Don’t Buy This Sewing Machine- A Cathartic Rant

I hate this machine.  Hate it.  Several brands offer this machine as their “entry level” model.  They all come from the same factory and get different labels.  When I see a bright-eyed beginner walk into class with this machine, my heart sinks.  I know they’ll have a hard uphill battle to learn to sew.  This machine is a waste of money.  It’s like doing this:

My own lovely sewing machine kicked the bucket after I tried to modify one of its functions.  I know better, I’m not a machine mechanic, I learned my lesson.  She’s seeing the doctor.  I needed to sew the samples for my Sewing Foundations class this week, and my friend Enid kindly offered me her old machine.

This monster.  My nemesis.

Desperate times….  Gift horses in mouths, beggars can’t be choosers, etc…  It is interesting to note that Enid has sewn any number of beautiful, interesting garments on this machine through sheer willpower alone.  She’s a force of nature, Enid.  She saved her pennies (well, we don’t have pennies here..) and bought a very nice new sewing machine a while ago, complete with scissors.  That’s quite a step up from a machine lacking even a basic thread-cutter, I love it.

I grit my teeth and accepted the situation.  It seemed especially suitable that I should use this “beginner” machine to sew the simple garments for my class.  I waxed philosophical and decided to set my Monster Machine demons to rest- to find a way to work together harmoniously.

Hell no.  I hate it even more.  If it belonged to me and not to Enid I’d light it on fire in my front yard and film it for your amusement.  The stitch lengths are pre-set.  Ok, fine.  Except it’s very difficult to tell which is which when you’re turning the dial.  The needle position is immovable, which I found absolutely debilitating at first but worked around.

I used the triple-stitch zig zag with my foot to the ground and the machine slowly built up speed, then started shaking so badly I thought it would fall into my lap.  Instead, the light bulb fell into my lap, hot and burning and no matter how many times I re-inserted it, the same thing happened.  I gave up and put the light bulb away in a box.

The machine handles like an overloaded vintage double-decker bus on black ice which is to say very badly indeed.  It always takes a little effort to learn another sewing machine’s “steering,” but this machine is close to impossible.  I had to unpick Ginger’s center front seam twice, it kept creeping to one side and I’d over-correct.  After the second unpicking, nursing a burned thigh and choking with frustration, I sent an email to Enid recommending her for sewing sainthood for making all those wonderful things on that awful machine.  Bless her, she offered to let me come over to her house and use the Super Machine.

I avoided sewing for several days… I’d potter around the house restlessly, finding anything else to do to avoid sewing which is MOST unlike me.  Usually the house falls apart while I’m stitching blissfully.

One’s tools should never get in the way of one’s work.  That’s why I hate this machine.  The machine gets in the way of the sewing.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand precisely why I see this machine so often.  It’s cheap.  It’s tough to invest a bunch of money in a new hobby before you know you’ll like it.  Some people who sew may be on a limited budget.  I get that, I’m in the same boat.  That’s why this machine makes me angry.  It is literally a waste of money.

For just a few more dollars, Husqvarna makes an excellent basic machine- the Emerald 116.  It’s simple but it’s well made and doesn’t get in the way of the sewing.  You can adjust the needle position and the stitch length.  It runs relatively smoothly.  It has a needle threader and a thread cutter- tiny details that make your sewing less stressful.  It also features a decent 1-step buttonhole function.  Don’t get me started on the awful buttonholes The Monster makes.

Which machine do you use?  Have you ever encountered this machine?  Do you OWN this machine?  Would you like me to share the small things I do around the house to “save” money I can use for sewing stuff?

I made a shiny new button on the sidebar for my Sewing Foundations class- check it out!

*I am not in the pay of Husqvarna.  They simply make a far better basic machine than any other brand.


  1. If my mother were reading this, she’d snort and say ‘brother’, as in her eyes that would account for everything, but you say its rebadged for different brands? Sewing machines are not as sturdy as they used to be regardless. I have a functional Janome dc-somethingorother, a non-functional 15+yr old Janome memory craft somethingorother, and a Janome Mylock somthingorother that judging from the pictures in it was made in the late eighties. My mother switched her allegiance from elna to janome around 20 years ago. I want the old elna with the cams…

    The problem with investing in something cheap to see if you like it is that if (when) it explodes, you decide you don’t like it, when in fact, with better equipment, you may well have.

    • Yes- I hate to think how many people have been put off sewing because of this machine. It’s really not you! It’s the machine!

      The old Janomes are pretty good.

      I’ve seen this as a Brother, as a Toyota and I think as a Singer.. .Also as a cheap supermarket branded machine. Mid to upper range brothers are pretty ok- in fact, I rather admire the design of their button application foot- but this one is garbage.

      • I quite love my mid-range Brother. She’s a low-end electronic one and the only quibble I really have with her is that the threader is somewhat finicky. Other than that, she’s quite wonderful. Her one-step buttonholes are beautiful and I love the overcasting stitches that she has. One day I’ll get a better machine, but as a $150 birthday gift when I had been sewing for about a month (I learned on my mother’s very basic Brother from the early 90s), I really couldn’t have asked for anything better.

