If you are passionate about sewing, you may have a home sewing machine with some extra bells and whistles, other than the basic sewing stitches. You might even have a serger.
But as you get more involved you realize the inadequacies of your simple sewing machine. You want to buy bigger, better. Or maybe you want to turn your hobby into a profession. Now it is another ballgame – you definitely need more. Maybe an industrial sewing machine and a computerized embroidery machine.
But many are surprised to learn that there are many different sewing machines than these obvious ones. Some of these categories overlap and some you may never even consider buying – but you can never say never. So here they are.
Different types of sewing machines
Categorization of sewing machines – As per usage
1. Domestic model sewing machine
This is the general home sewing machine available for hobby sewing. This type of sewing machine is fairly simple to use and can do many things and almost all the things you need for sewing clothes, accessories and home furnishing. Some may sew only straight seams but better ones will have zig-zag stitches, other decorative stitches, buttonhole stitching.
2. Industrial model sewing machine
The disadvantage of a domestic sewing machine is that it cannot sew too many layers of fabric together or sew for a long time at a stretch without the motor getting heated. Also, the stitching may look wonky and slightly imperfect however you practice, and sew for 100 hours. And nothing much to write about the speed of stitching of a domestic sewing machine.
With an industrial sewing machine, these problems are solved. You can sew for a long time continuously without any problem, with any weight of material among wovens, synthetics, woolens, and knits ( though I do not recommend sewing for long stretches with you strapped onto your sewing chair too engrossed to even stretch your muscles – you are asking for disaster shortly – check out the precautions you should take to prevent sewing related illness and pain here)
The stitches also come out looking evenly balanced, straight and overall perfect. The industrial sewing machines operate at high speed and you can finish anything you sew in so much lesser time than you would with a hobby sewing machine.
You can sew most thick materials with your home sewing machine but an industrialized sewing machine will sew them like a winner. You can sew things like upholstery, Shoes, Boots, Slippers, Bags, Dolls using thick materials like leather, pleather, Rubber, Plastic and Canvas using this machine.
An industrial sewing machine can cost you a lot more than a hobby machine but if you are thinking of sewing without too many hassles at home or thinking of starting a sewing business you must buy this type. You can evaluate whether you need an industrial machine by checking out this post : Industrial sewing machine – 10 criteria to look out for.
( Check out the post on 40+ different sewing related sewing businesses you can start here)
Categorization of sewing machines -As per way of operating the machine
3. Hand operated sewing machine
This is like the mustang of sewing machines – very popular once but not anymore. In fact it was the only option once.
The wheel of this sewing machine is operated by hand – there is a handle which you turn to run the machine. The major impediment is that it takes forever to sew anything. If you are interested in anything vintage you may want to buy this one for the novelty of it (I cannot imagine any other reason for anyone else wanting this) you can still get it from some market places.
4. Treadle sewing machine
This sewing machine also works without current – but you will be operating it by using a base stand which you treadle to operate the wheel – the belt attached to the wheel is moved by the force you use to operate the base stand.
This works almost like any other sewing machine, other than the higher manual work required. In many countries, people have access to only this kind of sewing machine. In places where electricity is costly, or even unavailable this is a boon because you can still make things.
Unlike the hand-operated sewing machine your hands are free but because you are using your own energy on the machine you can get exhausted, and stop sewing altogether before long unless you are highly motivated
Alternatively, these can be fitted with electric motors externally so that when current is available you can sew faster, easier.
5. Mechanical sewing machines
This is the first sewing machine I owned and still do – This is a simple hobby sewing machine with simple knobs which I turn this way and that way when I want to adjust the stitch length, stitch width, sewing machine tension, and want to make simple decorative stitches (when I use them once in a blue moon).
These mechanical actions make it a mechanical sewing machine. Not the best of the sewing machines, they are a very affordable option for first time hobby sewists. They work on a single electric motor that turns gears and belts of the machine
I was earlier under the impression that I owned an electronic sewing machine instead of a mechanical one because it operated with electricity. Not so, says my friendly neighborhood repairman. Mine is an electric sewing machine with mechanical operations.
6. Electronic sewing machine
A sewing machine is electronic when it has many different options for combining stitches and stitches like overlocking, buttonhole making etc which operates with convenient switches (not knobs or dials). It will have a lot more selections of stitches (multiple Built-in Stitch Programs) than the mechanical one. An electronic sewing machine also has a built-in computer that runs a series of motors inside and may even have LCD displays and touch screens.
