Quicklist: Sewing Machines
- Bar Tack
- Button Attachment
- Lock Stitch
Although sewing machines are becoming a rare sight in homes, Gandhi, who eschewed all other technological advancements, called them “one of the few useful things ever invented.”
The sewing machine has been around for centuries and like many inventions, especially appliances, was not well-received at first. Nevertheless, it was successful in making a mark and is still the most important machinery in the textile industry.
Sewing Machine History
The English inventor Thomas Saint is credited with designing the first sewing machine in 1790. His invention used the chain stitch method, in which a single thread makes simple stitches on fabric. It was to be used on canvas and leather, however, Saint failed to properly market it. [Source: University of Houston]
Although many people built different versions of the sewing machine throughout the years, the first practical and most widely used one was invented by the French tailor, Barthelemy Thimonnier, in 1829. His machine utilized the same model as Saint and was patented on July 17, 1830.
In that same year, he opened up the first machine-based clothing company to make uniforms for the French Army. However, the factory was burned down by rioting tailors who feared they would lose their livelihood in wake of the patent.
In 1844, English inventor John Fisher put together all the elements from previous sewing machines to create the modern innovation.
Unfortunately for him, due to botched patent filings, he did not receive credit for his work and instead Isaac Merritt Singer got the recognition — he created and patented the most commercially viable sewing machine in 1851 and eventually formed the industrial giant, the Singer Company.
Since then, sewing machines have been a mainstay of the textile industry and an important agent of social change.
Domestic Sewing Machines
Unlike their industrial counterparts, domestic or household sewing machines are generally made of lighter material like plastic polymers and nylon. These machines are not as quick as industrial sewing machines, but they have a lot of features in a single machine. Since they are not made for hard use, the motors in these devices heat up after rigorous use.
Manual Sewing Machine
Manual sewing machines are either hand-operated or use a foot pedal (treadle) and require no electricity or battery to run them. They feature simple functions and basic features, however, they are also quite slow compared to electronic or computerized sewing machines.
- Manual sewing machines are the cheapest sewing machine on the market
- Since they do not have wiring, they are very low maintenance
- Extremely durable and long-lasting
- Lack of advanced features and options
- It might be a little difficult to find the right setting
Electronic Sewing Machine
These machines have a single motor that runs on electricity. A worker can get power from the motor by pressing on a foot pedal. A designated dial selects the length and type of stitches.
- The best type of sewing machines for beginners as it is easy to use
- Comes with a huge variety of versatile features, like types of stitches
- Provides more control through a foot pedal
- Electronic sewing machines are considerably faster than manual sewing machines
- May be subject to frequent maintenance depending on usage
- Not as long-lasting as a manual sewing machine
Computerized sewing machines are the most advanced type available and come with valuable features that have revolutionized the sewing experience. They are equipped with LED touch screens that help you select the required features.
They also come with Wi-Fi and USB capability so that you can download designs or extra features online. The machines are extremely precise and do not make errors in stitch length.
- Packed with various features like over 100 built-in stitch types for personalized sewing
- No cumbersome dials and buttons
- Automatic creation of buttonholes
- Better control of machine speed
- Stitches are precise
- With so many options, new users can easily get confused
- The machines have the shortest lifespan of all sewing machines because of ever-evolving technological advancements
- Computerized sewing machines are expensive and can cost more than $500
Sewing Machine Types by Features
Apart from the above-mentioned sewing machines, there are several other machines that come with versatile features.
Embroidery Sewing Machine
These machines make fine embroidery and are often fully computerized. They are very quick and are valued because of their time-saving abilities.
Embroidery sewing machines come in three types: ones with limited options, ones that give you leeway to make your own embroidery, and ones that allow you to download new designs.
Overlock/Serger Sewing Machine
Also known as “sergers,” these extremely fast machines are designed to create overlocked stitches on hems and seams to create tight and neat edges. These machines also have a cutter, which cuts the edge while creating a seam.
Buttonhole Sewing Machine
Before the modern multi-purpose sewing machines were invented, people used other machines to create buttonholes. However, the newer sewing machines have come up with various options for making buttonholes and the use of a dedicated machine has largely been eradicated.
