Best Sewing Machines of 2017

– Buyer's Guide

Sewing machines are incredibly useful tools for creative projects, but trying to decipher the range of stitch lengths, stitch styles, features, and accessories available can be overwhelming. In this guide we’ll help you decide whether a manual or computerized machine is a better fit, how many built-in stitches you need, and just how many automatic features (like threading and bobbin winding) you need to make your sewing experience enjoyable.

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Best Sewing Machine - Reviews

Brother CS6000i

Best value: Brother CS6000i Feature-Rich Sewing Machine Review

The Brother CS600i is a simply designed, user-friendly sewing machine that blends a below-average price tag with an above-average range of features and accessories. Sixty built-in stitches ranging from the decorative to the functional allow room to grow for beginner users and versatility for more advanced sewers. The Brother CS6000i offers an attractive balance between automated features and manual controls for an excellent all-around mid-range product.

This machine ticks all of our must-have boxes, like automatic needle threading and adjustable sewing speed, but it also includes a huge range of accessories typical of higher-end models. A total of nine additional presser feet come with the machine and cover all of the most common sewing needs. It offers on-machine stitching and bobbin threading guides for newer users with an appealing range of bells and whistles that more seasoned sewers look for.

The controls are intuitive, the design simple, and the list of “extras” extremely appealing, making the affordable Brother CS6000i our top-choice pick for a mid-range product with higher-end features.

Features:

  • The top-facing drop-in bobbin reservoir makes threading your needle a breeze.
  • Much of the knob-turning frustration of manual machines has been removed by an LCD display that lets users pick and adjust stitches on-screen.
  • It comes with an add-on table and a selection of basic quilting stitches.
  • The stitch width can be adjusted up to 7mm and the length up to
  • The range of presser feet included is impressive: users have access to zipper, blind stitching, buttonhole, and monogramming feet, just to name a few.

Limitations:

  • This Brother model does use a plastic casing, which can lead to less sturdiness than metal casing models.
Singer 7258

Also great: Singer 7258 Stylist 100-Stitch Computerized Sewing Machine Review

The Singer 7258 is an affordable, simply designed, and stylish computerized sewing machine. One hundred built-in stitches for everything from utility to quilting make this machine ideal for both beginners and seasoned crafters. The Singer helps take the tedium out of basic sewing tasks with automated modes for everything from needle threading to one-step buttonhole making.

It also comes with ten unique presser feet for those who want to refine their sewing precision or who sew professionally. A range of accessories, a sturdy metal build, and easy-to-use diagrams round out the Singer 7258 and make it our close-second pick.

Features:

  • Ten pressure feet for everything ranging from zigzags and buttonholes to zippers and blind hems make this a truly versatile package.
  • The machine is equipped with easy to use diagrams for beginning sewers.
  • The Singer offers a top drop-in bobbin with a clear cover to make threading simple.
  • A programmable needle, adjustable stitch size, and an automatic needle threader take the pressure out of time-consuming sewing tasks.

Limitations:

  • The maximum stitch width is 5mm (two millimeters shorter than the Brother CS6000i’s). This is enough for most projects, but it may feel limiting for those with designs on more intricate creations or ones that require especially thick fabrics.
Brother XL2600I

Budget choice: Brother XL2600I Sew Advance 25-Stitch Free-Arm Sewing Machine Review

The Brother XL600I comes with all of the basics necessary to create quality work—at about half the price point of our top-choice models. Its intuitive design and how-to guides are ideal for beginners, and 25 stitch choices are easily navigated using an illustrated wheel.

This Brother model still offers the basic automatic functions that keep fun sewing projects from turning into a headache. With this solid machine, you’ll still save time with automatic bobbin winding and needle threading. While it doesn’t offer the huge array of accessories that higher-priced models do, users still get all the basics and then some: five presser feet, an essential maintenance kit, and a set of bobbins and needles will get you started on your sewing journey.

The Brother XL6001 has earned our pick for best budget machine with its reliable name, automatic functions, and versatile customization options, making it a great machine for beginning sewers and everyday projects.

Features:

  • A non-jamming, auto-winding bobbin system gets you started on your project quickly.
  • Sewing sleeves and pant legs is simple with the built-in free arm.
  • The Brother set includes five essential pressure feet for more complex sewing.
  • One-step button holes and automatic needle threading save you time and frustration.

