Updated July 2018
One of our long-standing Best Buy Award winners, the Brother XR9500PRW
has been updated to a newer version, the Brother XR9550PRW
. We bought this new model to test and it performs even better than the earlier model, improving the quality of its buttonholes and including 10 more stitches, all while retailing for about the same price. This earned it a Best Buy Award, ousting its predecessor, and making it an excellent value pick for beginners just starting out or anyone who wants a solid sewing machine and is looking to save some cash.
Best Performance Machine
Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist
# of Stitches
: 600 | # of Buttonhole Styles
Great stitch quality
Tons of stitches
Easy to use
Earning the highest score of the entire group, the Singer 9960 easily claims the title of Best Sewing Machine Overall and the Editors' Choice award. This product has the largest library of preset stitches out of any machine that we have tested, totaling over 600! This machine is absolutely jam-packed with features and functions, making it a perfect product for an expert or advanced user. However, it is also relatively simple and easy to use for even the most inexperienced sewers. The 9960 produces stitches that are of superb quality and above average buttonholes with ease.
Unfortunately, all of this performance comes at a premium price. While it is easy enough for beginners to use, all of the additional features can be a bit daunting to keep track of. This makes the 9960
much more suitable for someone who frequently sews and is very dedicated to the craft. Occasional users looking to undertake small projects or the occasional patch would be much better served by some of the other machines below, which retail for considerably less.
Read full review: Singer 9960
Best Bang for the Buck
Singer 7258 Stylist
# of Stitches
: 100 | # of Buttonhole Styles
Awesome sewing performance
No hassle at all
A little more works to set up
Just narrowly edged out of the top spot, the Singer 7258 is an absolutely phenomenal sewing machine, essentially matching the performance of the 9960 and costing a fraction of the price. This product is an amazing value, earning it our Best Buy award. It is the clear choice when shopping on a budget. The 7258 created buttonholes of unmatched quality and matched the stitching quality of the 9960.
This model is a little more difficult to use than the 9960. The labeling and instructions on the 7258 aren't quite as intuitive and the built-in work light is mediocre at best. However, these are relatively small flaws and are easily overshadowed by this machine's solid performance and incredible value. If you are shopping on a budget, you can't go wrong with the 7258. This machine is also an excellent choice for a first sewing machine.
Read full review: Singer 7258
Best for Beginners
# of Stitches
: 110 | # of Buttonhole Styles
Extremely easy to operate
Excellent value option
Above average, rather than amazing stitch quality
If you are just getting started with sewing or are looking for a machine that is supremely easy to use, then the XR9550PRW is an excellent choice. This machine is one of the easiest to use and set up that we have seen and has a respectable library of stitches that should cover most projects. It produces buttonholes that have excellent stitch quality with a very intuitive 1-step process, has an automatic bobbin winder, and a built-in thread cutter that makes it very easy for a beginner to get up and running with their first sewing projects without major frustration or for veteran users to quickly and efficiently accomplish their desired task.
While the stitch quality on this machine is quite high, it is still outmatched by the Singer 7258 and the Singer 9960. This is something to consider if you need absolutely perfect stitches — and are willing to deal with a more complex, expensive machine. However, the stitches produced by the XR9550PRW are usually sufficient for most projects and you should definitely consider this model if you are shopping on a budget and want a hassle-free machine.
Read full review: Brother XR9550PRW
The Best of Both Worlds
# of Stitches
: 67 | # of Buttonhole Styles
Exceptionally easy to use
Combination sewing/embroidery machine
Steep embroidery learning curve
While the SE400
by Brother stood out from the competition, it wasn't quite enough to merit an award. This machine is very to easy to use and one of the easiest models to set up of the entire group. In addition, this model had a solid performance in our stitch quality tests. However, the versatility of this machine is what truly sets this model apart. While this model is a competent sewing machine in its own right, it also includes an embroidery foot, allowing the SE400
to swap between a sewing machine and a computerized embroidery machine, allowing you to add an unlimited number of embellishments and personalization to all of your projects. This is a great pick for those that will take advantage of those functions or for a beginner that wants a machine to grow with their skill — having all the capabilities an advanced user would want while remaining easy to use.
