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This guide aims to help you get to grips with the basics of sewing machines, from the differences between manual, electronic and computerised machines, all the way through to available accessories. After all, buying a machine shouldn’t be so complicated!
There’s a wide range of sewing machines available on the market today, from basic straight stitch mechanical machines to all-singing-and-all-dancing computerised sewing/embroidery machines – but how do you know which type of sewing machine is best for you? While we can't choose a specific make and model for you, we’ve put together a simple guide to help make the process that little bit easier!
Electronic sewing machines use a single motor that electronically powers the needle. All you need to do is control the speed of the machine by putting pressure on an electronic foot pedal – this will leave both your hands free to guide the fabric carefully through the machine! You'll normally find a dial on the side of your sewing machine to control the stitch types and lengths. Some machines may also have an automatic tension setting and an automatic thread cutter, as well as a set buttonhole stitch. Electronic machines are suited to a variety of different projects and sewing needs as they can often sew multiple fabric types and have a great volume of functions and stitch patterns.
Computerised sewing machines allow you to tailor their functions to your sewing needs. Instead of using dials and buttons, these advanced machines have an LED display, LCD display or large touch screen. The basic range can memorise a few of your most used stitches and automatically set the tension, while the advanced machines provide you with the ability to program your machine to sew complex embroidery patterns. Some machines also have a USB port available, enabling you to create your own designs on a computer, link it to the machine and then set it to sew your own personalised pattern. Some advanced computerised machines can memorise past projects and even download designs from the internet! Although these machines generally tend to be more expensive than manual or electronic machines, they are far more versatile and can sew more of your projects at a faster rate.
The primary purpose of an overlocker is to professionally finish hems and seams – this machine is useful if you do a lot of sewing and especially favourable if you love making your own garments. These machines have fewer functions than sewing machines, however they have the ability to stitch, neaten and trim away excess fabric at twice the speed. Overlockers work differently to ordinary sewing machines as they use between 2 - 9 threads and multiple needles to create an overcast stitch, while trimming away the excess fabric. They're especially useful for making curtains or hemming, and are good for sewing knitted fabrics. It should be noted, however, that an overlocker is an addition to a regular sewing machine, rather than a replacement - they're great for simple projects, but aren't equipped to sew zips or buttonholes.
Mechanical sewing machines are the most basic available as they aren't powered by electricity, therefore have fewer features than Computerised or Electronic machines. This type of machine is mainly available as vintage models that are rarely made anymore as they require more physical work from you, powered by a wheel or dial on the side of the machine instead of a foot pedal. Although this seems a disadvantage, lots of sewers often choose this machine type because of its durability – they are almost always made exclusively of metal. These traditional machines are great for basic projects and although they can sew most materials, they are generally better suited to light-to-medium-weight materials.