  2. I am very spoilt and have the Janome Horizon and I just LOVE it! I had a very basic Janome that is 25 years old and I just loved it, that was until I got the Horizon. I admit though I have not used all the nick nacks that it has available, however it handled my beginners quilt beautifully.
    I would love any suggestions you have for saving money! It all helps!

  3. I have my mother-in-law’s very old Elna – a nice solid little full-metal beastie. It’s very basic and I can’t do a buttonhole on it (yet – I may need more practice and it may need a service), but I love it!

      • I inherited my grandmother’s Elna Lotus SP after she died. It’s a solid little machine, nothing fancy, with the little fold-down-fold-up panels as a built in carry case and it’s like sewing with a very small sports car! Beautiful even stitches, and the purring sounds it makes is just fabulous!

        My other “good” machine is a Pfaff 2044. Me likey.

  4. My recommendation to new sewists is to spend their money on a good, older second hand machine. I bought a Bernina 1120 back in 1991, and last year after making literally thousands of garments, it spat the dummy. So, I bought a 16 year old 1230 for under $1,000NZ to replace it, because I don’t really know I can face a new machine. And I’ve invested in feet and things. I also own an older model Bernette which I paid $80 for and while it needs a service it is a fantastic machine.
    By the way, I reckon quilting did for my 1120. Before I took up quilting it got moved about once every 5 years. Then suddenly I was going to UFO evenings, stitch ins and retreats, and carting it around all the time. It started playing up soon after all this started. I have one of those wheelie bags for it but now I only ever wheel it on very smooth floors, as I am sure the vibrations and bumps don’t help, nor do trestle tables. What will I do when this one blows up too? Perish the thought, probably buy a Husquvarna, or commander my Mum’s 1030. or her 35 year old Elna with the cogs (I love them too!)

    • That one? I’ve seen a few of them, they’re consistently heavenly when in good nick. If I ever ran across one…

      Moving a machine around can be tough on the machine and the lady… I know it’s an electronic model, but the Jem plantinum is a really good travel machine. It’s small and light, but does good work consistently. It’s also really straight forward to use, once you play a bit. The iMachine, if you will.

      • That’s the one. I think it is the pick of the Bernina range from always. It was better than the 1230 I have now, which has a bunch of fancy stitches I don’t need but unlike my 1120, which automatically wound the bobbin when you flick the gage over, you have to plant your foot.
        Quilters favour Berninas which I think has more to do with marketing than genuine superiority, and the quilters I hang out with who own older Berninas never complain about them, seem to be able to do just about anything with them. The newer ones you never hear the end of the moaning!
        I’ll remember about this Jem machine, thanks for the tip. The bernette was meant to be my toting machine, but it is cast from the same mould as my 1120 and weighs the same. So no gains there!

      • Well, from machine training and etc, it’s my opinion that Berninas are a higher quality machine. They’re made with a great deal of consideration for the end user, and they do some stuff that other machines don’t. Of course, the price reflects that… I know some people get fanatical about them and that’s not me, but I think their claims to being “the best” are valid…

      • I do think Bernina are really, really good but I do also think they have sat on their laurels a bit too much in the past ten years while the other makes like Janome have worked harder at making good machines. But, hopefully, I won’t have to think about it at all for another 5 years or more! :)

  5. I have a wonderful old Bernina 731 (dating from the 1960’s I think), all in metal, nearly no plastic in there, and we’re in love! this machine only has 2 decoratives stitches, but can sew nearly everything (thick wool, denim). She’s a wonderful machine that I bought on ebay for 120€ so approximately the same price as the mahcine mentionned above, sold between 90 and 150€ in France.
    And yes I’d love to know your tips for saving money, I’m planning to buy myself a serger in the upcoming year, and that’s expensive!

    • Awesome- sounds like you got a good deal. :)

      Will do, I’ve been wanting to do a little series on making laundry soap and so forth, so I’ll get on it. (every bit adds up!)

  6. I have my mum’s old Janome from the late 80s and it’s still chugging along slowly. It’s survived being moved up and down the eastern seaboard and even being wrapped up and transported in a suitcase by plane. Crazy times! While I do adore her I’m getting to a point where I’d like to trade up. I have a four step button hole situation going and it inevitably becomes a hot mess. But breaking up with my Janome would be like telling my Dad I won’t come visit to go fishing. Heartbreaking!

  7. I think I had this branded as a simplicity. It taunted me. I bought it to sew slightly heavier things. Gees I couldn’t even wear denim while sewing with it! I don’t miss it.

  8. Sorry but I am going to have to disagree. I have the exact model you’re talking about and although it is pretty basic, I have never really missed the extras (threaders and thread cutter?? – I can quite easily do that myself in about 2 seconds). I have also sewn lots and lots with it for two years now (which is when I started sewing) and I have never had any problems. Not trying to be argumentative but looks like we have differing views on this one.

