What Sewing Machine To Buy
A good walking foot sewing machine is the first thing you will need when beginning upholstery! But with all of the different brands, models and price points out there, it can be a bit confusing! Luckily we are here to help! Keep reading for tips on finding the right sewing machine for you, choosing your budget, what you accessories you need and don’t, and so much more!
WHAT IS A WALKING FOOT SEWING MACHINE? Finding the right sewing machine can be tough, but first let’s get a better understanding of the walking foot sewing machine, so you have a better idea of what you should be looking for. The first and most important tool you will need to start learning upholstery is an Industrial Walking Foot Sewing Machine. When you are shopping for your first machine, you need to make sure it is a WALKING FOOT MACHINE. The walking foot feature is what allows an upholster to sew multiple layers of fabric and foam together with ease. Non-walking foot machines are meant for light weight applications and will not work for the types of projects we are doing. For more info check out this Lucky Needle Video: What is a Walking Foot Sewing Machine? How it Works & Why You Need One!
The term “Walking Foot” is one of the most well-known and common terms used for describing the type of machine we are looking for. There are a few other terms used for this exact same type of machine such as; Unison Feed, Compound Feed and Triple Feed. All of these terms represent the type of machine that uses three different moving parts, the feed dog, the inner foot, and the needle to help feed the material through the machine. This type of machine needs all three parts working together to move the thick layers of material through the machine smoothly.
When shopping for sewing machines you will occasionally see machines that will be advertised as walking foot machines, but if you examine the machine closely, only the outer foot is actually moving in a way to help feed the fabric, and the inner foot and needle only move straight up and down, not helping feed the material in any way. I suggest avoiding these types of “fake” walking foot machines, as they will not work as well for heavy materials. The following video reviewing the Juki DDL-1181N, is a great example of a “fake” walking foot machine I would avoid: Juki DDL-1181N Industrial Walking Foot Sewing Machine Review
Industrial sewing machines come with two motor options; clutch type and servo type. The most common is the clutch type motor, but servo motors are quickly becoming more popular as the technology becomes less expensive. Clutch type motors work by using a clutch that engages the motor to the machine when the pedal is pressed, similar to how a clutch in a manual car works. While they are considered to be the more powerful of the two options, the sewing speed can be difficult to control because the clutch motor spins full speed all the time. If your machine has a clutch type motor, I suggest getting the smallest pulley available to reduce the speed and make it easier to control. I use a clutch type motor in The Lucky Needle Course Videos, as it is the most common and most likely what you will be starting with. Below, you can see a clutch motor on the left and a servo motor on the right.
Servo motors are electronically controlled and don’t start spinning until you press the pedal. The best feature about this type of motor is that you can control the speed with a dial on the motor, giving you much more control over your machine. They are thought to have less power than the clutch type, but I personally have not found this to be an issue. I actually prefer servo motors over the clutch type, but it’s not likely to find a used machine with a servo motor for an affordable price. If it is in your budget, I would recommend getting a machine with this type of motor. However, you can learn on a clutch type just as myself and many others did before servo motors. In recent years servo motors have become much more affordable. One good option I see a lot of people doing, is finding a well-priced, used machine and then fitting an aftermarket servo motor to the used machine. This is a pretty easy thing to do and you can find new servo motors for around $150. Here are two examples of popular options:
CHOOSING YOUR BUDGET: When It comes to shopping for a walking foot sewing machine, my advice varies based on what you can afford to spend. Whatever your budget is, our FREE Sewing Machine Buyers Guide will help you find the best options in your price range! Something I want you to consider when purchasing a sewing machine is that this tool is an investment! If you learn to use it correctly, it will not only save you money by not paying others to do the work for you but can also make you money by charging others to do work for them. The cost of your machine will likely pay for itself a thousand times over during its life. Especially if you figure that the cost of a new custom automotive interior can range anywhere between $5,000 to $20,000! I have made a great living for myself over the last ten years, and it all started with a used Juki LU-562 that I bought for $600!
Budget # 1 – $400 to $1400: If your budget is somewhere in this range, I recommend purchasing a quality used machine. This is because most new machines that are in this price range are not very good and can cause you frustrating sewing issues. (There are a few rare exceptions! For a great, affordable, new machine, check out the NC1! More info in the FREE Sewing Machine Buyers Guide). Searching for a used machine can take a bit of time, but it’s the best option compared to buying a cheap, low quality, new machine. If this is your budget, continue on to learn how to find and purchase a quality used machine.
Budget # 2 – $1400 to $2200: If you are able to spend this amount on a machine, there are a few fantastic options that will likely last you your entire life. If this is your budget, check out our FREE Sewing Machine Buyers Guide for more info!
Budget # 3 – No Budget “My Dream Sewing Machines”: If you are lucky enough to have a large budget for your sewing machine and want the best money can buy, these machines are what every trimmer wishes they had. If this is your budget, check out our FREE Sewing Machine Buyers Guide for more info!
HOW TO FIND & PURCHASE A QUALITY USED MACHINE
Purchasing a used machine is a great option, but it can be daunting if you don’t know where to start. Keep reading to find out about the process of buying a used machine, including; Where to Search for a Machine, What Machines to Look For, Inspecting the Condition of the Sewing Machine, as well as Making the Deal!
