Choosing a sewing machine – good luck!

One of the questions we get asked the most is ‘how do I choose a sewing machine?’ We don’t profess to be experts on this – we use very old, very nice 1930s Singer sewing machines which do just what we want (most of the time!), but they’re not high tech and weren’t the result of a lot of research. There’s a quote from Poppy in our little film for the Eden project where she says ‘you have to kiss a lot of frogs before you find a good one’ and that is certainly true of the way we work.  Our machines have come from car boots, the dump, charity shops and the odd sewing machine shop (oh yes and ebay).  Quite often chosen because they’re pretty! We have about 13 of them in our studio at the last count!

One of our beauties in the studio we use on a daily basis - and nothing else!

One of our beauties in the studio we use on a daily basis – and nothing else!

Deciding on what machine to go for largely depends on what you want to do with your machine…..Do you want to just do a bit of dressmaking with an array of fancy stitches?  Some serious upholstery projects?  Or just have a play with freehand machine embroidery?

    • If you’re after something to see you through some really tough fabric, then a ‘flatbed’ machine is probably best – these are bigger, more industrial-type machines that take up more room but will serve you well when it comes to making curtains and other bigger projects.
    • Most modern machines will have a selection of decorative and functional stitches, some digital sewing machines will even do the sewing for you – you don’t even need to put your foot on the pedal!  Modern machines are great but we have found that a few people who own a new machine have said they are very light weight, even ‘throw away’ quality.  We think it depends how much you will be using your machine.  If it’s just for the occasional small sewing job, these would be fine.
    • If it’s the freehand machine embroidery you want to have a go at, then most machines old and new will have the ability to do this – it just takes a little practice to get used to the technique.


Your best bet to start with is your local sewing shop as they will have a wealth of experience on the subject, although be clear on your budget before you go in and don’t let yourself be seduced by the array of possibilities! It’s a good idea to write a list of what you want the machine to do first and then you’’ll know whether those extra features are of value to you or not. Experience says you should look for a machine that is metal rather than plastic and quite heavy and sturdy.

Our machines have a little screw on the undercarriage which allows you to drop the feed dogs and then we hold our fabric stretched tight in an embroidery hoop but if you can’t find one which does this then you can purchase a metal plate that covers the feed dogs whilst you’re sewing. We don’t use an embroidery foot when we’re stitching but again this is something you may have to experiment with for yourself, kissing frogs again!

Our Freya who makes all our lovely badges.

Our Freya who makes all our lovely badges.

Once you have your sewing machine you’ll find most bunching-up and bobbin-snarling issues are down to tension of the cloth, the machine and you! So you just need to play with it, and relax, till you get it right.

We hope you don’t have to kiss too many frogs!


4 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. greedy nan
    Dec 05, 2012 @ 16:59:17

    Can you do machine emrboidery with a treddle machine?


  2. Rosie
    Dec 28, 2012 @ 20:01:40

    Hi Poppy, I’m interested in doing some freehand embroidery. I haven’t yet found a sewing machine that can cope with the thickness of fabric that I use, so I was wondering what model of Singer machine do you use? I have found an old working one, desk and all, which has a new belt attached but no motor. It seems like a good buy but i’m not sure if the machine will be suitable. It’s code number is Y6368549 if that means anything to you. I’d really appreciate some advice before I part with my hard earned cash!


  3. Andrew Stephens
    Jan 06, 2013 @ 23:03:53

    I’m trying to get to grips with freehand embroidery with mixed success. Without a foot the thread keeps snapping, or at best bunching on the underside. Changing the tension makes no difference. I’m using a 12″ hoop – could this be too big, allowing the material to move up and down, or is it because the material is too thin (I’m experimenting on an old cotton bedsheet)?
    When I do use a foot it seems to put a little too much pressure on the material so I can’t get a fluid movement. Any suggestions much appreciated!


    PS I enjoyed reading your freehand book by the way (xmas pressie to myself) – plenty of inspiration!

    PPS Did I read correctly on your website, that you guys don’t even use hoops for freehand work?


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