    • I’m happy to agree to disagree. It will sew, my issue is the steep learning curve for a beginner on this machine. It puts people off sewing. :)

  9. I have an old singer. Probably from the 60s or 70s. It was my mom’s and I remember it from my childhood. It is portable (har har har. As it is all steel, it weighs 5000 pounds.) When ever I need to move it I have to call my young able bodied sons to do it. It has two basic features….forwards and backwards. I’ve been thinking that I’d like to invest in a machine that does some fancy stitches (zig zag lol) and a button holer would be nice. The one positive of this machine is it is indistructable. I think it has been to the shop once in it’s life time. I inherited it and when I tried using it, the threads gummed up. The shop cleaned it up and told me I was threading it wrong. Doh!

  10. Finally, another sewer that loves Viking. I hear all about Berninas and Janomes, but I adore my Viking (I’ve had two).

  11. I didn’t own that one, but I did own the analogous cheap big-box-store version. It was HORRIBLE. The bobbin tension would constantly mess up, and you had to insert the bobbin exactly right to even get a small bit of sewing done. I did more futzing with it than sewing, and basically stopped sewing at all until I got my first decent machine.

    I am surprised by “movable needle” being a basic requirement for you – my big upgrade has a movable needle, though I’ve not used that feature yet. My ol’ faithful did not, but it was extremely awesome nonetheless. Ah to each her own, I’m sure in a year I’ll not know how I sewed without it. :)

    • Needle position is important to me… I need the control!! But really, when I’m sewing and there’s something slightly tricky going on it’s usually easiest to move my needle a little one way or the other than to do anything else.

  12. I have a Brother, but it is a far more basic machine than the one you picture. It is a good little workhorse. I’ve bought one for my mother, and I have one in the box for my daughter when she’s ready for it. I can easily move needle positions, light bulb needs a screwdriver to remove the panel that shields the bulb and prevents it from falling out. Feet for a short shank fit, no matter the original brand of the feet. I have no fancy stitches, though. (I can zig-zag, but not three-step zig-zag. And no automatic blind hemming.) My fancy-stitches-with-cams-and-built-in-5-step-buttonhole-feature machine was a Montgomery Ward; and it was possessed by a demon. I threw it in a dumpster, as it was not worth repair and would be useless as a boat anchor.

    • I was not aware Brother had a more basic machine than this.. Is it an older machine? Often older, basic machines really know how to get a good job done.

      I look at “fanciness” as functions that make my sewing more efficient so I can focus on design and execution rather than fiddling with my machine…. But everyone is different.

      • I’ve realized that, at my stage in life, simple projects are all I want to do. The little bitty bit of stretch sewing I still do comes out just fine with a simple zig-zag. My current machine is a Brother V 1120. I bought it new in … I think 2005. I used the Monkey Ward machine’s fancy cams for many years, happily, for embroidery and blind hemming and stretch fabric swimsuits/bras. But there is more that can go wrong on a complicated machine. When it does go wrong, it goes very, very wrong. “Let us not speak of it again,” she said, darkly. I fiddle far fewer functions than formerly (HA! Alliteration strikes again!). On the Monkey Ward machine, the separate machine buttonhole attachment was made completely of plastic. It’s gears stripped out almost immediately. I DID salvage its buttonhole foot, as it makes the do-it-yourself 5-step buttonhole on my Brother work much better.

  13. I have a Huskystar 224. My mom did some serious trade in and swapping around to get a new machine for each of us, and that’s what she picked for me. I’ve had it nearly 10 years now and I go through sewing phases (increasing as space has allowed) so it hasn’t been constant use, but outside of a couple of trips in for cleaning, I haven’t had an issue.

    The machine I learned on either didn’t have a thread cutter or I didn’t know about it, so it was a while before I figured out that my Huskystar had one. Now it’s instinctive to reach up to cut, but if scissors are there I’ll sometimes reach for them. I rarely use the needle threader, only if I’m having problems with a fine needle. I think it is a factor of not knowing what you don’t know.

    I love the overlock stitch, the three step zig zag, I’ve used some of the decorative stitches but not often. The buttonholer and I are coming to terms. I also like that I can slow the speed down, forcing me to take my time on projects requiring precision sewing.

    • Huskystars are pretty good little machines, I recommend them to students often.

      I guess I sew so much that it’s quick and instinctive to me to use the thread cutter, it was a HUGE irritation working on the Monster machine. The threader I can do without, but my eyesight is not the best so it’s more useful to me to do something with my fingertips than with my eyes. I don’t have to look at my threader to make it work anymore, just magically thread the needle without hunching and squinting and irritation…

  14. A relation was complaining to me a few months back that she was trying to learn to sew and having nothing but headaches with her machine—a Walmart special bought for under $100. /sigh. I’m pretty sure the 70s machine I picked up last month at the thrift store for $10 would sew circles around hers…

    I don’t think I’ve ever used a needle threader and I rarely use the thread-cutter even on my machines that have one, but having a machine that’s easy to use and adjust and stitches reliably is so important. I lean towards the old mechanical machines myself (the heavier the better ;) ), although I’ve never had a fancy new machine so perhaps I just don’t know what I’m missing. My one new machine is a basic Janome, and it’s adequate for most things and has a nice range of useful stitches (over-edge, 3-step zig-zag, 1-step buttonhole although it really doesn’t work on anything heavier than shirt-weight fabric), but it doesn’t handle heavy-duty stuff terribly well and it vibrates all over the place. The needle position adjusts only one direction, which I often don’t notice but occasionally drives me nuts.

