Ready To Upgrade Your Sewing Machine? 10 Features to Look For

The 10 Must-Have Features in a new sewing machine.

Ready To Upgrade Your Sewing Machine?

10 Features to Look For

As a professional sewing instructor and owner of 12 (yes, 12) sewing machines, the most common question I get asked is, “I’m ready to upgrade my machine. What should I look for?”

Whether you have finally reached the limits of grandma’s hand-me-down or come to realize the real reason the machine from the discount store was so inexpensive, there comes a time in every sewist’s life when they realize that it’s time to upgrade.

But where do you start? The endless options and features can be overwhelming, so I’ve put together a list of the 10 most important features to look for in a new machine along with my machine recommendations.


1) Computerized

Computerized sewing machines have a digital display monitor that controls stitch selection, stitch width, and stitch length. But the best reason to have a computerized machine? Just like restarting your computer, you can restart your machine to clear the stitch selections and length in one step.

What is computerized sewing machine

2) Automatic button hole

Machines with automatic button hole systems use sensors to accurately sew a buttonhole to the exact size required. They also come with a special buttonhole foot. Though using automatic buttonhole settings takes a little practice, there is nothing more fun than watching your machine stitch the perfect buttonhole on its own!

3) Needle threader

To thread your sewing needle with ease, make sure your new machine has a needle threader. Needle threaders work by inserting a microscopic hook through the eye of the needle that you draw the thread across. The hook then pulls the thread through the needle in one, smooth step.


4) Memorized needle up/down button

One of the features that I couldn’t sew without is the memorized needle up/down button. When I press this button, the machine remembers to always put the needle down into the fabric when I stop sewing. This prevents the fabric from shifting out of position and makes it easy to pivot around corners.

5) Free arm

If you have fallen in love with sewing your own garments, a machine with a free arm is essential. A free arm allows a portion of the sewing machine bed to be removed so that you can sew in tight spaces such as cuffs or sleeves. This is especially useful when sewing clothes for babies and children.

6) Automatic thread cutter

This is the other sewing machine feature that I absolutely cannot live without. An automatic thread cutter is an internal scissor mechanism that trims the threads when you reach the end of a seam with the touch of a button. This feature is critical for quilters who are sewing lots of small pieces.

7) Auto declutch bobbin winder with push-button winding

On entry-level machines, you must push the bobbin winder to the right to disengage the needle. This prevents the needle from going up and down. Then, you power the bobbin winding with the foot pedal. Machines with an auto de-clutch feature will automatically reset the bobbin clutch to re-engage the needle once winding is complete. Machines with push-button winding will wind the bobbin for you - no need to push the foot pedal. Simply push the button and walk away. The machine will stop the bobbin winding once the bobbin is full.

8) Dual-feed system

Machines with a dual feed system have a built-in walking foot. This makes quilting much faster and smoother than with a traditional walking foot attachment.

9) Extension table

Extension tables can be purchased as after-market add-ons, but look for a machine with a table extension included. Table extensions are good for both garment sewers and quilters. They extend the bed of the sewing machine and support your fabric. I never sew without one since I don’t want to purchase special sewing tables that support a recessed machine.


10) Foot pedal with retractable cord

This might not sound like a big deal, but being able to retract the cord inside the foot pedal makes for a dramatically neater and more organized sewing area. It’s also wonderful if you travel with your machine. No more endless wrapping and unwrapping of cords.

My Favorite Machines with These Features

Here’s how my two favorite machines, the Janome DC-series (best for advanced beginner) and the Janome 6600P (best for intermediate to advanced) stack up:

Janome DC Series

Janome DC Series

Janome 6600P

Janome 6600P

Features Janome DC Series    Janome 6600P
Computerized X X
Automatic Button Hole X X
Needle Threader X X
Needle Up/Down X X
Free Arm X  
Automatic Thread Cutter   X
Declutch and Push Button Winder   X
Dual-Feed System   X
Extension Table   X
Retractable Foot Pedal   X


The Janome DC series is available at Amazon and Sewing Machines Plus.

The Janome 6600P is available at Amazon and Sewing Machines Plus.

Why these two machines?

I own 10 of the Janome DC series sewing machines. These were used in my fabric store as our classroom machines. (Very nice machines for new students!) I’ve owned them for nearly 9 years now. Not a single one has been professionally serviced (I’m just lazy) and they work perfectly. In fact, they worked so well in our classroom that I became a Janome dealer. We sold a lot of those machines!

The Janome 6600P is my daily machine. Quilting and sewing is what I do for a living so this machine has to work - and it does. I’ve tried and owned several “fancier” machines, but I keep coming back to my trusty workhorse. If you are serious about quilting and sewing this machine is the best of the best in terms of speed, reliability, and features.

Yeah, but what about Bernina?

People who use Bernina machines are passionate about them. But they are expensive, and Berninas only work with Bernina presser feet and accessories. If I’m somewhere that doesn’t have a Bernina store and I need to replace a presser foot, then I’m SOL.

And should I consider a Singer?

NEVER. I’m serious. After teaching students professionally for over a decade, I can tell you that Singer machines (anything manufactured after 2005) cause more problems than they solve. The reason they are so inexpensive is because they are made with plastic parts. Not recommended!

Any more questions?

I love helping people achieve sewing success, and the first step is to make sure that you are using a great machine. Any other machine related questions? Leave me a comment below, and I am more than happy to help you out!

And then NATURALLY, you will need to make yourself an adorable sewing machine cover to protect that new bad boy! Isn’t this the cutest ever? Vintage Caravan cover pattern by Rainbow Hare.