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What’s the best basic sewing machine?

cherron | Posted in Equipment and Supplies on

I’m a man and don’t sew much but once in a while I need to. I’ve had sewing machines in the past and borrowed from friends but I find them hard to thread and liable to tangles and clumps of thread while sewing. The user manuals (when I can find one) aren’t much help.

Maybe one of the veterans on this chat could advise me. I’d like to get a real basic portable machine that WORKS RELIABLY. I’d rather have a high quality machine than a cheap one. I’ve seen a Bernina Bernette 65 and a Janome Sewist 509 and they look OK, but is there a better one? Would something used be appropriate?

Thanks in Advance.


  1. MaryinColorado | | #1

    We all have our preferences as they seem to handle differently.  Like cars, they all have comparable capabilities and functions but we often stay with a favorite. 

    For me, Husqvarna Viking has it all, from beginner to top of the line.  I have owned several brands given to me as gifts since I was sixteen.  Now I am in my fifties and have three Husq/Vikings and love love love them.  They go in once a year for a check up, no problems.  I am a very happy customer! 

    I also like Pfaff but have not owned one.  The new computerized machines should not have problems with the tensions and thread balling up in the bobbin mechanism if they are well made.   The fabric feeds itself through so you don't push or pull the fabric or have to hold it in front and back when stitching, just guide it. 

    The most common problems people have seem to be "user error" such as thinking the same needle will last forever and any size/type for any fabric.  Also you usually use the same thread in the bobbin as the needle.   Proper threading and making sure the thread "clicks" into the tensions both in the needle area and bobbin are common problem causes. 

    Hope this helps.  I'm just a frequent sewist no commercial ties.  Mary


    1. busymama | | #14

      Hi everyone, 


      I'm planning to buy a sewing machine to get my project started from drapes to heavy denims. I've looked couple of used once and new, used  Viking Freesia 215 and new Janome (forgot the model no.) I wonder if you can give some advise which would be better.

      Pros and Cons of which is helpful.

      Thank you,


      1. tmorris1 | | #15

        hey Mama, I think that I have sung the praises of the Janome machines enough, the company is going to have to pay me for referrals soon. The most important thing to remember with buying a new machine is to have good support. You should be looking for a dealer who is willing to talk to you about the different features, train you how to use the machine, and offer a full warranty with a free oil and service after a year. Dealers have used machines as well as new. Explain to the salesperson what you intend to sew, and what fabrics you intend to sew with. Ask lots of questions, try different machines (not just SS but try the features too) from here, all you have to do is pick the one that you are most comfortable with and is closest to your price range. When you are looking at the Bernina, Huaq, Pfaff, Janome, etc these are all excellent manufacturers and I would be happy to sew on any one of them.The only person who can decide the most suitable machine for you, is you. If you are confused as to different features and functions, please do not hesitate to ask. Tara

      2. MaryinColorado | | #16

        As You may have noticed, we all have our favorites.  We've been where you are, trying to decide what is the best machine for the money.  When it comes right down to it,  think about how it "feels" and sounds.  Do you like where the buttons and spool pins are?  Is it easy to change the feet?  Do the presser feet work on the upgraded machines, that saved me alot of money on the Vikings as I have a "foot fetish".  I prefer drop in bobbins over front loading. Do they offer free "know your machine" classes?  Who will work on the machine?  Do they offer trade ups if you want more features in the future?  Do they carry accessories?  Does it make nice buttonholes and is it easy?  Does it have a strong motor?  Features needed versus wants. 

        Also all the info that has been mentioned here and at http://www.patternreview.com will help. 