Limitations:

  • Its stitch width is confined to 4mm and the length to 5mm, which may feel limiting to more advanced sewers.
Singer 9960

Best-in-class: Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist 600-Stitch Computerized Sewing Machine Review

The Singer 9960 is the ideal one-stop shop for the serious sewer. Nearly endless stitching options (600) will keep both hobby and professional sewers exploring the possibilities for years to come. The sleek and stylishly designed 9960 has fully automated thread cutting, needle threading, and length-and width settings, allowing you to program your preferences and let the machine do the heavy lifting.

This machine is unique for its stitch editing feature: if you find a stitch that’s almost what you’re looking for, you can edit it to make it truly unique. The Singer also makes the foot pedal frustration a thing of the past with auto pilot and automatic speed settings to eliminate the fear of errors. It can also handle a wide variety of fabrics and functions with ease.

A huge sewing table for larger projects, fully digital readouts, and a seemingly endless array of presser feet and accessories combine with a durable design to make the Singer 9960 our high-end pick (at a fraction of the cost of many competitors).

Features:

  • The Singer’s auto pilot function lets you enjoy your sewing without the unpredictability of a foot pedal.
  • Auto bobbin winding, a wide range of pre-set speeds, automatic length and width settings, and needle control buttons allow full control over the sewing experience.
  • LED lights make sewing dark fabrics a breeze.
  • An advanced LCD screen offers brightness control and on-screen display of settings.
  • Eighteen pressure feet cover sewing needs ranging from the most basic zipper foot to the more advanced darning and embroidery feet.
  • A full maintenance set arms you with seam rippers, a screwdriver, and even a quilting bar.

3. Mechanical vs. computerized sewing machines

It wasn’t so long ago that manual sewing machines (and manual everything, for that matter) were the only option. Like most appliances, however, sewing machines have gone digital in the last decade. Both mechanical and computerized machines are available, and each category has its pros and cons.

Elephant t-shirtElephant sweatshirt made by Elizabeth Hudy. Photo by ElizabethHudy

Manual machines

As the name suggests, manual sewing machines require the user to operate every control by hand. That means that you’ll guide the fabric under the needle, turn dials to adjust speed and stitches, and be entirely in control over the quality of work that you produce.

If you’re a back-to-basics craftsperson or use your sewing machine for simple projects, manual machines will save you money and allow you to enjoy the hands-on experience of sewing. Manual machines are beneficial when:

  1. You’re on a budget—they’re typically cheaper than computerized machines.
  2. You’re a hobby or as-needed sewer—they have all the basic functions you need to make quick repairs, construct clothing, and work on personal projects.
  3. You’re a beginner—having more functions than you need or understand (even if they’re computerized) can be overwhelming when you first dive in to sewing.
  4. You want a long life expectancy—As with cars and cameras, totally mechanical machines simply have less that can go wrong with them and are easier to repair. The more electronics you have, the more customization options and automation modes you have—but you also have complicated (and expensive) parts that could break at any moment.

Keep in mind that, when you choose a manual machine, you’ll need to know what you’re doing when it comes to simple tasks like changing the needle’s position or creating a buttonhole. You’ll also need to invest more time and focus into completing each task than you would with a computerized machine.

Computerized machines

Computerized sewing and embroidery machineA computerized sewing and embroidery machine with a digital display. Photo by Nayuki

When you sew regularly, want to experiment with more complex projects, or even work with fabric for a living, you’ll almost definitely want a computerized machine. Like most digitized machines, “automatic” sewing machines:

  1. Are generally more expensive and, thus, should be considered an investment for the dedicated sewer.
  2. Do much of the work for you, making your work go more quickly and efficiently and lowering the chance of mistakes. This includes automatically adjusting thread tension, threading the needle for you, and suggesting the ideal settings for the type of stitch or type of project you’re working on.
  3. Offer a greater variety of pre-sets, including stitch types and lengths.
  4. Often remember designs or allow you to import interesting designs from the internet.

Like a digital camera, a computerized sewing machine will be equipped with touchpads, labeled buttons, and LED screens instead of a large variety of knobs and levers.

