Sunday, 31 July 2011

"Sewing Machine Presser Feet Cheat Sheet"

Back in the '20s and such times when sewing machines only sewed a straight stitch, they came with a selection of attachments instead. There were surprisingly many. They didn't call them presser feet though, they called them attachments. The only one that was called a presser foot was the straight stitch foot.

Some of those old, antique attachments are now manufactured to fit modern sewing machines better, but some have (sadly) been left in the past or "updated" (sigh, still not the same).

For now, let's look at some of the more popular (and handier) presser feet and attachments made for our modern sewing machines.

These are standard presser feet. This kind of foot has quite a few names: the standard foot, zigzag foot, universal presser foot, all-purpose foot, and general purpose presser foot. It doesn't really matter what you call it unless you are buying one and have to tell the salesperson or search engine. It has a wide needle hole that fits the widest stitch on your sewing machine.

In case you are wondering what that little black button is, it's a foot leveller. If you are starting sewing a seam on thick fabric, you push that button in before you lower the presser foot and it holds the presser foot level. When the hole foot is supported by the fabric, the button will pop out again. It works only with the shank that has a hole in the right place for the pin on the button, so if it didn't come with your sewing machine, it probably won't work on it.

This is a two-sided zipper foot. It snaps onto your sewing machine like any other snap-on presser foot, but instead of snapping on in the centre, you snap it onto either the left or the right side of the centre of the foot. It lets you get closer to what you are sewing than you can get with the standard presser foot.

Singer Low-shank Snap-on Blindhem Foot 10400-LThis is an Adjustable Blind Hem Foot. You turn that little wheel on the right-hand side to move the white guide left or right. The fold of the fabric buts against the guide and the machine sews a blind hem, catching just a little of the fold in the swing of the stitch. There are instructions for machine sewing a blind hem on this blog.

Distinctive Overlock Overcast Sewing Machine Presser Foot - Fits All Low Shank Snap-On Singer*, Brother, Babylock, Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, Janome, Kenmore, White, Juki, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Necchi, Elna and More!This is an overlocking foot, also called an Overcasting Foot, even though it is for a sewing machine and not for an overlocker/serger. There is a metal guide against which you butt the edge of the fabric. Using a zigzag stitch or any other overcasting stitch on your sewing machine that will fit, you neaten the raw edge to prevent it from fraying. When I say "that will fit" I mean that won't have the needle hit the guide of the foot on its way down.

If your sewing machine's zigzag stitch is centerised as opposed to being always aligned to the right, this foot is near essential for overcasting because you can't use the sewing machine needle plate as a guide on such a sewing machine.

Distinctive Satin Stitch Sewing Machine Presser Foot - Fits All Low Shank Snap-On Singer*, Brother, Babylock, Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, Janome, Kenmore, White, Juki, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Simplicity, Necchi, Elna and More!This is a Satin Stitch Foot, also called a monogramming foot, and possibly an embroidery stitch foot. It looks very like a standard presser foot, except it may be wider and it has a deeper tunnel underneath for the denser stitching to go through smoothly. If you tried satin stitching with your standard presser foot, the fabric might not feed through because the stitches wouldn't fit under your standard presser foot. It would be like trying to get a lorry under a too-low bridge.

It is to be used for decorative stitches only, and not sewing seams because, due to the higher tunnel; I don't think it will hold the fabric down against the needle plate flat enough.

Back when sewing machines usually did only a straight stitch, they invented a zigzag attachment. You could put different cams on top of the Singer one and they would sew different decorative stitches.

Distinctive Button Sewing Machine Presser Foot - Fits All Low Shank Snap-On Singer*, Brother, Babylock, Husqvarna Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, Janome, Kenmore, White, Juki, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Simplicity, Necchi, Elna and More!This is a Button Sewing Foot. You use it with the feed dogs down or covered because you want the fabric and the button to stay put.

It goes on your sewing machine with the blue end facing you and the button underneath. Then you set your sewing machine at a zigzag stitch whose width lets the needle go down the holes on the button. If you want to have a thread shank on the button, you put a matchstick or something like that on top of the button between the holes. That makes the stitches take more thread. When you have finished stitching the button on, you leave long thread tails, bring them under the button and wrap them around the threads. Then you bring them to the back of your fabric and tie them off.

These are buttonhole feet. The small one (called a Sliding Button Hole Foot) is for a four-step buttonhole and the bigger one (called an automatic buttonhole foot) is for a 1-step buttonhole.