        Good luck in your search.  Take your time deciding and test drive just like you would a car!  Mary

  2. User avater
    blondie2sew | | #2

    I have to say Mary said very honestly and eloquently great words of advice!!This is such a personal choice..I personally own a Pfaff I started out with another brand wanted to throw it through my window..started doing everything you mentioned and it wasn't me it was the machine I had the thing serviced so many times.Needless to say you will have great sewing experience with a good well functioning machine..Yes you can see about used ones however just make sure you know the machines quality first.I have my 10 year old sewing on a Pfaff Smart 200c..loves it.Great basic and has wonderful features to grow with you. Viking has its similer machine call HuskyStar, I am sorry now I can't remember that model# but it is their computerized machine. There are some great manual machines out there as well. You have found some great sewing machines doing your research..now just take that to the next levelPfaff, Viking, Bernina, and Janome would be where I would start. Just be patient and go in and take them for a test drive!! Right down exactly what you want to see from a machine, Then start asking questions...When you find the one you like maybe you can find a used one? or Ask them how much more of a discount would the floor model be. Just like Cars (Mary had mentioned) do your homework..plus you need to know if you like the people who you will be working with for lessons on your new investment!!Ok so I added a bit more to What MaryinColorado said..But she basically said it all!!

    1. MaryinColorado | | #5

      Thanks Blondie!  My daughter in law bought one of the new computerized Huskystars, it is an excellent machine!  She learned very quickly on this great machine.  She is an expert at buttonholes already and hopes to get the Huskystar embroidery only machine next.  They run very quietly and smoothly. 

  3. Ralphetta | | #3

    You mentioned that you had looked at a couple of machines.  One thing that might help you would be to cut squares of the kinds of fabric you  might be sewing on...denim? wool, whatever.   Your swatches should be about 5x7 or a little larger.  When you look at a prospective machine,   use it to sew on your own swatches and label them.  After looking at a few machines you will be able to compare identical stitches, (buttonholes,) on identical fabrics sewn on different machines and it is amazing how easy it can make decision-making!

    Whether it's new or used, check into the dealer just as you would with a car...you need someone you can count on if problems develop.  Dealers don't teach you how to sew but they usually have classes to show you how to thread/use the machine and its attachments which is really important.

  4. User avater
    Becky-book | | #4

    In my opinion the sturdiest little machine is the old Singer Featherweight. Small, basic, sturdy but not cheap. No fancy stitches, just forward and reverse, but it will handle several layers of denim.  I learned to sew on my mother's Singer 40 years ago, and she still keeps that machine for the tough jobs that her new machine won't handle.

    I saw a web site devoted to this little machine with several for sale in the $400 to $600 range.


  5. tmorris1 | | #6

    Cherron,I would not be afraid of buying used - FROM A DEALER. Like cars you can get a higher quality machine for a better price if you get used, and a reputable dealer will give you a warranty on the machine as well as any technical support that you may need. The tangling that you are experiencing is most likely from the bobbin tension being too loose (this often happens with the side load bobbin so look for one with a drop in bobbin.) The Janome machines are good for beginners because they tell you what your tension, stitch length, and needle position should be for each stitch. It really is just about fool proof and helps you learn how to adjust these dials as you are learning. Of course Janome is my favorite (mostly because I cannot afford the husq) but it is a great affordable machine with lots of oomph.

  6. SueinNE | | #7

    Most  companies made good machines, some companies have machines with quirks common to that type of machine, just like a car.  I always had problems with tension on the old singers and the Brother embroidery-only machines. Loved my white serger  and my old Janome 4000 and never had a problem. 

    Look at the features.  No matter what you think now, you will patch, stitch zig-zag, topstitch, reverse stitich, put in a zipper, blind hem, and do a button hole.  Never dismiss utility/decor stitches.  some may fill the bill better than a straight stitch. a machine that does straight and zigzag only may not be enough for your needs.  Do get a demo on how the machine does buttonholes. This will tell you how complicated the other features are to do. ( My old Super Elna  did a lot but compared to newer machines, making buttonholes  was more complicated)  

    You may like the extra features, like a thread cutter (I have carpal tunnel and love this feature on my Babylock) I also sew with different weight fabrics, esp denim and heavy wool, coating weight fabrics, and appreciate the abillity to raise the foot a bit more than i could  on my Janome. 