Read full review: Brother SE400
Best for a Tight Budget
Brother Project Runway CS5055PRW
# of Stitches
: 50 | # of Buttonhole Styles
The Brother Project Runway CS5055PRW is essentially an identical machine to our Best Buy award winner, the Brother XR9550PRW in terms of specifications, with one exception. The CS5055PRW has a reduced set of available stitches — about half the number of the XR9550PRW and retails for about $50-$100 less. This makes it a great option for someone who only needs the basic stitches for their projects, or for someone who is shopping on a bit of a threadbare budget.
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Analysis and Test Results
After extensive research, we bought the most promising sewing machines out there to compare their performance side-by-side and see which one is really the supreme stitcher.
Some of the machines ready for testing!
To determine the overall score and our award winners, we divided up our testing process into four weighted rating metrics: Sewing, Ease of Use, Ease of Setup and Buttonholes. Each of these metrics is weighted based on its significance to these products, with the overall score bestowed upon each machine ranging from 0-100, with our results discussed below.
As you can see from the chart above, there are two machines that stand out as being exceptionally great values and great choices when shopping on a limited budget: the Singer 7258
and the Brother XR9550PRW
. While the 7258
has a list price that is about $100 more than the XR9550PRW
, these machines usually retail for about the same price. The 7258
produces slightly better stitches, making it more suitable for a frequent user, while the XR9550PRW
is much easier to use, making it better for beginners or occasional users. The Singer 9960
is the overall best of the best, but usually retails for a bit more than either of our Best Buy Award winners.
Some of our sewing test swatches to compare the stitches produced bv each machine side by side.
The sole purpose of these products is to use them for sewing, and as such, sewing performance makes up the largest portion of our overall scores. This is such a crucial metric that it merited 40% of the final scores. Sewing quality can vary depending on the fabric type, as well as on the stitch type. To really find out which sewing machine sews the best, we had our experienced seamstress make a handful of swatches using an assortment of fabrics with different stitches. You can see how the different models ranked in the chart below.
We then had a panel of experienced users, as well as some novices, evaluate the stitches on their consistency, tension, and overall aesthetic appearance. We used a long straight stitch, a zigzag stitch, a scallop stitch, as well as using the zipper presser foot to sew on a zipper. These stitches offered the most variety and consistent trends in scores, as well as being some of the most commonly used when sewing, making them a good basis for comparison.
Here you can see the 4 stitches that made up most of our sewing: long straight, zigzag, scallop, and buttonholes.
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 9960 did well with this stitch on cotton, but other machines, like the Brother CS6000i, were prone to bunching up the fabric due to uneven stitch tension.
The zipper test was as much of an analysis of the presser foot, as the stitch quality itself. Each machine has a specific presser foot for attaching a zipper, though some were better than others. Some machines, like the Brother SE400
, did very well, with its presser foot clearing all parts of the zipper and cleanly attaching it. Others collided with parts of the zipper, causing the stitches to become uneven and tangled on top of each other.
We tested the zipper presser foot with each machine.
Tying for the top spot, both the 9960 and the 7258 earned a 7 out of 10. These machines both did well with the long straight stitches, with the 9960 having a slight edge. However, the 7258 is far superior to the 9960 at producing a zigzag stitch — the best of the entire group.
Stitch number 9, produced by the 7258 came out exceptionally well.
We found that we were able to create a comparable zigzag stitch with the 9960 by experimenting and tweaking the settings, but we scored based on the default instructions. However, the 9960 did an amazing job in our scallop stitch test, tying for the top score with the Janome 8077. It even did an excellent job on the more difficult to sew fabrics, such as polyester charmeuse or silk.
One of our scallop stitch test swatches. Stitch number 10 was made on the 9960.
Both the 7258 and the 9960 did a great job at attaching a zipper with their respective specialized presser feet.
Following this duo of top-notch machines, the Brother XR9550PRW, the SE400, and the Janome 8077 all earned a 6 out of 10 for their solid showing in our stitch quality assessments. Starting off, we tasked each machine with a long straight stitch on our set of testing fabric. These three machines all did quite well, creating passable stitches on almost every fabric — even though they did noticeably struggle a bit more with the difficult ones than the top models. For example, the SE400 struggled a bit with the satin, while the 8077 and the XR9550PRW found the charmeuse to be a bit trying.
