If you're interested in sewing, the only way to do it well is to have a proper sewing machine. From pants and skirts to decorative pillows and clutches, a sewing machine can help you create all sorts of things. It's also great for keeping things you currently own in great shape, like hemming a too-long pair of pants or fixing that dangling button on an old winter coat. But choosing which sewing machine to buy may seem like a daunting task.
We spent several months sewing all sorts of different fabrics using nine popular machines to find the best beginner-friendly sewing machine. At the end of our testing, we recommend the Janome D4030P(available at Amazon) as our top pick. It offers a smooth sewing experience, it's well-built, and its design is just plain gorgeous.
These are the best sewing machines we tested ranked, in order:
Janome DC 4030P
Juki L LB5100
Brother HC 1850
Janome Mod 19
Juki HCL 27Z
The Janome DC4030 offers smooth sewing thanks to the SFS Intelligent Feed System, which features a seven-piece feed-dog. Located underneath the presser foot and plate, the feed-dog's prickly teeth move the fabric through the machine as the needle goes up and down. Applying pressure to the adjustable foot keeps the fabric moving, making for consistent stitch-lines.
The controls are intuitive and easy to use. After winding the bobbin and threading the machine, you can choose your stitch type with a simple press of the button. The machine's stitch selection interface is great: the red and green indicator lights help to highlight which stitch you're working with. Another set of arrows control stitch length and zigzag width. I also love the convenience of the needle position button and the auto-lock button, which enables you to repeat a patterned stitch.
Both beginners and advanced sewers alike will love the pedal sensitivity. You don't have to press down very hard to get the motor going. There's also a speed control lever on the body of the machine, which lets you set your most comfortable maximum speed. The pedal's retractable cord is nice for uncluttered storage, too.
As for durability, this machine is built to last thanks to its metal frame. Some of the working parts inside the machine are made of automotive-grade nylon, which helps reduce noise. The Janome also comes with a number of useful accessories such as a screwdriver, a small spool holder, a needle case, and more. That said, the drawer that holds these accessories is a bit undersized.
Editor's Note: Nov. 9, 2020
Due to its popularity, the Janome DC4030 may be out of stock. If you're looking for a similar machine, we'd recommend the Bernette 37.
When I was taking sewing classes at Santa Monica College, the school lab was full of Juki industrial machines, so I had high hopes. Fortunately, this home sewing machine definitely lives up to those high expectations. It’s a somewhat portable machine at 12.3 pounds and comes with a hard case for protection. This machine has an automatic buttonhole setting and a setting for bar-tack, which is a series of zigzag stitches, just in case you want to do it manually. The speed-control slider and pedal also allow for significant control while sewing.
This is a great machine for making pants and skirts. The cursor arrows allow you to adjust your needle in small increments, which is perfect for creating a blind-hem stitch. The blind-hem foot also makes a big difference, as it helps steer the fabric.
The Juki has a metal frame to which all moving parts are connected. This sturdy construction includes a metal hook that moves the thread. This is a plus, as plastic hooks tend to snap. Not all plastic is bad, though—there are some automotive-grade nylon gears on this machine, which help dampen the sound of metal on metal and create a more pleasant user experience.
Hi, my name is Lisa Lawrence, mom to an eight-year-old and freelance photographer for Reviewed. I live in Los Angeles, but I'm originally from New Jersey where my mom and I used to sew together when I was a kid. I went from making little gifts to Halloween costumes and then clothing. My mom taught me everything from fancy cuffs to spaghetti straps. Later, I took sewing at a community college, which led to an obsession with making my own patterns. I spent free-time quilting, and dreaming of a child. Now, I’m lucky enough to have a little girl to pass on my skills to, not to mention make dresses for. Sewing has been both a creative outlet and, when I’m not cursing my mistakes, a soothing comfort.
When it comes to sewing machines, there are a lot of moving parts. You’ve got mechanisms that grip the fabric, move the thread, and control the stitching speed. So, to gauge usability, we checked how easy it was to load the bobbin, adjust the stitch length, put the machine in reverse, and so on. For computerized models, we investigated how easy it was to navigate the LED screens. We also took noise level, build quality, and portability into consideration.
To test the performance of each machine, we straight-stitched four 12-inch squares of fabric together, repeating the process using lightweight cotton lawn, medium quilter’s cotton, heavy cotton canvas, and waxed cotton. Some machines struggled with certain fabrics while others tackled almost anything we threw at it. We also sewed a pouch for lip balm, drawstring bags, both automatic & manual buttonholes, and blind-hem stitches.
What You Should Know About Sewing Machines
Sewing Machine Basics
No matter what kind of sewing machine you choose to buy, the basic functionality will be the same.
On any sewing machine, you'll find two threads: one coming from a spool on the top of the machine and the other from the bobbin below the machine. These threads are threaded together to make a stitch. The fabric the stitch is being sewn into is held in place by the sewing machine's metal plate and pressure foot while the needle goes in. The feed-dog, a metal piece with teeth, then moves the fabric forward and makes space for the next stitch.
For mechanical models, the motor is controlled by a foot pedal. As for computerized models, the motor is controlled by a button when the pedal is disconnected. As a rule, machines with metal frames and parts typically last longer, as plastic tends to crack and warp over time.
Computerized vs Mechanical
Computerized and mechanical machines have their pros and cons. Computerized machines generally offer extra creative options, but cost more. Personally, I really like using the cursors on computerized models, which move the needle in small increments, simplifying the blind-hem stitch and making button-sewing easier. They have buttons to raise and lower the needle, which is convenient, especially when you turn corners. Computerized machines typically have a one-step buttonhole function whereas the mechanical version finishes after four steps. A computerized machine may come with more bells and whistles, but don’t worry, the extras aren’t very difficult to use.
