Hot! What Sewing Machine Should I Buy?

image from farm3.static.flickr.com When my sewing machine (a Brother SE350) broke last week, my first instinct was just to repair the machine. I will still do that, but I've also been giving thought about buying a new machine. Sewing has become really more than just a hobby for me, just as The Sew Weekly is more than just a blog I write for myself. It would make total sense to upgrade my machine considering that sewing plays such a big role in my life now. 

That brings me to my next question. What machines should I look at buying? I know that Berninas are supposed to be wonderful but that's just based on comments I've seen in the past. What about Janomes? What's the difference between all the machines out there? I do know that I'd like to have an embroidery component to my machine but perhaps my Brother (when fixed) would be sufficient. 

What do you all think?

Author

Mena Trott

Mena Trott started The Sew Weekly to document her attempt to sew all of her own clothes in 2010. Since then, she's made over 125 outfits and has way more clothes than she needs.

47 Comments

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  1. Janome is my favorite!

  2. I have a Bernina 1015, which I’ve had for over 20 years. I love it! It doesn’t do embroidery, but it sews beautifully. I think it was made in Switzerland, whereas now they are made in China. But I love Bernina!
    Amanda
    PS your dresses last week are amazing! Well done!

  3. I have my Mom’s Bernina, which must be at least 25 years old. It is the Holy Grail of sewing machines in my opinion. It’s a workhorse and has never, never, never had a single problem. I would highly recommend taking a gander at “vintage” Berninas.

  4. I have no input, but I will be following these comments closely. I have an entry-level Singer but if I keep sewing as much as I have been lately I will eventually want to upgrade (and maybe eventually pass this machine along to my daughter to learn on…) & so I want to see what other people say as well… xo

  5. I just got a Husqvarna Viking 118 for my birthday a few months ago. I was using a Singer before that was about 10 years old. It was not in good condition. I LOVE my Husyvarna. It sews like a dream.

  6. I own both a Bernina QE 153 and a basic Janome (the Janome Jem Gold). When I bought these machines 10 years ago I was convinced (from researching online) that Bernina was the best machine and the only one I should buy. I didn’t even look at other brands! I think that was a mistake if only because I felt some serious buyer’s remorse after buying the Bernina! The Bernina is a great machine – solid, sturdy, sews beautifully but very expensive. I love the machine but I still think that I could have purchased a Janome with more features than the Bernina for less money.
    (The question is do I really need the features – probably not!) My advice is to try a few different machines and really give them a good test run.

  7. I have a Bernina Activa 230, which means that it’s the third model from the most basic. I went to a Bernina dealer to try out the machines, and I refused to look at any of the more advanced machines because I was so overwhelmed by the myriad of features. This won’t be your problem, of course, since you’re an experienced seamstress and know what you’re looking for. I was the veritable babe in the sewing woods.
    Berninas ARE on the pricey side, but they’re work horses. They’re pure bred Clydesdales with matching bridles and red plumes on their heads, if you get my meaning. My simple Bernina does 70 different stitches with the capacity to embroider letters etc. (Is that what you mean by embroidery?)Since you use your machine so much I would go for something that will go the distance…in my humble, newb opinion.

  8. My friends and I all use Pfaffs. Up here in Vancouver, BC, Canada, all the high schools are outfitted with Pfaffs. If they can last through years and years of 13 year olds mucking them up every day with limited servicing (because the education budget is cut down a bit every year), I have to say that it’s a pretty good brand. I’m really happy with my Pfaff Expression 2.0. It’s amazing!

  9. I will second that! I LOVE my Husyvarna. It is a workhorse.

  10. A couple of years ago, I decided to upgrade from my mom’s 30-year-old Kenmore, which I’d been using for 20 years, to a Viking Sapphire 830. I am in LOVE with it. I think if you go with any of the top-of-the-line computerized machines, you’ll love it. I think it’s just a matter of what your brand preference is. I have a Brother PE 700II for embroidery. I prefer separate machines. And yes,
    I kept my mom’s old metal workhorse for my daughter to use.