The scores began to diverge much more when we moved on to the zigzag and scallop stitches. The SE400 claimed superiority when it came to the zigzag stitch, even doing a great job on hard-to-sew fabrics like charmeuse, silk, and jersey knit cotton. The XR9550PRW tended to have a bit more tension in the bottom thread than we would have liked, inhibiting the stretch of this stitch — particularly noticeable on the jersey knit woven cotton.
This product produced a very nice zigzag stitch.
The 8077 trailed slightly behind, tending to bunch up the fabric in an undesirable way when sewing on corduroy, satin, or charmeuse.
However, the tables turned in the scallop stitch assessments, with the 8077 tying for the top score of the entire group, as mentioned above. The Janome delivered a stellar scallop stitch on every single type of test fabric we use. The XR9550PRW trailed right behind the 8077, mainly held back by the lackluster zigzag stitch that it produced on polyester chiffon. The SE400 ranked similarly to the XR9550PRW, but it was held back by its rather poor showing on the thin leather.
The SE400, XR9550PRW, and the 8077 all finished out our stitch quality metric with a solid performance in our zipper test. We used the zipper-specific presser foot for each of these machines to sew a zipper on to a test swatch of fabric and all the machines did admirable, though the SE400 did produce a slightly more seamless join.
Next, the Brother CS6000i, Singer 4452, and the Janome Magnolia 7318 all merited a 5 out of 10 for their middle-of-the-road performance. The CS6000i delivered a disappointing long straight stitch and did a relatively sloppy job at attaching the zipper, but was redeemed by a strong showing in our zigzag and scallop assessments. The Magnolia and the 4452 delivered average performances in the straight stitch, zigzag, and zipper challenges, but both scored below average when using a scallop stitch — the Magnolia more so than the 4452.
Rounding out the back of the pack, the Singer 4423 Heavy Duty
, Brother HC1850
, and the Brother ST371HD
all earned a 4 out of 10. The 4452
lagged slightly behind on long, straight stitches, and noticeably struggled with scallop stitches — earning the lowest score of the bunch. The HC1850
did a decent job on the easier fabrics, but definitely faltered on the more difficult to sew ones, bunching up and becoming uneven. The ST371HD
delivered a lackluster performance across the board, though it did do a surprisingly good job with the woven cotton.
The lighting on this machine was exceptional.
Ease of Use
These products are designed to make it easier and more convenient to accomplish your sewing projects. The best all-around sewing machine should have clear and convenient instructions on the machine, making it clear how to select stitches and change other settings. The best machine will also have features like automatic sewing, the ability to adjust the needle stop position, a thread cutter, and a built-in light to make it easier to see small details when sewing. This metric makes up 30% of our total score. You can see how the machines did in the following graphic.
While some of this may seem extremely nitpicky, we were surprised how much small conveniences stood out on the machines throughout our testing and really made them the go-to pick for us. As well as being easier for all users, some of these machines would be substantially easier for someone with reduced eyesight or dexterity to operate — an extremely important point if the primary user falls into either of those categories.
Tying for the top score, the Brother HC1850
, and the Singer 9960
all distinguished themselves by being some of the easiest to use sewing machines that we have seen to date. A key factor that set these four products apart from the rest is the intuitive and very easy to understand set of labels and directions that are printed right on the machines themselves, though the 9960
had slightly less clear directions than the rest of the group.
The XR9550PRW has exceptionally clear instructions printed on the machine.
This is an important aspect for all users, even the more experienced ones. Every machine threads similarly, but there are slight differences that vary from machine to machine and it's easy to forget the minutiae that accompany threading them or winding the bobbin.
Every machine that we looked at has a built-in work light, with some being substantially brighter than others. The 9960 has the best work light of the entire group by far, followed by the Brother HC1850. The CS6000i and the XR9550PRW both were mediocre in the light department and definitely would require the use of supplemental lighting.
All four of these machines have automatic sewing capabilities and have the needle set to always stop in the down position — unfortunately, this isn't adjustable. When it came to using the thread cutter, the 9960 is definitely the easiest with its fully automatic one, activated by a simple button press.
We really liked the automatic thread cutting feature on this model.
The remainder of this group all has a manual thread cutter on the side. It is also extremely easy to select between different stitches on the CS6000i, XR9550PRW, and the HC1850, but it is a little more difficult on the 9960.
