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Sewing Machine Recommendations?

LoraMoser | Posted in New to Sewing on

Hey All,

I’ve never owned a sewing machine. Recently, I’ve wanted to take on a few projects that really required fabric work to make life happier. I’m looking at things like canvas work, straps and buckles, etc… I like to build with a lot of other materials, so I could see myself getting into fabrics as well.

Knowing nothing, I decided to go chat up ladies at JoAnn Fabrics. It took the sewing machine lady about 15 seconds to tell me which model I wanted, I had barely opened my mouth. she said the Husquavarna Viking Emerald 118 was the most popular model bought by men. She claimed it was simple, robust, could sew through 6 layers of denim, and would be just fine for canvas, webbing, camping gear, etc…

So, it has an attractive price point, and it is almost impossible to find a used one (I generally think that is a good sign for a product). The question is, does anyone think this is a good choice? Why or why not? I’ve also read review of sewing machines, someone have experience with anything from the list represented here https://sewingland.org/best-sewing-machine-for-leather/?

As a side note, when I reached out to my group of “car guy” friends, I discovered that I was the only one without a sewing machine. Five of them had at least 2 each. Two of them had bought other machines on Craigslist then gave up on trying to get them working and bought the same model I’m looking at for sewing seat upholstery and similar items. Certainly that speaks strongly for the machine, but I like to investigate before spending $500.

Please share your experiences and opinions.



  1. Marsha428 | | #1

    I would suggest you go into a dealer specializing in sewing machines. You may pay slightly more but they can offer you a variety of sewing experiences on a variety of machines. It always comes down to personal preferences.

    1. Sedary | | #7

      You will need a sewing machine with a larger motor than one for home sewing and, also, preferably one with a clutch. A clutch allows the machine to reach full power and even the first stitch is powerful enough to punch a needle through many layers of canvas, material, or heavier weight leather. Look elsewhere.

  2. user-7322519 | | #2

    Maybe you could try out the machines that your buddies have.
    I think older Janome models that are the heavy duty household type are great. They are mechanical and can handle tougher jobs like vinyl and canvas. I have a Decor Excel 5018 and it is a solid little machine. It is about 15 years old. I’ve heard if you do lots of heavy stuff it’s better to go with an industrial because the motors are stronger. I have a computerized machine too but I’ll never sell the Janome.
    With many products lately, I believe quality has gone down as retailers try to keep profits steady and prices reasonable and so I’d check things out on the used market.
    Not all used machines are hard to fix. Janome and Bernina have made mechanical ones that are great. The Decor Excel and the Bernina Record are two that I know. A Singer or a Kenmore I think I’d avoid, same with older computerized models from any manufacturer.
    I say look for a second hand mechanical machine, a little older, which is simple to run, and has parts readily available. If you end up sewing a lot you could always upgrade to something that suits where you are at that time.
    I like sewing.patternreview.com. There are good reviews on a lot of machines, old and new. Fun to read too.

  3. user-4677682 | | #3

    Always buy from an authorized dealer. The big box stores don't give classes on the machines they sell, they don't service the machines in house and their machines may or may not be the same as those sold by dealers. The big boxers aim for a price point. Before buying from JoAnn's ask them about classes and service.

  4. Sedary | | #4

    If you wish to go through several layers of upholstery or canvas up front and have the machine be able to punch the needle through all the layers, you will need an industrial machine that has the capability to have the power up front. Those will have a clutch. I'm not familiar with the brand you mention. I'm more familiar with Juki or Sailrite's machines because I looked into them for my own similar use. An old treadle sewing machine converted to hand crank use can do the same thing so far as going through all the layers at the beginning. One of the old Kenmore machines dating back to 1971 or before, the last year they were made with all metal parts and no plastic gears in them, can handle the job but you have to hand start the seam. They don't have the power to punch through all the layers at the start. They don't have a large enough motor. Forget any of the newer home use ones such as Janome 3000HD or Singer's Heavy Duty. They all have plastic gears inside. I even had dealers beat around the bush and not be totally honest with me when I was looking and asking, except for one.

