After comparing over 50 different products, we purchased 13 of the best sewing machines available and tested them head-to-head to determine the best. We used a wide variety of fabrics to score sewing performance, along with evaluating each machine's convenience and ease of use. We recruited a panel of judges and expert sewers to help us analyze and score the overall operation of each machine, as well as the quality of the stitching. Read on to find out which models are best for novices, veteran sewers, those on a budget, and more.
If you are new to sewing or are looking for a supremely easy-to-use machine, the Singer 7258 Stylist is an excellent choice. This machine is one of the easiest to use and set up, and it has a respectable library of stitches that should cover most projects. The buttonholes it produces have excellent stitch quality with a straightforward one-step process. The 7258 has a built-in thread cutter, and its automatic bobbin winder makes it very easy for a beginner to get up and running with their first sewing project without major frustration. Amateur and veteran users alike will have no problem quickly and efficiently accomplishing their desired tasks.
While the stitch quality on this machine is quite high, it is still outmatched by the Juki HZL-F300. This is something to consider if you need perfect stitches — but you'll need to be willing to deal with a much more expensive machine. However, the stitches produced by the Singer 7258 are usually sufficient for most projects, and you should consider this model if you are shopping on a budget and want a hassle-free and very competent machine.
Buttonholes on light to medium fabrics aren't the best
Somewhat subpar bobbin winding
The Brother XR9550 is an excellent machine as it's easy to set up and use, has good lighting, and sells for a more-than-fair price. This machine has great stitch and setup labeling right on the front in dark blue font, helping you get started without a fuss. The huge stitch selection list and instructions make it easy to select which stitch you want right out of the gate. From there, the XR9550 automatically sets the width and length, although there are +/- signs that give you manual control over the machine's suggestions should you need something different. On top of that, there's a huge circle around the picture of the stitch you're using in case you forget. This is just one of many things that make this machine straightforward and fun to use.
But setting up a machine is only part of what it takes to sew, and the XR9550 also shines in the stitching department. Basic straight stitching, which is what you'll use most often, was smooth and even, and the basic quilting was outstanding. The zigzag stitch is often overlooked as important, but if you want to sew a buttonhole, some decorative stitching, or even something simple like a blind hem, you have to have a good zigzag stitch, and the XR9550 has an even and consistent one. On the not-so-great side, our testers just couldn't get the bottom tension right on some stitches, leaving them just a little too tight. And buttonholes, while very easy to set up and sew, were somewhat subpar. But only some people want to mess with buttonholes, so if you want a good sewing machine for a good price, this one is a great choice.
If you're hoping to save some cash with your sewing machine purchase, the Brother CS5055 is our top recommendation. This model is very user-friendly and produced high-quality stitches with most of our test fabrics. The setup is fast, and choosing your stitches is super easy. It has the standard needle threader and does an average job at winding a bobbin. This machine also has more than enough stitches for most projects and produces a quality buttonhole.
That said, we were disappointed by its thread cutter and the way this machine sewed a zipper. We also had some slight issues with the bobbin tension; the CS5055 bunched up the fabric a bit in a few of our tests. Still, we think these are minor inconveniences for those looking for a great deal on a new sewing machine, especially for a beginner.
The Juki HZL-F300 was our favorite overall sewing machine, earning the highest score of the entire group. This machine is a powerhouse, quickly and easily going through many layers of denim or anything else we tossed at it. It has excellent quality stitches, exceptional lighting, and above-average buttonholes, among many other great assets.
Unfortunately, all of this performance comes at a premium price. This makes the HZL-F300 much more suitable for someone who frequently sews and is very dedicated to the craft. Users looking to undertake small projects or the occasional patch would be much better served by some of the other machines in our lineup, which retail for considerably less.
The Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist is an excellent machine with enough stitches to satisfy even the pickiest sewer. Relatively easy to set up for such a complex machine, it has fantastic lighting and an automatic thread cutter that truly is automatic. Scoring high marks all around on our stitching tests, we were really impressed with the ease and quality of the buttonholes on this machine.