    It reminds me of art supplies—I often suggest art supplies as presents for my kids, as they’re handy, creative, and we can always use more. Which is great when they get, oh, a sketchbook or a set of starter watercolours (the starter oil set, not so great. I thought they were acrylics and the cleanup was a bit of a disaster…). But when it’s discount markers that don’t even write, or tempera paints that blob and glob… of course the result is never going to be as nice as it could be. Or pencils that can’t be sharpened without the lead breaking. That drives me nuts. I guess the trick is knowing where you can cut corners… which unfortunately is something that comes with experience.

  15. I learned to sew on my mum’s old treadle singer. It still goes and mum uses it for the heavier things that won’t go through her (slightly) newer singer. The newer one bought was second hand just after she was married about 50 years ago and is still going great. It is electric (just), gets serviced when it blinks which is about every 2 years and you need to change a wee cog thingy to change stitch type. Bomb proof and I love it.

    I had a brother like your nemesis, though it was about 2 models up from yours bought for NZ$200 or so. It gave up the ghost after a couple of years of sewing light cottons when I tried to sew a wee denim skirt for my kids on cheap thin denim. The needle stopped mid-way through the four or so fabric layers (I was using the right needle and taking it REALLY SLOW) and the cheap metal chassis broke away from the cheap plastic casing. Irreparable. It wouldn’t sew knits for anything either but it did get me into sewing. Now I love my Bernina SM and will hopefully have it for years.

    Actually, when I was researching the Brother replacement I found it very very frustrating that I couldn’t find a good solid basic machine. You know, like my mum’s in that would do the dozen or so basic stitches, take generic feet and not have all the bells and whistles. Oh there are good entry level basic machines but they are still pretty pricey so for just a little more you can get fancy. At the time I hadn’t discovered the online sewing world or a good dealer with second hand machines so I missed out big time. Its a pity. Still, I’m happy with what I have.

    • I love your story of machine destruction. It’s so weird when you know you’re doing something perfectly reasonable and that happens, but I’ve seen it too…

      Lots of people are resistant to “bells and whistles” because they’re unfamiliar with them. I get that.. I was like that too. But it really does help smooth out your sewing, at least a little bit, when you don’t have to fumble for threading or fighting the stitch tension on your machine.

      If you’re happy with what you have, then awesome. :) Who could ask more?

  16. I have a Brother CE-5000. A cheapie I am enjoying except for having to use a bobbin where the spool should sit. A spool just vibrates off the machine & I have to chase it across the room. Once I solved that delima it works fine. It has lots of stitches and stuff I don’t use because I’m a creature of habit. Maybe the Easter Bunny will bring another machine that doesn’t toss my thread like my 3 year old when she is giving her best Gone With the Wind performance.

    • My mother-in-law has the same problem with her machine as Leslie P. She simply puts a jar on the table behind the sewing machine and insteatd of putting the spool of thread on it’s pin she plops it into the jar. The machine does not seem to care that the thread is behind the machine instead of on top of it and the jar keeps the thread on the table and not on the floor.

    • As another solution, you can also buy thread holders – they are circular plastic stands with a stud in the bottom for the thread to go over and a tall hook to hold the thread at the right height. Even if you don’t have problems on your machine they are brilliant. Be sure to buy one with a metal hook, not plastic, as the plastic ones aren’t sturdy enough.

      • Thanks. Do they make one sturdy enough to hold my kids? Seems like when Mama is happy sewing they think it is their time to get “Creative”.

  17. I upgraded from a cheapie Brother (even cheaper than that one) to the Emerald 116. It’s…better, I guess, but not great. They both vibrate themselves across the table, neither one can do an acceptable buttonhole, and since I got a straight-stitch Singer (the kind that’s built like a tank), I’m not at all impressed with the Viking’s stitch quality. Unfortunately the Singer needs its wiring replaced so it’s not in use right now.

  18. I’m ashamed to say I bought this for my daughter-in-law as her first machine. When she and my son moved in with us a few years later, she confessed hat she hadn’t used it because she couldn’t understand the directions. English is not her first language, so I agreed to help her. I think we managed to get it threaded, but that was about all we could figure out. She’s now learning to sew on my fairly basic singer and we’re both waiting for the day when I can justify spending the money for a zippier, more gadget-y machine.

