Outfitting the Apparel Sewist Pt 1: Machines
Over the years, we've had lots of people approach us who want to start sewing, but have no idea where to start. For those of us who have been sewing for years, it's easy to see why. A sewing hobby requires a lot of stuff. If you're completely new to sewing, it can be daunting to know what's necessary to buy and what isn't.
That's why we're writing an Outfitting the Sewist blog series. This three-part series will offer insight on what you need to get started in your sewing hobby. And if you've been sewing for a while, we'll show you some tools you might want to upgrade to. These recommendations have been chosen specifically with apparel sewing in mind.
You can check out the entire series here:
- Part 1: (today!)
- Part 2: Tools
- Part 3: Supplies
- Bonus Archived Post: Five Best Irons for Garment Sewers
This series will be formatted considering budget and skill level. In each post, we'll offer different tiers of items based on cost and sewing skills, so you can decide which is right for you. And we'll get honest about what you don't need, what's nice to have, and what you really can't sew without.
Many of the links below are affiliate links.
Budget (Just starting out)
Budget Sewing Machines
If you're brand new to sewing and not sure how gung-ho you'll be about this hobby, we suggest picking a budget sewing machine to start.
At Indiesew, we believe that Janome wins the award for the best all-purpose sewing machine (no affiliation with the company). For total newbies, you'll need a machine that has a straight and zig-zag stitch setting. The Janome MOD-19 is a great place to start with 19 stitches and one buttonhole setting. This machine also comes with a zipper foot.
If you're a beginner, you'll definitely need a machine with a straight and zig-zag stitch, and a backstitch option. An automatic buttonhole setting is nice to have. If you plan on sewing garments with buttonholes, this will make the process much easier. Look for a machine that comes with a zipper presser foot and a brand that can be serviced by your local sewing machine store. Call them to check what brand of sewing machines they service.
Beginners don't need a computerized sewing machine. Though fancy, there's no real added benefit for a computerized sewing machine unless you want fancy stitches or embroidery options. You also don't need a million presser feet options starting out. A regular presser foot and zipper presser foot are sufficient.
If you're sewing mostly apparel, you might also want to consider buying a serger to finish your seams. Check out our Four Signs You Should Invest in a Serger if you're on the fence.
The Brother 1034D is an incredible workhorse serger. In fact, this is the exact same serger I've been using for going on seven years. It has never needed repair. It looks as though the Brother 1034D has now been replaced by the Brother 1034DX, which I assume is the same great quality as its predecessor.
For beginners, you honestly don't need anything special in a serger. A straightforward machine with great reviews is enough. If you're just starting out and on a tight budget, I would especially steer clear from a dual serger/coverstitch option. Machines that serve both purposes break far more often than machines dedicated to one purpose.
I would also dissuade newbies from buying a machine with push-button threading option. Though nice to have, this option increases the price of a serger exponentially. Plus, those systems have the tendency to get clogged with lint and will require more servicing.
Mid-Tier (ready to advance)
If you have some sewing experience and are ready to take your equipment to the next level, these machines are ideal for you.
Mid-Tier Sewing Machines
The Janome DC3050 has a computerized display and 50 stitch settings. Plus, there are three buttonhole options (one is a sensor setting, which I love). This machine has also a button that will automatically raise and lower the needle without needing to use the handwheel. A speed control setting is nice too, especially if kids will be using your sewing machine.
If you have a little more experience under your belt, you might want multiple buttonhole options with a sensor foot. If you're getting into shirt-making, this is especially important. A sensor setting makes quick work of button plackets with multiple buttonholes.
You might also consider a computerized setup that makes it easy to change stitch length and width. If you're into decorative stitches, factor that into your decision.
The Juki MO-114D Serger is a crowd favorite among those who want to finish their seams with an overlock stitch. This machine is straightforward, but easier to thread than the Brother 1034D. It's also easier to switch between an overlock stitch and a rolled hem stitch, as the blade disengages with the flip of a switch (on the Brother 1034D, the finger is manually removed and several settings on the serger need to be changed). Plus, Juki machines are typically high quality and last for decades.
