Do you want to sew a quilt for your new grandchild but don’t know if your old sewing machine can handle the task? Or you want to sell handmade doll clothes on Etsy, but you don’t know what kind of sewing machine to use? This handy guide will tell you all you need to know about the 22 types of sewing machines and their uses.
Types of sewing machines include domestic versus industrial sewing machines, dividing machines based on motor strength. The classifications of treadle, electronic, mechanical, and computerized models classify sewing machines by power type. Many sewing machines also have a specialty, such as buttonhole machines.
In this article, you will learn about the 22 most common types of sewing machines and what each one works best for. You will discover common sewing machine troubleshooting tips. Finally, you will find tips on how to choose the right kind of machine for you.
- How Many Types of Sewing Machines are There?
- 22 Different Types Of Sewing Machines
- 1. Hand Crank
- 2. Foot Treadle
- 3. Electronic
- 4. Mechanical
- 5. Computerized
- 6. Domestic
- 7. Industrial
- 8. Heavy Duty
- 9. Lockstitch
- 10. Chain Stitch
- 11. Serger
- 12. Blindstitch
- 13. Cover Stitch
- 14. Safety Stitch
- 15. Flat Seam
- 16. Button Sewing
- 17. Button Hole Sewing
- 18. Bar Tack Sewing
- 19. Quilting Machine
- 20. Long Arm Quilting Machine
- 21. Embroidery Machine
- 22. Mini
- What is a Class Seven Sewing Machine?
- What are the 5 Basic Sewing Tools?
- What are the 7 Most Common Sewing Machine Troubles?
- What is the Best Sewing Machine for You?
How Many Types of Sewing Machines are There?
You can classify sewing machine types in many different ways, but there are twenty-two commonly used types of sewing machines. The way you classify a “type” of sewing machine does impact this number, though.
For example, you could argue that every unique brand offers its own type of sewing machine because a Bernina model differs from a Singer model.
But more commonly, you divide sewing machines into several broader categories. These include separating machines into domestic and industrial categories, with the idea that commercial-strength machines have different purposes and features from sewing machines designed for home use.
Another popular way to categorize sewing machine types is to divide them based on how they operate. For example, old sewing machines used hand cranks or foot treadles to run. Then electric sewing machines came along, leading to today’s modern mechanical versions.
Of course, the invention of computers also launched a whole nother type of sewing machines, embroidery machines, and quilting machines operated by computerized instructions.
You can also classify sewing machines based on their specific purpose. For example, you can find sewing machines in factories that do nothing but sew buttonholes or stitch bar tacks.
Finally, many home sewers commonly divide domestic sewing machines into general categories based on the purpose of the machine. These categories include sergers, embroidery machines, quilting machines, and regular multi-purpose sewing machines.
If this seems like a long list of sewing machine types to choose from, don’t worry! You can learn the common uses of each model in the next section.
22 Different Types Of Sewing Machines
The twenty-two most commonly used types of sewing machines include old-fashioned models like the foot-treadle machine and newer inventions like computerized embroidery machines.
1. Hand Crank
The original hand crank sewing machine was patented in 1790 and is the first version of the sewing machine to achieve popular use. To use this manual machine, you turn a hand wheel or crank that drives the needle up and down. Today, these antiques have some small collectible value.
2. Foot Treadle
The foot treadle sewing machine, invented in the 1850s by Isaac Singer, pretty quickly replaced the hand crank model. To operate a foot-treadle sewing machine, you push a treadle or bar up and down with your foot, freeing both hands to feed fabric quickly beneath the needle.
Singer launched a super-famous sewing machine company based on his successful design. In fact, this time saw the rapid development of all kinds of new sewing machine technology and inventions, including the round bobbin to feed the lower thread.
Sewing machines powered by electricity became popular in the 1920s. These early models still looked like treadle machines but had exterior motors that powered the needle bar up and down and did not require physical operation like the treadle or hand crank models.
Today, you sometimes also see non-digital sewing machines referred to as “electronic”. These machines will come with several different stitching options you can select using buttons or sliders and an LCD screen to display your choice. But they do not have wireless connectivity or a touchscreen you can use to control the machine like a computerized version.
