Domestic sewing machines are both versatile and reliable. However, if you’re serious about scaling up a project or want to turn that dream of running a dressmaking business into reality, you might want to consider specialist sewing machines to really up your game. In a professional or commercial capacity, designers and craftspeople will typically use a variety of industrialized machines. Vastly superior to their domestic counterparts, their powerful motors which can operate for hours on end. Coupled with the fact that these machines replicate the same task over and over, it means that output is much higher and consistent in quality.
In industry, production lines commonly consist of lockstitch, serger, cover stitch and chainstitch machines, each tasked with a specific function. Computerized sewing machines allow for much finer precision and control over things like needle positions and thread tension in embroidery and quilting. There are hundreds of industrial sewing machines which can do everything from stitching buttonholes to embellishing monograms. Below are some of the more commonly used machines.
Lockstitch machines These are available as single and double needle varieties. They create stitches in much the same way as a domestic sewing machine would, by interlocking top and bottom thread to form a straight stitch. However, they are much more durable and capable of working at high speeds for many hours at a time.
Serger or overlocker Sergers differ from lockstitch machines as they use up to five threads to form a substantial and reinforced edging which looks like a combination of straight and zig zag stitching. They are mostly used to finish off garments with overedge stitch or to secure panels, such as those used in trouser legs. They are commonly used on knitted garments too. Sergers also trim any excess fabric from seams as they go.
Coverstitch and Flatlock machines These machines typically have two to four needles which loop to form underside stitching. Chainstitch machines are used for hemming garments, while flatlocks are coveted for their neat seam finishes.
Chainstitch machines These machines can produce stitches which form a reinforced loop or chain. They allow a certain degree of movement and so are mainly used for stretch fabrics. Chainstitch can also be highly decorative so can be used in the embellishment of clothes and fabrics.
Industrial machines can be used in a home environment wherever there’s enough space and an appropriate power supply. Lockstitch machines with servo motors run much more quietly than the clutch-style motors of old, which means you can sew at high speeds without disturbing others.
Of course, with premium machines there comes a suitably top-level price tag. Many of these machines cost thousands of dollars brand new. It’s certainly an investment, so you’ll want to think carefully about your requirements before diving in wallet first.
Here we look at some of the features you might need according to purpose, plus some recommendations into the best sewing machines available right now on the market.
Best sewing machines for thick fabrics and drapes
If you’re looking to produce drapes or work with heavy fabrics, you will want to consider a heavy-duty sewing machine.
As much as we love them, basic home sewing machines just aren’t equipped to be put through a hammering, day-in, day-out with heavy fabrics and so can wear out quickly over time.
Heavy-duty machines are made of metal or stainless-steel frames and weigh much more than a plastic bodied domestic. This means that the machine will anchor your work to the table and be unlikely to move down the table as you sew.
A powerful motor is one of the most important features to look out for to be able to drive through tougher fabrics. You’ll also want to look for a presser foot with an adjustable height mechanism to be lift over thick layers of fabric with ease. This is sometimes called a levelling button and if the machine has one, it should be visible on the front of the presser foot.
A walking foot is another useful accessory as an additional ‘arm’ that helps to guide thicker fabrics through the feed mechanism.
What machines do professionals use for drapes?
If you’re looking for a professional sewing machine to sew drapes, then consider an industrialized lockstitch machine. These are much more powerful than the usual domestics, capable of producing around 5,000 stitches per minute. The feed mechanisms are also better equipped for the handling of difficult, thick fabrics. Compound feed sewing machines typically have two presser feet which alternate and help to guide the fabric – perfect for drapes and other voluminous sewing projects.
Yamata FY5618 Lockstitch Machine An industrial compound-feed machine suitable for thick, layered fabrics including canvas. It can produce over 1,000 stitches per minute via a Servo motor.
Juki DDL 8700 Lockstitch Machine A robust machine that can cope with medium to heavy fabrics. It has an output of around 5,000 stitches per minute. The frame has been specially designed to reduce noise and vibration.
Best sewing machines for denim
Sewing denim presents a unique set of challenges – firstly, denim tends to be thicker than a lot of other fabrics and secondly, some thinner cotton mixes can contain elastane for added stretch which can make sewing especially tricky.
