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What to Consider in a New Machine

Shopping for a sewing machine can be overwhelming. There are so many factors to consider, and you want to ensure you are getting the right machine to fit your current and future needs. Sewing can be a joy with the right tools, or a headache with the wrong ones. Having a machine that you can grow with ensures that you will be able to enjoy your investment for years to come.

At Quilt Beginnings, we specialize in a tailored shopping experience, and we love to work with you one on one to help you find the best machine for you! We hope you'll find information here to help you get started on your search, but we are always available by phone, email, or in person whether you are just starting out or are ready to buy.


Types of Sewing Machines

There are several different types of sewing machines. Thinking through the type of sewing you want to do now, or think you might want to try in the future, is a good starting point as you evaluate what machine will best suit your needs.

Mechanical machines are the most basic type of sewing machine. The Baby Lock Zeal, Bernette 35, and Pfaff Smarter 160s are all good examples of mechanical models. These machines are great for beginners or the occasional sewist, but lack a lot of the convenient features that are available in higher end machines. If all you need is a reliable machine for repairs and occasional basic projects, this might be the type of machine for you. They are lightweight and portable, but may not be suited for heavyweight fabrics or more involved or precise projects.

Computerized machines come in a very wide range. The Baby Lock Soprano, Bernina 480, and PFAFF Ambition 630 are all good examples of mid-range computerized models. On the upper end, look at the Baby Lock Crescendo, the Bernina 740, or the PFAFF Performance Icon. With a built-in computer that can help control different aspects of the sewing experience, you’ll find that a computerized machine is loaded with useful features that make sewing a much more intuitive and pleasant process.

Embroidery machines are equipped for machine embroidery. In embroidery, a separate embroidery arm (also called embroidery module) is attached to the machine. Your fabric is stretched taut across an embroidery hoop that attaches to the arm. The embroidery arm then moves the hoop under the needle according to a design you select. The world of embroidery is a big and exciting one, and we love introducing newbies to all the types of things you can do with this kind of machine.

Many embroidery machines are “combo” machines, where you can use the same machine for both sewing and embroidering. These can range from introductory machines, like the Baby Lock Verve; to mid-line like the Bernette B79; all the way up to the top of the line, like the Baby Lock Solaris 2, the PFAFF Creative Icon 2, or the Bernina 880 PLUS. Some are embroidery-only machines, such as the Baby Lock Meridian or the Bernina 700.

If you think embroidery might be something you’d like to try, purchasing a “combo” machine up front will save you the expense of potentially buying a second machine later.

Sergers are specialized machines with two distinct functions: overlock and coverstitch. Overlock is what most people think of when they think of a serger: it typically uses 3 or 4 threads and is a sturdy, durable way to finish edges, often including a knife cut to trim the edge as you’re locking it. A coverstitch is the stitch typically used to finish t-shirt hems. These machines can come as overlock-only (like the Baby Lock Celebrate, PFAFF Admire Air 5000 or Bernina L850), coverstitch-only (like the Baby Lock Euphoria), or combo machines (like the Baby Lock Triumph, Bernina L890, or PFAFF Admire Air 7000) that can do both types of stitch. If you are interested in creating professional-looking garments, bags, and other projects, a serger is the machine for you.

Quilting machines are designed with an extra-large throat space of at least 12” between the needle and the back of the machine to make your life easier as you are stitch the three layers of a quilt together (the backing, batting, and pieced top). You can absolutely use a standard sewing machine to quilt, or even an embroidery machine, but if you are making a lot of large quilt tops you may find yourself longing for more space so you can focus on quilting and not on fighting with your fabric.

Sit-down models like the Bernina Q16 or the Baby Lock Regent come with a table, so you have lots of space to spread out. With these models, you will still be moving your fabric under the needle as you quilt. If you have even more room in your quilting studio, you may think about a frame model like the Baby Lock Gallant or the Bernina Q24. Quilting frames hold your three layers in place, so you can move the machine and needle over the fabric. It’s like holding the pen as you draw, instead of moving the paper underneath.

Automation is available for some frame models like the Baby Lock Regalia and the Bernina Q24. With automation, you program the machine to quilt a design, then turn it on and let it run!

I just want a sewing machine! What do I need to consider?

