Told you this blog was going to start getting more sew-orientated!
Today we’re going to talk about buying your first sewing machine. The above machine is technically my first–the Janome that I sewed my box-pleated skirt (tutorial here) is my mother’s and while it’s a beast of a machine, the stitch selector gear has long failed so straight stitches are the only type it can muster. For someone who wanted to start getting a little more serious about sewing, that wasn’t going to do at all.
First thing: If you have a small budget, vintage machines are best. There is no way that a $100 beginner’s machine from stores today can best a second-hand, half-priced machine made over 20 years ago. Unless you’re planning to drop some serious money ($500+) on a professional machine, vintage always wins out. Some benefits to buying vintage:
- Older vintage machines, particularly ones produced before 1980, can take a lot of abuse and are hard to break. For novice sewers, this means you can sew through more layers of fabric with ease, and it will take a fair beating.
- Parts are easy to find, and often better in quality. The heavier the better, because it means that the sewing machine contains metal parts, as opposed to newer machines, which are often built with plastic parts that are easy to break.
- Maintenance is simple. There’s no digital components to worry about, either! Generally, if you’re buying a vintage machine, it may require a good servicing if it has been used often in its life, but sometimes you may strike it lucky and all it’ll need is a spray of oil and a good dusting.
- Vintage machines are cheap! You can find a machine to fit any budget, even if your budget is non-existent. Free machines exist out there, but always keep in mind that the cost of a service is about $100, give or take. It will still be better than a modern beginner’s machine and it will last you decades longer as well.
My ‘new’ machine is a Janome My Style 24, bought very, very cheaply, considering the original price exceeded $500–I was actually quite negligible when buying this one and basically just asked a friend to collect it for me, fingers crossed for the best.
I took it to the Janome Sewing Centre at Everton Park for a new bobbin cover and a couple of other cheap accessories, and the service there blew me away. The employees were so friendly and freakishly knowledgeable about my little machine and thoroughly checked it out for me, even giving the gears a good greasing so that the stitch selector could move more freely. With a big thumbs-up and only a couple of bucks short for the accessories I bought, it looked like my risk paid off!
Even better was the giant Spotlight store just down the road from them, which was incidentally having a 40% off all fabric sale for that weekend. But that’s another story for another day!
Some tips for buying machines new or old (that fall under the category of ‘do as I say, not as I do’):
- Gumtree is an Aussie’s weapon of choice. Craigslist is more popular for the US market.
- Use different keywords within your area, search for brands as well as “sewing machine”–Mine was listed as a “Jonome”, and my friend is the one who found it, because I was blindly searching for “Janome” and “Singer” and he was searching for “sewing machine”.
- Stay away from cheap, entry-level machines made in the last 20 years. They are chock full of plastic parts and gears inside. They will break, and they will break quickly. You’ll grow out of an entry-level machine sooner than later, I promise you! Again, the heavier the better, because it means that there are quality parts inside instead of plastic replacements.
- When you find a machine or model that you like, research it. Look up the model number on Google and/or ask the seller lots of questions; What is included in the listing, if it comes with a manual, a case, accessories, and so on. Check that it has the functionalities that you need; are you using it for clothesmaking or quilting?
- Pay on delivery/pickup! When you’re picking it up, request a trial run so you can thoroughly inspect it and check if the stitch selector works, how easily the machine runs, and whether the parts inside are rusted or well-maintained.
- If you’re a risk-taker, don’t jump to avoid a machine just because it’s missing a few superficial bits and pieces. The machine I bought was missing a bobbin cover, so I asked the seller to reduce the price to cover the cost of buying a new part, and she was more than happy to comply. The truth was that I only paid about $50 for the machine and I would have gladly paid more, especially considering that there were listings in other states for the same machine starting at upward of $300 second-hand! It never hurts to haggle.
- Take it to a service centre after you pick it up so they can look it over for you. They’ll open up the case, check the parts out, and sometimes even grease it up for free, so it may not even need to be serviced. Generally, you’ll want to get your machine serviced once a year though, so keep that in mind for your budget. That being said, my mother’s machine was only ever serviced once throughout its several years of existence, although on the flip side, the stitch selector gear crapped itself, so I don’t know what that says about how far negligence will get you..
So there you have it, that’s my guide to buying your first sewing machine. Obviously I’m a big advocate for second-hand machines, but these rules apply for both new and old machines. There are many quality, well-priced gems to be found out there, and starting up a your new sewing hobby needn’t be expensive at all. Personally, from the amount of clothing alterations and garments I’ve begun to sew for myself, this machine has already paid for itself twice over and will only continue to get more bang for its buck over the course of its lifetime.