For sergers, our same recommendations for beginners apply. You don't need a dual coverstich/serger machine. Aim for a quality machine with great reviews that your local store can service. More options mean more expensive repairs.
Mid-Tier Coverstitch Machines
If you are tired of hemming knits or topstitching jeans with your sewing machine, you might want to consider getting a coverstitch machine in addition to a sewing machine and serger. Though not at all necessary, a coverstitch will make your handmade duds look considerably more professional.
The Janome CoverPro 900CPX is a great coverstitch that will last a lifetime. It's far easier and quicker to thread than a serger and allows for a twin needle stitch or a single chain stitch (great for topstitching jeans). This is a great lifetime machine for most apparel sewists, unless you want a triple needle stitch option. If you don't care about that (I don't), go with this machine for one you'll have for the long-haul.
Deluxe (intermediate and beyond)
Deluxe Sewing Machines
The Janome MemoryCraft Horizon 8200 is top-of-the-line. I've been sewing on an older version of this machine for about six years and it has fulfilled nearly all my needs in apparel sewing. This machine comes with a walking foot (super useful for shifty fabrics, I use mine almost 100% of the time) and 14 other foot options.
Along with the speed adjustment setting, automatic up/down needle setting, and a sensor buttonhole setting, this machine comes with auto thread-snips. All of these options can take your sewing to the next level as you'll be able to sew more quickly.
Advanced sewists will want to look for features that will help increase workflow and productivity, so automatic buttons that take the handwork out of simple tasks like trimming threads or moving the needle up and down are game-changers.
Babylock makes the best sergers, and the Imagine has been one of the most popular of the brand. This serger has an auto-thread option that threads the machine with the push of a button (that saves around 5 minutes of threading time).
Babylock sergers are also known for having an auto-tension function that senses the weight of the fabric. That means you won't deal with wavy serger seams, as the machine will automatically compensate based on the fabric type. This is the end-all serger for many, just make sure you have a repair shop in your area in case it breaks.
I still don't think the advanced sewist should buy a dual coverstitch/serger because of the mechanical issues with those types of machines. Buy a dedicated machine and you'll spend less money in the long run.
Deluxe Coverstitch Machines
I sew with a Janome Cover Pro 1000CPX and have been super impressed with how robust this machine is. It sews through most fabrics like butter. This coverstich also has a triple needle option if that's important to you.
This machine was a hand-me-down for me, but it feels like one I won't have to replace for decades. Plus, since it's used about a quarter of the frequency of my sewing machine, it rarely has to be serviced. This machine wasn't cheap, but hasn't needed any maintenance.
Leather and Jeans Sewing
If you're an experienced sewist who is sewing through thick, heavy fabrics, you might consider getting a simple straight stitch machine.
The Juki TL-2010Q has just one stitch setting: straight, as the name suggests. But it is powerful and will stitch through thick denim and leather with total ease. The Juki Straight Stitch is basically the at-home version of an industrial sewing machine.
My mom has one of these and I have always found it to be extremely easy to use and effective at more heavy-duty sewing jobs, while still totally appropriate for lighter fabrics. In fact, I would argue that a Juki Straight Stitch has the best thread tension I've seen on any sewing machine without needing adjustment on all types of fabric.
I have a Juki Straight Stitch on my wish list right now as I want to sew a leather jacket and know that my Janome MemoryCraft won't be up to the task. It will also be nice to have this machine for topstitching jeans so I won't have to switch out my thread constantly when sewing jeans.
If you know you'll be sewing for the rest of your life, this machine is definitely worth the investment and can serve as a great back up machine if yours needs to be repaired.
I hope this information was useful for you! We truly believe in the quality of each of the machines listed here (I've personally used 6 out of 9 of the machines). Over the years, we've also gathered a lot of anecdotes from sewists about what works and what doesn't. These recommendations are the culmination of lots of research, so that you don't have to spend hours conducting your own.
We'll be back tomorrow with a post on smaller sewing tools you might need to get started on and some options for upgrading to nicer tools!
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