But we had some problems with tension, and threading and winding the bobbin was only average. The instruction manual is also a bit clumsy to read — the layout requires a lot of flipping back and forth to find, read, and follow directions. That said, the machine is overall quite easy to use relative to its complexity, and if what you're dreaming of is more stitches than you know what to do with, this is a fantastic option.
We purchased all of the sewing machines reviewed here at full price before putting them head-to-head in a series of rigorous tests. GearLab doesn't now and won't ever accept any free units from manufacturers — we buy everything just the same as you would. We have been reviewing and testing these products for six years, creating thousands of stitches along the way. We use the exact same [how we test|testing methods] on each machine, divided across three key metrics:
-Sewing (9 separate tests, 45% of overall score weighting)
-Ease of Use (6 separate tests, 35% weighting)
-Buttonholes (2 separate tests, 20% weighting)
Our lead in-house tester, Austin Palmer, has been extensively testing sewing machines since the beginning and has logged hundreds of hours doing everything from hemming jeans to machine embroidery. He is joined by seamstress and author Ruth Bruckbauer, who has had a lifelong passion for sewing. She originally learned how to sew at age 9 from her mother when she made a purple corduroy skirt. She continued to sew and eventually made her children's and husband's clothing, moved on to prom and bridesmaid dresses, and now does expert tailoring on bridal and bridesmaid dresses and other clothing. Her real love, though, is quilting, and she makes stunning one-of-a-kind art pieces from cloth.
In our quest to find the best, we enlisted the help of both expert sewing machine users and complete novices. We had them try out each product and get a feel for how easy they are to set up and operate, whether beginners or experts. We then made thousands of different stitches on a wide variety of fabric types, rating and judging their quality both in appearance and consistency. Finally, we used each machine's buttonhole-specific presser foot to make a series of buttonholes to compare both the process of creating a buttonhole and the quality of the finished product.
Analysis and Test Results
To determine our award winners and the overall scoring, we divide our testing process into three weighted rating metrics: Sewing, Ease of Use, and Buttonholes. Each of these metrics is weighted based on its significance to these products. If that sounds overly simplistic, trust us, it's not. Our sewing and ease of use metrics were subdivided into dozens of individual tests before we determined an overall score for each contender. From assessments on six different stitches, multi-layered denim, quilting, and zippers, to stitch setup, winding the bobbin, threading, lighting, and more, these machines have been put through the wringer to help you find your perfect match.
Value is a tricky topic, but we view this as the balance between price and performance. Depending on the type of performance you desire or require, a higher price may not be a dealbreaker. Conversely, if you're brand new to sewing and just want to get started without a major investment, you'll want something that performs well enough for your needs while still saving you some major bucks.
The Brother CS6000i, Brother CS5055, and Brother XR9550 are great choices for those on a tighter budget. The XR9550 is marginally more expensive than the others, but it scores better overall, so we consider the extra cost to be worth it. The Singer 7258 Stylist is an even better machine and is our top recommendation for beginners who want the best, and since it's very user friendly and has plenty of features, it will take a while to outgrow. If you are looking for the best of the best and are willing to pay for it, your first choice should be the Juki HZL-F300, as it earned the best overall score of our entire group.
First and foremost, we rated and compared the sewing performance and stitch quality of each sewing machine. Accounting for 45% of each machine's final score, this is the most significant of all of our testing metrics. We used the manufacturer's recommended settings and tested various stitches on a wide variety of fabrics, then judged the results. We looked for visually appealing, consistent stitches with proper tension and minimal fabric bunching.
We looked at a long straight stitch, zigzag stitch, a blind hem, and a scallop stitch, as well as basting stitches and a diamond-shaped stitch. We also sewed a zipper using the zipper foot, sewed multiple layers of denim together, and looked at quilting options, if there were any. These stitches and scenarios offered the most variety and are some of the most commonly used when sewing, making them a good basis for comparison.
