Many of the students that come to my sewing classes do not have sewing machines of their own and are coming partly to learn more about sewing machines and to discover what features they would like on one when they are ready to make the purchase. I currently own a 16 yr old Singer machine (which is my workhorse) and a new Janome DC3050 computerized machine. I love both machines and they each have their pros and cons (as with all machines) and they work well for me. The key is to find a machine that you are comfortable with, in a price range you are comfortable with.
Let me first talk about the newer "computerized" machines like my Janome. My students have found some of the features to be very helpful to them. The main feature that they love is the speed control button. There is a button you can slide from side to side on the machine that allows you to control how fast the machine will sew. So if it is on slow, no matter how hard you press the control foot, the machine will go no faster than "slow". They love that! Especially when they are stitching curves, gathers or other new techniques for beginners.
The next favorite feature is the one touch stitch selection. On non-computerized machines, you have to select a stitch and then adjust the stitch length and width with two different knobs/buttons. On a computerized machine, you choose the number corresponding to the stitch you want and it does the rest for you. Now, you can still adjust the stitch length and width but it also has a pre-set form of each stitch already programmed for you. They love that as well.
The third favorite feature, which I have to say surprised me a little for them being beginners, is the needle up and down button. On other machines, you turn the big round knob on the end to raise or lower the needle. With this button that is located right in the front, you just press it and the needle goes down and every time you stop, the needle is down and vice versa for the needle up. My beginner students find it very helpful and easy to use.
So where do you buy a machine? Both of mine were purchased at local sewing shops and I will give you my reasons why. Now, I am not trying to dismiss buying machines online or at a retail store like Hancocks or Sears but I will tell why I was more comfortable buying from my local sewing shop. My Janome was recently purchased at the AAA Sewing Shoppe here in Stallings which is owned and operated by a lovely lady, Phillis Willis and her husband that does repairs and services the machines. When I was looking, she talked to me about my needs (and wants) and showed me only the machines that would interest me and that were in my price range. I went and saw her twice before making my decision and she sat down with me each time and showed me all the features on the machine. This was very helpful to me before making such an investment. But now that I have made the purchase, I still know that I can go to her anytime with problems I am having, accessories for the machine (as she keeps a really good inventory of Janome accessories) or if I need guidance on how to operate it (yes, even I need help at times =). I took my Singer there to have it serviced and cleaned and will also take my Janome there when it is time as I really trust them to care for my machines. So I probably paid a little more to buy at a local shop, but the customer service that came with it to me is SO worth it.
Lastly, I want to say when buying a new or first machine is to buy one with more than just a few stitches. So many folks I see buy just a basic 7 or 10 stitch machine and then, after taking a few classes on my machines, wish that they had bought one with more stitches and features on it. Also, look at the stitches on the machine. Do you really need a 30 stitch machine with 6 buttonholes? What beginner uses 6 buttonholes? Even those of us that sew quite a bit don't need that many buttonholes! While that seems great, why waste some of your stitches there...get one with more decorative stitches. My Janome has 50 stitches and it has 3 buttonholes and I don't even use all of them. Also if you are a parent of a child/teen interested in sewing, please do not buy one of the cheap machines geared towards kids (you know which ones I am taking about). Most only sew a straight stitch and maybe zig zag and really will not last them long. Please buy them one that will last and is sturdy enough to produce really nice quality stitches. There is nothing more discouraging than to try and create something beautiful with a machine that will only produce mediocre quality stitching. You don't have to spend a fortune...you can also look for a gently used one and even ask at your local sewing shop to see if they sell trade ins.
There are also several great articles on the internet on how to buy a sewing machine. Here are just a few:
Thanks for reading and happy sewing!