A mechanical sewing machine does run on an electric motor, but it has much simpler functionality and fewer control features than an electronic or computerized model. It will use knobs or buttons to set stitch length and stitch design. It will not feature a display screen and usually has only a handful of stitch types to choose from.
Mechanical machines do not cost much compared to computerized models, and beginners often find them easier to use. This makes a mechanical sewing machine a good choice for a beginner or a hobby sewist.
Computerized sewing machines have a richer lineup of stitch options, decorative elements, and even embroidery fonts that you can select with buttons or touchscreen. In some cases, you can even operate the machine from a phone or tablet via wireless connectivity!
Most modern quilting and embroidery machines fall into this category. You can also find many popular brands of domestic sewing machines that offer advanced computerized models perfect for professional or experienced sewers, like Bernina and Juki.
Domestic sewing machines cover many models, including machines intended for home use rather than factory use. Technically, even many professional-grade models fall into this classification.
Most domestic sewing machines offer a good variety of stitching types. They may feature mechanical, electronic, or computerized settings, but you can usually perform decorative stitches and buttonholes, sew a straight line or set in a zipper, all while using the same machine.
In contrast to domestic sewing machines, industrial sewing machines often have only one or two stitching functions. They typically feature more powerful motors and much higher stitches per minute, making them perfect for factory use.
You can find industrial sewing machines that only sew straight stitches, that only sew buttonholes, or that only sew bar tacks. They are not a great option for home sewers because of their limited functionality, but they work perfectly for mass-produced items in a factory.
8. Heavy Duty
Heavy-duty sewing machines serve as a midway point between industrial and domestic models. They have stronger motors and more limited functionality than most domestic models but more functionally and smaller than most industrial models.
Several big-name sewing brands offer heavy-duty sewing machines for home use. You may want one of these models if you want to sew jeans or stitch through canvas material, as a regular domestic machine does not typically have a strong enough motor to handle tough fabrics like that.
Lockstitch sewing machines form stitches by locking together an upper and lower thread on the top and bottom of a piece of fabric. When you sew by hand, you push the needle through the fabric, tug the thread after it, and then bring the needle back up from the reverse of the cloth to make a single stitch. You cannot do that on a sewing machine because the needle remains attached to the needle bar on the machine!
Instead, the needle carries the upper thread down beneath the fabric’s surface. Meanwhile, the lower thread rotates on a bobbin, and a hook on the bobbin case snags the upper thread. These threads lock together beneath the fabric. When the needle goes back above the fabric, it forms a stitch!
All sewing machines, including domestic and industrial models, use either a lockstitch or a chain stitch structure.
10. Chain Stitch
While most domestic sewing machines use a lockstitch structure, sergers and other overlock machines all use a chain stitch. This type of machine draws from three or more spools of thread and weaves them together in linked chains.
Chain-stitch machines work well with knit fabrics because the chains can stretch with flexible material. Many industrial machines use a chain stitch as well.
The most popular chain stitch sewing machine type is a serger or overlock machine. You can find sergers designed for home use as well as for industrial use.
These machines operate by cutting off the raw edge of a seam and encasing it with knitted chain-stitch threads. Most ready-made clothes you buy at a store will have internal seams encased with serged threads.
Blind stitch sewing machines have a single function of crafting nearly invisible hems on garments. You do not see this kind of machine often outside of factories because you can also recreate this blind hem function on many sergers and even on domestic sewing machines with the proper accessories.
13. Cover Stitch
A cover stitch sewing machine also uses a chain stitch drawing from three or more spools of thread, but it does not have a blade to cut off the excess fabric as it sews. Instead, you use this model to create hems with a double line of straight stitches on the outside of the garment and an encased chain of threads covering the folded-over edge of the hem on the inside. If you look at pretty much any t-shirt hem, you will see this style of stitching.
14. Safety Stitch
A safety stitch machine is a special type of industrial overlocker that uses a form of chain stitch. It forms a secure casing over the raw edges of interior seams in garments. Some domestic sergers can also form a safety stitch.
