What functions do you need on your sewing machine?
Most machines will accomplish the same variations in stitch length and width, and can range from zero to four or five mm. If you do any basting it is important to have a length of at least four mm for easy stitch removal. If you are doing any buttonholes, zigzagging or satin or decorative stitching the width should also reach four mm. And while we are on buttonholes, note that you really should try the machines buttonhole function before you buy. These important additions to your sewing are not noticed if they are done right, but the cynosure of all eyes when poorly attempted. Know how much work you want to put into these pesky clothing closures as some machines have you turning the fabric yourself, and some require you to perform four or five steps. Other machines make buttonholing a one step procedure. If you are doing any tailoring at all, it is crucial that the machine is just what you want in sewing buttonholes, completing buttonholes easily and professionally.
This is one area that separates the women from the girls, pricewise. There are basic stitches you will need for bottom line sewing a variety of fabric weights and textures and projects. Look for
a stretch stitch necessary for knits,
an overlock for finishing seams or decoration,
a blind stitch for hemming, and
a satin stitch for darning and more decoration.
If you intend to do a lot of decorative stitching or specialized applications, look for these options, but keep in mind the more variations, the higher the price.
There is considerable tension over a machine's tension adjustments. Some machines advertise they have self adjusting or universal tension that means the upper and lower thread tension is balanced regardless of fabric. Most machines, however, still require you to adjust the bobbin or lower thread's tension via a small screw in the bobbin holder. Bobbin winding is another area to pay attention to. Some machines require you to remove the bobbin from its housing and wind new thread on another post. Others allow you to refill the bobbin right in its location. Look for a feature that stops the winding when the bobbin is full.
Some machines have an automatic needle stop so you no longer have to turn the wheel, raising the needle from the fabric to remove it. Check also if the machine has a movable needle holder, allowing you to move the position of the needle to place the needle exactly where you want it for zippers, topstitching, etc.
Service and Warranty
The industry standard is 20 years for mechanical issues, two years for the electrical parts and one year for labor. Ask the vendor where the machine would be serviced, locally or will it require shipping. Are parts available at the dealership? What is the repair record for the machine you are interested in? Who should you call for any questions you might have? Make sure you feel comfortable with this, as your machine will need adjustments sooner or later.
an on/off switch, so you can turn off the power rather than just unplugging the machine.
a self lubricating option so you no longer have to worry about oil staining your fabric
an automatic tying of the thread so you no longer have to stitch back and forth to lock your stitches
a dropping dog feed so you can do work in free motion if necessary
a removable flat bed so you can stitch small openings such as sleeves
presser feet that snap on instead of using a screw.
You've settled on the features you need, the ones you want, and the ones you wouldn't mind having. Now look at the machine itself. It should be solidly made, appropriately weighted, quiet, and non-vibrating. The power cord should connect into the machine securely; the pedal sturdy with a rubber bottom so it doesn't slide away as you sew.