Use your preferred working style, how often you sew, and your level of sewing knowledge to determine whether a manual or computerized sewing machine is right for your needs.

4. Number of stitches offered

Pillows designPhoto by Suzette

Once you’ve settled on the type of machine you need, which narrows you down to about half of the market, it’s time to start looking at features. The first and most important of those is the number of stitch patterns offered by the machine. Stitches are, in essence, the pattern that your thread makes on your fabric (like straight, looped, and zigzagged).

Zigzag stitch controlsZigzag control button on a sewing machine. Photo by timlewisnm

If you’re looking for a machine to hem pants, make button holes, and enable basic crafty projects, it’s likely that a beginner machine with a straight stitch, reverse, and zigzag function will be all you need.

If, however, you like to immerse yourself in intricate projects, you sew for a living, or you’re an experienced sewer, you’ll probably want something with a little more variety. Look for more intricate or decorative stitch options if you want (or need) to get more creative.

Sewing machines offer anywhere from 3-1,000 stitches. While it’s common to think that “more is better”, those sewing machines with hundreds of intricate stitches will absolutely come with a higher price tag. For an enthusiastic hobby sewer, a machine with 20-30 stitch options is a fantastic place to start.

5. How flexible are the stitch lengths?

Patchwork pincushionPatchwork pincushion sewn together by machine. Photo by Audrey B.

Choosing a machine with the right variety of stitch lengths is just as essential as choosing the right amount of stitch patterns. Like other functions, picking the right variety requires thinking about how you plan to use your sewing machine.

  • Securing seams requires only a short stitch length (1.0 mm or less).
  • Creating seams requires a medium stitch length (about 2.5 mm).
  • Basting and gathering fabric requires a long stitch length (about 5.0 mm).
  • For zigzag patterns, the stitch length determines how far apart your “zigs” and “zags” will be.

Keep in mind that the longer the stitch length, the looser the seam will be. Most basic machines won’t ask you to set the precise seam length in millimeters; instead, they’ll offer you three or more “sizes” to choose from using a knob or LED screen.

For most projects, you won’t need more than 3-4 stitch settings, and the machine’s recommended setting will work for the majority of anything that you could ever need to do. However, if you have designs on extremely intricate projects or working with difficult fabrics, you’ll want a machine with the most stitch length options possible.

6. Available features

Features on sewing machines range from the essential to the downright luxurious. We’ve compiled some of the basic necessities and niceties below.

Placing thread across hooksPhoto by Lenore Edman

  1. Buttonholer: This feature allows you to sew a buttonhole in one step instead of stopping to turn your fabric.
  2. A responsive foot pedal: The foot pedal should be responsive to pressure. If it takes too much pressure for your sewing machine to respond, it’s easier for it to move too fast or too slow without warning. This can lead to mistakes.
  3. Needle threader: Machines with this option move the thread into the eye of the needle for you and save you from one of the biggest frustrations of sewing.
  4. Auto tie-off: Tying off your seams and stitches is one of the most important steps in making sure your hard work lasts, but it’s also time consuming. The auto tie-off function creates a sewn “tie” for you and often has a more professional look.
  5. Multiple speeds: This option lets you control the speed at which fabric moves under the needle and helps you maintain a constant speed beyond the use of the foot pedal.
  6. Tension options: It’s crucial that you be able to control how tight your thread is pulled to avoid sloppy stitching. Generally, beginners will want three options and the more advanced may need up to five settings.
  7. Bobbin winding: Choosing a sewing machine that winds bobbins automatically and refills thread when it runs out saves a lot of time and frustration.
  8. Clear bobbin covers: These let you see when a bobbin is running out of thread.
  9. USB connection: This allows you to import designs and patterns from your computer using a memory stick.
  10. Thread tension control: This feature controls the tension—or amount of pull—in your thread to avoid botched stitching.
  11. Internet connection: Keep in mind that a computerized sewing machine is a computer of sorts. As such, it may need updates, and an internet connection will allow the machine to download updates as necessary. And, of course, this also means that you can download patterns directly onto your machine.

Know that, typically, the number of computerized functions you have will directly correlate to the number of dollars you spend. A few basic computerized functions like tension control or auto-winding might still fall into the budget-friendly category, but a fully computerized and automated top-of-the-line machine may run you well into the thousand-dollar range.

