Learning to sew is one of those life skills that many would love to master but very few have the time to do sew… sorry, so. But the chances are, you’re looking at investing in the best sewing machine your budget can afford because time is now in abundance for many of us.
That’s good news, because even a very modest amount of cash (think around the £50 mark) can secure a basic sewing machine that’s capable of completing everything from simple buttonhole stitching to more elaborate decorative designs and patchwork projects.
But like so many things in life, the more dosh you part with, the more features you will end up with. This is a good thing for someone with extensive sewing knowledge, as those more advanced (read expensive) machines offer a wider variety of stitch types, stitch length adjustment, built-in embroidery options and even computerised elements that mean complex digital designs can be realised in fabric form at the simple press of a button.
It can be a minefield of Jeweller’s Knot jargon and home economics headaches out there, but we’ve collated a list of excellent machines that should cater to all experience levels and budgets. Come on everybody, we've got quiltin' to do!
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Best sewing machines: what you need to know about learning to sew
Every sewing machine is different but most offer similar basic functions, chiefly the ability to create different stitch types and adjust the stitch length. Even the cheapest Hobbycraft model on our list below offers 19 built-in stitch patterns, as well as the ability to adjust sewing speed.
There are cheaper, more basic options if you really go hunting, but we feel that they limit the scope for projects and that you’ll likely outgrow these extremely quickly, making them pretty poor value for money in the long term.
As you walk up the sewing machine price ladder, you’ll notice that overall build quality becomes more heavy duty, with beefier exterior construction materials for improved longevity, more hardcore presser feet (the bit of metal that keeps the fabric in place as you stitch) and motors that are able to tackle heavy duty materials, such as denim or even lighter leather.
More importantly, they tend to boast automatic threaders, which save a lot of time and fiddling, seam guides and other features that are designed to make the whole business of sewing a lot more efficient, enjoyable and less frustrating.
Computerised elements are also now more commonplace throughout the range and those machines with small screens or displays can be much easier to use than the models with a mind-boggling array of dials and switches. On top of this, the ability to plug your machine into a laptop or USB stick means that more complex embroidery projects suddenly become attainable, with available software that transforms digital designs into clever stitch data.
Be warned, we found this software to be difficult to track down, often expensive and quite complex to use. Those wanting to simply convert a jpeg into an embroidery file will be a tad disappointed by the whole process.
Keep an eye out for the sort of accessories that come bundled with the package too, because this could save you cash in the long run. Presser feet should be top of this list, as they are essential to any project. But look out for a variety of interchangeable feet that can perform various tasks (embroidery, buttonholes, zips), extendable work tables, storage areas and built-in thread cutters, for example.
Finally, it is worth noting that some of the most basic machines can be quite noisy to use, which is fine if you have a nice, secluded area in the house for sewing projects, but can be a real pain for anyone trying to watch some TV or read a book while you beaver away on a cushion cover.
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How to buy the best sewing machine
First off, it’s time to do a bit of soul-searching and question, “what do I really want from my new sewing machine?” Is it just a basic option to see if you get bitten by the Great British Sewing Bee bug? Or is it something more serious to take on larger projects?
If it’s the former, you can get away with something pretty cheap, but bear in mind these aren’t usually built to last, lack many features that help improve your sewing skills and are often a lot more fiddly to set up and use than the more expensive, better engineered rivals.
With that in mind, punting for something in the mid-range will generally offer more, meaning you can start to experiment with more elaborate stitches and larger projects without being constrained by your machine.
As previously mentioned, look out for a bundle that offers multiple presser feet, a variety of stitch patterns and convenience features, such as easy needle threading and drop-in bobbin features that make the whole business of setting tip your sewing machine far less painful.
The best sewing machines, in order
Straight out of the box, this modern-looking machine from Brother feels like the real deal. Its large, high resolution touchscreen display means it does away with the myriad confusing buttons and dials found on other rival machines.
Let’s get this out of the way early: it is big and it is heavy, so forget transporting this easily to a local sewing club. It is very much designed to be set-up on a solid surface at home or in a workshop and left there.
Once installed, it is an absolute peach to use though. Most of the irritating threading and bobbin winding is taken care of autonomously, while automatic thread tensioning systems and automatic foot pressure system that adjusts to the material as you sew. Despite its price tag and professional looks, the features on this machine make it so simple for practically anyone to use.
