The Free Motion Quilting Project: Under $500 Sewing Machine Review

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Under $500 Sewing Machine Review

Whoo hoo! It's finally time to launch this new program reviewing machines that cost under $500.

I've been thinking about this every day and am getting more and more excited about it. It's not just about getting to play with so many different machines (which is my idea of heaven), it's also the joy of learning more about each company and more about sewing machines themselves.

But I'm also realizing the titanic nature of this task. Last weekend I launched the Sewing Machine Survey to start pulling in your reviews of machines and I've been overwhelmed by the response.

Unfortunately though, most of the machines posted cost way more than $500, most reported at double that price. To keep this simple (and me sane) I'm going to have to prioritize posting the under $500 machines first. In a few months we may get around to posting the rest of the reviews, but for now this is all that's going to be listed on a new area of the site I'm still working on.

So without further ado, here's the Under $500 Sewing Machine Review Introduction:

The first thing we have to do is cover the rules of this new program! Machines must be...
  • Under $500 - This is pretty simple: no machine will be reviewed in this program unless it costs under $500. And lucky, used buys on Ebay can't count.

    Example: on an extremely lucky day I might be able to get my hands on Janome 6600 or an OLD Bernina Record 830 (both machines that can easily costs over $1000) for less than $500, but it's extremely unlikely that YOU could find this machine for this price. So the machines must cost under $500 brand new, straight from the factory.
  • Most Must be New (but see the RULE BREAK below) - I know many of you with awesome Singer Featherweights are shaking your hands at this one, but there's a very good reason for this. Brand new, straight out of the box is how most machines are purchased, and how most reviewers from the survey reported purchasing their machines.

    It's simply the most reliable way I know of making sure you get all the standard parts from the company - all the feet, bobbins, and especially the manual that come with the machine from the beginning.

    Used, it's hard to say if these items would come with your machine, and it's almost impossible to guarantee that you could find your machine for less than $500. Demand for that particular used model might increase causing prices to rise.
  • Easy to Find - It would be pointless to review machines that you can't get unless you have a Viking or Elna dealer in town. The fact is, most people don't have access to local dealers covering every brand.

    My goal is to find new machines that are either sold online or found easily at Walmart, Joann's, or Sears.

    It was commented that machines purchased from these places just come in a box with no support, classes, or information. That's what I aim to change. By reviewing these machines and teaching you how to get them ready for piecing and free motion quilting, I hope to show you that $500 can buy you just as much as $2000 if you know what to do with it.

    RULE BREAK - Looking at the last 2 rules, I know I won't be able to resist reviewing a handful of older machines that are out of production, especially if they are readily available and easy to find on Ebay for less than $100. So I'm going to review 1 older, used machine for every 5-10 new machines, but again it has to be an older machine that is easy to find.
  • Multiple brands - Reading through the reviews I've been struck by how many quilters pick one brand and stick with it. My own tendency has been to go with Janome since I've had such terrific experiences with that company recently.

    But there are many more brands, and judging from the reviews, many brands I've never even heard of! It's going to be fun hunting down some new brands and shedding light on machines you might never have seen otherwise.
  • Take it Slow - It's would be utterly pointless to purchase a new machine and rush through the review before I'm even comfortable using the machine. I need to take a few days or weeks to get used to each new machine.

    I also plan to shoot multiple videos for each machine. Here's what I have planned for each machine so far:

    Video #1 - Unpacking and Initial Impressions
    Video #2 - Walkthrough of Basic Features and Functions
    Video #3 - Piecing on the Machine
    Video #4 - Free Motion Quilting On the Machine
    Video #5 - Overall review and short project tutorial (optional depending on the machine).

    This means, at most, we will have 12 Under $500 machine reviews each year. This will not only keep the program reasonable and affordable for us to run, it will also ensure that each new machine is thoroughly tested and played with before making a final judgment on it.

    Still, I know your thirst for knowledge probably can't keep up with my slow speed, so hopefully the Sewing Machine Survey will take up the slack. I'm working on a new area of my website to house all the machine reviews in one place so it's easy to find the right machine for you.
It will probably take 1 more week to get this new area of the site ready. I'm so excited about it and I can't wait to share it with you!

