer" is worthwhile. Visit your local sewing stores and see how you feel about the quality of both the merchandise and the people who own and run each store. A good dealer wants you as a lifetime customer and will offer lessons and warranties on her sales.  Even if you are looking for a used machine, which you will pay more for through a dealer, it may be worth it for the advice and support a good dealer can provide. Sewing is a great hobby. You're right about all the fabulous fabrics available! Don't ruin your first sewing experiences by buying a cheap new machine that disappoints or frustrates you very quickly.  Have fun and let us know how you make out.


    1. Nammymom | | #3

      Hello Moushka,

      Thank you so much for your tips.  With all your experience, I trust you're right.  Sounds like my best bet is to spend some time at the dealer.   Boy, it's just that even $300 is a lot of money to dump into a new hobby you may or may not like that much.   I appreciate your tip on what to look for.  As a novice, I usually just tend to go for the most features for the least amount of money.  Common sense tells me that there are probably features I'll need, and others I won't a whole lot.

      Thanks again,Nammymom

      1. Bernie1 | | #4

        Have you thought of just taking a sewing class to see how you like it? Most fabric stores offer them and it gives you a chance to test drive machines. I know G Street in Rockville, Md has a huge selection as most fabric stores do. They have big sales when they are getting rid of their older machines so you can usually pick one up cheap. It also gives you a chance to try out different models and talk to folks about what they like and don't like. If you take a few basic classes you'll get a good sense of whether it's a hobby you want to pursue. Also check out sewing expos in your area. Another option is to contact your nearest chapter of the American Sewing Guild to see whether a member can give you private lessons if you don't have a store that does them.

      2. carolfresia | | #5

        I recently found out that it can cost upwards of $10 just to have a pair of pants shortened at a tailoring/alterations shop. If you, like me, shorten a lot of pants, you can justify the cost of a $300 machine in about 3 years (and think of Halloween costumes, minor repairs, etc.). Now, I personally never really thought about the savings aspect of sewing (since I admit I spend more money on fabric than I really ought to), but at least the price of my  machines is covered!


        1. Jean | | #6

          Oooo, I like the way you think!! LOL

    2. Nammymom | | #7


      I've looked at different machines at different dealers.  My 2 top contenders at this point are a (factory refurbished) Pfaff Hobby 1040 and a (new) Janome 419S.  They are both available for $300, which is my budget limit.   The features seem fairly similar, both come with 1 step buttonhole, a hard case, various stitches & overcast.   The Janome has a metal/aluminum frame.  The Pfaff had, I think, slightly more feet that came with it.  The Pfaff tells you what stitch width/length you need.  The Janome has a slightly higher presser foot (allows for thicker fabric).

      Which one should I buy?

      My main project goal is garment construction (dresses, pants, pajamas, skirts), and I'd like to be able to make nicer clothes, too, so a blind hem and such might be helpful.

      Any thoughts?

      Some other machines I looked at were the Elna 2110 and the Viking Huskystar.  They're all about in the same price range.  I guess they're all made in Taiwan in that price range.

      Thanks for your help!

      1. edgy | | #8


        Pfaff and Viking are solid and dependable -- don't know abt Janome, but have heard a lot of people happy w them.

        Go to the Threads magazine homepage and I think they have the SM comparison article on there.

        And why not take a sewing class? I think that's a great idea?


      2. moushka | | #9

        I bought my daughter a Pfaff 1040 about two years ago. She hasn't used it very often (costumes and mending mostly) but my mom sewed her a dress when she was last visiting and said what a great little machine it was. It was one of the last machines made before Pfaff was bought out by Husqvarna (Viking).

        Questions: What kind of dealer support are you getting? Have you looked at the manual that comes with each machine? Have you tried sewing on either one?  You might just like the feel of one over the other.  Any lessons? Do you now anyone who has dealt with the dealer before? Reputations are very important in this business.

        I'd probably get the Pfaff (the extra height under the presser foot will come in handy, ditto the extra feet, and I think it has a few more stitches) IF you're also getting dealer support and a warranty of some kind (at least ninety days). I don't know what kind of warranty is given on refurbished machines. Otherwise, I'd go with the Janome (and check out its warranty).  Ask the dealer what kind of a trade-in amount he can give you against both machines in case you decide you love sewing and want to trade up within six months or a year ;-) HTH

        1. Nammymom | | #10


          Thank you!  That was so helpful!  There's dealer support with free lessons on both.  And I got a slightly better feeling from the Pfaff-lady, she really took her time whereas the guy selling the Janome was attentive but quick.  The Pfaff supposedly still comes with the full warranty.  I'm so glad to hear you know about this particular model!  I hadn't even thought about asking re: trade-in value.

          Thank you again, I really appreciate your help!


          1. moushka | | #11

            I've always regretted it when I didn't follow my gut instincts :-)  You want to be comfortable asking questions, not feeling you're taking up time from someone who'd rather be doing something else!

            I paid around Cdn$560, but that included value added tax (VAT) of 17% in Luxembourg, and our dollar was at about $0.65 U.S.

