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I'm looking to buy a sewing machine sometime, not right away, but maybe after the convention, and maybe when I become more financially stable. I haven't seen in a while, maybe six years, so, hopefully something beginner friendly? But since I'm plus size, I need something that will handle a lot of stretch fabrics. Nothing too fancy on the buttons and zippers. Hopefully something that will accommodate my small apartment space.
I'm fond of my machine, a [URL="https://www.amazon.com/Brother-Jx2517-Lightweight-Sewing-Machine/dp/B00FOWQUZS"]Brother[/URL], but then I have no experience with anything else. I feel it's pretty beginner- and budget-friendly though and has all the stitch options I'd want outside of embroidery or serging.
I've sewn tons of fleece on it (which is what, semi-stretch?) and am working with a ponte knite right now that's way stretchy. That's more a matter of having the right foot though I believe, unless you're just looking for a serger.
Stretch fabric don't put a particular strain on machines, it's heavy things like upholstery fabrics and fur and faux leather that separate the men from the boys so to speak. Nearly all modern machines have a good stretch stitch included in their basic set.
I've sewn on many different machines: from simple beginner new mostly plastic machines to antiques to commercial machines that are so fast they are terrifying. The big brand names of Brother, Janome, Bernina and Pfaff all are popular for a reason, they make good stuff. Personally, I own a Janome Home Professional 6600 model. I love it because it's REALLY heavy duty.
Janome* and Pfaff both make a basic (lower priced) machine that has heavier duty gearing that the same size and simplicity most basic models in their line. I find the most common need and issue when sewing costumes is that need for power and real metal gears. You can't tow a yacht with a Yugo, and sewing heavily gathered skirts or faux leather coats are very much that kind of heavy work.
Don;t get something fancier than you need, but at the same time don;t get something so dinky you'll break it or outgrow it very quickly. I advise as much test driving as you can get yourself to. Bring your own fabric and actually sew on every machine you can.
*Janome calls it "the Jean Machine" and it usually retails under $200 US
My first cosplay sewing machine was a Brother XL2610, a manual machine (it has a dial you have to rotate to select stitches rather than buttons you push). It has all the basic stitches you will need including one for stretch fabrics and it's very user-friendly. I bought mine for $99 and it lasted me 2 years before I outgrew it.
My current machine is a Brother XR9500PRW Project Runway, which is a mid-range computerized machine that is a joy to sew with. It has a ton of stitches I'll never use but the basic stitches are sufficient.
My machine is an old Montgomery Ward and it is a solid-ass workhorse. A tuneup once a decade, and it's back to churning through anything I ask it to.
I am not recommending Montgomery Ward in particular, but I am recommending buying an old one used; Craigslist, Goodwill, or your secondhand venue of choice. Mine cost $30. The tuneup it needed to get it working again was $70. It's been working like a dream ever since. Take off the cover and look for all metal parts inside. Those and a sharp needle will get you through almost anything.
Don't forget to get a little bottle of oil and give the machinery a few dabs every year or two! (or however often. Mine, as noted, can endure much and didn't get oil for the first six years I had it.)
All of the suggestions for new machines are solid, if you go that route.
But, like Mango, I only own older machines. (I own 3 sewing machines and a serger and have never bought a machine in my life because they're all hand-me-downs...I'm super lucky.) All three of my machines are Singer, the oldest of which (and my favorite) is from 1960. The one I use the most and am currently using (the oldest machine needs to go in for repairs because something's stuck in the bobbin assembly and I'm not confident enough to take it apart myself) is the one I've had the longest, which is from 1975. I haven't used the newest machine in my lineup yet, but it's from probably the late 1980s to mid 1990s or so (I'd need to check).
The newest machine has some fancy stitches. The oldest machine is barebones but a total workhorse. All metal parts, I can generally fix issues with it myself, and it sews through anything (except maybe like...5 layers of faux fur or something, never tried it). All it has is a straight stitch, a zigzag, needle position selector, stitch width and length selectors, backstitch, and foot pressure selector, as well as top thread tension and a bobbin winder. (It also has the ability to use twin needles right in the machine, as opposed to with a separate pre-made twin needle on one shaft, which is AMAZING and I've used that a lot when sewing knits.) I haven't really needed more than that in all my years of sewing. The 1975 machine has some fancier stitches (it has a cam system...top of the line at the time!), but I've never used a single one. That one also has a buttonhole feature that I have used quite a bit.
If you are looking for something with a few more features (easier to use buttonholers, more stitches), use one of the above suggestions. If you are looking for something super cheap but that will last you many years to come and fit probably 80~90% of your needs, I recommend a used machine. Do your research first to make sure it's a good one, and make sure it's in good working order, but I'd highly recommend any of the two of mine that I've used. The advantage of older Singer machines (newer ones aren't worth it imo) is that all of the newer accessories still work for them. If you end up getting another brand of vintage machine, make sure that you can still get accessories (mostly important things like presser feet, but even things like lightbulbs and bobbins that should be mostly universal but if it's some weird off brand it might not be) that still fit it.
