After talking with two sewing machine dealers, a teacher, and seasoned sewers, we think computerized machines are the best bet for intermediate sewers and for beginners who know they love sewing and can invest a little more for features that will make learning easier. We spent 12 hours researching specs, reviews, and recommendations, testing several, and we think the Janome DC5100 offers the best combination of useful and versatile computerized features for a range of sewers. Plus it comes at a great price. But we have other picks for quilters, travelers, and anyone who wants dealer perks.
This review covers only computerized machines. If you’re interested in mechanical machines less than $300, check out our review of the best sewing machine for beginners.
If you have the basics of sewing down—like how to thread a machine, change a bobbin and a needle, and make simple pillows or clothes—you might want to invest in an intermediate-level machine that can help you progress into more complicated projects. Although you can spend thousands on computerized models, a budget of $400 to $900 will get you really handy features, like the machine telling you which stitch and presser foot to use for specific fabrics.
For guidance on what to look for in a sewing machine at this price, and the features available from specific brands they sell, we spoke to three sewing machine dealers: Harvey Federman at Sew Right in Bayside, Queens, in New York; Torri Root, the sales manager for Sewing Machines Plus; and Toby Moldave from the Viking Sewing Gallery inside Jo-Ann Fabrics in Colonia, New Jersey. We also referred to sewing machine reviews from Sewing Insight, Erin Says Sew!, and user reviews from Pattern Review. We found some more tips for how to buy a sewing machine on Cool Crafts and Colette.
We also spoke to Nellie Wu, owner of Craft Common, a sewing and craft studio on Long Island. The studio recently opened, and she talked to us about the machines she researched and purchased for class use. I also reached out to some quilters in the New York City area for tips and suggestions.
I’m a quilter and quilt designer with years of experience using various sewing machines. My quilt designs have been published for Cloud9 Fabrics and in Generation Q magazine. I’ve also written about quilting topics for Generation Q. My mom taught me to sew as a kid, but I didn’t pick it up again until I was an adult. I started on a Kenmore mechanical machine and transitioned to a computerized machine when I began tackling more complex quilts and, eventually, bags and garments. I’ve used computerized machines at various prices for about a decade. I currently own three of them.
If you’re new to sewing, or just getting back into it after a long hiatus, you may wonder whether you should get a mechanical or computerized machine, and whether the latter will make you a better sewer. The answer really depends on your budget and comfort level with digital settings. Mechanical machines are pretty inexpensive and have a short learning curve because there are only a handful of controls and options. They are really great if you’re new to sewing. Some veteran sewers still prefer them.
Computerized machines are more expensive, but also offer more functions that, once you learn how to use them, can make sewing easier and your results better. Good computerized machines will have stitch selection options that can take a lot of the guesswork out of sewing (and may help you get better results automatically). And some will also have safety features to help keep your fingers safe.
If this is your first purchase and you’re not sure if you’re going to use a sewing machine often, go for a manual beginner machine. You can get high-quality ones for less than $300 (like the ones we cover in our guide to beginner machines). If you’re transitioning from beginner to intermediate—say, you’ve moved from sewing simple bags or crib-sized quilts to making clothing or larger bed-sized quilts—you may be happier with a computerized machine. We think our picks would also please experienced sewers who want to branch out into a computerized machine for the first time.
Harvey Federman, of Sew Right, also told us that there really is no difference in maintaining a computerized versus a mechanical sewing machine. “Most machines are sealed these days so consumers only have access to the bobbin area to clean,” he said. He told us that low-priced computerized machines (he considers less than $400 low-priced) become throw away items when the electronics fail because the cost to replace a circuit board once the warranty has expired just isn’t worth the repair. “Higher-priced machines come with longer electronic warranties, usually five years versus one or two years,” he said. Also, according to our experts, cheaper computerized machines will generally be of lower-quality overall. So if you only have less than $400 to spend, you’re better off with a high-quality mechanical machine.
