Top 10 Big Ticket Items Every DIYer Should Own: day 1

January 31, 2011

For the next few days in addition to Shoe Sugar Month. I'm going to do a mini-series about 10 big ticket items every DIY crafter/sewer should own.

This list will not include power tools which is entirely separate post of its own. The items I list I consider to be worth their weight in saving time, money and stress for DIY crafters everywhere. 

Sooo, the number one big ticket item for a DIY crafter....................

1. A Sewing Machine. Duh. Why not start with the most obvious? Seriously. You can't sew without one....unless you are making really, really small projects. But any semi-serious crafter has a sewing machine. Even if they don't know exactly how to use it.

I've received the occasional post asking for advice when purchasing a sewing machine. Now, honestly, I can't speak to which brand is better than the other but what I can offer is advice as to what to look for in your new machine.
One of the best new features I've seen is an automatic threader. I can't tell you how invaluable this has become for me. Now there are semi-automatic threaders (which my last sewing machine had) which require a little hand eye coordination on your part. And there are full automatic threader (which is what I have now) which a monkey could do. Either way, your new sewing machine should have one. They're amazing.

Another neat amenity is an automatic thread cutter. When I'm doing a project I'm often in a hurry and miss a lot of long threads. An automatic thread cutter will cut your bobbin and top threads simultaneously before you even take the fabric out of your machine.

Obvious things: Droppable feed dogs, easy bobbin winding (on top), adjustable stitch width and length, variety of needle positions, tension of thread adjustment, a button for sewing backwards, a removable flat bed so you can stitch small openings such as sleeves, drop in bobbin, fast threading system (one where you just move the thread up and down the front of the machine to thread.)

Different stitches. Aside from the standard straight and zigzag stitch, your new machine must have at least a one step buttonhole stitch, a blind hem stitch, a stretch stitch and preferably a few decorative stitches.

A variety of feet that come standard with your machine. Blind Stitch, buttonhole, zipper. And also look for a machine that has presser feet that you snap on instead of screw.

Adjustable presser foot. This regulates how tightly the machine holds the fabric while you sew. This prevents puckering in fine fabrics and stretching in knits. My machine actually doesn't have this function. But I'm curious to know how it helps with knit fabrics.

Another neat feature is speed control. My new sewing machine has this and I don't find it totally necessary but it is nice to have. Set it to slow and no matter how hard you press the presser foot it won't go any faster than your set speed.

And don't worry about buying a machine with plastic parts. Metal parts require regular lubrication and maintenance. Especially if you don't use your machine for heavy fabrics, plastic isn't always bad. In fact I recommend a lightweight machine as I am moving mine around often.

Finally, your warranty. Some inexpensive sewing machines only have a 90-day warranty. I'm pretty sure mine has a very limited small warranty. But then again, it was a lot cheaper than some machines that have better ones. The industry average is 25 years on the machine head, two years for most other parts and one year on labor. Usually, you get what you pay for. The higher the warranty the more expensive the product. If you are a beginner I recommend the limited warranty. If your sewing machine breaks, take it to a sewing repair man. I've found that repairing the machine is less than buying an expensive machine to begin with.

That's all I got. Hopefully I've helped someone out there who were overwhelmed about the idea of purchasing a new machine. Look for another "Big Ticket Item" soon.

22 {comments}:

Cheryl Marie said... Best Blogger Tips

I have a Singer that was a hand me down from my mother and it is very portable... I never thought I would use it BUT I use it ALL the time now for crafts.

An Art Nest said... Best Blogger Tips

I'm excited to see all the top 10! Can I add one more hint? I climbed the sewing machine 'quality ladder' over the course of 3 years. I started with an inexpensive one from Wal-Mart, then moved on to a slightly more expensive one (it was a gift) and then finally bit the bullet and bought one with all the bells and whistles that I wanted. I wish, now, that I would have invested a little more $ upfront and saved myself the cash in the long run. Also, it was so frustrating trying to sew more advanced items with a limited machine (ie: no button holes) - eek!

Ana said... Best Blogger Tips

What a great idea!

EdgyK said... Best Blogger Tips

I love your site and all the tips on a sewing machine are great. I have been sewing for about 25 years. About ten "professionally" so the only thing I might change would be that metal parts are definitely better. It will make your machine heavier but it will last so much longer. I have a self oiling machine so I never have to oil it and it only needs servicing when something goes bad which has not happened in 14 years. I have had it serviced (oil change) about 4 times just to be sure.

