Best sewing machines 2018: The perfect stitch, from £109

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Whether you’re a beginner wanting to do basic hemming, or a super-sewer with your sights set on a complicated quilt or creative curtains, a good sewing machine is your best ally. Indeed, with needle power back in fashion, your machine can take pride of place in your home – and if you choose the right one, it can last you a lifetime.

Here’s our pick of the best sewing machines money can buy, covering everything from entry-level machines for first-timers to specialist models for embroidery or heavy-duty materials. And if you don’t know your buttonhole from your bobbin, or your feed dog from your free arm, our buyer’s guide gives you the low-down on what to look for.

How to choose the best sewing machine for you

What types of sewing machine are there?

  • The most commonplace are electronic sewing machines; these are powered by a single motor and operated with a foot pedal, freeing up your hands to guide the fabric and adjust the speed with ease. A simple dial lets you select stitch types and lengths. Great for beginners through to experienced sewers.
  • For more complicated jobs, computerised sewing machines come into their own. These use several motors to control different functions of the machine, ranging from needle up/down function to maximum speed control. Their precision control vastly expands the number and type of stitch types available – sometimes even letting you create your own – which you can select either using buttons or on an LCD display. Many computerised machines also have memory functions, which can be useful if you do a lot of sewing.
  • Finally there’s overlockers: these are finishing machines, designed specifically for stitching edges. This makes them perfect for hems and seams, although some also have options for decorative stitching, and can be good for sewing knitted fabrics too. In general, you’d use an overlocker as a second sewing machine, in addition to your main one.

What features should I look for?

Beginners will definitely want an easy threading system, and sewers of all types should look for a selection of stitches, along with a range of stitch widths and lengths to suit the kind of tasks you’ll be doing.

As a general rule of thumb, for dressmaking, straightforward crafts and alterations, a basic machine should be fine, as long as it has several different lengths of straight stitch, a choice of zigzag stitches and automatic buttonhole – along with a free arm if you’re including sleeves and pockets.

For more advanced crafts, as well as embroidery, quilting and home furnishings, you’ll need a wider range of stitches and – if you plan to use thicker fabrics - a heavier duty machine. Sewers who spend many hours at their machine may also benefit from advanced features including memory options, dual-feed and knee-lift.

How do I make sense of all the jargon?

Choosing a sewing machine does involve getting to grips with some specialist language, but there are plenty of good online glossaries. Once you’ve mastered the terms, head to a specialist shop like John Lewis and get an expert to talk you through which ones you really need. Ideally, try before you buy.

What if my sewing machine needs a new part later down the line?

Unlike many modern appliances, a decent sewing machine can be repaired by a sewing machine engineer. The most likely parts that will need replacing include spool pegs, bobbin cases, gears, belts, foot controls and motors. Check the brand you choose has these parts available to buy separately if the need arises – the best brands will stock them not just now, but for decades to come.

Is there anything else I should consider?

Sewing machines can be light and compact, or they can be big and heavy: think about whether you need a machine that can be easily moved it out of the way when it’s not in use. But don’t just default to choosing the smallest, lightest machine: these can feel less steady, with smaller controls and a smaller sewing area which could limit your scope.

Finally, think about accessories. Check what the machine comes with, find out whether there are additional ones you can buy, and ascertain whether the machine has built-in storage space for them.

Read next: Best washing machines

The best sewing machines to buy

1. Janome 7025 Sewing Machine: The best sewing machine for beginners

Price when reviewed: £229 | Buy now from John Lewis

There’s no shortage of simple sewing machines designed for beginners, but this is our favourite by far. It’s not too heavy to lift, yet it feels extremely robust, with parts built to last – and it’s surprisingly quiet too.

Thanks to the clear and comprehensive instructions, it’s incredibly easy to set up and get going. Three dials enable you to select your stitch type (from a list of 24, including embroidery and utility), and the bobbin is both simple to load and easily visible, so you can see how much thread is left. The automatic one-step buttonhole feature is a particular highlight – it’s a doddle to use, even for novices. Storage capacity is on the stingy side, but otherwise this is a fantastic machine that feels very intuitive to use.