Most home sewing machines should be able to cope with stitching the occasional hem or alteration but if you’re wanting to construct your own jeans you will need a specialist machine.
As with sewing heavy fabric, a presser foot which allows for extra high lift over seams is a must have, along with a levelling button. Remember, any denim is going to double in thickness once its folded over. A walking foot is another useful tool that can help to feed both the top and bottom layers together and is a neat trick for keeping stretch denim in place while you sew.
Needle size and thickness is crucial when sewing denim. Professionals will use a gauge size 90/14 for light and 100/16 for heavy denim. You will find stores sell needles already badged up as ‘denim’ or ‘jean needles’. For topstitching and to give your jeans a better finish, you can buy cotton jeans thread or even upholstery thread if the denim you’re using is very thick.
What machines do professionals use for denim?
Professionals will generally use a combination of industrialized machines in the construction of a pair of jeans. A single needle lockstitch will be used for most jobs such as hemming, attaching labels and pockets and panels. A double needle lockstitch can be used for back panels and pockets. Chainstitch and coverstitch machines offer greater resistance and allow for ‘wear and tear,’ as such they will often be used to attach thicker areas such as the waistband. Sergers will be used to overlock stitching on the leg panels and fly.
Brother 1034D A three/four thread serger with a maximum speed of 1,300 stitches per minute.
Janome Cover Pro 1000CPX Coverstitch machine offering double and triple overstitching with an extra-large bed.
Best sewing machines for leather and upholstery
Leather is another material which can pose issues on a domestic sewing machine. It’s recommended that you sew leather on a good heavy-duty sewing machine with a higher stitching speed.
One of the most important modifications here is to use a machine with either a Teflon or roller foot for sewing leather, as regular presser feet will stick to the surface and stop it from gliding through the machine. The weight of the leather also matters. If you’re sewing a thicker leather skin, you can also use a walking foot to help guide the two sides together but be wary of using it on thinner, softer types of leather and suede, as it can leave creases and marks on the surface which are difficult to get out.
As well as changing out the foot you will also need to use specialist ‘leather’ gauge needles which are more durable and have a sharper tip for piercing through. The stitch length will also need to be altered to a slightly longer stitch, as much as 3mm.
Remember that leather is unforgiving of any mistakes. Any perforations made by the needle are permanent, so go slow or practice on a sample piece first.
A synthetic, bonded nylon thread is best and will normally be labelled as suitable for leather work in stores.
What machines do professionals use for sewing leather?
Anyone who is sewing leather on a regular basis will need the power of an industrial sewing machine which are generally better equipped for sewing tougher materials. A flatbed machine is a practical choice as it will provide a big enough workspace to work freely and easily. Industrial machines have more stitch settings especially for leather and will produce professional looking results.
Recommendations: Juki 1541 industrial single needle walking foot machine for leather and upholstery. It offers higher presser foot lift and sews multi-layers with consistent stitching without gathering thanks to its superior feed system.
Janome HD3000 is a heavy-duty sewing machine equipped with a powerful motor, ultra-glide foot and leather needles.
Best Sewing Machines for Stretch and Knitted fabrics
Stretch fabrics are a go-to in apparel as they’re durable, cheap to produce and comfortable to wear. Jersey is a firm favorite as it’s so versatile, whereas materials like spandex and lycra are commonly used in swimwear, sportswear and under garments.
Sewing knitted weave like jersey on a domestic machine can be tricky as a normal straight stitch just won’t cut it. Knitted fabrics are stretchy and so any stitching must be responsive to movement. You’ll need a sewing machine that offers zigzag stiches or one with double needle stitching for more control. A walking foot can be useful at gripping slippery fabrics and guiding it through the feed dogs.
The type of needle you use here is important. A ballpoint needle is the best kind for knitted fabrics. It has a smooth shape and won’t pucker the fabric as it sews. It’s especially good for knits where the weave is a little looser.
If you were to use a regular needle, the machine would likely skip stitches, which can not only damage your work but can wear out your machine. For thinner fabrics like jersey or finer weave knits, try using ‘stretch’ needles. These are specially designed for working with very stretchy fabrics. These needles have blunted ends so that they can pass through the fibres rather than piercing them, which helps to glide through the fabric.
Polyester or nylon threads are best here as they offer a little bit of ‘give.’ Cotton threads are best avoided as they’re more likely to snap when pulled.