Now that this new program has launched, and you understand the rules, let's check out the first machine!

The first machine to be reviewed is the Janome HD-1000.

Let's watch the very first video created on this machine. I show you how it looked literally straight out of the box! I unpack the machine, set it up on my table, and share my initial impressions of how it looks and feels.

This is a longer video, so click "play" then "pause" and let the little red bar fill up completely so the video fully loads before hitting "play" again to watch the whole thing all the way through:

I purchased this machine online from Ebay from an obvious dealer of machines (you can tell because they usually carry 10 or more of that particular model for a set "buy it now" price). If you aim to purchase this machine from Ebay, just make sure the seller you get it from has at least 99% positive feedback.

I paid $299.00 for this machine and shipping was free.

It arrived in 3 days in a sturdy box and came with the following bits and pieces:
  • Standard Sewing (zig zag) foot (this was installed on the machine straight out of the box)
  • Zipper Foot
  • Buttonhole Foot
  • Rolled Hem Foot
  • 4 Bobbins
  • 2 Screwdrivers
  • Oil Container
  • 2 felts
  • Pack of needles
  • Power cord and foot pedal combined
  • Machine Manual
The spool pins on my machine were already attached and I had to be really careful pulling the machine out of the box to make sure I didn't break them off.

Setting up the HD-1000 on my table, my immediate impression is that this is a solid machine. It's not just that the body is made of metal instead of plastic. It's the finer details: the knobs are very secure and don't wiggle, they make an audible CLICK when you change stitches.

The quick change foot really impressed me. You might have noticed when I touched the piecing foot in the Janome Horizon video, the foot wiggled. This can definitely effect your precision when piecing because if the foot moves in relation to the needle, your 1/4" seam is obviously changing.

But on the HD-1000, the quick change is actually better quality and feels more stable. This machine also has the same bobbins as the Janome Horizon, so it would make for a great machine to take with you to classes if you already own the 7700.

The machine itself doesn't feel very heavy, but it does feel sturdy, do you know what I mean? It honestly reminds me a lot of my old Bernina Record 830, a solid, sturdy workhorse.

So that's it for my very first impressions of the Janome HD-1000! Straight out of the box I really like this machine, and I can't wait to get started piecing and quilting on it.

Next week I'm going to share Video #2 - Basic Functions and Features of this machine: how to wind a bobbin and stitch through a few stitches that comes standard on the machine.

Did you like this new tutorial? Make sure to share it with your friends!

Let's go quilt!

Leah Day


  1. I would discourage purchasing a sewing machine from WalMart.I work for a sewing machine dealer who also has certified technicians. The insides of those machines are not the same as one purchased from a dealer. They are made of lesser quality materials. If you have problems with the one purchased at WalMart, many times a dealer won't touch it & you have to mail it out to be repaired. It's just not worth it in the long run. THINK TWICE about purchasing from somewhere other than a dealer.

    1. I have ran into that problem not only with sewing machines, but TV's also. I need a sewing/quilting machine I can depend on. I see for charity and need to get things out on time. So need expensive machine. But on Social Security so can't afford a small fortune (to me).

  2. Fantastic idea! Even as an experienced seamstress, I find it difficult to justify buying a machine that is more than $500. Yet, I don't want to spend $500 on something that is trash. I can't wait to see your reviews and see what strikes me. What a wonderful idea. Thank you for doing this!

  3. Spark - What about all the thousands of quilters who don't live close to a dealer? What about teenagers who can't drive 3 hours to find one?

    Sorry, but it's worth investigating machines that are readily available for more people.

    Let's go quilt,


  4. What a great start to a worthwhile project that will be appreciated by lots of people for a long time to come! These kinds of reviews will be invaluable to someone looking to make their first purchase, or purchase an additional machine. I'm not in the market now, but when I am, I know where I'm going to look to find my next machine!

    Thanks for taking the time to share your experience!


  5. Possibly not in your queue list, but is a site about Treadles, and we do a LOT of FMQ with them. I am sure Captain Dick (the "owner") would have a lot to say about it. And treadles are in your <$500 range, and fairly readily available. Contact me offline if you want contact info.