With the sliding buttonhole foot you have to measure the button and make the buttonhole in 4-steps on your sewing machine. You cannot use this foot on a sewing machine that makes a 1-step buttonhole.

With the automatic buttonhole foot, you just fit your button in the gauge at the back of the foot, lower the presser foot, and pull down the buttonhole lever on your sewing machine. It is important to raise the lever after every buttonhole and pull it down when the presser foot is down because if you don't you may not get good buttonholes - one side will be shorter than the other.

There are a few other kinds of buttonhole feet, like the Bernina Buttonhole foot and the Janome Long-Buttonhole Foot, but your instruction manual, manufacturer's website or the manufacturer by telephone should tell you more about them if you have them.

In the old days they made an attachment called a buttonholer. It was like an extra machine that attached to your sewing machine. They could also be used to make satin stitches on a straight stitch sewing machine! Apparently you can you them on modern sewing machines but get better results on the vintage kind they were made for.

Distinctive Concealed Invisible Zipper Sewing Machine Presser Foot - Fits All Low Shank Snap-On Singer*, Brother, Babylock, Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, Janome, Kenmore, White, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Simplicity, Elna and More!This is a concealed zipper foot, also called an Invisible Zipper Foot. An invisible zip is different to an ordinary zip in that the chain is on the inside; they are also curled up. When you sew it on you have to get into the groove and stitch it onto the stitching line of your garment. The foot has two tunnels underneath for the coils to travel under. The foot helps uncurl them as you go, making the job a lot easier than it would be if you were to put an invisible zip in with an ordinary zipper foot or an adjustable zipper foot.
There are videos on YouTube of how to do insert invisible zips.

This is an Adjustable Zipper Foot, also called an adjustable piping foot or an all purpose zipper foot. This one is from Hemline and is in our shop in Hornsea for £3.50, but most sewing machine manufacturers make them.
The bar on the right is where the slide is. This controls how far left or right the foot is - hence adjustable zipper foot. Make sure you tighten the screw on the bar as far as you can or the foot will move forward when you lower it and will cover the needlehole. For some reason, the stitch automatically shortens by about 0.5mm unless you have stablizer or something top and bottom. I think it's because there is less of the fabric in contact with the feed dogs.
It is essential for sewing piping that won't fit under the two-sided zipper foot, e.g. welting in soft-furnishings.
This is actually a really old invention. They made them for the old Singers, you know.

Distinctive Free-Motion Darning Quilting Sewing Machine Presser Foot - Fits All Low Shank Singer, Brother, Babylock, Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, Janome, Kenmore, White, Juki, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Simplicity, Elna and More!This is a Darning/Free Motion Quilting Foot. It has a spring on it that works in unison with the needle; when your needle goes down, so does the presser foot, when the needle goes up, the presser foot is above your fabric so that you can move it around as you wish, even though the presser foot lever is down.
You use this foot with the feed dogs down or covered.
To darn with it, you put the fabric in a hoop and sew back and forth across the rip and then left to right across it in a thread colour-matched to the fabric.
It looks a lot like the Free-motion Embroidery foot except that the bottom of the foot is a whole shape, and the one on the Free-motion embroidery foot is open-toe, i.e. it has a gap at the front.
They had these for antique sewing machines as well. I wonder if any of our attachments are new ideas?
I think a free-motion quilting foot is probably tougher for heavier weights of quilting.

Brother SA184 Edge Joining Foot

This is an Edge Joining/Stitch in the Ditch Foot foot. It has a metal guide down the centre. It is used to join edges, and you can also use it as a guide for top-stitching near edges, and for making pin tucks.
To use it to join edges you have one piece of fabric with its edge on the left-hand side of the guide, and another piece of fabric with its edge against the right-hand side of the guide.
If you would like to see the antique version of this foot and how it's used, take a look at this website:
Personally, I rather like the antique version. You could still make pin-tucks with it. I wonder if they made the new kind to take thicker fabrics?

I have found a foot almost exactly like the antique one, but manufactured now! It is part of a set at I'm not sure whether they are available in the UK, though.

Distinctive 1-4 (Quarter Inch) Quilting Sewing Machine Presser Foot with Edge Guide - Fits All Low Shank Snap-On Singer*, Brother, Babylock, Husqvarna Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, White, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Elna and More!

This is called a 1/4-inch Foot. This one has a metal guide along the right-hand side to keep your fabric aligned. The little notches on the left-hands side are so that you can pivot and keep the seams equal.