WHERE TO SEARCH: I always recommend starting your search for a machine on Craigslist! This is a fantastic place to find good deals! If Craigslist isn’t popular in your area, there should be some sort of classifieds or other local secondhand websites available. Facebook Marketplace can also be a great place to search for deals.In addition to Facebook Marketplace, Facebook may have local selling groups in your area you can join to search for deals!
The following are three search terms I recommend using when searching for used machines:
“Walking Foot Sewing Machine” – This will quickly find you the most qualified machines.
“Industrial Sewing Machine” – This search will likely include a lot of non- walking foot machines, so you will have to sort through the results. On the bright side, this is typically where you will find the best deals! Most often the people selling these used machines don’t know what a walking foot sewing machine is or the value of one, they just want it out of their garage.
“Commercial Sewing Machine” – This search will yield similar results as above. Many non- walking foot sewing machines, but some machines that will be worth the search!
WHAT MACHINES TO LOOK FOR: When it comes to shopping for an older, used machine it’s quite a bit easier than people make it out to be. Honestly, any of the major brands of sewing machines are great machines and will work for you. As I said earlier, older machines were manufactured pretty darn well. The important thing is to make sure you get a walking foot machine. Major Brands include:
• Adler • Brother • Consew • Juki • Pfaff • Singer
There are some other smaller brands you may come across that will work for you, just make sure you test and inspect the machine before buying it!
One other thing to keep in mind when looking for sewing machines, is to make sure the sewing machine has a reverse function. A reverse function allows you to easily lock in your stitch, so it does not unravel. Some older machines did not come standard with this function, so it’s definitely something you will want to be on the lookout for. It is still possible to do everything on a machine without a reverse function, you will just have to manually reverse the machine by hand. The reverse function just makes life much easier, as you will see once you start practicing.
The machines pictured below are some models of good, used sewing machines, separated by brand. This is not meant to be a complete list, but a general guide on what types and styles of sewing machines to look for.
INSPECTING THE CONDITION OF THE USED SEWING MACHINE: It may take you some time to find a good deal on a quality used machine, but I promise if you keep looking you will find a great machine for a great deal! In my experience these older machines are pretty tough, so as long as they were somewhat cared for, they should be in pretty good condition. That being said, here are some things you should look for when purchasing a used machine:
Visually inspect the entire machine. Look underneath the machine, inside the access plate on the side of the head and inside the bobbin case. If you see any damage or something that does not look right, you should pass on the machine.
Rust! Inspect the machine inside and out for rust on the parts. Sewing machines should be oiled regularly in order to operate smoothly and prevent it from rusting. If you see excessive rust on a machine, it probably means it was left outside and not oiled for some time. If a machine has been left outside you will want to steer clear of purchasing it.
Check for coverups! Does the machine look like it has been repainted? Repainted machines are typically hiding something, like rust, water damage or extreme overuse!
Check the needle bar and feet bars for excessive play. To do this, lock the feet in the upright position, then grab each bar individually and check for excessive play. There will probably be some play but if it feels like a lot, the bushings are probably worn out from not oiling the machine enough. This is not a deal breaker because this can be repaired, but this will involve taking the machine to a place that services industrial sewing machines to have this problem fixed.
Turn the machine over by hand using the hand wheel. The machine should turn over smoothly. If it feels a little rough, it most likely just needs a cleaning and oiling. If you cannot turn the machine over at all there is most likely something broken or bent inside the machine. Do not buy a machine in this condition.
TEST THE MACHINE BEFORE YOU BUY IT! Bring some material with you and test it out! See if it feels normal while sewing. Does it make any strange noises? If you don’t know what it is supposed to feel like or sound like, watch some YouTube videos beforehand. There are videos previewing most older machines that you can watch to get a good idea of how the machine should operate.
Check the stitching. Are any stitches being skipped? Is the thread fraying anywhere? Does the stitching look tight, even and normal? These are not deal breakers because most of these problems are caused by an offsetting or the timing being off. These problems are not hard fixes and are usually affordable to have someone service and time the machine, if you don’t want to do it yourself.
Once you get your newly acquired sewing machine home, I recommend giving it a deep cleaning and a good oiling! Check out these Lucky Needle videos:
MAKING THE DEAL: When shopping for a used machine or any tool, remember that the asking price is NOT the sale price. Many people shop around looking at the LIST price. Getting a good deal is up to you asking for a better deal! Most people that list things for sale do not expect to sell it for the price they list it at. I recommend making an offer at least 30% lower than the asking price and expect to meet somewhere in the middle. So just remember that you have to ASK for a better price to actually get a better price!
Another thing to keep in mind when making a deal is to look at how long the machine has been listed for sale. If it’s been weeks and has not sold, the seller will be more likely to accept a lower price.
Check out this Lucky Needle video for more information and a deeper explanation of how I approach making a good deal on used equipment:
FOR MORE INFORMATION on what machine to buy, including buying new machines, specialty machines and accessories, check out our FREE Sewing Machine Buyers Guide! Not only is this guide FILLED with information, but it also has exclusive discounts! To download your FREE copy of our Sewing Machine Buyers Guide now, CLICK HERE!