Following this top group, the Brother SE400, Janome 8077, and the Singer 7258 all earned a 7 out of 10 for their ease of use. All three of these machines weren't as well labeled as the top quartet in this metric, with the 8077 and the 7258 scoring a little worse than the SE400.
This machine did not have the most thorough directions printed on it.
The Janome has a solid built-in work light, while supplemental lighted is definitely necessary when using the SE400 and the 7258. It is very easy to swap stitches with the 7258 and the 8077, but it can be a little confusing on the SE400.
We enjoyed the LCD touch screen on this model.
This trio all have automatic sewing and the 7258 and the 8077 both have the added bonus of having an adjustable needle stop position, meaning you can configure it to always stop in either the down position or the up position to match your preference. On the other hand, the SE400 will always stop in the down position.
Next, the Singer 4452 and the Singer 4423 both earned a 6 out of 10. This pair of heavy-duty sewing machines both performed identically, having a great set of printed instructions on the machine, a decent work light, and an average stitch selection method.
The stitch selection dials on the 4452 by Singer.
Neither of these has the ability to sew automatically and the needle stop position isn't regulated, meaning it will stop wherever it is when you remove your foot from the pedal. This pair of machines both have a manual thread cutter.
Finishing at the back of the group, the Brother ST371HD and the Janome Magnolia are the hardest to use out of the entire group. The Magnolia has a surprisingly good work light, but a relatively poor set of instructions on the machine.
The Magnolia had one of the brightest and most illuminating built-in lights out of all the machines we tested.
It also isn't terribly easy to select different stitches and lacks automatic sewing or dedicated needle stop abilities. However, it does have a thread cutter that is reasonably easy to use.
The ST371HD has a solid set of on-machine instructions, but a mediocre work light and a more difficult to use stitch selection method compared to the other machines in the group. It also lacks automatic sewing and a dedicated needle stop position — expected, as it is a mechanical sewing machine. Its thread cutter is also a little more difficult to use than some of the competition.
Some models had molded instructions that were difficult to see.
Ease of Setup
Setting up a sewing machine can take just as much time and effort as actual sewing. Between winding and installing the bobbin, threading the upper thread and needle, and setting up different presser feet, a significant portion of your time and effort is devoted to set up. Having a machine that is a breeze to set up can make the difference between actually starting a sewing project, or putting it off because it is too much of a hassle. You can see the differences between setting up each machine in the chart below.
Winding a bobbin, installing it, and using the needle threader make up the majority of the score for this metric, as these tasks highlighted the biggest differences between machines. As mentioned above, this rating metric can be extremely important for someone whose eyesight might not be as good as it used to be, or someone who struggles with nimble tasks like threading the needle. Even for those who don't, the machines that excel in this metric will definitely alleviate frustration.
The Brother SE400 earned the highest marks in this metric, with an 8 out of 10. This machine did a great job at winding the bobbin evenly and consistently, and it was a snap to install, but its standout feature is the automatic needle threader. The needle threader on this machine is the only one out of the bunch that can honestly be considered automatic. You route the thread, pull the lever on the side of the machine, and the needle is magically threaded.
The SE400 had instructions printed on the machine on how to thread it.
All the other machines have a drop-down hook that passes through the eye of the needle to catch the thread and pull it through and requires substantially more dexterity. However, the SE400 is substantially more expensive, and as a combination sewing/embroidery machine, is a little too much machine for the beginner/intermediate user.
Next, the XR9550PRW earned the runner-up position, with a 7 out of 10. It is just as easy as the SE400 to thread the machine and install the bobbin, but it dropped to the second place spot due to its comparatively inferior needle threader and its slightly harder bobbin winding process.
Following this duo of top performers, the rest of the machines all clustered in the middle, with the CS6000i, 8077, 4423, 7258, 9960, and the HC1850 all earning a 6 out of 10. These model are all about the same difficulty to thread the upper portion of the machine, with the 7258 and the 8077 being slightly more difficult than the others. It was noticeably easier to install the bobbin on the CS6000i and the HC1850 than the rest, though it still wasn't too difficult on the other machines.
This model has a sticker with instructions on how to thread the bobbin.
