Buying a Sewing Machine: 2 of 3

Subtitled: Sewing Machines That We Don’t Recommend, You Shouldn’t Buy, and Should Think Twice About If You Get Them For Free

In Part One of this series we talked about basic things you need to think about before you buy a new machine.

In Part Two we are going to write about machines that you should avoid. Part Three – machines we really like – will be early next week.

In general, the list is fairly short:

  1. Do not buy hand-held sewing machines.
  2. Do not buy a machine from the base-model series of any brand.
  3. Think twice before you buy an American Brand made after 1985-1990.
  4. Do not confuse technology with functionality

This would be a good place to mention that we do not accept advertising, and the opinions we express are based on our experiences with the machines directly. We no not endorse specific machines or companies if we have not used the machines and found them to be satisfactory.

RUN!!! RUN FAST!!!!!

1. Do we really need to mention this? We know how this started: You are up at three in the morning watching infomercials after the Law & Order marathon… Right before Tony Robbins comes on to tell you how to square away your misspent life you are mesmerized by a woman hemming drapes while they are hanging. You realize – suddenly – that you too can be a creative and functional seamstress with this little machine that is no bigger than an office stapler! It is SO EASY. We would suggest that if you are sincerely interested in achieving a state of ataraxia you stay tuned for Tony and let this great little invention slip by. You can thank us through Paypal.

These hand-held machines (and at least once a quarter someone brings one in) are a problem. The design should work. If the manufacturing were better, they would make a great little novelty. But no. They are made out of the cheapest materials possible to get a cool twenty bucks out of your wallet. Add to that that the frustration you will experience will reduce your lifespan by a solid ten years and you get a big: No.

2. Do not buy the base model machines from any manufacturer. If you are looking at one of the better brands like Bernina, Viking, or Pfaff you will not get the quality you are paying for. If you are looking at the base models of the well-known household brands like Singer, Kenmore, and White you are going to be really unhappy.
This splits in two ways from what we have seen:

-The higher end brands are trying to use the (most often well-deserved) caché of the name to sell you cheap goods. The machines aren’t made to the same standards and you may as well just go buy a Brother off of Amazon (which we will write about in another post). They know you understand the brand to be solid and they are abusing you a bit.

-The American brands that do not have as high a profile are just trying to sell you a US$60-150 machine that they consider to be disposable and you should too.

Some of the better examples of the dilution of a good brand we have experienced: The Bernina Bernette and the Viking Huskystar series. Bernina should be especially ashamed – what really is the pinnacle of sewing machines produced a clunking, generically mundane machine. Yes, of course, both of them will sew but the point is that you want something special with the name – you want the smooth, quiet, solid stitches that form without fuss or bother. Think of it this way: If Bentley (the auto company) bought the remaining Yugos and started manufacturing them in the exact same way as they had been but slapped the B on the front would you pay a premium? Both of them do what cars do…they drive… No? All-right, then.

The baseline of the American brands (which at this point are only marginally American) are almost disposable at this point. When you see the machines in the fabric store that are selling for US$60-150 you know that your sewing experience will be full of loud motors, jammed threads, broken bobbin casings, and any number of other fun things that keep you on your toes. When you buy a machine, you are paying for the motor and engineering as well as the looks and name. If you are buying a new machine for less than US$200, with only a handful of exceptions, you probably are in for it. The problem with all of this is that most of the time you can deal with it, but as beginners or intermediate sewers, a lot of you will not know that the jamming and problems are not of your making and really belong to the joker who decided where to skimp in the design department. Long story short: You will tend to blame yourself (WHY DOES THE BOBBIN KEEP STICKING! WHAT AM I DOING WRONG?!?) and your sewing abilities rather than the terrible design and engineering of the machine.

3. Think twice before you buy an American brand manufactured after 1985-1990. This is a bit more nebulous than the others. In general, the standards have dropped. We see a lot of brand loyalty here – especially with Singer – and some (not all) of it is misplaced. If you want to buy a Singer, buy one manufactured before 1980, preferably before 1970, and ideally in the 1930s – 1950s. The best exception to this scale of backsliding preference: Singer Stylist and 2010 Professional. Really, though: Better to buy a used Bernina than a new Singer.

4. Do not confuse technology with functionality. Bells and whistles that flash before your eyes like video games do not make you a better sewer. Practice and experience with a decent machine makes you a proficient sewer. In the epilogue, where we talk about specific machines not to buy we will go into the Singer 7000 series, but keep it simple. What you should be looking for is a machine that you can grow into a bit, but you shouldn’t pay for functionality you won’t use or that isn’t very good to begin with. Whether computerized, electronic, or manual: You only need these: Straight stitch, Zig-Zag, Buttonhole, and one or two compound knit stitches. That is it. You want to make sure that you can alter and manipulate the stitches and settings yourself. Nothing (or as little as possible) should be pre-set or static. Manual machines are (generally) easier than computerized machines as far as functionality, dependability, and longevity.


Machines we really, really dislike:

Singer 7000 Series. Like the 7463 Confidence (which will break yours) and the 7462 Touch & Sew (no, it won’t). But they look so good! So shiny and new! We will forgo any comment on the stumpy design and list what we really dislike:

  • They do not handle manual override very well.
  • The reverse stitch is over-zealous.
  • They do not sew with thread outside of the all-purpose range (silk and rayon threads are especially problematic).
  • Those levers on the front? They aren’t controlling the gears directly like a regular machine, so you never know what you are going to get! Surprise! Now I am long! Surprise again! Now I’m too small!
  • Slipping and general lack of stability.
  • YAY! Crappy tension control!
  • Did we mention that it may or may not remember what your settings were the last time you turned it off? Yes! Regardless of the actual lever placement! But there is a random blinking green/red light that is at best poorly calibrated and at worst completely arbitrary! What a sewing adventure!

These machines are terrible. Like the company is actively trying to trick you.

We were going to go into any number of problematic machines and what we think, but will let this rest for the time being.
If this has saved anyone from buying a hand-held machine, Bernina Bernette, Viking Huskystar, or Singer 7000 series, great.


  1. You used the word ataraxia in a sewing blog.
    I’m home.

  2. Great post! Helpful yet hilarious! Can you give similar recommendations on a good serger (or least ones to avoid)?

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