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Brother sewing machines are tops for sewing and embroidery

Don't listen to sewing machine snobs -- you CAN get a darn good computerized sewing machine for less than $200. If this were not true, the Brother CS6000i (Est. $145) would not get the glowing reviews it receives from thousands of happy owners. Often described as a "workhorse," the CS6000i sewing machine features 60 stitch styles and a one-step buttonholer with seven different buttonhole styles --including an eyelet and a keyhole shape. Stitch settings are displayed on a small LCD screen, and buttons instead of dials allow you to change stitch type, length and width quickly and easily.

Best sewing machine

Brother CS6000i
Brother CS6000i

In fact, the CS6000i gets particular praise for how simple it is to use in general -- suitable for both beginners and experienced crafters. If you begin a project and set up the parts incorrectly, an error message will appear, enabling you to reset before ruining your fabric. Nine presser feet come with the machine and it will tell you which foot you need for each project. One of the most popular of the included presser feet is the walking foot -- which quilters love. It also has a wide work surface and an extension table for bigger jobs. A button on the chassis controls the start/stop functions and speed, and we saw several comments from sewing teachers that this is a great machine for using in classes with people who have physical limitations that affect their feet or legs.

While there are a (very) few reports of jams and needle breaks, most say the CS6000i is a sturdy, durable machine. Among the CS6000i's many included accessories is a hard shell case that makes it easy to transport. However, if you want a truly portable sewing machine, visit our discussion of the Best Portable Sewing Machines. If you are a true beginner, you may want to check out our recommendations for the Best Sewing Machines for Beginners.

The one feature the Brother CS8000i lacks is an automatic embroidery function, so if embroidery is your thing, we recommend you take a look at the Brother SE400 (Est. $300). It gets very good reviews as both a sewing machine and an automatic embroidery machine. This model includes 67 stitches and 10 buttonhole styles, but the two features that stand out at this price point are an embroidery hoop and USB cable for downloading designs and stitches directly from the Internet.

The SE400 is the #1 Best Seller in Embroidery Machines at Amazon.com and users rave about its many features, and how simple it is to learn and use. They say the LCD screen is easy to navigate, and many report making and/or decorating a range of items including clothing, pillows and blankets. We also saw many comments about how quiet and durable the Brother SE400 is, with a number of reviewers saying they've had it for five years or more; they just get it serviced every few years and it keeps going. The major complaint about this sewing machine is that its 4-by-4-inch embroidery hoop is too small, but keep in mind that embroidery machines with larger hoops and more specialized downloading capabilities can cost more than $2,000.

Baby Lock Aria is a high-end quilter

It's quite a bit more expensive than either of the Brother sewing machines profiled above, but the Baby Lock Aria (Est. $3,500) is the dream machine of many sewers and quilters. It's a computerized sewing machine that expert reviewers love for its ease of use and excellent stitch quality.

The Aria has 573 unique stitches, including embroidery stitches, and is almost fully automatic in all of its many functions. It has an extra-large LCD color touch screen that reviewers say not only makes it easy to select stitches, but also offers step-by-step videos to guide you through any process. The package includes a plethora of handy accessories and there are even more available as options.

Like most very high-end machines, the Aria can only be purchased through an authorized retailer, so user reviews are few and far between. However, Baby Lock is a very well-respected manufacturer of sewing machines, and we read several reviews that say the Aria performs as well as high-end computerized sewing machines costing twice as much. In addition, with its digital dual feed, independent bobbin winder, pivoting feature, and large workspace, some reports say that it's a particularly great choice for quilters. One caveat: in spite of its reviews for being easy to use, at least one well-respected expert suggests that this machine is better suited for intermediate to advanced sewers, not for beginners who may be better served by gaining experience first on a more basic machine.

Elsewhere in this Report:

Best Reviewed Sewing Machines: Sewing machines are a necessity for anyone interested in crafting, quilting, embroidery or creating their own fashions. These are the top sewing and embroidery machines sewing machines for beginners and kids, portable sewing machines and sewing machine cabinets.

Best Sewing Machines for Beginners: The popularity of sewing competition shows on TV has resulted in an explosion of interest from curious beginners. Experts say it's a great idea to learn to sew on a mechanical machine. Our top pick is great for preteens to adults; but we also found a great choice for younger children.

Best Portable Sewing Machines: Plenty of people love to be able to pack up their sewing machine and take it along -- to classes, to conventions, to workshops -- or just to their local quilting circle. These machines offer big performance in a smaller package. We found some great sewing tables and cabinets too, for those machines that you may not want to haul around.

Buying Guide: What kind of sewing machine is best suited to your particular interest and skill level? Here is your guide to finding the best sewing machine for the projects you want to create.

Our Sources: We used these professional and user review sites to find the best sewing machines and sewing machine tables. They are ranked in order of their expertise and helpfulness.

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