Double-Needle Sewing Machine
Machines that use two bobbins and two needles are called double-needle or twin-needle sewing machines. The machines sew in a parallel line of lock stitch and are used to make decorative stitching.
Bartack Sewing Machine
Bartacking refers to a series of stitches to reinforce fabric that may be subject to wear and tear. Bartacking provides durability and strength to the material and hence is used in joining belt loops, ends of blankets and zippers, and sewing the corners of the pockets.
Button Attachment Sewing Machine
Specialized button attachment sewing machines are used in the garment industry.
Lock Stitch Sewing Machine
Lock stitch is the most common and basic stitch found in every sewing machine. Lock stitch machines lock together two threads before they pass through the hole into the fabric. A lock stitch is found in the center of the thickness in the fabric.
With so many varieties of sewing machines on the market, it is not always an easy task to decide which one to buy. If you are a beginner, you need to buy a sewing machine that is easy to use and does not have too many complicated features.
An electronic sewing machine is a good choice. It should be made of strong material so that it lasts for a long time. Moreover, it should be compact so that it doesn’t take up too much space. If you are an experienced sewer and have the money to do so, you could go for a computerized sewing machine.
Regardless of what sewing machine you purchase, make sure it offers you ergonomic comfort, ease in sewing, and is time-effective.
Portable Sewing Machine
Above is a portable battery-powered mini-sewing machine with excellent reviews. If you travel and frequently need to sew something, this is a terrific little unit to get.
Sewing and Quilting Machines
If you also quilt, you might want a machine that both sews and quilts.
Industrial Sewing Machines
Industrial sewing machines have the capacity to be used on the toughest of fabrics without experiencing wear and tear. Powerful, tough and durable, major components like connecting rods, gears, housing, and body are all made of a strong material like aluminum and iron.
Industrial sewing machines are also equipped with high quality and advanced features that allow you several different options, which are not found in domestic sewing machines.
Here are some types of industrial sewing machines:
Flat-bed Sewing Machine
These machines consist of an extended needle arm, very much like the ones used in domestic settings. They are used in factories to sew together flat pieces of fabric and other simple projects.
Post-bed Sewing Machine
Post-bed machines are fitted on a sewing table with an external motor. The devices consist of feed dogs, bobbins and loopers in a raised, vertical column above the flat base of the machine. The column may range from 10 to 45 centimeters in height. This type of machine is used to attach emblems and stitch boots, purses, hats, bags and gloves.
Cylinder-bed Sewing Machine
Unlike the flat-bed sewing machine, these devices consist of a horizontal cylindrical column instead of a flat base. The cylinder may be five to 16 centimeters wide and is used to sew cylindrical pieces like sleeves and cuffs as well as bulky items like shoes and saddles.
Free-Arm Sewing Machine
Free-arm sewing machines come with a detachable flat-bed arm, which can give way to a free-arm. A free-arm is a much narrower working surface than a flat-bed and has space beneath it so that it doesn’t touch the sewing table on which the machine rests. You can use it to make sleeve or pant hems by inserting fabric around the arm, which will give you the edge and space to sew circular projects.
Feed-off-the-Arm Sewing Machine
In this machine, two or three needles and loopers may be used and sewing may be done from four threads. The feed-off-the-arm machine produces two to three rows of parallel chain lock stitching rows. This machine is used for sewing light-weight to heavy-weight material like jeans, inside of knit shirts and T-shirts. [Source: FriedlanderSewing.com]
Factors to Consider with Industrial Sewing Machines
Once you have decided which type of sewing machine is required, you will need to decide which type of feed mechanism to purchase. Typically, industrial sewing machines have many types of feed capabilities and are quite expensive.
- Drop Feed: As the name suggests, the feed mechanism lies below the sewing surface of the device. This is, perhaps, the most common type of feed mechanism.
- Needle Feed: In this feed mechanism, the needle doesn’t just go up and down or left and right but also forward and backward. The needle assists the feeding mechanics in advancing fabric for the next stage, preventing slippage and allowing workers to sew many layers of fabrics at the same time.
- Walking Foot: The traditional immoveable presser foot is instead replaced by an extra pair of feed dogs that move with the fabric. This prevents slippage and allows sewers to work on slippery, spongy and cushiony fabrics.
