If you're thinking of buying a sewing machine for a young Project Runway fan, the holidays are usually a good time to snag a deal. That's not really the case this year. Whereas last year saw sewing machines featured in half a dozen Black Friday circulars, only a handful are offered this year. Since so many sewing machines are made in Thailand, I suspect that this year's flooding in that country may be affecting inventory (I've got calls in to Singer and Brother to find out). But in the meantime, if a sewing machine is on your list, here's what looks best among the slim pickings.
I'm personally a sewing nut; I also recently enjoyed a conversation with Peter Anzalone, senior product tester at Consumer Reports. We both agreed: the key performance problem with sewing machines is bad tension -- which can lead to loose, uneven stitches, tangled thread, broken needles or a locked flywheel. So for any sewing machine you're considering, check user reviews for comments on the tension.
There are only five sewing machines (and one serger) in Black Friday circulars this year, so the question is whether any of them outclass the Brother XL-2600i (*Est. $80), the best basic sewing machine in our sewing machine report.
JoAnn features three sewing machines and one serger in its Black Friday circular. The least expensive is the Singer Tradition, on sale for $77.99 (regularly about $90 ). The Tradition is a very basic machine with 10 stitches and a four-step buttonhole. While the price is low, the Singer Tradition gets iffy reviews (middling ratings at Amazon.com and at Target.com). The main complaint from owners is about tension, including bobbin jams and knotted thread. We can't see that this machine is better than the top-rated Brother XL-2600i in our report, which gets great reviews and goes for $80 at Amazon.com (with free shipping) and at Walmart.com (free in-store pickup, but not free shipping to home).
JoAnn is also featuring a machine that was in their Black Friday ad last year, the $180 Singer 8763 -- aka the "Singer Curvy". This one gets much better feedback, with a 4-star average in two dozen reviews at Joann.com, plus another two dozen good writeups at Amazon.com. The trouble is, at the same price, this machine competes head-on with another of our Best Reviewed sewing machines: the Brother CS6000i, which gets stellar reviews at Amazon.com and costs $155. Both are electronic sewing machines, which means they have more stitches, plus an all-important one-step buttonhole feature that saves you from the cumbersome four-step buttonhole procedure required on the cheaper Singer Tradition above. Still, the Brother has the edge, with twice as many stitch options and seven types of buttonholes compared to two for the Singer Curvy.
JoAnn also will feature the Singer Futura for $700, a machine that does have strong reviews, but is wayyyy beyond a basic sewing machine (it's an embroidery machine that can stitch monograms and custom images).
Lastly, you'll be able to snag the Singer 14CG754 serger sewing machine for $180 at JoAnn over Black Friday weekend. This serger sells for about $210 on other websites right now, but it gets mixed reviews. Most complaints are that it's hard to thread and that the tension is finicky. For only a bit more, you should check out the Brother 1034D featured in our report on sergers. This machine currently goes for $199 at Amazon.com with free shipping, where it gets a great average rating in almost 400 reviews.
There's just one machine on offer at Sears in its Black Friday ad: the Singer Heavy Duty 4423CL. Although it appears in the ad for $200, that's the current price on the Sears website, and it sells for even less ($130) at Amazon.com and NewEgg.com. But at Amazon.com it gets iffy reviews. Mainly, users complain that although the product's name makes it sound ideal for sewing demin and other heavy fabrics, many found it didn't handle these fabrics very well at all, resulting in tension problems and broken needles.
Walmart is featuring a similar machine in this year's circular as it did last year, the Brother LS2300 Project Runway Limited Edition. This model looks like a Walmart exclusive; we couldn't find it for sale anywhere else. Last year's version, the Brother LS2250, looks identical except for the color, and sold for about $70. The $50 Black Friday sale price is pretty good, but this mechanical machine isn't much different than the Singer Talent. Like that machine, the Brother has a 4-step buttonhole feature, which means making buttonholes is a bigger pain than it is with the Brother XL2600i (currently $80). The Brother LS2300 does have 10 more stitches than the Singer Talent, however.
The Brother LS2300 machine is brand new, so we couldn't find any reviews for it. But there are about 150 review for last year's version at Walmart.com. Walmart says the Project Runway version will come with an instructional video -- a really helpful addition for beginners. So is the $50 price good enough? We think it probably is -- as long as you won't be making many buttonholes. If that's the case, the Brother XL2600i, at $80, is still the better pick.
Bottom line: Walmart's $50 sewing machine is your best bet if you want a simple beginner machine. It doesn't have a one-step buttonhole feature, but we did find solid reviews for last year's version, and it costs less than the machines being offered at JoAnn Fabrics. If you can spend more, the Brother XL2600i is still a better machine, but at $50, the Walmart Project Runway sewing machine would make a nice gift for yourself or someone else.