Cheap Sewing Machines
- Published on
- By Maralyn Edid
Sewing machines have come a long way since your high school home economics class. Now you can buy cheap sewing machines with built-in stitch designs, push-button controls, and LED or LCD screens. Of course, you can also keep it old school and choose a cheap sewing machine that's controlled with a foot pedal and knobs and dials, and demands more manual involvement by the operator. While high-end, computerized sewing machines will set you back $600 and counting, cheap sewing machines, both manual and electronic, range in price from $70 to $250.
Cheap Sewing Machines Buying Guide
Higher-priced sewing machines get you computerized functionality that encompasses hundreds of stitch types and stitching patterns and lets you customize your own designs. Cheap sewing machines offer far fewer stitch types and designs and fewer accessories. Among inexpensive sewing machines, mechanical models are generally (but not always) cheaper than electronic sewing machines.
Some of the major sewing machines manufacturers include Brother, Singer, Janome, and Kenmore. Michley makes several small, portable sewing machines, such as the Michley LSS-208 Lil' Sew & Sew Mini 2-Speed Sewing Machine (starting at $25).
Before you start shopping for a cheap sewing machine, it's important to know something about the sewing machine market. Many types of vendors sell sewing machines. You can buy an inexpensive sewing machine directly from the manufacturer, but if you don't, several factors are worth considering. A consumer products website advises that you make sure the retailer is an authorized dealer for the sewing machine brand you're interested in (this affects servicing and warranties). Second, make sure the particular cheap sewing machine you're eying is new or refurbished, not simply used (used machines do not meet factory standards). And finally, check to see if the manufacturer's warranty is valid with this retailer or if the retailer offers a substitute warranty. You can buy your inexpensive sewing machine online, but many people prefer to purchase from a local store in order to test it out before making a final decision -- you really want to select a cheap sewing machine that feels right in your hands.
Regardless whether you choose a cheap manual sewing machine or a cheap electronic sewing machine, users and experts say the critical functions to look for include stitching options, bobbins, needle threaders, presser feet, buttonhole function, and free arm; also check the machine's weight. When it comes to stitches, the four basics on cheap sewing machines are the straight stitch, zip stitch, blind hem stitch, and buttonhole stitch. Many cheap sewing machines offer more variety in stitch type, sometimes even letting you achieve an embroidery effect. Bobbins on cheap sewing machines will probably be drop-in (a.k.a. horizontal), which is favored by experts and home sewers for ease of use. Also look for an automatic needle threader and at least one presser foot, though you (additional presser feet are handy if you're going to take on more advanced projects, like a quilt). In addition, buttonhole-making should be simple, and the preferred weight depends on your need for portability (to a sewing bee, say, or another room in the house).
The inexpensive sewing machines on our list perform well, handle fabric adequately, don't jam the bobbins, and seem durable. The Brother CS-6000i (starting at $148) garners accolades for its gorgeous stitching, speed control, and ease of use for both beginners and pros. The Kenmore 16231 (starting at $250) is commended for being easy to use and versatile in its stitching abilities. The mechanical Brother XL-2600i (starting at $80) is portable and offers smooth stitching and quilting options, according to sewing machine reviews. The Singer 7442 (starting at $170) is big and durable and easily handles standard sewing tasks as well as mending jeans and lending colorful embroidery to projects.
Sewing Machine Reviews
Manual vs. Electronic Sewing Machine.There are two types of sewing machines: manual (also known as mechanical sewing machines) and electronic. Mechanical sewing machines are limited in their capabilities compared to their electronic counterparts. They use knobs and dials to adjust operations like stitch length and thread tension and offer far fewer decorative stitches, whereas electronic sewing machines rely on buttons that send electronic commands and enable great stitch and pattern variety. Most sewing machines on the market today are electronic -- as are three on our recommended list: the Brother CS-6000i (starting at $148), Kenmore 16231 (starting at $250), and Singer 7442 (starting at $170). A good quality, cheap mechanical sewing machine, like the Brother XL-2600i (starting at $80), is often recommended as one of the best sewing machines for beginners. AllSewingMachineReviews says it's easy to use and handily performs basic tasks, such as hemming.
