Advice about sewing machines

My elderly hand-me-down sewing machine has had enough of my bad sewing and is refusing to play any more. I do only very basic stuff (e.g. patches, repairs, small projects like cushion covers etc) and would prefer to buy a second-hand machine. Choice hasn’t done a review since 2013 and, while the general guidelines are helpful, there’s no help at all when assessing the worth and effectiveness of more current models. Anyone out there with recommendations?

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A good question to ask is why any sewing machine is in the second hand market. After my mum passed on her oldish but hardly ever used machine went to one of my sisters. A service, not cheap and as good as a brand new one.

Others though may not have been so little used. How does one know for sure?

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A well know Sewing Repair Shop (for the area where the person is looking) may be a good starting point to find 2nd hand machines. Some come in for repair but are scrapped due to cost but the parts may be used in another to make a decent machine again. Several of our family members enjoy the ones we have purchased from decent stores. These machines often come with some warranty and any problems can be quickly picked up if used regularly.

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I have owned a number of sewing machines. The one I loved the best was the Elna Air-electronic SU bought new in the 1980’s. Unfortunately the air seal inside the machine started leaking, being a bit time poor and working away, I got a repairer to have a look, he broke the circuit board and handed me back a pile of bits. If you find one in working order they are brilliant, but the twitching air hose is irresistible to cats who have to claw & bite requiring constant patching and replacement.

I had an ex-school refurbished mechanical Singer which weighed a ton, looked terrible - pitted and worn, and was never any good at sheers but OK for basic sewing, but not for the volume & variety I did. Eventually traded in on a Janome Memory Craft 4900. That had constant problems with tension (sewing & bobbin winding) and a few annoying traits.

One issue I didn’t consider was it used different bobbins to all the others I had owned. I had to buy about 100 new ones and rewind the 250 I had. The Elna embroidery cams are also different, but embroidery is now electronic rather than mechanical.

My mother gave me a Janome overlocker which was noisy but introduced me to the efficiency of overlocking. I have a Baby Lock Imagine 4 thread overlocker which now does most of my sewing tasks. The cones are 1,000m for $3 in basic colours Vs 50m - 100m reels @ $6 - $13ea. The Janome can only take a small reel of cotton so you are limited to expensive reels; unless you get innovative - I feed from the overlocker.

The Janome’s arm is too wide to take a narrow sleeve. The Elna had a removable “table” around the arm which (when removed) allowed sleeves to be manoeuvred (think putting a patch on an elbow) and the table gave a wide flat space to manipulate seams.

If you are not doing curtains and sheers, tension would not be much of a problem. There are basic new sewing machines on the market that were not around when I was looking for a cheap machine. Some of the refurbished machines are dearer as it costs more to refurbish than new.

Now the eyesight is getting poor, I really appreciate the automatic threader. Try it first, as I found some more trouble than doing it with a thin wire. The Baby Lock is the best.

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When we purchased our first second hand machine (the previous machine was a family hand-me-down) we looked around at new ones and found a model that met all our needs. We then searched for second hand ones of the same model (finding that the model runs are longer than many other products) and managed to get a very good one from someone that was upgrading to another model. The machine was 2 years old and half the price.

We also had the option of buying one which was an unwanted wedding present, but it would have taken about 1/2 day round trip to collect…which we thought was not worth it.

If one is patient and one knows what they are after, one can get a current model secondhand with a significant discount.

It may also be worthwhile that the existing owner does a machine service before you hand over your cash…to ensure that the machine is in good working order on its collection. This is possibly more important for more expensive/older models.

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I agree with @grahroll. Go to a sewing machine shop to see what they have.

The sewing machines & overlockers sold at chain fabric stores are cheaper variants and oft have cheaper (plastic) internal components. This is how they can sell them cheaper, but why they break a lot faster.

At a sewing machine store you should be able to have a close look at different brands, and work out what features you need/want.

As @grahroll said, they sometimes have 2nd hand machines for sale. Talk to the staff, and tell them what you want, and ask about quality, reliability, servicing, replacement parts, etc.

We waited until the machines (sewing & overlocker) we wanted came up on special, at a considerable saving. (The business owner told us when this was going to happen.)

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