If you’re debating between a mechanical or a computerized machine, think of it like the difference between buying a point-and-shoot camera and an intermediate DSLR. Mechanical machines, like point-and-shoot cameras, will get the job done, but with limited options and flexibility. A good-quality computerized sewing machine, like a DSLR, can give you some handy built-in programs to make sewing easier while allowing you to use manual features for when you get more comfortable with and better at sewing. If something breaks, the repairs might be pricey, but it’s still a great investment if you’ll be using it all the time. The sewing machines in this guide are that same intermediate step, when you’ve outgrown a solid, basic machine but aren’t ready to sell your car to pay for the top-end models.
If you plan on sewing many types of projects with many different materials, look for an all-purpose machine, (like our main pick, the Janome DC5100). These tend to be heavy machines that won’t budge when sewing thick quilts, but they’re also delicate enough to nicely sew silk and and other thinner fabrics. They’ll have a good selection of standard and decorative stitches, a needle up/down feature, and they’ll even automatically adjust your thread tension for getting perfect stitches.
If you’re most interested in quilting, you’ll want a machine with a big sewing surface—and ideally the option of an extension table—so you have the maximum support for your projects. Fast stitching is nice for things like free-motion quilting, and as with all-purpose machines a heavy machine won’t budge when sewing thick layers of fabric and batting.
If you travel a lot or live in a small space and don’t work on large projects like quilts, we think you’re better off with a compact, three-quarter-size machine (which is three-fourths the size of a standard machine). These are small enough to easily stow away, and they’ll do a fine job at most clothing and small home decor projects.
If you think you could use sewing classes, we’d recommend trying to buy from a dealer. Often classes are thrown in for the cost of the sewing machine, and the dealer can handle maintenance and any troubleshooting you may need. But buying from a dealer isn’t always optimal or convenient (as we cover below). And if you don’t think you’ll actually make it to the sewing classes, you’ll be paying a premium for your machine. Models sold online can be more affordable and you can take online classes at places like Craftsy or Creativebug.
We started by looking at our Best Sewing Machine for Beginners guide and narrowed down the features we would want if we weren’t beginners anymore. We narrowed down what we wanted from a machine in the roughly $400 to $600 price range. We were looking for a good selection of useful everyday stitches, like straight, zigzag, buttonhole, and basting (which loosely secures layers together while you work, an alternative to pins). We wanted some decorative stitches, but it wasn’t essential for our picks to have an overwhelming number of them. In our own experience, a lot of decorative machine stitches never get used.
Harvey Federman, of Sew Right, suggested we look for machines with automatic needle threading (which is great if your eyes strain to thread through those impossibly tiny needle holes), easy to edit stitch width and length options (and a program mode to save them, if possible), a start/stop button so you don’t have to use the foot pedal, and a needle up/down feature, which lets you choose where the needle stops when you stop sewing. The option to keep the needle lowered when you stop sewing is really handy for pivoting around a corner or chain piecing a quilt. Every machine on this list has at least three out of four of those functions.
Federman also recommends looking for a machine that will sew through layers at slow speed, as well as smooth and easy speed control, which is useful for going through thick layers, like heavy denim hems or quilt layers. We weren’t able to try most of the machines on our list, so we couldn’t determine how well each machine does on these last two points by looking only at specs. But they’re good features to keep in mind if you’re trying a machine in a dealership.
We wanted a nice assortment of included presser feet, including ¼-inch seam, zigzag, buttonhole, zipper, darning, and straight stitch. We were also looking for a few included bobbins and some basic cleaning supplies to help maximize the initial investment in the machine. And ideally we wanted safety features, like a machine that beeps or won’t sew if the presser foot is raised—this helps stop you from sewing over your fingers.
The downside to computerized machines is that the warranty for electronics is not always as good as for the mechanical parts. Often if your electronics go, it’s a pricier repair than if something jams or breaks. That said, I’ve had my computerized machines for two and a half, five, and seven years, and I’ve never had an electronics problem.
Keep in mind that quality computerized machines retain a certain value. Every machine in this guide, whether it’s available online or not, is manufactured by a company that still uses dealerships for most sales. Those machines hold their resale value. You can always bring one of those machines into a dealer, even if you didn’t purchase it from them, and see if it can be traded in toward a newer model.