  6. Thanks, Leah, for a great resource. Can't wait for the continuation of the review of this machine.

  7. Rosie 1925 - Ooooo! I've always wanted to get my hands on a treadle. I didn't know free motion quilting was possible on them though...DEFINITELY going to check that out!


  8. I love that you are doing this, a long time ago I was looking for a new machine and at the time I knew only to goto Consumer Reports, they had done one review of sewing machines, the machine that ranked number did so because it had a light on the sewing area.

    Im looking forward to your next video.

  9. I'm curious what you'll do with so many machines. Do you plan on keeping them all or reselling them? I think a machine review is a GREAT idea! Thanks for taking this on.

  10. It certainly depends on what you want to use your machine for, how much time you're going to spend sewing/quilting/mending, etc.,and how much time you want to spend adjusting the tension, replacing broken parts, or trotting off to have the machine repaired. You need to find a machine that is dependable enough to do what you're asking. Personally, that was my Bernina 830 that I purchased in 1980. She did just great until I reached a point where I needed a machine that could do more. I bought another Bernina and I would not trade it for anything else. Yes, they are very expensive but 30 years with not a single repair - it's worth every penny. Others may find the same satisfaction in another, much less expensive machine. If so, buy it. Get what is good for you.

  11. What a great idea. I will be sharing this information with my quilting buddies. Keep up the good work.

  12. For an older review, please consider the Singer 201. WOWquilts believe in the reliability of this old machine so much, this is THE machine they chose to "stretch" to make it a midarm and sell to the public. Thanks.

  13. YAY! I really wish I had this a few years ago to help me in my search for a new machine. And I applaud your efforts to include machines that aren't just at a dealer's. Sometimes dealer stores can be VERY intimidating. I've been sewing for 20 years and only just recently WALKED into one! Thanks for doing this. There are great forums out there that discuss machines, but not in a condensed, consistent format such as yours. And you've put in great thought and detail not only to your blog (which is INCREDIBLE) but to your videos, too. How do you do it with a young son at home? :)

  14. Thanks, this project is really exciting. I JUST bought another machine (Janome mystyle 100) because, with thanks to this blog, I was ready to get over my quilting phobia. I realized that my old singer was contributing to the problem because it just didn't do free motion stitches well. However, because I was low on money I bought another (incredibly cheap) machine off of Craig's list that still doesn't quilt well. I learned the hard way that just because the feed dogs drop doesn't mean the machine will do the job. So I will go back to piecing more tops in the mean time. I will be following with baited breath...

  15. Enjoyed your initial review of the Janome and look forward to hearing more about this machine and others. This is information I wanted when I went to buy a machine but could not find. Thanks for doing the reviews.

  16. Oh thank you!! this is awesome!!! Can't wait to see the next few videos on this machine!

  17. I came across this years ago:


  18. I love that you are doing this. When I was considering a new machine, (it had to be under $500) the dealer suggested a Janome Magnolia. I tried researching it but couldn't find any reviews with any solid information. You are doing a real service for everyone with this project. Thanks

  19. Will we be able to read the completed surveys?

  20. Constance - Yes! Once I get a new area of my site developed, the reviews for all the machines under $500 will be posted.



  21. Leah, this is fantastic, please keep it going, you get this sort of thing for all sorts of technology ie phones/cameras/computer games... but now you've started up this.. I hope you can continue, and that it (as usual!) inspires others to follow suit

    Cant wait to see the survey results!

  22. Voice of experience here!! You get what you pay for when purchasing a sewing machine. All machines sew great when you purchase them. The problems start when plastic parts start warping & breaking. And just try to get repairs done. There is a reason for the higher price - quality, long-lasting, enjoyable sewing!!!!

  23. I absolutely agree about purchasing from a dealer. Wal Mart, E-Bay, etc. will not service your machine or teach you how to use it. Most dealers can't even get parts to repair the machines bought at WalMart. Why? Because they are made to specs that allow them to be sold inexpensively.

