Especially for those who are new to sewing, purchasing a sewing machine can be a stressful decision. There are so many options and they all have different features and functionality. One of the options you may be considering is a free arm sewing machine. But what is a free arm sewing machine exactly?
Free arm sewing machines have a raised, extended bed. It is designed for the fabric to be slid over the free arm instead of laying it flat. The free arm prevents the fabric from bunching up in addition to preventing the needle from catching on other parts of the fabric while stitching. It helps with sewing the more difficult parts of garments.
If you think a free arm sewing machine is something you need, then hopefully, you’ll find this article very helpful. I’ll discuss more about what a free arm sewing machine is when the free arm is used and the advantages and disadvantages of having a free arm sewing machine. I’ll also share a few of the best free arm sewing machine models.
- What Is a Free Arm Sewing Machine?
- When To Use A Sewing Machine Free Arm?
- What Are the Advantages of a Free Arm Sewing Machine?
- What Are the Disadvantages of a Free Arm Sewing Machine?
- How to Choose a Free Arm Sewing Machine
- Best Free Arm Sewing Machine Models
- Flatbed vs Free Arm Sewing Machine
- Free Arm Quilting Machine
What Is a Free Arm Sewing Machine?
A free arm sewing machine has a flat bed suspended in the air above the surface of the workstation. Most sewing machines have a flat, extended bed used for straight stitching. The bed on them sits flush with the surface of the workstation and the fabric lays flat on top of the bed. But having a free arm allows the fabric to be slid over the arm instead of laying flat on top of it.
The free arm is designed for working with ‘tubes’ of fabric, such as sleeves and pant legs. The fabric tubes are slid over the arm to prevent the fabric from bunching up when sewing seams or attaching them to the garment. Essentially, free-arm sewing machines are designed to sew around fabric instead of straight stitching.
When To Use A Sewing Machine Free Arm?
Sewing machine free arms are used when hemming or attaching sleeves, pant legs, or other cylindrical fabric pieces to clothing. It’s designed for fabric that needs to be attached in a circular way or that needs more precise stitching as the fabric can easily be manipulated around the free arm. Free arms can also be used when attaching collars to shirts since the collar is attached almost all the way around the shirt.
Other common uses for free arms are for making smaller garments such as baby clothing or mending sleeves or pant legs. Essentially, sewing machine free arms are beneficial any time you need to sew a more difficult area of a garment or when you don’t want the needle to catch on the fabric or stitch through multiple layers.
What Are the Advantages of a Free Arm Sewing Machine?
The biggest advantage of free arm sewing machines is to make it easier to stitch areas that would normally be difficult. Free arm sewing machines can make it easier to work with smaller pieces of fabric on the clothing or areas in which you need circular stitching or something you need to sew around.
For example, attaching sleeves to clothing can be difficult when laid flat on a normal sewing machine bed because the fabric can bunch up as you’re trying to stitch around it. But with a free arm, you can easily move the fabric around the arm instead of trying to manipulate it on a flat surface so that it doesn’t bunch up.
Plus, many free arm sewing machines have a plate that can be removed to expose the free arm and then replaced if you need to do straight stitching. A type of sewing machine like this can serve multiple functions, as you can sew an entire garment easily using only one machine. Just remove the plate for attaching sleeves and replace it when you need a larger surface with more sewing area.
What Are the Disadvantages of a Free Arm Sewing Machine?
Free arm sewing machines can make sewing easier, but the biggest disadvantage is the limited workspace. With that being said, you don’t have to worry about having a limited workspace if the machine has a removable plate that exposes the free arm.
If the machine doesn’t come with a removable plate for straight stitching and just has the free arm, then you won’t have a lot of space to sew larger pieces of fabric. So if you’re considering getting a free arm sewing machine, you’ll probably want to make sure that it has the removable plate unless you have another machine that you plan to use for straight stitching.
How to Choose a Free Arm Sewing Machine
If you’ve decided that you need a free arm sewing machine, actually choosing one is a different story. There are several factors you need to consider, including what kind of features you want the machine to have, the size of the machine, and the cost.
You’ll first need to decide whether you want a beginner or advanced machine, depending on your skill level. Sewing machines with basic features are often best for beginners as all of the additional and special features that come with advanced sewing machines can be overwhelming if you’re just starting.
Speaking of features, you’ll also need to decide what features are important to you. Different sewing machine models come with a different number of built-in stitches, different stitch speeds, and other special features and accessories that are unique to the machine. Again, if you’re a beginner, you may not need as many stitches or special features that a more advanced sewist would need.
Remember that with a free arm machine, you may wish to consider one with a removable plate so that you can do both straight and circular stitching easily. Having a machine like this will be especially beneficial if this will be the only sewing machine you have purchased for a while.
Consider the size of the machine as well. Sewing machines come in different sizes, from portable to really large ones. Portable machines are easy to take with you if you travel a lot, are taking sewing classes, etc., and a lot of them already have a free arm. But, they don’t all have a plate that can be taken on and off for straight stitching vs. using the free arm, so keep that in mind if a portable model is something you’re looking for.
Finally, consider your budget or how much you can reasonably spend on a machine. Portable and basic machines are cheaper, but remember that the more features a machine has, the more it will cost. Make sure that you get all the features you need with a machine, but don’t spend more on a fancier machine for features that you won’t use. You can always buy a more advanced machine later as your experience level or budget changes.