7. Accessories and add-on items

Accessories for sewingPhoto by photographerpandora

Many sewing machine models come with a storefront’s worth of accessories, but the vast majority of these won’t be necessary for beginner and intermediate users.

Many machines come with:

  • Basic bobbins and needles
  • Cleaning tools
  • Screwdrivers and other maintenance tools

Sewing toolsPhoto by Lenore Edman

Extra presser feet

Extra presser feet for your needle will save you shopping time when you’re ready to expand to more complex projects, and there are feet out there that improve precision for nearly every need.

Presser footExtra presser feet come in handy with more complex sewing projects. Photo by Ryo FUKAsawa

If you plan to use your sewing machine for more than one type of project, be on the lookout for models that include these common feet:

  1. Zipper feet are designed to allow for smooth zipper functioning and to prevent sewing machines from jamming on the zipper.
  2. Walking feet allow you to move thick thread (for thicker fabrics) through the machine without bunching the fabric up.
  3. Buttonhole feet allow users to create more even buttonholes.
  4. Blind hem feet create a less visible hem and produce more professional results.

8. How loud is the machine?

Sewing machine diyYou will spend a lot of hours behind your machine, so be sure it has an acceptable noise level. Photo by Katherine

Sewing machines are notoriously loud. The amount of noise produced by your machine determines how comfortable it is to use and how much it disrupts others in your home. The average sewing machine produces at least 60 decibels of noise.

  • 60-80 decibels is considered loud but is the typical range for sewing machines. At 80 decibels, you’ve reached the average amount of noise emitted by an alarm clock.
  • 80 decibels and higher will drown out all other noise.
  • Beware of devices over 85 decibels if you plan to use them for extended periods of time, as long-term exposure to this level of noise can lead to hearing loss.

Some level of “noise pollution” is inevitable for sewing machine users, but those with children or very close neighbors will want to stay as close to 60 decibels as possible for minimum disruption.

9. Buying tips

Different needle speedsA Singer sewing machine getting an upgrade. Photo by Micah Elizabeth Scott

Sewing machines are endlessly useful creative and professional tools, but their various forms, functions, and terminologies can be overwhelming. We’ve compiled a list of the must-have features that make a sewing machine worthwhile, the good-to-have features that make them easier and less stressful to use, and the great-to-have features that make a sewing machine a best-in-class machine.

Must have features:

  • You’ll need at least three stitch options: straight, reverse, and zigzag.
  • Choose a machine with at least three stitch lengths (or the ability to adjust your stitch length from 0 to 5 millimeters) to accommodate a variety of projects.
  • A responsive foot pedal is a must for control of sewing speed. Otherwise, you risk running into issues like jams and bunching.
  • Look for at least three tension options to avoid bunching, jams, or too-loose stitching.

Good to have features:

  • If you dread the frustration of poking a tiny thread into an equally tiny needle eye, an automatic needle threader will be just the solution you’re after.
  • For the sake of safety and comfort, look for machines with a noise rating under 80 decibels.
  • An auto tie-off feature saves you time by tying off your seams and stitches for you.
  • Pre-set needle speeds take some of the pressure off of the user to maintain perfectly uniform speeds.
  • 20 or more stitch options will give you the flexibility to get creative and find the stitch that perfectly suits each individual project.

Great to have features:

  • Bobbin winding and threading is a strong contender for the most frustrating sewing experience, but machines that automatically wind and thread bobbins for you can save both time and frustration.
  • Machines with noise levels at or under 60 decibels will cause the least disruption in your home.
  • Large sewing tables will allow you to tackle larger and more complex projects.
  • Extra presser feet with your machine will allow to you work on a variety of products from the get-go with more precision and ease.Presser feetExtra presser feet expand the capabilities of your sewing machine. Photo by regan76
  • Computerized sewing machines offer everything from LED screens to touch screens and fully automated stitch-making. The more digital controls you choose, the more expensive the machine, but the highest-end models just require you to press a few buttons and let the machine do its work.

Sewing machines are complex and come in nearly endless varieties. Use your needs regarding noise level, stitching options, level of digitization, and number of automatic functions to make an educated choice that fits your budget and lifestyle.

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