    1. user-7669417 | | #21

      i agree. an industrilal machine has the strength and power for heavier fabrics. i own and have owned a couple of kenmores; even my little rosie (158.104) was able to sew thru heavy fabrics. all metal gears. if you want to risk it go to shopgoodwill.com. they have alot of used sewing machines (including kenmores). i have had good success there. that being said, the right needle for the right job is important too.

  5. User avater
    barakasews | | #5

    Definitely go to an authorized dealer. While Joann's is a great place to stock up on notions and such, I rarely buy fabric. They focus more on the quilting sewers and other crafts, and often the people working there don't have much sewing experience.

    At a dealer you'll get the chance to try the machine for yourself, you'll get support, access to quality service and repair, expert advice - often by phone in the middle of a project you're stuck on! - and the knowledge that you can trade up to the next level when you're ready. You can often find a used machine that someone else has traded in and you'll know you're getting the best.

    Especially if you're looking for heavy-duty sewing success, a dealer is absolutely your best bet.

    1. user-6921865 | | #9

      Hi. Most retail dealers don't sell industrial machines (I asked all the local ones in a 50 mile range for one that sews leather).

      Like you, when I searched I did read a post similar to the one in the link then searched all over inckuding on ebay and Craigslist. I ended up buying a Sailrite directly from the company during their annual October sale. I chose a Sailrite because their used value is high/almost full price. They have several different models.

      Also note that some of those machines are the same model just with a different brand name.

      1. Sedary | | #10

        Yes, I did mention that brand in my first reply but it was tagged for moderation. I never saw it appear so figured brand names weren't allowed in the answers. I do think that would be a better option for her.

  6. Sedary | | #6

    I am not familiar with the machine you are mentioning and, although I did look at the link you listed, I didn't see a machine that will really do what you are wanting it to to simply because, being designed for household use, their motors do not have enough power to drive the needle through thick layers up front - unless those layers are very thin. Many of the new ones do have plastic gears. Threads is not allowing my original comment to post because I did mention a couple of brands I thought would work for you. You are on the same journey I was on last year after my faithful sewing machine for years shattered its plastic gears when asked to go through about five layers of denim. I did settle on a sewing machine made in the early 1970's that was the last one made by that brand having all metal parts. It can definitely handle the layers but, having only a 1.5 Amp motor, a beginning seam has to be hand started. If you seriously wish to sew such things a upholstery, leather and layers of canvas, what you need to look for is a commercial machine and not a "heavy duty" for home sewing as some of those listed on that site, a site I also ran across in my search. The commercial machines have a must more powerful motor and also a clutch you touch with your knee that instantly gives you beginning sewing power to drive a needle through layers of material, no matter what the material is, be it car upholstery, leather, or canvas. I'm sorry I can't be specific. The site isn't letting me be. Look under a search for sailing or awning supplies for sewing machines. You will not find what you would really want at a shop that sells sewing machines for dressmaking and I even had a dealer give me the run-around when specifically asked if the mechanical (as opposed to digital) Heavy Duty machine I was looking at had plastic gears. I finally got a truthful answer out of a repairman who also sells. He told me all of the newer machines for home use do.

  7. user-7635185 | | #8

    As someone who owns quite a few Viking machines, it's very likely that you did talk to an authorized dealer as Viking has dealerships set up in the JoAnn superstores and they are a separate entity with their own employees.. All but one of my machines was purchased from a dealer inside JoAnn and I have always had all the support and access to the services that are mentioned (and make no mistake, they are important!) I also have taken plenty of classes there and when it comes time for my machines to be serviced, that's where they go.

    That being said, I think given the type of sewing that you would like to do, it would be a really good idea to take in some typical materials that you'd be using and try them out on the Emerald and see how it handles them and if you are comfortable with how it operates. There's nothing more frustrating than trying to get a machine to do what you want and it can't, so test-driving before buying is a must. It wouldn't hurt to check out out other brands of sewing machines if you have access to other dealerships in your area before making your final decision.

    1. user-7805155 | | #24

      Just be sure that the Viking set up inside Joann’s is really an independent dealer. More and more of them are corporate (Viking) owned. That not a problem until it comes to service. They don’t have local service and will likely send your machine away or refer you to a local dealer anyway.

