Ready, Set Sew: Sewing Machine Features

As you all know one of my goals for the New Year is to learn how to sew. I was foolishly hoping that either my mom or grandma would be willing to part with their sewing machines but neither of them is in the market for something new.

Find your perfect sewing machine!

Are you looking to buy your first sewing machine? Are you feeling overwhelmed? I must say I have been there too.

The experts compare buying your first sewing machine to buying a car or a bra. It is a very personal experience and different people will have different needs. To determine what your personal needs are, the College of Agriculture and Home Economics at New Mexico State University and Sew Mama Sew both have a great list of questions to get you thinking about the type of machine you want to buy.

Start by thinking about the types of projects you would like to complete. Are you interested in making your own clothes, quilting, decorative sewing like embroidery, home decor projects or simply doing some light mending? Asking yourself these questions will help determine what types of features will be important for your first sewing machine.

I am most interested in sewing clothes, bags and maybe a few home décor projects. Based on this I am going to consider machines with these features:

One-step Buttonhole Feature

The experts all agree that an easy-to-use buttonhole function is a must-have feature. (Erica B., Wendy Mullin, Channel 4) This is reflected in Wendy Mullin’s observation: “take a look at a button hole on your shirt…does that look like something you’d want to snip and stitch yourself?” Erica B also notes that an easy-to-use buttonhole feature will help take your projects to the next level and give them a more polished and professional finish. Both WikiSew and Channel 4 recommend looking for a one-step buttonhole feature rather than a four-step buttonhole feature.

Free Arm

On many machines the free arm is formed when you remove the storage container found in the base or bed of the machine, leaving the arm protruding. Once this piece is removed you can sew pant legs and cuffs. Erica B. notes that she “MUST HAVE” a free arm for sewing small circumferences such as sleeve cuffs and pant legs. Channel 4 also mentions that a Free Arm is a very important feature.


The research that I have done suggests that most beginner sewers only use a handful of stitches to complete their projects. Channel 4 recommends that beginners look for a sewing machine with a minimum of a straight stitch, a zigzag stitch and a buttonhole stitch. Wendy Mullin notes that a zigzag stitch is especially important if you plan on sewing any stretch fabrics.

Presser Foot

A presser foot holds your fabric down as it passes under the needle. Most machines will come with multiple presser foot attachments all meant to be used for different purposes like zippers, button holes or working with light weight fabrics. If you buy a second hand machine, make sure you have all the pieces you need. Wendy Mullin also recommends looking for a sewing machine where the presser foot can be removed easily and with minimal hassle. She says this will make your projects run as smooth as possible.


Wendy Mullin recommends looking for a machine with a bobbin that is easy to change because as you sew you will be performing this task often. Sew Wiki recommends a top loading bobbin over a front loading bobbin for ease of use.

Features for home décor sewing

When taking on home décor sewing projects both Sew4Home and HGTV Canada note that a mid-sized portable machine should be fine. HGTV Canada recommends that your machine have a buttonhole attachment as well as zipper and stretch stitches. Sew4Home also recommends finding a machine with a fabric-feeding system that can accommodate thicker home decor fabrics

What sewing machine features do you consider essential? What is on your sewing machine feature wish list? Stayed tuned to see which type of machine I actually buy…

Additional Resources From People Who Know More Than I do!

Craft: Anatomy of a Sewing Machine
Sew Mama Sew: Buying a New Sewing Machine
John Lewis Sewing Machine Buying Guide
Not Martha: Buying Your First Sewing Machine
Channel 4: Sewing Machine: Buyer’s Guide
HGTV: Sewing Machines 101
Sew4home: The Top Five Things to Remember About How to Shop for & Buy a Sewing Machine

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