Beginner sewing series: What to consider when choosing a sewing machine (Video)

by Orpheus on May 22, 2013

This post and corresponding video are the first part in a new series of posts for those of you just learning how to sew. In it, I discuss how to choose a sewing machine suitable for making clothing and costumes.

First thing’s first: we’re only talking about conventional sewing machines in this post. I’m not going to get into overlockers (sergers) and I’m not going to get into industrial sewing machines either. One step at a time!

1. The two types of sewing machines:
Top Loading Vs. Front Loading Bobbin

bobbin loading types -top loading and front loading

There are two types of conventional machines: Top Loading – where the bobbin is inserted on the top of the machine, visible underneath the needle. The other type is Front Loading – where the bobbin is hidden in a little cabinet in front of the needle.

“But wait, I don’t even know what a bobbin is!” You don’t need to know this yet. You will learn later. Do not be afraid.

I have used both Front Loading and Top Loading machines. This may be a controversial statement, but the top loading ones are better. They are easier to insert, require less fussing, and you can change the bobbins on them more quickly than you can on Front Loading machines. Furthermore, on Front Loading machines, the bobbin has to go in a case, and if you lose the bobbin case it sucks and you will have to buy a new one.

HOWEVER… In terms of actual sewing, it doesn’t make a difference – both types of sewing machines are good and both type will get the job done.

Bottom line: if you’re buying a machine and you have a choice between the two – go for the top loading kind. But if all you can find is a front loading one, or you’re gifted a machine and it happens to be front loading, or you already have a perfectly good front loading machine lying around – it will work fine, so use it!!

2. Make sure the Price is Right

Do not buy a cheap machine. Cheap machines break, usually at the worst possible time, like maybe the day before Anime Expo or the week of Comic Con. Yes, there are machines that are only $20 or $50, but I highly recommend you invest a little more than that (speaking from experience, here). If you’re buying new, go for one in the $100-$200 (USD) range. If you can afford a more expensive machine than that, go for it, but its not absolutely necessary. If you’re buying used, feel free to spend less, but go for one that has a retail price between $100-$200.

The important thing to take into consideration when buying a machine is what you’re going to be using it for. Nowadays, most people who sew in their homes are only doing simple stuff: pillowcases, curtains, hemming stuff, and mending sock holes or whatever. So yeah, a $50 is fine if you’re just going to be doing small stuff. If you’re reading this post on this site, though, chances are that is not going to be you. You’re a venture cosplayer! You’re going to be making costumes and clothing, and someday, you may even want to branch into interior design. You need a machine that’s going to be as awesome as you are. So treat yourself to a nice one.

3. Stitches and Functions

sewing machine stitch types

The more stitches your machine has, the better, because that means you can do more. Around 10 different types of stitches is a good number to start. The photo above is of the machine in the VentureCosplay studio: as you can see it has 12 stitch types, not counting the buttonhole function, and there’s a stretch stitch version of each one. What’s really important are the zig zag stitches and the ability to shift the needle to the left/right and center. Don’t even think about getting a machine that doesn’t have these stitches, and a buttonhole stitch.


Speaking of buttons, I highly recommend you get a machine that includes an automatic buttonhole foot (seen above). This thing may look scary to you now, but its totally not. It’s fricking awesome. Oh and if you’re thinking to yourself now “I’ll never be good enough to do buttonholes!” – THINK AGAIN!! You will. And when you do, this thing is a game changer.

4. Brands and Where to Buy

This may be another controversial statement, but I’m just gonna say it: the brand really doesn’t matter that much. Janome, Singer, Husqvarna, Brother, and Kenmore are all good brands. If you have a choice, go for one of those, but don’t stress too much.

In the (US) VentureCosplay studio, I use a Kenmore. I’ve had it for around ten years, used it a LOT, and it still works like new and has never had to be taken into the shop (which is more than I can say for my overlocker, but, hey). When I was living in the UK, I used a Husqvarna Viking Emerald 116, and that also worked great. The two machines were virtually identical aside from their brand names. When in doubt, read reviews for the machine you want online before you buy it.

As for where to buy a machine – I got the Kenmore at Sears and the Husqvarna at a local sewing store in Bath. Joann Fabrics sells machines as well. I highly recommend if you want to buy a machine online, because you can easily read reviews for all the machines, and they sometimes have good machines at discounted prices. eBay and craigslist are other good places to look!

I hope this post was helpful to those of you just beginning your sewing journey. This is an exciting time – savor it! I wish you the best!

To your infinite creative potential –


The Venture Cosplay sewing machine

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