    2. user-7815872 | | #32

      I agree wholeheartedly! I am a lifelong Husqvarna Viking owner. I just gave my first machine to my daughter, when I received my second machine as a Christmas gift. My first machine is nearly 40 years old and still works great. Everything is metal, so it handles heavy duty fabrics, as well as lightweight.

  8. majid_1 | | #11

    You can get good sewing machines for leather from amazon. A lot of people have given positive feedback on product from amazon. You can consult the product review before purchasing.

  9. susansj | | #12

    When you go to test a sewing machine, take samples of the kinds of fabrics you want to sew and test sew them on the demo machines.

  10. johnvicks | | #13

    You will need a sewing machine with a larger motor than one for home sewing and, also, preferably one with a clutch. A clutch allows the machine to reach full power and even the first stitch is powerful enough to punch a needle through many layers of canvas, material, or heavier weight leather. Look elsewhere.

  11. denise40296 | | #14

    FYI. Some authorized dealers for the EMERALD model are located inside Joann stores. They are a separate business, even ringing up purchases separately. I frequent two of them in my area of Virginia, Charlottesville and Fredericksburg. The employees at both sites are extremely knowledgeable, always helpful, full of tips, do training, and help troubleshoot problems whether by phone or in-person.

  12. User avater
    msarANG | | #15

    The best advice i can share, is to always buy from authorized dealer. It may cost a little bit expensive but it's worth it.

  13. user-7702071 | | #16

    If there is a Tandy Leather or other leather working company nearby you might check the leather sewing machine they carry. Also might talk with shoe repair (old type) people about your projects as they used to often do small seat cushion repair, belts, leather garments as well as shoes! Then could talk to shops dealing with heavy drapery or other heavy material. Might talk with old car buffs and ask about who they know that does car seats, etc. Just some off-the-wall thoughts from an old man whose been interested in all types of things. Rich

  14. AnnaRae | | #17

    Having used various sewing machines and having taught beginners, I would seriously consider and study the front-loading versus the horizontal bobbin mechanism.. Front-loding bobbins can be trickier.

  15. kayenhere | | #18

    the best is always from authorized dealer because thy give the best they have.I was facing the same issue i visited https://ninjamerchstore.com/ so you can also visit that.Thanks

  16. degasdancer | | #19

    Get a machine made for leather. Anything else will tear apart. If you want to test out a couple of small projects with apparel weight leather, go to a pawn shop and buy a ‘70s-80s Kenmore for $30.

  17. JohninKent | | #20

    I have been sewing professionally since the 80’s, and have bought and used nearly every type of machine available. The straight poop on the proper type of machine for sewing heavy materials and multiple layers is to get a walking foot machine. These are the type used for sewing leather. You can get old used Singer walking foot models for $200-$500, depending on condition. You can buy used Juki models for $1000, a little more money but well worth it. Nearly all auto upholstery shops swear by Pfaff walking foots, and you can get them used for $1,200 and up. Again, pricey, but well worth it. I’ve purchased all my industrial machines either through friends in the business, Craigslist, and recently, on OfferUp. You can also try a local industrial sewing machine shop that repairs and sells machines, but they tend to over price their machines. Decide what level you want to enter the market, research what machines are in your local area, and bring materials and fabric to test out any machines you are interested in. Finally, find a local sewing machine mechanic that knows how to tune up and repair industrial sewing machines.

  18. Betty_Jo_Tatum | | #22

    Berninas will sew through almost anything and have really good feet. The feet make a big difference in how easy you can do something. I would never buy a sewing machine from Joanne fabrics, especially for heavy duty sewing like you describe. I suggest one of the mid-level Berninas. Be prepared to pay between 1500 and 3000 dollars to get an adequate machine. I also believe Baby Lock and Janomes are pretty good machines. There are good Brothers, but it is their higher end machines and when you get to that level they are very expensive. The lower end Brothers would not, in my opinion, do the job.

