Just following on from some conversations recently I have reposted this post I wrote on another blog several years ago.

“With Mother’s Day coming up there have been plenty of special deals advertised for sewing machines. The low prices combined with the recession trend towards frugality means quite a few women (and men) are considering buying one.

Having recently bought a new machine myself and talked to a number of shoppers, here are a few tips. They are in no particular order as different things are important for different people.

You get what you pay for

Kind of obvious really but it’s worth thinking about how you are going to put your sewing machine to use. If it’s just the odd bit of mending and moment of inspiration for a party costume then a pretty basic model is going to do the trick and you can consider machines in the $300 – $450 range. If you want to do any more than that, it’s worth saving a few more pennies (or going in with a friend) and heading into the next price level if not higher.  I would also suggest – no matter how tempting the deals at the big name stores like Harvey Norman or Noel Leeming (or Spotlight) it is worth shopping at a specialist store. You will get good advice and as a general rule better service in understanding your machine.

The difference electronics make

The first sewing machine I bought (26 years ago this month!) had a 25 year guarantee. It was mechanical and the general rule was it would run better the more it was used. My mother’s 45 year old earlier model is still going strong and had a lifetime guarantee for certain partss

Then about 17 years ago I bought a secondhand (hardly used) early electronic machine. It is still going well although it has had a replacement motherboard ($400 was still cheaper than a new machine at that level) My wonder sewing machine repair man has taught me quite a bit in passing about machines over the years and there are some different things you need to consider.

Basically an electronic machine will not last as long as a mechanical machine – the components (like any computer) age. So save the investment into the super amazing one until you know you will have the time to use it – for instance I just bought a new middle range machine for the next 10 – 15 years and am planning on the wonder one for retirement.

Being electronic you need to get out of the habit of leaving your machine switched on when you aren’t using it. Power equals heat and heat and electronics don’t mix in the long term – so get into the habit of turning off your machine when you walk away for any length of time. Better still unplug it if you are leaving it out overnight.

Buy what you know

A couple of things here – many older women come in looking for a new machine because the machine they used a lot when their children were small needs replacing. They say they need something really basic because they wont be using it nearly as much. A great piece of advice I got when I was in the same position is to look for at least the same number and types of stitches your old machine has. You might think you wont use them but will get frustrated if they aren’t there. This isn’t that hard as even the most basic electronic machines have a pretty good range, but it is worth keeping in mind. For example I did use the alphabet function quite a bit on my old machine and that helped decide between similar options.

Brand loyalty is a big thing in sewing machines – having changed brands with my latest purchase I’m struggling a bit. My daughters love it and one of them might get lucky if I have sufficient cash to invest in my brand preference. So if you have sewn a lot/ grown up with a particular brand, start with that.

Trying it out

If your old machine had a front loading bobbin (and was mechanical or early electronic) the design and shape of many of the new machines with drop in bobbins can feel kind of odd. It’s hard to describe and isn’t confined to a particular brand but I have found the line of sight seems different. It’s possibly due to the way top threading has been altered to make it easier. It can take a bit of getting used to.

I always like to check the buttonhole a machine sews, how easy it is and the general appearance. The bottom line machines aren’t designed to deal with very heavy fabrics but anything up from that should sew that OK. If you are an experienced sewer (you probably wont be reading this!) you may need to take some fabric samples with you to test.

Last but not least one of the changes over time with electronics is that there is more scope for machines to specialise for different sewing requirements. Once you head over the $2000 mark the major brands tend to offer different versions for quilting or embroidery.

And don’t forget that as well as a good machine you need good quality thread and the right needle for the job for sewing success.

Prices are in New Zealand dollars

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