New to sewing? Want to buy a new machine and not really sure what to look for? We can help! Ann and Stephanie have answered some of our most frequently asked questions about sewing machines for you.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SEWING MACHINE, AN EMBROIDERY MACHINE, A QUILTING MACHINE, AND A SERGER?
A sewing machine will have multiple stitches, including zig-zag and decorative stitches, and is used for everyday craft and garment sewing.
An embroidery machine has a hoop that attaches to an arm that holds the fabric tight while the machine creates a design on the fabric. A sewing machine that does decorative stitches is NOT the same as an embroidery machine. Embroidery machines tend to cost more because of the components required for it to run.
A quilting machine will often only do one stitch – a straight stitch. It can vary in stitch length and occasionally in speed, and can lower and raise the feed dogs to allow for free motion quilting.
A serger is used to finish edges and prevent fraying in fabrics. The seam on the inside of your t-shirt was most likely done on a serger. A serger sews with 2 to 5 threads depending on the model and the settings, and can either cut the fabric before it sews it or it can roll the fabric into the seam.
There are some embroidery machines that also do sewing and decorative stitches. There are some sewing machines that can raise and lower the feed dogs for free motion quilting.
WHAT SHOULD I LOOK FOR WHEN SHOPPING FOR A NEW SEWING MACHINE?
First, list the things you want your sewing machine to do. Knowing what your sewing needs are is a great place to start when you’re looking for a new machine. Do you make clothing? If so, you should look for a machine that does automatic buttonholes. Do you sew with knits a lot? A serger is a great machine for sewing knits and finishing seams. Do you quilt? You would want a machine that comes with free-motion quilting accessories and a quarter inch foot, as well as the ability to raise and lower the feed dogs.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A MECHANICAL AND COMPUTERIZED MACHINE?
Mechanical machines are set with levers and dials that control mechanisms inside the machine. Usually these machines only have straight and zig-zag type stitches, and other dials to adjust stitch length and width. Usually (but not always) mechanical machines cost less than computerized machines.
Computerized machines are controlled by a small circuit board. This allows manufacturers to offer machines with multiple stitch patterns and other features. Computerized machines can make sewing easier – Automatic buttonholes are a great example. Instead of having to adjust a dial and flip a switch each time you need to change a stitch or direction, the computer has the sequence of changes memorized and does it for you in a matter of minutes.
WHAT KIND OF ACCESSORIES DO I NEED?
At the very least, extra bobbins and needles. There are all types of specialized presser feet you can get, but figure out what your needs are before investing in a fancy cording foot that you may never use. Extra presser feet to have in your basic collection include a zipper foot, quarter inch foot (for quilting), or a walking foot. Many machines will come with extra presser feet, so find out what your machine includes before you buy something extra.
MY MACHINE HAS A METAL BOBBIN. CAN I SWITCH TO PLASTIC?
Absolutely not, and likewise you cannot switch from plastic to metal. Especially in front loading bobbins, the mechanisms that determine bobbin tension take into account the weight of the bobbin itself, and using a lighter bobbin (plastic) instead of a heavier (metal) or vice versa will cause bobbin tension issues. Usually the machine’s manual will tell you what type of bobbin you need. If not, bring a bobbin with you to the store and use it to compare bobbin height, diameter, and the curve of the top of the bobbin. Some plastic bobbins have a curve to the top of them, some are flat with a notch. As always, if you have a question, ask for help. Helping you find what you need is why we’re here!
WHAT IS A “WALKING FOOT?”
A walking foot, also known as an “even feed” foot, is a presser foot that adds feed dogs to the top of your fabric to correspond to the feed dogs that are underneath. The top feed dogs help grab the top fabric and keep it moving evenly with the bottom fabric. The walking foot is especially helpful when sewing or quilting with thicker fabrics and batting. It is a great accessory for quilters and garment sewists -it helps a lot with matching stripes!
WHAT KIND OF THREAD SHOULD I USE?
That depends on the project you are working on, however it is important to note that you should use the same weight thread on the top as in your bobbin to keep the tension from going too tight or too loose. Even if you are using two different colors of thread, make sure the thread you use is the same weight. For example, mixing jeans thread with common polyester thread is a recipe for poor tension and stitches pulling out easily..
HOW IMPORTANT IS IT TO HAVE A CERTAIN NEEDLE? CAN’T I JUST USE THE ONE THAT CAME WITH MY MACHINE ALL THE TIME?
It is important that your needles, thread and fabric are all compatible. The point of the needle, groove and shaft, and diameter of the needle should be considered when selecting the right one for your project. While woven fabrics are generally happy with universal needles, knits require a ball point needle to avoid ripping holes in the fabric. Thick fabrics and vinyls need a thick heavy duty needle to avoid breaking, and leather needles have a lens-shaped point for cutting through the leather. Top-stitching thread needs a needle with a larger eye. Given the variety of needles on the market, it is usually easy to find just the right needle for your sewing.
As tempting as it is to leave the same needle in your machine for months at a time, please don’t! Needles do get dull and bent, especially if they are heavy use needles.. Even a slight bend that you can hardly see can lead to skipped stitches, thread breaking and torn fabric. Torn fabric and skipped stitches lead to you being frustrated and upset. Save yourself and change your needles often!
WHAT IS A “KNEE LIFT” ACCESSORY?
A knee lift is a great accessory for all sewists. It is an attachment that extends from the front of the machine to the side of your leg when you’re sitting at the machine. When you are done sewing a seam or just pivoting your fabric, your knee applies slight pressure to the lift and then the presser foot raises, hands free!
WHAT IS A “FREE ARM” AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
A free arm machine is any sewing machine with a detachable area that leaves a smaller surface to fit cuffs, sleeves, pant legs, etc., around to allow for easier mobility when sewing them. Some machines have smaller free arms than others, but usually there is a section of the base of the machine that will detach and often is able to hold other accessories for the machine, such as extra presser feet and bobbins. This isn’t available on all types of machines, but most regular sewing machines should have free arm capabilities.