choosing a sewing machine for kids

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by Janice on 10/15/2012

Our eight year old, Ava, really wanted a sewing machine for her birthday. It turned out to be surprisingly challenging to decide what the best option would be for her.

Ruling out the toy machines wasn’t difficult though. A quick scan of the reviews on Amazon, and it is very clear why most of them are rated less than 2 stars out of 5. The biggest complaints are that the chain-stitches don’t hold, they are difficult to thread and sew with, they are typically battery operated, and ultimately, require so much adult intervention that you might as well have them use a real machine. My niece has a ‘Bratz’ chain stitch machine and from our experience, all of these complaints hold true – though the girls LOVE sewing with it regardless (they are 8, 7, and 6).

Chainstitch Machine

starter machine’s (under $150)

Additional research led me to decide that the two most important options are speed control and a finger guard. Surprisingly neither of these are offered in the turquoise Hello Kitty Janome 11706 3/4 ($119)  pictured at the top, though I did find out that the speed is inherently slower on this machine (550 stitches per minute or a little more than half the top speed of my Bernina). I feel that speed control is important because, while the slower speed is great for learning to regulate the right pressure for the foot petal, a limited speed later on could be very frustrating. A manual fix for this, suggested in a forum, was to affix a popsicle stick between the top of the pedal and the floor.

Other popular ‘kids’ machines included the Michley LSS-505 Lil’ Sew & Sew ($40), the Brother LS2125I ($76), the SINGER 1507WC  ($95) and the Janome Sew Mini Sewing Machine ($65). None of which come with a finger guard. There were several online posts suggesting that a finger guard isn’t a substitute for adult supervision, and while I agree, I would also point out that many mechanical, sewing machines for schools, do come with guards. Their target is typically age 12 and up, so a finger guard is under the heading of an ounce of prevention for me. I have also hit my finger once with a needle and was lucky that it didn’t puncture my nail. This was due to the Elna’s automatic stop feature, if it hits a certain level of resistance (another nice to have feature).

Brother XL2610 ($100)

entry level machines ($150 – $500)

Once you go over the $150 price point, the options expand dramatically. My original objective was not to spend this much on a machine for my daughter. However, I kept coming back to what a waste it would be to purchase something that she could outgrow,  which may also be more challenging to learn on. I also considered whether you could sell the machine second hand if she ended up never using it – but in all likelihood, the right machine should last her into adulthood. Both my Bernina Activa 220 and my Elna 6003Q have automatic needle threaders, a feature I would add to the list. Particularly, since I’ve noticed it’s much harder for me to thread needles now that I’m in my 40s! I feel too, that the less time spent with little fingers around the needle the better.

Janome finger guard (for full size machines)

At the recommendation of Wei, a fantastic sewing machine tech in Vancouver, I opted to evaluate different models of  Janome, for features versus reliability and price. It’s important to note that he is an independent tech who doesn’t work for a store that sells certain brands, and will suggest different brands for different price points or functionality. Janome also sells a generic finger guard that fits their full size machines (and likely Elna’s too since their feet are interchangeable).

  • Hello Kitty Janome 15822 ($199). A mechanical machine with great reviews, a top speed of 620 spm (or 3/4’s that of my regular machines) and as a full size Janome machine, it should fit the finger guard (though I can’t confirm this anywhere). It has 22 stitches,  a one step button-hole option and a built-in needle threader. The stitch selection by dial and letter seems a bit cumbersome, and there isn’t a graduated speed control option. Also, Wei recommended that I try to get a machine with an automatic needle up / down, as it is easy to leave the needle and thread feeder in the incorrect position if you manually adjust using the fly-wheel. This is the leading cause of issues that he diagnoses with stitch problems, broken needles and even damage to the bobbin casing.
  • Janome DC1050 ($299) and 8077 ($297). These machines have features in line with the Magnolia below, however, there was a great deal of inconsistency in the reviews for them. With several reviewers indicating that they couldn’t sew through Velcro – an essential component for  doll clothing, or many other kids’ projects. Also, a few reviewers mentioned problems with thread tension and bobbin jamming – both of which I felt would add up to tears of frustration when teaching children.
  • Janome Magnolia 7330 ($399). The top of the line in the Magnolia series, it has a top speed of 860 spm, variable speed control, and it does fit the finger guard. It also has 30 stitches available, a memorized needle up/down position, direct stitch selection buttons, a start-stop button – allowing you to sew without foot control, the ‘superior’ feeding system and the capacity for drop feed.
  • Janome DC 2011 ($449). When I saw that you can get this machine for only $50 more than the top of the line Magnolia, I ended up choosing this one. Janome releases these in a different colour each year (2012 is green), and the machines are identical according to my research. It has all of the features I liked in the Magnolia, but also has 50 different stitches, a one-step automatic buttonhole, a locking stitch, and an impressive array of additional feet. And if we like it, it will be perfect option to purchase for thing 2 (Georgia) when she turns 8 in a couple of years. There is nothing like identical options in different colours for two little girls very close in age!

Janome DC 2011

I am going to order 2 Janome Finger Guards – $7 from from Ken’s Sewing Center – for this machine and for my Elan 6003Q . I hope to use my Elna to start teaching Georgia, until I feel she is proficient enough to receive a machine of her own. I am also debating about getting the foot with the finger guard for my Bernina Activa, just to ensure that all of the machines can be kid friendly. I am interested in finding out whether the finger guards impede the use of the machine, in particular the needle threader. I hope to post on this in the near future.

Universal Sewing supply offers many different finger guards   if your machine does not have a finger guard option. Their minimum order is $30 so you would have to order a few other items to make it worth it. They also don’t provide a list of which machine each guard will fit, so you should check with them, or your machine’s manufacturer. first.

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