Besides being a useful skill, sewing is also enjoyable and gratifying. Owning a sewing machine enables you not only to do mending at a moment’s notice, but also offers the opportunity to create unique articles of clothing, home decor, and other items.

A wide variety of machines is readily available to the home enthusiast, at prices ranging from fifty to thousands of dollars. The sheer number of choices may make it challenging to choose a machine that will fit your needs and wishes.

The focus of this article will be to assist a first-time buyer in selecting a sewing machine that will adequately meet those needs. We will review standard components and features, as well as some special features available to you, about which you may not be aware.

Standard Features


Each machine will include a light to aid you in seeing your work area more clearly. The light bulb can be replaced quite easily when necessary. Good lighting is essential when sewing if you want quality results.


When you begin or end a row of stitching, using a backstitch will lock the threads in place, securing them so they don’t unravel. The backstitch feature is a must for this reason. Some digital machines automatically start and stop with a backstitch and will even trim the threads for you, but the basic beginner sewing machine leaves that task to you.

Thread Cutter

Each time you finish a step in your project, you will need to cut the upper and lower threads. You can use your snipper scissors each time, or you can use a built-in feature that most machines have to make this step more efficient.

Behind the needle or on the side of the machine, you will usually find a part containing a small razor blade through which you can run the threads to cut them.

Stitch Adjustments

There are a few manufacturers that have a very limited range of length or width adjustment on their machines, but the majority do include this as a standard feature.

Some examples of tasks that would require this feature are as follows: longer stitches are used for temporarily stitching, or basting, a seam; narrow to wide zig-zag stitches are needed for finishing edges or satin stitching. The ability to make adjustments widens the range of possibilities for the user.

Bobbin Winder

The bobbin holds the thread in the bottom of the machine, which loops with the top thread to create a stitch. As a general rule, you’ll want your bobbin thread to match the top thread color. Having a variety of colors of thread pre-wound onto bobbins saves time when you are working on a project. Winding your own bobbins takes only a few minutes and is easy to do.

Other points of interest concerning bobbins:

There are a few different sizes of bobbins, so make sure you buy the size that fits your machine. Most machines come with an accessory kit, which includes several extra bobbins.

Typically, sewing machines have either a “top-drop” bobbin loading feature or a front-loading bobbin. Practice loading your bobbin correctly for optimal results.

Built-in Stitches

Straight and zig-zag are the basic stitches, but most machines come with several additional stitches, which can be used for darning, adding decorative touches, and more. All stitches can usually be adjusted in length and width as needed.

Changeable Feet

The presser foot is lowered down onto the fabric to hold it in place while you sew. Special feet are often needed for installing zippers and some other tasks.

Your machine will usually come with a kit that includes accessories such as these basic types of feet. See below for other types of feet available for making certain tasks easier.


A buttonhole maker is a useful standard feature as well. Some machines need a special buttonhole foot, while others do not require this extra attachment.

Several types of buttonholes are available, so if you anticipate needing to use this feature, this is something to examine. Be sure to read the instructions on the steps involved in making a buttonhole. It is wise to practice on a scrap of fabric before attempting on your project.

Feed Dogs

Most machines include a knob or switch you can use to lower the feed dogs – the little metal pieces under the needle whose teeth move the fabric along as you sew.

The advantage of lowering the feed dogs is that you can move the fabric around in free motion when doing quilting or embroidery, for example. To see examples of this technique, you can search for tutorial videos on the Internet.

Manual Button or Foot Pedal

A foot pedal is the traditional device used to control the machine, taking the place of the antiquated foot treadle. Now many machines have a button on the front of the machine that you can simply press to start or stop sewing. Some come with both options. Your choice will be based on your needs and preferences.

Variable Speeds

Some machines will have a switch that controls the maximum speed at which the machine will stitch. This is indicated in stitches per minute.

The speed can also be controlled by the level of pressure applied to the foot pedal. Using the slower speed as a beginner will aid you in manipulating and operating the fabric and machine as you become more proficient.

Special Features

Automatic Needle Threader

Many of the higher-end machines manufactured recently have the automatic needle threading feature.

After running the thread from the spool through each step to the needle, you simply pull the thread under a hook and press a lever or push a button to shoot the thread through the hole in the needle. This valuable feature saves time and reduces eye strain.

Specialty Feet

There are many feet designed to make specific tasks easier and produce consistent results. Some examples include making narrow hems, gathering, pleating, overlocking, edge stitching, and on and on.

Make sure any feet you purchase are compatible with your brand of machine. For beginners, only a couple of types of feet are necessary and they are included with the machine when you purchase one.

LCD Screens

Computerized machines are equipped with an LCD screen that offers more choices and options than a standard mechanical machine. Adjusting the stitches and designs to your preference is precise and easy.

Some LCD screens even offer tutorials and instructions to help guide the user. If all this seems a bit too much, you may want to start with a simple machine at the beginning.

Built-in Special Features

Besides a wide range of decorative stitches, many machines include built-in letters, numbers, designs, and borders to personalize your project. You don’t need a special machine dedicated to embroidery in order to use these fun elements.

Other Aspects to Consider

Brand Quality and Price

Some companies are well-known and time-tested. These include Singer, Bernina, Janome, Brother and Juki, to name a few. Of course, there are other lesser-known manufacturers including Toyota, Michley, Spiegel and Bernette.

The level of quality, features offered, and price vary greatly. The machine you choose will be in line with the features you want and price you are willing to pay. Reading reviews or talking to other people who own different machines will help in your decision.

Allow Time to Learn

As with any new skill, there is a learning curve involved in sewing. Be patient and persevere and you will see results.

Some machines come with an instructional DVD in addition to a printed manual. Some also include a quick guide for basic functions so you can tell at a glance whether you have the right set up or implementing a technique correctly. Additional resources could include classes or demonstrations offered at your local quilting or fabric stores.

The fact that you are reading this article shows that you are on the right track. You are taking the time to research and learn before making a decision.

As you go forward in your quest to find the right sewing machine for the work you’d like to do, remember the topics discussed here and use the resources available to you. Hopefully, you will now be better able to make an informed decision and will be satisfied that you have chosen the best machine for you.