To find machines with as many of these options as possible and then start narrowing them down, we paid close attention to models that were readily available on sites like Amazon and Sewing Machines Plus, a huge online sewing store, and we looked at their user reviews. Then we read thorough reviews from Sewing Insight, Erin Says Sew!, and Pattern Review, and we found a few articles on great sewing machines for 2015 and 2016. I asked my quilting friends if they had machines in our price range that they just loved, and I reached out to Federman, who sells a range of brands at his dealership, to see what we should be looking for in this price category.
For the machines sold exclusively at dealerships, I went to two dealerships to try the machine (I was able to try only the Husqvarna Viking Opal 650 and H100Q). We didn’t try any of the machines sold online, but we did closely compare specs and user reviews between the machines.
We think the Janome DC5100 is a great all-around machine for most intermediate sewing needs. Compared with other computerized machines less than $600, the DC5100 offers more pre-programmed features, better customer service, and you can buy it online or at a dealership, depending on what’s more convenient for you. This machine will do a great job at sewing heavy-duty fabrics like denim or leather, delicate silks, and even medium and large projects like curtains or twin-size quilts. It has most of the features on our wishlist for an intermediate machine.
The DC5100 includes 167 stitches, which covers all the essentials we like to see—straight, zigzag, basting, stretch—plus many decorative stitches for embellishments. Most reviews we came across in our research noted the high quality of the stitching this machine produces. Reviews for machines frequently mention good stitch quality, but across the board reviewers raved about it for the DC5100. It scored a perfect 5.0 on Sewing Insight, a well-known sewing review blog.
The maximum stitch length is 7 millimeters and zigzag stitch width is 5 millimeters, which is pretty standard for a good machine in this price range. A couple of our other picks (the Juki HZL-F300 and Pfaff Smarter 260c) also have those same stitch limits. And you can save up to 50 stitch patterns in the machine’s memory if you find combinations that you use frequently. This is a feature recommended by Harvey Federman for a computerized machine in this price category, and only the Janome DC5100 and the pricier Viking Opal 650 have it. You could program a sequence of decorative stitches that form a pattern you love, or you could just save the settings on everyday stitches that you’ve gotten just right, like your favorite straight stitch length for topstitching or a wide zigzag for finishing raw edges. Our investment recommendation, the Husqvarna Viking Opal 650, saves 80, so that’s not a bad number for the price of the Janome.
The DC5100 includes five buttonholes, which include regular, keyhole, rounded end, stretch, and knit (a few of our picks have only two buttonhole options). Some buttonhole shapes work better on certain fabrics than others, so having a variety means you could sew a buttonhole onto pretty much anything with no problem. According to a Janome manual we had on hand during our research, a square buttonhole is great for medium to heavyweight fabrics, and it’s often the default setting. But a buttonhole with rounded edges is better for finer fabrics, and a keyhole shaped buttonhole works for thicker buttons. We also like that the DC5100 will sew an alphabet. This doesn’t count as true embroidery since the machine stitches the letters in a straight stitch that’s pretty small, but it works for some really basic personalization.
The DC5100 comes with 11 presser feet, including the ¼-inch seam foot. That’s the most commonly used foot for quilts, which usually have a ¼-inch seam. Even the Pfaff Smarter 260c and the Juki HZL-F300, which we recommend for quilters, sell this foot as an optional extra. And the DC5100 also has an extra-high presser foot lift, which offers more space to push a thick or awkward project under the needle. That’s handy if you’re working on a puffy quilt, wrestling a stiff bag around corners, or trying to sew seams on folded-over layers of denim.
The full price on the DC5100 is actually $800, but it’s been around for a few years and is no longer exclusively sold at Janome dealerships, so you get about a $200 price break if you buy it online. The DC5100’s touchpad with an LCD screen are features once only available on higher priced machines. Now we’re seeing similar features on more affordable machines, like our dealer pick the Pfaff 260c.
