Need a sewing machine? Hold on! There are many different types, features and capabilities. Read our extensive list classifying your sewing machine options.
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.
Table of Contents
- History of the Sewing Machine
- Domestic Sewing Machines
- Industrial Sewing Machines
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Who, When and Where Was the Sewing Machine Invented?
- Are Sewing Machines Loud?
- Are Old/Used Sewing Machines Worth Anything?
- Can Sewing Machines Sew Leather?
- Can Sewing Machines Sew Buttons?
- Can Sewing Machines Do Embroidery?
- Can Sewing Machines Do a Blanket Stitch?
- Can Sewing Machines Do Overlocking?
- Can Sewing Machines Sew Paper?
- How Long Do Sewing Machines Last?
History of the Sewing Machine
The English inventor Thomas Saint is credited with making the first sewing machine design in 1790. The sewing machine used the chain stitch method, in which the machine used a single thread to make simple stitches on the 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.
Then in 1844, English inventor John Fisher combined all the elements of the previous sewing machine to create modern innovation. Unfortunately for him, due to botched patent filings, he did not receive the credit for the modern sewing machine and instead Isaac Merritt Singer got the credit for it when he created and patented the most commercially viable sewing machine in 1951 and eventually created the industrial giant, the Singer Company.
Since then, sewing machines have taken the world by storm and changed people’s lives.
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 machines are run by pedaling and therefore, no electricity or battery is required to run them. They have simple functions and basic features and hence are quite cost-effective. However, they are quite slow as compared to electronic or computerized sewing machines.
- Manual sewing machines are the cheapest sewing machine in 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
These machines have a single motor that runs on electricity. A worker can derive power from the motor by pressing on the foot pedal. A designated dial allows you to select the length and type of stitches. It also comes with several other features.
- 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 way faster than manual sewing machines
- May be subject to frequent maintenance depending on usage
- Not as long lasting as a manual sewing machine
They are the most advanced sewing machines and come with valuable features that have revolutionized the sewing experience. They do not have any buttons or dials but are equipped with LED touch screens that help you select the required features. They also come with a Wi-Fi and USB feature so that you can download designs or extra features online. These machines are extremely precise and do not make any mistake 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 extremely precise and the risk of mistakes is tiny
- With so many options, new users can easily get confused
- These machines have the shortest lifespan of all sewing machines because of ever-evolving technological advancements
- Computerized sewing machines are very expensive and can cost you more than $500
Types by Features
Apart from the above-mentioned sewing machines, there are several other machines that come with versatile features.
These machines make fine embroidery and are often fully computerized. These sewing machines are very quick and are valued because of their time-saving abilities, although hand-embroidered work is more favored.
People have been using the zigzag function in sewing machines to create embroidery; however, with these dedicated computerized embroidery machines, the former method is now used less frequently.
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.
Also known as “Sergers,” these 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. Overlock sewing machines are extremely fast.
Before the modern multipurpose sewing machines were invented, people used other machines to create buttonholes. They were known as buttonhole sewing machines. However, the newer sewing machines have come up with various options for making buttonholes and the use of a dedicated buttonhole machine has largely been eradicated.
A machine that lets workers use two bobbins and two needles are called double needle or twin needle sewing machines. These machines sew in a parallel line of lock stitch and are used to make decorative stitching.
Bar tacking refers to a series of stitches to reinforce fabric that may be subject to wear and tear. Bar tacking 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 is a specialized sewing machine used to attach buttons. It is usually used in the garment industry.
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 lockstitch is found in the center of the thickness in the fabric.
With so many varieties of sewing machines in 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. Hence, 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 seamstress and have the money to do so, you can go for a computerized sewing machine.
Regardless of what sewing machine you buy, make sure it offers you ergonomic comfort, ease in sewing, and is time-effective.
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.
Quilting and Sewing Machine Combo
If you also quilt, you might want a machine that both sews and quilts instead of getting two machines.
Industrial Sewing Machines
Industrial sewing machines have the capacity to be used on the toughest of fabrics without experiencing wear and tear. As such, they are more powerful, tough, and durable. Moreover, 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. These machines are also much larger in size than their household counterparts, and hence, also much more expensive.
Here are some types of industrial sewing machines:
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 machines are fitted on a sewing table with an external motor. These 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 cm to 45 cm in height. This type of machine is used to attach emblems and stitch boots, purses, hats, bags and gloves.
Unlike the flat-bed sewing machine, these devices consist of a horizontal cylindrical column instead of a flat base. The cylinder may be 5 to 16 cm 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 narrow 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 chainlock 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 by your factory, you will need to decide which type of feed mechanism to purchase. Typically, industrial sewing machines have many types of feed capabilities and hence 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 moves with the fabric. This prevents slippage and allows workers 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 1 to 7 threads. Simple stitches including loc, 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.
Frequently Asked Questions
Check out our answers to commonly asked questions about sewing machines below.
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. Thus, American Elias Howe’s 1845 machine receives the credit. Issac Singer, also an American, would build his first 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.