       Do go to a dealer and do test drive the machines. Yes Walmart has some but , like a car, you will want the machine serviced, at least once a year.    there are good dealers and not so good dealers.  Some can service  any type of machine, while others cannot. It's like finding a mechanic you trust wth your car.  Many dealers accept trade-ins so they may be able to offer yo a reallly good used machine that is far less than the newer ones. 

     How portable do you want?  I travel and often take my sewing machine to play 'catchup' with UFOs and projects DH and DD must have.  Do consider weight and carrying ease.  Most have handles and a hard cover where the handles come thru the top.  Don't get one with a separate cover that closes/clamps on the bottom (lost a seger that way , when clamp gave way)   Do consider one of the bags with handles.  Put the covered machine in and zip it up.  It can be stored or transported dust free. 

  7. MaryinColorado | | #8

    look through the archives here, there are many comments on buying machines, also, http://www.patternreview.com has alot on specific machines.  Hope this helps, I forgot to mention it before.  Mary

    1. fuzzer | | #9

      I think everyone has really hit the nail on the head. You do need to take fabric that you will mostly be sewing on and "test drive" different brands.  I happen to be a Bernia fan, now owning 3 plus a serger.  Got our granddaughter one for Christmas and she is sewing up a storm.  She's 8.  Good luck and have fun test driving all the fun machines out there.

  8. Sancin | | #10

    Cherron -I agree with the suggestion of a Singer Featherweight.  They are old, they are rather expensive (were $125 when new and for years), but can occasionally find a 'find'.  There are web sites designated for them with instructions on how to use. And it is an investment like an antique if you have someone you want to leave it to. They are reliable and those of us who learned to sew on them and still have them will never give them up. BUT - they only sew a straight stitch and for this reason I would never recommend one who gets frustrated or doesn't want to finish seams by hand.  Most of us with Featherweights probably have another, newer machine as well. All new mechanical and computerized machines have a zig zag stitch if no other than straight.

    You could find some reliable second hand machines but you may want to buy a new machine such as those you mentioned which will have instruction manuals and shop help, hopefully. You may find a simple 'how to sew/use a sewing machine' book will help you with the tangles, usually related to the bobbin threads, incorrect needle or not holding both threads to start a seam. You can probably find instructions on the net somewhere - try "how to use a sewing machine". Good clear diagrams are worth diamonds

    I have an Elna I am not using I was going to give to my daughter for occasional sewing but realize it would frustrate her.  I sew daily on a Janome quilting machine and will probably buy a smaller model Janome for my daughter when she indicates interest.

    Good luck - it would be interesting to hear what you do buy and how you make out.  This question is frequently asked and as you can see there are many opinions.


    1. cherron | | #11

      I live about 20 miles from the nearest "Sew and Vac" store. They recommend a Janome Sewist 509 at about $180. They have a repair shop and offer classes.

      After reading all the responses (thanks everyone) I'm leaning in that direction. I do question Janome quality, though. I wonder if you (and the other readers here) have any comment. To compare, is Bernina (esp. the Bernette) the Lexus of sewing machines? IS there a Lexus of sewing machines? Or is it only a matter of opinion?


      1. tmorris1 | | #12

        Janome went through a bad time a couple of years back, and were making machines that were really not up to the standards that they should have been. (The Janome factory also manufactures a number of other brands of machines, and had begun to look at this as their primary industry.) Recently, janome has shifted their focus back to making good quality machines, and I think as a bit of an apology, they are currently priced quite well for the number of features that they have. 5 years ago I would not have recommended a Janome, but they really have cleaned up their act a lot. The other advantage of them being a manufacturer of other machines is that as new accessory developments come out Janome will keep picking up these features and encorporating them into their machines.