Distinctive Shirring Gathering Sewing Machine Presser Foot - Fits All Low Shank Singer, Brother, Babylock, Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, Janome, Kenmore, White, Juki, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Necchi, Elna and More!This is a Gathering Foot. The longer your stitch, the more gathered your fabric will be. The fabric you put underneath your gathering foot is the fabric that will be gathered. There is a slot for you to put another piece of fabric through. The fabric in the slot won't gather. This is so that you can make a gathered piece of fabric and sew it to a flat one at the same time.

You can do that with a Ruffler foot, but the gathering foot is cheaper (because it does less and is easier for them to make).

Brother SA109 1/4 Inch Binding FootThis is a binding foot. It works kind of like a bias binding maker in that it curls the fabric into the right shape as you go. The advantage is that it sews the binding to the edge at the same time. There are different sizes available for different sizes of binding. The size refers to how wide the binding will be when folded in half and stitched onto your fabric, so it's half the size of the bias binding.

Distinctive Tape Binding Sewing Machine Presser Foot - Fits All Low Shank Snap-On Singer*, Brother, Babylock, Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, Janome, Kenmore, White, Juki, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Simplicity, Necchi, Elna and More!
If you have already pressed your bias binding or if you bought it ready-made, you may prefer the Adjustable Binding Foot, which is also called a taping foot. It can take various widths of bias binding and tapes. It won't curl the binding for you, but that is already done if you have purchased binding or if you have used a bias binding maker.

You can see the little wheel in the lower right-hand corner of the picture. That moves a guide inside the plastic bit of the foot to keep the binding in place as you sew it to your fabric.

Hemmer Feet Set 4mm and 6mm fits most snap-on machines (200326001) - (200081104)These are Narrow Rolled Hem Feet. They come in various widths and take a bit of practice to use. You can use them to make a narrow rolled hem on your sewing machine. The narrower ones are for fine fabrics like chiffons and silky fabrics, but you can use the much wider ones (e.g. 3cm) for medium weight fabrics like ordinary cottons and so on. I don't know about heavier/thicker fabrics.

There are variations of these feet such as the picot edge feet with which you use a zigzag stitch or an over-casting stitch with higher-than-usual upper tension. It is supposed to bring the edge of the fabric up a bit so that when you have the fabric flat, there is a picot edge. There is also the felling foot which allows you to more easily make seams like those on the back of your jeans (felled seams).

Distinctive Premium Even Feed Walking Sewing Machine Presser Foot with BONUS! Quilt GuideThis is a Walking Foot, also called an Even Feed Foot. How does it work? Well, you know how your sewing machine has feed dogs that push the fabric through? Well, sometimes when you are sewing several layers of fabric, such as in quilting, the top layer doesn't go through at the same speed as the bottom one because it has nothing to push it through simultaneously. This means that when you get to the end of your seam, looks like one piece of fabric is longer than the other.
That is where the Walking Foot come in. It has some 'feed dogs' in it that push the upper layer through so that both layers go through at the same rate, hence even feed.
There is also an open-toe version of this foot so that you can more easily see where you are stitching.
If you have a Pfaff with Integral Dual Feed, you don't need one of these; your sewing machine will do it for you. The same is true if you have a Janome Horizon.
The stick-thing that is next to the foot in the photo (that looks like a shepherd's crook) is a seam guide. You slide the bar of it through the correct part on your shank, and the hook bit, which is at a right angle to the bar, works like the stitching guides on your needle plate, but you can adjust how far it is from your needle. This doesn't always come with your Walking Foot, and may be available separately.

Distinctive Pintuck Sewing Machine Presser Foot - Fits All Low Shank Snap-On Singer*, Brother, Babylock, Viking (Husky Series), Euro-Pro, Janome, Kenmore, White, Juki, Bernina (Bernette Series), New Home, Simplicity, Necchi, Elna and More!This is a Pintuck Foot. You use is with a twin needle. There are tunnels underneath that make the pin tucks. The guides also help to keep your twin-needle pin-tucks parallel. If you put a strand of cord underneath your stitching the pin-tuck you are stitching, you can make corded pin-tucks. Some sewing machines have guides available for the cord.

There are a few different pin-tuck feet with different sizes of tunnels and different numbers of tunnels.

Cording Foot
This is a Cording Foot. Can you see the little tunnels on the top in front? They are for the cords to go through. I think on this one you can 'clip' them in by sliding them under the little sticky-up bit at the side of the tunnels.

