The Best Sewing Machines of 2017
We spent close to 80 hours researching the top 60 sewing machines available, then bought the top 10 and put them through 200 hours of side-by-side tests to find the winners. It can be like locating a needle in a haystack to find the perfect sewing machine, whether you are a total novice or an expert user. We created dozens and dozens of test swatches to evaluate these products, ranking straight to scallop stitches on everything from chiffon to charmeuse. We also compared the buttonhole quality, ease of use and setup of each machine, all to help you pick the perfect machine.
Read the full review below >
Test Results and Ratings
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Analysis and Award Winners
Updated June 2017
For Summer 2017, we took a look back at this review to see if any new machines had emerged as a contender. However, we found nothing noteworthy, with all of our current award winners dominating the top of best sellers lists and continuing to be well received. We'll keep looking for new models or updated versions of our current ones but for now, at least, the following models are the best you can buy today.
Best Overall Sewing Machine
Singer 9960 Quantum Stylist
Read full review: Singer 9960
Best Bang for the Buck
Singer 7258 Stylist
Read full review: Singer 7258
Best Bang for the Buck
Shopping on a tight budget?
The Brother Project Runway CS5055PRW is practically an identical machine but has a reduced stitch library compared to the XR9500PRW. It also usually sells for about $50 less.
Read full review: Brother XR9500PRW
Best Combination Machine for Beginners
Read full review: Brother SE400
Analysis and Test Results
We took the top ten sewing machines and put them through a series of head to head tests to determine which one is really the best product.
To determine the overall score and our award winners, we tested each machine on 4 separate metrics: Sewing, Ease of Use, Ease of Setup and Button Work. We detail how each model did in the different metrics in the sections below.
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.
The top performers when it came to our overall sewing test were our Editors' Choice award winner, the Singer 9960, and our Best Buy award winner, the Singer 7258. The 7258 had the best zigzag stitch in our tests out of all the models that we tested, while the 9960 had an exemplary performance in our scallop stitch tests.
Almost every machine that we tested had decent stitching quality, with only one machine scoring below average for what we would expect out of a top end product. This machine was the Singer 4423 Heavy Duty, earning a 4 out of 10. This machine lagged slightly behind on long, straight stitches, and noticeably struggled with scallop stitches — earning the lowest score of the bunch.
The final two stitches that we looked at in determining our scores were the straight stitch on the longest length setting, as well as a zipper test-- what we called using the zipper presser foot to attach a standard zipper. Differences between each machine were much easier to discern with the maximum 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. You can see this in the photo below, comparing stitch number 1(Brother CS6000i) to number 10(Singer 9960).
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.
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.
The tests in this metric highlighted a trio of high performing machines that all tied for the top score. The Brother CS6000i, Brother XR9500PRW, and the Singer 9960 all netted an 8 out of 10. These three machines all had clear and easy to understand instructions printed on the machine for commonly performed tasks.
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 majority of these will require the addition of a supplemental light in your work area, but a few machines shone above the rest. The 9960 and the Janome Magnolia 7318 by far had the brightest light, while the CS6000i had the dimmest, casting an irritating shadow across what you are sewing.
Every sewing machine we looked at has a built-in thread cutter, from a simple shrouded Razor blade on the side of the machine, to an automated cutter for both the top and bottom thread inside the machine. We found that we thoroughly appreciated the automatic thread cutter, as it substantially reduced wasted thread and the mess caused by all the small fragments of thread that always seemed to accumulate when we used a machine with a manual thread cutter. Both the Brother SE400 and the 9960 have an automatic cutter, while the rest have a manual one.
One final convenience is a set needle stop position. This can be very convenient for tasks like quilting, where one is frequently pivoting the fabric. Our favorite machines were ones that allowed you to adjust whether it always stopped with the needle in the up or in the down position, allowing you to adjust it to your sewing style and maximize your efficiency at sewing. These adjustable machines were the Janome 8077 and the Singer 7258, with the other computerized machines always stopping in the down position. This function is not available on mechanical machines, so those looking at the Brother ST371HD or either of the Singer Heavy-Duty machines are out of luck.
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 setup. 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. We also looked at threading the upper thread on each machine, but this was extremely similar to all the machines. As mentioned above, this rating metric can be extremely important for 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.
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. The XR9500PRW earned the runner-up position, with a 7 out of 10, dropping to the second place spot due to its comparatively inferior needle threader.
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.
The rest of the machines all clustered in the middle, with our biggest complaint being that the bobbin was wound unevenly, or that directions on installing it were not clear or lacking on the machine. For example, the 9960 lacks a diagram on how to install the bobbin and thread the lower part of the machine, and it was very hard to see the molded directions on how to wind the bobbin.
While this isn't a deal breaker, as you will rely less and less on the directions the more comfortable you become with the machine, it is still nice to have the directions available, especially for those who use the machine infrequently.
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, with a 5-way tie for the runner-up spot. We liked that this model created a buttonhole that was not prone to unraveling, in direct contrast to other models, like the Brother ST371HD or either of the Singer Heavy-Duty Models.
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 excelled at this as well, with a visible set of marks on the presser foot to match to the marks on the fabric. Other machines — the Janome 8077, Singer 4423, and the Singer 4452 — were much harder to see, making it almost impossible to line up the finished product in the desired location, somewhat excluding these machines for those of you primarily focused on garment production or other users that will frequently be making buttonholes.
— David Wise and Austin Palmer
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