- Puller Feed: This is a modification of the drop feed mechanism and involves a pair of rollers that pull the fabric forward behind the presser foot. This type of mechanics is used to make heavy-fabric projects like canvas tents and leather saddle.
- Manual Feed: As the name suggests, manual feed mechanics allow the worker maximum control for delicate work such as fine embroidery, quilting and shoe repair. For this kind of work, it sometimes becomes necessary to remove the feed dogs to get the manual feed mechanics to do fine work.
There are several dozen types of stitch methods when it comes to sewing and each requires about one to seven threads. Simple stitches including lock, chainlock, overlock and coverstitches, are the most commonly used stitching methods in the industry.
Design and Strength
The design and strength of the sewing machine varies and depends on the type of fabric you want to sew. For medium to heavy-duty materials like canvas, denim and leather, high-quality machines built with iron and aluminum are a good choice while basic-level industrial machines may be enough for light-weight fabric like cotton and silk.
Additionally, machines with a larger size will provide more surface area on the bed and more space under the foot. They will also be able to make more stitches per minute and hence are more expensive.
When looking at the top sewing machine brands, it is interesting to note that some models have been around for over a century, while others are relatively new to the party. Regardless of how long they have existed, the following are some of today’s leaders.
The Singer company began operations in Boston in 1851, one year after Isaac Singer invented his first practical sewing machine for private use. His first cast iron machine made a lockstitch with a straight, eye-pointed needle and a reciprocating shuttle. Meant for industrial rather than home use, the sewing machine included a foot treadle keeping the worker’s hands free to guide material.
Today, the Singer brand is one of the most recognized and trusted in the sewing world. They produce machines for beginners, professionals, and everyone in between. Singer continues to innovate as they were the first company to launch a sewing assistant app in 2017.
In the 1920s, Yokaso Use pioneered a round bobbin system on his sewing machines. Users of the device thought the new round bobbins looked like a snake’s eye, which in the Japanese language is “Janome.” The company makes both home and industrial machines.
Juki is one of the younger companies on this list, even though its been active since 1945. They started making almost exclusively industrial-machines, however, as they found more success expanded into home-use as well.
Brother is another company with over 100 years of history. Kanekichi Yasui started Yasui Sewing in Japan in 1908. Later in the 1920s, his two sons inherited the company, and the Yasui Brother sewing machine company was born.
Now shortened to just Brother, the company is one of the world’s leading manufacturers of sewing machines. Brother sewing machines are user-friendly and great value for the cost.
Bernina, named after the tallest summit in the Alps, has a rich sewing history. Founded by Karl Frederich Gegauf, who invented the first hemstitch sewing machine, the company has remained in the Swiss Gegauf family for generations.
Bernina continues to innovate and be a global leader in persona-use sewing machines.
Pfaff began in 1862 when founder Georg Pfaff invented his first sewing machine. Since then, the German company has been a very successful manufacturer with a legacy of quality machines.
Today, Pfaff products are considered high-end sewing machines due to their innovations and commitment to excellence.
Believe it or not, Husqvarna started out as a weapon manufacturer in the late 1600s and continued to make rifles up until 1989. In the 19th century the Swedish company also began producing sewing machines.
And as one of the oldest sewing machine companies in the world, Husqvarna has a reputation for excellence and longevity. Owners of vintage Husqvarna machines often brag about how many decades the device has continued working.
Where to Buy
Beginner sewing machines are usually sold in big box stores and craft stores. If you’re in the market for a machine that can embroider or perform multiple types of stitching, you’ll want to look in a specialty sewing store or buy directly from the manufacturer through their website. Shoppers looking for antique sewing machines will need to scour estate and yard sales.
Whether you’re looking for a new sewing machine to repair the clothes you have, work on some craft projects, or start making your own custom clothes, finding a machine can be a challenge. Many people rushed to buy sewing machines at the start of the pandemic, in the hopes that they would use their new-found free time to finally catch up or start some projects.
That means that today there is often a shortage of sewing machines, which has caused many people to look in some creative places. If you’re in the market for a new sewing machine, start looking in these places.
