11 Different Types of Sewing Machines

There are many different types of machines that sew fabric. Each one has a specific use which I’ll explain today.

Electronic sewing machines 

They’re basic machines with no computerized elements. They have a limited number of stitches – typically 10 to 30, with only 1 buttonhole style (rectangle). The most basic versions will have pre-set stitch length and width settings, so you can’t change them. The next level up allows you to change the stitch length, but not the width. And the next level up allows you to change the stitch length and width.

Electronic sewing machines lack features like speed control, needle up/down programming, start/stop buttons that let you sew without the foot pedal, and more stitches and buttonhole styles, etc. Only computerized machines can do this. Computerized machines are fast becoming the dominant type of sewing machine, and electronic machines are normally only seen in the budget section of stores.


  • General sewing tasks, like sewing seams.
  • Sewing pre-installed small embroidery designs (note: some models lack embroidery stitches).

Best for: people who want a cheap machine for occasional use, basic tasks, and light-to-medium weight fabrics. I think a passionate hobby sewist could find them limiting. Many people upgrade to computerized machines once they start sewing frequently.

Pricing: they’re relatively cheap, ranging from £80 to £300. Here’s what I recommend for beginners on a budget.

Mechanical sewing machines

They’re essentially the same as electronic sewing machines, but they’re made using either an AC or DC motor. Electronic sewing machines only use a DC motor. For a user, there’s no noticeable difference. (source)

Computerized sewing machines 

They’re more advanced sewing machines with electronic circuit boards and (normally) LCD screens. They offer more stitches, more buttonhole styles, and more ease-of-use features. For example, speed control, needle up/down programming, start/stop buttons that let you sew without the foot pedal, the ability to memorize stitch sequences, etc. 

One popular feature is that they auto-suggest stitch length and width settings for every stitch, saving beginners a lot of time and confusion. You can easily override these settings yourself. You also have more precise control over the stitch length, width, and needle position. 

Computerized machines can sew much slower than electronic machines, which is great for careful tasks like topstitching. 

Some people are nervous about computerized machines going wrong. I asked 2 sewing machine dealers about this. Apparently, the early versions were problematic sometimes, but they both said that it’s rare for modern machines to have major problems (aside from the normal stuff that happens to electronic machines too). Replacing circuit boards is a very rare task for them.


  • General sewing tasks, like sewing seams.
  • Sewing pre-installed small embroidery designs and letters (note: budget models can’t do letters).

Best for: hobby sewists who want a machine that will grow with them. They offer a bigger range of stitches and features. 

Pricing: Today you can find cheap and expensive versions. Machines over £400 will be built better and offer more longevity. At this price, they also have stronger motors that can cope with thick fabrics better. If you want a budget computerized machine, here’s what I recommend for beginners.

Quilting machines

These are normal computerized sewing machines, but the “throat space” is bigger (= the space to the right of the needle). This makes it easier to roll up and sew large quilts. You don’t need a quilting machine to make quilts though. A beginner can still use “normal” sewing machines to make quilts, it will just be harder to roll up the fabric inside the throat space and quilt the remaining area.

More expensive quilting machines have “dual feed” systems, a built-in “walking foot”. This allows the machine to feed the top and bottom layers of your quilt evenly and reduce shifting. Some quilting machines will also come with an extension table to support your quilt while sewing. 


  • General sewing tasks, like sewing seams.
  • Sewing very large quilts thanks to the larger workspace.
  • Feeding multiple layers of fabric well thanks to “dual feed” systems (not all models have this).

Best for: people who want to do normal sewing tasks and make large quilts with ease. 

Pricing: £700 – £2500.

Embroidery machines (for home use)

These focus on stitching pictures and text, not doing general sewing tasks. Some machines will have designs built-in, but usually you’ll upload designs from a computer. You then place your fabric in the embroidery hoop and press “start”.


  • Only embroidery.

Best for: people who already have a normal sewing machine for general tasks and want an additional machine for custom embroidery. 

