Tools of the Trade: the Best Sewing Machines

Although we have plenty of sewing machine-free projects (like this Random Ruffle Tshirt, felt baby booties, or how to transform an old bridesmaid dress), if you’re a textile enthusiast there comes a point, when you’ll feel the itch to pull the trigger and invest in a sewing machine. And if you’re research obsessed like we are, you’ll find yourself in a black hole of sewing machine googling. So how is one ever to make a decision? We asked our resident sewing experts here at Creativebug what they use and what they recommend for beginners. From vintage machines to Sears models to fancy European-made machines, there is something for everyone on this list, but please let us know, in the comments, if we’ve left out your favorite machine!

Our Favorite Sewing Machines

Image above: Expert sewer Kristin Nicolas’ favorite machine, the Bernina 831. Photo by Rikki Snyder from Crafting a Colorful Home. Published 2015 by Roost Books.

Kristin is the author of 8 books on knitting and embroidery and writes the blog Getting Stitched on the Farm so when it comes to sewing machines, she knows what she’s doing. When she needs to use a machine, she turns to the Bernina 831. Made with nearly all metal parts and has a built-in buttonholer,  this machine is a real workhorse. (It’s nearly the same as the Bernina 830, only a few less stitches and a bit less expensive.) Kristin is also one of our resident knitting experts. Check out all her classes here – don’t miss the one on making your own Steeked Fair Isle Pillow.


Alabama Chanin’s Natalie Chanin started sewing on an Elna machine while in design school in the 1980s and she still owns one today. These days it get used occasionally at The Factory for sewing on paper. But she says that the machines that have stolen her heart are the Juki industrial sewing machines that they use at Building 14 for all the Alabama Chanin sewing and manufacturing projects. Don’t have a sewing machine yet? No problem. We have plenty of hand sewing clases like this one for traditional applique from Natalie.


At Fancy Tiger Crafts in Denver, Colorado, they use Janome machines both in the classroom and at home. In the classroom, they use the more basic model, which has held up well and is user-friendly — perfect for beginning sewing classes. But for home, co-owner Jaime Jennings invested in a fancier digital model which allows you to change the needle position and sewing speed with the push of a button.  These ladies can sew! Check out all their classes here, but don’t miss the one on making a waxed canvas tote.

fbimageDesigner and modern quilter Heather Jones sews regularly on a vintage Singer machines — a Singer 281-1, an industrial machine that dates back to the late ’60s, and a Singer Featherweight from the ’50s. Another favorite machine that is more readily available is the Juki TL 2000-Qi. Heather uses it primarily for quilting on a long arm frame, but says that it is also excellent for piecing and for day-to-day sewing jobs. It doesn’t have any decorative stitches, but it makes a beautiful straight stitch and it has the capability to sew very fast. But if you’re looking for a vintage machine, Heather recommends Craigslist. It’s how she snagged her ’50s Singer Featherweight. By purchasing a vintage machine locally rather than online, you can get a better sense of the condition and ideally give it a test run before you purchase. See all of Heather’s quilting classes right here, but don’t miss Rainbow Jellyroll Quilt Top — it will get you in the mood for spring!


Crafter Nicole Blum’s favorite machine is the Janome Sewist. It’s inexpensive, can remove foot pressure entirely and even though it’s not flashy or fancy, she used it to sew all 101 projects from her book, Improv Sewing: A Freeform Approach to Creative Techniques. See all of Nicole’s classes here including a how-to for a beautiful stitched rope basket.


Maker of everything textile-related, Cal Patch, says that she’s not very fussy about sewing machines. Her go-to is a computerized Kenmore (which is really made by Janome — Kenmore is Sears’ private label). Cal chose the machine for the bells and whistles and for that fact that it has nearly 100 stitches, but in the 15 years she’s had the machine, she’s found that she only uses about 5 or 6 stitches so the machine that she recommends most often to her students is the Brother CS6000i — a great machine for a really reasonable price. (Although, if/when her own machine dies, she’s dreaming of a Bernina!) You can find all Cal’s textile-related classes here including an easy way to make that wardrobe staple, the A-line skirt!


Quilter Liza Lucy has four different machines. She says that they are all favorites for very different reasons. She has a 1930s Singer Featherweight that is her favorite for taking to class because it makes a beautiful straight stitch and a soothing ‘tick tick tick’ sound that is unique to vintage machines.  She also has a Viking Designer 1, with an automatic foot lift that is wonderful for handling tricky curves (but it’s not great for patchwork piecing). Liza calls her Bernina 1530 her “old sneakers” because she’s so comfortable on that machine that she can practically sew with her eyes closed. But the machine of the moment is her year-old Bernina Quilters 550 Edition, which is just perfect for her work as a quiltmaker. Learn how to quilt with Liza right here. And don’t miss her Zig-Zag pillow class. It’s perfect for a spring home refresh!