There are a few drawbacks for this pick. It does not have the safety feature that stops the machine from sewing if the presser foot is raised. That’s a great feature if you’re doing things quickly, it can help keep you from stitching your fingers if they get too close to the needle (which they frequently will). Also, the accent color on the DC5100 is pink. Really, really pink. We wish it had a slightly more neutral color scheme.
And Janome’s warranty isn’t as good as some other companies on our list. Janome offers two years for mechanical and electronics, then an extended 15-year warranty for anything else. Juki offers five years mechanical and two years for electronics, and Pfaff offers five years for both, which is more in line with Harvey Federman’s recommendation for a machine in this price category. But even with the drawbacks, we have experience with Janome machines and know they’re reliable and built to last. This machine also has several of the features recommended by Federman—needle up/down, automatic needle threader, easy one-step buttonholes, and programmable stitch width and length. For the availability, price, and features on the Janome DC5100, we think it’s a smart purchase for intermediate sewers who want to make a variety of projects.
We think the DC5100 is a machine that beginner and intermediate sewers can grow into better than a basic mechanical one, like the Janome Magnolia 7318, our top pick from our beginner’s sewing machine guide. Where the Magnolia is a dependable machine that will sew a range of fabrics, it’s also bare-bones, with simple dials for selecting stitches, stitch length, and stitch tension, and not much else. The DC5100, by comparison, allows you to make all your stitch selections through the touchpad, the LCD screen will show you which presser foot to use, and it has an automatic needle threading feature that will save your eyes from straining. This machine automatically adjusts thread tension and the feed dogs (the little teeth that help pull fabric under the needle) are also stronger, so you’ll likely get more control over your stitches. It has a needle up/down feature for keeping the needle right where you want it. These functions make sewing more pleasant and a little more foolproof for a sewer who is still refining their skills. But the DC5100 is also more than twice the price of the Magnolia. We think it’s only worth the price if you plan to sew frequently or if you know that having a nicer machine will motivate you to sew more.
Janome makes excellent three-quarter-size sewing machines that are smaller and lighter than standard machines. We looked at several other three-quarter machines, but this Janome gives more features at a better price. The New Home 720 is a standout choice if you want a machine to take with you to sewing classes, on vacation, or even if you want to do light sewing but don’t have the space for a heavy machine to just live out on a table all the time.
This machine comes with automatic needle threading, a start/stop button, and a needle up/down feature. These are all features Harvey Federman, of Sew Right, recommended looking for in a computerized machine. (To be clear, though, Federman didn’t specifically recommend any of the picks in our guide).
This machine’s 20 stitches include all the basics we’re looking for (straight, zigzag, basting) plus two different one-step buttonholes and some utilitarian stitches for topstitching and for stretch fabrics, which will help keep them from puckering. For topstitching, functions like the triple straight stitch let you sew a thicker, more visible line if you want a bolder detail. The longest stitch length on the 720 is 4 mm, compared with 7 mm on the Janome DC5100 and Juki HZL-F300. (The longer stitch length of those machines are better for sewing stretch fabrics, gathering seams, or even basting a project.)
This New Home 720 weighs only 12 pounds, making it the lightest of our picks (the Janome DC5100, by comparison, weighs 18.7 pounds). The light weight makes this a great machine for travel or if you need to routinely stow your machine away in a closet. But it won’t be as stable as our other picks for sewing bigger projects like bed-sized quilts. A three-quarter-size machine like this will shake or jostle around on your table if you tackle anything heavy duty, like denim or canvas.
The Janome Home 720 is one of the only machines on our list that doesn’t tell you which presser foot to use with certain fabrics (the Pfaff 260c is the other one). It also comes with only three presser feet—the zipper, buttonhole, and satin stitch feet are included. But most additional Janome feet are available on Amazon for less than $20, and we’d recommend getting at least a ¼-inch-seam foot if you quilt and an invisible-zipper foot if you sew a lot of clothes. You can also buy generic versions from companies like Distinctive for even less, but the quality might not be as high. Any that say “for Horizontal Rotary Hook Models” will work on the New Home 720. For the price, and the quality that Janome is known for, we think this is still a great purchase if you’re looking for a solid performing, portable machine.
