Whether you’re a beginner wanting to do basic hemming or a super-sewer with your sights set on a complicated quilt or creative curtains, a good sewing machine is your best ally. With needle power back in fashion, your machine can take pride of place in your home – and if you choose the right one, it could last a lifetime.

Here’s our pick of the best sewing machines money can buy, covering everything from entry-level machines for first-timers to specialist models for embroidery or heavy-duty materials. And if you don’t know your buttonhole from your bobbin our buyer’s guide gives you the low-down on what to look for.

Beginners will definitely want an easy threading system, and sewers of all types should look for a selection of stitches, along with a range of stitch widths and lengths to suit the kind of tasks you’ll be doing.

As a general rule of thumb, for dressmaking, straightforward crafts and alterations, a basic machine should be fine, as long as it has several different lengths of straight stitch, a choice of zigzag stitches and automatic buttonhole – along with a free arm if you’re including sleeves and pockets.

For more advanced crafts, as well as embroidery, quilting and home furnishings, you’ll need a wider range of stitches and – if you plan to use thicker fabrics – a heavier duty machine. Sewers who spend many hours at their machine may also benefit from advanced features including memory options, dual-feed and knee-lift.

Choosing a sewing machine does involve getting to grips with some specialist language, but there are plenty of good online glossaries. Once you’ve mastered the terms, head to a specialist shop like John Lewis and get an expert to talk you through which ones you really need. Ideally, try before you buy.

Unlike many modern appliances, a decent sewing machine can be repaired by a sewing machine engineer. The most likely parts that will need replacing include spool pegs, bobbin cases, gears, belts, foot controls and motors. Check the brand you choose has these parts available to buy separately if the need arises – the best brands will stock them not just now, but for decades to come.

Sewing machines can be light and compact, or they can be big and heavy: think about whether you need a machine that can be easily moved out of the way when it’s not in use. But don’t just default to choosing the smallest, lightest machine: these can feel less steady, with smaller controls and a smaller sewing area that could limit your scope.

Finally, think about accessories. Check what the machine comes with, find out whether there are additional ones you can buy and ascertain whether the machine has built-in storage space for them.

If your sewing needs are limited to the occasional minor repair, this is a great-value entry-level machine with 14 stitch options, a four-step buttonhole feature and a darning plate. It’s compact and lightweight, with an easy setup process so you can get stuck into your sewing without delay – and it’s available in three pretty pastel shades, which makes a change from the normal uniform white.

While it feels sturdy and has a powerful motor, it does have some limitations – notably, there’s stitch length control but no width and the bobbin isn’t the easiest to access if your thread gets knotted up. Also, the zipper foot isn’t included. Still, for the money, it’s a great little sewer.

If you’re looking for a professional finish on hems and seams, you’ll love this advanced machine: its twin needles give precision control over pretty much every kind of household fabric you can think of. The colour-coded guides make threading a cinch, and there’s a self-threading lower looper too. It even arrives already threaded with cones, so you won’t waste any time in getting started.

In use, it runs smoothly and quietly, without a puckered or stretched edge in sight. We also like the conversion feature that allows you to quickly switch to rolled hemming without changing the needle plate. Whether it’s decorative over-edging, gathering or pin tuck, this makes a fabulous additional machine to use alongside your main one – and if you’re not au fait with the ways of overlockers, it comes with a genuinely useful instructional DVD.

Everything about this embroidery machine is intuitive. Within an hour, we had it threaded up and had completed some basic multi-coloured designs. It’s suitable for complete beginners right through to pros, and while it’s only for embroidery it’s a very focused, feature-packed machine, with more than 125 built-in patterns, designs and fonts and a USB port to upload your own designs.

You control it via a colour LCD touch screen, which couldn’t be easier to use (thank goodness, as the instructions could be clearer), and there are plenty of extras provided, including a needle set, bobbins, a bobbin clip, a seam ripper, scissors, a cleaning brush, a screwdriver, spool caps, an embroidery frame, accessories bag and (deep breath) an embroidery design guide. This isn’t a machine for the casual hobbyist, but for embroidery fanatics we think it’s as good as it gets.

Key specs - Type: Computerised embroidery machine; Stitch options: 125+; Weight: 10.74kg; Warranty: 3 years

Oekaki is Japanese for “to draw” and this appliance lives up to its name by enabling free-motion embroidery. You’ll need some patience to get the hang of it, but templates are included with ideas and it opens up a world of creative possibilities.

