Hope Meng from Stitch Lounge and co-author of Sew Subversive was nice enough to give us her expert opinion on the best beginner sewing machines. Since Hope and her two Stitch Lounge co-founders, Melissa Alvardo, and Melissa Rannels teach a lot of beginning sewing workshops, they’re the ones in the know for the best ones to use.
Here, Hope reviews four great sewing machines from the most beginner to the most advanced.
Take it away, Hope!
We came to know the Jem Gold when Sandra Betsina donated about 6 of these to Stitch (for those of you who haven’t heard of Sandra, she is like the Cher of the established sewing world — a quirky personality with a sense of style all her own who also happens to be a master at her craft). At first I was skeptical — it didn’t have a stitch length or a stitch width selector. Instead, you choose the stitch length and width using the pattern selection wheel, which means that you only get 3 choices of stitch length and 3 choices of stitch width. Turns out that beginners LOVE these little machines. They are totally stripped down, fool-proof, invented for the beginning seamster. Fewer features means less confusion. And the thing is pretty solid! True story: an entire astroturf suit was sewn on one of these so you know it’s a workhorse. Nice, even stitches. Definitely not for an intermediate seamster, but if you are just getting your feet wet, the Jem Gold is a great machine.
We had a great experience with the Janome Jem Gold at Stitch, so when we first decided to sell sewing machines, Janome was at the top of our list in terms of manufacturers. Their machines are great for beginners due to their ease of use, simple design, and light weight (great for people living in small apartments!). The Sewist 509 did not disappoint. Actually, we were rather shocked with the number of features that you get for the price, since the Jem Gold was actually more stripped down but had a higher price point. This machine has everything you need as a beginning seamster–all the basics stitches, stitch length and stitch width controls, buttonhole, etc. I’m not really sure I can say anything bad about this machine–it runs a little louder than some of our other machines at Stitch, but between the features you get and the low price, I think I can live with a little noise.
$249 at Sew Vac
This was one of the first machines I bought when we first opened Stitch, and it’s still around! That tells you a lot about this workhorse. As a seamster who learned how to sew on a vintage machine, the Necchi 4595 was right up my alley. Since it is made by a European manufacturer, it has a front-loading bobbin (rather than a top-loading bobbin), which I prefer because even though they are a little harder to get used to at first, you have a lot more control later on if things go wrong. The machine has all metal moving parts, which means it is built to last (it also means it is heavier than most modern machines). It also means it is well suited for tough fabrics like faux fur, denim, etc.–this machine will sew through anything!. It is not so great for delicate fabrics like chiffons or silks, so it’s not the machine for you if you plan on using these fibers. My other complaint about the Necchi 4595 is that it has a completely non-intuitive bobbin winder. You’ll definitely need to use the manual to figure this one out, but once you do, it’s a piece of cake. Also, it is a pretty speedy machine, which makes it great for intermediate seamsters (not so great for beginners). Overall a solid workhorse and a definite must if you want a industrial-strength machine in a standard sewing machine body.
Bernina Activa 220
Bernina – Link.
Everyone knows that Berninas are the Rolls Royces of sewing machines–luxurious, high-quality machines at luxurious, high-quality prices. Our need for beginner machines at Stitch (and my bias towards vintage machines in my home) made me shy away from Berninas for a long time, but the first time I used one, I knew I was in love. I mean, the thing just sewed like there was no tomorrow. I was working on a Burning Man costume made out of vinyl and chiffon (um, could I have chosen two more difficult fabrics to put together?!?), and I was sewing on a standard sewing machine. I had to keep ripping out the stitches because it was just not working. Then I turned to the Bernina. The things just ate that fabric up like it was buttered toast. Perfect, beautiful stitches in a perfect, beautiful straight line. I couldn’t believe it–I had spent a full hour trying to sew one straight seam and the Bernina just churned it out like nobody’s business. You’re paying for that privilege, though–I think this machine retails for around $800. So if the sewing bug has really stung you, start saving your pennies now. The good news is that you won’t ever need to buy another machine if you get this one.