Most people are stunned when they learn how many types of sewing machines there actually are. But once you know what each type was designed to do, it’s a lot less overwhelming.
So let’s take a look at 17 of the most common types of sewing machines.
The Two Sewing Machine Categories
Sewing machines can be split into two broad categories: domestic and industrial.
Domestic Sewing Machines
Domestic, or household, sewing machines are meant for home use. Compared to industrial machines, domestic models tend to be made of lighter (and some might say less sturdy) materials, like strong plastics.
Domestic machines are smaller and slower than industrial machines. They also aren’t intended for really rigorous use. For example, if you try to use a domestic sewing machine for more than four to six hours at a stretch, the motor could overheat.
While each type of industrial sewing machine tends to serve a specific purpose, the general purpose machine typically found in a home sewing room is able to serve many functions. This means they can be used on a wide variety of sewing tasks.
For the most part, domestic machines work best with light-weight materials like cotton, silk, and other fabrics found in everyday attire. However, there are some household sewing machines that can handle thick, heavy-weight materials like leather and denim.
Industrial Sewing Machines
Industrial sewing machines are typically found in factories, and are mostly used to mass produce clothing and other goods.
Industrial machines are built to last, and stand up to a lot of rigorous use. They are usually much bigger, not to mention more expensive, than domestic machines. They are also faster, capable of sewing more stitches per minute than domestic models.
Industrial machines are usually made of strong, sturdy materials, like iron and aluminum. This is part of the reason they can handle thick, heavy fabrics (like leather, suede and canvas) with relative ease.
Each type of industrial machine is usually made to serve a specific function. So a shirt made in a factory, for example, will typically pass through several different machines on its way to completion.
Unless you’ve had a lot of training, industrial sewing machines can be very hard to use. On the other hand, they can withstand continuous use. Some industrial machines can run for 9 or 10 hours without overheating or malfunctioning.
So now you know a bit more about the two main categories of sewing machines. Now lets take a look at some of the most common machines found in each category.
Types of Domestic Sewing Machines
Manual Sewing Machines
These were the sewing machines used back in the day, when access to electrical power was hard to come by.
Manual sewing machines didn’t require any kind of electric power to run. This meant they could be used virtually anywhere, no batteries or electrical outlets required.
To operate a manual machine, you had to continuously turn a hand-wheel. As a result, making a single piece of clothing was usually slow going.
Manual machines could also be difficult to use, especially for inexperienced sewers. Imagine trying to sew a straight seam while also turning a crank by hand. And further imagine how tired your arm would be after turning that crank for an hour or two.
Manual machines lacked some of the basic functions modern sewing machine users are used to. On the other hand, they were a lot more durable than a lot of modern, domestic sewing machines are. If nothing else, they didn’t have a motor that could overheat.
Mechanical Sewing Machines
Mechanical machines were the next step up from manual models.
Like manual sewing machines, mechanical machines don’t require electrical power to run. Instead, you operate them using a pedal placed on the floor.
Mechanical machines are less expensive than electric powered ones. And beginners often find these machines easy use. However, they tend to have only a few basic features, and a small selection of stitches. And everything is done manually, including using various knobs and dials to make adjustments and use certain features.
Mechanical machines can be slow and imprecise. So they might not be the best choice for complicated sewing projects. Instead, most sewers use mechanical machines for things like mending tears and making simple garments.
All that being said, mechanical machines are usually pretty durable. Compared to more advanced machines, a mechanical machine will last a long while with little maintenance. They have enough functionality to meet most basic sewing needs.
And if you’re willing to spend a little more, you can find mechanical machines with extra capabilities, like the ability to do decorative stitching.
Electronic Sewing Machines
Electronic machines run on, well, electricity. They have a single motor that’s activated using a foot pedal. Press down on the pedal, and power is transferred from the motor to the needle.
Electronic machines cost more than mechanical machines. But they also tend to have more features. They can also handle more complex sewing projects. Electronic machines will typically give you a host of stitches to choose from, including decorative stitches. You’ll also be able to adjust the width and length of those stitches.
Most electronic sewing machines come equipped with automatic needle threaders. And some have LCD displays, to allow for easier, more precise adjustments.
Electronic machines are much faster than mechanical models. They are also relatively easy to use. If you’re a beginner, an electronic machine might be the best option for you.
Electronic sewing machines require regular, routine maintenance, especially if they see a lot of use. And while they can be pretty precise, they aren’t as precise as the next type of domestic sewing machine on the list.
Computerized Sewing Machines
Computerized machines are the most advanced sewing machines intended for home use. They are also, as you might imagine, the most expensive.
Computerized machines are often equipped with Wi-Fi and USB capabilities. You can use these features to do things like download designs directly to your machine.
Instead of dials and buttons, a computerized machine gives you an LCD touch screen. By tapping on the screen, you can change settings and select features.
Computerized machines tend to be packed with attractive features, like hundreds of built-in stitches, and the ability to create buttonholes. And they are extremely precise. Sewers who use computerized machines tend to have more control, so they make fewer mistakes than those who use mechanical or electronic models.
