Sewing machines buying guide

Sewing machines are designed to tackle a variety of sewing tasks from stitching hems and creating garments to sewing buttonholes and creating intricate embroidery. There is a wide range of electronic and computerised models available, with different programmes and features. Choosing the right sewing machine depends on your requirements and budget. Tesco stocks a range of sewing machines made by Toyota, Brother and E&R.

What type of user are you?

Think about what you'll be using your sewing machine for. Will it get regular use, be used to create complex garments, curtains and embroidery, or will you be just using it occasionally, for taking up hems and simple everyday tasks? If you're a beginner or an occasional user, a basic electronic model is likely to be sufficient for your needs. For more experienced users, investing in a computerised sewing machine that has more versatile functions is well worthwhile. An overlocker sewing machine is a worthy consideration if you're regularly creating garments where seams need finishing.

Types of sewing machines

  • Electronic sewing machines: these machines shoot an electrical impulse to move the needle, while a traditional foot pedal allows the user to apply pressure to control the sewing speed and feed the fabric.Electronic sewing machines allow more decorative stitches with much more precision than manual models. Stitch styles, their length and width are selected using a dial.
  • Computerised sewing machines: computerised machines are controlled by electronic chips and are operated using a touchpad panel and LCD screen. Stitch styles, their length and width have been pre-programmed into the machine by the manufacturer. These are much more sophisticated machines that can memorise past work, can connect and download programmes from the PC and offer hundreds of different stitches which are selected using buttons.
  • Overlocker sewing machine: this type of machine create a garment's finished seam to prevent the fabric from fraying. Overlockers trim, sew the seam and enclose the edges, all in one step. Unlike a straight stitch sewing machine, an overlocker uses loopers to make the stitch, and a set of knives that cut using a scissor action. Look for a 3, 4 thread or 2, 3, 4 thread overlocker which is easier to use. It's also worth having differential feed, stitch length control, bite control and colour coded threading paths. An overlocker is limited in what it can do so you will still need a sewing machine to make buttonholes and insert zips.

Sewing machine features

  • Stitches: standard sewing machine stitches include straight stitches, stretch stitches, hem and zigzag stitches, however, the choice of extra stitches depends on the model. Tesco's range of sewing machines offer from 14 to 25 stitches so decide which ones you'll need.
  • Buttonholes: often the quality of the buttonholes a sewing machine produces is a big factor when choosing the right model.Computerised sewing machines will usually offer automatic buttonholes - removing the need for the user to do any sewing themselves. Often the buttonhole can be programmed into the machine's memory by putting a sample button in the buttonhole foot to create perfectly sized buttonholes at the touch of a button.

    Electronic machines offer one-step or four-step buttonholes that are created by turning a dial on the sewing machine. For one-step buttonholes, the machine makes the necessary stitches without the sewer having to manipulate either the fabric or the machine any further. Four-step buttons take longer as the user has to turn the dial four times to select the appropriate stitches.

  • Feed dog: the serrated feed dog works alongside the needle as it sews by pressing up against the fabric, carrying it forward, then moving it down to release the fabric. The feed dog then shifts backward before pressing up against the fabric again to repeat the cycle.
  • Drop feed: the feed dogs can be positioned up or down. When lowered or “dropped”, it allows material to be moved for free machine stitching, such as embroidery.
  • Presser foot: the presser foot holds the fabric securely against the feed dog underneath the needle as it stitches.
  • Bobbin: the bobbin is a reel of thread that spools underneath the fabric to provide the second loop that links to create each stitch. Look for a drop in bobbin with automatic thread take up that makes preparing to sew easy. A see through bobbin also helps control the amount of sewing thread on the bobbin during sewing.
  • Free arm: most sewing machines have this attachment. It can be removed from the machine to convert from a flat bed to free arm. The free arm can be used for any difficult to sew areas, in particular, sleeves and trouser hems.
  • Built-in needle threader: a useful feature that removes the difficulty of threading a needle, a small hook located behind the needle pulls the thread through the eye as the hook is withdrawn.