  19. My first machine is a Brother. I don’t hate it. I only bought a (used) Viking 770 because the Brother couldn’t sew through insulated batting and I wanted to sew denim. I keep the Brother around because I like the way it does buttonholes. But I paid a heck of a lot more for the Viking than the Brother (which was a gift) costs, and I don’t know that I’d have fallen in love with sewing without the cheap machine. So I think there is a place for the machines that make experienced seamstresses stabby. :) I suppose I still don’t know what a nice machine is like, but you have to start somewhere!

  20. I had the same frustration as you Steph when I was in Cairns. I borrowed my Aunt’s machine and it was pretty much the same as this – different colour, still a Brother badge. The fabric went all over the place and the thread wouldn’t stay in place to thread the bobbin correctly. I own a Brother SuperAce II Quilter’s Edition and I prefer it to the Janome machines in the same bracket. It was a good buy with part of one of my scholarships. I learnt on a basic Husqvarna at high school – it was far superior to our basic Janomes that we have at school now. If I replaced them, Husqvarna it would be and not one of the dirt cheap things that they now sell in certain establishments that are offensive to even the cheapest, nastiest fabric. My deceased Singer could do a better job then the offending machine above! Bless you for attempting to sew on it and now making me feel that I haven’t lost my sewing mojo after my holiday experiences!

  21. Oh thank you! I can’t count the number of times I have seen someone ask about buying this machine.

    I have an entry-level Janome – the ‘Sewist’. For the price (NZ$350 if I remember correctly) it’s a really good machine. No threader, and the thread cutter isn’t great, but I don’t use those so it it doesn’t bug me. 3 part buttonholer, but does beautiful buttonholes. It just sews a lot of stuff, with perfect tension.

    I really didn’t want a lot of bells and whistles – I hate working on the new computerised machines.

    • That’s a good one too, and it’s not much more expensive than the Monster machine.

      I was pretty resistant to electronic machines until I had training on them. Now I like them really well, but I don’t think you have to have a fancy machine to do some right fancy stitching (I mean, you do glorious work on your Janome).

  22. I sew with a Bernina Activa 240 and I love it. I used to sew with an entry level Janome, which I bought for mending and taking up hems, and maybe a little hobby sewing. It did me proud for many years. I finally bought a new Bernina when I inherited some money. When it goes in to be serviced I used to go back to the Janome, it does alright until you need to do some serious sewing and then it just can’t handle the layers or feed the fabric properly. So I gave it away. I’d rather wait to get my machine back than manage the frustration of poor handling and all the wonky sewing that ensues!

    • The 240 is a lovely machine.

      Isn’t it funny, you get used to driving a machine that handles well and it’s tough to go back to the ones that have a mind of their own..

  23. How funny, you had me laughing through your whole post. I’ve ad machines like that, mostly the newer machines, not the old boat anchor types. My 2 favorite machines are getting cleaned so I am using a stand by which is a 1920’s singer straight stitch, and my gosh what a beautiful stitch it makes. I use my new home treadle for heavy things and I have inherited a few other tanks which sew wonderfully. The brothers that I have been given or gotten second hand they just don’t seem to be made very well. like others have said they pop the tension when you go faster or have extra material. I understand your Frustration. I’d love to see the film, hee hee. I have a picture of you doing the jig next to the burning machine. More serious though I hope your burn wasn’t to bad, the old machines have the light on the outside with an aluminum cover and yeah you have to watch out cause they get real hot. honey or bees wax works really good if you have nothing else you can also use a potato.

    • Oh good. I was laughing too. :)

      Thank you, I’m really touched by your concern. It was more just like “OH! HOT HOT HOT! THIS MACHINE IS SPITTING BURNING PARTS AT ME!” than a lasting burn. Startling and slightly uncomfortable. I’m all fine now. :) (But I’ll remember your burn remedies)

  24. I have an old Singer 631G my mom picked up in the ’70s second hand. My BFF has an AMAZING Husquvarna, that.. just.. omg. It’s the sexiest thing ever. Sewing is such a dream on her sewing machine.

    Not to diss mine, but it’s an old, basic model. The other is an old, top-of-the-line model. I just wish she could bring it with her when we move in together this summer. Unfortunately, it belongs to her dad’s company (Yeah, IDK. It’s a computer company?).

  25. I’m surprised to see no love for Pfaffs in this thread, unless I missed it. I’m a professional stitcher for theatre, and the Pfaff is the Wardrobe Department standard. For every Wardrobe Department I’ve found myself in. It’s also what most college sewing programs teach on in my neck of the woods. I’ve worked on domestic Pfaffs ranging from absolutely basic to top-of-the-line, from brand new to thirty years old. I’ve worked on industrial Pfaffs-an absolute dream. Pfaffs are not cheap, but they are utterly reliable. A second-hand one would be a worthwhile investment for someone new to sewing.