You can use this foot to sew over a number of cords at once and have them all be parallel.

There are different cording feet available for different quantities of cords.

Singer Quantum Double Welting Foot P60490This is a Welting Foot. It is a bit like an invisible zipper foot except that the tunnels are bigger underneath (it looks like a toad-in-the-hole with the sausages removed). You can use it to sew right up close to the welting (which is like thicker cording).

I would like to include more feet in this post, but there are so many I can't fit them in in time, sorry. If there is a particular sewing machine foot or attachment you would like information on, please leave a comment and I'll try to help you! : )

Until next time, happy sewing!
Sabrina Wharton-Brown
The Sewing Corner

P.S. I found a set with lots of these feet in (and more) at Amazon that you might like to look at. I don't own it, but it looks great! It would make a brilliant gift for someone (or yourself)! : ) There are better pictures of it at Amazon when you click the link.

Friday, 22 July 2011

Things to Look for in a New or Beginners' Sewing Machine

Shopping for a sewing machine can be a very time-consuming task. There are so many available, each claiming to be better than the last. And everybody has different advice. Some people love top-of-the-range machines that do everything you can think of, while some love their family heirloom sewing machines with little more than a straight stitch but lots of strength and dependability, and of course that is all you strictly need.

You can still get very reliable machines that do everything you need them to do (unless you are doing a course, in which case you may require something slightly more advanced) and at a very reasonable price.

My biggest tip for you, if you can't get to try the machine before you purchase it, is to get one from a well-known brand name. The two leading ones at the moment (so I've been told) are Janome (pronounced Ja-NO-me) and Bernina.

Brother offer a wide range of machines, starting with "disposable" budget machines, right up to combinations sewing-embroidery machines. Janome ones tend to be a little too large for someone of my petite size, but are said to be very good (though, frankly their decorative stitches look a little off on their brochures). Apparently, they even make machines for other companies. Bernina have been greatly loved for decades. My Great Aunt Dulcie used to sell them when she co-owned a sewing shop on Barr Street in Scarborough, North Yorkshire. She said they were the best.

Other good names are Pfaff (pronounced "faff") and Elna (who are now owned by Janome and often have nifty storage areas on the machines for the accessories). Toyota are okay. My Toyota 21-DES is still going now, but it's very basic.

Singer company was bought years ago and has gone downhill somewhat (even in the old days like the '80s I think they were iffy because the unions were being awkward). That said, Mum's sewing machine was a Singer and was a good one. It would probably still be working, if the person to whom we lent it hadn't left it full of fluff in a damp loft to rust. Perhaps Singer has got over their bad patch; they seem to be generally good again, from what I have read and heard.

Here are some things to consider when shopping for a simple sewing machine...

How big and heavy is it?
If you intend to move it about a bit, make sure it is a reasonable size and weight for you. Some websites will tell you approximately how much a sewing machine weighs. Unless you are quite strong, you would be better off keeping it under 6.5kg (which is like 6 and a half 1kg bags of sugar if you want an idea of the weight). And unless you have a lot of room, a 'portable' or 'compact' sewing machine will be best. This can mean about 40cm wide when you are sitting in front of it. Not what I would have called portable, but that is what the industry seems to call it.

My Bernina 380 is very heavy for me, and I can't lift it without using both hands. By comparison, I could carry the Toyota 21-DES and the Brother XR6600 in one hand (not at the same time though!).

What do you want it for?
Will you want to do anything decorative with it, or is it just for practical jobs? If you want to make large quilts, make sure you have a nice amount of space to the right of the needle as well. If you want to hem sleeves and trouser/pant legs, be sure it has a free-arm. This means that you can remove part of the sewing machine around the needle to make a smaller sewing area. Most do, and the bit you take off (called the flat bed) is usually also the accessory compartment.

If you want pretty embroidery stitches, you don't need a lot. You will probably never use 200-300 stitches anyway (who could?). You may like to have a scallop stitch for decorating edges. You can then cut very carefully around the scallop if it is a zig-zag scallop, but not if it is a straight-stitch scallop (the stitches might fall out). If it is a straight-stitch scallop you can sew a hand blanket stitch around them and then cut around that.