      2. MaryinColorado | | #13

        I love my Husqvarna Viking machines!  My dau ghter in law got a new Huskystar and loves it.  It is a nice quality machine with lots of bells and whistles for the price!

        Have you checked http://www.patternreview.com? They have tons of info on machines.


      3. Betakin | | #17

        The best basic sewing machine is the same as the best basic car. Test drive to see how well it drives for you and if it has the bells and whistles you want or if the basics are really enough. As in cars, age does make a difference. Some are good oldies if kept up to snuff but if not expect repairs.

        Each brand has it's low end models and a higher class line. In sewing machines you might prefer a machine with a jam free hook. There are machines with  rotary hooks and oscillating hooks. You might wish to check out both types. All of my different brand machines have rotary hooks that do not jam should you accidently sew off the fabric.

        Best of luck in choosing a machine..and a car too should you be in the market for one. :)

      4. B | | #21

        Although Bernina is considered excellent by most sewists (but possibly overpriced), Bernette is not the Lexus.  It is a lower level, possibly made by Janome or Brother.  That is not to say it is no good, but just not the same quality!  If you need a dealer, shop around and ask around for one that gives good service in your area.  This may be more important than first choosing the brand.  If you are looking at price, Janome or especially Kenmore (made by Janome) may be the way to go.  Or ask for internet companies with a good record at PatternReview.com.  Singer before 1965 made good machines but would hesitate to buy any made since then, although I have heard good things about the new top-of-line Singers again.


  9. ineedaserger329 | | #18

    I would go with singer....you can get basic models pretty cheap and fairly rugged. The older models have trouble with the bobbin, so I would steer clear of used. The thing you were concerned about with portability - I wouldn't recommend it with most machines to take them everywhere, you risk too much with parts being shaken loose or something of the sort. Good luck in your search.

  10. RitaRae | | #19

    I have an old Bernina 1120 that I've used consistently since the middle 80s. I would say it's a WORK HORSE! I have a home alterations business and really put the miles on it. I'm ashamed to say I've only taken the old girl in maybe 2-3 times for adjusting and she still runs like a top. In fact, I got a bee in my bonnet a couple of years ago for a newer model and when I talked to the rep at the Bernina store, he said he'd never trade the 1120 in.
    The only thing I wish I could have in a new machine is a larger area to the right of the needle so I could cram more fabric in there...big stuff like drapes or wedding gowns are hard to get under the needle sometimes because of the little space.
    Good luck!

  11. SewFit | | #20

    I've been sewing since I was 8-started on my grandmother's treadle machine.  Had a Brother machine in high school.   Worked for a Singer center right out of high school and had a Singer for 20 years.   Bought an early Kenmore electronic model in 1986 and used it daily for 3 years in my small sewing and alterations business as well as sewing for my 2 children and myself. Then, for about 15 years I was working in another profession so my sewing time was minimal.    

     I purchased a NewHome Excel HF5024 (made my Janome) in the summer of 2005 as a back-up when my beloved 20 year old Kenmore was in the shop. (The Kenmore is still in my closet but I have graduated to a machine with newer features).  The New Home has built in storage for the accessories and extra feet.   It was a real bargain during a clearance sale at Hancock Fabrics. ($165) I loved it because of the features that my old machine didn't have.   In the summer of 2006 I purchased the Janome DC3050 computerized machine. ($399)  It has 3 styles of built in buttonholes.  All of the accessories are interchangeable with the NewHome machine.   I have them both set up in my sewing room along with my serger.  

    I visited the local Husqvarna dealer after pricing the Janome but prior to  purchasing it and asked for a demo of the buttonholes on their machines.  When the sales rep. realized I didn't have the budget for a top of the line model, she pointed at an $800 machine and walked away.   So did I!

    I was told by the Janome dealer that the DC3050 is used in many school home ec. classes because it's a great little work horse.

    Sorry this is so long....Happy shopping and sewing....

    Edited 4/26/2007 9:49 pm ET by SewFit

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