But delve deeper into the system and you’ll find hundreds of pre-set embroidery patterns, fonts and designs, which are called up via the digital screen. From here, it’s as simple as attaching the embroidery accessory, selecting a design and fabric and letting the machine do the hard work.
We didn’t go as far as trying thick leather or denim, but the heavy duty motor and generous arm length feels like it could cope with the bulkier jobs, although it isn’t expressly designed for large scale, heavy duty projects in mind.
Arguably the thing we found trickiest when using the machine is actually creating the digital embroidery designs. The built-in options are very basic and it requires specific software to transform .PNG and .JPG files into a format that can be used. But this is the same case across the board and we have no qualms about ease of use here - it is a brilliantly capable piece of kit to suit all levels.
Singer is one of the most recognisable brands in the sewing game and although this plastic-clad Confidence model lacks the rock-solid construction of its forefathers, it remains a pleasingly simple yet surprisingly affordable way to get sewing.
There are over 200 built-in stitch patterns to choose from, including clever alpha-numeric numbers, which essentially make a spot of basic embroidery possible. The machine boasts a 40 character memory function, making it possible to personalise your creations without needing expert embroidery skills.
Thankfully, Singer takers care of a lot of the complex stuff too. Like when you select a stitch, the optimum length and width of each stitch is pre-selected, saving lots of trial and error for beginners. The LCD screen is pretty basic but it allows for easy swapping between button hole styles, for example.
Stitch speed is adjustable, too, while a programmable needle up/down offers plenty of versatility when it comes to quilting and top stitching, for example. It’s also surprisingly compact and light (ish), meaning you can chuck it in the car for classes.
Think of this as a lighter, more compact version of the Innov-is V5LE mentioned above that still manages to impress with its ability to both sew and embroider, as well as make the whole process much simpler with its automated functions.
It is jam-packed with official Disney character embroidery patterns, so anyone with their sights set on clothing or cushion projects with younger recipients in mind will love the simplicity of adding Winnie the Pooh or Mickey Mouse to a design.
There are 182 sewing stitches included, while the variety of presser feet is very impressive - from blind stitch feet to a bespoke monogramming foot, there’s pretty much something here for every level of sewer. After using it for a number of weeks, it had us questioning the huge price gap between this and the far more expensive V5LE, which largely comes down to its larger sibling’s gigantic touchscreen and its ability to embroider complicated, large-scale patterns.
Still, this is extremely capable machine that comes jam-packed with accessories and tool to suit almost all jobs. Perhaps the only warning is that it’s not really suitable for heavy duty fabrics
If there were awards for the best-looking sewing machines on the market, this would definitely be a contender in our eye. Its heavy duty intentions are clearly marked by its moody exterior and neat decals, which actually serve to deflect attention away from a fairy basic machine.
With just 17 built-in stitch patterns, this Toyota model falls some way behind the competition here, but its sole purpose in life is to take on those tougher projects, including thicker materials like denim, heavyweight cotton and even lighter leathers.
Operation is extremely simple, with a dial for stitch type and another that takes care of tension, while its ergonomic construction makes it really easy to get on with. On top of this, Toyota includes a handy, illustrated Quick Advisor booklet that can be attached to the machine, making things like needle threading and bobbin set-up much easier to follow via clear step-by-step instructions.
Weighing just 4.9kg, it is also one of the lightest models on the list, making it a strong contender for transporting to classes or sewing sessions with friends.
Have you been obsessed with the Great British Sewing Bee and fancy dabbling in a little haberdashery or trying your hand at repairing some old clothes? Dipping a toe in the water needn’t mean breaking the bank, as this Hobbycraft model does the most basic sewing features very well.
There are 19 different stitch settings, including a specific pattern for stretchy fabrics, a built-in LED needle light, simplified button hole stitching and a front-loaded bobbin, which makes setting up the machine slightly quicker.
Although a secondary needle isn’t included, the machine does extend to twin needle sewing and is compatible with the most common type of presser foot, opening up the capabilities and longevity of the model.
We didn’t test this but Hobbycraft claims it can sew up to four layers of denim, which seems pretty heavy duty for such a basic machine, but mightily impressive nonetheless. Quilting and patchwork are also taken care of here and best of all, it comes at a very reasonable price.