The New Home 720 is sometimes branded as the Jem Platinum 720, the JNH-720, or the Jem Platinum New Home 720. I have a machine from the same line, the Jem Platinum 760 (the only difference is it has 60 stitches instead of 20, five buttonholes, and comes with one more presser foot). I’ve used it for seven years with no complaints, within its limits. I once tried making a full-size quilt on the 760 and it wasn’t pretty. But, as I mention, this is not a great machine for bed-sized quilts.
If you’re mostly interested in quilting, we like the Juki HZL-F300. It has a larger work surface than our other picks, which makes it better for sewing bed-sized quilts. It’s heavy enough that it won’t move around on your sewing table if you’re sewing a large blanket, and it also sews fast enough to make it convenient for free-motion quilting.
The HZL-F300’s work area measures 8 inches wide, 12¼ inches long, and 4½ inches high off of the work surface (the Janome DC5100’s is shorter, narrower, and slightly lower). Overall, the Juki’s dimensions allow you to work on bigger projects, like queen- or even king-size-bed quilts. When you quilt a project, you start in the middle and roll up your project on at least the side that will be facing the sewing machine. A large work surface makes it easier to fit the fattest part of that roll through the work space (the harp-shaped area to the right of the needle) to let you move the quilt around, otherwise your stitching might look messy.
There’s also an extension table you can buy to make the HZL-F300’s work surface even bigger, to about 12 inches wide and 19¼ inches long. (The two dealer machines on this list from Pfaff and Husqvarna Viking also have extension tables as an optional accessory.) An extension table is handy because those same large projects that get rolled up and pushed through your work space will have a large surface area under the needle and all around it to keep stable. It’s the exact opposite of sewing a garment, where you need to bend narrow openings around the arm of the machine to sew smooth, even lines. The table gives you room for your hands to smooth and guide a quilt under the needle so it doesn’t bunch. I always use an extension table, because they make quilting big projects much easier.
At 21 pounds, the Juki weighs more than all of our other picks (except the HV Opal 650), giving it more stability on your work table while you push large or thick projects through. That weight can be essential. Quilts are surprisingly heavy, and if you’re trying to get even stitches, you don’t want your sewing machine to budge and get pushed around by a giant blanket. This machine is specifically designed to stand up to weighty, thick projects.
The HZL-F300, also sometimes referred to as the Exceed F300, has three of the features Harvey Federman recommended looking for, including a stop/start button and an automatic needle threading. It comes with six presser feet. There are two presser foot options for quilters who are looking to sew ¼-inch seams—the ¼-inch seam foot and the patchwork foot—but both of those are sold separately, unfortunately. You can buy additional feet from your dealer, or from online retailers like Sewing Parts Online, which has a good selection. Some of the feet are available from Amazon, but surprisingly not all of the most useful ones. This isn’t unusual for good-quality machines, but it’s still a hassle.
In Juki’s HZL-F series, the HZL-F300 is the bottom-end machine. But all the machines in this series have a top speed of 900 stitches per minute, which is faster than the Janome DC5100’s 820 stitches per minute maximum. The faster the machine, the more stitching you can lay down when you’re free-motion quilting. Some straight-stitch only and industrial machines have higher speeds than that, but 900 is also the top speed for the Bernina Aurora 440QE, a much loved (and expensive) quilting machine.
The main difference between the various Juki HZL-F models is the number of stitches available (the HZL-F300 has 105 stitches, the HZL-F400 has 157, and the HZL-F600 has 225). The more expensive models also come with more presser feet and some other accessories. But the overall size and speed of the machines is identical, which makes the HZL-F300 a steal at about $580, especially considering the HZL-F400 sells for roughly $900, and the HZL-F600 sells for about $1,050. We don’t think the extra stitch designs and presser feet are worth that kind of money, but we do think the Juki HZL-F300 offers a lot for quilters at a great price.