The only thing my machine doesn't have that I would like would be the option that lets you keep the needle up or down when you stop stitching. Especially in crafting this would save a lot of time.

I have also been reminding people one of the most important things about sewing on your machine is to have the right size and shape of needle. The heavier the fabric the bigger the needle and vice versa. And different types of needles for different types of fabric. It's super important to have the right needle for knits. A needle is only meant for 10-12 hours of use.

Sorry I am so wordy but I hope this helps.

Trina said... Best Blogger Tips

To EdgyK, thanks for the needle tip, I didn't know they had a life on them. I always use them til they break LOL. Of course I'm self taught so I'm sure there are plenty of things I have no clue about. I've been sewing off and on for about 20 years on my mom's vintage Singer {1970s model}.

LoisJ said... Best Blogger Tips

I sew on a 25+ year old Montgomery Ward machine. Yes, it lacks many bells & whistles, but it does have stretch and blind stitches, and -- most importantly -- it has lasted through my abuse and neglect. A good needle and a little cleaning occasionally is all it needs.
But I do yearn to upgrade for a newer model...

Malea said... Best Blogger Tips

what timing! I just placed my order for my new machine over the weekend. Luckily my new one will have all the little things that you mentioned so that makes me feel a little less nervous about my big purchase :)

Grosgrain said... Best Blogger Tips

Thanks for all your tips and feedback! I should add that the suggestions I mentioned are simply my personal preferences. If something works better for you then by all means keep doing it! Every person is different.

I have to agree about the cost issue. When I was in high school I joined the track team as a freshman and I remember my father telling me that we'd wait to get the expensive running shoes after I stuck with it. And after I did it for several years I bought the good ones. So that's the way I've sort of dealt with big purchases since.

I've found that when I work my way up to a big purchase here are ways to recoup the money you invested. For instance, Ive sold my old sewing machine on craigslist for half of what it was bought for. Same with my camera lenses. In the long run I probably do spend more Jan if I had bought the more expensive thing to begin with but for me I just can't plop down a couple hundred without it being something I REALLY want and that kind of desire usually comes with time.....for me. I still think I spend too much on my hobbies but that's another story;)

Marie said... Best Blogger Tips

1) Try not to buy the cheap (<$100) ones at Target or the like. All sewing machines break. These ones break faster and cost more to fix than the price of the machine.

2) I have a $300 Kenmore I bought about 10 years ago (with my first grown-up tax refund) and it's a good machine. When something goes wrong I can pull my Kenmore apart, clean it out, check all the bits, and figure out what's going wrong. A computer interface makes it much harder if not impossible to troubleshoot your machine. Those fancy Berninas they have were I take classes are witchcraft. I can practically hear them saying "I can't let you do that, Marie."

If you or someone close to you is remotely handy, get an all mechanical machine. Way cheaper to troubleshoot yourself and way cheaper to take in to get repaired.

Full disclosure - I'm a 30yo engineer so 1) I'm not needless afraid of new computer technology (I've got reasons!) and 2) I am reasonably handy at fixing stuff generally.

Leah Franqui said... Best Blogger Tips

Question: Where do you buy your sewing machine? My father bought me one at Sears 11 years ago, a very basic Brother. Since I only recently learned how to sew it's been fine, all the basic stuff is there. However, it has very few of these features, no different stitches, no buttonholes, so I'm coming to a point of surpassing my machine and I think I need a new one. So where do you get one? I mean, I know I can buy it from Walmart or Target or Joanns, but what's the best place to get one? Thank you in advance!

EdgyK said... Best Blogger Tips

Trina, I adore vintage machines! Most were definitely built to last. My sister has a really old Pfaff and I love to just look at it. I know that's weird.

Sometimes you can go to a machine dealer and find refurbished machines for a few hundred dollars and they are better than the big box stores. My mom is always finding machines at Goodwill but she is one of those people who is willing to take it apart and make it work.

