The world's most in-depth and scientific reviews of tech gear

How We Tested Sewing Machines

Thursday October 17, 2019
Some of our sewing test swatches to compare the stitches produced bv each machine side by side.
Some of our sewing test swatches to compare the stitches produced bv each machine side by side.

We took all of the top-rated, most popular sewing machines and put them through a gauntlet of tests to find the best. Splitting the overall score up into 4 metrics — ease of set-up, ease of use, sewing, and button-work — we pushed each machine to its limits and went through needles, bobbins, and yards and yards of fabric and thread to find out which machine was the top performer.

Sewing


As this is the entire point of these machines, sewing performance makes up a large portion of the total score, being worth 40%. We brought in a panel of experienced sewing consultants, who helped us evaluate these machines on their ease of set-up, ease of use, side-by-side sewing performance, and their buttonhole capabilities. We ran each of these machines on a variety of fabrics, with all of the most commonly utilized stitches, and then had a panel of experienced sewing machine users, as well as some users new to the craft, evaluate the stitches on their uniformity, tension, and appearance. As this is a somewhat subjective method, we aggregated their scores and looked for consensus, eliminating any that were obvious outliers.

One of our side by side scallop stitch comparison swatches.
One of our side by side scallop stitch comparison swatches.

We also did various torture tests with each machine, such as determining not only if it could sew through denim --a relatively thick fabric — but 6 layers of it, as well as sheer, slippery fabric.

Ease of Use


These products are meant to make it easier and faster to sew, and thus, should be easy to use. We went through and rated the machines on everything from how intuitive the on-machine instructions were, to the quality and presence of light to illuminate the piece you are working on. We came up with these scores throughout the testing process, with lots of input from each of our panel of users and testers. We weighted this metric at 30% of the total score.

The Magnolia had one of the brightest and most illuminating built-in lights out of all the machines we tested.
The Magnolia had one of the brightest and most illuminating built-in lights out of all the machines we tested.

Sewing machines offer a myriad of settings to adjust, ranging from tension, length, type of stitch, and speed of stitching, to name a few. We felt it was important to know exactly how to adjust each of them at a glance, and rated each machine on the readability and intuitiveness of these directions. The machines that we reviewed fell into two categories: mechanical and computerized. Selections on mechanical machines are made by aligning and adjusting various knobs and levers, while computerized machines require navigation through menus and submenus.

The stitch selection dials on the 4452 by Singer.
The stitch selection menu on the computerized SE400 by Brother.

We looked at how easy it was for someone new to the machines to select a stitch or change the tension without having consulted the manuals. We found a decent spread between the machines, some were extremely intuitive and easy to useā€¦.while others resembled an aircraft control panel.

We then looked at the level of light provided by each machine, how easy it was to select various stitches, as well as if there was a set needle stop position, and whether or not it was adjustable based on user preference. Finally, we looked at if the machine had a thread cutter, whether it was automatic or manual, and how easy it was to use.

Ease of Set-up


This is where we ranked each of the machines on all of the effort that goes in before you can actually start sewing on your project, with this metric making up 20% of the total score. The first thing that we looked at on each machine was how it did at winding a bobbin.

The 9960 set up to wind a bobbin. You can also see the stitch selection key printed inside of the lid.
The 9960 set up to wind a bobbin. You can also see the stitch selection key printed inside of the lid.

We looked at both the ease of setting up the thread and setting the machine to wind it, as well as the quality of the wound bobbin that each machine produced. We were particularly looking for consistent winding, with an even amount of thread distributed from the top to the bottom of the bobbin.

We then looked at how easy it was to install the bobbin in the machine, how much dexterity was required to thread the shuttle, and how clear and easy to read the directions were on the machine when it came to threading and installing it. We scored machines that had easily-visible, high contrast instructions, and machines that were easy to thread highly, and hard to read and machines that required high-levels of dexterity poorly.

Clear directions and a built-in thread cutter made installing the bobbin in the XR9500PRW machine a snap.
Clear directions and a built-in thread cutter made installing the bobbin in the XR9500PRW machine a snap.

We then looked at how clear and easy it was to thread the upper thread in the machine, which essentially distilled down to how difficult it was to catch the upper threading guide, as most of the machines were very similar.

The final part of threading the upper thread on the machines was the ease of threading the needle. This is by far the most difficult part of setting up a machine, and the manufacturers' have added a variety of automated solutions to reduce the difficulty associated with this task. Some of these solutions were great, while others definitely fell short of the mark. To judge them, we looked at the time it took to operate, as well as the reliability and required number of attempts until the needle was successfully threaded.

Button Work


The last, and smallest weighted metric that we looked at was how the machines did at making a buttonhole. While some of you may remember this as being a tricky process, the majority of machines now have a 1-step buttonhole process, making it easy for beginners to perfect the perfect buttonhole.

Some of the buttonholes produced by the 7258 in the second to last column
Some of the buttonholes produced by the 7258 in the second to last column

First, we and our experienced consultants rated the ease of setting up the buttonhole mode on the machine, attaching the buttonhole foot, and setting it to the proper size with the desired button. We then went through each machine and made a set of buttonholes on different types of fabric, similar to our stitching testing methods, and rated the quality of each buttonhole, mainly focusing on the evenness and whether or not it was prone to unraveling.

The last component of button work we analyzed was how easy it was to place the buttonhole in the desired location, using the alignment marks printed on the specialized presser foot. After all, it is useless to have the perfect buttonhole, but in the wrong location when working on garments or other projects.

To see how each of the sewing machines performed when completing these tests, take a read of our complete, comprehensive Sewing Machine Review. If you are new to sewing machines or want a little more background on sewing machines, and what features and functions we found to be the most useful, or assistance at selecting the right type for you, take a glance at our helpful Buying Advice article.