If you want the perks of buying from a dealer—like sewing classes, help troubleshooting problems, and annual maintenance—the Pfaff Smarter 260c is our top recommendation for a machine under $600. It has some advanced features, like a simple touchpad to select stitches, that you’d usually only find in higher-end machines. This Pfaff is the newest in the company’s Smarter line, which is basically designed to be the Apple of sewing machines. It’s super simple to use and looks sleek. And keep in mind that the MSRP is $600, but usually you can negotiate price with dealers and keep an eye out for sales.
We were tipped off to this machine by Nellie Wu, owner of Craft Common sewing and craft studio in Great Neck, New York. Wu recently outfitted her sewing classroom with a number of these after researching and testing countless machines herself. “The Pfaff 260c was the one that best bridged the gap of the needs of a total beginner (child or adult sewist) and a more advanced sewist,” Wu said.
The 260c does not have a lot of bells and whistles, which might be appealing if you’re new to computerized machines and don’t want to be overloaded with features. Of all the machines on our list (besides the Janome 720), it’s probably the simplest to intuit. It has a great touchpad interface for adjusting your settings and picking stitches. Like the Janome DC5100, it has a touchpad for selecting stitches, but the interface is more streamlined. Wu told us that her students particularly like the touchpad on the Pfaff. It also has the safety presser foot up feature, which beeps at you to remind you that the presser foot isn’t lowered and to watch your fingers. Only the 260c and the Viking Opal 650 have this feature on our list.
It comes with five presser feet—a buttonhole foot, zipper, standard, fancy stitch, and blind hem. You’ll have to buy any others separately, so it’s a good idea to research which feet you’ll need when you’re ready to purchase. You might be able to negotiate a deal or a discount for some of those extras.
The 27 included stitches cover the basics and add just a few decorative stitches. Compared to the Janome DC5100, which has 167 stitches for the same price, that might seem like a bad deal. But the MSRP on the Janome DC5100 was originally $200 higher, it’s just widely available for less now that it’s a few years older.
The 260c has the needle up/down option, start/stop button, and automatic needle threading that Harvey Federman recommended looking for. The very simple and easy to understand digital display tells you what presser foot you should use with your selected stitch.
Sewing Insight felt that the 260c couldn’t really handle more than medium-weight denim in its own tests, so if you think you want to tackle heavy projects, or work with leathers and upholstery, this one might not be quite up for the job. The Janome DC5100 and the Viking Opal 650 would be better for heavy-duty materials, but this one should be fine for piecing quilts. If you want to use this machine for actually quilting through thick layers, you may run into some bumps on larger projects.
Because the Pfaff 260c is only sold through dealerships, you’ll need to be in reasonable driving distance to a shop if you want to take advantage of classes. But if you want the perks of buying from a dealer and don’t mind shopping their sales, we think this is the best choice to get for a reasonably priced, computerized machine.
Spending around $900 on a sewing machine may seem extravagant, but high-end dealer machines often sell for much more. The Husqvarna Viking Opal 650 is right on the border of intermediate and the luxury models. If you sew a lot, even if you’re still learning, but aren’t used to a computerized machine, you may want to invest a little more on this one. It has lots of extra features that are actually useful for sewers at a wide range of skill levels. And because it’s only sold through dealerships, you can probably find a better deal on it if you wait for a sale at your local dealership, or negotiate for more accessories for the price the dealer is asking.
We tested one recently at the Viking Gallery inside Jo-Ann Fabrics in Colonia, New Jersey, and we loved it. After using it for 10 minutes, we could see exactly why this machine costs more. And why it’s worth it. All the features we wanted are here, including some that Harvey Federman recommended, such as automatic needle threading, a stop/start button, and the needle up/down feature. It also has a presser foot up safety warning. Even better, the Opal 650 includes a stitch width sensor. If you set the machine to make a zigzag stitch but don’t have on the right presser foot, it will beep and stop sewing to keep you from breaking your sewing needle (I do this all the time and wish my more expensive machine had that).
