Sewing machines buying guide

Buying a sewing machine is an exciting investment that promises hours of creative enjoyment! Before choosing the best machine for you, here are some helpful points for you to consider.

For a visual guide, watch our video.

You can also use the compare tab on the sewing machine page for cross-referrencing up to four different sewing machines for functions such as fabric use, number of stitches and weight.

Take a look at our range of sewing machines where you can filter by suitability.

The user

Is the sewing machine for a beginner or more experienced sewer? Beginners will need a machine with a range of basic stitches, while an experienced sewer may require many more features. John Lewis has machines with as few as 10 stitch options and as many as 300. For something more advanced, we offer computerised models with downloadable designs for those with a PC.

Projects

What sewing projects will the machine be used for? Dressmaking, repairs and alterations,  home furnishings and upholstery, crafts, embroidery, quilting or all of these? For dressmaking, crafts, repairs and alternations a basic machine may be suitable. Look for the terms ‘buttonhole stitches’ for dressmaking, the fewer the steps, the easier the stitch. ‘Free arms’ will make sewing sleeves and trouser legs easier.

A machine with a wider range of stitches will be more suitable for embroidery, crafts, quilting and for home furnishings and upholstery. Look for a machine capable of heavy duty use that's suitable for heavier fabrics.

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. For regular use choose a machine that is sturdy with a metal frame inside. 

Weight and storage

Will it need to be packed up and put away after each use? Will you be taking it to classes? Consider weight: you don’t want to have to lift a heavy machine more often than is necessary.  

Do you need storage space for accessories? Many of our machines come with a storage area underneath them which can come in handy when space is limited.  

Most models come with a soft cover or a hard cover to protect your machine from dust. Consider buying a sewing machine bag for safe and easy transportation.

Different types of machine

Electronic sewing machines: Electronic sewing machines work by a single motor that sends an electrical impulse to work the needle. This is in 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 many home sewers as their function, number of stitches and price vary greatly.

Computerised sewing machines: Computerised sewing machines are easy to use and suited to both beginners and 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, such as maximum speed control, needle up/down function and auto lock-off at the end of a stitch or pattern.

This very precise control makes it possible to produce lots 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

Overlockers: Overlockers are finishing machines, 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. They are also great for sewing knitted fabrics such as jersey, making it a useful additional item alongside a sewing machine, especially if you sew frequently. 

Confused by the jargon?

If all the technical terms seem completely baffling, the glossary below should help you to make better sense of them:

Auto thread tension: a function that calculates the correct thread tension for your fabric automatically. There is still the option to over-ride this.

Bobbin: a bobbin is a small plastic or metal 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.

Bobbin case: the bobbin fits into the bobbin case and then slots into the sewing machine or, in the case of top loading machines, the bobbin case sits in the arm of the machine and the bobbin is simply dropped in. 

Buttonholes: most machines will sew buttonholes for you either in a 1-step or 4-step process. The fewer the steps, the easier it is. Most advanced machines offer more than one style of buttonhole.

Feed dogs: are zig-zag shaped teeth that guide the fabric through the machine. As the needle stitches, the feed dogs move the fabric, moving it under the presser foot. The term "drop feed dog" means that the feed dogs can be lowered which allows you to do freehand embroidery or darning.

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.

Hook movement: available in oscillating (front loading) or rotary (top loading). Oscillating is a half-circle movement of the bobbin: rotary moves full-circle, reducing thread jams.

Integrated drop feed: when the feed dogs are down or "dropped", you can use the machine for work such as free machine embroidery where the fabric can be moved freely under the needle.

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.

Integrated needle threader: an attachment that helps you thread the needle.

Knee lifter: a knee lifter is a lever which can be pressed with your knee, allowing you to lift the presser foot without taking your hands off the work. This is useful for quilting, sewing around curves or applique.

Lock stitch facility: ensures all stitches and patterns are securely locked off at the end of the sewing sequence by using a reverse stitch.

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. Needle plates often have size guide measurements to make stitching seams even.

Needle up/down function: Lets you program the needle so it always finishes in the down or up position. Useful when pivoting on corners.

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. It is lifted and lowered by a lever. You can buy specialised presser feet for different jobs such as quilting, embroidery, patchwork, darning, zips and binding.

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.

Thread cutter: built into the machine this function neatly cuts the thread after sewing.

Twin needle functionality: this gives parallel rows of stitches if you’re after a more decorative or stronger seam.