There are pros and cons to cheap mechanical and cheap electronic sewing machines. People who don't plan to do an extensive amount of sewing and/or are buying their first cheap sewing machine may find that the simpler mechanical sewing machine is the better option. Ethical Consumer also points out that mechanical sewing machines are the greener choice because they don't use as much electricity as electronic models. In fact, a manual machine may use no electricity at all. One benefit of electronic machines is their accuracy; for example, when adjusting stitch length. This website notes that the electronic Kenmore 16231 produces consistent and even stitching.
As an aside, there's one other alternative: a computerized sewing machine, which is a more advanced version of the electronic sewing machine. Computerized sewing machines include a microprocessor and offer even better accuracy and more options, such as adding new stitch patterns. However, we didn't find any good cheap computerized sewing machines worth recommending. Prices start out in the cheap range but quickly climb into the thousands of dollars. If you're just into basic sewing (rather than advanced fashion design), there's no need for a computerized sewing machine.
Sewing Machine Stitches.Cheap sewing machines come with an array of stitches, the number and type depending on the model. Four stitches are standard on cheap sewing machines -- the straight stitch, zip stitch, blind hem stitch, and buttonhole stitch (a.k.a. satin stitch) -- but you'll probably want more variety. One reason to pass on the Singer Pixie Plus Craft (starting at $45) is the lack of options beyond the four basic stitches. Cheap sewing machines that feature a wide assortment of stitch types include the Brother XL-2600i with 25, and the Singer 7442 with 30. An expert at SlipStitches says the stitch variety on the Brother XL-2600i is sufficient for most sewing needs. An expert at AllSewingMachineReviews concurs about the range of the Singer 7442 and likes its "embroidery quality."
If you want to go all creative and sew a feather, say, or a flower or holiday-themed design, you have some bargain choices. The Brother CS-6000i features 60 different stitches, which is one reason an Amazon customer chose this cheap sewing machine. The Kenmore 16231 offers a whopping 90 different stitch options, a truly impressive feat for a cheap sewing machine. One Kenmore 16231 user notes on the company's website that the diverse range of stitches essentially turns this model into an embroidery machine. Still not enough? There's always the Kenmore Elite Refurbished Ergo3 Embroidery/Sewing Machine Version 2.0 - 851SR (starting at $1000), a computerized sewing machine that comes with a whopping 673 stitches and 469 embroidery designs.
Sewing Machine Bobbins.There are two types of bobbins: drop-in (i.e., horizontal) and vertical. Vertical bobbins move left and right to pick up the thread, and in general are harder to learn to use and work with; they're not very common nowadays. Experts prefer the drop-in bobbin because it's easier to see if you're running out of thread and easier to spot potential problems with the thread. The discount sewing machines on our list all feature drop-in bobbins.
You may find that getting the hang of the bobbin takes some patience and persistence. One consumer writes on Amazon that she had problems with her Brother CS-6000i until she reviewed the manual. Another Amazon customer reports that her problems with bobbin winding on the Singer 7442 turned out to be user-related. A word to the wise: Read the manual carefully and follow the instructions.
Sewing Machine Needle Threaders and Free Arm Sewing Machines.As any sewer knows, you need sharp eyes and steady hands to thread a needle. You can minimize the frustration by choosing a cheap sewing machine with an automatic needle threader. The Brother CS6000i, Brother XL-2600i, Kenmore 16231, and Singer 7442 all feature an automatic needle threader. Task accomplished in seconds.
Trying to sew pant or shirt cuffs is likewise a challenge. A free arm sewing machine is the salvation here; part of the platform either drops down or is removed to facilitate circular sewing. This is a must-have feature and our picks for best cheap sewing machines and good cheap sewing machines all incorporate a free arm.
