As you move deeper into the quilting hobby, you’ll discover many kinds of specialized equipment.
Sewing machines are certainly no exception.
Different types of sewing machines are suited to various tasks.
Like most people, you probably started quilting with a standard domestic-use sewing machine model.
As you develop your skills, though, you may wish to invest in more advanced equipment.
To spend your money wisely, you’ll need to understand everything about different sewing machine models.
This knowledge helps you know what you need to get the results that you want.
What Kind of Sewing Machine Do I Need?
The standard sewing machine you see for sale at craft stores and big-box retailers offers a good all-purpose option for basic household sewing.
These basic sewing machines can be bare bones or have plenty of bells and whistles, depending on the model you select. They perform most jobs in an acceptable manner, including quilting projects.
However, your standard machine is not ideal for quilting. You will feel like you’re struggling to stuff a big bulky quilt through a standard machine.
This issue slows you down because you’ll need to adjust fabric often and carefully. Additionally, a regular sewing machine might wear out before its time if it must continuously work on quilted layers.
To overcome these issues, sewing machines for quilting have options like these:
- Wider throat space between needle and body of the machine
- Extension table to add more workspace
- Quarter-inch piecing foot as a standard accessory
- Free motion foot as a standard accessory
- More built-in decorative stitches
- Fasting stitching speeds
- Greater machine stability
As you increase your understanding of the types of sewing equipment, you’ll know what to look for when comparing different sewing machine types.
Many quilt projects call for small one-quarter-inch seams, which makes the quarter-inch piecing foot very desirable. If you mostly sew quilts for beds, then the larger work area enabled by wide throat space and an extension table will take some of the hard work out of a fun project.
On the other hand, if you expect to use your sewing machine for basic sewing tasks, then a quilting machine may not interest you as much. A regular workaday machine will perform well for mending, sewing kids’ clothes or Halloween costumes, and the occasional quilt project.
21 Types of Sewing Machines You Need to Know About
By the early 1800s, inventors in Great Britain and the United States were securing the first patents on actual sewing machines.
For the rest of the 19th century, models became available for the home market. They were quite popular considering the alternative of hand stitching everything.
People ran hand-operated sewing machines by turning a wheel on the right of the machine. This necessity left only one hand to manage fabric, and of course, one’s arm would become tired.
These days such vintage machines are compelling for antique collectors or people who like to try heritage skills. Off-grid survivalists might appreciate a hand-operated machine because it doesn’t need electricity, but even then, a treadle sewing machine would be a better choice.
In the era when sewing machines relied on human power, the treadle machine was a big step up from the hand-operated one.
This design freed both hands to work the fabric while your feet worked the pedals below the machine. The process would have been a bit of a workout, but it could stitch faster than earlier machines run by hand cranking.
Upon entering the age of electricity, manufacturers produced many standard models meant for household use.
Powered by electric motors, they spared users from cranking or pedaling. Today they remain the affordable choice for hobbyists who only need something to straight stitch or zigzag.
The term “mechanical” describes how the internal workings of the sewing machine are managed. With a mechanical device, you manually turn a knob, flip a switch, or work a lever to adjust things like thread tension or stitch size.
There are no electronic components beyond the motor. A standard hobby machine or an industrial-grade machine might be mechanical.
These are more complex machines with built-in electronics for managing the various functions.
Electronic sewing machines typically have far more stitch options and settings than a basic mechanical machine. LCD screens are commonly needed for navigating menu options.
A computer oversees the motor operation, but the machine is not computerized in the sense that you can input new data or patterns.
For a sewing machine to reproduce embroidery patterns or follow other customizable formats, greater computerization becomes necessary. You can upload patterns to a computerized machine for it to follow.
A higher price tag will accompany a machine with an extensive menu of built-in options, like hundreds of decorative stitches and multiple buttonhole sizes.
These advanced sewing machines include LCD displays for menu navigation and programming.
Miniature sewing machines are marketed as learning machines for children or portable sewing machines for attending to mending emergencies.
They may be very small versions of a regular sewing machine or a scaled-down handheld version.
Either way, their functions are limited, and their durability dubious. If you plan on starting a quilting hobby, a mini model has little to nothing to offer you.
An industrial sewing machine takes you to levels beyond weekend hobbyists. Many special types of sewing machines can be industrial grade.