The LCD screen is the biggest of any on our list. It’s 48 by 64 mm. (The next biggest, on the Juki HZL-F300, is 33 by 66 mm.) One of my favorite features was the real-size stitch length display. If you set a stitch and specify a width or length, the display will show you your choices in real size, so you can see if it’s actually big enough or small enough for what you want to do. And it will show a picture of the presser foot you should be using for your selected stitch, too. You can choose the fabric you’ll be sewing from a menu on the Opal 650, and those will also show up on the display with a recommendation for the stitch size and the presser foot you should use. This machine was quiet and so easy to sew through layers of denim.
At 26.4 pounds, it’s the heaviest machine on our list by a mile. The Juki HZL-F300 comes in second at 21 pounds. If you want stability for big projects and heavy projects, this is it. It comes with six presser feet, but you’ll still find a few more you want to invest in for specialty sewing. Again, talk to your dealer and see what promotions they’re running.
The Opal 650 comes with 160 stitches—on our list only the Janome DC5100 has more. But with this Viking, you also get three different fonts and seven different buttonholes. It will save up to 80 stitch programs to the machine’s memory, a feature experts recommend. The only other machine on our list with stitch memory—the Janome DC5100—saves only 50.
Plus it has an eyelet feature and an option to sew on buttons. None of the other machines on our list had those two features. Most of the machines here have bright LED lighting over the work space, but the Opal 650 has three LEDs to really light up that work area. The maximum stitch width is 7 mm, compared with 5 mm on the Janome DC5100 and the Juki HZL-F300.
We wouldn’t recommend committing to a machine at this price unless you’re sure you will use it regularly. But if you’re ready to make this kind of investment, it is a beautiful machine with an outstanding warranty—20 years for mechanical, five years for electronics, and one year for parts and labor. We think the Opal 650 offers a lot for sewers at a range of skill levels.
Janome New Home 720
Pfaff Smarter 260c
Husqvarna Viking Opal 650
|Number of stitches||167||20||105||27||160|
|Presser feet included||11||3||6||5||6|
|Machine weight (pounds)||18.7||12||21||15.4||26.4|
|Warranty||2 years, mechanical and electronic; 15 years, extended||2 years, mechanical and electronic; 15 years, extended||5 years, mechanical; 2 years, electronic||5 years, mechanical and electronic||20 years, mechanical; 5 years, electronic (circuit boards); 1 year, parts/labor|
|Max stitch length (millimeters)||7||4||7||7||7|
|Max stitch width (millimeters)||5||5||5||5||7|
|Automatic needle threading||x||x||x||x||x|
|Touchpad for selecting stitches||x||x|
|Presser foot up safety feature||x||x|
|Displays stitch and presser foot recommendation||x||x||x|
|Stitch width sensor||x|
|Real size stitch length display||x|
|Extra-high presser foot lift||x||x|
Sewing machines still follow the dealer model, with the newest options only offered in-store at your local dealer. The machines readily available online tend to be older dealer models that have now been okay’d by the manufacturer for online sales, or brands that are mass-produced and aren’t considered highest quality anymore. We spoke to several Sweethome staffers about what they would want from a sewing machine purchase, and they were pretty split down the middle of wanting a dealer who offered classes and wanting to just buy a good machine online and figure it out with YouTube videos.
Manufacturers that use the dealership model tightly control when, where, and for how much their dealers are allowed to sell their machines. Typically when those manufacturers open up a model to be sold online, they’re not necessarily discontinuing it but want to make more room on the showroom floor for the newest models (that’s the case with our all-purpose pick, the Janome DC5100). And, they let sellers drop the price pretty significantly. If you don’t mind buying a new-in-the-box machine that isn’t the latest model, you can get a great deal on a really good product.
Dealers offer great benefits, including classes to learn how to use your machine and ongoing support for troubleshooting and maintenance. It’s also smart to bring your machine in once a year to get a proper cleaning from a dealer who knows what they’re doing.
But in researching and trying to test our picks, we found that sometimes it is really difficult to get to your local dealer. If you’ve done your research and found The One, you may have to travel a long distance to find a dealer who sells that brand. And then you really have to hope that they’re good. While researching this guide, we found a dealer who was licensed to sell three of the brands we were interested in, but we couldn’t get them on the phone for more information. So we drove an hour out to the shop, which turned out to be a stall in a permanent flea market that also sold model trains and used vacuum cleaners, with only half a dozen used sewing machines out on display. Foot pedals and power cords were missing, all other inventory was in boxes across the hall, and the only machine we could actually plug in and try wasn’t on our researched list. If you have friends who sew, ask them where to shop and where to avoid.