Now that you know the different types of machine available, it’s time to think about features. Depending on what kind of projects you are working on, you may find that some features are more important to you than others. Ultimately, the buying decision is made partly through information, and partly through feel. You want a machine that feels good when you sit down to sew – otherwise, what’s the point? Take a look below at some of the top features we consider when discussing sewing machines with new owners. When you’re ready to learn more, stop in and take one (or a few!) for a test drive.

  1.       Needle stop down

When you take your foot off the “gas”, where does your needle stop? With mechanical models, you don’t get a choice – the needle will stop in place wherever it is. It could be halfway up or halfway down. With computerized models, you can tell the machine to always stop with the needle down in the fabric. This prevents your fabric from slipping and allows you to easily pivot or change directions without losing your spot.

  1.       Needle threader

Threading the needle can be one of the most annoying tasks when you get your machine. Why do they make those eyes so small, anyway? Most machines come with at least a semi-automatic needle threader, which can help make this task a lot easier. As you go up the line, the needle threader can become more robust, and in some cases, fully automatic.

  1.       Adjustable stitch width/length

Different projects may come with different requirements from your stitches. Can you adjust the stitch width and length on the machine? What’s the range you can adjust within? Sewing machines will have a maximum stitch width, usually 5.5mm, 7mm, or 9mm that will determine how wide your zigzag can go, or how wide your decorative stitches can go if you are doing some embellishments. The wider the stitch width, the more versatile you will find your machine.

  1.       Knee lift

Also known as a freehand system, or FHS, the knee lift can function to raise or lower your presser foot so you can keep both hands on your fabric. This works especially well when used alongside your needle stop down feature. You can tell the machine to stop with the needle down in the fabric, then use your knee to raise the presser foot and both your hands to pivot your fabric. Release your knee, and your presser foot lowers and you are ready to sew again!

  1.       Pivot function/electronic presser foot lift

Even easier than the knee lift, some machines come with an electronic presser foot lift that will automatically raise the presser foot when you stop with your needle down in the fabric. We love this function especially when “chain piecing” many small pieces of fabric together when piecing a quilt top. After you sew off the first piece and stop, your presser foot automatically lifts so you can seamlessly (pun intended 😊) slide your next two pieces into place and start stitching right away.

  1.       Tie-on/tie-off functions

This is especially helpful if you are a garment sewer or will be quilting with your machine. With any machine, you can sew forward, then sew in reverse a few stitches, then forward again to do a “tie-on” at the beginning of a seam, or a “tie-off” at the end. However, many computerized machines have a knotting function where it will auto-tie on or off at the beginning or end of a seam. Just one less thing to think about as you are stitching on your creation.

  1.       Thread snips (“scissors button”)

Once you get the “scissors button”, you can never go back! At the end of a seam, just touch your scissors icon and your machine will cut your threads for you. Without this, you’ll need to pull your fabric out of the machine and cut the threads yourself, resulting in longer thread tails and more time spent in between seams. If you have an automatic presser foot lift, just touch the scissors and your machine will cut the thread and raise the foot all in one step.

  1.       Speed control

If you’re just starting out, or even have sewn for a while but know that sometimes you need extra precision, having a speed control dial or slow speed option can be extremely helpful. You can always control the speed of the stitch with the pressure on your foot pedal, but you may find that as you sew, your foot just finds its way to the floor every time! By putting a “speed limit” on your machine, you can put the pedal to the metal and still not lose control of your project.

  1.       Throat space/extension table

Size matters! Throat space is measured as the distance from the needle to the vertical part of the machine. Beginner models have smaller throat space, which works fine when you are working on smaller projects. An extra couple of inches can really make a big difference in how easy it is to use your machine and how long you’ll be able to comfortably work. Also consider if the machine comes with an extension table, which will help support your fabric as your work, or if you will need to purchase one separately.

  1.   Workspace lighting

How many lights are built into the machine? What is the quality of the lighting? Some machines come with a single incandescent bulb above the needle, while others have LED lighting built in all along the throat that makes it much easier to see what you are working on.