    I also echo Another Stephanie who uses an ages-old Elna. I have my mother’s Elna. She is indeed solid, 100% precision-Swiss-made metal. Not an ounce of plastic on her. Mom bought it in 1980, the year I was born. I can’t even guess how many miles of fabric have gone through that machine, but I remember countless nights hearing it rattle away in the basement long past midnight. So many much-loved toys and clothes came from the Elna. I learned to sew on that machine. I still use it almost every day-it’s my strongest and most consistent connection to a lady I miss dearly. It has *so* much value for me, I don’t think I’ll ever let it go, even if it quits on me. Though I truly doubt it ever will. :)

    • When I began living overseas and realized I’d go nuts without my hobby, I bought myself a European brand (can’t recall which, but they have a good rep.), bottom of the line, but still…. it was the nicest machine I’d worked on up until then. Now I’m living in Asia and have bought a Janome 415, it was the cheapest one that came with a rolled hem attachment. (sometimes it is hard to find things like that) I love it.

      The person who posted ‘beginners should buy used high end machines was soo soo right. The first machine I had was a bottom of the line brother, and it causes no end of grief. You have to adjust the machines tension constantly, not to mention your own tension………. sigh.

      Mary in Thailand

  26. Possibly helpful to beginners is to think about Kenmore machines, whose parts are still sold by Sears. For many years my machine was a Bernina 741, a wonderful heavy machine. I found it when returning a rental machine, which is another option for beginners. Rent a machine and if you don’t like it, try another. Good tools are such a joy and actually help the sewing along; the lemon of a Singer that my Bernina replaced was an obstacle to even thinking of getting a project nicely done. The manufacturers of the cheapo hellish experience have forgotten they are making a tool; they think they are making toys. I now have a new Bernina quilter’s edition, a computerized machine; a small heavy portable Kenmore and a portable Elna as backups and travel machines, both of them about 30 years old. It is unlikely I’ll have another machine as smooth as my old Bernina was–it broke its only nylon gear and the cost of repairing it was prohibitive. But it was at least 50 years old and had stitched millions of stitches for me, who knows how many for its first owner. But it cost US$200 used, in 1973, worth every penny. Tell your beginners to shop eBay, and check the reviews on the Pattern Review web site. There are still lovely beginner machines available, but not in box stores.

    I justified the cost of my new Bernina, which was a floor model and reduced further by the trade-in of my 741, as it is the principle means of my entire wardrobe and house sewing. Considering the value created and the savings effected by my sewing, for myself, my family, and my home–it was cheap at twice the price. It will be my principle machine for the rest of my life, and my two mechanical backups give me pleasure and portability and nostalgia too!

    Thanks for this post. My awful old Singer was a dreadful experience; it would not sew anything except starched, thin cotton. It was cursed, unrepairable by half a dozen different repair people, and turned me against the company entirely. I learned to sew on my mother’s old Featherweight, a simpler but reliable straight stitch machine. I have helped several friends learn to sew, and one woman was reassured and comforted by the concept that everything machines do now, was originally done by hand. I helped her learn hand stitches, which pleased us both, as hand stitching is useful for many finishing details, and then she felt more confident about a machine. I made my own clothes by hand when I was in college, as it was cheap, but slow–yet got beautiful results. Some beginners might benefit from this approach, the calm and meditative hand work first, learning fabric manipulation and some finishing, and then progress to look for a machine to help the hand work.

    Oops, I’ve gone on too long! Sorry! I love to sew and it pains me to think of beginners struggling with junk machines. Life is too short for that.

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  28. I’m a little bit late for this post, but I thought I’d show you my first machine. Well, my own first machine. I learned to sew on my Grandma’s Kenmore.

    This was my $20 Walmart Special. I called him Herbert.

    The poor guy rattled himself all over the countertop and had messed up tension and there was only 3 stitch lengths, but I managed to sew a few tops, a duvet cover, and even a quilt on him.

    I wound up giving Herbert away to a friend who wanted a machine for hemming and stuff, but there are days I miss the little guy. He fit nicely in my tote bag with all my supplies and project, so was great for taking along to crafting meet-ups. But I imagine I’d probably want to burn him in the front yard too, if I were stuck using him after getting used to my dear Maggie Kenmore. :)

    I found Maggie on kijiji (similar to Craigslist) from a lady who inherited the machine from her Aunt. Turns out her Aunt was the original owner of the machine and took very good care of her. So I got a good little 1972 Kenmore zigzag (can’t remember the model number) for $50. A MUCH better deal than those crappy new beginner machines!

    I hope your baby comes home soon!

  29. I second the applause for the Kenmores (the older models) and the Janome.
    My first sewing machine was a basic Sears Kenmore and I never had a problem.
    I upgraded to a Janome memory craft and it still runs great. I found a vintage Kenmore on Craigslist recently and it is just wonderful (heavy all metal and a neat buttonhole). I hear good things about the Janome Gem as a beginner/portable machine.

    • My first was a 70’s Kenmore. Once I learned to run it properly (like, you know, lower the presser foot) it was a great little machine. I like Janomes, myself.