Big Box Stores
Walmart, Target, and even Best Buy will all carry a small selection of sewing machines. These machines tend to be fairly basic, but they are a good place to start for people who have never used a sewing machine before and just need to be able to do a few basic stitches. These machines tend to be the cheapest available on the market.
General Craft Stores
Stores such as Michaels and Joann usually carry a small selection of sewing machines if they carry fabric. Selection tends to be a lot better through these retailers through their websites. These are usually mid-tier machines, but it is possible to find starter machines and embroidery machines, as well.
Sewing and Quilting Stores
If you’re looking for a high-end or specialty machine, your local fabric or quilting store is probably your best bet. Expect to pay a lot, but these stores will usually also offer classes in how to use the machine and sometimes even offer limited troubleshooting and repair services.
Buying a machine online will practically guarantee that you’ll get exactly what you’re looking for, but you have to know what you want. Online retailers don’t give the opportunity to try out a machine before you buy, leaving you to rely heavily on online reviews.
Stick to websites that you know well or buy directly from the manufacturer; there are a lot of copy-cat and knock-off machines available.
Yard and Estate Sales
If you’re looking for a good deal on a sewing machine and you have the time to spend on the search, start visiting local estate and yard sales. While you can find good bargains, be aware that there are often collectors who show up as soon as these sales open up, making it difficult to get a particular machine unless you know what you’re looking for.
Best Types of Sewing Machine for Various Purposes
The Best Sewing Machine for Beginners
Mechanical sewing machines are ideal for people that are new to sewing. These models tend to have fewer stitches and settings, making them beginner-friendly. As an added bonus, they’re also more affordable than electrical sewing machines.
“For a beginner, I actually recommend that you get an inexpensive machine,” says Evelyn Wood, a sewing teacher and dressmaker. “After about six months, you can invest in a machine with more bells and whistles.”
The Singer M1000 is an inexpensive sewing machine that’s popular with newcomers. It has a compact design and weighs just 5.5 pounds. The machine has 32 stitches and a free arm.
Another option for novices is the Bernette Sew & Go. It has 10 stitches that are accessible via an easy-to-use touch panel. The lightweight machine also comes with attachments for sewing buttons and zippers.
The Best Sewing Machine for Kids
It’s never too early to learn how to sew! Sewing can be a fun hobby and a useful skill. For a child, it’s best to use a sewing machine designed for kids.
This kid’s sewing machine from Jancome has a lot in common with a full-sized sewing machine. The only real difference is that it’s small enough for a child’s hands. It comes with a built-in bobbin diagram and even includes a quick start guide.
For very young children, this Made By Me sewing machine is also a good choice. Since it’s made for felt projects, it’s somewhat limited. Still, it’s a wonderful way for kids to practice sewing skills and build confidence.
The Best Sewing Machine for Making Clothes
Electrical, mechanical, and computerized sewing machines are great for making clothes at home. A computerized machine is your best bet if you want your stitches to be as accurate as possible. If you’d like to have more control as you sew, a mechanical machine is a better option.
“The most important thing to have in your sewing room is a machine that will give you a nice, steady basic stitch,” says fashion designer Susan Elias. “Look for consistency and accuracy.”
The Singer 7258 is a computerized machine with over 100 built-in stitch options. While it offers a wide range of features, the machine is still very easy to use. The machine comes with a variety of accessories, including a zipper foot and a rolled hem foot.
The Best Sewing Machine for Jeans
Denim is a thick and sturdy material that can be difficult to work with. If you plan on sewing denim, you’ll want to use a heavy-duty sewing machine that can handle tough fabrics. You may want to look for a sewing machine that comes with a separate denim needle and a zig-zag stitch setting.
The Brother ST371HD comes with several heavyweight needs and a zig-zag presser foot. It’s equipped with a powerful motor and has a drop-in bobbin system that’s designed to prevent jams. This sewing can also handle delicate fabrics like silk.
The Best Sewing Machine for Quilting
Computerized and mechanical sewing machines can both work well for quilting projects. There are also many models designed for making quilts. Look for a model with a large throat area that will allow for free motion sewing.
The Jancome MC6650 offers all kinds of features that are perfect for quilters. It offers 170 stitches and a quilting foot-set. This machine even remembers settings so that you can easily restart projects.
