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What Features Should I Look For In A Sewing Machine?

First off, I gotta say I was blown away from the response to this blog. I got messages all over social media and it was quite clear that I struck a chord. So many of you are looking for solutions that allow you to sew longer and better. 

One comment in particular got my attention last week. A reader on Instagram mentioned that she bought her 8 Series BERNINA because she had R.A. My mind started racing. OF COURSE, the sewing machine!!! What features should you look for when buying a sewing machine if you have autoimmune disease, arthritis, vision problems or limited mobility?

Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I think it is safe to say that I bleed BERNINA red. I love everything about the company and the machines they produce. I am also a brand ambassador which means that they provide me with a sewing machine to use for a year. I think it is pretty safe to say that I will be purchasing my current loaner, the B790, at the end of the year. She is like an extension of my hands.

However, for the sake of this article, I am going to discuss features that can help you sew better and longer on any brand sewing machine. These are features that you may want to consider when you buy a new machine. I ALWAYS suggest trying out several new machines to find the right one for you. I compare it to running shoes for a marathon runner - you gotta find the right fit.

  • Self-Threading - Now, my friend on Instagram mentioned the amazing threading system on her B830. If you haven't seen the threading on the 8 Series, check it out the next time you can. You simply lay the thread across the top of the machine in a certain spot and it does the rest for you. My machine has a threader near the needle that guides the thread into the eye of the needle for me. I can no longer live without this feature. My eyesight... well lets say I "play a lot of trombone" when I read. It's worse when my eyes are dry from the Sjogren's. But this feature not only helps those with poor eyesight, it also is great for many types of hand issues. It's much easier to guide the thread around a threader than to try and get it into that tiny eye. 
  • Start/Stop Button - The Start/Stop button allows you to sew without a foot pedal. You push the button to start sewing and simply push it again to stop. Anyone with limited or no mobility in their legs, this feature is for you! I also think it goes perfectly with the next feature...
  • Speed Control - This feature allows you to control how fast your sewing machine goes when you start sewing. I love this feature for kids. I also love this feature myself! I slow my machine down often when I am having a bad hand day or when I am doing anything where I need the maximum amount of control. 
  • Free-Hand System - This feature is a knee-lift bar that rests against your leg so you can lift the presser foot without using your hands. It takes a bit of practice to use (you will want to use the foot pedal with your left foot) but it is said that it cuts your sewing time by 20% when used. 
  • Needle Up/Needle Down - This feature allows you to choose whether the needle stops in the up position or the down position when you stop sewing. It is fantastic to engage the needle down so you don't lose your exact place where you are sewing. Most people use this when Free-motion quilting or in applique so they can pivot around a curve. However, this is also great to engage when you need an extra hand to keep your fabric under the presser foot.
  • Presser Foot Lift - The presser foot lift does exactly what it says, it automatically lifts the presser foot when you stop sewing. Some higher end model sewing machines allow you to control the height that it raises to also. 
  • Programmable Foot Pedal - I think this may be a BERNINA exclusive. On my machine I can tell my machine what to do when I tap the foot pedal with my heel. I personally set mine to tie-off(take a few stitches in place), cut the thread and lift the presser foot. I love it because I don't have to find all of those buttons on the machine manually. Now I know this is a luxurious feature, but it helps me sew faster. 
  • Breath Operated Sewing Machine Controller -  This final item is a very specific add-on. It is a mouth controller to operate a sewing machine that works on the puff/sip actions to make the sewing machine go. It is perfect for people who have limited or no leg control and allows them to operate the machine. Now one could also use the start/stop feature for this, but if you have a machine that lacks the start/stop button, this is an add-on that works with most sewing machines.
Now I know that many of these features are on higher end machines so they cost more. Buying a sewing machine is a huge investment. It always has been and probably always will be. But this item is something that you will use for many years and if it has features that helps you sew more or longer or more accurately, you may want to try some machines on for size.

Go to a quilt shop or sewing machine store and try out the machines in person. Big box stores may have great prices, but they don't offer any support in the use of that machine. Buying a machine from a store usually comes with lessons and a place to call or go to when you have any issues. They also sometimes get in trade-in models that are used and may be offered at a great price.


  • Do you need to pull the fabric through your machine? You should not have to do anything but guide the fabric under the presser foot. If you must pull fabric out the back side you either have the stitch length set too small or something may be wrong with your machine. You may want to bring it in for a tuneup and tell the technician about the issue.

So there is my short list of features that I love. Did I forget any? Read the comments for some great tips. Leave a comment below with your favorite feature and I will add it to my list.

Happy quilting,



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  1. Great post! I also have RA and I have to say that my high end Janome has been a game changer for me. I still enjoy sewing on my featherweight but the Janome allows me to do so much more for a longer period of time bc of all the extras.

    1. Agreed! I had a Janome for many years and upgrading definitely helped boost my sewing to the next level. Now I appreciate my B790 for different reasons, but still it helps me sew longer.

  2. You have a lot of great features! I love my start stop button, needle up/down, and threader. I have RSD/CRPS in my legs (hips down)so it is not always an option to use my foot peddle.

  3. I have only vintage machines, but my knee controlled machines are my favorite. Makes them much easier to run when my feet aren't cooperating. Love the heavier machines because they don't wander and buzz like the lighter ones.

    1. Good Point! My machine is quite solid and heavy too even though it is new. That makes a huge difference! I also know that if you use one of those plastic banquet tables, the flexibility of the table makes the machine slide around - not good for people like us. My sister is dying for one of those vintage knee controlled ones!

  4. I have arthritis in my right hip, so I have a rubber mat under my foot pedal so it stays in one place. Once I have it in a comfortable position, I don't want it sliding away from me.

  5. Hello
    Yoga can also help by increasing movement in related joints which may be contributing to the misalignment which is causing the problem in another joint.the truth inhealing

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