Key specs – Type: Electronic; Stitch options: 24; Weight: 7kg; Warranty: 2 years

2. John Lewis JL110 Sewing Machine: The Best sewing machine for under £150

Price when reviewed: £109 | Buy now from John Lewis

If your sewing needs are limited to the occasional minor repair, this is a great-value entry-level machine with 14 stitch options, a four-step buttonhole feature and a darning plate. It’s compact and lightweight, with an easy set-up process so you can get stuck into your sewing without delay – and it’s available in three pretty pastel shades, which makes a change from the normal uniform white.

While it feels sturdy and has a powerful motor, it does have some limitations – notably, there’s stitch length control but no width, and the bobbin isn’t the easiest to access if your thread gets knotted up. Also, the zipper foot isn’t included. Still, for the money it’s a great little sewer.

Key specs – Type: Electronic; Stitch options: 14; Weight: 6kg; Warranty: 2 years

3. Janome 6234XL: Best overlocker

Price when reviewed: £449 | Buy now from Amazon

If you’re looking for a professional finish on hems and seams, you’ll love this advanced machine: its twin needles give precision control over pretty much every kind of household fabric you can think of. The colour-coded guides make threading a cinch, and there’s a self-threading lower looper too. It even arrives already threaded with cones, so you won’t waste any time in getting started.

In use it runs smoothly and quietly, without a puckered or stretched edge in sight. We also like the conversion feature that allows you to quickly switch to rolled hemming without changing the needle plate. Whether it’s decorative over-edging, gathering or pin tuck, this makes a fabulous additional machine to use alongside your main one – and if you’re not au fait with the ways of overlockers it comes with a genuinely useful instructional DVD.

Key specs – Type: Overlocker; Stitch options: n/a; Weight: 9kg; Warranty: 10 years

4. Brother Innov-Is M230e Embroidery Machine: The best sewing machine for embroidery

Price: £849 | Buy now from John Lewis 

Everything about this embroidery machine is intuitive. Within an hour, we had it threaded up and had completed some basic multi-coloured designs. It’s suitable for complete beginners right through to pros, and while it’s only for embroidery it’s a very focused, feature-packed machine, with more than 125 built-in patterns, designs and fonts and a USB port to upload your own designs.

You control it via a colour LCD touch screen, which couldn’t be easier to use (thank goodness, as the instructions could be clearer) and there are plenty of extras provided, including a needle set, bobbins, a bobbin clip, a seam ripper, scissors, a cleaning brush, a screwdriver, spool caps, an embroidery frame, accessories bag and (deep breath) an embroidery design guide. This isn’t a machine for the casual hobbyist, but for embroidery fanatics we think it’s as good as it gets.

Key specs - Type: Computerised embroidery machine; Stitch options: 125+; Weight: 10.74kg; Warranty: 3 year

5. Toyota Oekaki Renaissance Sewing Machine: Best modern design

Price: £329 | Buy now from Hobbycraft 

Oekaki is Japanese for “to draw”, and this appliance lives up to its name by enabling free-motion embroidery. You’ll need some patience to get the hang of it, but templates are included with ideas, and it opens up a world of creative possibilities.

The machine itself is a looker too: we adore its sleek curves and hot colours, and the LCD screen where you select the settings is nice and clear. There’s an impressive 50 stitch options to choose from – although you may have to rummage a bit to get to the one you want – and the Oekaki deals with a range of fabrics with ease, as well as being quick and easy to thread. As a final plus it’s lightweight and transportable, and can be operated by either hand or foot. In all, it’s a superbly versatile machine that definitely stands out from the crowd.

Key specs – Type: Computerised; Stitch options: 50; Weight: 6.5kg; Warranty: 3 years

6. Brother JK4000: Best for intermediate sewers

Price when reviewed: £299 | Buy now from John Lewis

This fully computerised machine ticks a lot of boxes. Its 40 stitch options (including utility and decorative) are easy to select using the dial and LCD screen, and the one-step buttonhole feature means you’ll be all set for projects both simple and complicated. There’s LED lighting and a slide speed control to help with precision work too – and you can optionally use the stop-start button instead of the foot pedal.

