I often get asked for advice about which sewing machine I recommend for patchwork and quilting, and particularly for making memory quilts or other keepsakes from loved ones clothing or baby clothes. In this post, I’ll try and answer that question and hopefully give you a few helpful pointers if you’re looking at purchasing a new machine.
I started sewing on my Mum’s old ‘Jones’ machine (I still have it tucked away in the studio!). It’s one of those very solid machines, with basic features but a really strong sewing mechanism. It also weighs an absolute ton, which is a curse if you want to lift it but brilliant for not shifting about when you are sewing.
When I came to buy my own sewing machine it was quite overwhelming. There are so many sewing machines available, and I was really concerned about spending a lot of money and ending up disappointed. I wanted to buy a machine that would help me explore my new love for sewing with confidence. I wanted to buy something that would do all the key things I potentially needed (even though I wasn’t quite sure what they were!), and last me a good long time.
I’m sure this is not uncommon, and you may be in a similar position. Even if you’ve done a fair bit of sewing, the world of patchwork and quilting can add a whole new layer of things to consider.
Back To Basics
If you are planning on doing any quilting then as a minimum you’ll need a machine that does a good straight stitch (preferably with adjustable stitch length) and is strong enough to deal with multiple layers of fabric.
If you have access to a sewing machine, or can borrow one, then that’s a great place to start. Any good basic domestic machine should work fine for making patchwork quilts, especially smaller sized ones. There’s no need to rush out and buy a new machine until or unless you have a good idea what features you’d like. I’ve suggested some features that are really helpful to have below.
Sewing Machine Features Useful For Patchwork And Quilting
There are so many features available on modern machines. Here are the ones that I think are most useful for patchwork and quilting (particularly if you are using clothing):
- adjustable stitch length – so you can use a long temporary tacking stitch, or a very short stitch length for tricky fabrics.
- adjustable foot pressure – so the machine’s speed will depend on how much you push on the foot pedal. I’d go nuts if my machine didn’t have this feature as you are either on at one speed or off!
- adjustable stitch width – really useful to get that perfect 1/4 inch seam allowance, so important for accurate patchwork. If you don’t have this then you’ll have to achieve it solely by moving the fabric.
- adjustable zig zag stitch – for securing the edges of layered patchwork pieces
- automatic needle up/ needle down setting – this allows you to tell the machine to always stop with the needle down through the fabric layers. It’s really helpful when joining patchwork pieces and even more so for quilting, as it keeps all the layers where you want them.
- adjustable speed control – as it suggests, this means you can tell the machine the maximum speed you’d like it to run at. If you are a less experienced sewer this can be super helpful and prevents the machine running away with you.
Great To Have
- auto thread cutter which works at the touch of a button, saving you having to dig around under the quilt when you are stopping and starting your quilting lines. This was a revelation to me when I bought my current machine, and I wouldn’t want to be without it now.
- automatic needle threader – just handy!
- extra high presser foot lift – great for working with multiple layers of fabric or a quilt sandwich
- in built walking foot / dual feed control system – brilliant for quilting and working with different weights of fabric
- extra space to the right of the needle – the wider the gap the easier it is to deal with bigger quilts
- presser foot pressure adjustment – so you can adjust how much firmly thefoot presses down on the fabric as you sew – sometimes adjusting this can help when sewing difficult fabrics or multiple layers
Features My Machine Doesn’t Have, But I Wish It Did
- automatic bobbin winder – there are machines where you can wind the bobbin without un-threading the machine – this sounds like heaven to me!
- bobbin thread warning – lets you know when the bobbin is approaching empty (so you don’t carrying on sewing for a while before realising!)
(can you tell that bobbin thread causes me a few headaches!)
Features That You Don’t Generally Need (In My Opinion)
- oodles of fancy stitches – you’ll probably never use most of them yet they are often pushed by manufacturers at the expense of other much more useful features
Sewing Machines Worth Looking At
Here’s some recommendations at different price points. I can only really talk about Janome brand machines as they are the ones I am familiar with. Bernina seem to be a very highly rated brand in the quilting world, but they come at a (very) premium price tag. There are other brands available and worth exploring.
(The links given below are Amazon affiliate links, so if you were to purchase using them I’ll get a small commission (it doesn’t affect the price you pay). If you choose to do this then thank you! Prices are correct at the time of writing.)
Also worth noting – unless your machine comes with them, quilting accessories like a walking foot will be an extra cost, and it’s worth checking out availability and pricing of any accessories you might want before you buy the machine.
Janome J3-18 Sewing Machine – £149
The Janome J3-18 is a lightweight sewing machine. This is a basic machine, that would be good for a beginner, or if you don’t want to spend too much.
It has a front loading bobbin case, built in needle threader, variable stitch length (although not variable width) and extra presser foot lift for heavy fabrics (or quilting).
Janome 525S Sewing Machine – £289
The Janome 525S is really popular model which won a major consumer magazine award for “Best Buy”. It’s also the machine used on The British Sewing Bee!
It has a good range of features and is perfect for both beginners, and those who are more experienced. It has stitch width and length controls, an automatic needle threader, adjustable foot pressure, a hard protective cover and a bunch of other useful features. It’s a great all round machine at a good price. It would be my recommended purchase if you’d like to get into patchwork and quilting.
Janome TXL607 Sewing Machine with Quilting Kit – £599
The Janome TXL607* machine is a great investment buy, and will set you up really well for most domestic quilting projects (as well as other home sewing). One of our patchwork quilt makers has this machine and absolutely loves it, although doesn’t like to quilt anything bigger than a single size quilt on it.
(*Amazon often has this at a really great price but it’s currently over £700! Definitely worth looking around, and maybe waiting for an offer!)
It has lots of nifty features including a superior feeding system for fantastic fabric handling and an auto thread cutter which works at the touch of a button, saving you having to dig around under the quilt when you are stopping and starting your quilting lines. Other features include an automatic needle threader and speed control slider.
It also comes with a full quilting kit, including a walking foot, extension table, 1/4″ foot and a free-motion foot – all really worth having, and no need to source these as extras.
(For a more affordable option, at £499 the Janome QXL605 is very similar but doesn’t have the quilting kit)
Janome Memory Craft Horizon 8200QCP Special Edition Sewing Machine- £1,499.00
This beast of a machine is the latest version of the machine I use to create our gorgeous memory quilts. It’s quite simply fabulous!
It’s big and solid, and has a HUGE space to the right of the needle which makes quilting the larger quilts much easier. The built-in AcuFeed system is just brilliant for sewing tricky fabrics and quilting, and it has an impressive top speed of around 1000 stitches per minute.
There’s loads of bells and whistles on this machine, but it’s definitely a luxury purchase for the home sewer!