Take online reviews with a grain of salt. You should test drive ANY machine you ever wish to buy, do extensive research and price comparisons on the model before you let a sales person pressure you into a purchase. It's just like buying a car, especially once you get up in the higher price range!
We're listing machines we LOVE, ones we LOATHE, some VINTAGE FINDS and sources.
Machines We Love:
Janome Gem 660—MSRP $299, can find online for around $199
This is an ok model if you’re on a super tight budget. It is lightweight and super basic. Not ideal for heavier fabrics.
Janome Magnolia 7330—MSRP $599, Stitch Lab price is $399
This is our student rental machine and the absolute best sewing machine for the price. Biggest bang for your buck! Also perfect for kids and beginner adults, but with computerized stitch controls, and all the bells and whistles we mention in our criteria lists at the top of this page. When you lift your foot from the pedal, it automatically completes a stitch and ends with the needle and take-up lever in the upright position, reducing potential thread jams. Nice buttonhole and decorative stitch options. Stop by Stitch Lab for a no-pressure test drive!
High End Cost
We don't recommend buying an expensive machine for your very first machine. Buying a machine that has a zillion features will feel overwhelming and you really don't need all that business if you're just going to be hobby sewing or just making clothes, bags, etc. Don't let yourself get talked into a dazzling embroidery machine (only to realize you'll soon run out of things to embroider), unless this makes sense for your sewing goals. High end machines are a great luxury. Remember that 90% of most sewing is simply stitching a straight stitch to put together seams.
We feel that in general, Viking/Husqvarna, Bernina and Pfaff put out excellent high end machines. Most companies introduce several new models each year, which means that you can often get a deal on an older model or trade-in. A good new Bernina or Pfaff will run you anywhere from $1200 and up. All of these companies also make cheap, low-end machines so you can say you have a name brand machine, but they are junky. The lower end Bernina Bernette is awful and you should not waste your money. You're much better off with the Janome models above.
You should test drive ANY machine you ever wish to buy, do extensive research and price comparisons on the model before you let a sales person pressure you into a purchase. It's just like buying a car, especially once you get up in this price range!
Here’s a Bernina 330 that we have test driven and like. It has features that are very similar to the Janome 7330’s that we carry.
And a Pfaff Select 4.2 that has a built-in walking foot that is awesome for quilters and costume/apparel stitchers using tricky fabrics.
Austin Bernina Dealer: Sew Much More
Austin Pfaff Dealer: A Quilter's Folly
New Machines we DO NOT LOVE!
Euro Pro/Shark, Singer, Brother, Elna, White.
Most of these are the ones you can pick up at Target, Walmart, QVC and the fabric store chains for under $400. Of course, if you already have these machines, we are not the least bit snobby about it—we just want to steer folks who are looking to buy a new machine toward a better, longer lasting and more user-friendly model, such as the ones we recommend above, or the vintage ones below. We always say, "Love the one you're with, until you see what you need. Then upgrade when you can."
After drying the tears of many a frustrated student—we give you the machines we LOATHE for their cheap construction and constant jamming. DO NOT waste your money on these machines!
You would think that Singer, a company that has been around since 1851, would only be in business today because of great machines. Unfortunately they sold their name in the 1980's and the quality has been on the decline ever since. The names of these machines are the cruel irony: Promise, Tradition, Simple, Inspiration, Commercial Grade, Talent, Heavy Duty, Esteem, Scholastic, Confidence.
Also not a fan of these Brother models. People think that because Brother is a machine used by Project Runway, it is a good machine. Sadly, the low-end machines up through the mid-range priced machines are awful. Steer clear unless you can do a test drive.
Vintage—Tried & TRUE!
If you want a deal on a great used machine, going vintage is a good way to get a wonderful machine. We do NOT recommend buying on Ebay. You're better off buying used and refurbished trade-ins locally from Fix the Stitchuation (Stitch Lab), Northwest Sewing Center, Quilter's Folly, and Sew Much More. Some of these places will even give you a warranty on a used refurb—just ask. If you go on Craigslist, just do your homework ahead of time. Research the model and what the going rate for that used machine is. Ask tons of questions: How many previous owners, last time it was serviced, last time used, if it has all of it's accessories, foot pedal and tray table, etc.
Best Vintage/Used Brands:
While these don't have modern conveniences, like one-step buttonholes and speed control, they were made in an era when machines were built to last a lifetime, and be passed down through the generations! Our in-house sewing machine repair gal, Hayley, lovingly restores vintage machines. You can bring one in to be tuned, cleaned and repaired, but she also has refurbs for sale. She chooses only the best machines to revive and offers them at a fair and affordable price. Visit Fix the Stitchuation to view the current used machine selection at Stitch Lab. Hayley will meet you for a test drive by appointment.
Here are some models coveted by many professional seamstresses for their workhorse power and simplicity.
Love these classic Kenmore 158.16600 or Kenmore 10 and 12-Stitch Models. They are basic, but are so solid and smooth when well cared for.
Bernina 830—built to last with all the basic stitches, plus a few decorative ones (circa 1971-1982).
The Bernina 930 is a fancier version of the 830. When you lift your foot from the pedal, it automatically completes a stitch and ends with the needle and take-up lever in the upright position. It came with a knee lift (that thing in the front of the picture), which you could attach and use to lift the presser foot for pivoting and such. This is considered by many to be the best machine Bernina ever made (circa 1982-1989).
One of the original portable machines, the Singer 221 Featherweight was a gift to many a girl for home economics classes from the 1930's through the 1960's. It is aesthetically gorgeous, and purrs like a kitten when well taken care of. It only does straight stitching though, so keep that in mind.