The Best Sewing Machine for Leather
Leather lasts for a long time and is simple to repair. Unfortunately, it isn’t always the easiest material to sew with. If you want to work with leather, you should look for a heavy-duty sewing machine.
The Singer Heavy Duty 4452 is a high-speed machine. It includes a non-stick foot for leather and vinyl projects. This machine also comes with size 16 needles and a clearance plate for thick seams.
The Best Sewing Machine for Thick Fabric
If you plan on working with a range of thicker fabrics, it’s best to find a machine with an array of features. Seek out a heavy-duty machine with a powerful motor. Any model you choose should be capable of handling thicker stitches.
The Juki TL-2010Q is a premium sewing machine that can work with any sturdy fabric. Although it’s an expensive machine, it’s beautifully designed. It’s made out of ultra-durable aluminum that can last a lifetime.
A more affordable option is the Bernette B05 Academy Sewing Machine. It’s a fast sewing machine with an adjustable presser foot. The machine also has a half-speed mode for tricky sewing projects.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who, When and Where Was the Sewing Machine Invented?
The first patent for a sewing machine was granted to English inventor Charles Frederick Weisenthal in 1755, but no working machine was ever made. The first working chain stitch machine was invented in Britain in 1804 by Thomas Stone and James Henderson.
The first lock stitch machine was invented by American Walter Hunt in 1832. The first modern sewing machine was created by English inventor John Fisher in 1844, but it wasn’t patented. Isaac Singer would build the first commercially successful sewing machine in 1851.
Are Sewing Machines Loud?
Although many older machines are louder, most newer models are designed to be fairly quiet. Many newer machines can only be heard in the room used for sewing. If they do get louder, they probably need some routine maintenance or to be placed on more balanced work surfaces.
Are Old/Used Sewing Machines Worth Anything?
There are several factors that decide whether or not old or used machines are worth anything. These include the age of the machine, the machine’s condition and whether or not the machine was part of a limited production run.
If you think your machine is valuable, check its model number and condition. Next, look online or at a local antique dealer to see how much similar machines are worth.
Can Sewing Machines Sew Leather?
Many standard machines aren’t strong enough to sew leather due to its thickness. In addition, leather tends to dull sewing needles fairly quickly. You’ll need an industrial or heavy-duty sewing machine that’s specifically designed to work on upholstery materials. You should also consider using nylon thread since cotton threads tend to break.
Can Sewing Machines Sew Buttons?
Most newer machines can sew buttons as long as they are capable of making a zig-zag stitch of medium width. If the button has eyes, then it can be sewn without much difficulty. You may, however, want to raise the machine’s foot slightly above the fabric. If a button has a shank, on the other hand, then sewing will have to be done by hand.
Can Sewing Machines Do Embroidery?
Most embroidery work is done by special embroidery machines. Embroidery requires unique stitches and movements that standard sewing machines aren’t capable of performing.
Some sewing machines, particularly the more expensive ones, do come with a removable embroidery unit. This allows people to do all the work that’s needed without the extra space that’s required for a second machine.
Can Sewing Machines Do a Blanket Stitch?
Just like sewing buttons, most newer machines can do a blanket stitch since the requirements are similar. Since these tend to be more decorative, it’s a good idea to use thicker threads that can visibly stand out.
You should also consider using an open toe applique foot, which will allow you to see where you’re going as you move the fabric. Thicker fabrics will mean thicker threads and needles.
Can Sewing Machines Do Overlocking?
Standard sewing machines can create lock stitches that can do a similar job to what an overlocking machine can do, which is to finish edges or close up seams.
Even so, they can’t do the same kind of work as a true overlocking machine because overlockers use multiple loopers to get multiple threads done. In contrast, standard sewing machines have a single bobbin that feeds a single thread into the fabric.
Can Sewing Machines Sew Paper?
Most sewing machines can sew paper, but you’ll need to do a few things to make sure your project is a success. First, use a slightly blunted needle since paper will blunt them further. You don’t want to waste your good needles. Second, use thick paper or card stock.
Thin paper will easily tear and ruin your design. Finally, use bigger stitches. Bigger and wider stitches are less likely to tear the paper.
