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A Guide to Choosing a Quilter's Sewing Machine

Summary

Choosing a Quilter's Sewing Machine can be daunting. So many choices and options! Let this guide clear the haze and help you make the right choices for you.

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A Guide to Choosing a Quilter's Sewing Machine

I learned to sew on my mother's 1970's Kenmore sewing machine. It had individual cams that could be added to a peg on the top of the machine to make lots of different types of stitch designs. Making button holes was always tricky, and there were quite a few different machine feet that I never did discover what they were used for. But every four years mom would upgrade her sewing machines through her local fabric shop. I loved it when she got her new machine! I was always just as excited as she was to play with her new apparatus.

A Guide to Choosing a Quilter's Sewing Machine

 

My husband bought me my first sewing machine during our first Christmas together. Mom and I kind of discovered quilting together. I found out that the new sewing machine I owned was not the greatest for quilting. It was a small, basic sewing machine with small throat space and the feet that came with the machine were designed for sewing clothing.

Over the past twenty-five years of quilting I have pin-pointed the major needs that a new quilter will want in a sewing machine that performs best for quilters. I am not going to name sewing machine brands as everyone has their personal favorite.

 

  1. Believe it or not, you don't need a sewing machine that has all the bells and whistles like digital screens, tons of feet, and costs more than your first house!
  2. I tell my friends and students to let the sewing machine sales person know that you are looking for a nice, lighter-weight machine that is portable enough for quilt classes but heavy duty enough for everyday home use. A lighter-weight machine does not mean it has to be small and impractical to use.
Rolling Tote

 

  1. See what types of stitches the sewing machine offers. A gaggle of stitches just isn't terribly necessary. Many of us long-time quilters have never even used more than a few different stitches that are available on our machines.
    • The three main stitches that are used are: the straight stitch, the zig-zag stitch that can be altered for width and length, and the blanket stitch.
  2. You'll find a 'drop-in' bobbin easy to use. This type of bobbin use is found on top of the machine's bed near the pressure foot and does not need a separate bobbin case, versus a bobbin that does need a bobbin case and is inserted into the front of the machine's bed.
  3. A sewing machine with the capability of positioning the needle to the right or left of middle is very useful. This allows you to quilt in increments from the edge of the stitching foot you've chosen to use - even the ¼" seam allowance used in quilting.
  4. Having a sewing machine with a 'needle up-or-down' button comes in handy. Using the button for the needle down position when you stop stitching is especially nice for machine applique and machine quilting. Your fabric doesn't shift underneath your needle, and you can turn corners or rotate your quilt top easily.
  5. Always check to see if the sewing machine has a switch at the rear of the machine that will let you lower the feed dogs. This ability is much easier than having to use a separate cover that needs to be placed over the feed dogs to allow you to machine quilt. So much easier!
Machine Diagram

 

  1. Tired of finding your scissors to clip threads at the end of a seam? Look for a machine that has an automatic thread cutter. Not only does this added bonus save you on thread, but it keeps your piecing and quilting much cleaner.
  2. Many sewing machines are built with easy needle threaders in which you press a lever to lower a threader to the eye of the needle, wrap the thread, and quickly release the lever. But you can actually find machines that have instant needle threaders that work with the simple downward push of a button on the head of the sewing machine. The instant needle threaders are not found on your basic sewing machines.
  3. Look at the throat width of the sewing machine you are considering purchasing. Get the largest throat width possible for your money. When it comes to machine quilting your own quilt top this will be important, especially when working on large bed quilts.
  4. Speed Control is a great feature. This will allow you to conveniently stitch at a very slow speed if needed for applique stitching, or at a faster speed to get down those long borders.
  5. Many sewing machines offer a 'free arm'. Usually you just flip aside a part of the machine's bed and are left with a narrower bed to use for sewing in tighter spaces such as the mouth of a small purse.
  6. It sounds like common sense, but you'll want to look for a sewing machine that lets you place large spools of thread, possibly even cone size, on the spool holder. Don't pass up a sewing machine if it does not allow for housing cone-size spools of thread, but make sure it holds beefier sizes of spools and not just small or thin spools.
  7. Take a good look at the bed of the sewing machine. How much actual quilting space does it give you? A lightweight machine is great, but also consider that going too lightweight might mean you forgo adequate machine bed space for piecing and machine quilting. As stated previously above, too lightweight could mean the machine is too small and inadequate. Some machines come with extended beds, or you can purchase extended beds that are made to fit your specific sewing machine.
  8. These three sewing machine feet are must-haves for quilters: a ¼" foot; a walking foot; and a darning foot (or quilting foot). Some machine packages may come with one or more of these feet, or not at all. Definitely ask to have these three feet thrown in for free with the purchase of your machine! But most sewing machine brands offer these feet for decent pricing.
Singer Featherweight

 

All this being said I have to admit that one of my very favorite sewing machine for piecing my quilt blocks is my vintage 1932 Singer 221 Featherweight! This precious, lightweight black antique runs like a dream, sounds like a purring kitten, and stitches magnificently. Never discount those older sewing machines you may run across at a yard sale or estate sale - they are the forerunners of our magical, computerized, huge sewing machines. Remember, Grandma did a right fine job of quilting on her family treadle machine!

 

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Glossary

Applique
Attaching individual pieces of fabric to a background to form a design.

Same As: Appliqué


See Also: Freezer Paper Applique, Needleturn Applique, Machine Applique, Reverse Applique, Shadow Applique
Bobbin
A spool or reel that holds thread or yarn for spinning, weaving, knitting, sewing, or making lace.
Cutter
A quilt that is so badly damaged or worn that it's only purpose now is to be cut up for other craft projects.
Feed Dogs
The mechanical teeth under the area of a sewing machine which move to pull the fabric through the machine. For free motion quilting or embroidery or needle darning these feed dogs are lowered or covered.
Foot
Accessories that are available for sewing machines and are especially made for quilting.
Machine Applique
Attaching fabric onto a fabric foundation using machine stitching instead of hand stitching.

See Also: Freezer Paper Applique, Needleturn Applique, Reverse Applique, Shadow Applique, Applique
Machine Quilting
Creating quilting stitches on a quilt using a sewing machine instead of sewing them by hand.
Piecing
The process of assembling quilt blocks from pieces of fabric sewn along their edges to form a whole.

See Also: English Paper Piecing, Assembly Piecing, Machine Piecing, Chain Piecing, Paper Piecing, Hand Piecing
Press
Method of using an iron to press seams and blocks. This means simply pressing downwards on the seam with the iron from above and not moving the iron back and forth which can distort the block or seam.
Quilt Top
The top layer of a quilt Sandwich.
Seam Allowance
The width of fabric left to the right of a sewn seam. In quilting this is traditionally 1/4 inch. For sewing garments it is usually 5/8 inch.
Walking Foot
A special foot which can be attached to a sewing machine which helps to feed the top layer of a quilt fabric sandwich evenly with the feed dogs feeding the bottom fabric.
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