Read this list before buying a sewing machine

Whether you sew all of your own clothes, use it to make curtains, or just keep it on hand for mending, the sewing machine is one tool no homestead should be without. However, with the myriad of choices available today on the market ranging from antique to vintage; from used to brand new; how do you choose the best fit for your lifestyle all the while staying within the homestead mentality of “keeping it simple?” Once you have decided what to look for where to you find one at a reasonable price?

First there are two things you should consider:

1. What are you going to use it for?

Are you planning to sew a bridal gown? Do you need draperies for that west window in the bedroom? Do you just want to sew a patch on that pair of overalls with a hole at the knee? In most of these situations a very basic machine will suffice, one that will perform an excellent straight stitch, a nice zigzag, a decent buttonhole; and one that includes a zipper foot that can be easily installed. On the other hand, if you want to machine to quilt or appliqué you may need something that will provide you with additional features and functions. Think it through carefully. You may not need something with all the bells and whistles.

2. Do keep it simple.

The first sewing machine that was completely my own did nearly everything but make the bed. Apart from adjusting the thread tension at the touch of a button, it came complete with a vast library of embroidery stitches including the alphabet in three different fonts. However, after about fifteen years of repeated use it started to give out. When I took it to the repair shop, I was told that the computerized parts were obsolete. My expensive, amazing machine could not be repaired.

It has since been replaced with a 1960’s vintage Sears Kenmore. Embroidery stitches are not in her repertoire.  She only performs the basics, but she does them very well. She has run steady for the past 50 years and with a consistent maintenance schedule should continue to do so.

With that in mind then, it’s time to go shopping! There are a number of different resources for a sewing machine but these are those you would most likely find in your community:

A sewing machine store

Typically these specialty stores will offer several models of just one or two brands.  The advantages of shopping here are a knowledgeable staff that will readily be able to answer any questions you might have. Often times the store will offer classes on how to use your machine and be available later on down the line for repairs and service.

The disadvantage is cost. While most stores will offer used models, you will be paying more, and you may be paying for special features that, while they look fun in the store, will rarely be used at home. My vast library of embroidery stitches? It was hardly used. The latest model may not be the best purchase.

A sewing machine repair shop

Often times these little jewels will sell used machines in excellent condition or in some cases may be able to secure a new model. The advantage of a repair shop is a knowledgeable individual who knows machines and will be able to direct you to one with the features that best suit you. They usually offer a wide variety and aren’t typically limited to any one brand, therefore they can give you solid advice on a good purchase. Another advantage is cost. Usually you will pay less at a repair shop than you would at a sewing machine store. One disadvantage however, is that while the store will help guide you in your purchase and be available for maintenance and repairs, they won’t offer the back-up service by way of additional classes. You’ll need to have some knowledge of operating your machine on your own.


My  Sears Kenmore was purchased through a reputable used machine dealer on eBay. The advantage was a great machine at a good price delivered right to my front door. The disadvantage here, obviously is the risk. You are purchasing something you haven’t seen. Before you hit the purchase button, make sure you have contacted the seller with any questions you have, checked to see if there is a return policy, and checked the seller’s history.

Craigslist, estate sales, garage sales

The advantage of situations like these is going to be a machine at a very low cost.  The disadvantage obviously is that you may not always be in a situation where you can try out the machine before purchase and the machine may need to be repaired or serviced before it can be used. Unless it is a great bargain or your are experienced enough to know exactly what you are looking at this may or may not be a good choice.

Regardless of where or how you purchase your machine you will want to test the following:

  • The straight stitch, adjusting the length several times, and the zigzag stitch. Test them both for a good thread tension as well as the overall feel of the machine.
  • The buttonhole stitch.  The buttonhole stitch of some machines may be manual, or it may be as simple as pushing a button. Make sure that you are comfortable with how it operates. Make a few buttonholes on a scrap piece of fabric and slash them.  Are you happy with the end result? Does it look professional?
  • Any additional stitches or features the machine offers.

And finally:

Don’t underestimate the power of the old fashioned treadle machine

Although these machines typically only perform one function they perform it well.  The lack of buttonholes and other fancy stitches will force you to improve your hand sewing skills. What could be more enjoyable than an afternoon on the back porch swing sewing a hem or a series of buttonholes by hand? The rhythm of the pedal is a bit like learning how to ride a bike, but once mastered the experience is therapeutic,  not to mention the fact that you are free from the need of electricity making this a great option for one who is wanting to be completely self sufficient.

Read more: Discover the joys of spinning your own yarn

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Melissa has a background in marketing, brand management, graphic design and photography. She left corporate America to pursue her dream of living a simpler life. Simpler doesn’t always mean easier but she enjoys every minute on her small homestead. She loves to cook, practice herbalism and gardening. Her passion is spreading the word about sustainable living and sharing her love of herbalism and living from scratch.

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