Rather than perform a wide assortment of needlework tasks by hand, you can rely on a sewing machine to automate the processes. Although the sewing machine is a fairly old invention, the latest technological innovations have been steadily applied to the machines. They can be equipped with onboard computers, powerful memory banks and in some cases, even interactive touchscreens. Sewing machines are used for basic mending and stitch-making as well as quilting, garment creation and embroidery. Found in homes and factories alike, sewing machines are available in basic, electronic, computerized and fully automated varieties.
Sewing Machine Costs
The majority of consumer sewing machines are priced in the $150 to $500 range. Budget and beginner models often go for $50 or less, while the most comprehensive, high-tech models can cost several thousand dollars. Select embroidery machines that feature the height of innovative technology can cost as much as $14,000. Industrial sewing machines are of a different breed, durably designed to perform one task in an assembly line-like manner. They are generally priced from around $1,000 to $10,000 or more, depending on their functions.
Sewing machines vary in terms of size, cost, features and ease of use. Consumer brands like Singer, Brother and Janome offer numerous models, many of which are ideal for beginners. On the other side of the spectrum, sewing machines designed for experienced operators typically provide greater versatility, more features and a higher level of precision performance.
Sewing and Quilting Machines
Sewing and quilting machines may be quite basic in design while still providing a range of features and functions that enable multiple needlework styles. The most basic sewing machines are designed to perform light mending tasks, simple garment creation and craft work. Common basic features include a top- or front-loading bobbin, manual needle threader, stitch selector dial and snap-on presser feet. Depending on the complexity of the machine, the number of built-in stitches may range from as few as 5 to 72 or more.
Machines designed for both sewing and quilting applications typically feature an oversized work surface, a walking foot attachment designed to move the top layer of fabric in coordination with the bottom layer, and a number of specialty quilting stitches. Other common features may include an auto bobbin winding system, electronic speed control mechanism and 1-step buttonhole function. Fairly uncomplicated sewing and quilting machine models include the Brother LS-2125i, the Singer 2273 and the Janome Jem Gold 660, among many others.
Embroidery is the process of decorating fabric with designs, characters or letters, and embroidery machines are more comprehensive in design, features and performance characteristics. Typically more expensive than standard and electronic sewing machines, embroidery units like the Brother PE-750D, Singer SES2000 and the extremely high-end Pfaff Creative Vision offer complex technology. The latest embroidery models are equipped with powerful onboard computers that can interface with a PC via a USB port. You can quickly download countless digital patterns from software or the Internet and view them in 3-D on the machines' integrated HD touchscreens.
Embroidery models come with any number of built-in designs, fonts, characters and frame patterns in addition to built-in sewing stitches and functions. They provide a sizable embroidery area and onboard editing functions and may include a USB memory stick to save settings. Select models, such as those in Singer's Futura line, are Windows compatible. Operational features may include a programmable needle, automatic thread tension and an infinitely adjustable presser foot pressure.
Sergers, also called overlocking machines, are used to finish off the ends of fabric to keep it from fraying. They operate at high speeds, performing 1,300 stitches or more per minute. Utilizing 1 to 3 needles, sergers pull thread from up to 5 spools to create a number of different finishing stitches, including chain, safety and blind hem stitches. Select units include a movable knife that simultaneously cuts away excess fabric as it stitches over the fabric edge. Common features include electronic speed control, adjustable stitch width and length, free-arm capability, and a differential feed.
Simple Mechanical Models
Without incorporating any computers into their design, simple mechanical sewing machines offer a limited number of basic utility and decorative stitches, such as straight, zigzag, elastic and blind hem types. These machines feature a flat bed that is free-arm convertible when performing free-motion sewing. Most include a 4-step buttonholer. They are typically very affordable, feature a built-in accessory storage compartment and come with the small parts one needs to get started, like bobbins, spool caps and one or more presser feet.
Far more advanced than mechanical models, computerized sewing machines combine the technological capabilities of a computer with the mechanical features of a needlework machine. Whether designed for sewing and quilting, embroidery or multipurposes, computerized units typically feature a USB connection port through which designs and updates may be imported from a PC. Computerized machines benefit from a retrievable memory function as well as one-touch, electronic stitch selection. They may feature a monochrome to full-color display with on-screen guide and multiple language selections. Like other machines, computerized models commonly include an automatic needle threader, dozens to hundreds of built-in stitches and a wide range of built-in designs, as with embroidery machines.
Industrial Sewing Machines
Industrial sewing machines are highly technological needlework devices that perform the same general tasks as household machines yet on a much greater scale. Despite this, they are designed to perform a single task over and over. Whereas household machines are very versatile in terms of the number of stitches they can perform and their features, industrial models trade versatility for durability and speed. Robot-like in some cases, industrial sewing machines feature powerful motors and rugged components designed for constant, high-output use. Streamlining production, industrial sewing machines work together like an assembly line, with each machine undertaking one task.
There are industrial sewing machines to perform lock, chain, blind and cover stitches. Buttonholing and button attaching are done by separate machines. Other types include bag closers, industrial quilters and embroidery machines, zigzag, post bed, flatbed and cylinder bed machines. Virtually anything with sewn seams--including footwear, clothing, luggage, upholstery, leather and canvas goods, tarps, harnesses and countless other products--was put through industrial sewing machines.