If you are reading this article, you are likely familiar with the types of sewing machines available for general sewing and you have an idea of the features you would like in a machine that would accommodate the unique needs of quilting. Some of these might be the following:

  • Table space: some machines have attachable extension tables especially for quilting
  • Threaders and bobbin systems designed to save time and increase ease
  • Sturdy construction to ensure stability when working with heavy fabrics or multiple layers
  • Needle position, stitch control, and presser foot options increase options
  • Throat space (explained below)

One of the most important factors for quilting is that the machine needs to have enough “throat” or “harp” space — the space under the arm to the right of the needle — to allow manipulation of bulky material.

A standard sewing machine has a throat space of five to eight inches, a mid-length arm has 12 to 17 inches of space, and a long arm machine can have a throat measuring 18 inches or longer. Industrial long arm machines have a head that moves around while the fabric stays in place.

To someone who quilts for a living, it may be worth the investment of money and space because of the capabilities and quality of performance these huge machines possess. Most home quilters, however, do not want to invest in a machine that takes up a whole room in the house or studio, not to mention that the several-thousand-dollar price tag is mind-boggling for the average hobbyist.

The machines we will review here will be smaller, more portable, yet sturdy machines of the best quality that can be purchased for under $500. There are quite a few good machines available in this price range.

The three featured here have the best features for quilters and the best value for the price.


#1 – Brother Designio Series DZ3000 Computerized Sewing & Quilting Machine

Brother Sewing and Quilting Machine, DZ3000, 240 Built-in Stitches, LCD Display, Wide Table, 14 Included Sewing Feet
  • 240 UNIQUE BUILT-IN STITCHES: The DZ3000 comes with 130 built-in sewing stitches including 8 styles of auto-size buttonholes, plus 110 alphanumeric stitches
  • AUTOMATIC NEEDLE THREADER AND DROP-IN TOP BOBBIN: This sewing and quilting machine includes an automatic needle threader that perfectly pushes thread through the needle and a convenient, jam resistant drop-in top bobbin
  • INCLUDED ACCESSORIES: The DZ3000 includes a wide table, 14 feet, circular sewing attachment, instruction manual and more
  • LCD SCREEN: View your stitch selections on the easy view, LCD display
  • 25 YEAR LIMITED WARRANTY: The DZ3000 comes with a 25 year limited warranty with free technical support for the life of the product

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Stitches

Because the DZ3000 is both a sewing machine and a quilting machine, it gives the operator more options and opportunity to be creative. With 240 unique built-in stitches, the possibilities are endless.

Standard and decorative stitches comprise the majority — that is, 130 — of the built-in choices, while 110 are letters and numerals you can use to personalize your creations.

The size of the letters cannot be adjusted, but the spacing between them can. The remaining eight choices are various styles of auto-size buttonholes.

Features and Accessories

  • The DZ3000 comes with an extra-wide table, which can be removed when you need to use the free arm for cuffs and similar smaller items.
  • A circular sewing attachment helps you incorporate perfect circles in your designs and is one of 14 presser feet included with the machine. Other special feet include an open-toe foot and an adjustable foot for sewing zippers and piping.
  • Fabrics are easily and smoothly moved with the 7-point feed dog system. The feed dogs can be dropped for free-motion quilting patterns.
  • A large LCD display panel is installed to help you along the way, with prompts and step-by-step directions for each task. The work area is brightly lit with a long-lasting LED light.
  • It has a top-drop bobbin and automatic needle threader, which are favorite time-saving features. It can sew with a double needle for precise double topstitching.
  • Choose to operate the machine with either the start/stop button or the foot pedal.
  • Purchase of the DZ3000 includes a 25-year limited warranty and free technical support for the life of the product.

Drawbacks of the DZ3000

According to customer reviews, the DZ3000 has the following minor drawbacks:

  • It does not do embroidery designs and monograms are on the small side.
  • It only has one stretch stitch.

#2 – Singer Quantum Stylist 9960 Computerized Sewing Machine

SINGER | Quantum Stylist 9960 Computerized Portable Sewing Machine with 600-Stitches Electronic Auto Pilot Mode, Extension Table and Bonus Accessories, Perfect for Customizing Projects
  • SINGER COMPUTERIZED SEWING MACHINE: The SINGER Quantum Stylist 9960 portable sewing machine has loads of ease-of-use features to allow you to fulfill your creative dreams Has a large selection of stitches including basic, stretch and decorative stitches...
  • AUTOMATIC NEEDLE THREADER: Threading the machine is so easy that you can have the entire machine threaded, from the spool to the needle’s eye, in seconds The built-in needle threader threads the eye of the needle for you, eliminating eye strain and...
  • BEST SEWING MACHINE: The SINGER Quantum Stylist 9960 sewing machine has 600 Built-In Stitches including 5 Alphanumeric Fonts and 13 built-in 1-Step Buttonholes with Exclusive Buttonhole Underplate It also has Mirror Imaging and Stitch Elongation providing...
  • HIGH-SPEED SEWING MACHINE: The SINGER Quantum Stylist 9960 sewing machine has a maximum sewing speed of 850 stitches-per-minute, projects can be sewn quickly
  • SEWING MACHINE ACCESSORIES: A variety of presser feet are included with the sewing machine: All-Purpose Foot, Zipper Foot, Buttonhole Foot with Underplate, Button Sewing Foot, Blind Hem Foot, Satin Stitch Foot, Open Toe Foot, Overcasting Foot, Darning and...