None of these have a fully-automatic needle threader, all having the standard style needle threader. However, there were varying degrees of difficulty in operating it depending on the machine, with the 9960 being much easier to use than the others.
When it came to winding a bobbin, the 4423
and the 8077
are the easiest to thread and wound the most uniform bobbins. The 7258
is a little more involved to thread, but wound equally high-quality bobbins. The CS6000i
and the HC1850
are easy to wind, but both wound a bit unevenly. The 9960
scored the worst of this group, being difficult to thread with directions that are very hard to see. On top of that, the bobbin it wound was quite inconsistent.
Rounding out the back of the pack, the Brother ST371HD, Singer 4452, and the Janome Magnolia earned a 5, 5, and a 4 respectively.
The ST371HD has a needle threader that is very easy to use and is about average in difficulty to thread the machine and wind the bobbin. However, it is a little more difficult to install the bobbin than we would have liked.
The notch that you have to route the thread through makes it a little more difficult to install the bobbin on the ST371HD than some of the other machines.
The Singer 4452
is about average across the board, though the needle threader did give us some slight issues. The Magnolia
needs to be manually threaded, increasing the difficulty, and is about average to thread. However, it is reasonably difficult to wind and install the bobbin, with the bobbin continually coming out bottom heavy.
The presser foot for making buttonholes installed on the 7258.
Buttons are a commonly used in clothing, and anyone who is interested in making garments will inevitably need to create buttonholes. In addition to garment construction, many other sewing projects will use buttons or buttonholes. Modern sewing machines can easily and quickly create buttonholes, using either a one or four-step process. While each machine we tested successfully produced a buttonhole, there were significant differences between the ease of execution and the quality of the finished product. You can see the scores in the chart below.
Each machine has a presser foot specifically for buttonholes, with marks to align it in the right location, and an adjustable size that will match the button. As expected, it was much easier to execute a 1-step buttonhole compared to the 4-step buttonhole, and we definitely preferred the former method. One of our Best Buy award winners, the Singer 7258 was the easiest to actually make the buttonhole, as well as our top scorer in this entire metric, earning an 8 out of 10. This was the only model that actually stood out in this test, creating a buttonhole that was not prone to unraveling, in direct contrast to most of the other models.
Some of the buttonholes produced by the 7258 in the second to last column
A final aspect that the 7258 excelled at, that we didn't initially think would be a differentiating factor, was lining up the presser foot so the buttonhole ends up in the desired location. This proved to quite difficult on some machines, and could actually prove catastrophic on some sewing projects. Imagine spending hours and hours making a custom garment with expensive fabric, and having the buttonholes end up crooked and misaligned after all that work — it would be devastating! The 7258 has a very visible set of marks on the presser foot to match to the marks on the fabric.
Next, the XR9550PRW by Brother merited a 7 out of 10 for its stellar performance in our buttonhole 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, as it can be a little difficult to line up the marks on the presser foot with the marks on the fabric.
Some of the high-quality buttonholes produced by the XR9550PRW.
We liked that this machine seemed to thoroughly reinforce the buttonhole, making it one of the most securely made buttonholes of the entire group. The finished stitch looked very clean, though there was a minuscule amount of bunching on the top bar when we used a swatch of charmeuse.
The bulk of the machines came next, with the CS6000i, the SE400, the Magnolia 7318, and the 9960 all earning a 6 out of 10. These machines were all about the same difficulty to set up to sew a buttonhole and produced a finished product of comparable quality. It is the ease of aligning the buttonhole that is the key differentiating factor between these machines. It is the easiest on the Magnolia and the hardest on the 9960, with the remaining products in this group falling in the middle.
The buttonhole presser foot with installed button on the 9960.
, Janome 8077
, Singer 4423
, and the Singer 4452
all finished at the back of the group, earning a 4 out of 10. It is much harder to see the alignment marks on the buttonhole presser foot on these machines, making it almost impossible to create the buttonhole in the desired location. The quality of the buttonholes produced is also wanting, with these machines tending to create buttonholes that are prone to unraveling.
All of these machines are highly rated and regarded, and are all competent at sewing. Each of these machines can handle small projects, but the frequent user and committed sewer will definitely notice differences between our top scorers … and our not-so-top scorers. Hopefully, this review will aid you in selecting the perfect sewing machine for your needs, tackling every sewing project that you had hoped to.