Space to Sew UpdateBlog

30 March 2013

Buying a Sewing Machine

I am often asked for advice by folk who are thinking of buying sewing machines. I don’t have any technical expertise to give, though our tutors have plenty on hand, especially our lovely Janet and Denise whose ability with and knowledge of machines of all kinds leave me quite open-mouthed. However there is some advice I always give, which comes from my personal experience as a client and a sewing machine user: if you’re thinking of buying a sewing machine and/or overlocker avoid buying it over the internet if at all possible. Apologies to all you internet / direct sales folk out there; I am not intending to knock your business or service and I am sure it is very useful for folk who have no other way of buying a machine. However there are a number of good reasons for my conviction that, in an ideal world, it is not the best way to buy.

Firstly, I am deeply committed to supporting local shops and businesses. As already mentioned we are hugely fortunate in being able to buy fabric, haberdashery and sewing machines locally. There is really no substitute for ‘try and see’ and if we don’t support these local retailers, even when their overheads make it impossible for them to sell some things as cheaply as they might otherwise be found on the internet, we might well lose them in future as other towns have done. I would hate that to happen and it has been part of a well considered policy since starting Space to Sew that we would not set out to try and compete with other local businesses in our field. Rather we try and complement and work along side them as much as we can.

Secondly, and perhaps of greater interest to you dear reader, if you buy a sewing machine from a local – or at least ‘non-virtual’ - sewing machine shop, you have access to their expertise and the opportunity to ask them about the ‘best buy’ for your budget. Most will even show you round a machine or two if they have time when you go in. Some will spend longer and give you a full blown lesson. You will also usually have better after care if your machine presents a problem for some reason. For example, on the day I took my first new sewing machine home and rushed to use it, I found it just wouldn’t work. I phoned up the shop I had bought it from (the lovely Sewing Rooms in London) and they asked me to check whether the ‘feed dogs had dropped’ for some reason. In those days I was as ignorant of what feed dogs are as a client who, in response to similar guidance about checking hers, recently told me that she didn’t know if she didn’t have any dogs as far as she knew, so as you can imagine it was completely Double Dutch to me. However the vendor stayed on the phone and kindly and patiently took me through what to do to check this out. As it turned out it was a tiny issue involved the moving of a lever but because I hadn’t really used a machine before and am, alas, missing the mechanical gene, had I not had this advice at that stage in my sewing journey, I would most likely have either given the machine straight back or assumed that it was me and I was going to be useless at sewing.

Which brings me to my third main reason for buying from a sewing machine retailer: some of you might be happy learning how to use a machine with the help of a manual, DVD and/or even a virtual online tutorial (we might even think of offering online tutorials some time in the future ourselves for those of you who prefer to learn that way). But there are a number of us lesser mortals whose brains don’t compute how to operate something as mechanical as a sewing machine without a human standing next to it to offer advice and to trouble shoot why something we are doing is not quite right (as happened two weeks ago when our lovely Janet showed me that the reason my overlocker stitching wasn’t correctly aligned with my fabric edge was because of the way I was feeding it through the machine: I’ve had the problem for years and never noticed what I was doing before!). As our Basic Sewing Machine Skills Course is almost always fully booked, I have to assume that many folk out there have the same feeling as I do on this point. If, like me, you prefer a human teacher to a virtual one, most bona fide sewing machine retailers will show you round your machine before you take it home which, although you might not take in all the information straight away, will at least give you a head start. With the best will in the world that will never happen if you buy a machine online.

As mentioned already, in Shrewsbury we are fortunate enough to have a Sewing Machine Shop in Wyle Cop that stocks a variety of different brands. This means that one of its strengths is that the owners are not wedded to selling one particular brand over another and can therefore give a certain amount of impartial advice as to what might suit your taste, budget and the things you might want to make in future. Phil and Sue Jones have been running the shop for years and it was run by Sue’s father before them so there is not a great deal they don’t know about said machines. If therefore buying a machine is something you are thinking of doing in the near future and you live in Shrewsbury or somewhere within easy travelling distance, do pop in and see them. Or, if you are reading this from much further away, do check out your nearest Sewing Machine Retailer. Whether multi-branded or stocking one particular make, they are a huge resource and we would be much poorer without them.

One last piece of client-type wisdom from me: don’t rush to buy the cheapest machine because you can’t afford a more expensive one. It is worth waiting until you know what you really need and can afford to spend a little more. So borrow, beg – but don’t steal! – a machine from someone you know, or find somewhere locally that teaches sewing and offers machines for their clients to use as we do. Try out sewing to see if it really is for you and save up for the best machine you can afford. If you buy too cheap it might only be a few months before you need something bigger and better so the cheap model may get you sewing but it could turn out to be a false economy. This happened to me when trying to sew my first cape as the fabric was too thick to go under my machine foot. Had I not had access to the Sewing Rooms’ machines during Club sessions I would have really struggled to get it made. So do wait if you can, but pop into your local Sewing Machine Shop in the meantime to check out the options and work out what to save up for. In the meantime find any way you can to start sewing. You won’t regret it whatever you want to make!

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