As great as they are, computerized sewing machines can be a little too complicated for beginners. But they are an excellent choice for more serious and experienced sewers.
Embroidery Sewing Machines
Embroidery machines are used to do decorative needlework. While it’s possible to create beautiful patterns and designs by hand, using an embroidery machine lets you do it faster.
And if your embroidery machine is computerized, you can download embroidery designs directly to the machine.
If you’re looking to buy a computerized sewing machine, you don’t necessarily need a separate embroidery machine. Some computerized models also have embroidery capabilities.
If you want a more affordable option, look for an electronic embroidery machine. Just keep in mind that it will have fewer features than a computerized machine.
Quilting Sewing Machines
You might be able to make a small quilt on a standard sewing machine. But if you want to make large quilts, or you intend to do a lot of quilting projects, you’ll probably need a quilting machine.
Quilting machines make it easier to handle larger volumes of fabric. And they can sew through through many layers of thick fabric.
If you want to make quilts and do general sewing projects, look for a combination quilting and sewing machine.
Overlock Sewing Machines
Overlock machines, which are sometimes called sergers, don’t usually get used until the end of a sewing project.
Overlock stitches are often used to close seams and finish edges. Take a look at the edge of a blanket, or the hem of a t-shirt. It’s possible those stitches were made by an overlock machine.
Overlock machines are very fast. They also tend to create very clean looking edges, seams and hems. That’s because they can cut an edge and sew a seam at the same time.
Buttonhole Sewing Machines and Button Attachment Sewing Machines
Buttonhole machines are used to make buttonholes. These machines saw wide use back when most domestic sewing machines didn’t have buttonhole making capabilities.
Now, most modern sewing machines can create buttonholes. But some sewers feel they get better results when they use a dedicated buttonhole machine.
No matter what you use to create a buttonhole, you can use a button attachments sewing machine to sew on the button.
You can sometimes use a standard sewing machine to attach buttons to garments, especially if the button has eyes. But a button attachment machine will usually do it faster and with more ease.
This is a plus if you ever have to do projects that involve sewing on a lot of buttons.
Double Needle Sewing Machines
Double needle machines are sometimes called twin needle sewing machines. And either name fits perfectly.
These machines have two needles and two bobbins. This allows them to create a parallel line of two stitches.
Double needle machines are mostly used for decorative stitching.
Bar Tacking Sewing Machines
Bar tacking is a sewing technique used to reinforce fabrics, making them stronger and more durable. So bar tacking machines are often used to sew items and area that are subject to wear and tear. For example, you might use one of these machines to add extra strength to the openings of pockets, the joins of belt loops, the ends of zippers, and around buttonholes.
Now days, many general purpose sewing machines can do what a bar tacking machine can do.
Lockstitch Sewing Machines
The lockstitch is the most common mechanical stitch. And a lockstitch machine is specifically designed for lockstitching.
Lockstitch machines can have one or two needles, but they all need two threads. The machine takes the two threads and “locks” them together before pushing them into the fabric.
While you might want a dedicated lockstitch machine, it probably isn’t necessary. Most modern sewing machines are capable of lockstitching.
Heavy Duty Sewing Machines
Heavy duty machines can handle tough jobs that might put a strain on other domestic sewing machine.
Heavy duty machines can be used to sew thick, heavy weight materials like denim, leather, or even suede. And they can do it pretty fast too.
A heavy duty machine might not have as many features as a general purpose machine. But most will include basic features, like a good selection of stitch options, and the ability to make button holes.
Portable Sewing Machines
Portable, or handheld, sewing machines are small and designed to be used on the go. Because they are battery powered, you can use them anywhere. And they are simple machines that can be operated by anyone, even those with little or no sewing experience.
Handheld sewing machines aren’t really intended for serious use. They are mostly made for quick repair jobs, like mending a tear, closing a seam that’s come loose, or reattaching a button.
Types of Industrial Sewing Machines
Flat-Bed Sewing Machines
Flat-bed machines are often found in factories. This machine’s flat bed make it perfect for sewing together long, flat pieces of fabric. And seams created by flat bed machines tend to look neat, clean and professional.
Post-Bed Sewing Machines
Post bed machines have a raised bed, which gives a sewer more space. They are typically used to make items that are three dimensional, like gloves, hats and boots. They can also be used to attach emblems, logos or badges to garments and accessories.
Cylinder-Bed Sewing Machines
The beds of cylinder bed machines have a cylindrical shape. This makes these machines ideal for making things that are also cylindrical, like cuffs and sleeves.
Cylinder bed machines can also be used on bulky items, like saddles and shoes.
Free Arm Sewing Machines
The design of the free arm machine makes it much easier to work on circular projects, like shirt sleeves and trouser cuffs.
Many domestic sewing machines have a free arm, but they aren’t typically as robust as the free arms found on industrial sewing machines. Of course, these aren’t the only types of sewing machines out there. The list could go on. But these are the 17 machines you’re most likely to find in a sewing room or clothing factory. And seeing all the things a sewing machine can do makes you realize what an amazing invention it actually is.