  1.   Dual feed (“built-in walking foot”)

All sewing machines come with feed dogs built into the throat that pull your fabric forward in order to make a moving stitch. The challenge with some fabrics is that these feed dogs only touch the bottom layer, so you may find that in some situations your fabric gathers or puckers instead of feeding flat. To combat this, some machines will come with a built-in “top” feed dog as well that pulls your top layer of fabric in unison with the lower feed dogs pulling the bottom layer. PFAFF calls this the IDT for Integrated Dual Technology, and Bernina calls it the Dual Feed. Both function the same and eliminate the need for a walking foot. Baby Lock has a Digital Dual Feed foot that comes with certain models.

  1.   Stitch regulation

If you are planning on free-motion quilting on your new sewing machine, is there a stitch regulator available? Stitch regulators measure how fast you are moving the fabric and match the machine sewing speed to you. When you speed up, the needle speeds up, and when you slow down, the needle slows down. This ensures that your quilting stitches are perfectly even, instead of getting some long stitches and some short ones. We love the Bernina Stitch Regulator, or BSR, for this reason.

Extra Considerations for Embroidery Machines

  1.       Max hoop size

While you can get away with stitching a large project on a small sewing machine if you are really determined, with embroidery machines you are more limited by hoop size. Embroidery designs come in a specific size, and typically can only be resized +/- about 20% in order to keep the integrity of the design and get good results. Your maximum hoop size is determined by the throat space of the machine. You can always stitch a smaller design on a large machine by using a smaller hoop. But, with a smaller machine, there will be large designs that you can’t stitch out on your machine. Take a look at the embroidery designs you are most interested in. Especially if you are interested in edge-to-edge quilting on your embroidery machine, you will want to ensure you get a machine large enough to handle those projects.

  1.       Editing capabilities

Most all embroidery machines come with the basic functions of placement, rotation, and mirror image of embroidery designs. As you look at more advanced machines, you will find more and more features that allow you to get really creative with your embroidery. Even an Undo button will come in handy, and is not available on all machines.

If you want to design your own embroideries, you may be better served by getting a separate computer software like PFAFF mySewnet, Bernina Designer Plus, or Baby Lock Palette 11.

Support and Service

How will you learn to use your new sewing machine? At Quilt Beginnings, we provide unlimited support for every machine we sell. This starts the day you bring your machine home as we provide a full orientation in store with any machine you buy. We have a robust and growing, nationally recognized training video library to get you started once you’re home – and we are always available for 1:1 training by appointment to answer any questions or to give you a full overview of what you need to know. These 1:1s are fully tailored to your needs, so call us to schedule yours today!

We are also your warranty service provider for any machine purchased from us. We have two full-time service technicians in house that will keep your machine running in top condition.

More About Our Brands

All three of the brands we carry in store provide top quality machines. They each have their own flavor and language, but you can’t go wrong with any of them. We’d love to have you in for a test drive! Until then, here is a little introduction to each:

Baby Lock machines are known for ease of use. Whether you are just starting out or rekindling your love of sewing, Baby Lock machines are easy to navigate from the minute you pull them out of the box. Intuitive buttons and menus will make your learning curve easy. And every Baby Lock machine comes with a 60 day on-line subscription to a library of more than 400 classes taught by 25 Baby Lock experts. Classes cover everything from basic machine set up to projects featuring specialty techniques and accessories. Baby Lock machines are built to help you build your skills and pursue your passion.

BERNINA machines are synonymous with Swiss precision. For decades, BERNINA has been passionately committed to designing and developing sewing, embroidery and quilting machines for creative people. As a 4th generation family business, BERNINA wants to ensure that your creations can be implemented with the best technology. Each BERNINA foot is precision engineered for a specific task. The robust shanks and soles are made of the finest materials and processed with the utmost care and expertise because they know that those who create pursue precision and perfection. BERNINA guarantees quality down to the smallest detail, so you can let your creativity flow freely and turn your ideas into reality!

PFAFF machines bring your creativity to life with unparalleled ease and perfection. Whether you are repairing your children’s clothes or becoming a quilting expert, there is a PFAFF machine for you. PFAFF German engineers designed the original Integrated Dual Feed (IDT) system that provides the ultimate in piecing perfection. The IDT system is integrated with the machine and can be engaged or disengaged as desired. With an amazing assortment of presser feet designed to work with the IDT, you can truly raise the bar for your creativity. Enjoy precision piecing with perfectly matching points in every quilt block, thanks to the original IDT system, available on most PFAFF machines.