Beginners Guide to Choosing a Sewing Machine for Making Quilts Part 1

Something I get asked A LOT, is what machine I recommend people buy to use to make quilts.  It is not an easy task, I do not sell machines and will not advise a specific machine, but I do try and help as much as I can.  The problem is, machines are personal to you – you only have to get a group of quilters in a room, and it is unlikely they will agree on what machine is best, so the following is advice – not rules!

In these series of posts I will be writing about buying your first sewing machine – in the context of making quilts.  This first post on buying a machine covers the most common questions I get asked…

Q – Do I need a special machine to make quilts?
A – No!  In theory quilts can be made on ANY sewing machine.  There are functions and feet that can make it easier, but don’t be fooled into thinking you need something superdooper.

Q- How much should I spend?
A- This depends on how much you want to spend.  A good, basic, sewing machine starts at about £150 – after that, the sky’s the limit!

Q- Will I get a better result from a more expensive machine?
A – In my opinion, not really.  If you are starting out, it is better to buy a machine and purchase the feet to go with it that making quilts easier, then upgrade as you want more features.  When I did my city and guilds, I was in a room of lovely beep expensive machines. I remember seeing someone had the same machine as me, and was dismayed when she said it was her class one, and the posh on was at home.  The machine I was using cost £399 – which seemed a huge amount for me to pay out at the time, and yet everyone else had machines worth a lot more.  My machine didn’t make my work in any way worse than theirs.

Q- There is a non brand on offer in my local discount supermarket, shall I buy it?
A – Go ahead if you want, however by going for one of the brands, such as Janome, Bernina or Pfaff, you will be more able to buy additional feet for your machine at a later date.

Q- I have seen a nice second hand machine on ebay, shall I buy it?
A  I hate this question!  After (tactfully) answering I am not a sewing machine shop, it is difficult to work out how good a machine is from a photo online.  Something to remember is if you are a beginner, will you have the skills and patience to clean and correct any issues it may have with tension?  In Brighton it costs about £60 to have a machine serviced – so it suddenly doesn’t look like so much of a bargain if you have to pay that out.

Q – I have been into the sewing machine shop, seen what I liked, then seen it cheaper online.  Should I buy it online?
A- That is up to you.  I personally feel it is a bit unfair on the sewing machine shop that may have spent time showing you how the machine works and answering any questions.  One of the things sewing machine shops do that I love is (if you wish) they get your machine out of the box and show you it working, and how to do the basic features on it.  If you forget something , such as how to use the buttonhole, you can pop in and ask – something you cannot do online.

Q- I have seen a machine with lots of freebies – 5000 reels of thread, scissors etc.  Is this worth it?
A- From what I have seen from students taking advantage of these offers, the thread is usually not good quality, so don’t get hooked in.  Two deals I do think are worth doing are…
Free quilting kit – this can save you money (and the hassle) of buying additional feet for quilt making (more info about feet in my next post…)
Free case or bag – If you are likely to take your machine to workshops, a decent bag is essential.  They can be quite expensive, so handy to have thrown into the cost of buying your machine.

Q – I want a machine that can do that nice squiggly quilting I see in books?
A – Any machine can to free motion quilting.  The thing to note is it is a technique in itself, so if this is what you want to do read up on it, and experiment on scrap fabric to find the way that suits you and your machine.  I see beginners get disheartened as so many quilts in books and magazines are made on a long arm machine, but they don’t know this, and so are wondering why they cannot get the same look on their first quilt from their machine.

Q- Ok, so what’s a long arm, and do I need one of them?
A – Whoa hold on there – how much do you want to spend?!  Have a go at quilting on a smaller machine first, especially if this a hobby you are trying.  If you get hooked, can afford one, and have space for one then go ahead and treat yourself. A long arm quilting machine is just another type of sewing machine, albeit a biiig one!  They are wonderful machines – no need to baste quilts, and most have a stitch regulator.  There are lots of professional long arm quilters out there, and for a fee they will baste or quilt your work for you.
If I was starting out, I would rather get an inexpensive machine, and spend the rest of the budget on workshops, fabric and haberdashery.

Bernina Advert Nothing is better than opening a new sewing machine! Picture from wall Brighton Sewing Centre
Bernina Advert
Nothing is better than opening a new sewing machine!
Picture from wall Brighton Sewing Centre

4 thoughts on “Beginners Guide to Choosing a Sewing Machine for Making Quilts Part 1

  1. Flying Blind May 10, 2013 / 8:00 pm

    Wise words. I have a mid-range Janome with the quilting pack, and I have straight line and circle quilted up to 72″ square happily; I dream of a Horizon, but that’s for when I win the Lottery!

    • quiltypleasures May 11, 2013 / 7:51 am

      Thanks – hope your 6 balls are picked this weekend!

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