Make sure you can adjust the stitch width and length
Some machines, like my Toyota 21-DES, have fully automatic stitches. That means I can't change the stitch width or length, and the different size straight stitches and zig-zag stitches count as different stitches! I lost marks on my first course because I couldn't make the zig-zag stitch shorter for neatening denim. It's a great machine if you only want to do practical jobs for personal use, but not for the Regent Academy course. The higher machines in the range have adjustable stitch size and more stitches.

Can you move the needle?
If you can, you have a lot more freedom when it comes to making tucks and pin tuck, and doing topstitching and edgestitching with feet that have guides (like overcasting feet and blindhem feet). Some machines, like my Toyota, only have two needle positions -- left and centre. Some have three -- left, centre, and right.

Some, like the Brother XR6600 have fully adjustable needle positions, but I didn't know that when I chose it because the first stitch on the machine, the straight stitch, starts in the left position and the second stitch, also a straight stitch, is in the centre position. Naturally, I thought they were the only two needle positions. But as it turns out, on some machines, the straight stitch with fully adjustable needle position is shown as being to the left, where the needle is to begin with. This is so that the fabric has more support around the needle and makes more reliable stitches. The permanently centred straight stitch is so you can safely sew zips without hitting the accompanying zipper foot. Be sure to check for needle positions when choosing your machine. You can sometimes find PDF instruction books on the websites that sell the machine to look at for free. You can Google it to find it.

My Bernina 380, which I got when the Brother XR6600 broke, has 9 needle positions and all the stitches can be moved. This doesn't make any difference to the finished stitch if it's wide already because there is no room for it to move. The stitches can also be flipped horizontally, which can come in handy when I want to achieve a certain effect.

Most people nowadays want an automatic buttonhole. They come in two main types: four-step and one-step. 4-step buttonholes can be difficult if you don't know how to sew them well. The trick is to stabilise the fabric, top and bottom, so that it feeds through forwards and backwards at the same speed and has the same number of stitches on each side. It is important to mark where you buttonholes begin and end and to pay attention when sewing them to make sure they are all the same length, and the same distance from the edge of the garment.

My Bernina 380 has four one-step buttonholes: a standard buttonhole, a stretch buttonhole, a keyhole buttonhole, and a bound buttonhole.  You can get by with just the standard buttonhole (a bartack at each end), but I like to have options. : )

Four-step buttonholes require you to measure the button and manually control the size of the buttonhole, which can lead to uneven buttonholes. One-step buttonholes have a special foot (the longer one in the photo; the shorter one is for a 4-step buttonhole) with a section in the back that measures flat buttons and keeps the buttonholes uniform and perfectly sized for the button. At any rate, I prefer one-step buttonholes to four-step ones -- they're easier. : )

By the way, if you already have a machine that doesn't have a buttonhole, you can make one using a short (approx. 0.3mm) zigzag stitch thus: Sew a bar tack (on the spot) that is as wide as the buttonhole; Narrow the zigzag to less than half the bar tack's width and sew up one side of the buttonhole; when you get to the end make another bar tack as before; turn the fabric around so you can sew in the other direction; narrow the zigzag again and stitch down the other side; secure your stitch.

Make sure it can take all kinds of fabric
This goes back to the earlier tip to get a machine from a well-known brand name, especially if the brand specialises in sewing machines. The marketing information will likely say if it can handle different kinds of fabrics.

Note: if you want to sew leathers, faux leathers, vinyls or other 'sticky' fabrics, you would do well to get a non-stick Teflon foot or a roller foot, or put fine tissue paper on top of the fabric where you are stitching. If you are having difficulty with fine fabrics getting stuck in the feed dogs, put fine tissue paper underneath the fabric.

The dinky little machines you get for under £40 are no good for anyone over ten years of age. Plus you often can't change the foot so you can't insert zips or make buttonholes with them, and they are usually just straight stitch.

Does it sew stretch fabric?
You will probably want to sew jersey (the fabric T-shirts are made of) at some point, so make sure you can. The stretch stitch looks like a straight stitch but with three parallel rows on the picture (not when sewn). That is because it sews the stitch three times. It makes a stitch, goes back over it, and then stitches forward again. This makes it stronger. An ordinary straight stitch would break when the seam is stretched. The triple straight stitch can also be used to topstitch with regular thread on woven or knit fabric.

You may also find another kind of stretch stitch on your machine. It will look like a very narrow zigzag or continuous bolt of lightning (that is why it is sometimes called a lightning stitch). I prefer the triple straight stitch so far because it seems to be better and not make the fabric go all wavy before you press it. I think the triple stitch also looks better when you press the seam open.