The top spot overall was earned by the Juki HZL-F300. Using the machine's default settings, it did very well with all our stitch tests except the scallop stitch, which was inferior to some of the other sewing machines tested. However, this machine did an amazing job with our basting and quilting challenges, as well as stitching through multiple layers of denim. The Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist and Brother XR9550 also did very well with denim and performed quite well on fabrics like a stretch cotton jersey — though sometimes they really struggled with chiffon. Still, we really liked the XR95500 because the machine automatically sets the length and width once you choose your stitch. If you don't want to use these predetermined settings, adjusting them is as easy as pressing the +/- buttons.
Differences between each machine were much easier to discern with the maximum straight stitch length, as any flaws were magnified and much more evident. For example, the Juki HZL-F300 and the Brother XR9550 did well with this stitch on most materials, but other machines like the Janome MOD-50 and Janome MOD-19 were prone to bunching up the fabric due to uneven stitch tension.
Each machine has a specific presser foot for attaching a zipper, though some were better than others. We used this foot for each of these machines to sew a zipper onto a test swatch of fabric — on some machines, the presser foot cleared all parts of the zipper and attached it cleanly. Others collided with components of the zipper, causing the stitches to become uneven and tangled on top of each other. The Janome 3160QDC-T, Janome MOD-50, and Janome MOD-19, along with the Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist and Juki HZL-F300, were exceptional with zippers — if your work will involve a lot of them, strongly consider one of these models.
The scores began to deviate much more when we moved on to the zigzag and scallop stitches. The notable machine here was the Brother GX37, taking the top spot for this metric. The tensioning wasn't always perfect depending on the fabric being used, but in most cases we received consistent, even results.
When sewing cotton jersey, satin, or chiffon with the Bernette 35, the fabric would bunch up a little, but in the blind hem assessments, this machine was on the high side of the entire group. The Bernette delivered a terrific blind hem on every type of fabric we used, only bested by the Singer 7258 Stylist and the Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist. The 9960 offered good stitches on almost every fabric and grabbed the top spot for the blind hem. That said, it did struggle a bit more than the top models with difficult fabrics like chiffon.
We found the performance of the Singer 4452 Heavy Duty to be uninspiring, although it did surprisingly well with cotton jersey, which is one of the more difficult fabrics to sew. Basic running stitches and basting were also just fine, though it had the poorest showing for multi-layer denim, something we would not expect from a machine with "heavy duty" in the name.
Ease of Use
Next, we rated and compared how convenient and easy to operate each sewing machine was, which accounted for 35% of their final score. We judged the quality and clarity of the printed labels on each device and the ease of selecting different stitches. We also looked at how clear and intuitive it was to change the stitch settings. Finally, we compared other convenience features like how the needle threading mechanism and the thread cutter worked, needle stop position settings, the quality of the integrated work light, and winding the bobbin.
While some of our tests and comments about each machine's performance in this metric were quite nuanced, we found that these factors make quite a significant difference in overall convenience and ease of use. This can be especially true for users who might not have the best dexterity or visual acuity, and it could make the difference between finishing your project or giving up in frustration.
Overall, the Juki HZL-F300, Brother CS6000i, Brother XR9950, and Janome 3160QDC-T all distinguished themselves by being some of the easiest-to-use sewing machines that we have seen to date. A key factor that sets these products apart from the rest is the intuitive and very straightforward set of labels and directions printed right on the machines themselves. This is an important aspect for all users, even the more experienced ones. Every machine threads similarly, but each machine has differences that vary slightly between them, and it's easy to forget the minor details that accompany threading them or winding the bobbin.
All the machines we tested have a built-in work light, with some being substantially brighter than others. Out of the group, the Juki HZL-F300 has the best work light, followed by the Brother CS600i and the Brother XR9550. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the lights on the Singer 7258 and the Janome models may require you to use supplemental lighting.
