One of the questions I get asked at every workshop I teach is, "Which sewing machine should I buy for free motion embroidery?", so I've put together this short guide on sewing machines.

In the interest of transparency, none of these links are affiliate links, nor am I receiving any payment for recommending the following machines. This is my own guide based on years of experience of free motion sewing.

Jo Hill at her sewing machine, stitching a blackbird design and smiling at the camera

What is free motion embroidery?

Free motion embroidery is also known as free hand sewing, free machine embroidery and free machine stitching - amongst many others! Whichever term you use, the beauty of free motion embroidery is that you use the sewing needle as a 'pen' and move the fabric around in any direction under the needle to draw your design. In order to do this, you'll need a machine that allows you to lower the feed dogs. I use free motion embroidery to create all of my textile designs and it is the skill that you'll learn on any workshop with me. 

I already have a machine. What do I need to get started?

If you've already bought a machine, look in your manual for details on how to lower the feed dogs, as all machines are different. You'll also need an embroidery foot for your machine - also known as a darning foot. Again, different makes and models require slightly different feet as attachments vary between machines. Look in your manual for details on what you require and I would advise buying your embroidery foot from a reputable haberdashery or online retailer. Look for one with a circular toe which will protect your fingers from the needle. 

I'm looking to buy my first machine

If you are looking to buy a machine, my recommendation for beginners to free motion embroidery would be any mid-range Janome sewing machine. Be prepared to spend £300-400 to get a good quality, sturdy machine. It would be a good idea to visit and purchase from your local dealer; search on the Janome website to find your local dealer.

Look for a machine with a wide throat (the space between the needle and the rest of the machine on the right hand side) so that you have a good amount of space to move the fabric around. The sensitivity of the foot pedal should also be better the more you are prepared to spend, so that you can sew at different speeds to suit you and the work you're doing. 

Janome 230DC a good sewing machine for free motion embroidery

This model of Janome machine, the 230DC, retails at £349. This would be a great choice as it comes equipped with an extension table, a very useful addition! At 5.7kg it is light enough to carry to workshops and the Janome website describes it as being suitable for beginners and more experienced sewists.

Janome 2200XT a good budget sewing machine for free motion sewing

The Janome 2200XT is suitable for those on a budget who may not want to spend a lot of money on a machine, but would still like to have a go at free motion embroidery. This model retails at £149 and has the option to lower the feed dogs making it suitable for free motion sewing.

If you are happy to spend more and want a machine that is not going to be overly complicated by computerised parts (which can go wrong or are expensive to fix) then you could go for the Janome HD9, a professional machine which only does straight stitch. It retails at £999 and you cover the darning plate to stitch free motion, rather than dropping the feed dogs. 

Another question I get asked is, "Which sewing machine do you use?" and the machine that I've had for the past eight years is the Juki TL-98P. It only does straight stitch but that is perfect for free motion embroidery, and all I need! I also have an industrial sewing machine which I use for making the bags and cushions - this means I don't have to keep changing the feet every time I want to swap from free motion to normal sewing. 

Juki TL-98P sewing machine, a semi industrial machine that Jo Hill uses for all of her embroidery design

I also have an extension table (bed) for my machine which is so useful. This particular model is no longer sold but Juki do similar machines which retail at around £1200-1500. It is a semi-industrial machine and is well built and sturdy allowing me to use it for extended periods every day. 

Jo Hill sewing on her machine in her garden studio

You could also look out for machines which are designed for quilting as they are automatically set up for free motion embroidery and the throat space is wider, however I don’t recommend overly complicated computerised machines as they are too sensitive to experimental work. If possible, look out for a front loading bobbin as you can tension it for experimental work. 

Please get in touch if you have any further questions on buying your sewing machine, and happy sewing!

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