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One of the most important tools when sewing is, of course, the sewing machine. Perhaps you’ve taken that beginner’s sewing course and are sufficiently enthused to want your own sewing machine. Perhaps you have refreshed your skills and are ready to upgrade your current machine for a new one. Now you’re wondering – – just how do I go about choosing a new machine?

The sewing machine has come a long way from the original treadle machine that not only did not run on electricity, it only stitched forward and straight! Sewing machines today will embroider, sew buttonholes automatically sized to your chosen button, finish your seams, tell you what stitch length, presser foot and thread type to use, and in general do most everything except make coffee for you.

The most basic sewing machines today are electronic – that is, they are not computerized. They will generally offer the basic stitches – – straight stitch, zig zag, buttonhole. They may even have a small number of “specialty” stitches such as embroidered vine or leaf designs. Some other stitches will be overcast, seam finishing and imitation serger stitches. They’ll offer different needle positions – – center, left and right. Medium range sewing machines are generally computerized and will offer more stitch choices, needle positions and may even offer an automatic buttonhole choice which will make numerous buttonholes the same exact size for you (rather than you having to mark the beginning and end of each buttonhole manually). Higher end machines offer greater speed, even more stitch choices, quilting stitch options, monogramming alphabets and even a computer screen which tells you the recommended presser foot, pressure, stitch length and width. The most expensive sewing machines offer an embroidery component which gives you the ability to embroider designs from memory cards or even download designs from the Internet and change their size, shape and configuration.

When choosing from the myriad of sewing machines available today, it’s much like buying an automobile. You must do your homework. There are many sewing machines makes on the market – Husqvarna Viking, Singer, Janome, Bernina, Pfaff, and Brother. They are sold through authorized dealers who either have a stand-alone store or an arrangement with a fabric store. You should choose a dealer near you so that you can easily take the machine in for servicing if you are having a problem with it. Most dealers offer classes that are specific to the brand of machine and that teach you how to use it more effectively. They will also sell accessories for the machine. You can go on-line and read reviews of sewing machines at places like http://www.patternreview.com or http://www.quiltropolis.com. Users on these forums will be very candid about their likes and dislikes of certain brands. The dealer you choose should be knowledgeable about the machine and should be able to service them at his or her shop. Beware of a dealer who sends the machines out for servicing!

After doing your homework and narrowing your choices down, be sure to decide on a budget before actually visiting a dealer. Do not go for the cheapest machine, especially if you are fairly new to sewing. I don’t recommend buying the most expensive one immediately, either – so many bells and whistles will confound you and discourage you! When you visit your dealer, explain your sewing level, what you plan to be sewing (pillows, garments, outdoor items, denim, leather, cotton, quilting, whatever). Your dealer will then be able to show you several machines in your general price category which will meet your sewing needs. Sit down and test drive the sewing machine. Bring samples of the fabric you expect to sew with and stitch a test seam or two. Try threading the machine to see how easy (or complicated) it is.

Ask about what types of presser feet come with the machine, what kind of warranty is offered, who does their service work, and what type of classes or lessons does the dealer offer for learning the machine. Also ask about trade-ins – if you have an old machine they may take it in trade or they may offer a trade-in program when you want to upgrade this new machine in a couple of years.

Finally, be sure you are comfortable with your dealer. I don’t recommend purchasing a sewing machine from a big box store. Yes, the prices are cheap, but you can’t get the machine serviced, they won’t teach you how to use it, and you certainly can’t call them if you are having trouble threading it!

If you choose wisely, your sewing machine can be a wonderful tool that will give you many hours of relaxation and enjoyment.

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