Shopping for a machine can be a bewildering undertaking if you haven't prepared yourself and assessed your needs. Before you start the hunt for the perfect sewing machine, take a minute to learn the different types of available. Consider what you plan to use the machine to make, what type of capabilities you think you need and what you are willing to spend. This will help you decide what kind of machine is right for you.
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Mechanical Sewing Machines
Mechanical sewing machines are the most budget-friendly. Stitch length and width is selected with knobs and dials on mechanical machines. There are no electronic buttons for the power – only a switch. The name "mechanical" does not necessarily mean that it does not operate with electricity; it just means that everything is not run by electronic components. Mechanical machines come with straight, zigzag and decorative stitches. Some more advanced mechanical machines have buttonhole capabilities. On these machines you can make basic repairs, hems, craft projects, home décor and simple garments. While the price is a positive, the mechanical machine does come with some negatives – the stitches are usually more limited than other machines, they sometimes only come with one or two presser feet, and the manual selection of stitch length can be less accurate than digital selections.
Electronic Sewing Machines
Electronic sewing machines typically cost more but offer a plethora of stitches and presser feet. This opens up many possible new techniques such as making and sewing piping, topstitching and blind-stitch hemming. Electronic machines usually have a touchpad control with an LED screen where you can select stitches and make adjustments to the length and width, which will offer more precision to your sewing. Christine Carson, Love Sewing magazine author, says that the electronic machines have standard settings that help your sewing projects go smoother and easier. She even compares it to a point-and-shoot camera – you don't have to make any adjustments if you don't wish. Electronic machines can range widely in cost so it may behoove you to go to your local craft store to test drive a few before you make a choice.
Computerized Sewing Machines
Computerized sewing machines are often lumped into the electronic category because they also have LED displays, but are different because they can interface with computers and software. These machines have touch screens that select 100-plus stitches and many have basic embroidery functions. Computerized machines use memory cards or USB ports to load custom designs from your computer. These machines typically come with numerous presser feet and a wide variety can be purchased. You can use these machines to make most non-commercial projects.
Serger machines serve as finishing tools for your fabric. A knife on the serger cuts the edge off of the fabric to create a clean edge, then it stitches thread around the edge to encase it, preventing fraying. Finishing the edges of knit fabrics with a serger allows the seams to stretch, as well as prevents them from rolling and fraying. Knit garments that have straight-stitch seams are more likely to fall apart due to the thread breaking.
Specialty Sewing Machines
When shopping for a new machine, most likely you'll run into some specialty machines. It is always good to know what function they serve in the sewing world. Quilting machines offer quilters the ability to sew on a larger platform. The quilt can be laid out on the platform and the machine has an arm that moves around to create the quilted effect. This is referred to as "free-form" sewing. Embroidery machines sew graphics and letters with embroidery thread, and can be used to personalize garments with names and monograms. Some can double as sewing machines with an attachable sewing unit.