  11. I have an approx. 35-40 year old Pfaff industrial straight stitch that I absolutely adore. I feel like it really stepped up my sewing when I got it, the only large downside is the room needed for industrials! I also have a domestic Janome, as well as a Janome serger. I’ve had them for about 6-8 years now, they were very well priced. I do have to get them serviced about once a year to maintain the timing etc, but I tend to use them quite heavily.
    I would love to upgrade my domestic someday to one with more embroidery and quilting features, but I find shopping for a new machine pretty overwhelming. I’d love to hear more about your experience!

  12. i’m a pfaff girl, personally. i have a 7570… already something like 20+ years old, i plan on it lasting me at least another decade. it’s definitely a workhorse & it has some neat features (in addition to the weird embroidery stitches that everyone ~*~loves~*~ but no one ever uses LOL) – my favorite is the built in walking foot/dual feed. also running close behind: the automatic tension (!!!) and the red blinky light that alerts you when the bobbin is running low. i think most of these features are pretty standard with pfaffs.
    i would not recommend a janome. they are ok, but i wouldn’t sink money into one. i was gifted my mom’s janome new home when she upgraded… the machine was only about 10 years old & i already had to replace it with the pfaff because the pieces were rubbing together so much they were wearing down. and this wasn’t a cheapie – i think mom paid about $600 for it new! at any rate, it just always felt a little cheap & squeaky. upgrading to that pfaff was an incredible experience, to say the least.

  13. Here another Pfaff lover. I have the pfaff 2134 and love everything about it. It can sew, but also be turned into an embroidery machine (which I hardly ever use though, I have to be honest about that. Turns out I am less of an embroidery person than I thought). But I’d say picking a sewing machine, especially when you are as advanced as you, is very personal. If I were you I would think hard and write down every feature you really, really want to have on your machine. If you figured that out, I’d go to a dealer, take some fabrics, and try some machines. That way you can feel how they sew, you can look close and pick one that absolutely fits your needs and wants.
    Good luck with deciding! It’s kind of fun also, don’t you think? An exciting process, it almost felt like finding some sort of mate for me, with butterflies and all *grin*

  14. I have 2 vintage Singer Featherweight machines from the 40s/50s that I love and would trade for anything. They don’t do embroidery, but they have great attachments like buttonholers, rufflers/pleaters/, binders, etc. that are all amazing. Super easy to repair/maintain yourself.

  15. I admit, I have been wondering the same thing. My own Brother is beginning to wear out a little, so I have been eyeing up the Brother embroidery machines.
    But, I would say that IF you can (not all of us have the ability) then you should definitely get to a dealer and try them out :) And I will wait with bated breath to see what you learn ;)

  16. I have a Bernina 350 PE and I absolutely love it, I really do! Berninas are what they usually have in schools/colleges here in the UK. But equally Janome are excellent too. They are just a bit cheaper than a Bernina.

  17. I have a Janome DC4030. I LOVE IT. LOVE IT, LOVE IT, LOVE IT. I’ve sewn apparel, reupholstered my husband’s truck seat, and so forth. I haven’t met something it won’t sew, yet. It easily sews through two layers of cotton webbing with an additional 4-6 layers of quilting fabric. It is a great machine and priced decently at about $400.

  18. I found this sewmamasew.com list very helpful for when I was choosing a sewing machine:
    http://sewmamasew.com/blog2/2009/07/sewing-machine-master-list/
    Each link is to a blog post from various sewers in blogland where they answer a survey about why they enjoy (or don’t enjoy) their sewing machine. Hopefully the models you’re interested in are listed! It’s from 2009 so the newer models might not be on there. But at least you could look at posts about similar models in the same line.

  19. My first machine was a Pfaff Calendra on which I had to make manual buttonholes with the zig-zag. Next, I got a Singer Stylist with a built-in buttonholer. That machine died after 10 years of constant use. I upgraded next to an Elna Carina SU 66, a fantastic machine that was destroyed by an unscrupulous mechanic. I replaced that with a Viking 400, a real workhorse with occasional temperment. My latest, most expensive and most complicated is a Janome 6600P.
    As for Bernina, I took a few classes in which we practiced on Berninas. Yes, they were nice, but frankly they weren’t quite as responsive as my Elna at the time, not to mention they were twice as expensive and the accessories were prohibitively expensive.
    I’ve sewn on a lot of different brands through the years. They’re all good. Just get a machine that “feels right” to your particular sewing.
    No one can tell you what feels right to you. The moment I test drove that Janome, I knew it was “the” one for me. It was three years before I was able to buy it. It was worth the wait.