Would I miss the features of a newer machine if I were used to that and went back to a machine as old as my parents? Maybe. But do I miss all the bells and whistles now? Not at all. A straight stretch stitch is literally the only thing I'd ask for, but that's not a dealbreaker for me, obviously.
My mother's machine is a 1940's Singer, it's what I learned on and she still uses it. The only thing it doesn't do well it stretch stitch (mostly because knits weren't widely produced and used at the time of it's development).
I second getting a used machine but will emphasize what I said earlier: sew on it.
A few names you might see on old machines and who they are today:
New Home = Janome (same company, different era)
White = Baby Lock (some models read both)
Models/ eras/ machines to avoid:
1) Euro Pro, just crap.
2) Singer from 1985- 2000. The company was doing poorly in the 80's and made some bad design decisions, nylon gearing. Then the went under and sold the name. All Singers are now made in China and nowhere near the quality of the old days. The higher end computerized models did bounce a bit, the earliest Chinese ones sucked but currently available models are better. The low end machines sold at Walmart make excellent door stops.
3) "jiffy" "tiny" or anything else that looks like this: [url]https://www.amazon.com/Michley-LSS-202-2-Speed-Sewing-Machine/dp/B0021L931S/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1488720087&sr=8-5&keywords=sewing+machine[/url]
It's not even worthy of being a childs' toy. This is a junky waste of money.
4) Pfaff & Bernina unless you have plenty of money. Not because they are bad, both are excellent brands and great machines. Both tend to have more specialized feet and equipment, like owning a Mercedez or a Volkswagon (actually, both are German made, so an apt analogy). They both tend to run a bit higher in the parts and repair department but if you find one cheap enough, especially if it has all it's extras, grab it.
2) Singer from 1985- 2000. The company was doing poorly in the 80's and made some bad design decisions, nylon gearing. Then the went under and sold the name. All Singers are now made in China and nowhere near the quality of the old days. The higher end computerized models did bounce a bit, the earliest Chinese ones sucked but currently available models are better. The low end machines sold at Walmart make excellent door stops.[/QUOTE]
Slight disagreement on the machine ages; the one I used for nearly a decade, and my mom for many years before me, was made in 1987. It got maintenance a grand total of twice in the ten years I sewed with it and goodness knows if ever before that, had a broken gear for months that I had no time to get fixed, and still powered through almost everything. It was plastic parts, which finally spelled its end when a part of the machinery responsible for handling knits/tension on springy fabrics broke in half (I forget what the heck the repair guy called it), but dayum if I did not put that machine through HELL and still had it work. If it's not a mega-dinky machine (Mom's was about middle of the line for the time, it was a Merrit 4525) I'd say Singer up to the start of the 90's was pretty decent. She also picked up an early-90's model from the thrift shop when I went off to college with it, and it works just fine too.
I also inherited a Singer from the late 50's from Grandma (the model 401a, also known as the slant-o-matic, I just pulled that beast out to properly check for myself), and while I haven't needed to pull it out yet (also because HOLY CRAP THAT THING WEIGHS A TON, it is ALL metal), I tested it before taking it home, and man oh MAN it's a lovely machine. She sewed with it for at least 15 years and made almost all the clothing for herself, her husband and her four kids plus the usual curtains and quilts, it never broke down once. It seriously has as many stitch functions as my NEW machine, once you can make sense of the knobs not being intuitive in the least. I highly recommend trying to snap up a vintage all-metal-gears machine too, long as you don't have to carry it around a lot.
Oh, and this is handy; how to quick-date a Singer machine by finding where the model number is printed. [url]http://www.singerco.com/support/machine-model-numbers[/url] ...ironically, they used the same model I had for the 80's one. :P
My own machine is a Janome SUV1122 and I love it, except for one annoying feature with the needle position (it only gives me the option of centre and left, not centre, left and right, needle positions, for whatever reason); however, that's not a cheap/beginner-level model, I only upgraded to it after the Singer broke AND I'd been sewing for business for at least a year. I've heard good things about the beginner-level janomes too, though. My bf's mother also has a more basic-level Brother machine since she only sews casually, and I've borrowed it on occasion when I had to sew while over at his place and couldn't bring my own machine; it won't sew through insanely heavy/tough things, but for average sewing it more than does the job.
I really like my Husqvarna Viking Emerald 116 so far, it's what the people at the sewing machine shops recommended when I was looking for the cheapest thing that would still be good for sewing clothes/costumes, seems pretty beginner-friendly and it seems to handle most kinds of fabrics pretty well from what I've tried :D
Handles stretch well too though that's just a question of having the right settings and needles, most modern sewing machines have settings for that
Also, if possible, test the machine before you buy! If buying new, ask for suggestions at the shop (I highly recommend getting it from specialized sewing machine shops since they know their stuff and tend to have the actually good ones), tell them your needs and budget ect.