Compared to a "full-sized" machine, what are the drawbacks of a mini?

I currently have a Singer 201 cabinet sewing machine dating from the `50s, which is used for general repairs and rarely for new makes. It's a fine machine with some history. For reasons it will likely be going to a different owner soon.

There are a raft of smaller machines on local auction sites, example this Elna Mini. They are often described as "toy machines" or "first machine for young girls to learn" (sorry some of the literature is from an earlier time)

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2 Answers 2


I have never personally used a mini sewing machine, but I have sewn, altered and repaired many different items of clothing.

The most useless machines are those which can only do a straight stitch. Yes, you can sew a seam and hem, but you cannot overcast the edges, apply patches or sew stretchy fabric with only a straight stitch.

The stitch options on the machine you show in your question are much better, but still limited. It has a straight stitch in several lengths, straight stitch shifted to the left and zig-zag stitches in several widths. That should be enough to alter and repair most articles of clothing and even sew simple clothes.

Depending on how short the arm of the machine is, it will be more difficult to sew things in the middle of a bigger piece of fabric (like a quilt or a patch on the knee / ellbow). Many mini machines I saw also don't have the option to sew tubes like sleeves or leg hems by removing a part of the housing.

I do expect such "mini" machines to have a weak motor, though. It will probably have trouble sewing through denim or similar tough fabrics, especially through several layers.

In summary, a mini sewing machine is a good option for people who only sew once in a while and only do easy projects like shortening a curtain or repairing a hem or a seam. If you want to do more than that and have the storage space, I advice looking for a second-hand normal sized sewing machine including accessories like sewing feet (or in this specific case: keep the machine you currently have). There shouldn't be too much of a price difference, unless you go for collectors or antique sewing machines.

I'm a firm believer that any 2nd-hand sewing machine from the 60s - 90s era performs better than the modern cheap consumer-grade machines. If you want comparable performance from a modern machine, you'll have to dish out for well-known, high-quality brands or an industrial-grade machine.

  • My current machine is straight-stitch only, so that would not be a downgrade, but I see your point.
    – Criggie
    Commented Apr 13 at 12:15

(WIP in progress)

My experiences based on buying the pictured mini machine. The Elna Mini appears to date from the 1990s, based on the booklet and the style of power supply. It has no website listed, and http://ISMACS.net/ also has no details.
This last will be corrected soon.


  • The mini-machine is physically smaller. Standing on a desk it is the same overall height as my Singer 201, which also goes down under the desk surface.
    However it is about the same overall depth. Thus storage space requirements are smaller.


  • The working space is smaller - the throat is significantly reduced to the point I couldn't stuff some of my item through. The fix was to change order around so I've got the bulk of fabric on the left hand side.

  • The mini machine weighs very much less, because it is made predominantly of plastic. Even the metal-looking foot plate is chromed-plastic, and the foot itself is transparent plastic.

  • The low-weight means its much easier to pull the machine instead of the fabric when sewing. Trying to hold tension on fabric while stitching caused the machine to slide over the painted desk. An anti-slip mat would be wise though clamping it to a table would be a great solution.

  • Grip on the fabric is much lower too - it was far too easy to accidentally slide the item sideways under the presser foot between stitches.

  • Speed - the mini has an on-off foot switch only. There is no variable speed for doing slow work, and the speed is fixed at about 3~4 stitches per second. This is way faster than by hand, but pedestrian compared to the Singer.
    Comparison of speed:

  • Power - the mini has much less power. My Singer is capable of stitching through light leather and the mini noticeably slowed at four layers of cotton.


  • The mini is at least 40 years newer, and has zig-zag built in rather than needing an fiddly extra attachment like the Singer, which is expensive and rarely complete.

  • There is a (technical term needed) stick-out bit encasing the bobbin, which allows cuffs and hems to be done easier. One could potentially shove a whole arm or leg on and work on a knee/elbow whereas on the flat-based singer it becomes an exercise in working at the bottom of a hole made of bundled-up cloth.

  • The mini is definitely a real sewing machine, which can do real-world sewing. Its not a toy, though it is also not an all-day machine. Stitches of more than 3~4 minutes length started to generate a very "warm" electric smell, so this unit will be getting opened and any lint cleaned out, and a light lube too.

One thing that fooled me was mental scaling. I need to reset my internal understanding of dimensions - the physically-smaller machine made me scale things about 20% undersized, even when working to measurements from an existing item:

enter image description here

I've had this same issue before when moving to a much-smaller lathe. Basically one's eye cannot be trusted when the tools change size dramatically. Again, this will come right over time.

  • 1
    Great review! You mentioned a few points I totally forgot about (like the fixed stitch speed) and some I never would have guessed (like pulling the machine over the desk).
    – Elmy
    Commented Apr 25 at 10:53

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