15. Flat Seam
Flat seam machines or flat felled seam machines have a special design that allows them to sew folded-over flat seams on items like yoga pants and jeans. These models typically only come in industrial strength and can cost quite a lot. Some have a flatbed and others have a more cylindrical bed depending on the type of garment made in a particular factory.
16. Button Sewing
Button sewing machines are specialty industrial models using a chain stitch that just sew buttons onto clothes. You find these in fashion designer workshops and factories, but you would probably not want to use one in your home craft room.
17. Button Hole Sewing
Similarly, button-hole sewing machines also have industrial strength and do nothing but sew button holes. This works great in an assembly line set-up where hundreds of jackets need a row of the same buttonhole.
But for home use, most domestic sewing machines can also sew buttonholes. Some computerized models have as many as a dozen different buttonhole styles you can choose from!
18. Bar Tack Sewing
A bar tack industrial sewing machine sews those super closely spaced bars of thread you find at the ends of seams, at the bottom of a fly, or below a zipper to reinforce the opening. You can create a bar tack stitch yourself using a regular sewing machine, but this specialty model can form hundreds of them in no time because of its fast stitch-per-minute speed and singular purpose.
19. Quilting Machine
A quilting machine is a sewing machine with a wider workspace and special stitching features that make it easier to sew quilts. Many quilting machines come with high stitch-per-minute speeds for stitching across big expanses of fabric. Today, most quilting machines have computerized controls and either a touch screen or wireless control settings.
20. Long Arm Quilting Machine
Long arm sewing machines have an extra long throat space in the machine, usually measuring between 18 to 24 inches. This allows quilters to fit large projects on the needle plate more easily. Of course, long-arm quilting machines typically cost more because of the special design!
21. Embroidery Machine
An embroidery machine creates a wide range of complex, decorative stitches. This often includes alphabet fonts for stitching names and logos onto fabric, as well as elaborate multi-colored designs that look almost like painting with thread! Today, most embroidery machines use computerized controls and often come with advanced design software.
To use this model, you craft a digital image on a computer or tablet and then modify it using special software that tells the machine how to turn the image into stitches.
A mini or portable sewing machine often weighs just a few pounds and features only one or two stitch capabilities. You see these marketed as beginner models for kids quite often. They do not make a great choice for any other kind of sewing because they usually have terrible tension control and produce poor-quality stitching.
What is a Class Seven Sewing Machine?
A class seven sewing machine is a designation given to certain types of industrial machines suitable for tasks like sewing through layers of leather. Not all brands use a class system to describe their industrial sewing machine, but certain industrial models are described as class seven, class 26, or class 15.
Class seven models have really powerful motors and can easily stitch through layers of leather. Organizations like the military also use these models to sew heavy webbings together. To give you an idea of what this means in practical terms, this model can stitch through layers of material one inch thick!
What are the 5 Basic Sewing Tools?
The five basic sewing tools you need include scissors, thread, a tape measure, pins or sewing clips, and a needle.
- Good sewing shears will slice through all different kinds of fabric neatly. You will quickly grow frustrated if you try to hack through the cloth using old kitchen shears! You may also find it helpful to invest in tiny embroidery scissors for fine work and pinking shears to help certain types of cloth avoid fraying.
- Most sewing projects will need a thread of some kind. You generally want to match the fiver type and color of the thread to the material.
- You almost always need a flexible tape measure for a sewing project.
- Pins or sewing clips can hold layers of cloth in place while you sew through it. You will find these handy whether you want to sew by hand or on a machine.
- Finally, you will need either a hand-sewing needle or a sewing machine to stitch your sewing project!
In all honesty, you often need more than these essentials for more complicated projects. For instance, if you want to sew a dress, you may need a piece of tailor’s chalk to transfer design details from the pattern to the cloth. You will almost certainly reach a point where you need a seam ripper to pick out incorrect stitches, too–it happens to everyone!
And, of course, for most sewing tasks, you will need the right type of sewing machine to help you smoothly complete the job!
