How to Buy a Sewing Machine for a Beginner (focused on kids, but works for adults too!)

A sewing icon.

Ahh, the Holidays. 

The air gets crisp, the Halloween decor gets tucked away again (“how did I fit this &*%#@ skeleton in this box last year?!”) and a certain Mariah Carey song begins it’s endless repeat cycle for the next 1.5 months. Everyone casually forgets about Thanksgiving until we have to figure out how big of Turkey we have to buy (“is 20lbs too much for 5 people?”) Also, if you’re the parent of a small child, so begin the “lists.” 

Already this past week some of the kids in After School classes started telling me what they’re asking for on Santa’s Big Day. Amongst all the high tech devices they hope for I am always happy to hear the ones who tell me they’re asking for a sewing machine to use at home, which gets the most excited response from Patrick and I. It’s also followed with the reminder that “sewing machines are a Big Thing to ask for” because I know the reality behind every Christmas gift list that’s been written down and revised: Grownups who are wondering how to make it all work and give the kids in their lives a happy, love filled holiday. 

So, I want to offer a little primer on what to look for when purchasing a sewing machine for your child. To begin, my most famous statement I make year after year to anyone looking for a sewing machine:

Sewing machines are tools and not toys, which also means they should cost accordingly.

I am going to outline 3 tiers of sewing machines prices and the models I recommend within those price points and why. Every time I talk to a parent about this I find myself in the difficult position of talking about a tool that will cost over $200 and I understand that money is something we all have different experiences with and I absolutely respect that. Sewing machines can cost thousands of dollars, even! Thankfully, when you shop at a local shop/dealer, they often have financing options to make this less of an overwhelming purchase. Another reason to shop small this Holiday!

But, I strongly suggest against spending your money on something that costs at/around $100 or less because those machines more often than not do not work. Please do not buy the toy models on Amazon, they will only lead to frustration and discourage the kids from sewing on their own.

I would like to mention that sewing is a skill that takes a lot of practice and problem solving and a good place to start before you purchase a machine is to ask yourself if your child is going to show the incentive to sew at home and are you willing to help them if they get stuck…where their teachers aren’t there to help when they get stuck. (Which we do, a lot.)

In this case, maybe gift them their After School Classes to build their confidence and think about a machine for their Birthday or next Christmas! 

First, we sew on Viking (brand) Jade 20’s (model) at the studio. This sewing machine costs between $450-$600 depending on the time of year, availability and where you purchase it. I highly recommend Stony Brook Sew & Vac in Bordentown NJ because they are a *locally owned* and *independent* sewing shop that has been in business for decades. Let them know I sent you, we’re friends! They even offer shipping on their website, how great is that? You cannot purchase this machine on Amazon, and I recommend against that because having a relationship with a dealer is just like knowing a good mechanic when something goes wrong with your car: you need “a guy” to take it to!

This is the machine your kid is learning to sew on, is most familiar with and has beginner friendly features like speed control and the ability to skip a step in threading the bobbin that other machines require when setting up. Because this machine is of better quality there are less things that can go wrong which can make sewing on their own a more fun experience!

Second, the folks at Stony Brook recommended to me (which in turn, I recommend to you) the Babylock (brand) Joy (model) mechanical machine which is currently priced at $250 at Stony Brook Sew & Vac. It is a mechanical machine which means it does not have a computer like the Jade 20, lacks speed control and has the bobbin threading step that the kids do not have to do at sewing class. But, it has an all metal chassis which means it is not only built better than other machines at it’s price point, it is also quieter- which is helpful for a kid who may have to do their sewing in a communal space at home. It also has a top drop in bobbin, which is what students are most familiar with at the shop and honestly, is best for beginners. 

I have had a few beginner students under the age of 12 receive this machine in the past few years who, with a bit of practice, were stitching away confidently in their free time. Because this is a better built machine it will serve your child for years to come (think, they may even tote it to college with them!) and others in the house may find it fun to learn how to fix ripped jeans or hem their pants on it because of it’s nice stitch quality and ability to sew many different types of projects.

To ease your wories: If you purchase the Babylock machine for your child I am happy to have them bring it to class for a few weeks to get familiar with it with our help! 

Finally, if you are trying to stick to a budget I recommended the starter range of Brother Sewing Machines that are priced between $150-$200 such as the Brother BM3850 at Stony Brook (which is currently on sale at the time of this post), the Singer Heavy Duty Series of machines or another high quality machine that is purchased second hand. These machines are of lesser quality than the Babylock – but I learned to sew with a similar machine and used it for a handful of years before my skills outgrew it. These machines have a better track record than others in their price point and I have know many students who use them at home.

Sometimes, because they are not as well made as the more expensive machines, things can jam or come undone while sewing. Plus they have an extra step during set up (like the Babylock Joy does as mentioned before) which requires more patience and problem solving from your child, so consider their temperament and if this is a suitable choice for them.

Beginner friendly features that make a difference for your kid, in order of importance:

  • Top Drop in Bobbin. One of the most important features for kids, even if you don’t know what that means.
  • Speed Control. Kids don’t know how to drive so they have no concept of slow.
  • Bobbin thread cutting. This skips a step in setting the machine up that ends to trip up kids because we don’t practice it here.
  • A computerized machine that will not sew if the presser foot is up.

Remember, they sew on nearly $600 machines with us, which is like driving a BMW then going back to your old used car, who works well but needs special TLC sometimes. Stony Brook Sew and Vac carries both Singer and Brother brands and can let you know what models/price points they have in stock. I do not recommend any other machines that are under $200 and do not buy a Singer Simple, Start or Curvy, they are awful! 

In review, please don’t think I am saying that you have to spend a lot of money on a sewing machine. Having an expensive tool isn’t necessary when we are learning, but having the right tool that performs as we expect it to absolutely is. More so I’m asking you to take a moment to consider what the best choice is for your child to make sure sewing is a hobby they continue to enjoy and build their skills/confidence doing as opposed to having an experience that discourages them from trying it on their own. I would be happy to give my honest opinion on which machine I think your child would benefit from if you are not sure- just send me an email!

Sometimes it may just take a few minutes of your time to help them troubleshoot, even if you need to read the manual to help them out. Trust me, you can do it! It’s the most important to us that even if your kids don’t grow up to be master tailors that they have happy memories and an appreciation for this skill we are sharing with them. 

Once you have their sewing machine all sorted, every year I sell a Beginner Sewing Tool Kit that includes all the basic tools they need to get started. I have other fun giftables in the store, too, like value packs of good thread (please don’t buy the cheap stuff on Amazon, it breaks!) plenty of fabric, or an Old Spool Sewing gift card is also a great way to let them come shop the fabric and tools on their own! 

Good luck!

your sewing obsessed friend, 

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