”What is the best sewing machine for quilting?”
...is asked each time I teach.
Regrettably, it does not have a simple two word answer, say like a manufacturer and a model number.
But don't despair!
There is an answer. But finding the best machine for quilting will take a bit of work on your part. If you are wondering if you've already got the best one or are contemplating a new one, read on.
The newest sewing machines on the market are chock full of tempting bells and whistles. These features, for the most part, are great to have and may make some aspects of quilting easier. The bad news is they cost money and sometimes, as in the case of a stitch regulator, quite a bit of money.
The good news is they are not essential to being a good quilter.
So what is necessary to have the best sewing machine? Here's the list...and most older machines DO have these features.
Virtually every task in quilting is repeated over and over and over. You should be happy to work on your sewing machine. If you catch yourself daydreaming of throwing it out a second story window, you need a change. If you hate the sound it makes or how it feels, you need a change.
If you're not happy with your sewing machine, you won't be happy using it for quilting, and you certainly won't be happy to practice with it to improve your skills.
A MUST for both piecing and quilting. If you are in the market to buy a new machine there is only one way to find out if it makes a good straight stitch. Be prepared to take a “test drive” when you visit the dealer. All dealers want YOU to think they sell the best sewing machine, but the proof is in the stitching! Bring samples of the kinds of fabric, battings and threads that YOU use to take YOUR test drive on.
Sewing machines are engineered so that when the same 50-60 wt thread is used in the needle and bobbin, a balanced tension is the result. When different threads of different weights and thicknesses are used, expect to make changes to the needle tension. Tension adjustments and fine tuning are easy to do on the best sewing machine. So check it out on your test drive.
If you plan to do any machine applique, you'll also want these two stitches. You should be able to adjust the width and length and tension for both.
If you can't see where the needle enters the fabric how can you be precise when you need to...?
On some machines the needle is positioned further back. Test driving a sewing machine is so important in determining whether or not this is a factor for you.
When you are machine quilting, the motor runs almost constantly. Unlike piecing, where you'll stop to press, trim and pin, you quilt quite steadily.
Older sewing machines may have a cover for their feed dogs. Newer models usually lower them with a lever or button. Great! You just want the feed dogs out of the way when you are free motion quilting.
I believe that feet engineered specifically for your make and model of sewing machine are better than the “generic feet” which are sometimes available for use on a multitude of similar machines.
...if you decide to purchase an older machine, it may be prudent to stock up on a few extra walking and darning feet as this quilter unfortunately found out...
These features are absolute 'MUSTs' in my book!
This is one of the BEST features for piecing, machine applique and quilting. You can choose with the push of a button to have the needle stop either in the up or down position. Stopping with the needle down is like having an extra hand to hold the fabric.
With this little beauty, the presser foot raises up just a bit with the needle down in the fabric when you stop stitching. It saves an incredible amount of time while you're chain piecing.
With motor speed control you are able to limit the maximum speed the machine sews when the foot pedal is completely to the ground. This helps you to maintain the best control while free motion quilting—leaving you one less thing to think about!
The regular throat plate that comes with your sewing machine has an oval hole in it that the needle passes through to make a stitch.
It functions for both straight, zig zag and decorative stitches.
A single stitch throat plate has a small round hole instead of an oval. It helps create better straight stitches and is especially useful for free motion machine quilting.
Because there's less chance that the quilt sandwich can be pushed down through the hole to mess with your tension, that's why! I know it seems like such a small thing, but it really does make a difference, especially when you're stitching intricate and/or dense designs.
Bigger is definitely better!
This is the area to the right of the needle where you will smush, push and fold your quilt during quilting. On sewing machines with a “quilting” model this area is bigger than average and getting bigger all the time.
I drool over this space and when its time for a new machine, I'll get it.
This gem of a feature creates regular even stitches while you free motion quilt with the feed dogs down. It is a fairly recent addition to the arsenal of sewing machine manufacturers to sell sewing machines for quilting. This feature is expensive.
I can honestly say that you CAN learn to make even stitches while free motion quilting.
What it takes is practice.
I personally would not buy a new machine just to get this feature. I had considered it when Bernina first came out with BSR (Bernina's Stitch Regulator), but the machine was about $3,500...too rich for my blood for something that I could already do reasonably well.
This is a common feature on newer machines and I've got it on one of them. Sometimes I use it and sometimes I don't.
The best sewing machine doesn't necessarily have oodles of stitches. However, if you are into crazy quilts, you can achieve wonderful results with your sewing machine and luscious, thick decorative threads.
But for machine piecing, machine applique, free motion quilting and walking foot or ditch quilting, the additional stitches are a cool, but unnecessary extra.
If you have absolutely no interest in machine embroidery, then don't get this model. Opt instead for the quilting model and upgrade to the larger throat space.
If you love embroidery, well that's a subject for a whole other website...
Your sewing machine dealer is almost as important a choice as the machine itself.
Don't buy from a big box or discount store. With a big box store there is no support, no classes, no test drive. How will you know what you're buying? Who will be there to help you?
The best sewing machine comes with a dealer who can and will gladly service it and answer your questions.
So buy from a reputable dealer.
Someone in the business of selling sewing machines has the newest models and is up-to-date with the latest in education on the machines.
The good ones “live” the sewing machine business.
Be comfortable with the people in the store demonstrating and selling the machines. These are the same people that will be conducting the training classes and answering your questions as you become acquainted with your machine. If they are not helpful or courteous when they are trying to make the sale, how will they be when you need support?
Look for training classes to accompany your machine. Good dealers offer them because they want you to be happy with your purchase. Additionally, most sewing machines have accessories not included in the original package. The dealer would like to teach you how to use them so that you'll buy them WHEN you need them.
If you take training at a store other than where you bought the machine expect to pay through the nose. Dealers cater to their precious customers. Part of the cost of the training is averaged across the cost of the sewing machines they sell.
DO buy the best sewing machine that you can afford at the time that includes the features you want. You will be using this sewing machine for years to come. Is saving a few hundred dollars today really best if you end up wishing for the next ten years that you'd purchased, say, a longer arm or needle-up/needle-down?
The best sewing machine isn't necessarily the most expensive but it does fit in your budget.
The best sewing machine isn't necessarily a Viking or Bernina or Pfaff or Janome, or a...
The best sewing machine isn't necessarily new.
If you have carefully chosen a sewing machine with the features that you need, that you have taken for a test drive and that fits into your budget, then congratulations on a job well done!
To see what other quilters think go to the Results Page for the survey below.
Now its your turn. Do you have the best sewing machine? Tell us about it. This is a blind survey so tell us what you really think!