I often get asked which machines are the best value. But for most people it’s more about where they can get a machine. Locally, we have a chain of sewing and vacuum stores, and they are conveniently located in shopping centers near grocery and other stores. I recently stopped in to one of these stores, and that’s what most of this post is about. However, I’m noticing that online you can get a great machine without the sales pitch. There’s more on getting your very own sewing machine below.
Note bene: I am not a fan of being sold anything. I really dislike the sales process as it’s conducted, say in BestBuy and on used car lots. When I stopped into this sewing machine store, I clearly stated that I teach private lessons and I wanted to see if they had any new recommendations for reasonably-priced machines I can pass on to clients.
After telling her at least once that I myself use a ca. 1991 Singer Merritt machine (an inexpensive machine that was sold at Sam’s Club), and therefore was not the type to tell anyone that they NEED a brand-new expensive machine to learn to sew, she proceeded to encourage me to “put a bug” in my clients’ ears about buying an expensive machine that costs $599.00. I guess she didn’t hear me. She claimed that new sewers “get frustrated” on older machines. I’m wondering how that is possible when a) all machines are threaded the same and b) people are probably more frustrated at being new sewers than at the machine itself. On an earlier visit, another saleswoman from the same chain told me they are trained to sell the highest price machine. They are trained, of course, by the manufacturers themselves.
Acquiring a New Machine
Far be it from me to discourage you, dear reader, from purchasing a new machine — you’re probably as tired of the “durable goods sales are way down” messages we hear on the news. (Sewing machines fall into the “durable goods” category of “home appliances” that economists track.) But with such a sales pitch, I think you might get the most value online. Amazon.com has a variety of sewing machine sellers. Brother machines are sold on Amazon.com, and having worked with a number of clients, all of the models offer a lot of features and seem solidly built.
Some manufacturers, such as Pfaff, forbid their models to be sold online, so you must go to a dealer. This subjects you to the sales pitch, but would give you a chance to try a number of machines. Approach the trip as you would a trip to a used car lot — with a budget and an “I know what I want out of life” attitude. The JoAnn Fabrics “superstores” sell machines in the same way as the local chain I mentioned above (probably on commission). Other store options include Best Buy and Sears. I would avoid Target, which sells the lower-quality end of models and the machines might be more trouble than they are worth.
Adopt a Used Machine
You can also purchase machines locally on Craigslist. I am amazed at how many times I have searched and found “New in box sewing machine” on Craigslist. You can also get a used machine on Craigslist, but you should commit to 1) making the owner show you that it works and has most of the feet and accessories it came with and 2) having the machine serviced. And I mean right away — take it from your car to the shop so that you are not tempted to “just see how it goes.” A lube and repair is worth your money, and repair guys are worth getting to know. They are often nice and willing to fix small issues for free when the sewing goblins strike.
Here are some good used models to acquire: Brother, Pfaff, Huqsvarna Viking. An older Singer is a good machine, but the recent ones are crap. (They are the lowest quality product line of the company that now owns Viking/Huqsvarna and Pfaff.) This is too bad, because if you ask most people to name one sewing machine brand, they say “Singer!” Mr. Singer, after all, was the man who invented the sewing machine. However, the newer Singers are noisy and clunky and even eat fabric. (Fabric gets caught under the plate that’s under the needle.) Again, most older machines are good quality and will deliver many years of service if they are tuned up every once in a while. Kenmore is another older quality machine.
Servicing a Used Adoptee
I will save the topic of getting a used machine serviced for another post. Briefly, some chain repair shops have recently jacked up prices to meet the “demand” that the trendy hobby of sewing has created.
And for those of you who have older machines, don’t get an inferiority complex — just keep on truckin’.
UPDATE: Here’s my abbreviated article on TeachStreet.com