Tool of the Trade: Sewing Machine

Patch a hole, mend a seam, or fix a hem—everything you own can be tailor-made.

Tool of the Trade Singer Sewing Machine

Whether you're a crafter or a home cook, it often feels like there are so many tools you can purchase to help you get a job done. Which ones are really worth investing in? Our editors are here to help. From everyday essentials to more obscure must-haves that will take your practice to the next level, we're breaking it all down. Each week Tool of the Trade will highlight one must-have crafting or cooking item you need to know about.

Martha has called the sewing machine "one of the greatest inventions of all time" and it's no wonder: It has the capacity to complete and customize any sewing task that calls for a needle and thread with ease. Plus, it's an essential you'll find in Martha's own craft room.

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What Is It?

Many claim to have invented the first sewing machine, but the first patented model was one made by Elias Howe in 1844. His machine created a new stitch, called the lockstitch, where two separate threads—one coming from the top and one from the bottom—interlocked through the fabric. This machine was a great improvement over earlier devices, which sewed much weaker stitches that could be easily pulled apart. Over the years, many companies started making better and more innovative sewing machines. Before investing in a sewing machine, consider buying one that suits your skill level: A basic sewing machine may suffice for a beginner, but intermediate and advanced-level crafters may opt for more complex machines that can perform more tasks.

How Is It Used?

The sewing machine is comprised of multiple parts. The bobbin is wound with thread that will make up the underside of a machine stitch. The bobbin case holds the bobbin, and is usually not interchangeable between machines. Depending on the machine, a slide plate or hinged bobbin cover allows access to the bobbin. A removable presser foot keeps fabric in place as you sew. Different feet are appropriate for various sewing techniques or fabrics. For example, a roller or nonstick foot is used for sewing leather and oilcloth smoothly. Many parts can be removed, but only use ones that are recommended by the manufacturer for your particular model. Our safety tip: When guiding fabric over the throat plate, keep your fingers at least an inch away from the presser foot at all times. If you pause between stitches, take your foot off the foot controller, so that you don't accidentally set the needle in motion. If you are taking a longer pause, turn the machine off completely.

Why We Love It

As a seamstress of any skill level will tell you that a sewing machine is a vital piece of equipment. It allows you to work faster, perfectly, and with more efficiency. Over the years, our editors have put it to good use in a number of projects: garments and accessories, including Martha's granddaughter Jude and friends, who were all gifted with a collection of dresses made from Martha's collection of vintage tea towels. And in household tasks—repairing clothes like patch a hole, mend a seam, or fix a hem—it does the job in an orderly fashion.

Our Editor's Pick

We like the Singer Simple 3232 Portable Sewing Machine. From a trusted household name, this particular model is quite beginner friendly. It has a maximum speed of 750 stitches-per-minute, so larger projects can be sewn quickly. And it comes equipped with 32 built-in stitches, a built-in 1-step buttonhole, and a built-in needle threader too (which means that threading the machine—from the spool to the needle's eye—is easily done in a matter of seconds). The free arm provides easy access to cuffs, collars, pant hems, and other difficult-to-reach areas. And it comes packaged with all of the essentials to get you started: seam ripper, quilting guide, thread spool caps, bobbins, and a pack of needles.

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