Does your sewing machine have problems stitching heavy or multiple layers of fabric? Does it skip stitches, break needles or jam up when attempting to sew through thick layers?

If you regularly have these sorts of problems, it might be time to invest in a heavy duty sewing machine.

There are lots of machines that have the phrase ‘heavy-duty’ in their description, but whether they are truly heavy-duty depends on several factors. Let’s look at what goes into making a machine that can conquer heavy, thick and dense fabrics successfully.

Important Features Found In A Heavy Duty Machine

If you work with fabrics such as denim, canvas, upholstery material or leather, you need a machine that can handle not only thick layers of fabric but also densely woven or rubber-backed material. Machines built to handle these types of fabrics require special consideration in the following areas:

• Metal Frame And Components
• Ability To Work With Dense Or Thick Fabrics
• Stability And Weight
• Optimal Design
• Conveniences And Features

1 – Metal Frame And Components

A truly heavy-duty sewing machine must be constructed with a metal interior framework. Sewing with heavy fabrics or multiple layers can put a lot of stress on many machine parts. In order to minimize cost, many companies make components from plastic. Everyday sewing projects may be fine for lightweight parts, but hard use will wear or break delicate plastic.

That’s why it’s so important that moving components, as well as the framework, are made of metal. Stress fractures can form over time on plastic components, caused by heavy, demanding stitching and vibrations from extended stitching at high speed.

2 – Ability To Work With Dense Or Thick Fabrics

Other parts of a sewing machine need modification for the machine to work well with multiple layers or heavy fabrics. Depending on the features, this may render the machine unable to work with fine, thin fabrics or delicate material.

The feed dogs need the ability to move thick or heavy fabric under the needle. Some machines feature feed dogs that have multiple up and down settings.

A few machines have a pin feed mechanism for pulling all layers of a seam together. This ensures that every stitch is consistent and uniform, which can be problematic with a lighter-duty machine.

The presser foot should be able to rise high enough for working with many layers of fabrics, and a walking foot also helps with maintaining even uniform stitching. Some machines have a mechanical dial or computerized settings to allow for higher or lower presser foot elevation.

3 – Stability And Weight

Weight is important in the stability of a heavy-duty sewing machine. If the machine vibrates when running at a fast speed or when stitching for prolonged periods, it may ‘walk’ across the table.

Lightweight machines are great for portability, but a heavy machine will stay in place without shuddering or vibrating. A machine that’s built into a sturdy cabinet also reduces the risk of walking or vibrating.

Prolonged shuddering or vibrating can cause damage to your machine over long periods and can loosen screws. The presser foot screw and the screw that hold your needle in place often loosen with excessive vibration

4 – Optimal Design

A powerful motor is imperative for a heavy-duty sewing machine. Occasionally hemming a pair of jeans is one thing, but constant heavy-duty sewing is hard on a machine’s motor. Over-use can burn out the motor and damage other components if the machine isn’t built for heavy-duty use.

Some machines are built to be self-lubricating and don’t need oiling. Other models require oiling on a regular schedule to ensure smooth performance.

The throat or harp space is important when sewing large projects. A large throat allows the sewist to work with bulky, outsized pieces of material easily.

An extension table is a great way to use a machine for larger projects if it’s not built into a table. The additional space allows for better positioning of a larger project under the needle.

A free-arm option is a necessity for sewing small cylindrical items like pants legs or cuffs. If your sewing needs include garments or smaller items like bags or accessories, this should be on the ‘must-have’ list.

Computerized sewing machines are the only machines that have thread tensioning that’s truly automatic. Sensors measure fabric thickness while electronic tension motors set the correct by stitch type.

Mechanical machines usually have a universal or auto setting on the dial for selecting the top thread tension. A numbered tension dial allows you to manually adjust tension based on your fabric, needle and thread choices.

5 – Conveniences And Features

In addition to the basic components of a heavy-duty machine, there are lots of features available on machines to make your sewing projects easier, faster and generally unproblematic.

An automatic needle threader is a nice feature. It’s certainly not mandatory, but it’s a design element that’s very popular. The steadiness of your hand and the clearness of your eyesight may be a factor in the importance of this feature.

A drop-in bobbin is so convenient and far easier to access than side-mounted bobbin placement. Some machines use a larger size, so you don’t have to stop to change the bobbin as frequently. Folks with very large or unsteady hands may find side-mounted bobbins a challenge.

Machine speed is touted as being very important. There may be some folks who are stitching large swathes of fabrics and want to sew at the maximum speed their machine will produce. However, the vast majority of folks are sewing at a much more sedate speed.

If you go to a store to test drive machines, try running one at full speed. Many home machines have speeds of between 1500 and 2000 stitches per minute, and a few are much faster. Sewing at that speed doesn’t give you much control in the quality of your stitching, so judge for yourself how important ultra-high speed is in selecting your machine.