What do I need to know before I buy a new sewing machine?

Singer 20U
My Singer 20U workhorse

Unless you are hand sewing, you need a sewing machine to sew. I have been asked several times what kind of a sewing machine to buy. What is important to consider? Many think that price is the only consideration, but that is far from what is paramount. Obviously, if you only have a limited amount of money to spend then you need to consider dollars. But, if there is flexibility there are several issues to consider. Even with a limited budget sometimes you can purchase what you need as a second-hand machine.

What machines have I owned?

I have not had many sewing machines in my lifetime. I started to sew when I was about 11 years old. I am now 66 so, 55 years ago. My mother bought a Singer Slant-O-Matic in approximately 1961. Lessons came with this machine. My mom was working in the office of the family business and because I liked Home Economics my mother sent me for the lessons. So that was my start. I think she may have bought the machine more for me than her because I do not remember her sewing. She mostly did mending with that machine.

I received a Singer Featherweight machine as a birthday gift in my early married years. Perhaps she was preparing me for when she would take back the Singer. Ha, ha!

Shortly after that, my mom decided she had more time and wanted to do some sewing.  I had taken her Singer Slant O Matic with me so for Christmas that year my husband bought me an incredible White sewing machine. I picked it out, and he went in, paid for it and it appeared under the Christmas tree.

All of these three machines were good quality steel. I had given one back to my mother, sold the Featherweight, which I am sorry about, and gave the White to our daughter after I bought a Pfaff.

Around 1990, I was doing much sewing. I made wedding gowns, worked in millinery, made gifts, etc. I purchased a Pfaff 6150 Tipmatic, and I still have it today. I needed a heavy duty machine when I had my store for millinery, custom work and home decorating, so I bought a Singer 20U Professional. It is a very fast industrial machine that sews about 2000 straight stitches per minute. It also does zigzag. This machine is not for everyone because of the speed. I still have this one as well.

I also have two old sergers that still do their job. One is a three thread and the other a four thread. Both are Hobbylocks. These are what have served me well over the years. So at present, I have a Pfaff, a commercial Singer 20U, and two sergers.

  • Choose the best machine that you can afford that will do what you want it to do.

What kind of sewing are you interested in doing?

Try to think ahead a bit. What might you want to sew in the future?

  • What are the features that are most important to you?    

Do you want it to make automatic buttonholes?

Is there a walking foot?

Will it grow with you?

Are you only interested in repairs and alterations?

Do you want to make throw cushions and draperies?

Will you make clothing for yourself?

Do you want to piece a quilt? Will you machine quilt your quilt?

Are you interested in working with leather?

Do you like to do machine embroidery?

  • Test the machine that you think you might buy.

When you do check the machine, take your samples of fabric to sew on. The store will supply fabrics and thread to test with, but they might only be the easiest ones to sew. If you plan to sew denim and shorten jeans, take a sample. If you are going to work with silk, take some. Make sure the machine will sew the weight of fabric you will be sewing on. How is the tension? Is it easy to adjust?

  • Where should you purchase your machine?

It is a good idea to buy from a dealer who sells sewing machines as they will be able to guide you and often offer classes to get you sewing smoothly with the machine.

  • What about buying second hand?

There are some good used machines out there that are second hand, but there are also some lemons. So, if you are not knowledgeable about sewing machines, it might be challenging to know if it is a good model unless you know someone who can advise you. There is an excellent vintage sewing machine group on Facebook, who can tell you a great deal about specific models of older machines, their value, and reliability. However, it would be considered buying at your risk. I purchased my Singer 20U secondhand, and I love it still.


I am a firm believer in buying on sale. Know what you want and if you can wait for a sale, perhaps you can save some money and purchase a step up from what you could afford at regular price.

Author: Karen Monteith

Karen is a writer, needle artist, nature lover and gardener who loves to share such information and to encourage the needle arts.

8 thoughts on “What do I need to know before I buy a new sewing machine?”

  1. As a quilter, I own an older janome and because I was traveling on the bus cross canada and hauling my janome with me, my kids bought me a brother so I could quilt when I came to visit. A friend bought a Husquvarna about 5 years ago and I am the only one to use it. Would have loved to bring it with me when i moved, but buying a 5000.00 sewing machine on sale for 2,500.00 is a little steep for my blood. I bought my used janome in 2006 for 150.00 and it still works great.

    Thanks for the awesome write up on sewing and sewing machines

    1. Thanks for the comment Bernadette. My daughter has a Janome and she loves it. Husquvarna has an excellent name. If it still does what you want it to there is no need to replace it.

  2. It’s been a long time since I sewed anything. For years, I used a Singer machine in a cabinet. Then, I kept removing the machine from the cabinet to use in the room of my choice. When we moved last September, I donated it to a local community theater.
    There is a sewing machine in a box in my game and hobby room, but I have yet to use it.
    I like the list of questions you give to your readers to help them determine what machine would best suit them.
    Kudos on a well written article.

  3. Oh my goodness, you have me aching to own a 1961 Singer, or something similar. Those machines will last several lifetimes, with general maintenance. A fine guide for what to look for when purchasing a new, or old, machine.

  4. I took Homescience classes all of the four years in highschool. My mum talked me to it though I wasn’t as passionate but again I didn’t have an option, it was either that or agriculture.
    I did needle work all the four years, our final project was to do one side of a blouse, the right side. I can’t say I loved it but I enjoyed. Atleast I can mend my clothes and who knows one day I’ll sew something for myself coz it’s something I’ve never forgotten.
    You talk about sewing with so much passion and I like it.
    Great post.

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