An industrial version of a standard model will have a stronger motor, greater stitching speed, and more robust hardware. They are built for extensive use and are a solid choice if you plan to start a sewing business.
At the industrial level, you get consistently uniform stitches and the ability to manage fabrics of all kinds and thicknesses.
An industrial model can take on large quilting projects and perform well for many years. As you would expect, their prices reflect these capabilities.
A serger runs with 3 to 8 spools of thread to create serge, or overlock, stitching. You can recognize a serged seam by the overlapping chain stitches along a neatly trimmed edge.
A serger sewing machine automatically builds the multi-thread stitches that loop over fabric edges. Serge stitching prevents fraying and produces an attractive and strong edge on the inside of a seam.
They are handy for quilters when piecing together blocks. The machines are fast and result in strong and professional-looking seams.
A dedicated flat seam machine will likely be an industrial model, although you could find a flat seam machine for home use.
This type of sewing machine works well for joining knit fabrics. In a flat seam, the fabric edges do not exactly overlap as with other seams.
These machines are similar to sergers in that they produce overlocking stitches that span the edges of the fabric and hold them together. They typically use nylon thread but can operate with poly-cotton threads.
This term applies to sewing machines that build stitches with one needle and two threads.
One comes through the top of the fabric and is locked with the bottom bobbin thread.
You’ll see this label on industrial machines built for dedicated straight stitching and heavy use. They are common in garment manufacturing.
If you need to add decorative elements or often bind or hem fabrics, then a cover stitch sewing machine is the special tool for the job.
They have a variety of settings that let you adjust the width of the cover stitches. This equipment excels at hemming knit fabrics. When you want professional results on any hems, use a cover stitch machine.
As the name says, this sewing machine style has a long arm so that you can work efficiently on large quilts.
The machine has the power to deal with multiple fabric layers all day while giving you plenty of room to maneuver fabric.
They come in basic mechanical models or computerized models that can execute pattern programs.
Size and technical complexity determine the price, but all of them cost more than your standard sewing machine.
A chain stitch sewing machine creates decorative stitching that looks more like embroidery than just stitches.
The machine loops the thread back over itself multiple times to form links in the chain.
These machines may have one or two needles. If you plan on adding decorative elements to your projects, chain stitches can produce striking effects.
Similar in functionality to a serger machine, a dedicated safety stitch machine will run with two needles and five spools of thread. Two threads make a chain stitch, and three threads make an overlock stitch. They work together to connect a seam and finish the edge neatly at the same time.
Most sewing machines have a flat work area that you move fabric across horizontally.
This flat area works great for many applications, but it’s not so great when you sew a glove or hat.
A post bed machine has a narrow cylinder beneath the needle where you can slip on a glove or hat and stitch the seams and decorative elements.
Although you can achieve blind stitches on a hem with a regular sewing machine with the right foot, you may wish to have a blind stitch machine if you hem pants and skirts all of the time.
Garment manufacturers will want one in their shops, but you can get by with just using a blind stitch foot at home.
You can make bar tack stitches on a standard home sewing machine with repeated layers of zigzag stitches.
Bar tacking reinforces seams that you expect to endure extra stress. Manufacturers will have specialized bar tack machines to create these raised overlapping stitches quickly in one pass.
If there are many buttonholes in your future, you may want a dedicated buttonhole machine. It provides greater versatility in buttonhole making than the settings on a less specialized machine.
After automating the stitching of buttonholes, why not get a machine that actually sews on the buttons?
This device is only a practical choice in business settings. This specialized machine possesses the settings to accommodate all types of buttons, align with the buttonholes, and complete the stitches.
You can also sew on buttons at home with a special button foot for your existing sewing machine.
Although common in manufacturing settings, many embroidery machines are available for the home market.
Hobbyists can get plenty of use and enjoyment out of them. They can be loaded with multiple thread colors and programmed to complete custom designs.
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Know Your Machines and Shop Wisely
Part of the fun of sewing is gaining competency with the equipment. New styles of machines may entice you because you want to develop new skills.
Specialized machines can produce excellent results compared to a standard device that gives you adequate results in special applications.
However, many machines have robust capabilities that can meet your needs under any circumstances. When shopping for sewing machines, pick one meant to do the tasks that you perform most often.
If your budget allows, you may be able to work in one or more extra machines when you want the best results in special situations.