17 Lessons for Beginners

The 21 Types of Sewing Machines and What They’re For

Learning how to make our own clothes and have it look like we’ve just been shopping at an exclusive mall is no easy task. In fact, at first glance, it just seems way too complicated for us to master!

However, when we know what each sewing machine should do and how each stitch is meant to look like, sewing becomes easy. It becomes a wonderful and, dare we say it, fun pastime many of us can use to our advantage.

So to help everyone go through the process of learning how to sew without any headaches or anxiety, we’ve written a guide on all kinds of sewing machines and their functions. After reading this, we have no doubt everyone will know how to not only use a sewing machine but finally make the clothing they really want to wear!

First Things First — Can Everyone Use the Same Sewing Machine?

can everyone use the same sewing machine

The fact of the matter is — the fashion industry uses a whole different range of sewing machines, whereas sewing enthusiasts can easily make homemade clothes with domestic ones.

The main reason why there are so many different machines is that homemade clothes don’t have to look too professional. Of course, we want them to look brand new and fantastic. But in the end, unless we’ve been sewing for years, we won’t be able to master industry sewing.

Moreover, industrial sewing machines are sturdier and, let’s face it, technical versions of domestic machines. Learning how to use them will take way too much time. What’s more, it won’t pay off in the end if we aren’t going to use that knowledge to start a fashion label, for example.

But don’t get discouraged right away. Among these 21 types of sewing machines, there are many essential and optional ones. If you’re looking to just make clothes for yourself and your family, you’ll undoubtedly find something amazing on this list.

Domestic Sewing Machines

Usually built from less sturdy materials such as plastic, domestic sewing machines are every woman’s dream come true. They are essentially smaller, slower versions of the industrial ones. However, they do take up a lot less space than professional sewing machines. Moreover, they are meant to be used with various materials but not rigid ones.

One of the main differences is the ability to work more. With domestic sewing machines, we can easily overheat the motor if we sew for more than five to six hours. Meanwhile, the time spent sewing isn’t a problem with industrial machines. After all, they have to cater to a larger audience (stores, designers, etc.), so it’s important that they can work for 10+ hours.

1. Manual Sewing Machine

Now, these are the sewing machines our grandmothers probably used first. Their main feature is the handwheel, which we have to turn all the time if we want the machine to work. Thus, this sort of machine is a bit slow and making clothes takes a long time. However, at least it doesn’t have a motor that could easily jam.

As far as the functions go, these machines have a few simple ones, which are enough for a beginner. Moreover, due to the fact that we don’t need any electricity for them or plugs, manual machines are quite durable. Yet even though they are indeed charming, for 21st-century clothing, we would need something more efficient.

2. Mechanical Sewing Machine

Mechanical sewing machine

A more modern version of the manual machine is the mechanical one. It comes with a pedal and a switch that determines whether it’s on or off, and it has only a few stitch options. What’s more, we can determine the length and the width of the stitch by turning the dials and knobs found on such machines. Thus, being precise is not its forte, although it works quite well for beginners, and it’s budget-friendly.

With this one, we can easily mend ripped clothing or make simple T-shirts and skirts. However, for anything more elaborate, we would need a better machine.

3. Electronic Sewing Machine

Electronic machines also come with a pedal (foot), but the difference is that we can plug them in. By pressing the pedal, we apply the power to go from the motor to the needle and make a stitch.

A great thing about these machines is that they have many features, which make them quite an attractive purchase. For example, we can use the dial and the buttons to determine which stitch we want to use, giving us plenty of options regarding clothes design and fit.

4. Computerized Sewing Machine

Given that the previous two machines may not be always precise, manufacturers have another option for us: computerized machines.

The way we use these machines is practically the same. However, what’s fantastic is that we don’t have to fuss around any dials or manual features. With just a few taps on the LCD screen, we can easily select any feature we want. Moreover, some of these also come with a USB port and Wi-Fi, so if there’s a feature we’re eager to try, we can just download it and use it.

5. Overlocker Machine or Serger

Overlocker machine or Serger

More often than not, making a clothing item look like something we bought at a boutique will mostly depend on how we do the edges. More precisely, it will depend on whether or not we’ve invested in an overlocker machine.