If you don't have a stretch stitch, you can make one by either sewing the seam three times, or using a very narrow zigzag stitch.

Presser Feet
Almost all machines will come with at least three feet: the standard foot, the buttonhole foot, and the zipper foot. I have only ever noticed one machine that dosen't come with a zipper foot since they became common place (the Janome Platinum 760 -- a compact quilting machine). It does come with a few extra feet though.

Some machines come with a selection of feet. Frister + Rossman and SMD machines, not being two of the really major brands, come with quite a selection. (I haven't seen many other feet available separately for those machines which explains it.) Elna usually give you quite a few, and the Brother XR6600 came with seven. Basic machines may only come with three: the zigzag foot, the zipper foot, and the buttonhole foot. My Bernina 380 came with, I think, 7 feet plus a walking foot and the buttonhole foot #3 which I asked them to include because it's very versatile and can be used as an invisible zip foot. : )

Extra feet that are often included are the Blind-hem foot, button-sewing foot, satin stitch/monogramming foot and overcasting foot. There are many other feet available seperately. Some favourites are the Invisible zipper foot, hemmers, cording and beading feet, edgestitching foot, darning foot, free motion foot, roller foot, teflon foot, gathering foot, ruffler, twin-needle pintucking feet, walking foot and many more! These feet are not essential but are there to make sewing easier and to help you get better results.

Really top-of-the-range sewing machines often come with a large variety of feet, including the more expensive ones.

Mechanical Vs. Computerised
Many people seem to be afraid of computerised sewing machines, but unless you get a super-duper top-of-the-range one with a colour screen and everything, they're actually really easy to use. I don't even know how to text and I can use my computerised sewing machine, so don't worry about their being complicated.

Others think that mechanical sewing machines are sturdier and more reliable than computerised ones, but computerised sewing machines are actually better at going through thick fabrics and seams than are mechanical ones. Their motors are better at driving the needle though and keeping everything going. They also have 'error systems' to let you know if you have done something wrong. They also have far more stitches than mechanical sewing machines.

Yes, I know they're generally more expensive than mechanical sewing machines, but if you are going to do creative sewing and not just repairs, get the best you can afford, or else you'll grow out of it and end up buying a more advanced sewing machine anyway.

When buying for a child...
Don't waste your money on a child's sewing machine, even if it is for a child. They only do a chain stitch which is rubbish and according to the reviews on Amazon, they often don't work. You may end up with tears and broken hearts, and possibly put the child off sewing for years to come (or life)! Just make sure you are there when they sew and consider getting a finger guard, just in case. If you guide them in using a sewing machine, and make sure they know the dangers/safety practices (like stay away from the needle) they will likely be fine, but I can get squeamish and imagine rather painful things (I often cover my eyes when The Simpsons are on) so I added the safety advice. : )

About Sewing Machine Fear
When I started to use a sewing machine, I was rather cautious. It was as if I had a subconsious fear that the needle would dance all over the machine and my fingers. Then I noticed that the fabric was feeding through -- I didn't need to push or pull it. All I had to do was make sure the fabric went in the right direction (left or right). Poof! There went any fear of sewing machines. And I've never once sewn through my fingers or anything I shouldn't. The only time I have ever bled when sewing is when I pricked myself with a pin or hand needle! (And when I was six and cut my finger with dressmaking scissors at school. I was trying to make some spectacles for my teddy for the teddy-bears' picnic. I was brave but don't remember much after leaving the classroom. I think I fainted.)

Here is another tip for shopping: make a list of everything you need the machine to do, everything you want it to do, and the things you would like it to do but that aren't important. Then look for a machine in your budget that matches as closely as possible.

Take notice of when the salesperson or website says 'stitch function'. They don't mean it has that many stitches. Say you have a straight stitch. It's just one stitch, but it has more than one stitch function. You can sew seams with it and you can gather with it. They are two stitch functions. Check how many stitches it has. It will be fewer than the stitch functions.

I picked the Brother XR6600 computerised sewing machine because it does everything I need it to do and it was the right price. UPDATE: It turns out that the Brother XR6600 is a "disposable" sewing machine and so has become unsafe after less than two years' time. Granted I have serviced it myself before, but I think I found that washer and put it back in. Since then I have bought a Bernina 380 with which I am pleased and which I intend to keep for many, many years with no need to buy a more advanced sewing machine.

Best wishes with your shopping!

Sabrina Wharton-Brown