Mechanical machines are easier to repair and more affordable. That said, a lower price tag means you're getting less of a machine. I could feel that difference while sewing. Computerized models offer more control and a smoother sewing experience. If you're working with a flexible budget, I'd recommend springing for a computerized machine.
Basic Sewing Terms
A Presser Foot is an attachment that holds the fabric in place while the needle pulls the thread. Machines come with an assortment of basic feet, which can handle straight stitches, zig-zags, and buttonholes. You can change out the feet as needed since each is designed to help you complete various tasks like adding a zipper or finishing a hem.
The bobbin sits inside the sewing machine. It’s designed to be loaded with the thread that provides the underside stitch-line.
The feed dog helps move the fabric across the needle stitch plate, a removable metal shield where the fabric slides across. It has a set of metal teeth that grip the underside of the fabric. Most sewing machines allow you to move the feed dog up and down via a switch. Lowering feed dog releases the grip on the fabric, which is good for sewing a button or doing freehand work. Raising the feed dog grips the fabric and is good for straight stitching.
A blind hem stitch is a sewing technique in which the stitch is sewn into the folded area of a hem, effectively hiding the thread.
Other Sewing Machines We Tested
This Bernette makes a strong first impression thanks to its attractive design. However, this machine is more than just a pretty face. It comes with presser feet, an accessories holder, and a second spool pin (for holding more thread). It also has a 7mm stitch width, which is the widest I've seen.
That said, I have one minor nitpick: the machine doesn't come with a blind hem foot, which means you'll need to order it separately. If you're a novice, you'll really need this foot in your toolbox. Aside from this drawback, this is a great machine for beginners.
The Brother HC1850 comes with a number of helpful accessories and is super portable thanks to its compact size and built-in handle. This computerized machine is great for specifically making buttonholes, as it has eight different buttonhole styles. It also comes with several presser feet and needles for different thicknesses of fabric.
It's worth noting that the user manual is for many different Brother machines. Although you'll find the Brother HC1850 in there, it's not dedicated to the specific model on your table, which is a little annoying. This is a minuscule nitpick but the winding post is made of plastic, which could be a clue to what you might find inside the machine (more plastic parts than needed). Minor drawbacks aside, it's a good entry-level machine, as it's both reliable and affordable.
The Bernette 35 is nicely designed. My favorite thing about it is its hinged accessories drawer, which is easy to access. The machine also comes with seven presser feet, three bobbins, a needle set, and so on. While I like the number of accessories and the drawer that holds them, the sewing experience is a little rough.
Unfortunately, its foot pedal sensitivity is weak. To get the machine to move the fabric across the plate, you have to press down pretty hard. When it comes to thick fabrics, a slower speed must be maintained for even stitch-lengths. A fast stitch held at full throttle puts out uneven stitch-lengths, which results in an inconsistent look. This machine also struggles to pass over thick spots where layers of fabric are folded into seams.
The Brother CS6000I comes with nine presser feet, several needles for different types of fabrics, and a roomy drawer to store everything in. It's lightweight and portable, but the plastic exterior feels a little flimsy. It's also a computerized machine, so you'll be using the LCD display to select your stitch length and width. While I like working with computerized machines because they simplify blind-hem stitches, the operating menu on this specific machine takes some getting used to. That said, I was still able to complete all of the projects outlined in this guide's section.
If you're looking for an inexpensive machine to practice on, look no further than the Brother CS6000I.
The Janome Mod 19 is a solid choice for those on a tight budget. With its metal hook race and frame, it's more durable than most of the mechanical machines in this guide. This machine comes with a zipper foot, a buttonhole foot, a needle set, and more. It also includes a four-step buttonhole, which is nice because you don't have to make any additional purchases. The five-piece feed dog is lower in quality compared to the Janome DC4030P’s seven-piece feed dog system but functions well enough. As for the pedal, it's capable of about three different speeds, the highest of which is not very fast but fine for a beginner. The stitch lines are a little erratic on the bobbin side, but this isn't surprising given it's a lower-end machine.
The Juki HZL-27Z is a good machine for the price. Made of metal and nylon parts, this machine delivers a smooth and relatively quiet sewing experience. Weighing just over sixteen pounds, it's lightweight and portable. Plus, its compact form factor makes it easy to store. As for the accessories, the Juki comes with 22 stitch patterns, a standard presser foot, and a buttonhole presser foot. The hinged drawer that holds these accessories is on the smaller side but is easy to open. Just so you're aware, there's no button sewing function. Depending on what you plan on sewing, this may or may not be a deal-breaker. Also, instead of straight-line stitches, this machine produces angles one. This may indicate a mechanism that's slightly offset inside the machine.
I struggled with this Singer sewing machine. I failed to wind the bobbin multiple times as the thread was loose and only wound around the bottom half. When I tried a buttonhole stitch, I had to forcefully pull the fabric in order to complete it. While making a drawstring bag, the machine struggled with the layered seams and the bobbin side thread kept piling up. Additionally, the feed dog doesn’t drop below the needle plate. This means you can't control the stitch length or do any freehand work.
Passionate about art and anything hand-made, Lisa Lawrence is a mother, photographer, & writer in Los Angeles. After graduating from UCLA with a Bachelor’s in English she worked at a middle school for two years helping kids to find their voice.
Our team is here for one purpose: to help you buy the best stuff and love what you own. Our writers, editors, and lab technicians obsess over the products we cover to make sure you're confident and satisfied. Have a different opinion about something we recommend? Email us and we'll compare notes.