These machines are not meant to be used to sew clothes from start to finish per se. However, what they do allow us to do is create mistake-free edges and professional-looking seams and hems. That’s why it’s also called an overedging machine by some people, although some overedging machines might look a bit different from the standard overlockers.

But in essence, they work the same way, and both types come with specialized cutters meant to cut away the fabric perfectly.

6. Portable or Handheld Sewing Machine

The last type of domestic sewing machines we ought to mention is the simplest kind — a handheld machine. We can find these pretty much everywhere, as people often give them to their children so that they can create doll clothes, for example.

But even though they look like toys, they absolutely are not. In fact, these are quite useful, especially if we tend to travel a lot. With just a few steps and some patience, we can mend ripped clothes or add a detail or two to another item.

Different Types of Sewing Machines and Their Uses

Now, before we move onto industrial machines, we ought to mention a few that have specific functions. These are “optional” machines if we’re just trying to make clothes for ourselves. However, each one of these would be a mighty addition to our sewing arsenal, as they can get us one step closer to having clothes that look like they’ve been bought in a store.

7. Embroidery Machine

Even though embroidered details are wonderful on all types of clothing, it’s tough finding such items in a store. However, a simple solution would be to get one of these machines, as they’ll allow us to make any garment entirely unique.

Still, even these machines have their own classification. The cheapest ones have only a few options. But there are also those that allow us to create our own designs, and the latest versions even have a computer option. With the most modern embroidery machines, we can download designs from our laptop, import them and then embroider them onto the fabric.

8. Lockstitch Sewing Machine

Lockstitch sewing machine

The most common mechanical stitch in the world of sewing machines is the lockstitch. Thus, most machines come with it, but there are also machines that are specifically designed for making these sorts of stitches. They typically come with one or two needles.

The lockstitch consists of two threads that have to lock together before they actually go through the hole made in the fabric. By locking that way, they essentially add to the durability of the clothing. Moreover, this stitch is fantastic for most fabrics and is used both at home and in the fashion industry. The only problem is, though, you need more options if you want to sew versatile clothing.

9. Buttonholing Machine

Now, buttonholes may all look alike, but there are many different types of them. Thus, for perfect buttonholes, we could invest in either a separate machine or in a buttonholing add-on.

In any case, these machines usually come with a double chain stitch zig-zag or a zig-zag lockstitch. These types of stitches are the best for buttonholes, as some can easily get distorted during washing. Moreover, creating a perfectly proportional buttonhole with a simple machine isn’t that easy, as the buttonholing machine can firmly grip the fabric and ensure it doesn’t move.

10. Button Attachment Machine

As the name says, this type of sewing machine attaches the buttons onto our clothing. However, it’s not that necessary if we’re trying to make clothes for ourselves. A simple chain stitch or a lockstitch is just fine for this job. Yet when someone has to cater to a lot of people, such as boutiques, having one of these speeds up the sewing process.

11. Bar-Tacking Sewing Machine

If someone wants to give some extra strength to their collars, pocket opening or buttonholes, then they may want to opt for a bar-tacking machine as well. This sort of machine is the one that will hide any wear and tear on clothing. What’s more, it’s especially useful for belt loops, for example, as well as the ends of zippers.

But it’s still optional. With a regular sewing machine, we can get this strength and do the same thing by using whip or zig-zag stitches.

12. Double-Needle Sewing Machine

 Double-needle sewing machine

And finally, we have the sewing machines that come with two needles and two bobbins, also called the twin needle lockstitch machines. These are mainly used for decorative stitching because they can create two parallel stitches at the same time. What’s more, we can even adjust the distance between the stitches with these.

Industrial Sewing Machines

Now, everyone in the fashion industry knows that their clothes cannot look like they’re homemade. Thus, they invest in industrial sewing machines.

Although some of them might do the same thing as the domestic ones, the difference is in the price, the level of precision and the materials we can use for sewing. These machines can even make shoes! Moreover, they are a lot faster than those we can use at home, which goes well with how fashion trends are changing nowadays.

The sewing machine bed type is what makes these next ones so different from home sewing machines. In essence, they can perform more elaborate sewing operation due to the type of bed they have.

