the Right Sewing Machine for Quiltmaking
Are you in the market for a new
machine? If you are interested in quilting, crafting, or dressmaking,
this list will help you make the investment a wise one. A
sewing machine will only frustrate and discourage you, so buy the best
machine you can afford. If
you have a limited budget, it is usually worthwhile to seek
out a local sewing machine dealer with a good reputation and ask about
used machines. Some reconditioned "better" machines will cost about the
same as a new machine of lesser quality. A reputable dealer will often
provide a limited warranty on these machines and/or lessons on how to
use the machine. He will be able to service what he sells and provide
accessories and a manual.
The list here is specifically focused on quiltmaking. In a
multi-purpose sewing machine, you will also want to see and test the
buttonhole process at the store before you buy! An adjustment
a "free arm" is important. You will want to have zipper, rolled hem,
blind hem and some other feet. Those are usually included with a new
- The needle can sew
in three positions - a needle that can be moved to the right or the
left gives you more freedom to adjust your seam allowance while keeping
the fabric on both feed dogs.
- The machine can be
set to stop with the needle up or the needle down - This is
particularly important for machine quilting and piecing inset corners.
flatbed sewing surface is big and smooth. In
dressmaking, a narrow free arm is useful, but for a large, flat quilt,
we want a working table big enough to spread and support the weight of
quilt. If the bed of the machine is not very large, it should have a
built-in extension or flat bed table accessory that slides up alongside
of it. These can be purchased separately or made by a handy husband!
- Foot pedal and
electrical cords are long enough for comfort and safety - tripping over
cords or having to stretch them across your workspace is dangerous and
- It has a good
bright light that
illuminates what you are working on. Make sure the light actually
shines on the right place. Ascertain that replacement light bulbs can
be obtained and installed easily.
- The feed dogs drop
down to disengage. Those little snap-on feed dog covers are a nuisance.
Look for a machine that lets you disengage the feed dogs at the touch
of a button.
- The pressure on the
presser foot can be adjusted - this controls how "heavily" the presser
foot lies on the
fabric underneath it. When free-motion machine quilting, you need to be
able to move the layered quilt around easily under the foot.
- A "lock stitch"
secures the ends of the stitching lines neatly and precisely. If you
have a very controllable backstitch, you can use this instead.
- It has a good
straight (not slanted) buttonhole or blanket stitch. This stitch is
often used for machine appliqué, both decorative and invisible.
- The accessories are
readily available and affordable. Some of the top quality machines
require you to use their specialized feet, which can cost up to five
times as much as the generic low shank feet. Even if you are willing to
pay for the attachments, you want to be able to purchase them
conveniently. Make sure that they are easy to change.
- It comes with a
good owner's manual - preferably written by someone whose native
language is English.
- A sturdy machine
can accommodate a variety of threads. If the seller tells you that it
can only tolerate a certain brand of thread, start looking for a better
"workhorse" machine - maybe an older used one. They are not so
- There is a local
dealer who will honor your warranty. I really do recommend buying your
sewing machine, new or used, from a reputable dealer who knows how to
maintain and repair the machines he sells. If you are buying a new
machine, he should offer a good warranty and free classes in how to use
it. Look for at least a partial warranty, even on a used machine, if
you are buying a computerized sewing machine.
- It has a convenient
and sharp thread cutter built into the machine.
- Most machines use a
standard-sized needle, but do check on that. You don't want to have to
quilting, (stippling), you will need a darning foot. This foot has a
spring or hinge and it's nice if it is open in the front so you can
catch the thread ends and see where you are going.
quilting and for sewing the binding on your quilt, you will need a
walking foot. This is a box-like contraption that is also called an
even feed foot or a plaid-matcher foot. Several of the newer machines
have this feature built into them and you do not need a separate
attachment. You want to be able to disengage it when you don't want to
A 1/4" piecing foot is
used to achieve a perfect seam allowance. I prefer to use an
all-purpose foot, move my needle into the right position and use my
first plate line as a guide, because then the fabric is pressed down
firmly on both feed dogs and on both sides of the seam. Usually, the
use of the 1/4" foot positions the fabrics only on one feed dog, so
they tend to pull to the left.
Dealer, Your Friend
Test-drive the sewing
machine before you
buy it. Bring your own fabrics, because the ones available in the
stores are usually stiffened for a nicer-looking finish. Bring some
calico and a small "quilt sandwich" of calico and batting.
every stitch and see if the store owner will let you try specialty
threads in it. The dealer is almost as important
as the machine itself! If
the dealer is unfriendly and uncooperative during the sales process, he
is unlikely to improve when you are looking for help later. Comparison
shop. Don't be afraid to "haggle", especially for a used
Ask about its history. Ask what "reconditioned" means to him.
reputable dealer with a long-term business vision will see
an investment in his own future. He knows that if you buy a basic
machine today and are encouraged by its easy and reliable operation
(and his good customer service), you will probably want to upgrade
eventually. You will recommend him to others. Word-of-mouth
advertizing and customer loyalty are important to these small
businesses. If you find a good dealer, your machine is doubled in
© 2003 Catherine Timmons
If you found this article helpful, please
feel free to print a copy for your personal use. If you would like to
publish it in your quilt guild newsletter or share it elsewhere, please
me for permission.