The machine itself is a looker, too: we adore its sleek curves and hot colours, and the LCD screen where you select the settings is nice and clear. There’s an impressive 50 stitch options to choose from – although you may have to rummage a bit to get to the one you want – and the Oekaki deals with a range of fabrics with ease, as well as being quick and easy to thread. As a final plus, it’s lightweight and transportable, and can be operated by either hand or foot. In all, it’s a superbly versatile machine that definitely stands out from the crowd.

Basic sewing machines can struggle with stretchy fabrics, multiple layers and heavy materials such as denim and leather. Not so this industrial-looking machine: it boasts an exceptionally powerful motor, as well as a robust metal frame and stainless steel plate.

It’s a real workhorse too and stitches surprisingly quickly. You get 32 stitch options, with a one-step buttonhole function and an automatic needle threader that works a treat. The bobbin wind system and free arm are both handy, too.

If we had to gripe, we’d note that the dust cover is flimsy, and our model didn’t come with printed instructions in English – but there's a useful tutorial CD. In all, it’s a seriously good sewing machine.

This seriously upmarket sewing machine has a huge 9mm stitch width and a generous 210mm arm space, which will appeal to more experienced sewers. It’s extremely powerful (up to 1,000 stitches per minute) and there’s a whopping 170 stitches to choose from – including no fewer than four built-in alphabets – all of which are displayed in the lid when opened. It also has automatic thread cutting, twin needle sewing and the ability to combine stitches, along with automated one-step buttonholes in ten different styles.

Despite all these features, we found it really easy to get going. Yes, it costs and arm and a leg, but it’s a voyage of sewing discovery and you will quickly wonder how on earth you lived without it. Just be aware that its size and weight make it hard to stow away – and the bobbin holder can be tricky to click into place when winding.

If you’ve never owned a sewing machine before (or you haven’t touched one in a very long time) and just want a cheap and cheerful hobbyist machine, this Silver model is a great buy. It’s aimed at complete beginners, and we found it easy to set up and use all 12 stitch options, including embroidery.

Impressively, it even has an automatic four-step buttonhole. It comes with everything you’d expect, including a couple of thread spools, a couple of bobbins, a needle threader and needle. Just be warned that it’s only good for lightweight materials and is nowhere near as sturdy as more expensive rivals. Still, even this has upsides: it’s light enough to take away with you, while it’s a great machine for children.

The latest mechanical machine from this top brand is causing great excitement in the world of sewing machines. Why? Because it’s great for both beginners (helping them to understand machine settings) and more intermediate sewers. Also, because it’s lightweight, without being so light that it jumps around the table, and robust. And, finally, because it has plenty of refined features including the extra high presser foot lifter (to fit bulky fabrics underneath), foot pressure adjustment (to help feed difficult fabrics and applique), plus a top-loading bobbin and auto-declutch bobbin. This means the needle doesn’t go up and down while winding the bobbin – a great safety feature.

It’s versatile, with 23 stitches and a one-step buttonhole, and it comes with a hard cover for transportation and LED lighting. A fabulous all-rounder.

Many sewing machines make the claim of being best for beginners but this stands out for being compact and lightweight, with quick and easy threading and an effortless built-in needle that helps you avoid squinting and finger fumbling. We also like the adjustable stitch length – perfect when you need smaller stitches for reinforcing a seam or longer stitches for threads with a sparkle.

There are ten built-in stitches for basic needs right through to decorative stitches for seams and top stitching. The automatic buttonhole stitch works in four simple steps and there’s a free arm to easily sew sleeves and cuffs, which also doubles up as your board accessory storage. Plus, there’s a cover included.

Overall, this is a great performing starter machine, although the bobbin isn’t the easiest to get to and it is prone to vibrating when in use.

This standard-sized quilting machine (bigger ones are also available) boasts beautiful stitch quality, with a high quality motor that sews through multiple layers of thick fabric as if they were butter.

There’s an extra-large bobbin, with 70% more thread – a boon because the last thing you want is for your quilting/sewing flow disrupted by running out of thread. The automatic thread cutter keeps all your projects neat and tidy, while the Bernina walking foot is great for keeping those layers feeding evenly and for matching checks and stripes.

2.1/2 Hydraulic Crimper Hose

It’s Bernina stitch regulator compatible, which is brilliant if you want to have perfect even stitches when free motion quilting, and there’s a huge range of stitches, both practical and decorative. The lighting is worth a mention – there are eight LED lights that fully illuminate your work – and the needle down function is indispensable if you’re appliqueing or dealing with fabric that slips. The free hand system lets you keep your hands on your work for more precise sewing and the automatic memory buttonholes are ultra-simple. All in all, it's an outstanding, reliable machine that allows you to do so much so simply.

Key specs – Type: Computer controlled; Stitch options: 840; Weight: 10.2kg; Warranty: 7 years (conditions apply)

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