13. Flat Bed

Like the name says, this machine comes with a flat bed. Thus, it’s mainly used for connecting flat pieces of fabric together and creating a wonderfully professional seam. As for its design, it’s not that different to a regular sewing machine. But it’s faster and more precise than the one we can afford.

14. Cylinder Bed

In contrast to the flat bed machine, this one comes with a bed that has a cylindrical shape. That’s precisely why it’s fantastic for making cylindrical parts of clothing, such as cuffs for example. Moreover, these are the ones we can use for making shoes as well.

In essence, when sewing with this machine, the fabric goes over the column and under it, making it easy for us to get an even stitch. What’s more, these machines come in various sizes — the cylinder can be anywhere from 5 to 16 cm in diameter.

15. Post Bed

Sewing Machines Post bed

Three-dimensional items, such as gloves, hats and boots, are usually made with a post bed machine. This sort of equipment allows the seamstress to have more space for creating these items, as this kind of machine has a raised bed. So unlike with a flat bed, we wouldn’t have to painstakingly adjust our fabric all the time.

16. Of-the-Arm

The final industrial sewing machine on our list is the of-the-arm machine, or rather, the free arm sewing machine.

This one sort of resembles the cylinder bed one, in that it also allows us to sew items such as cuffs. However, it’s rarely seen because most modern machines come with this free-arm feature as well. SINGER® 1507WC, for example, allows us to detach a part of the machine to reveal this option. Then, when we want to sew cuffs, we can easily drag the material under the horizontal column.

Other Machines and Their Specialized Functions

17. Blind Hemming Machine

A blind hem is basically a hem we don’t want to see. It’s supposed to be invisible to the naked eye (unless we really pay attention), which is why it’s difficult to do it with a regular sewing machine. Thus, we have blind hemming machines, which specialize in this sort of sewing. They come with a handy dial that we can turn to either left or right in order for the needle to grab more or less fabric. The more fabric the needle grabs, the more the stitch will show and vice versa.

Typically, when we want to create a blind hem, we’ll match the color of the fabric with the thread to get the best results.

18. Chain Stitch Machine

Nowadays, we most often try to use the lockstitch since it’s far sturdier than the chain stitch. Since the chain stitch comes out chained but is easily unraveled if we just pull on it, then any clothing we make with it could rip.

Nevertheless, many embroidery-loving cultures prefer using the chain stitch. So these machines can be used for upholstery, on curtains and on bed linens.

This doesn’t mean that the chain stitch is not reliable. We just have to put in the effort to lock it in place by cutting away the excess precisely.

19. Cycle Machine

Sewing Machines

As the name suggests, these sorts of machines work in cycles. However, these are small, fast cycles, perfect for those tiny details we love seeing on clothing. We can classify buttonholing, button-sewing, bar-tacking and label-sewing machines as cycle machines.

20. Heavy-Duty Sewing Machine

We would also like to address machines that are known as “heavy-duty machines.” Like their name says, we can use these for some “heavy lifting” in the sewing world. This usually means that such machines are able to penetrate even the thickest of materials with their needles and give us clothing that’s not only durable but strong as well.

Instead of talking about what each heavy-duty machine would have, let’s look at an example — the Singer Heavy Duty 4452. This particular one is able to do 32 different stitches, and we can use it for all sorts of projects, like making costumes and sewing jeans. Moreover, it comes with one-step buttonhole maker as well, which is a feature we can usually find in these machines.

The gist of it is that these machines can perform a variety of tasks for which we would need to have additional machines. So investing in one is a sound decision, as we’re basically getting extra features without having to use up all the space we have on our sewing table.

What’s more, heavy-duty machines are sort of like having an industrial one in our home. They are smaller than those professional ones, but they are usually a lot faster than regular sewing machines.

21. Coverstitch Sewing Machine

Finally, we need to talk about the importance of a coverstitch sewing machine.

Basically, everything we can find in a boutique is most likely hemmed with a coverstitch machine. This is the classic twin needle hem we see on T-shirts or dresses, and it’s usually used to make the clothing look professionally made.

