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Must-have features for your first sewing machine

Author: Gary Walker  Date Posted:30 April 2021 

Learning to sew, whether to create your own apparel, alter or mend your existing wardrobe, make home furnishings, quilting or even machine embroidery is one of the most satisfying and rewarding skills any person can carry through life.

Starting this journey is as simple as having a sewing machine and a little time to invest in the learning process. These days with the abundant wealth of online education at our fingertips, it has never been easier to succeed.

But, it’s important to remove any unnecessary obstacles that may sour the experience. This includes ensuring you have a quality, easy to use, reliable machine and for beginners, the first question is, which machine should I buy? Do I buy a mechanical or computerised machine? 

People often say "I’ll just get something cheap and easy and see how I go". But cheap machines are rarely ever easy to use and will more likely turn you off what should be a fun, rewarding experience.

That’s why we recommend a computerised machine, every time. And, it shouldn’t cost a fortune.


Why a computerised machine?

If you’re considering learning to sew or perhaps giving a child the opportunity to learn this valuable skill, here is a brief explanation about why we so strongly recommend a computerised sewing machine as the best option to ensure success.

These days we expect everything to be somewhat computerised and to be honest, most modern sewing machines are computerised to some extent. Some are simpler than others and of course, some work better than others. Then there is the price tag, which can vary from a few hundred to thousands of dollars. So what are the key features that you should look for?


10 features that we think are essential

This is a list based on both technical and practical benefits that we consider priorities when teaching a beginner to sew, be they child or adult.

User-friendly LCD screen

Naturally, this goes without saying but the simplicity of selecting a stitch and a clear concise LCD screen is important. Computer machines usually set the optimum stitch setting automatically by just selecting a stitch number. A backlit or illuminated LCD screen is also an advantage.


Large selection of stitches

A large stitch selection is appealing and sometimes exciting. Simple decorative stitches expose creativity even on the most basic of projects. It's very engaging and encourages creativity.


Simple threading

Some models can just be downright difficult and these days an automatic needle threader should be mandatory. A horizontal thread spool and easy bobbin winding should also be on the checklist.


Drop-in bobbin

This is important. A jam-proof drop-in bobbin that does not require the user to draw the bobbin thread and hold both threads when starting to sew is a blessing in disguise. Anything less than this will result in probable thread jams which is the surest way to turn anyone off sewing.

You should also look for a machine that has a rotary hook system; this relates to the bobbin system and rules out all the cheap push-in type bobbin machines with what we call an oscillating shuttle. Buying one of these “oscillating shuttle” machines is possibly the biggest mistake that could be made. This type of shuttle is cheap and struggles on lightweight and knitted fabrics. They are notorious for jamming and are far more difficult to load the bobbin correctly. Because of their design, they also tend to bounce and jump around the table. Just don't buy anything other than a drop-in bobbin machine. It's really that simple!


Speed regulation slide control

All computer machines have a foot control that regulates the sewing speed, but for beginners, this can be one of the most challenging or even scary aspects of learning to sew. A twitchy foot on the foot control can not only mess up the stitching but can also create a safety issue with the potential of a needle through the finger. A speed slide control means you can slow the maximum speed right down to a very slow inching speed which is perfect for children and learners of all ages. For us, it's a must-have feature for a beginner.


Automatic needle stop position

This is a must-have and is generally standard on computerised machines. It means that the needle will always stop in the correct needle-up or down position and ensures that the take-up lever is also in the correct position. This is very important for threading and when you start sewing the next seam. It helps prevent jamming and the thread from coming out of the needle when you start stitching. Automatic needle-down is also very good as the child gains experience because needle-down allows for easy pivoting of the work. Best of all, the automatic needle stop function means the user does not need to mess with the handwheel on the machine. Again, a blessing in disguise.


Start/stop button

This usually comes with machines that feature a speed slide control and means that there is no need to use the foot control. This is a huge advantage when learning because the foot control can be a real obstacle for a beginner who may lack the eye, hand and foot coordination.


Soft-touch or electronic reverse

Some machines can be hard to engage reverse which of course is important for back tacking and locking off seams. Computer machines usually have a simple electronic reverse button with a very soft touch and is a far better option for anyone who sews. An automatic reverse or backtack function is also a big plus.


Variable stitch width and length settings

This is more important as you develop some skills. Most computer machines allow for the user to override the automatic settings whereas many cheap mechanical models don't have this option.


Modern, attractive and not too heavy

This may be subjective but if you think about it, we are all attracted to nice-looking things. Plus, a machine that is easy to move and store also translates into more willingness to set it up and start sewing. Be assured that there are some lightweight machines that by design are smooth and do not bounce around the table.

Well, there you have it. Ten very solid reasons why a good computerised sewing machine is the best way to introduce anyone to the joys of sewing.


What about reliability?

Computer machines, in general, are far more reliable than their older designed mechanical cousins and while we can't speak for other brands we can confidently vouch for Brother with reliability and ease of use as perhaps their biggest and best features.


So what do we recommend?

We’ve featured the Brother Innov-is NV50S on this article and for good reason. It ticks all the boxes and comes with a fabulous array of accessories.

At only $599 it’s a high quality metal chassis machine, with power and finesse for any project. A five year computer/electronics warranty provides peace of mind. But most of all, it’s so easy to use with features that even advanced users would be at home with.

Learn more about this machine →


What about ongoing support?

You're in safe hands with Echidna Sewing, Australia’s No.1 Brother dealer. Our dedicated video production studio, along with our Facebook, Youtube and instant chat facility is the centerpiece of our ongoing support program, ensuring that your learning experience is only a click away. Or, you can simply contact us on 1800 000 360 if you’d prefer to talk to a real person.