Mechanical Sewing Machines vs. Computerized Sewing Machines

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Mechanical Sewing Machines vs. Computerized Sewing Machines
Tailors and crafters purchase sewing machines to improve the efficiency of various sewing tasks. Two types of machines are mechanical and computerized, which operate differently and contain varying features. Both types perform the basic function of making uniform stitches in fabric using two sources of thread. The decision to purchase one of these machines is heavily based on the user's required functions, skill level, frequency of use, and budget.

Mechanical Sewing Machines

Mechanical sewing machines run on electricity but contain mechanical gears and other parts. All of the levers, switches, knobs, and dials require manual control from the user. To add functions, accessories and parts must be purchased and installed.

Computerized Sewing Machines

Computerized sewing machines contain microprocessors that control the different operations. Stitches and patterns are stored on memory cards or cartridges. The computer stores the user's settings for simple setup and operation. Most of the processes are automatically controlled by the machine after the user inputs the desired parameters. When the device is hooked up to a computer with Internet access, the user can download additional programs to add functions.

Anatomy of Sewing Machines

Both mechanical and computerized sewing machines will feature the same basic structure and parts.. Each type has different control operations, such as levers versus buttons. All of the parts on mechanical machines are controlled manually whereas computerized machines contain several automatic controls. Computer-operated models often feature LED screens for visual displays of the current settings.

Sewing Machine Accessories

One of the biggest differences between the two types of sewing machines is the accessories. Since mechanical models are completely manual, they have numerous parts for changing the settings, such as stitch and fabric types. These machines are limited to construct less than 20 different types of stitches. The programming in computerized sewing machines allows the user to change settings with the push of a button rather than switching out mechanical parts. Some machines hold cartridges that store different stitch patterns for a greater variety. By downloading additional patterns online, users can make hundreds of different stitch types with modern machines.

Setting Up Sewing Machines

The setup for each sewing machine type maintains some similarities and differences. Both machines require the manual placement of bobbins and thread spools. The user must also manually switch out the presser foot for different stitch types.

Stitch Settings

On a mechanical sewing machine, users slide a lever to the appropriate location for specific stitches. Similar mechanisms are used to control the width and length of stitches. Computerized models contain touch pads and buttons for selecting these settings. The screen will also display the settings for a clear visual. Based on the stitch, the computer may recommend a certain presser foot that is ideal for the project.

Threading Needles

Mechanical machines require the user to manually thread the needle,, which can be difficult to see. Some computerized models feature thread feeders that assist the user. Threaders catch the thread with a small hook and pull it through the eye of the needle. This automatic process prevents strain on the eyes and finger pricks.

Sewing with Different Machine Types

The actual process of sewing on each machine type is different in terms of control. Both types automatically move the needle in the proper directions to form the stitches that the user indicated. On a mechanical sewing machine, the user controls the speed with the foot pedal and manually guides the fabric. Computerized machines automatically operate many of the processes with features like speed control and fabric guidance systems. Difficult tasks, such as creating buttonholes, become as simple as pressing a button on some modern models.

Needle Position

When the machine stops, the location of the needle is often an important factor in ensuring quality stitches. If the needle is in the up position, the fabric is free to move around and loosen the most recent stitches. In the down position, everything is secured so that the user may turn the fabric as needed. Users have to carefully press the foot pedal until the needle is down before making gross adjustments when working on a mechanical machine. Computerized models often feature switches that tell the machine to leave the needle in a down or up position when stopped. This function helps reduce the amount of errors and loose stitches when sewing.

Another handy feature on computerized sewing machines is the thread cutter. Old-fashioned machines require the user to cut the thread with a pair of scissors. A thread cutter is located near the needle area and contains a shielded blade for convenience and safety.

Tension Adjustment

Tension regulators on mechanical machines pinch the thread, and the user adjusts the tension with manual knobs or screws. Computerized machines feature automatic tension regulators that sense when the thread is too tight or loose based on the fabric qualities and stitch type. This automation reduces errors and prevents the fabric from bunching or stretching.

Storing and Carrying Sewing Machines

Portability is an important factor for tailors who teach classes or like to sew in different locations. Both machine types are comparable in physical dimensions and take up similar amounts of space in a closet or other storage location. Handles and carrying cases are common features for both types as well. The mechanical type, however, is significantly heavier than its computerized counterpart. The mechanical parts and gears weigh more than the computerized parts and microprocessors. Instructors who transport their sewing machines back and forth from their homes to their classrooms prefer the lighter models that are easier to manage.

Sewing Machine Maintenance

Occasionally, individuals experience problems with their sewing machines and need to repair or replace certain parts. The mechanical pieces on machines are relatively easy to repair at home and inexpensive to replace. Computerized machines have more complex parts that may require professionals to repair. When data is lost due to a computer malfunction, users may lose the memory that stored their favorite stitches and settings. Both machine types are very durable and commonly have life spans of at least ten years.

Skill Level of Users

Novices who are learning the basics of sewing find it easier to work with a mechanical sewing machine. The manual controls allow the user to gain hands-on experience to better understand the processes. Computerized machines can be somewhat overwhelming to a beginner due to the vast number of stitch types and settings. The automated processes do most of the work for the user, so a first-time student may have difficulty learning the basics. In a technological society, some students feel more comfortable using computerized machinery and are intimidated by mechanical parts that require manual adjustments. In many situations, users do not even need to know how to sew in order to operate a computerized machine. Personal preference depends on the user's comfort levels with the different types of parts.

Frequency of Use

Depending on how often a person sews, users may prefer either machine type. Those who only sew on rare occasions find that mechanical sewing machines are easier to manage. People who sew on a daily basis prefer computerized machines that save their settings in memory cards. Computers are simple and quick to set up, so habitual users spend less time with preparation and more time on production.

Sewing Crafts

Some machines are better at performing certain tasks than others. Mechanical sewing machines are ideal for hemming, stitch repairs, and simple patterns. Short-term projects that do not require large portions of fabric work well with this type. More complex sewing crafts, such as quilting and embroidery, are easier to perform on computerized machines. The automatic processes help prevent the fabric from puckering and are ideal for long-term projects.

Budget for Sewing Machines

The price of these two sewing machine types varies greatly. Consumers can find decent mechanical units without spending more than a few hundred dollars. Computerized models range from hundreds to thousands of dollars for high-end embroidery machines. Many tailors work out a budget and determine how much the investment is worth compared to their intended use of the machine.

Finding Sewing Machines on eBay

Shoppers can visit eBay to find new and used sewing machines from various sellers. Browse all categories to find the Crafts section. Navigate to Sewing & Fabric,, and click on the Sewing subcategory. The Sewing Machines & Sergers section, which can be found on the left navigation panel, features thousands of products for sale. Visitors narrow their search using the check boxes on the left side of the page. Narrow by brand, type, and operation to find mechanical and computerized sewing machines that meet specific needs.


No matter the type, sewing machines assist tailors in producing clothing, quilts, and other textiles. By evaluating their specific habits and needs, consumers can make informed decisions about which sewing machine is right for them.

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