Look for these features when buying a sewing machine

Consumer Reports News: January 29, 2009 12:09 AM

Fuzzy pricing, warranty loopholes, inconsistent service, and other issues can make shopping for a sewing machine a tangled mess. For instance, you’ll find straightforward pricing at major retailers, but these stores tend to sell fewer models and their repair services vary—some offer no service, others might provide only a list of places to bring your machine, and some might send out your sewing machine to be fixed. Independent dealers might appeal because they service the machines they sell and might even offer sewing lessons, but since they set their own prices—and some won’t quote them over the phone—comparison shopping among independents is not easy.

No matter where you shop, learn about the important features below so you can get the right machine for your needs.

Look for our upcoming report on sewing machines, which will be online next week.—Kimberly Janeway

Adjustable presser foot Controls how tightly the sewing machine holds the fabric in place; various settings prevent puckering in fine fabrics and stretching in knits.

Adviser programs Found on LED screens, these recommend stitches, settings, presser foot and more.

Auto tack Makes a few stitches close together that serve as a knot.

Automatic buttonholer Sews a buttonhole in one step, eliminating the need to stop and turn the fabric or manipulate selector dials. This feature is preferable to a four-step buttonholer, which makes a buttonhole with a forward zigzag stitch, bar tack, reverse zigzag, and finishing tack.

Bobbin-thread lift Brings the bobbin thread to the sewing surface so you don’t have to insert your fingers under the presser foot.

Feed-dog adjustment Lets you drop this toothy mechanism below the sewing surface for freestyle embroidery, darning, or quilting.

Free arm Allows you to stitch small circular areas when working on cuffs, pant leg hems, armholes, and other areas.

Needle down Lets you place the needle in an up or a down position when you stop, making it easy to lift the pressure foot and turn a corner with out a jump stitch.

Top-load bobbin Lets you drop the bobbin directly into the machine without fiddling.

Essential information: Read our most recent blog posts on sewing machines, including this inside look at our testing, tips on making costumes and getting the most of your machine, and details on an organization that helps kids.

February 2009 update: Our report on sewing machines is now available online. Find the best sewing machines in this report.

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