  20. Joy aka mrs.paste

    I’ve found it really helpful to buy a brand that a dealer carries nearby. If you have any questions or problems, it’s super handy to run on over for a chat! Also, try some out if you can. You know what you want things to feel like. I always thought I wanted a Bernina until I took a quilting class with a lady who had one. The whirr of the machine drove me nuts!

  21. My repair guy said that the new Berninas are made in China and that there is basically only one or two companies that make all of the machines under different brands and price points.
    Me? I love my 40 year old Bernina. If I had to buy a new machine, I’d look for one of the old mechanicals. I have a Viking #1+ that does the stuff that my Bernina doesn’t do but I still prefer working on the Bernina.
    At school I use a single needle straight stitch industrial. It is amazing how much you can do with just a straight stitch!

  22. I love my Janome! I had a very poorly made Singer for my first machine and I’m convinced it was the reason I didn’t enjoy sewing the first time around. Although I’m sure there are better/bigger/greater machines than my Janome, it works like a charm and I don’t end up in tears using it. And as many have said before me, the price can’t be beat.

  23. Love, love my Pfaff 6150 it is about 12 years old and has only been service once. It goes thru thick fabric and layers of fabric with no trouble at all. I had a basic Singer for 20 years, but it did not compare to my Pfaff.

  24. I here brother is great machine. I use Barudan its a commercial machine

  25. Threads magazine had an article some years back about how to test drive a machine. I thought it was really nifty and I think it’s up on their website now. They also featured current models but that part of the piece probably isn’t as helpful now.
    I also am looking for a machine and have been reading the comments with interest.

  26. judy roberson

    HI Mena,
    I have a Janome sewing machine and I love it.I sewed on ebay and it run evryday for several hours a day for 6-7 yrs.. and it still runs just as smooth and quiet..I love it.It is not as pricey as the berdinas are.. It’s my choice.
    I also have a singer futura embroidery machine that will also convert to a regular sewing machine.But I have it hooked up to my computer [because I can download all my embroidery designs from the computer to the machine] So I never use it to just sew.. It is a wonderful embroidery machine and has lots of extras.
    Hope you find a good machine..

  27. I’ve been searching for a new machine myself, I have an ancient singer (which are really better than the modern ones) and need to upgrade. From all the reading and researching and shopping I have done I’m finally settled on the Bernina Aurora 430. It has embroidery capabilities but is the least expensive of their embroidery capable models. A lot of garment sewers swear by it as the exact machine types like us love. I actually caught wind of it when Gertie posted that she was shopping them too.
    Also I hate Janomes because they keep sewing a few stitches after you take your foot off the pedal. I teach at a sewing studio/school and I hate the ones we have in the studio. It is a personal preference I think but I can’t stand that the response from the pedal isn’t right on. Also they are made of a lot of the same parts as a brother. Some of them are virtually the same machine on the inside so if you currently have a brother it’s not a step up at all.
    Personally I need a machine with substance, heavy and made of metal parts so its stable and tough. You will only get that with a vintage machine, Bernina, and Viking which are made with the old school engineering.

  28. Another Vancouverite here. I *love* my Pfaff. I’ve got an Expression 3.0 and it does everything I want and more with 90 stitches and a decent sized neck (for quilting). I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

  29. I have both a Janome machine and overlocker and have never had any problems with either. That said… in my dream world I’d have an industrial machine! I used industrial machines at college.. and the speed you can so at is incredible. When I first started sewing again on my home sewer, I was like ‘what the’… speed up damned it! If I sewed as much as you I’d look into an industrial (you might find them second hand from factories closing down etc.. (you’d still need your home sewer for embroidery and fancy stitching.)

  30. I have the same machine and I also love it! I test-stitched with Janomes and Brothers, and I have to say that Bernina had the best stitch quality of the three BY FAR, which is why I ultimately decided to get one.