Best Free Arm Sewing Machine Models
Whether you’re looking for a free arm sewing machine for beginners, a portable model, or one with more advanced features, here are some of the best machines that are available. I’ll provide the key features of each machine and the pros and cons to give you an idea of what to expect when choosing a free arm sewing machine.
Best For Beginners
Janome 2212The best free arm sewing machine for beginners is the Janome 2212 model. This model is not overwhelming as far as the features it comes with, so it’s easy to learn how to use and affordable. It does have a convertible flatbed to free arm function to meet all of your sewing needs.
The Janome 2212 has a stitch speed of up to 860 stitches per minute, so it isn’t the fastest machine, but that’s to be expected out of a beginner model and it’s still pretty fast compared to stitching by hand. It has 12 built-in stitches as well. It’s also lightweight and has a lighted workspace.
- Lighted workspace
- Great for beginners
- Not suitable for advanced sewists/projects
Best Portable Machine
Janome Portable Sewing MachineThis Janome model is not only great for beginners, but it’s also affordable even if you’re not a beginner and just need an extra machine to carry around with you. It only weighs 12 pounds, so it’s extremely lightweight. Of course, it does come with just the basic features and is nothing fancy, but it does have a detachable plate that exposes the free arm of the machine and can be used as a storage compartment.
This machine comes with 15 built-in stitches and can sew up to 800 stitches per minute. Included with the machine are four presser feet and it also has a lighted workspace that makes it easier to see your project. It also features an easily adjustable stitch width and stitch selection that can be controlled with the turn of a dial.
- Portable and lightweight
- Removable plate doubles as storage
- Great for beginners or as a bonus machine
- Not the fastest sewing speed
Best Computerized Sewing Machine
Brother CS5055If you’re looking for a more advanced, computerized free arm sewing machine, then the Brother CS5055 Project Runway model is a great choice. It has an LCD display screen that allows you to select your stitches with the push of a button and comes with 50 built-in stitches to choose from.
This machine also comes with the convertible free arm feature and has an easy-to-load, jam-resistant bobbin. It also comes with 7 sewing feet and a three-piece needle set. The lighted workspace also makes it easy to see what you’re working on. Being computerized, this machine is a little more expensive than beginner and manual models, but it’s a great step up from a beginner machine if you still don’t need a whole lot of fancy features.
- LCD display screen
- Comes with 50 built-in stitches
- It may be too much for a beginner
Best Heavy Duty Sewing Machine
Singer 4423Heavy-duty sewing machines are ideal if you use them daily or work with many heavier fabrics such as denim or leather. Singer Singer 4423 has convertible free arm capabilities and is also fast; it can stitch with speeds of up to 1,100 stitches per minute.
In addition, this machine has 23 built-in stitches and 97 stitch applications. It has a built-in needle threader and comes with many bonus accessories, including 4 sewing feet, a dust cover, seam ripper/lint roller, pack of needles, bobbins, spool caps, and more. It’s very affordable for a heavy-duty model, but it isn’t computerized.
- Up to 1,100 spm
- 23 built-in stitches
- Comes with a lot of accessories
- Not computerized
Flatbed vs Free Arm Sewing Machine
I mentioned that most free arm sewing machines have a plate that can be removed to expose the free arm. When the plate is on, it gives the machine a flatbed. There are some machines that just have a flatbed and no free arm, and there are some machines that just have a free arm.
A free arm sewing machine is not necessarily something that you have to have, as you can still attach sleeves and pant legs and perform other applications that you would use a free arm for on a normal sewing machine. However, free arms are simply a convenience that makes performing certain tasks easier and faster. Otherwise, you’ll have to do a lot more maneuvering and manipulating the fabric, especially for making circular stitches on a flatbed machine, to keep the fabric from bunching up.
With that being said, if you already have a sewing machine, but it doesn’t have a free arm, you don’t necessarily need to go out and buy one that does. But if you need a new sewing machine or you’re buying one for the first time, it may be worth the added convenience to get one with a free arm, considering that many models now come with both a flatbed and free arm anyway.
Free Arm Quilting Machine
If you make a lot of quilts and are looking at a free arm machine, you’ll want to make sure to get one that is suitable for quilting. There are free arm sewing and quilting machines, but the main difference between these and a regular free arm sewing machine is that a free arm quilting machine has a longer and wider table that is suitable for sewing larger pieces of fabric together in a quilt.
The long table is detachable and covers the free arm. So you can essentially use the machine for both sewing and quilting, then just remove the table when you need to use the free arm. Sewing and quilting machines cost a little bit more than regular sewing machines due to the added quilting functionality.
Just to give you an example, a great free arm sewing and quilting machine is the Brother CS6000i. It has a removable table to expose the free arm and comes with 60 built-in stitches, a brightly lit work area, and 9 presser feet in addition to other accessories. It’s computerized, so it’s a bit more expensive and may be too advanced for beginners, but it’s still affordable for those with experience quilting.
Free arm sewing machines aren’t something you have to have for your sewing projects. But they can certainly make your projects easier, especially for attaching sleeves, pant legs, and collars to clothing. A lot of sewing machines today have a free arm built into them. But if you’re in the market for a sewing machine, hopefully, this guide made your decision easier as to whether or not to get one with a free arm. If you did find it helpful, share the article with others and leave a comment. Thanks for reading!