  24. Women never justify spending money on a new machine if sewing or quilting is a hobby. This is especially true if they do not have a job outside of the home. There is alwyas something that needs to be replaced in the home. They continue to fight with the machine that is as old as they are. But men will buy the "best" in tools if there is a home project that needs to be done. The expense is "justified". After fighting with an old Singer handed down from my mother, I saved and got a Bernina 1230 now almost 20 years old and still my major workhorse. I have a newer Bernina, but can't part with my first. If I divide the purchase price over the total number of years used, it is reasonable. If one is looking for an inexpensive machine, consider a used one from a dealer. People always eventually want to move up to a newer model. Reliable servicing is available and lessons also included. Most dealers also have a variety of offered classes and clubs so your skills can improve as you socialize. I would only buy a machine thru a dealer. I would never buy one thru Walmart, Target or Sears. I do live in NJ, the most populated state per square mile in the US, so I do have more choice in dealers. I am sure that influences my opinion. I think one should get the best that they can afford.

  25. Leah,

    Janome makes a treadle machine and it is under the $500 price range. Cost about $300 just a little FYI for you.

  26. PurpleSewCrazy - I just found it! Question - are their new treadle bases to be found? My worry is if I bought an antique base it wouldn't work, or would require so much fiddling I couldn't get it to work properly. Any ideas?

    Very interested!


  27. Ok now my brain is fuzzy as to where I read it but I did read that someone put it in an old Singer base and it worked fine. Just wish I could remember where I read that at I know it was someone's blog.

    Wish I could get it but I have too many machines and need to unload some. Some are just too basic for free motion. Also not enough harp space to even try. I will see if I can find the blog that I read that on.

  28. Ok Leah thumped around and found this link that might interest you.

    did I happen to mention that I am a research guru amongst my friends.

  29. I think it's great that you're doing this. I don't own a single top-of-the line machine. In fact, I find I do my best piecing on any old straight stitch machine that follws me home from a thrift store.

  30. A great idea, but, don't forget, when you buy from the "Big Box" or online... they walk out the door with no help, and no connection to the manufacturer except a warranty. Most dealers offer free operator classes with machine purchase, help a phone call away, you the great feeling of helping your local economy. Online learning is NOT the best way to learn sewing technique. It's merely a poor substitute. You'll also have an instant connection to the local sewing community.
    I suggest you look at a Singer model 9960... and as close as one of 200 Viking Gallery Stores or over 500 Singer dealers all around the country. I also recommend the Viking 183 - though it may go just over your $500.00 limit. I hate to say, but I think $500.00 is too low... my mom paid $180.00 for her Singer Featherweight in 1952... today, with inflation, that number would be $1500.00! I think a good machine will cost you as much as s your Ipad(which with Wi-Fi and phone will run over $800.00!)and give you much more pleasure! The more you pay, the less frustration, and the more you'll be able to do - more easily!

  31. Karen - Very good points and opinions.

    However, even though most beginners would be better served with a $800 machine rather than a $300 machine, most simply can't excuse the difference in expense, particularly if they're just getting started in the hobby and not sure yet if they will like it or not.

    I like your analogy to an ipad, but remember, most people buy an ipad knowing they will like it and use it a lot.

    A sewing machine might easily sit in the corner of a closet and never get touched. It happens!



  32. It's so interesting to hear different perspectives on $500. Considering my family budget, $500 would be a huge investment. There is just no way that I could afford more than that even though I sew weekly (and would like to sew daily). My husband isn't out buying expensive tools either and neither of us have an iPad. I really appreciate the goal of keeping the price down!

  33. I see a lot of negative comments on buying from Walmart and other big box stores. I purchased a Brother CS8150 from a Walmart in South Dakota about 10 years ago for $200. Since then, I've made maybe 20, or more, bed-size quilts with it as well as tons of other sewing projects, including making leather seat covers for my husband's custom pickup truck. This machine has been nothing but reliable--not a single problem. I couldn't afford a more expensive machine at the time, and I could not have asked for better service out of it.

  34. Please consider reviewing the Pfaff 1222E or SE. It is often available on ebay. It is a real work horse and has a bit more space to the right of the needle. One drawback of course is that it is very heavy and not good to carry to classes, so I have another machine to take to classes and sew ins. I have several machines but always come back to this one.

  35. I just saw the video about the Janome HD 1100, and I would like to know if that machine comes with metal or plastic bobbins. I am trying to buy a machine that comes with metal bobbins because according to my grandparents these last more than plastic ones. Do you think this is something to be taken into account?

