A Beginners Guide to Buying a Sewing Machine

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A Beginner's Guide to Buying a Sewing Machine

Many people likely grew up with a mother or grandmother who owned a sewing machine that did its part to keep the family looking their best. In today's consumer driven culture people all too quickly discard torn clothes in favour of purchasing newer ones. Yet fixing the garment with a sewing machine instead of tossing it in the trash gives it a second lease on life, and spares customers from having to buy more clothes so frequently.

Whether the buyer is a beginner who is trying to add room into the budget, or a sewing enthusiast who can create clothing from scratch, a sewing machine is a useful purchase. They are often sold at craft stores, department shops and online websites like eBay. Beginners often need help understanding which sewing machine is right for their needs. It is best to buy one that is easy to use, and fits with the type of sewing the customer does at home.

Sewing Machine Parts

Sewing machines use a lot of specialised terminology that throws beginners for a loop. It is pointless to try and decide if a mechanical machine is better than an electric one if the buyer cannot tell a bobbin from a flywheel. The first step to finding a beginner-friendly sewing machine is to understand the different parts.

Threading Parts

A sewing machine makes stitching by using two different strands of thread. The upper stitch is called the top stitch, and the lower stitch is called the bobbin. In older models, the top thread loaded above the machine while the bobbin thread loaded underneath. Since the bobbin compartment could only be accessed through a slide plate underneath the needle, reloading the bobbin became very frustrating. Many modern machines offer top-loading bobbin compartments for easier use. This is a good choice for beginners because it is easy to reload the bobbin thread. The top thread is kept in place by a series of thread guides.


Sewing machines come with several needle sizes that are used for specialty stitching. The good news is that beginners do not have to worry about collecting every needle size known to man since they only use basic stitching practises. A needle clamp holds the needle in place between the presser feet at the bottom of the sewing machine.

Placing thread onto the needle requires using a take-up lever that is guided by the flywheel. This device raises the needle to the top of the machine, where it can then be threaded. For beginners who need a little bit of practise, buying a model with a needle threader means that the machine performs this function instead of the operator. Needle threaders can save a young sewer from accidental pinpricks.

Another noteworthy option for beginners is the needle down feature. On a regular sewing machine, the operator cannot control if the needle is up or down when he or she stops. Machines that have the needle down option always stop when the needle is in the fabric. This makes it easier to turn the stitches.

Presser Feet

The presser foot holds the fabric down flat underneath the needle and is essential for proper stitching. Different presser feet are used for various fabrics. For example, a non stick foot is used when sewing leather. One option beginners should consider is buying a model with an adjustable presser foot. This controls how tight the machine holds the fabric during sewing, and helps stops fabric from puckering around the stitch.

Feed Dogs

Feed dogs are a set of metal teeth that pull the fabric across the presser foot. Choosing a model that comes with speed control means that the sewer can adjust how fast the feed dogs pull the fabric. The speed control option is ideal for beginners who want to set their own pace. Some models also come with removable feed dogs. If the customer is planning to one day get into serious embroidery, then the removable feed dog feature is helpful. Most beginners, however, do not use this feature at all.

Tension Regulator

The tension regulator is located on top of the machine where it is easily within reach of the operator. It is used to regulate how tight the top thread is when it moves through the needle. If the tension is just right, both the top and bobbin thread create perfect stitches. If it is too tight, the thread can either break or form puckered stitches. If it is too loose, then top thread creates loose stitches that easily become undone. A large tension control knob makes using the tension regulator a piece of cake.

Sewing Controls

Sewing controls tell the machine the type of stitches it needs to produce. Older mechanical machines use a dial, while electronic ones use a digital screen and buttons. Use the control to set the length and width of the stitches. Most machines have a numeric code for stitches.

Stitch Name

Length Code

Width Code




Straight Stretch



Regular Blindhem












Multi-Stitch ZigZag



The above chart uses stitch codes from the Singer brand. Other manufacturers may use different stitch codes, so it is always a good idea to check the owner's manual first for recommended stitch sizes.

For beginners, select a model with easy to read sewing controls. Mechanical models should have large dials, while electrical ones must come with a bright LED display. Whether a buyer needs a mechanical or electrical model depends on their sewing needs.

Sewing Machine Types

There are three main types of sewing machines: mechanical, electronic, and embroidery. The embroidery type is usually reserved for sewing experts who take on in-depth embroidery projects, and is beyond the skill set of most beginners. Therefore, buyers should focus on choosing between a mechanical or electrical sewing machine.

Mechanical Machines

Mechanical machines are the oldest type, but this does not make them any less useful, or unfriendly towards beginners. In fact, many beginners love the fact that mechanical machines are less expensive. It gives sewers the opportunity to try out a machine and see if they enjoy sewing without having to make a sizable investment. The downside to mechanical models is that they require the operator to control most of the machine by hand, and this can get overwhelming for beginners. However, they work just fine for occasional and lightweight sewing projects, including basic repair and hemming. Buying a mechanical model with a lot of extra room to the right of the needle gives the operator more space to work.

Electrical Models

Electrical models are a step up in price range, but in return they turn many of the tedious steps required by mechanical models into automatic controls. Beginners who are nervous about working all of the controls at once can opt for an electrical model if they can afford it. Typically, if the buyer plans to use their machine for large sewing projects, then it is worth the extra cost. The best models come with large LED screens and hundreds of different stitch settings that mechanical models cannot reproduce.

Buying Sewing Machines on eBay

You can find many of the top sewing machine brands including Brother and Singer on eBay alongside dozens of other popular models. In fact, the reason why sewers love to use eBay is that the vast selection allows them to get the machine they want, not the one they have to settle for. With so many sellers competing for a buyer's business, it is easy to find the model you want at a price you can afford.

Searching for Sewing Machines on eBay

Start off your search by entering 'sewing machine' into the search box. This commands the search engine to scour the entire website for all relevant listings. If the engine returns thousands of results, try narrowing down the search by entering the type such as 'electrical sewing machine'. If there are still too many results, focus the search even further by adding the brand name or pricing limitations. A great way to save serious amounts of cash is to search for 'used sewing machines'. These previously owned models sell for a fraction of their original cost, and if they are still in good shape they make for an excellent bargain.


It is never too late to enjoy the many benefits that using a sewing machine brings home. With the right model owners can quickly repair clothes, adjust hemlines, and resise old clothing. Of course, choosing the right model for a beginning user can be a little difficult, so examine the different functions before making a decision. Models that come with user friendly features, such as top-loading bobbins, needle threaders, and the needle down function make it easier to work with thread.

Adjustable presser feet and speed controls allow the operator to work at just the right pace. Large controls and knobs make selecting between different sewing options surprisingly easy even for beginners. Buyers also need to select a mechanical or electrical machine based on how much they can afford, compared to how much sewing they plan to do. eBay sells both types of machines along with accessories so that buyers can get all their supplies from the same place.

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