Is the sewing machine for a beginner or more experienced sewer? Beginners will probably need an inexpensive machine with a range of basic stitches, while an experienced sewer may require many more features. John Lewis has machines with as few as 6 stitch options and as many as 307. At the very top of the range we offer computerised sewing machines with
downloadable designs for those with a PC. As a general guide, the more stitches there are, the more expensive a model will be.
What type of sewing will the machine be used for? Dressmaking, home furnishings, repairs and alterations, upholstery, crafts, quilting or all of these? For the first four, a basic machine will be suitable. Look for the term “free arm” which will make sewing sleeves and trouser legs easier.
For crafts and quilting you'll need a machine with a much wider range of stitches. For upholstery look for a machine capable of heavy duty use.
Frequency of use
How often will the machine be used? If a machine is only for occasional use it will not be worth buying one with a large range of stitches and accessories that will never be needed. Consider buying an overlocker instead.
Weight and storage
Will it need to be packed up and put away after each use? Consider weight: you don’t want to have to lift a heavy machine more often than is necessary.
Do you need extra storage space? Many of our machines come with a storage area underneath them which can come in handy when space is at a premium.
Different types of machine
Mechanical sewing machines: Mechanical sewing machines are basic models, with fewer features and a bit more work for you to operate (there’s no electronic foot pedal). They can sew most materials but lower-priced models are best suited to light- to medium-weight materials.
Electronic sewing machines: Electronic sewing machines work by a single motor that sends an electrical impulse to work the needle. This is conjunction with the feeding mechanism and you operate the machine by a foot pedal. This allows both hands to be kept free to guide the fabric and the speed to be adjusted. Stitch types and lengths are selected by using a dial. An electronic machine will suit the needs of most home sewers as their function, number of stitches and price vary greatly.
Computerised sewing machines: Computerised sewing machines are best suited to the experienced sewer who wants to upgrade to a more versatile machine. They work by using several motors to control different functions of the machine.
This very precise control makes it possible to produce hundreds of different stitches, which are selected by pressing a key or using a touch pad linked to an LCD display screen. They may feature the ability to memorise past projects and to download designs from the internet when connected to a PC.
Overlocker sewing machines: Overlockers are basically finishing machines, mainly used for hems and seams but can also have decorative stitching options. The main benefit of an overlocker is that it can sew a seam, finish the edge and cut off the excess fabric in one step. An overlocker can be very useful if you only want to do simple projects such as making curtains or taking up hems but does not have the versatility of a sewing machine. It cannot, for example sew buttonholes or zips. Overlockers give a more professional finish to garments and projects. They are also great for sewing knitted fabrics, making a useful additional item, especially if you sew frequently. Overlockers are also known as “sergers”.
Confused by the jargon?
If all the technical terms seem completely baffling, the glossary below should help you to make better sense of them:
Bobbin: a bobbin is a small spool for holding thread. Sewing machines use two threads to make a stitch: The needle thread, coming downwards from the top of the machine and the bobbin thread coming upwards from under the needle plate. Thread is wound onto the bobbin before you begin sewing, then fitted into a bobbin case and put into place.
Buttonholes: most machines will sew buttonhole styles for you (not the actual button, that’s another feature) either in a 1-step or 4-step process. The fewer the steps, the easier it is.
Feed dogs: are saw-shaped teeth that move the fabric through the machine. As the needle stitches, the feed dogs grab the fabric, moving it under the presser foot. The term “drop feed dog” means that the feed dogs can be used in either the up or down position. When the feed dogs are down or “dropped”, you can use the machine for work such as machine embroidery where the fabric can be moved freely under the needle.
Free arm: A free arm is a cylinder on the bed of the machine which allows you to sew items such as sleeves and trouser legs. This usually works by detaching a piece on the base of the machine, leaving the arm protruding.
Integrated drop feed: the teeth drop down, making it easier to move the fabric freely - useful when quilting or embroidering.
Integrated dual feed: if you’re sewing 2 pieces of fabric together, such as quilting, this handy feature ensures a smooth, equal feeding of both fabrics.
Knee lifter: a knee lifter is a lever which can be pressed with your knee, allowing you to lift the presser foot and drop the feed dogs without taking your hands off the work. This is useful for quilting, sewing around curves or appliqué.
Lock stitch facility: this helps when you’re starting or ending a stitch or embroidery, as it stops it unravelling.
Needle plate: the needle plate is the part of the machine which fits over the feed dogs on the bed of the machine, with a hole that the needle passes through.
Presser foot: the presser foot holds the fabric in place against the feed dogs so that it doesn’t move about while you are sewing. You can buy specialised presser feet for different jobs.
Stitch selector: on more basic machines, the stitch selector is usually a dial which allows you to select different stitch types. On computerised machines this is done by pressing a key or using a touch pad.
Twin needle: this gives parallel rows of stitches if you’re after a more decorative or stronger seam.