Sewing Machine Feet.A presser foot helps to hold the fabric in place as it moves under the needle. With all the different stitch and function options on modern cheap sewing machines, you need a range of presser feet -- one for a zipper, say, and another for edge stitching or zigzags. All sewing machines come with a basic presser foot, and some inexpensive sewing machines feature several: the Brother XL-2600i has six, the Singer 7442 has five, and the Kenmore 16231 and Brother CS-6000i have seven each. A site gives a thumbs up to the Brother CS-6000i largely because it includes a presser foot for every need, including one that's useful for quilting. Of course, you can always buy additional presser feet at a later time. But this is a pricey way to go: you can easily spend $10 to $50 on each presser foot. The cost-effective approach is to invest your money in a good inexpensive sewing machine that comes with the presser feet you'll be using over the years.
Sewing Machine Buttonholes.A good inexpensive sewing machine should let you create buttonholes without much effort. But some, like the Singer 118 Featherweight II (starting at $199), make the job more complicated than others by requiring multiple steps instead of just one, as does the Janome ThreadBanger TB12 (starting at $199). This is where a designated buttonhole presser foot comes in handy. The Brother XL-2600i, Kenmore 16231, and Singer 7442 all feature a one-step buttonhole process, while the Singer 7442 lets you choose between two different buttonhole styles. The Brother CS-6000i is even more advanced -- it offers the one-step buttonhole but in seven different configurations, from round to oval to keyhole. One consumer writes on SewForum that the machine is worth buying for this reason alone.
Lightweight Sewing Machines.Many cheap sewing machines are light enough to carry from room to room or to sewing parties with friends. The smallest machine you'll find may be the Michley LSS-208 Lil' Sew & Sew (starting at $25), which weighs only 3.6 pounds. The ultra-light Singer Pixie Plus Craft weighs less than seven pounds and the Brother XL-2600i weighs in at about 11 pounds. Consumers rave about the Brother CS-6000i on Walmart and note that its 13-pound weight lets them take it almost anywhere, although some report that the machine jumps around a bit. If you're concerned about stability, you might want a heavier model, like the 20-pound Singer 7442 or 21-pound Kenmore 16231. Another possibility is the Singer HD-110 Heavy Duty (starting at $228), which runs at commercial speed (1,100 stitches a minute) and weighs about 25 pounds.
Best Sewing Machines
Overall Performance.Whether you sew for fun or to support a frugal lifestyle, you want an inexpensive sewing machine that's hassle-free and delivers a finished product that holds together and looks well-crafted. Sewing machines reviews by consumers indicate that some models perform better than others, and when they do meet expectations, users say they've gotten good value for their money. The Brother CS-6000i is one example of a low-cost model that draws many positive comments in sewing machines reviews. The vast majority of sewing machine reviews on Amazon rate the Brother CS-6000i highly, citing the benefits of the speed control lever, beautiful stitches, and ease of use (but read the manual first, users caution). Several consumers report in sewing machine reviews that this machine works best with high-quality thread and suits both beginners and sewing veterans.
Another Brother machine, the XL-2600i, the only mechanical sewing machine among our picks, wins points for its portability and suitability for novice sewers (including the pre-teen set). Sewing machines reviews on Overstock.com praise the automatic needle threader, smooth stitching, and quilting capabilities, although some suggest sticking with lighter fabrics and say the decorative stitching is disappointing. A consumer posting a sewing machine review on Epinions appreciates that it can sew on buttons.
Like other inexpensive sewing machines on our list, the Kenmore 16231 is noted for being user friendly and producing commendable stitches. A round-up of sewing machine reviews of the Kenmore 16231 on this site is overwhelmingly favorable, and a consumer review on Viewpoints says it easily handles bias tape on rounded edges. Then there's the sewing machines review by a grandmother on Thathomesite.com who's been sewing for more than three decades and says she uses the Kenmore 16231 for doll clothes, mending jeans, and other basic tasks.
Despite a few gripes about the Singer 7442, (This site considers the buttonholes sloppy-looking), users seem quite satisfied with the performance of this relatively simple model. Sewing machines reviews on sites like Amazon and Viewpoints report the Singer 7442 runs smoothly, hems and repairs jeans, and embroiders multicolored designs (thanks to the thread exchanger), although a few owners complain that lightweight fabric sometimes jams and some report minor struggles with heavier fabrics.