  30. I wonder if you could give some suggestions for good quality but not too expensive machines. I’m relatively experienced as a sewer (first started over 15 years ago and have been fairly constant in my sewing for the last 5 or so years), have been using a Janome My Excel 4018 which is now coming up towards twenty years old. Apart from some grumbling when the fabric is too thick, having a poor buttonhole stitch (I do all mine by hand) and having the odd tantrum with the bobbin it’s been a great machine. But it’s somehow got stuck in reverse, and the lever appears to be broken. I’m taking it to get serviced and see if it can be fixed, but just in case I need to replace it, I’d love some suggestions on what is good, what is bad. I’m a student so really don’t want to pay too much more than $500, but I’d love a machine that could handle denim and does nice buttonholes. Everything else I’m not so fussed about – obviously I don’t want something basic, but I’m not a quilter and don’t embroider so don’t need 100+ stitches. Any ideas?

    • I have a few ideas… My #1 favorite basic but good Janome is the DC4030. It does have a digital stitch select and I know that can seem very “different” at first, but it’s really easy to use.. I have never seen or heard of a 4030 (or any of the nice mid-range Janomes) with an electronic issue. It’s like any appliance.

      On the 4030 you just look at the display board, press the button for the stitch you want and go. It also has adjustable speed, and from personal experience in classes I can say they’re really hard working machines. They do a pretty good (and simple) one step buttonholes, can handle denim, and they’re easy to use.

      The My Excel 4018 is pretty good, I love seeing some of those 80’s Janomes still going. :)

      • Thanks for the suggestion. Luckily my machine is ok – the stitch selector dial had been bumped and was stuck between settings. Once that was fixed, everything was ok again.

  31. Ditto. I have just binned a recently purchased “basic” brother model. Flimsy, hot light, jamming cotton, hard to thread. HORRIBLE

  32. I just came across this when searching for a new sewing machine since my cheapy died after making a dance outfit on it…and guess what machine I have? Yep you guessed it, the same monster as seen above! That will teach me for trying to be cheap now won’t it.

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  34. I had a cheap Janome that worked ok, until one day the needle was off center and the stitches selector stopped working. Which happened after maybe a dozen uses. I’m sure I could get it fixed but I have a good-money after bad mindset about it. It sits in the corner and Instead I bought a 1950s Elna on ebay and had it serviced.

    I won’t pay for the service again as I think I can do better myself, but it’s SO MUCH BETTER, despite having a slightly quirky stitch tension-er. It’s solid, cute, and fun to use; I’m learning a ton and it still has the notes of the first owner in the manual. I feel like the heir to what was clearly a life long activity for her and I LOVE that.

  35. Totally agree with Steph. I also teach sewing and hate it when students come with a very cheap machine. It really is only lack of knowledge – if they knew more they could make a better choice. But that’s tricky at the beginning of ones sewing journey. Unfortunately everything is geared to cheap these days. I used to be a retailer of a major brand and absolutley hated Specials Brochures with $200 machines on the front cover. Very difficult to get a lady to spend $400 – $500 on a much better machine when they think they only need to spend $200 (or worse under $150.)
    Had a 12 year old student who was using her mum’s old Janome Combi which sewed beautifully. But it wasn’t new and cool. So she got a budget Janome for her birthday, but it had such limitations – set stitch length, no width adjustment etc. I think it is a must to be able to fully adjust needle position, stitch length AND width.
    I have a Janome MC 6500 which I absolutely love. Sure I haven’t used all the great stitches – yet. But it is such a pleasure to sew on.
    I have only recently discovered your site Steph and love it because I can relate to some of your teaching stories and ideas.

    • Yes… But the part that just *kills* me is that the Husqvarna I mentioned isn’t much more expensive here. Around $30-50 if I remember correctly… And the quality between the low grade machine and the H is remarkable. I don’t mind inexpensive, but when the tools get in the way of the sewing I get pretty prickly…

      I like the 6500, too. Have you seen the Horizon? Drool. It has a free arm. One day maybe, but for now my 4900 is quite adequate (just kind of wish I had a semi-industrial for the volume of sewing I do..)

      Thanks! :)

  36. Oh how I love your humor. I have a 16 year old Husqvarna 320. I took her to the shop once just because someone told me to after the first year. After that I figured out how to open her up and remove dust bunnies by myself. I must knock on wood every time I say this but she just keeps going and I have punished her pretty badly. I ran way too many layers of fabric through her before I knew what a walking foot was. My new walking foot makes me smile and sing a little tune while sewing. Also making many dust bunnies on my 5 year old huskylock 901 these days. Thinking about picking up a used Bernina Deco 600 and do a little embroidery. What do you think?

  37. I almost bought this very “monster machine” a year and a half ago. Luckily I was talked out of it by people who know more about sewing than I, but unfortunately my solution was to buy no sewing machine at all, because I couldn’t afford a good one and now knew better than to buy the cheap monster. I was convinced it wasn’t possible to get a halfway decent machine for under $1000 (US), and while I know you can get discounts on floor models and such, I’m really just a terrible haggler. I was afraid to go to dealers because I knew I’d end up buying something – either something I didn’t want or something I did want but couldn’t afford. Thank you so, so much for including a practical suggestion on a similar budget. It turns out I have a Husqvarna store very nearby, and I’m going to check one out in the next week or two!