It can also be really hard to narrow down the options with a dealer because there are so many choices, and prices on dealer-only machines are not always readily available. I ended up calling Torri Root, the sales manager for Sewing Machines Plus, to find out MSRPs on a whole list of machines we were thinking about. We fell in love with several dealer models only to find out after reading and reading that they were more than twice the budget we wanted for this guide, too expensive even for a luxury pick. It was Torri who told me that manufacturers have some pretty strict rules for their dealers about where they are licensed to sell those machines and how much information they can give out online or over the phone. It is very much like buying a car, where the price changes depending on where you live and what deals that dealership is running. But there are way fewer sewing machine dealers than car dealers, and this is where actually getting to a shop to touch and test drive a sewing machine gets tricky.
All of this can make the most seasoned sewer frustrated, and now I wonder if that’s why so many of my veteran sewer friends rely on word of mouth, or on brands and dealers that they’ve worked with for years when shopping. Sewers can build up a real allegiance to a brand. Quilters also love to head to any quilt show in the area, because they all have dealers who travel to the show with various machines that you can try out and buy right there on the quilt show floor. That’s no small expense for dealers, and they want to be asked back year after year. So the hope is that any dealer at a quilt show will be reputable. It’s an easy way to test out a few brands at once.
So for a strong beginner or intermediate sewer, it was important to us to include dealer-only machines, but also some options that are more widely available. Machines that could be picked up easily online, but are still made by those trusted manufacturers. You can still have any of these machines serviced at a dealer, and they should all be good enough models to trade in for an upgrade someday. Because if you don’t have a good dealer within a reasonable distance, or if you’re overwhelmed trying to find prices and just want to figure it out on your own, there’s no reason you shouldn’t still be able to invest in a great machine.
Baby Lock Amelia: Another portable option coming in at 11 pounds, but for the price we preferred the Janome New Home 720.
Baby Lock Rachel: We thought this was out of the price range we wanted for a middle of the road machine.
Brother Designio DZ1500F: This is a straight stitch only machine, Brother’s answer to the Juki TL-2000Qi. We didn’t think it was versatile enough for this guide.
Brother Laura Ashley PC660LA: This one came close to being a pick, it’s the first runner up in the competition. A solid machine, but pricier than the Janome DC5100 or the Juki HZL-F300, and without some of our favorite features.
Brother SE400 Embroidery and Sewing Machine: This is an incredibly popular, well-reviewed combination machine that does straightforward sewing and small embroidery. But we decided to focus on simple sewing machines for this guide. If you’re interested in embroidery, it’s worth looking at.
Janome 8077: This is one of the lower-end Janome computerized machines. We just felt that the other two Janome machines we picked offered better quality and the features we wanted.
Janome DC2014 or DC2015: These are the lower-end versions in the same line as our best all-purpose pick, the Janome DC5100. For the price difference and features, we thought the DC5100 was a much better machine.
Janome HD3000: A basic mechanical machine with decent reviews, we just didn’t think it was a fit for what we wanted here.
Juki HZL-K85: A lower-end model in a slightly different series than our quilting pick the Juki HZL-F300. The user reviews were not great, we skipped it.
Juki TL-2000Qi: This machine only does a straight stitch, and we thought it was too specialty for this guide.
Singer 8500q: We saw tons of complaints about Singer’s terrible customer service while researching this guide. The brand seems to have lost its great reputation from 40 years ago, and we didn’t want to recommend a $650 machine with no customer support. We didn’t seriously consider any Singers because of it.
Singer Future XL-400 Sewing and Embroidery Machine: Another combination machine, and also a Singer. We skipped this one, too.
Viking H Class 100Q: Another three-quarter machine, and we did test this one, but we preferred the Janome New Home 720.
Originally published: August 29, 2016