On Your Marks, Get Set, SEW!

8 May

With sewing continuing to increase in popularity, what do you really need to get started?  Here is my guide to buying all the tools of the trade at the right prices. Not everything has to cost a bomb to be useful but some things are worth spending the money on.

Sewing Machine

This is the first and most obvious thing that comes to mind and with literally hundreds of models out there how are you supposed to know which one to go for? My general rule is don’t spend under £100. Buying a cheap machine is a false economy and will leave you more frustrated than creative! If you can’t afford a machine right now there are loads of sewing cafes in the UK where you can hire machines until you decide to buy one for yourself*. The question I ask my students is what are your sewing ambitions and in a years time what level would you like to be at. If the answer is ‘I want to be dressmaking’ then you should really think about buying a machine that is close to the £200 mark. If the answer is ‘ I want to make bunting and small accessories for the home then opt for the £100 machine. The most crucial difference between the two is the ability to sew through heavier materials like denim and upholstery fabric. Please don’t be lured in by supermarkets and furniture shops(AHEMIKEAAHEM) selling cheap machine. STEP AWAY FROM THE £40 SINGER IN ALDI!

The only brand I have enough experience with to recommend is Elna/Janome. So I’ll compare the entry level Elna Sew Fun with the more expensive Elna eXplore 340.

The first thing you’ll notice is the 340 has waay more stitches but please be assured that this does not matter. You will mostly use a straight stitch and a zig zag so buying a machine based on the fancy stitches(unless you plan to use them on quilts) is a school boy error. The most important difference between the two, as mentioned above, is the 340’s ability to sew through heavier fabrics. People often thing that you can simply change the needle and the machine will be able to handle denim and leather but if the motor is not strong enough to push the needle through then it isn’t happening!

RRP £119

RRP £229

The other differences come down to convenience and ease of use which is very important if you plan to get serious. I love that the 340 has a needle threader. Who knew that something as simply as a tiny hook threading your needle for you would bring such joy. It also saves you a lot of eye strain related headaches! You have various feet included with the 340 that the Sew Fun doesn’t have, like a zip foot and a one step buttonhole foot. This allows you to put the button you want to use into the foot and the machine then knows the size of button hole to sew. COOL EH? Anyway it must sound like I’m getting paid by Elna(wish I was), but I find them incredibly user friendly with arrows and diagrams all over it to help you thread it. Basically the more you pay the more you get. The Sew Fun is still an excellent entry level machine, and it’s a fantastic starting place but you’ll outgrow it very quickly if you continue to sew and further your skills.

So what is wrong with the cheaper machines? They don’t work. If you think about the type of person who buys a sewing machine from a supermarket then you have yourself someone who is interested in learning how to sew, or they have just started. They’ve probably not shopped around or read reviews as £40 isn’t an enormously invested purchase. This combination is a recipe for disaster.

Scenario 1: You get your shiny new machine home, you take it out of the box, perhaps you try to thread it. You can’t get it working so you automatically assume it is your fault because you don’t know what you are doing. Put it in the box and wait until your great Aunt comes over to help you thread it. Eventually machines ends up in the attic. If you ever take it out it is way out of guarantee, if you don’t it takes up permanent residence in your attic. Either way you threw away £40.

Scenario 2: You get your shiny new machine home, you take it out of the box, perhaps you try to thread it. You can’t get it working so you automatically assume it is your fault because you don’t know what you are doing. You spend hours trying to work out why the tension is wrong and why it is chewing up your fabric. You end up so frustrated, you feel useless at sewing, demotivated and you decide that sewing maybe isn’t for you after all. You are also too embarrassed to return the machine because obviously the sales assistant working in [insert supermarket] will think you are an idiot and get it working instantly before your eyes. You’ve lost £40.

Scenario 3: You have just bought a machine from a supermarket and you have found my blog. You march right back to the shop with sewing machine and demand a refund as the machine is useless and you want an Elna!

Scenario 3 is a long shot but I reckon 1 and 2 happen all too often. This is how the supermarkets get away with selling crap machines. I think very few customers would return them. In fact if I was a soulless crook I’d probably start up a company selling crap machines to enthusiastic sewers!

I could literally talk about sewing machines all night but I’ll stop there before I go into full rant mode. If you have any questions about machines I’ll try to help, so leave a comment or drop me an email.

Coming up: Mannequins: What are the best and where can I get one?!

Jenny x

*Distinct lack of recommendations there, but with the closure of The Life Craft imminent, it’s still a little raw and a bit too early for me to be recommending old competitors!


2 Responses to “On Your Marks, Get Set, SEW!”

  1. Laura May 12, 2012 at 9:00 pm #

    I was contemplating an Elna Sew Fun. I have NO IDEA about sewing… I just got up one morning and said I want to learn how to sew.
    I want to use it mainly for stitching cards (yep! crazy use) and for some stuffed toys/bibs and other tiny stuff for my baby. If I can ever pull it through I would try my hands at some purses/pouches and so on… but nothing beyond that. It will be used just occasionally.

    I was undecided between a Brother BQ17 and Elna… but now I incline towards Elna…Do you think the “cheap” Elna will do all the things I want to do with it?

    • JenWHY May 12, 2012 at 11:00 pm #

      Hello Laura,

      I think the Sew Fun would be perfect for what you are wanting to do. I’m all for any kind of sewing regardless of what you’re sewing! Good luck 🙂


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