7. Computerized sewing machine
A computerized sewing machine is an electronic sewing machine with an additional ability to do embroidery work and to set up programs ( made with your preferred settings of operations). They will have options to combine a lot of embroidery stitches to do embroidery work anyway we want.
Computerized sewing machines can make as many as 7 different types of buttonholes made in one step, a lot of decorative stitches that you will never use in your entire life, automatic needle threading, LCD display screen on the front with easy-to-use stitch selector usually in the form of convenient switches, speed control etc. Understandably it is a lot more expensive than any other models.
8. Mini sewing machines
A mini sewing machine is a sewing machine that is portable and very very small and sews a straight line, enough to sew up alterations, repairs, adjustments, and simple sewing projects
Media is full of advertisements for these machines which take up so much less space, and are so cheap and claims to sew up everything including home furnishings and clothes. Some come with zigzag stitching along with the straight stitching.
To be frank, I have not owned one, nor do I see myself owning one but after talking to one who has used this – it may not be very durable and does not sew over even moderately heavy material and may frequently get jammed as you sew.
So there is a chance that it may not sew at all after the salesperson demonstrated it to you, so compulsively and winningly. At least not for long. But then you get what you pay for.
Categorization of sewing machines – As per stitching operations
9. Lockstitch machine
This refers to most of the common sewing machines which sew straight stitched seams as well as for zigzag stitching. It uses two threads – one on top and one on the bobbin. It creates a stitch just like a hand sewn back stitch. The stitching looks the same on both sides of the fabric
Heavy duty lock stitch industrial machines are the term used to refer to those hardworking machines you will buy for a sewing business.
10. Chain stitch machine
A chain stitch machine creates a chain stitch to sew on the fabric with just one thread. The single thread is looped around under the fabric and around itself forming a chain under the fabric. This is used to sew straight stitched seams as well as for zigzag stitching
You can choose between models with one needle or two needle, one thread or two-thread double chain stitch. Other than sewing seams it is also used for binding and decorative sewing
11. Blind stitch machine
This specialized sewing machine is usually used in an industrial set up to do blind stitch hemming – which is basically invisible stitching on hems. When you are doing a lot of pants, skirts or shorts you will need a dedicated machine to do the work fast and as efficiently as possible. This is it.
12. Cover stitch machine
These are specialized sewing machines which make cover stitches, which make great looking cover hems on knit garments. You can make tri-cover stitches, wide cover stitches, and narrow cover stitches (3mm, 6mm). They are used for hemming, binding, topstitching or adding decorative effects.
A serger is a multi-purpose sewing machine used to make durable seams as well as sew hems and finish fabric edges. It is a very useful machine to buy when you sew with knit fabrics (sportswear, stretchy activewear, knit dresses).
You may hear of it as overlock machine or overedge machine. An advantage is that you can combine edge neatening and seam closing together with one stitching. Some sergers will have a cutter which automatically cuts edges as it sews the overlock along the edge. Check out the post Do I need to buy a serger here
14. Safety stitch machine
A safety stitch is a combination of a two-thread Chainstitch and a three-thread Overlock Stitch. This is a specialized machine that does edge neatening and edge neatening and seam stitching together at once. Usually, this is combined with an overlock sewing machine but you may also get it individually as safety stitch machine.
15. Flat seam machine
There are two types- one with a flat bed and one with a cylindrical bed. It is used for binding cut edges and to sew flat seams on knitted fabrics.
16. Bar tack sewing machine
This type of machine only makes bar tacks – the stitching which reinforces specific areas of garments and accessories like on top of pockets, belt loops.
Categorization of sewing machines – As per specific stitching purposes
17. Buttonhole machine
Industrial sewing involves making hundreds of buttonholes – a buttonhole sewing machine makes these buttonholes very easily. It uses lock stitch or chain stitch to make them.
This machine helps to sew buttons – flat buttons, shank button, etc .- very fast. They allow quick change over of different types of buttons.
19. Long Arm quilting Sewing Machine
If you love quilting you will know what this sewing machine is all about – if you do not own one, you may have longed for one with enough space to rest your large quilt pieces as you sew them.
You get mechanical quilting machines and computerized ones which will do the quilting designs automatically on pressing a lever.
20. Embroidery only Sewing machine
These advanced embroidery sewing machines have many built-in embroidery designs and an ability to store the designs in their memory along with USB ports so that you can import designs into the machine and store your favorite bought or designed embroidery designs. You can use them when and where you want them.
Some even have design editing features so that you can combine many designs and make a new one altogether. More advanced machines will have features like the ability to preview the designs on the LCD display screen (colour & b/w) and then change the thread colour etc.