Holiday Gift Guide: 5 things to know when buying a sewing machine

Consumer Reports News: December 22, 2009 06:18 PM

If a sewing machine is on the wish list of somebody special on your gift-giving roster, check our free buyer's guide to sewing machines and compare machines by referring to our ratings of models from Bernina, Brother, Husqvarna, Kenmore, Singer, and others (available to subscribers).

Keep these tips in mind as you shop:

1. Match the machine to the task.
Determine whether the machine will be used for basic repairs and alterations, frequent projects, or quilting and embroidering. It might be a smart move to buy a bit more machine than initially needed for beginners and intermediates since their skills and interest might grow.

2. Consider budget, then machine type.
Mechanical machines are for basic sewing and cost less than electronic models, but you'll have to set most of the controls by hand, and the machines come with fewer stitches.

Electronic models have touchpad controls and even suggest the best stitch to use or the ideal setting. All the electronic models we tested for our March 2009 report on sewing machines were easy to use.

Embroidery machines combine sewing and embroidery functions. You'll need a computer to access all of their capabilities, and while some are more intuitive to use than others, there's still a learning curve.

3. Look for ways to save.
Search online for coupons and rebates, and ask about trade-in allowances. Major retailers tend to set firm prices, while dealers determine their own prices, so negotiate the price and ask them to throw in free lessons.

4. Inquire about repair polices. The dealer might do repairs in store or send your machine out to a service center or to the manufacturer. No matter where the repair is done, ask about turnaround time—it can takes days to weeks. And remember, keep the box and packaging in case the machine needs to go out for service.

5. Check the warranty. Five of the 18 machines we tested needed one or more repairs, parts, or reprogramming, so it's important to get a machine with a strong warranty. Warranties for tested models ranged from three months to a year, and some make you pay for shipping for repairs.

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