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Sewing Machine Advice

I've had my sewing machine since I was 14 and it has significant sentimental value. Finding a good sewing machine can be challenging for a beginner as you wouldn't understand what functions you would require your machine to need. The best electric sewing machines can make light work of bigger sewing jobs, while a quality overlocker model will help even a sewing novice to achieve a professional finish.

If you're just starting out or intend to sew only now and then, a basic electronic model will probably suit your needs. You won’t need to spend more than £200 to get a good one. As a general rule of thumb, look for models offering a selection of foot attachments that will allow you to do the basics, such as inserting a zip. A zipper foot, buttonhole foot and possibly a plastic foot for delicate fabrics is a good selection for beginners. Look for a few different stitches: several different lengths of straight stitch, a choice of zigzag stitches and an automatic buttonhole are the bare minimum. Decorative stitches are nice to have, but aren’t worth paying much more for unless you're confident that you'll progress to creating work with decorative embellishments. Some brands have accessories you can buy for this purpose, which is handy if you decide you want to get more adventurous once you’ve mastered the basics. This is less likely with cheaper models.



Electric sewing machines are the most popular kind, sew a range of stitch types and are controlled by a foot pedal. A basic electric sewing machine contains a motor in the body. This drives the needle in the top part of the sewing machine and controls other working parts, such as the bobbin and feed dogs that automatically feed material to the machine under the needle. The motor is driven by a foot pedal that you control. These usually offer a range of speeds – the harder you put your foot down, the faster you sew. Electric sewing machines allow for a reasonable range and size of stitches, which are selected by turning a dial. They're much faster and more accurate than old-fashioned manual sewing machines. Computerised sewing machines

Computerised sewing machines do everything that ordinary electric machines do – and a lot more. They’re controlled by a computer which is pre-programmed with the correct tension, length and width for each stitch style. They're operated using a touchpad and screen, and with more advanced models you can download programs from your PC. Computerised sewing machines can memorise past work and will also store hundreds of different stitches for you to choose from.

Overlocker sewing machines are designed to stop fraying and to give a professional finish to the seams of a garment. They are typically used in addition to a regular sewing machine – you can’t use one on its own as its functions are limited. The main purpose of an overlocker sewing machine is to neaten seams, which it achieves by trimming while sewing. While you can use an ordinary sewing machine to neaten an edge, you have to cut the fabric yourself, then set the machine to zigzag stitch, which takes time and creates a slight ridge. An overlocker sews faster than a sewing machine and you can buy attachments that make it particularly useful for stitching rolled hems, gathering and attaching bindings. Here's the average price for the best sewing machine brands.

Embroidery machines use a needle and thread to stitch a design onto an embroidery blank, which can be anything from cotton fabric to cardstock paper or balsa wood. There are two main types of machine embroidery: free-motion and computerised. With free-motion machine embroidery, designs are created using a basic zigzag sewing machine, but this can be quite limiting.

I have seen many people buy an embroidery machine instead of a sewing machine, don't do this.



Straight stitch – This is the stitch you will use most often.

Zig Zag – Used when you need a finished look for raw edges.

Stretch straight – This is the stitch to use on anything you need to be secure after much use. It’s a precision stitch and you want a machine that can produce it correctly.

Tri-motion – finishes your edges and prevents unraveling.

Blind hem – Used to make hems that cannot be seen, or barely seen, from the right side of the clothing.

Button hole – A one step button hole option will save you lots of grief if you ever need to make button holes for clothing or other projects such as shower curtains.

Other stitches will be needed based on the specific projects you work on; but these are the basics you will need.

Sew with glasses on. If you're an aggressive and impatient sewer like myself, I highly remind wearing glasses when sewing. Your needle will break and when that happens you don't want it flying around your face without eye protection.



A presser foot is an attachment used with sewing machines to hold fabric flat as it is fed through the machine and stitched. These can be changed in accordance to what you are sewing. Unlike some sewing machine accessories, presser feet are interchangeable between various brands. The only thing you need to be concerned with is the type of shank you are working with.

Pressor feet are quite cheap, normally a pound or two, so collecting a few wouldn't break the bank. It depends on what you want to sew as to which foot you would need. However, I overall recommend a zipper foot and a narrow pressure foot.


Sewing machine jargon buster

Bobbin/bobbin winder

A small spool for holding the thread in the bottom of the sewing machine – it sits in a compartment under the needle. Thread needs to be wound on to the bobbin before you start sewing, but most electric machines have a bobbin-winding function.

Feed dog

Presser foot

Sewing bed

Sewing machine needle plate

Bobbin winder

Spool holder

Foot pedal

Stitch dial

Tension control


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