How Long Do Sewing Machines Last?
A modern computerized sewing machine can last as long as 25 years without any serious issues. Older and non-computerized machines can continue to work for decades. Some working sewing machines date back to the 1930s.
If you want your machine to be one of them, then perform routine maintenance and have your sewing retailer perform tune-ups every couple of years. You can also send older machines back to the manufacturer for necessary repairs.
What size sewing machine needle?
The size of the sewing machine needle you’ll need will depend on the type of fabric you’re sewing with. If you’re working with a lightweight fabric, you’ll need a smaller needle, while a heavier fabric will require a larger one.
How do sewing machines work?
Sewing machines use a needle and thread to create a stitch that joins two pieces of fabric together. The machine has a feed dog that moves the fabric under the needle, and the needle creates the stitch as it moves up and down.
Why is my sewing machine skipping stitches?
There are a few reasons why your sewing machine might be skipping stitches. The most common reason is that the needle is not properly inserted into the needle clamp. Another possibility is that the tension on the machine is not set correctly. If you’re still having trouble, it’s best to consult your sewing machine manual or take it to a professional for help.
Why does my sewing machine keep jamming?
Some of the most common reasons for sewing machine jams include:
- The needle is not properly inserted into the needle clamp
- The wrong type of needle is being used
- The tension on the machine is not set correctly
- The feed dog is not properly engaged
- There is a problem with the bobbin case or shuttle race
- Something is blocking the movement of the needle or presser foot
If you’re experiencing sewing machine jams, the best course of action is to consult your sewing machine manual to make sure everything is set up correctly. If the problem persists, you may need to take your machine to a professional for service.
What sewing machine is best for beginners?
There is no definitive answer to this question as it depends on a number of factors, such as budget, sewing goals, and experience level. However, some good sewing machine options for beginners include the Brother CS6000i and the Singer 4411.
What sewing machine is best for quilting?
There are a number of sewing machines on the market that are specifically designed for quilting. Some good options include the Janome Memory Craft 6500P and the Brother PQ1500SL.
Why does my sewing machine thread keep breaking?
When it comes to sewing machine thread, quality is important. If you’re using a cheap, low-quality thread, it’s more likely to break. Another common reason for thread breakage is incorrect tension.
If the tension on your sewing machine is too tight, the thread is more likely to snap. Finally, make sure the needle you’re using is the correct size and type for the fabric you’re working with.
What to make with a sewing machine?
The options are limitless! Some things you can make with a sewing machine include clothes, quilts, curtains, and bags. If you really want to get funky, you can experiment with making dolls, stuffed animals, or even jewelry.
With a sewing machine, the only limit is your imagination!
Are sewing machine needles universal?
No, sewing machine needles are not universal. The type of needle you’ll need will depend on the fabric you’re working with and the type of sewing machine you’re using. Be sure to consult your sewing machine manual or a professional to make sure you’re using the correct needle.
What sewing machine needle to use for fleece?
For sewing with fleece, you’ll need a needle that is specifically designed for use with this fabric. A good choice is the Schmetz Stretch Needle, which is designed to sew through stretchy fabrics without breaking the thread.
You can’t use a needle for, say, cotton because the eye of the needle is too small, and the needle will break. When you’re looking for a good needle for fleece, you need to look for a needle that has a slightly larger eye and is designed for use with stretchy fabrics.
What size sewing machine needle for vinyl?
When sewing with vinyl, you’ll need a heavy-duty needle, such as the Schmetz Jeans Needle. This type of needle is designed to sew through thick fabrics without breaking.
When you are looking for a strong needle, always check the package to make sure it is designed for use with thick fabrics such as vinyl. A regular needle will not be strong enough and will break easily.
Can you use a sewing machine without a bobbin?
No, you cannot use a sewing machine without a bobbin. The bobbin is an essential part of the sewing process, as it holds the bottom thread while you sew.
Can you use a sewing machine without a presser foot?
No, you cannot use a sewing machine without a presser foot. The presser foot is what holds the fabric in place as you sew.
If you’re having trouble with your presser foot, make sure it is properly attached to your machine. If the problem persists, you may need to consult your sewing machine manual or take your machine to a professional for service.