Tennjenny said... Best Blogger Tips

Edgy K, you beat me to it. I have a $300 Janome and I am very happy with it for the money EXCEPT it has no automatic needle-down setting. It has a button for needle-down, but I have to press it each time (or use wheel). Which makes free-motion quilting hard -- at least for me, a newbie.

willywagtail said... Best Blogger Tips

When I went to get a new sewing machine back in 2003 in Australia the sewing shop said that 25 years was no longer standard. Apparently now we basically get one year here. Cherrie

Unknown said... Best Blogger Tips

I have the same Singer you posted as your first photo! It was my Mother's first and only machine. She bought it when my father went to Viet Nam and thought she could sew her worries away! I got it when my daughter was a little girl. I have a mid priced machine now and love it. I also have a Serger and Embroidery machine! Love them too. When my baby graduates from college, I will step up to a more expensive machine!

Grosgrain said... Best Blogger Tips

I bought my new one on eBay.
It can be cheaper than buying it retail. Although my previous sewing machine was purchased on eBay and I DID have to take it into the repair shop shortly after purchasing it.

I think I could have gotten a refund but I threw away the box or something. So if you do purchase on eBay I suggest keeping all the things that came with the purchase (including the box) for a year. And of course be sure of the return policy. And don't buy anything from out of country. The return shipping costs could be more than the repair.

In fact, maybe you could ask about whether the shipping costs would be covered if you had to return an item because it was damaged. It should be.

*Emm said... Best Blogger Tips

By chance what kind of machine do you use? I have an old kenmore that I love but am ready to upgrade to something with bells and whistles!

Zoë Yule said... Best Blogger Tips

Buttonholes! One thing the newer machines do brilliantly, is buttonholes. There are ones that measure against your button to produce a buttonhole that's exactly the right size - absolutely brilliant, and nice, neat buttonholes can really make or break an outfit. And the needle-up feature is definitely a huge plus for crafting especially. Great tips!

Kate said... Best Blogger Tips

I'm excited to see the rest of the top 10! When it comes to sewing and machines, my attitude is very much "where there's a will, there's a way." I received the Singer 8280 Prelude as a gift and have made numerous quilts and a slipcover with it! It sews straight lines just perfectly. Similarly to cameras, I think there's a lot to be said for not getting over your head with a machine that's more powerful than your experience level. I have loved teaching myself the basics on this lil baby!

Angel said... Best Blogger Tips

Mine is a brother from costco. It's not metal but i like the portability and it has all the bells and whistles and works so nicely. I also think the up/down position for needle is very handy and that it cuts, thread, and has auto threading for the needle. I originally got the cheapest machine at walmart and used it for several years. Others say not but i think it was a perfect beginners machine and when i felt ready i moved up to the nicer one, and gave that one to my little cousin who wanted to learn to sew.

Shalyn said... Best Blogger Tips

While I would strongly disagree with your statement about not being able to sew anything but small projects without a machine (until last year I spent many years making many wardrobe pieces entirely stitched by hand), it has made life so much easier now that I have a machine. I'm still a bit of an excited kid when I see how quickly I can hem a dress now.

I have a Singer (named Ella) and she does have an automatic threader, but I actually find it requires more difficult hand/eye coordination than doing it the old fashioned way.

Pamela said... Best Blogger Tips

I've been sewing for 45 years. The worst machine I have EVER sewed with was a cheap, brand new machine from a big box store. It wobbled, wouldn't penetrate several layers of fabric; in short, was useless except for maybe sewing 2 layers of cotton. Sadly, this machine belonged to a young 20 something who was longing to sew. What frustration for her! I recommended to her, what I always tell new sewers, buy a sturdy used machine. If you plan on dressmaking, you don't really need a lot of fancy stitches, just a zigzag and a buttonhole, and perhaps a blind hem (but I wouldn't use a machine blind hem on most adult clothing). It is not expensive to have a machine serviced and indeed, most sewing machine mechanics, have a good supply of refurbished used machines for sale. See how you like can upgrade when you take to it and really know what you want. Even now I do not use most of the stitches on my Bernina, but it does have the power to do what I really need it to do!

uglybeat said... Best Blogger Tips

May I suggest a machine? I'm a die-hard vintage sewing machine lover, but got a brand-new Brother PC420 last year and am soooo glad I did! I still have my ol' trusty Singer Featherweight, but this thing can do buttonholes like a charm, auto-threader, auto-thread cutter, drop feed dogs, adjustable speed, etc. Look on Amazon for reviews. I love, love, love this machine and it was totally worth it!
BTW, I loooove your blog so much. Just discovered it!

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