When purchasing a sewing machine, be sure to consider what types of materials you want to sew, how often you'll use the machine, your skill level, and the amount of room you have to store the machine. Your answers will help determine what size and style is best for you.
Sewing machines can be categorized into three basic styles:
The mechanical sewing machine runs on electricity with the use of a foot pedal and requires you to use manual controls. For example, you push a lever to select the type of stitch you want to use and turn a separate control to position the needle. This machine works well for beginners who want to learn basic sewing techniques. Typically owners of this style of machine use it occasionally and for simple tasks. These machines typically offer 4 to 15 stitch styles.
An electric machine also uses a foot pedal, but the controls are typically touch screen, computerized settings. Because there is more control with an electric machine, the stitches are often more precise. These machines usually offer 15 to 25 stitch styles and are used by those with intermediate skill levels.
The computerized sewing machine is the most technologically savvy. Its multiple small step motors are all run by a computer processor. These machines generally offer 150 to 250 stitch styles, including embroidery and alphabet stitches for personalizing. They can also be connected to your computer so you can download custom stitches. Advanced sewers are the main users of these machines.
Most machines will have the following features:
Bobbin: Inch-high spool usually made of silver-tone metal.
Bobbin Winder: Post next to the spool pins where you will place your bobbin when winding thread onto it.
Foot Control: Pedal you use to start and stop the machine.
Handwheel: Wheel/crank that allows you to raise and lower the needle by hand, so as to position it properly when beginning a stitch.
Needle Clamp: Small clamp that holds the needle in place.
Presser Foot: Small foot-like metal piece below the needle that holds the fabric in place.
Spool Pins: Short posts on the top of a sewing machine that hold the main spool of thread and possibly an extra spool.
Take-up Lever: Vertical slot running down the front of the machine, through which the top thread passes on its way to the needle.
Tension Regulator: Regulates tension; If your tension is too tight, your stitches will pucker and come undone. If it's too loose, the stitches will be weak and will not hold the fabric together.
Thread Guide: Small slot near the top of the machine where the main thread is strung.
Throat Plate: Silver-tone plate covering the area under the presser foot. The needle passes through this to capture the bobbin thread.
Other Features: Sewing machines also offer options to select stitch length, width and type. Depending on the style of your machine, they may be found via manual levers or a computerized screen.