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The best computerized sewing machines eliminate guesswork

You don't have to spend a lot of money to own a great computerized sewing machine, say owners of the Brother CS6000i (*Est. $150), and we name it a top choice. While it doesn't cost much more than a mechanical model from Brother or Singer, the CS6000i's enhanced features provide a number of additional options. For example, you can choose from seven buttonhole styles, including an eyelet and a keyhole shape. There are also 60 stitch styles, compared to the usual range of 12 to 35 found on most mechanical machines. Stitch settings are displayed on a small LCD screen, and buttons instead of dials allow you to change stitch length, width and type easily and quickly.

The CS6000i also has a walking foot, an attachment that's helpful for projects like quilts that require you to sew several layers of fabric at once. With these features, you can try your hand at quilting without spending the usual $1,000 or more for a quilting machine.

Users rave about the Brother CS6000i in hundreds of reviews posted on retail websites. About 85 percent of the more than 1,200 owners posting to Amazon.com give it either 4 or 5 stars out of 5, with many noting that it offers features commonly found on models costing much more. More than 925 owners give it an average rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 at Walmart.com. While there are a few reports of jams and needle breaks, most say it's a versatile machine that can handle a range of different projects.

If you can afford to spend a bit more, the rewards are more features and greater functionality. Among machines in the $300 to $400 range, the Brother SE-400 (*Est. $325) gets excellent reviews from users. This model includes 67 stitches and 10 buttonhole styles, but its two features that stand out at this price point are an embroidery hoop and USB cable for downloading designs and stitches straight from the Internet.

The SE-400 earns 4.4 stars out of 5 from more than 280 users at Amazon.com, and more than 90 percent of nearly 200 reviewers give it 4 or 5 stars at Walmart.com. Owners say the LCD screen is easy to navigate, and many report making and/or decorating a range of items including clothing, pillows and blankets. The SE-400 is also one of the highest-rated sewing machines on Viewpoints.com, with a score of 94 points out of 100. The major complaint about this model is that its 4-by-4-inch embroidery hoop is too small, but keep in mind that embroidery machines with larger hoops and downloading capabilities can cost more than $2,000.

The Brother PC-420 PRW Project Runway Limited Edition (*Est. $400) boasts some impressive reviews, as well. Its enhanced features include 294 decorative, utility, stretch and heirloom stitches, along with a pressure-foot leveling feature that makes it easier to go over thick seams such as when hemming jeans. A knee lifter allows you to lift the presser foot while keeping both hands on your work, which is helpful when you're sewing around corners. You can also create and save custom decorative stitches.

The Brother Project Runway sewing machine gets an average rating of 4.6 stars out of 5 from more than 160 users at Amazon.com. They widely appreciate its range of features and say the machine ably handles different fabrics, from thin tricot to heavy-duty upholstery fabrics and leather. While a far smaller number of reviewers post comments on Walmart.com and Viewpoints.com, a good number of them say the machine can be challenging to master due to its wide array of features.

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