  36. Greidy - The bobbins for the HD 1000 are plastic and I understand what you mean - a lot of people think that metal bobbins are better.

    But here's the deal: if the metal bobbins are cheap, they will bend and shift very easily. If you drop one, it will be slightly bent and will not glide smoothly anymore, which can cause loads of thread and tension issues.

    I experienced this with the Juki I had and it was no fun! I'd personally say don't judge a machine by its bobbins - metal or plastic are fine so long as they're not super cheap.



  37. I didn't see anyone mention the Brother CS6000i. This is a dream machine. Has tons of features, most feet ever needed including walking foot, and free motion foot , needle up/down, push button start if you want to use it. Folks with feet or leg problems love it.
    Threader, hard case and other features which have skipped my mind at the moment. Oh yes, it weighs only 9/10 pounds so you can take it to classes. For home use it comes with an acrylic extension table. Sells for about $160 at Amazon w free shipping and no tax. Can't beat it. I've used mine for classes for several years and about 8-9 people have purchased after seeing mine. It's a trouper!

  38. I have to say. . that my Janome DC2010 is the most amazing (under $500) machine. I started with a very old Brother (horrible tension issues) and then a "new" singer 4210 (TOTAL CRAP) and for the past 3 years have had the Janome which I have quilted TONS Of large, bed quilts FMQ on it. The only limitation is the throat space. . and the stress that puts on my back and shoulders. So I just upgraded to a Juki 8700 industrial with table. It was only $600 but was a B*** to assemble. It's super quiet when FMQing and has a HUGE throat plate! . but I will NEVER love another like my little Janome $300 machine <3 <3 <3

  39. I have a Kenmore machine from Sears in Canada and these machines are made by Jamome. My machine cost $250 and is a real work horse. I have pieced many quilts and free motioned many as well. I use both plastic and metal bobbins in it and both work fine. Now I am ready to graduate to a machine with a larger harp and with needle down, features that would make my job easier. Would you recommend the Janome Horizon?

  40. I love this idea, but you posted this a year ago and only reviewed 1 machine? Did I miss others or misunderstand that you were going to review 1 a month or so?
    I'm thrilled there are so many people who can afford machines that are thousands and thousands of dollars. It must be nice to have the income to do that. I'm a disabled single mom so in order to sew I have to have a low cost machine. I bought a brother from walmart a year ago ($
    140) and it has the same warranty that Bernina, babylock, ect have. I had 1 problem with it and took it into the dealer, he fixed it and all is well. It's computerized and I bought the extra feet to piece, and quilt with. I don't believe you need to buy from a dealer to get a good machine. I can read just fine and don't need someone to charge me more money for a machine, just so they can show me how to use it! Those classes are built into the cost of the machine. Read your book and play with the machine!!!!
    Ok just my 2 cents.

  41. Love your site! Just bought a new machine..singer 7469Q confidence Quilter..Would very much like you thoughts on the machine. Was $500 got it for $249. Still in package..anxious to try it. Reviewing sewing machines will help all of us who do not know what to buy. Thanks! :)

  42. Leah: What a wonderfully generous service this is for you to provide. On one level I do agree that you get what you pay for. I am on my 4th Bernina which cost thousands, but there are many reasons for buying an inexpensive machine.
    --For example, I'd like to get my granddaughter started sewing, but I certainly am not going to spend thousands to do so. What if she doesn't like sewing?
    --Many of us need a lightweight, inexpensive machine to take to classes. I do have a Featherweight, but for classes I prefer to bring my inexpensive Brother. My highly computerized Bernina weighs 42 pounds! The only place I drag that is to the Bernina center for their classes. Guild classes don't require it.
    --Yes, buying from the Big Box stores means you don't get lessons, but I got an inexpensive serger from one online. My local store charged me $25 for a complete lesson. Their cheapest serger is hundreds of dollars more than I paid. I only need a serger to do an occasional seam, so why spend thousands on one? The final thing I'd like to say is that I personally have learned more from online classes than I ever learned from in-person classes. Yes, the in-person classes are valuable, but online classes, such as the ones you teach on Craftsy and YouTube, are inexpensive and advance our knowledge in ways we can't always get locally. Keep up the good work, Leah. You are an inspiration. I am your septuagenarian fan.


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