    1. Deleted | | #35


  19. Luxwayz | | #23

    If you want to test out a couple of small projects with apparel weight leather, go to a pawn shop and buy a ‘70s-80s Kenmore for $30.

  20. User avater
    dr_christopher | | #25

    Your search for the best sewing machine for beginners will probably consume a lot of time. Also, the internet is full of fake reviews which will keep misleading you until you end up buying a machine that won’t serve your purpose fully.

    If you want to learn sewing skills then you can take this beginner's level Brother CS6000i sewing machine(https://sewingoptimizer.com/best-sewing-machine-reviews/#Best_Sewing_Machine_for_Beginners_Review). It's cost-effective & user friendly to use.

  21. mernab | | #26

    My experience from 20-years ago. I went into a dealer looking for a new machine. I told him what I had (1960 Singer slant needle, with build-in stiching, no cams) he asked me what I sewed and a few other questions. He then told me that unless I was willing to spend 2K he wouldn't sell me a machine. I wouldn't be happy with a new one and it wouldn't do what my machine does now. Instead I bought a reasonable serger and it's worked out great. I alway say go to a good dealer, they'll be honest with you and keep your machine in top condition. When you add lessons and often free it just increases the value.

  22. JamesDavid | | #27

    I would recommend to start with brother machine for sewing. It's easy to use and they have lots of cheaper option for sewing. You can check different sewing machine brands options that suits your budget from Embroidery Machine for sewing

    1. michelbory | | #31

      I’ve sewn lightweight leather on my Bernina Artista with no problem but I do understand that one would need an industrial machine for anything heavy.
      I would steer clear of present day Singers as they can be very variable although I have heard good reports of the Heavy Duty. If you are buying a machine please use your local dealer or they and their knowledge will disappear and there will be nowhere to have machines serviced. Here I would like to share a link you might find it helpful for choosing an industrial sewing machine.

  23. sewingempire | | #28

    I am using Janome 3160QDC. It is the best sewing machine for leather so far. i am very much satisfied with it.

  24. Qjillzeta | | #29

    I have a mechanical Kenmore from the 1970s. I bought another Kenmore from the same era (portable) for $25.00 at a thrift shop. It had the original 25 year warranty sticker on it. The old Kenmores sew through anything. I agree with the Janome recommendations as a lot of them are heavy machines like the old Kenmores. Most of sewing is done with a straight stitch and a plain zig zag stitch. A heavy machine with basic stitches is probably what you need.

  25. michelbory | | #30

    Well, I have my own experience with two sewing machines. I just loved these sewing machines and have never faced a big issue regarding these machines. Brother CS6000i and Bernette 70 Deco. Bernette 70 Deco is a high-priced sewing machine but it is more worthy than CS6000i from Brother.
    In short, I love both of these machines and recommend you too.

  26. squidpearantfly | | #33

    Thanks for the answers and I was interested in this question. I am a beginner so I am currently gathering all the information. Thanks

  27. user-7907503 | | #34

    A little late to the discussion, if it helps I have a brother cs6000i. It was initially bought for the quilting accessories and capabilities, however I have found it is really versatile, especially for a beginner (like myself) it’s really easy to use and maintain and already comes with all sorts of feet, including a zipper foot, hem foot, walking foot, free quilt foot, ect. It also comes with about 40 stitch configurations. I haven’t found anything I can’t do with it yet except long arm. It also only cost about $240. I’ve ran this thing hard since about may making quilts and clothing now and no issues.

  28. squidpearantfly | | #36

    Thanks for good recommendations, guys :)

  29. Quiltsmamas | | #37

    Hi Lora,

    It's great you're diving into fabric work! The Husqvarna Viking Emerald 118 is a solid choice, especially for heavy-duty projects like canvas and webbing. However, I also recommend looking at the Janome Gem Gold. It's robust and versatile, capable of handling multiple layers of fabric with ease. Plus, it's user-friendly for beginners.

    I've found the Janome Gem Gold reliable and straightforward, making it ideal for your needs. For more details and to make a purchase, check it out on Sewingmachinesplus here - https://shrsl.com/4l5rp . It’s always good to compare, and this could be a perfect fit for your projects.

    Happy sewing!

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