If you've never owned one, sewing machines can seem daunting. Here are a few suggestions for finding one suitable to a beginner skill level and for getting comfortable with how it works.
Don't let uncertainty keep you from getting started on all those sewing projects you've thought about. These days, you can easily find a user-friendly machine in a reasonable price range. Using it is a matter of pacing yourself, reading directions, and knowing when to get help.
Consult a reputable source — be it your sewing-savvy mom or a community-driven site such as BurdaStyle — to learn terminology, have support, and get reviews. Amazon can give you good prices and a lot of user feedback on new machines — Brother brand is popular, and sew/vac shops can give you expertise and a deal on a refurbished machine.
Keep it simple. You don't need hundreds of decorative stitches, but you will want a machine that makes it easy to do things such as adjust the speed, make buttonholes, and change the needle.
Use your machine as soon as you get it. I can't emphasize this point enough! Begin using it right away and you'll have worked quickly past your initial uncertainty. Start out small and don't be afraid to mess up.
Go slowly. Literally stitch slowly as you start, and also scale up your projects as you go. My first project was a set of wonky coasters, then some simple hemming, followed by elastic-waisted pajama bottoms, and most recently a fitted skirt. As you tackle each new project, you'll gain confidence in your ability to create a casing, sewing piping, and add zippers. I've found BurdaStyle to be a great resource for learning techniques.
A few online resources:
Sew, Mama, Sew!
What have you found helpful when shopping for and learning a sewing machine? Are their particular online sources you rely on?
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Image: Kristin Lubbe for Apartment Therapy