Now, we know what you might be thinking: why use a coverstitch machine when you can use two needles? Well, it all comes down to the task at hand, the material we’re using and how much time we have. Although, unlike the overlocker, the coverstitch doesn’t have blades, it will still make a wonderful stitch and prevent clothing from coming out in pieces. Moreover, using double needles is somewhat tricky, as they can often break off during the stitching process.

Coverstitch machines can also use one, two or three needless, depending on the strength and the look of the stitch we’re going for. Furthermore, when we glance at the other side of the material, we’ll notice that the coverstitch looks far neater than something a twin needle or a single needle machine could do.

Choosing a Sewing Machine — What Should We Look For?

Now that we’ve seen all the different types of stitching machines there are, as well as the kinds we can use at home, it’s time to answer one final question — what sewing machine should we buy?

Well, the decision of buying a sewing machine is the first step. If one wants to start making their own clothes and be unique, then learning how to sew is a good option. However, we would also have to think about:

The Type of Clothing We’re Going to Make

The type of clothing we’re going to make

We can use most domestic sewing machines for lightweight fabrics and some more thicker materials. However, they are not that great if we want to sew knitwear or leather. For that, a heavy-duty machine or even a coverstitch machine is needed. Otherwise, the material will easily fray.

How Important The Appearance Of Our Clothing is To Us

Like we’ve mentioned, overlocker machines are there to make our clothes look professionally made. Thus, without them, everything we make will most likely still look quite homemade. If we don’t have a problem with that, getting just one sewing machine is an option. But for durable, all-weather clothing, perfect seams are a must.

How Much Money We Have

Let’s face it, sewing machines are not cheap, especially if we are looking for those that offer more than 30 stitches and features such as the free arm. Nevertheless, investing a bit more money at the beginning will pay off in the future, as we’ll make clothing for a lot less money than what regular shopping sprees entail.

How Many Stitches They Offer

A mistake most sewing beginners make is that they are adamant at buying a sewing machine that has plenty of stitching options. However, we need to be aware of one thing — most of those stitches, although fun, don’t really have a purpose. Whenever we’re sewing something, we’re usually using either the chain stitch or the lockstitch. Sometimes, we use the zig-zag stitch if the machine allows us to. But other than that, other stitches remain unused forever.

The Attachments That Come With The Machine

Of course, we could do most of our sewing without any attachments. But these add-ons are there to make the whole process a bit easier and better. So when in doubt, we should opt for a sewing machine that has a blind hem, a zipper and a buttonhole attachment at least.

Moreover, the of-the-arm feature is a very sought-after amenity, as it allows us to create perfect cuffs and sew circular garments without making a mistake. Luckily, most modern sewing machines come with it.

The Brand

Yes, we know we should never judge anything by its name, but in the sewing world, certain brands stand for certain features.

For example, department stores usually carry Singer, Janome and Brother sewing machines, which are usually lightweight, hobby machines, perfect for daily (albeit short) use.

On the other hand, Bernina, Juki and Husqvarna — these brands make robust domestic machines that will stand the test of time. Most often, these are even more precise than those mentioned above, and they are able to provide us with the most professional-looking results.

However, a Bernina machine is pricier than a Singer one. So in essence, if we’re not planning to turn this new hobby of ours into an Etsy business, we can go for a low-cost sewing machine.

The Make (Mechanical vs. Computerized)

The make

With a mechanical machine, we know where we stand, and most of us already know how it works. Still, a computerized sewing machine offers a lot more features than the regular ones. More importantly, since they are designed to be not only precise but also powerful, they could give us stronger seams and better results.

Final Thoughts

Although there are many sewing machine types and functions, we ought to carefully study each model in order to reach a well-informed purchasing decision. Some of these will give us everything we want. Meanwhile, others, though able to do just one thing, will give that extra something to our clothing.

In the end, the question of which sewing machine we should buy depends on whether sewing is a fleeting hobby for us. But one thing is certain — a sewing machine can undoubtedly help us hone our skills efficiently and without us having to tediously hand stitch each part of our newly designed garment.

So what do you think? Tell us in the comment section below if there are some other types of sewing machines you’ve heard of. Moreover, if you would like to recommend a particular machine, don’t hesitate — we would love to hear your thoughts. And of course, share this post with others. Who knows? There just might be some hidden sewing talents out there who simply need a good push in the right direction!

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