            Good luck with your purchase. My mom is very picky. If she liked the machine, then I'm sure it will serve you well.  Glad I could help,


  2. moushka | | #2

    There's a good discussion further down on "bought a mechanical" that will give you suggestions on a used machine. As an experienced (thirty years) seamstress, I agree with their comments. HTH.

  3. Dianne | | #12

    Hi!  I fully understand your dilema.  You might find a good deal on used machines at your local sewing machine dealer.  I have upgraded several times & always trade up.  While a lot of the retailers do not take trades, look around for one that does or call around to sewing machine repair shops.  And don't be shy, ask them where they would go to buy a used sewing machine, & where they wouldn't go & why...  Some will be reluctant to talk to you, but just go on to the next place and persevere.  I live in southeastern PA near the Amish/Mennonite area.  I shop at Hinkletown Sewing Shop, who is a sewing machine repair shop and a Bernina dealer.  They take trades (all kinds) and I think have a "wish list" of those customers who are wanting something not yet available.  You might find the same services at the smaller repair shops in your area.  And there is always the classified ads in the local paper.  Ask the person why they are selling it.  Shop around enough to know if the asking price is fair and take along an experienced sewer to help you confirm the quality of the machine.  If unsure if it's a fair price, call a shop & ask for their ballpark price quote for the machine you are thinking of buying, remembering that their price will have been fully serviced.   An older basic good quality used machine for $200 is a better buy than a brand new $200 machine.  A good quality machine, well cared for, will last a lifetime.  And don't forget, you can upgrade as often as the budget yields a few dollars!.  Good luck & happy hunting.   Dianne

    1. Nammymom | | #13

      Hi Dianne,

      Thanks for your advice!  Yes, I hear you, a solid used machine might be a better deal than a cheap new one.  As it happens, I have the opportunity to buy an old Singer 99K for $60.  It seems to come with a lot of accessories, but since the seller doesn't sew himself he can't tell me much about the machine.  He was kidn enough to email me some model #s and such from the machine, but I don't know where to go with them.  I forwarded all the info to Singer's customer service, but haven't heard from them in about a week.  I don't know enough about testing the machine myself.  It is beautiful, looks kind of antique-ish.  The seller is about 1.5 hours driving distance away.

      The Pfaff 1040 I was planning to buy supposedly is only available for $300 today, and I won't be able to leave the house with the baby (sorry bout the italics, baby's typing, too).  I wonder if the "sale price" expiration date is a dealer gimmick.  Oh well.  They would let me trade in, but I don't know for how much.  Once I buy a machine, I can take it back, but only for store credit (not get money back).

      If anyone is willing to look at pics of the Singer 99K, would you email me ([email protected])  and give me your thoughts? 

      Thanks for all your help!

    2. Nammymom | | #14

      OK, the old Singer was apparently manufactured 9-24-1952, in Kilbowie, Scotland.  Would a 50 yr old machine still sew OK? 

      1. edgy | | #15

        Are you hunting on eBay? If so, be very, very careful. I followed the machine I wanted for 2 yrs on there until I felt really good abt price, accesories, and then tried to establish an email rel'ship w the seller.

        Ignore any "good for one day only" types. That's just hooey, as I think you already know.


      2. Dianne | | #16

        If it has been given lots of TLC, it will just keep on sewing for that long & many more years.  That was back when Singer was a good machine.  But nothing will tell you as much as putting your foot on the petal.  How does it sound?  Nice hum with no clanky metal hitting metal sounds?  With lots of accessories, at the price of only $60, it sounds right - even if you have to treat it to a cleaning & tune up!  Does it do what you want it to do?  Does it zig-zag?  Back then accessories covered the nice things that are now built in to a machine.  And who knows, maybe he will even take $50.  Almost sound like this may have been a family machine used by someone no longer around...   Happy hunting!

      3. moushka | | #17

        What is the voltage on the Singer? The United Kingdom is 220, not 110 like here. Make sure that you can use it here without a converter. They are bulky and expensive.

        If you are planning on sewing knits or Lycra blends, I'd suggest you think long and hard about buying a very old machine. While it could serve you well on wovens, it won't have been configured to sew on stretch fabrics. They weren't available when it was made. If you decide you do like sewing, you'll be going through this process again waaaaay too soon! I love my Elna SU (TOL from 1974) but even it doesn't like polyester threads in dark colours as much as it likes cotton.  And it won't take wooly nylon in the bobbin at all (WN is often recommended for twin-needle hemming on knits and swimsuit fabric). In fact, I'm currently looking for an inexpensive modern machine that will function well with the wooly nylon as I sew knits a lot.  HTH.

        1. DianaB | | #18

          I have an old Singer 99k.It is a good little machine,but I don't think you would be happy with it.It only does a straight stitch,no zigzag,no buttonhole.It does do a great straight stitch and is a solid reliable machine even at fifty years old.I think mine was made in England,too,but some were made to be made to be exported to the US so they do work on our electrical current. I bought it just to play with and don't use it as my main machine.


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