Sewing Machines for Kids (and other newbies)

Earlier in the summer, I had an interesting conversation with an acquaintance who teaches adult sewing classes.  New students, especially adults, can be intimidated by other seasoned stitchers with their fancy machines.  Keep in mind that buying a sewing machine is a lot like buying a car.  Starting out, you want a quality machine that will get the job done for a reasonable price.  If you do decide sewing is your thing, then be rest assured you can always trade-in and trade-up in machine.

So, what do you really need?

A low shank, preferably center needle mechanical machine that does:

1.  Straight stitch
2.  Zig zag stitch
3.  Buttonhole

Yep, this will cover just about all of your sewing needs, especially if the straight and zig zag stitches are fully adjustable.  Anything else is merely icing on the cake.


I’m not saying that you shouldn’t buy a computerized sewing machine.  However, in my experience, mechanical machines are a lot less intimidating to new stitchers.  They are also lot easier for the teacher/parent to troubleshoot problems. A low-shank, center needle machine also means speciality/replacement presser feet are more readily available.

Potentially important consideration – the bobbin case

A machine with a vertical (front-load/oscillating) or horizontal (top-load/rotary) bobbin case is a matter of personal preference.  Some older machines such as the Singer Featherweight, Singer 99 and 15 class clones from the 1950’s have a side loading bobbin case.  I have front, side and top loading machines in my studio.  For me, a top loading bobbin means easier access to change the bobbin.  It’s right there under the presser foot – not hidden down below where I have to remove a free arm extension or try to get my fingers into the small opening on a flatbed like Ruthie.  I also don’t have to keep up with a separate bobbin case, which can easily get lost.  Some folks swear stitch quality is better with a traditional, vertical bobbin case.  I can’t really tell the difference.

The take away for you, dear reader, is that the type of bobbin case will dictate what sort of extra accessory feet will work with your machine.  Most “starter” machines also come with a vertical bobbin case.  A top loading bobbin usually costs a few dollars more.

Gee, this thing weighs a ton!

Vintage machines are usually made out of metal and they are HEAVY.  Great if you have a designated sewing space where the machine can be out all of the time.  Consider a lightweight (yes, plastic) machine if portability is an issue.  A free arm is a nice bonus, too – but not absolutely necessary. (I learned to sew on a flatbed and my main machine – a Janome 6600P – is a flatbed.)

The bottom line (or price)

Most parents want to minimize their expenses, but keep in mind that even a gifted machine or yard sale bargain will most likely require a basic service call and may need accessories (carry case, presser feet, owner’s manual, etc.) to make it road worthy for a newbie stitcher.  From personal experience, I recommend budgeting $100 to get a previously loved machine ready to stitch and plan to spend a minimum of $150-$200 to get a decent, new mechanical sewing machine.  Shop your local dealer, if at all possible – especially if you have never touched a sewing machine before.  You’ll want the owner’s guide classes that are included with the price of your machine.

I recently purchased a Janome 5812 on sale @ Hancock Fabrics.  I wanted a lightweight free-arm machine to augment my two classroom workhorses – Ellie and Ruthie.  The 5812 met my requirements and has a top loading bobbin, to boot.  The lighter weight (11.2 pounds) means it has more plastic than I’m used to, but that’s a trade-off I’m willing to make for a super portable machine.  This model is also full-size, not 3/4 size or mini. Quite frankly, I was really surprised at how well it sews on a variety of fabrics.  This little machine handled a scrap of silk fabric with no skipped stitches and no puckers.  I gladly went to the Janome dealer today to pick up the the one snap on foot and metal shank that I didn’t have on hand.  To the feet included with the 5812,  I added the H (straight stitch), F (applique) and O (1/4″) feet, plus the metal snap on shank.  [I also have a walking foot and darning foot I can borrow from another machine, if need be.] From my stash, I added extra bobbins, needles, a lint brush and a small screwdriver set.  Although there is storage for accessories in the freearm, they fell out every time I removed the storage box.  So, I repurposed a funky metal tin to hold my sewing machine accessories and small scissors.  Now, all I need to add is a tapestry tote bag to carry the machine.   Total investment a little over $200 for what I think will wind up being my travel machine in addition to classroom machine.  FWIW, my students also recommend the 2212 and the MyStyle 100 for models under $200.00.