What are the 7 Most Common Sewing Machine Troubles?
Sewing machines save time and effort for almost any project, but they can also have common issues like these seven common sewing machine troubles.
- One of the biggest challenges beginner sewers often face is dealing with bird’s nesting thread beneath the fabric that jams up the sewing machine. At least 99% of the time, this issue happens because you need to rethread the upper thread. Sometimes the upper thread that runs from the spool to the needle can slide free of the tension mechanism that keeps it taunt as you sew, and this causes a big tangle beneath the cloth.
- Another common issue you may encounter is that the thread keeps snapping and breaking while you try to sew. This can happen for a couple of different reasons, including poor-quality thread. Try to buy good thread with the same fiber content as your fabric, like polyester thread for polyester fabric and cotton thread for cotton fabric.
- If you step on the foot pedal and your machine makes weird noises and refuses to sew, you may just need to clean it out properly. Over time, lint and grease can clog up the parts inside that need to spin or turn. You should clean your machine regularly, especially around the bobbin casing and needle plate.
- If you try to sew a seam and notice a lot of skipped stitches or loose stitching, you may have either the wrong kind of needle or the wrong kind of bobbin inserted into your machine. You can easily fix this by reading the owner’s manual that came with the machine and making sure you use the recommended accessories.
- If you try to sew and notice that the fabric has bunched up because of overly tight stitching, you probably need to adjust the tension on the sewing machine. The tension mechanism holds the upper thread tight, so it does not just unspool wildly on its way down to the needle. Different types of fabric work better with specialized tension settings for the thread which you can learn by reading your sewing machine manual.
- If your needle breaks when you start to sew, you may have the wrong shape or size of needle for the type of fabric you picked. Certain types of material work best with a particular needle style, such as a ballpoint needle for knits and a heavy-duty needle for denim. But this issue can also happen when you have the wrong size of a bobbin or if the needle plate has acquired scrapes or dings in it.
- If the fabric refuses to feed through beneath the needle, you may have a tension issue on hand, a bird’s nest of thread beneath the cloth, or a wrong-sized part like a bobbin that is too big and won’t spin. Start by rethreading the whole machine and check to see if you need to clean the lint out of the bobbin casing. If that does not work, check removable parts like the needle and bobbin to ensure they fit properly. If the machine still does not feed the fabric, you may need to take it to an expert.
What is the Best Sewing Machine for You?
The best sewing machine for you depends on many factors, including what you want to sew, how often you want to sew, and how much experience you have.
First, what kind of projects do you plan to sew? If you hope to sew your own clothes, make doll clothes for your kids, or mend things once in a while, a regular domestic sewing machine will probably work well for you.
But as you have seen, many sewing machines have specific purposes that could work better for your particular needs. If you want to sew quilts, you should invest in a good quilting machine. If you plan to sell custom embroidered tea towels on Etsy, you will need an embroidery machine.
You may also want to consider whether you plan to sew for yourself or to sell handmade items. If you want to sell clothes or other handcrafted items, you may need a serger or overlock machine to create sturdier, stronger seams than a regular sewing machine.
The amount of sewing you plan to do should also impact your choice of machine. Certain types of machines can sew much more quickly than others. Industrial-strength machines often have stronger motors that power a higher stitch speed. Specialty models like quilting and embroidery machines can also sew at high speeds.
Finally, how much experience do you have with sewing? With their simple controls, mechanical machines make a great starting point for beginner sewers. But advanced and professional sewists often prefer computerized models because they offer greater functionality.
You can broadly divide all types of sewing machines into domestic and industrial models based on the power and speed of the machine. You can also categorize types of sewing machines by their intended purposes, such as quilting machines vs. embroidery or buttonhole machines. The most common way to classify types of domestic sewing machines is to divide them into categories based on how they operate, such as computerized, electronic, or mechanical models.
The best way to pick a sewing machine for your own projects is to consider what kind of sewing you want to do. Then pick a model that specializes in that type of sewing. For example, if you want to sew quilts, look at specialty quilting models with extra-long bodies to fit in large expanses of quilt fabric!