For all the good cheap sewing machines out there, some just don't deliver. Problems with the bobbin, presser foot, and foot pedal on the Singer Pixie are so pervasive that few consumers even get around to commenting on the machine's ability to actually sew. Users posting sewing machine reviews on Joann.com like the portability of this model (it runs on four AA batteries and weighs less than seven pounds), but cite numerous instances of machine failure shortly after purchase, including weak thread tension, thread that wraps around an internal screw or snags on the bobbin, bobbins not winding properly, jams even with thin fabric, and presser feet and foot pedals that break or stop working.
Bobbin Problems.A bobbin that jams or won't pick up the thread takes all the joy out of sewing. Although widely considered to be a good cheap sewing machine, the Brother XL-2600i draws a few scattered gripes about bobbin tangling in sewing machine reviews on Allsewingmachinereviews.com. A consumer posting a sewing machine review on Target disagrees, however, and says bobbin winding is a cinch on this machine. Likewise, the bobbin on the Brother CS-6000i causes occasional snafus, write users in sewing machine reviews on Amazon, and one sewer comments that replacing the plastic bobbins with metal bobbins, which cost about $1.79 for four, easily solves the problem. Bobbin problems seem to plague the Singer Pixie Plus Craft, as noted above.
Fabric Handling.No matter what type of sewing project you undertake, the fabric should pass smoothly beneath the needle. Both the presser foot and the "feed dogs" (the metal teeth sitting under the fabric that propel it forward) facilitate this process. Most of the sewing machines we researched are meant for entry- or intermediate-level sewers, for hobbyists and crafters, and for simple DIY projects; few are designed for heavy-duty upholstering. That said, individual models have their strengths and weaknesses. The Brother CS600i sews through multiple layers with ease, according to sewing machine reviews posted on Amazon, while users commenting on Epinions and Target say the mechanical Brother XL-2600i does best with lighter fabrics. Ten layers of denim pose no challenge for the Singer 7442, notes a user on Amazon, although an ultra-thick quilt might not fit under the presser foot. A sewing machine review on Viewpoints says this low-cost sewing machine jams if you're working with thinner material. The Sewing With Nancy SWN10 EZ Lock Serger Machine (starting at $235) finishes the edge and trims away extra fabric after sewing a seam in one movement, according to sewing machine reviews on Amazon.
Sewing Machine Construction and Durability.As with any small appliance, the construction of a discount sewing machine should be solid. By that we mean no rattles or vibrations, buttons and levers that feel strong to the touch, and parts that don't easily break. One consumer who posted a sewing machines review on Epinions likes the Singer 7442 in part for its sturdy feel, although an Amazon reviewer suggests that its light weight might limit its longevity.
Most of the reviews we read were posted by consumers who had recently (within the last couple of years) bought their inexpensive sewing machine, making durability hard to assess. Apart from a spate of reports about the Singer Pixie Plus malfunctioning within days of purchase, operational breakdowns don't seem to be an issue for these budget sewing machines. Even so, you'll want to check the warranty. Sewing machines often come with two or more warranties for different components and functions. The Singer 7442, for example, has a 25-year limited warranty on the head (where the shafts, rods, and oil holes are located), a two-year warranty on the electrical system, and 90 days on parts and labor. The Brother XL-2600i offers a 25-year limited warranty on mechanical parts, two years on electrical parts, and a year for service/labor; ditto for the Brother CS-6000i. On the other hand, the Kenmore 16231 comes with a 90-day full warranty and the very low-priced Singer Pixie Plus offers only a limited 90-warranty on parts and labor.
Remember that the manufacturer's warranty may not apply if you are buying the sewing machine from an online retailer instead of directly from the manufacturer or an authorized dealer. If the retailer is not authorized, ask about a substitute warranty. A good deal on a cheap sewing machine should always include a valid warranty.
Finally, the quality of your manual is almost as important as the quality of your machine. A good manual clearly explains all these different functions and how to make them operative. One user review of the Brother CS-6000i says one reason this sewing machine appeals to beginners is because of the manual. Whichever model you buy, do make sure to read the manual carefully.