  31. My Pfaff machine is nearly 20 years old, and I love it. When it does die, I will probably replace it with a Janome, they are the highest selling machines here in Australia, they have a great range to choose from and a variety of price tags. I have never used an industrial machine, but I think Casey is right, with the amount of sewing you do they might be an option.
    Looking forward to reading about your decision – good luck!

  32. Bernina. Bernina 1230, to be precise. Some embroidery, not a lot, but the smoothest, best designed machine I’ve ever had. I’m somewhat of a throwback. I love the Singer Featherweight. I love the Singer 325 K, a metal bodies workhorse with cams.
    In the 80s I bought a top of the line machine from Sears and hated it. Called it the Snarl-O-Matic. When I bought the Bernina, used, I entered the era of sewing without effort. Also discovered that the one place the Bernina said to oil was not on Snarly’s list. when Snarly was oiled there, he behaved beautifully. I passed him on to a niece gratefully.
    Bernina. Used. but don’t give up your old faithful machine either.

  33. I figured I’d throw my 2 cents worth into the machine debate : ) I’ve used Bernina machines for years. My mom bought her first one, a Bernina 840, in 1974. It sews through 8 layers of denim without blinking, will go immediately to tulle and then to a knit without a hiccup. I bought a 940 when I graduated college in 1984 and have used it steadily since. I’ve run large professional costume shops and when the industrials stop working in the middle of a heavy build period (and they always do!) I pull out the Bernina’s and keep going.
    Back in 1996, over our Christmas/new years break at school there was a little ‘event’ that flooded the costume shop. Everything was under five feet of water. The machines were on tables that were overturned and hit the floor where they stayed, underwater, until the area could be drained days later. They were completely soaked, filled with a fine silt that had been brought up from a sink hole under the building. I sent them out to see if they could be salvaged. They were dried out, tuned up and oiled and have worked PERFECTLY ever since!
    I’ve used the newer models but here is the major difference – those controlled by computer chips stitch differently than those without(mechanical). While its lovely to be able to embroider three different versions of the alphabet and 60 borders at the touch of a button what I really want/need is the machine to go and go. All Bernina’s make beautiful button holes, some do it easier than others. The rest is all filler and fancy. When you have to make 20+ outfits a week, fancy filler isn’t necessary or useful.
    Test drive whatever machines you consider and take in your OWN fabrics, don’t use the very starched cotton swatches they choose. Use a denim, then a lightweight cotton, then a knit to see if the machine can handle the change in texture and weight. Ask if you can use a machine for a few days to just sew with (I’ve never had a problem test driving one). Good luck and have fun!

  34. Like many others, I have a vintage Bernina. Very worthwhile, it stitches wonderfully! I really prefer vintage machines to new ones — they’re sturdier, and their stitch quality is far better. But of course, you won’t get embroidery features from a vintage machine.

  35. Alright, as a Bernina owner I’m partial to this brand and found it hard to believe it was being made in China since the company prides themselves on being Swiss.
    I went to their website and this is what I found:
    “A company located in Steckborn, Switzerland, that manufacturers high quality sewing machines. lt was founded over 100 years ago and remains family owned and operated to this day. BERNINA manufactures sewing machines for all types of sewing in our Steckborn facility as well as in our Swiss-owned Thailand plant.”
    Then I called my local Bernina dealer and they assured me that the sewing machines are made in Switzerland.
    All I can say is that there are alot of wonderful companies manufacturing awesome machines out there for all types of people.
    I have a Bernina Activa 145 purchased in 2002 (lower end) and it has never failed me and continues to amaze me. It needs no serious maintenance and purrs. Love.

  36. I’m going to put in a vote for an industrial single needle Juki (if you have the space, it’s won’t fit into a closet unless you have a very large closet). The industrials take a bit of getting used to, they sew very fast and the presser foot is release by a knee bar but once you get used to them other machines feel like slow dinosaurs. They only sew forwards and backwards (no zig zags or embroidery) and are much stronger than home machine, they can sew through many layers of thick material without straining and their stitch quality is top notch. SF is a great place to find reconditioned Juki’s for the $350-$500 range. I yearn for one of my own but severely lack the space in my wee house.