Clear and concise instructions make it a cinch to set up, and the needle threader works beautifully once you get the knack (although it can take a few goes). Indeed, it’s so easy to use a lot of beginners could get away with using this too. As a bonus, it’s one of the quietest machines we’ve tested, too.

Key specs – Type: Computerised; Stitch options: 40; Weight: 7.3kg; Warranty: 3 years

7. Singer Heavy Duty 4432 Sewing Machine: Best for curtains and heavyweight fabrics

Price when reviewed: £279 | Buy now from John Lewis

Basic sewing machines can struggle with stretchy fabrics, multiple layers and heavy materials like denim and leather. Not so this industrial looking machine: it boasts an exceptionally powerful motor, as well as a robust metal frame and stainless steel plate.

It’s a real workhorse too, and stitches surprisingly quickly. You get 32 stitch options, with a one-step buttonhole function, and an automatic needle threader that works a treat. The bobbin wind system and free arm are both handy too. If we had to gripe, we’d note that the dust cover is flimsy, and our model didn’t come with printed instructions in English – but there is a useful tutorial CD. In all it’s a seriously good sewing machine.

Key specs – Type: Computerised; Stitch options: 32; Weight: 6.4kg; Warranty: 2 years

8. Janome Atelier 5 Computerised Sewing Machine: Best luxury buy

Price when reviewed: £899 | Buy now from Amazon

This seriously upmarket sewing machine has a huge 9mm stitch width and a generous 210mm arm space, which will appeal to more experienced sewers. It’s extremely powerful (up to 1,000 stitches per minute) and there’s a whopping 170 stitches to choose from – include no fewer than four built-in alphabets – all of which are displayed in the lid when opened. It also has automatic thread cutting, twin needle sewing and the ability to combine stitches, along with automated one-step buttonholes in 10 different styles.

Despite all these features, we found it really easy to get going. Yes, it costs and arm and a leg, but it’s a voyage of sewing discovery and you will quickly wonder how on earth you lived without it. Just be aware that its size and weight make it hard to stow away – and the bobbin holder can be tricky to click into place when winding.

Key specs – Type: Computerised; Stitch options: 170; Weight: 14kg; Warranty: 2 years

9. Silver 12 Stitch Mini Sewing Machine: The best sewing machine for under £50

Price: £49 | Buy now from John Lewis 

If you’ve never owned a sewing machine before (or you haven’t touched one in a very long time) and just want a cheap and cheerful hobbyist machine, this Silver model is a great buy. It’s aimed at complete beginners, and we found it easy to set up and use all 12 stitch options including embroidery. Impressively, it even has an automatic 4-step buttonhole. It comes with everything you’d expect,– including a couple of thread spools, a couple of bobbins, a needle threader and needle. Just be warned that it’s only good for lightweight materials and is nowhere near as sturdy as more expensive rivals. Still, even this has upsides: it’s light enough to take away with you, while it’s a great machine for children.

Key specs - Type: mechanical; Stitch options: 12; Weight: 2kg; Warranty: none

10. Janome Sewist 725S: The best all-rounder

Price: £299 | Buy now from Janome

The latest mechanical machine from this top brand is causing great excitement in the world of sewing machines. Why? Because it’s great for both beginners (helping them to understand machine settings) and more intermediate sewers. Also, because it’s lightweight, without being so light that it jumps around the table and because it’s robust. And, finally, because it has plenty of refined features including the extra high presser foot lifter (to fit bulky fabrics underneath), foot pressure adjustment (to help feed difficult fabrics and applique), plus a top-loading bobbin and auto declutch bobbin. This means the needle doesn’t go up and down while winding the bobbin – a great safety feature. It’s versatile, with 23 stitches and a one-step buttonhole, and it comes with a hard cover for transportation and LED lighting. A fabulous all-rounder.

Key specs - Type: mechanical; Stitch options: 23; Weight: 6.7kg; Warranty: 2 years

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