If you're thinking about buying a sewing machine, the most important thing to understand is that a bad sewing machine can lead to more frustration than fulfillment. Poorly made machines usually don't have good tension, which makes threads and stitches bunch, catch and snarl -- which is enough to make anyone quit before they've even finished their first project. Fortunately, we have seen a growing number of reviews that specifically recommend sewing machines that make it easier for beginners and kids to dive in to the craft.
Speaking of sewing machines for children: It's important to buy a "real" machine if your child is seriously interested in learning to sew. Toy machines don't actually allow kids to make very much. A "real" sewing machine is also a decent investment. If your child doesn't stick with sewing, you won't lose too much on the resale of the machine.
If you're not a beginner, check out our picks for the Best Sewing Machines, these fully-featured workhorses will do whatever you need them to do. If you're a teacher, student, or just like to take your machine to conventions or other craft gatherings, head on over to our discussion of Portable Sewing Machines -- we recommend a great sewing machine table and cabinet there as well.
All of the machines in this report are said to be easy to use, including our including our Best Reviewed Brother CS6000i (Est. $150), but many experts and experienced sewers say that everyone should learn on a mechanical (manual) machine. Among those, they agree, you can't match the Janome Magnolia 7318 (Est. $250) for its very low learning curve coupled with its powerful performance and even, consistent stitches. It's great for crafters because it works particularly well on heavy fabrics and thick layers -- ideal for making items like purses or working with leather. We saw a number of reviews from the parents of infants who use the Magnolia for making their own diapers.
Where the Janome Magnolia 7318 really shines is its intuitive controls. Many first timers say that they were sewing almost immediately after unpacking their Magnolia. Its four-step buttonhole feature, while not as quick and simple as a one-step buttonholer, is still said to be very easy to set up and use. The controls are well-marked, so there's very little opportunity for confusion. The bobbin drops in from the top and it includes onboard storage for the included accessories. Its extra-wide work surface features easy-to-see ruler marks.
Janome is a highly respected name in sewing machines, and the Magnolia 7318 is reported to be an extremely durable, reliable model and owners say it lasts for many years. It does not have the hundreds of stich options and downloads of a computerized machine, of course, but if you just want to have a machine around for basic sewing jobs, this is one that will last you for life.
The chief complaints we saw about the Magnolia were some barbs about its "girly" pink and flower design. Plenty of boys sew, too, reviewers lament, and they'd like it if sewing machine manufacturers, not just Janome, would stop that type of gender stereotyping on their sewing machines.
If $250 is a bit of a stretch for your budget, consider the Singer 4411 (Est. $150). It's a heavy duty, mechanical sewing machine that experts and owners love for its great value and durable construction. It features a tough steel frame that won't wobble even when sewing canvas or layers of denim -- and the souped-up motor and extra high presser foot setting makes those tasks even easier. It's particularly popular with sewing teachers, who say it takes a licking and keeps on ticking -- for years. We saw a few comments from people who say they purchased this machine because they couldn't afford to repair their higher-end sewing machine and this was a good, comparable replacement. However, although many laud this Singer 4411 for its heavy-duty capabilities, plenty of users say it performs equally well as an all-around sewing machine for even delicate fabrics.
The Singer 4411 is a basic machine -- as one would expect from a manual sewing machine -- but has a good range of features nonetheless. Those include 11 built-in stitches, a 4-step buttonholer, a free arm option, three needle positions, and a very good array of included accessories. It also offers onboard storage to keep everything organized. Some note that learning to thread the machine and bobbin has a bit of a learning curve, but that it's otherwise easy to use. Most agree that the Singer 4411 is a top choice for anyone, not just beginners, if you just need to keep a basic machine around for hemming, easy crafts and clothing making, or simple interior design projects.
While these Magnolia and Singer sewing machines are extremely well-suited for any beginner age about 10 and up, for younger kids, say about 7 to 10, or for teens or preteens who like a bit of color and whimsy, we highly recommend the Janome 11706 Hello Kitty Sewing Machine (Est. $110). It's a Janome, which means it's a high quality, durable and sturdy little workhorse. It features 11 stitches as well as an automatic buttonhole feature. At 12 pounds it's portable enough to take to school or sewing classes and it gets raves for how simple and intuitive it is to use.
The Janome 11706 is a three-quarter-size machine, which means that even smaller kids can use it comfortably, but don't be fooled by its compact footprint. Plenty of adults buy the 11706 for their kids and find they're "sneaking" to use it because it performs so beautifully. And it's built to last -- to the point that your kids might be able to pass it along to theirs.