    • Oh good, well, I’m glad you found that helpful. :) It’s not necessary to spend $1000 and for most people that would be overkill anyway. Do check out the little 116, quite a nice little machine. The only thing I don’t love about Husq is that their feet and accessories are more expensive than other brands (except Bernina, but, well, they’re Bernina aren’t they?).

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  39. I didn’t have a brother, but I had a Singer for my last sewing machine. It seemed to be ok if I was only sewing two pieces of fabric together, but anything other than that and it was a nightmare! I found I was putting of sewing because I didn’t want to deal with all the sewing machine issues. I now have a Janome DC4030 and I absolutely love it! It’s so intuitive and the extra features are worth the money. I encourage people to save and get a good quality sewing machine rather than buying a cheap and nasty. The Janome Magnolia 7330 (or DC2101 if you’re in Australia) are great machines if you’re on a budget. I don’t work for Janome, I just love their machines. LOL!

  40. Hi, I just stumbled across your article. I’m using my mum’s old Pinnock machine from the 70’s, it looks like this:
    It can only sew straight lines, it used to have some other options but they no longer work, which is OK because I’m no seamstress and only use it for the most basic of jobs. But recently it has stopped working, the bottom thread isn’t stitching properly and the tension can’t be adjusted. So I was thinking of buying a new basic machine, and they have a Husqvarna on sale at Spotlight but I can’t find much reference to the model so not sure if it’s good value or not.
    Now after reading your article I’m thinking perhaps it would be a better bet to get the old Pinnock serviced and see if they can fix it. It probably hasn’t been serviced ever in its life. I have bought a new belt for it once or twice. I only use it every couple of years. Any thoughts? Thanks for your help.

    • That model is ok, but I’d get your Pinnock serviced first. It’s likely that will sort the issues (sounds like the timing is off- did you sew over a pin and get a needle strike or use a heavy fabric before it started misbehaving?). It may just need a service because it hasn’t been serviced for decades. Hope that helps.

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  43. I was looking for a manual for my ‘new’ Toyota model 4170 (the back of the machine says designed by Aisin Seiko Co. Ltd, Japan). I’m not new to sewing machines. I used to own an industrial and now own about 18 vintage machines (including a Necchi Supernova) and 3 not so vintage but near 70s/80s machine. They work great. I too hate my Brother XL5700, would have thrown it away if it weren’t great for the zigzag stitches. I found the Toyota 4170 at $20 at a second hand shop, because I itched to repair/service one. Don’t ask me why, I just love to service/repair them out of curiosity. Anyway, it was not sewing and rather stiff. Someone (stupid) had placed a metal ring in the bobbin case compartment before putting in the bobbin case for sewing. So I removed it, cleaned and oiled it, made tension adjustment to the bobbin case (which had the tension fit for ropes!). Then voila! It sewed fine, in fact, I made up a jacket with it. There was nothing fancy about it, preset stitches like your Brother sewing machine, without controls for stitch length or stitch width. No needle positioning either. Still I found that many a times, it’s not about the machine, but the operator. You need to know a lot about sewing machines before purchasing these ‘beginner’ sewing machines. Trouble shooting on these ‘beginner’ machines need the knowledge of someone experienced, not for the beginner at all. So my advice for people using such machines is that they should learn as much as possible about maintaining/servicing/oiling and also learn about needles/foot pressure/types of threads/sewing techniques….before embarking on these ‘beginner’ sewing machines. So I do not recommend these to beginners at all, unless there is someone who can supervise on the use. The old, vintage machines are of better quality and not so prone to thread jams, needle breakage and/or tension problems, and is easier to maintain.

  44. I owned a 1991 Elna that was the best machine ever! Although it was “top of the range” back then it slid back to being a basic model as the years passed. I had to sell it as I had four machines and we were going to be living the Grey Nomad lifestyle. so i could only keep one. My Elna never had a service, it never visited a mechanic and it was used almost daily!
    Before I sold it I had it serviced and asked the mechanic about its condition so I could be honest in my advertising – he said it was in excellent condition! Someone got a really good machine – I wish I had’ve kept it somewhere so I could get it back again.
    My second machine was a Husqvarna Viking embroidery machine – its problem was that you had to buy embroidery cards or an expensive system to get designs onto a blank card and insert into the machine. I have loaned it to my friend (so I can get it back again, if need be. Again a really, really excellent sewer – it sewed through 8 layers of denim for a bag handle – i was so impressed!!
    I had a really cheap Elna that I inherited from my mum (she only wanted to sew hems and seams) after two quality machines I didn’t like it at all, so sold it with no regrets.
    I have kept my Brother 4000D embroidery machine which seems to be good if you discount some strange stitching every now and then – I doubt it will last very long as the machines seem so flimsy these days.
    My advice for someone wanting an “entry level” machine is a second hand “good” machine. If you start with a cheap one
    they are a real challenge for even the most experienced sewer and you won’t enjoy using it and there you will stop wanting to sew at all.

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