  37. I love my Viking! She’s a newish mechanical model. Very sturdy and never skips a stich. I used a Singer for years and I thought it was pretty tough, but Gladys, my Viking, is way tougher. The only thing I dislike is that Gladys makes not so pretty buttonholes. Other than that, she can do anything.

  38. I have a newer, electronic, made in Switzerland Bernina that I got used for a couple hundred dollars. Yes, it is a workhorse but I don’t love it as much as my 1960′s Viking. The Bernina sews nicely, but I find it’s hard to program the buttonholes (which is why I bought it) and it just doesn’t have a nice sound, plus it’s plasticy and I prefer dials to menus. The other disadvantage is that I like to use different feet (walking, roller, edgestitching, pinucking) and they are all SO expensive. I rarely use the embroidery stitches, and I actually like some of the mechanical ones on my Viking more.
    My problem with most new machines is that you have to get the very high end ones or you are stuck with something made in Thailand or China with pretty poor quality. (This is my experience with Pfaff, for example.) A lot of sewing machine repair people say that anything made in Japan is a pretty good bet (that includes most of the Janomes). The best thing to do is play the field before you commit !

  39. I don’t know about California, but the Texas State Fair has TONS of sewing machine dealers. I was planning on shopping for a new one then where I could try out a bunch of different brands in one place.

  40. I have a Brother Industrial which I got years ago for about $A500. They are superfast and take a bit of getting used to initially, but you would never go back. They are so gutsy and powerful and did I mention fast! The knee lift is great! Leaves your hands free to manipulate the fabric. They only do straight (plain) stitch, so you may need a domestic machine for zig zag, button holes, lingerie stitches or of course embroidery, they are very heavy – difficult to get out of my old house on 3 levels to our new house – up 50 steps! The machine head sits in an oil bath, within the table – don’t be deterred, you can get a mechanic to cone and service them. A good idea if you buy a second hand one. I have an old Elna contessa domestic which is very good and needs servicing every year if I use it heavily (which I don’t anymore). Go and have a go on someone’s industrial and don’t be scared!!

  41. My Singer 8600 broke after 25 years and basically I learned the plastic parts just wore out. My second machine was a 1952 Singer 15-91, i picked that up at a garage sale for $35 and it sews like a dream, even through leather.
    I thought it was time to go modern, after researcher between Bernina and Elna. I bought and absolutely love my 6400 Elna, the design of the machine is so organized, it comes with an assortment of feet and the manual has excellent directions. Additional feet attachments are very affordable, they average about 1/2 the price of Bernina feet. I loved the Élan so much, I went out and bought their Serger.
    I still have my

  42. No doubt…BERNINA forever!!!

  43. Annie grumbles.

    I have a Bernina Activa 230. I love it! Sometimes I wish it were more mechanical and not so automated, but it sews beautiful. I have heard amazing things about vintage Berninas and am keeping my eyes peeled for one. The woman who taught me to sew has been using her Bernina for 40 years and it still works just as well as it did from the start.

  44. Not in Canada, but I’ve got a Pfaff Expression 2.0, too, and I *love* the thing. I actually miss it when I’m not using it.

  45. I have no input, but I will be following these comments closely. I have an entry-level Singer but if I keep sewing as much as I have been lately I will eventually want to upgrade. We (Singer India) also the Manufacturers different type of Sewing Machines .

  46. niki dawson, uk

    Last year i found myself in a similar situation – my super (but very very basic) toyota machine that was my 16th Birthday present (14 years ago!) gave up the ghost, and i decided after much research to go to my local sewing shop and try some out. I settled on a Viking Emerald 203, but it was a close run between that and a Bernina 1008s. The husqvarna won primarily because of its range of features and I am really pleased with it – it does a lot of sewing (i run an alterations and repairs business from home) and haven’t had any problems with it – it can manage 8 layers of denim without skipping, and that makes me happy!! Despite my happiness, i do still lust after a solid vintage Bernina. but I can’t yet justify the expense…one day maybe, one day…!

  47. My previous comment was lost. Some people love Berninas, but many people I know who sew professionally think they’re ridiculously overpriced. I’ve heard good things about Janome, and for industrials, Juki, if you want a good straightstitch.
    It depends on what kind of sewing you do. No matter what, the machine won’t sew for you.