The 15 Most Important Things to Look for When Buying a Used Sewing Machine


Purchasing a used sewing machine can be a smart choice, whether you are just starting out, or you have been sewing for a long time. It’s important to know what to look for to ensure you’re getting a reliable sewing machine that will last for years to come. Your goal should be to find a machine that is in good physical and mechanical condition, that fits your budget, and one that has the features you need.

Here are 15 things to carefully inspect and research when considering the purchase of a used sewing machine.

1. Wear and Tear to the Outside of the Machine

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Inspect the sewing machine’s exterior for signs of excessive wear, such as scratches, dents, or rust. It might be obvious if the machine has been dropped. In that case, walk away from the purchase. A needle plate with excessive scratches or gouges near the needle hole could be indications of rough use.

A well-maintained external appearance usually indicates careful or minimal use, which suggests that the machine’s internal componants are probably in good shape as well.

2. Electrical Components

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Check that the the power cord and foot pedal are included and do not show any damage. Ensure the machine powers on easily and that all switches and knobs function properly without sticking or resistance.

You might be able to get a great deal on a used sewing machine If the power cord or foot pedal are missing and you can find them online. Be sure to check availability before making the purchase.

3. Mechanical Operation

Examine the handwheel and other moving parts for smooth movement. Confirm that the bobbin winder operates correctly and observe any noises or irregularities during operation, as these can hint at underlying mechanical issues.

4. Sewing Performance

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Take some fabric scraps, thread, and an extra bobin with you when you are testing a used sewing machine. Thread the machine and sew for a at least few minutes. Check for consistent stitch quality, ensuring that it can handle various materials, stitch lengths, and stitch options. Pay attention to the ease of adjusting tensions and selecting different stitch options. If any of the knobs are difficult to turn, if the machine won’t sew backward or will not complete any of the stitch patterns (especially zig zag), those are obvious problems that will require repair.

5. Brand Reputation

When you’re looking at different sewing machines, pay close attention to the brand. Brands like Brother, Babylock, Singer, Janome, Elna, Pfaff, Juki, and Bernina are known for their quality and longevity. Sewing machine warranties are generally non-transferable, but if the machine is a high-end model or nearly new, you may want to check just in case you can transfer a warranty into your name.

6. Model Age and Reviews

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Investigate the age of the particular sewing machine model and look for online reviews:

  • Recent Models: May offer modern features and be more readily serviceable.
  • Older Models: Could be proven workhorses, but ensure they meet current sewing needs.

Tip: Sewing forums can contain a wealth of information about customer satisfaction and how much they paid.

7. Availability and Cost of Replacement Parts

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Check online sewing machine parts websites to see if replacement parts for that machine are available and how much they cost. Check for:

  • Common Parts such as needles, bobbins, foot pedal, power cord, extension table, knee lift (if there is one) etc.
  • Model-Specific Parts: Gears, motor parts, or circuit boards unique to the model. You may not be able to perform repairs involving these parts, but if a repair person cannot obtain the parts, a broken machine will be unfixable.

In general, entry-level machines cost more to repair than to replace. Make sure everything works before you buy.

Higher end machines may be worth repair costs, but do your research.

8. Stitch Options

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Test a variety of the stitches the machine offers to see if these will suit your sewing projects.

  • Straight and Zigzag: Essential for basic sewing.
  • Stretch and Decorative Stitches: Additional variety for more creative projects.

A machine with adjustable stitch length and width will provide more versatility. Again, make sure that all of these stitches work before purchasing the machine.

9. Additional Features

Extra features can enhance your sewing experience. Look for:

  • Automatic Needle Threader: Saves time and reduces eyestrain.
    • Do not assume that the automatic needle threader works. This part is easily broken and sometimes easily replaced.
  • Adjustable Speed Control: Allows precision and adaptability.
    • The speed control not working as expected is a sign of an internal malfunction.
  • Top Load Bobbin: Easier to set up and monitor your bobbin thread.
    • Check to see if the bobbin case and bobbin cover are present. You may be able to replace these for a low cost, but be aware of how much before purchasing.
  • Presser Foot Knee Lift: Common on more expensive machines, a knee lift frees up your hands and makes sewing easier.
    • If the machine has a knee lift option, make sure one is included.

10. Accessories and Attachments

When new, most sewing machines come with a variety of basic accessories essential for operation. If you are lucky, many of these might come with a used machine.

  • Bobbins: Extra bobbins that are compatible with the machine would be great. If not, take note of the bobbin type so you can purchase more.
  • Presser Feet: Make sure the machine has at least a standard foot; additional types, like zipper or buttonhole feet, are essential, too, so it’s a bonus if they come with the machine.
  • A proprietary screwdriver: Sometimes, a special screwdriver is necessary to change the needle, remove the presser foot or stitch plate, or perform maintenance.
  • A Lint Brush: This is used to perform regular cleaning around the inside of the machine. Don’t worry if the lint brush is missing; these are easily replaceable. You can even use a clean, small make-up brush.
  • A Seam Ripper: Lucky you if a used machine comes with a seam ripper! If not, you can purchase a new one inexpensively.

11. Service and Repair History

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If you are considering an expensive used machine pay close attention to its maintenance and repair history. High end machines are expected to receive service annually. The previous owner should have records showing when the most recent service was performed and any repairs over the lifetime of the machine.

  • Regular Servicing: Look for receipts indicating the machine has been serviced consistently.
  • Major Repairs: Take note of any significant repairs and understand their implications. Replacement of key components like the motor or the timing belt can indicate a well-maintained machine or potential future issues.

12. Price Comparison

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Look at various sources to find out the going rate for the sewing machine model you’re interested in. Here’s how you can get started:

  • Check online marketplaces: eBay, Etsy, Craigslist
  • Look at the sales price of the same machine (or a similar one) that’s new. Used machine listings often name the ‘retail cost’ of the machine rather than how much you will realistically pay for it new.

13. Take an Expert With You

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If possible, bring an expert along to help assess the machine thoroughly, especially if you’re not familiar with mechanical details.

Estimate repair costs for common issues:

  • Minor repairs: Needle replacement, tension adjustments, lubrication
    • Estimated cost: $10-150
  • Major repairs: Motor, circuit board, or power supply issues
    • Estimated cost:$150 to several thousand.

A lower initial purchase price is not a bargain if significant repairs are needed.

14. Machine Size and Weight

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Your sewing machine’s size and weight are important to think about if you plan to attend classes or workshops. Look for a model that is:

  • Lightweight: Preferably under 15 pounds for comfortable transport.
  • Compact: A smaller footprint means it’s easier to carry and set up.

15. Storage Options

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Proper storage protects your sewing machine and keeps it in good condition. Check to see if the machine has:

  • Soft Case: Good for dust protection and short-distance travel.
  • Hard Case: Offers superior protection for frequent transportation.
  • A Cabinet: A sewing machine cabinet could be the best-case scenario, depending on your needs and available space. Cabinets are expensive, but they are wonderful to use. If you find a sewing machine with a Horn or Koala brand cabinet, the cabinet may be worth more than the machine.

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