The Brother CS5055, Brother GX37, and the Singer 4452 Heavy Duty have automatic sewing capabilities but have no automatic needle stop, so you will need to do it manually. When it came to using the thread cutters, the Juki HZL-F300, Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist, and Janome 3160QDC-T are the easiest because they all have fully automatic thread cutters. The Janome 3160 also has a lit onscreen display that clearly tells you which presser foot to use for the stitch you want. While the tension selector only highlights the typical or average tensions, all the stitches are clearly numbered and lettered, and all the other labeling is solid.
The heavy-duty sewing machines we tested were the Singer 4452 Heavy Duty and the Juki HZL-F300. We were really disappointed in the Singer — while it has awesome labeling, stitch selection capabilities, and lighting, it lacks in overall performance. On the other hand, the Juki gave a top-notch performance for all our ease-of-use tests. It took top scores for its light, needle stop feature, thread cutter, and threading the needle.
The Brother CS6000i, Brother XR9550, and Brother CS5055 impressed us with their stitch setup. Each of them makes this process very easy, particularly for beginners. All you have to do is find the stitch you want (printed on the machine with a corresponding number) and use the +/- buttons to reach that number.
Finally, the Brother GX37 was our top contender for bobbin winding tests. The process is clearly labeled on the machine, and our thread wound up evenly every time. The bobbin could be a bit fuller when the process is finished, but overall, everything was top-notch, and loading everything was easy.
A buttonhole might be the most frustrating and time-consuming activity you can do while sewing, yet it is often the thing that gives your garment or project a finished look. We carefully tested each sewing machine for ease of setup and finished quality for buttonholes. Most of us are frustrated by things that don't work the way they're supposed to, so this test was important to round out the scores for our tested machines.
Each sewing machine has a presser foot specifically designed for buttonholes (with marks to align it in the right location) and an adjustable size that will match the button. It is much easier to execute a 1-step buttonhole than a 4-step buttonhole, and, fortunately, all but one of the sewing machines we tested had a 1-step buttonhole. The only 4-step buttonhole we tested is on the Janome MOD-19.
The Singer 7258 Stylist and the Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist were our top-rated sewing machines at buttonholes, showing stellar performance in our tests. The 1-step process is quite easy and intuitive to execute, though our one gripe came from trying to align the buttonhole in a precise location on the Singer 9960, as it can be a little difficult to line up the marks on the presser foot with the marks on the fabric.
However, we like that the 9960 seemed to thoroughly reinforce the stitches on the sides, making it one of the group's most securely made buttonholes. The finished stitches looked very clean, though there was a minuscule amount of bunching on the top bar when we used a swatch of chiffon, which admittedly is a difficult fabric on which to sew.
The Brother CS6000i, Brother XR9550, and Brother CS5055 have colored lines on their presser foots to help make lining things up much easier. The Brother GX37 only has red lines, so it was a little more difficult to line up at the beginning. It was also far more difficult to see and line things up with the Janome models. They all just have indentations in the plastic, which are very hard to see unless at the perfect angle. All three are solid, dependable sewing machines that scored well in other parts of our buttonhole testing, though.
At this point, we hope that you have a fairly good idea of which sewing machine will be the best match for your needs and budget. All of these products can sew fabric together, but there is a marked difference between many of them regarding stitching quality and ease of use. Hopefully, this review has been beneficial and will help you accomplish all those sewing projects you have on your wishlist.
Austin Palmer, Ruth Bruckbauer, and Genaveve Bradshaw
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GearLab is founded on the principle of honest, objective, reviews. Our experts test thousands of products each year using thoughtful test plans that bring out key performance differences between competing products. And, to assure complete independence, we buy all the products we test ourselves. No cherry-picked units sent by manufacturers. No sponsored content. No ads. Just real, honest, side-by-side testing and comparison.