I've been thinking about learning to sew and would like to get to the point where I could possibly make a dress (and try to invent one with pockets). I've repaired buttons and rips by hand but guess that won't cut it for anything bigger to start off in getting started I need a sewing machine.

I don't want to spend too much to start but don't want something that the lack of quality makes life difficult in it self. Also with the machine what else would bee needed (other than fabric)?

2 Answers 2


Most entry-level sewing machines should do fine for sewing apparel, and can even handle a few thicknesses of denim (reviews are good for this sort of info). I would recommend going for a well-known brand rather than e.g. a vintage secondhand machine. That way if you have any issues, it will be easier to get support at a local sewing shop, from the manufacturer, when buying parts, etc.

Basic features and stitches:

  • Running stitch
  • Zig zag
  • Adjustable tension and stitch length
  • Backstitch function
  • Zipper foot
  • Maintenance kit (brushes, tweezers, screwdriver, etc.)

These should be standard for any modern machine. You probably will want a buttonhole function and a rolled hem presser foot (huge time-savers IMO). Other specialty presser feet (clear, teflon, etc.) can typically be bought aftermarket - another benefit of buying a well-known-brand, but these should get you through most of your projects.

Once you've brought it home, don't forget to read the manual and give it a cleaning regularly! It's also a good idea to keep it covered when not in use, to prevent dust buildup - some machines come with a cover or case, but you could always make your own.

With the machine what else would be needed (other than fabric)?

You'll also need:

  • Thread (in spools, or cones if you have a cone holder - cones are often cheaper per yard)
  • Empty bobbins
  • Needles (ballpoint for knit, universal for most everything else; the machine will likely come with a few, but you'll need to replace them as they get dull)

And some general sewing tools, which you probably already have some of if you've been hand-sewing:

  • Fabric scissors
  • Seam ripper
  • Pins
  • Chalk or disappearing marker for transferring pattern markings
  • Hand-sewing needles for finishing touches
  • Iron (ok, it's not strictly necessary, but it will make your results look much more professional if you press everything)

There are many other sewing accessories out there to play with, but those are the important ones.

One last note - steer clear of "hand-held" or "travel" sewing machines. These are small and cheap, typically intended for quick repairs. You don't have to spend a fortune (the model I have is currently $140 on Amazon), but going too cheap and ending up with a finicky, flimsy machine might turn you off from sewing altogether!

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    It would also be worth mentioning that buy a new machine from some places comes with free introductory instructional use from the retailer. The place in town does that for customers and its really handy.
    – Matt
    Commented Dec 7, 2016 at 16:55

If you are a beginner and have a limited budget, find a used machine from the 70's or earlier that is in good running condition. They are still around, and they are workhorses that were built to be tools, compared to today's low-end machines that were built for occasional use and might not hold up under regular use - when I was buying machines 10-20 years ago for my children and the low-end machine I got would not keep its tension through an entire sewing project, and when I went back to the sewing machine store to complain, the salesperson chided me for buying a low-end machine for regular use #facepalm, saying they weren't built for that.

My go-to machine right now is a free-arm New Home machine from the 70s or maybe 80s that has 30 stitches including decorative and stretch stitches and a semi-automatic buttonholer. My previous machine was a free-arm machine from Sears (made by White) from the 70s that had six stitches, including a blind-hem stitch that I ended up not using because I liked hand-stitched hems better, and no buttonholer. My previous machine to that was my first machine that my parents bought me when I was in 7th grade; a non-free-arm (because they didn't make them then) Sears machine that had straight and zigzag and nothing else. Any of these machines will be able to be handed down to your grandchildren if taken care of properly. A computerized machine will only be good as long as the computer is okay, and when the computer dies, the machine will probably not be worth repairing.

The minimum you would need as a beginner is straight stitch, zigzag stitch (Preferably with an infinite variability to width and not just a few fixed widths, which they do on low-end machines these days), and if you anticipate needing to make a lot of buttonholes, at least a semi-automatic buttonholer. I think my six-stitch machine was perfect for almost everything I needed.

And you didn't ask about this, but since you might not know to ask: When you are making clothing, you not only need to have sewing skills, but also fitting skills, which can be developed over time. If you make the garment and try it on and it doesn't fit right, you can't return it. Fortunately there are a lot of references about fitting skills these days, both in print and online.

All the best to you in your adventure of making your own clothes!

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