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Regularly priced at $700.00, you can often find this model on sale for half that price, and thus it is included in our top three machines under $500. The overwhelming majority of users praise this machine’s capabilities and quality of performance as well as its longevity.

Stitches

The Quantum Stylist 9960 can sew slowly when doing precise work, but has an impressive maximum sewing speed of 850 stitches per minute for finishing a project quickly. Five alphanumeric fonts are built in for personalization of you projects, along with 13 different styles of one-step buttonholes!

The other 582 of 600 built-in stitches include standard, decorative, and stretch stitches, with a maximum stitch width of 7 mm. The decorative stitches include fun and interesting designs such as snowflakes, hearts, stars, airplanes, and many more. Mirror imaging, various needle positioning, and stitch elongations controls open up even more creative options.

Features and Accessories

  • Back-lit LCD screen on front panel and reference guide printed on inside of top cover.
  • Automatic needle threader saves time and reduces eye strain.
  • 5.5 inch throat space to accommodate quilts and other bulky projects.
  • Needle up/down button aids with pivoting on corners, etc.
  • Thread trimmer button will trim top and bobbin threads simultaneously.
  • Automatic tension control helps avoid thread breakage and tangled threads.
  • Top-loading bobbin with transparent cover.
  • Large extension table included–a must for quilters.
  • Electronic twin needle setting ensures the needles will function properly.
  • Heavy-duty metal frame structure ensures durability and enduring performance.
  • 18 presser feet are included and housed in the storage area of the free arm. Besides the standard sewing and quilting feet, some unique feet include an adjustable bias binder foot, a braiding foot with guide and a fancy trim foot.
  • Extra high presser foot lifter.
  • Handles all types of fabric with ease, provided the correct needle, thread, speed and settings such as stitch length are used.
  • Automatic reverse and locking stitch functions.
  • 25-year warranty.

Drawbacks of the 9960

Not for someone who wants to use right out of the box or is unfamiliar with how to use its many features, proper use of this machine will take time to read and patiently practice before proficiency is achieved.

One reviewer stated that a queen-size quilt is difficult to work on because the harp space is only 6 3/4 inches from the needle to the right side.
The lettering is not resizable.


#3 – Janome JW8100 Fully-Featured Computerized Sewing Machine

Janome JW8100 Fully-Featured Computerized Sewing Machine with 100 Stitches, 7 Buttonholes, Hard Cover, Extension Table and 22 Accessories
  • Computerized Sewing Machine with Easy Threading, Top Drop-In Bobbin and 7-Piece Feed Dog System
  • 100 Built-In Stitches, 7 Auto Buttonhole Styles, Memorized Needle Up/Down, Interior Metal Frame
  • Convenience Features like Start/Stop Button, Speed Control Slider, Locking Stitch Button, Reverse Lever
  • Free Arm with Accessory Storage, Memory Function, Adjustable Thread Tension
  • Bonus Accessories: Extra-Wide Extension Table, Hard-Sided Dust Cover, Even Feed Foot, Quarter Inch Foot

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Stitches

The Janome JW8100 comes with 100 built-in stitches: seven automatic buttonhole styles, 20 basic and fashion, 18 quilting, 27 heirloom, and 28 home decor stitches. According to the specifications listed, its maximum stitch width is 5 mm, although one reviewer mentioned that the manual said it goes up to 7 mm.

Slide the speed control for easy adjustment with a maximum speed of 850 stitches per minute. Needle up/down, reverse, stop/start, and lock stitch buttons provide handy time-saving features.

Features and Accessories

  • Heavy duty interior frame reduces vibration and slipping
  • Top drop-in bobbin and jam proof bobbin system
  • Seven-piece feed dog system allows fabric of all types to move smoothly
  • Free arm with accessory storage
  • Accessories include an even feed or “walking” foot and a quarter inch foot that is especially handy for quilters
  • Extra wide (11×15”) extension table attachment
  • Auto de-clutch bobbin winder
  • 6.7 inch throat size
  • Great for anyone, regardless of skill level
  • 25-year limited warranty

Drawbacks of the JW8100

Not much to find in terms of drawbacks here. Open toe, or free-motion foot must be purchased separately.


In conclusion, remember these tips as you consider purchasing a new machine:

To keep your machine in good working order, be sure to keep it clean and oiled and have it serviced regularly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Consult the manual or call customer service if you are experiencing any issues with your machine.

Be patient with yourself if you are learning a new skill; it just takes time and practice. Sewing can be a very creative and satisfying activity.