What machines do professionals use for knitted and stretch fabrics?
Commercial apparel designers are more likely to use serger and or coverstitch machines in this environment, as they’re faster to turn out on a production line, offer more control and provide a cleaner, neater finish to seams and edges. Chainstitch machines are also used in the production of sportswear and undergarments which again, allow for movement in the fabric.
Recommendations: Brother 2340CV Coverstitch machine. Ideal for stretch fabric, it offers an adjustable differential feed to control excess movement for professional looking hems.
Juki MCS-1500 boasts both coverstitch and chainstitch capabilities for hems, cuffs and seams.
Best sewing machines for embroidery
There are many ways of applying surface embellishments to your work. The type of machine you need depends on your requirements.
If you wish to create your designs using free motion embroidery, all you really need is a frame or hoop, a darning foot and to move the feed dogs down. This will allow you to move the frame in any which direction you choose to ‘draw’ out your design.
Some computerized sewing machines are geared more towards embroidery embellishment than construction and many have an in-built frame which is controlled digitally. These machines tend to come with dozens if not hundreds of pre-programmed designs which allow you to have greater precision and control over your work. Editing can be done using LCD touchscreens where it’s possible to rotate, flip, scale and preview designs prior to stitching out. Some also allow for digitally importing your own designs to work on. Design and lettering software enable you to undertake monogramming and logo stitching on clothing and accessories.
Another advantage of using an embroidery machine over a regular sewing machine is that it’s better equipped to deal with challenging threads and materials better than a regular sewing machine through having more versatile feed systems which can be customized to the task at hand.
What machines do professionals use for embroidery?
In commercial settings, designers and machinists will scale up to what’s known as multi-head or multi-needle embroidery machines which allow for several large designs to be worked on simultaneously and in multiple color stitching combinations – without stopping to change thread. These machines run off sophisticated software packages and are digitally programmed to stitch out designs.
Brother SE1900 Sewing Embroidery Machine. This feature-packed machine offers a 5 x 7inch stitching area, 11 accessory feet and a large color touchscreen, along with the capacity to import and save your own designs.
Brother PR670e 6-Needle Machine is a commercial embroidery machine with high speed acceleration, LED positioning marker and on-screen editing.
Best Sewing Machines for Quilting
Much like their embroidery counterparts, specialist quilting machines return better results than combination machines or sewing machines with a few added quilting functions.
An important feature to look out for in any machine is the throat space, this is the gap between the needle and the end of the machine. The larger the work area, generally the easier it is to produce quilts. Many will come with additional extender tables that you can connect onto the machine to improve the space you have to work in.
Many quilting machines will come with a quarter inch foot which allows for better control when quilting the top piece. A walking foot is also an essential piece of kit as it helps to guide multiple layers of thick fabric through the feed system.
Computerized versions will also offer libraries of pre-formatted designs and stitches to work from.
What machines do professionals use for quilting?
As quilts take up much more space, specialist machines such as long arm quilters are specially designed to accommodate the vast amounts of fabric involved. They will often encompass a frame or table from which it’s possible to hang the quilt over to keep it out of the way when stitching. These machines are incredibly sturdy to withstand the weight and the force of stitching thick layers at high speed.
Newer models to market are available with a variety of high-tech software, programmed designs and operated via touchscreens.
The Grace Company Q’Nique19 offers many features of a professional long arm, it has a 19 inch throat space, in-built stitch regulator and is compatible with Quilter’s Creative Touch software.
Brother Quilt Club series DreamWeaver VQ 3000 Brother’s most advanced quilting and sewing machine, it includes customizable digital settings and an advanced motor-driven foot.
The bottom line: Do I need a professional sewing machine?
As with any investment, it’s wise to do your research and find look into a couple of options before parting with any hard-earned cash. Look into the possibility of modifying your current set-up with additional feet and accessories before committing to a total upgrade. You’ll need to give some serious thought into whether you have the space and right working conditions to house an industrial machine. Also try to think past the initial cost and how much you’ll have to pay for regular upkeep and maintenance servicing. How easy is it to get hold of replacement parts?
Once you’ve finally made your decision, above all else, make sure you look for established, reputable brands that offer a good warranty. That way, you can rest assured that the money you’ve spent is well-invested and sure to bring fulfilment for many years to come.