Pricing: £1000 – £4000 for a domestic embroidery machine.

Sewing-embroidery combination machines

These are a combination between a normal sewing machine for general sewing tasks, and an embroidery machine for complex embroidery. 


  • General sewing tasks, like sewing seams.
  • Creating your own embroidery designs.

Best for: people who want a normal sewing machine and custom embroidery functions, without needing the space for 2 separate machines. 

Pricing: £1000 – £3000.

Industrial sewing machines

These are machines that focus on sewing 1 type of stitch. A “lockstitch” machine is the most popular type – it only sews straight lines. Industrial machines are faster and more powerful than home sewing machines. They’re designed for everyday use in factories. They’re large and have an integrated table. 


  • Sew 1 type of stitch with a lot of power and speed.
  • Factory or professional use.

Best for: people who sew for a living and need something powerful and fast. Industrial machines only focus on 1 type of stitch, so they’re too limiting for most home sewists.

Semi-industrial sewing machines 

These are faster and more powerful than “normal” home sewing machines, but less powerful than industrials. Like industrial machines, they specialize in only 1 type of stitch. Straight stitch machines are the most common. Unlike industrial machines, semi-industrials are small and portable. You can use them on a table just like normal home sewing machines. 


  • Sew 1 type of stitch with a lot of power and speed.

Best for: people who sew for a living and don’t have enough space for an industrial machine. And serious home sewists who do intensive work with thick fabrics, like bag makers. I don’t recommend semi-industrial machines for most home sewists. They focus on doing 1 thing well and that’s it. They’re also quite expensive. 

Pricing: £1000+ for something like the Janome HD9 or Babylock Accomplish.

Serger (USA, Canada) or overlocker (UK, AUS)

These are specialist machines that focus on doing the “overlock” stitch. Modern versions use 4 threads.

The overlock stitch is used to finish the raw edges of fabric and stop them fraying, and to sew stretchy seams on knit fabric. They can’t sew essential stitches like straight, zig zag, or buttonhole stitches, so they won’t replace a normal sewing machine. You normally won’t be able to finish a whole sewing project just on a serger. It’s a machine that passionate garment sewers like to buy after they have a normal sewing machine. 

In the US and Canada, these machines are called sergers. In the UK and Australia, they’re known as overlockers. These are just different words for the same machine.


  • Finish raw edges of woven fabric to stop them fraying.
  • Sew stretchy seams on knit fabric.

Best for: garment sewers who already have a normal sewing machine and want an additional one to overlock. Most store-bought clothes use this stitch, so many home sewists want it as well to make their projects look more professional. People who sew frequently with stretchy fabrics also like using a serger because it can make stretchy seams. 

Pricing: You can buy budget and expensive versions. £300 – £2000 is a typical range. Expensive ones often have air-threading technology, allowing you to thread the notorious loopers in seconds. Here are specific overlockers that I recommend for UK and European buyers.

Coverstitch machines

This is a specialist sewing machine that sews coverstitches. This is often used to hem stretchy clothes just like stores do. You’ll often see a coverstitch on the hem of your t-shirts. You can’t make a whole sewing project just using a coverstitch machine (in most cases). Most home sewists don’t own a coverstitch machine. They just zig-zag the hem, or use a twin needle that looks similar to a coverstitch but has less stretch.


  • Hemming stretchy clothing like t-shirts.

Best for: garment sewers who already have a normal sewing machine AND a serger (aka. overlocker). It suits people who sew stretchy garments a lot, like t-shirts and leggings, and want a professional finish on the hems. They may also struggle with DIY alternatives like twin needle hemming. These hems sometimes pop because they have less stretch than real coverstitches.

Pricing: £500 – £2500. Brother, Janome, Babylock, and Pfaff have a few options. Here are the coverstitch machines we recommend for UK and US readers (most of these will be available in other countries too).

Serger-coverstitch combination machines (aka. overlocker-coverstitch)

These are a combination between sergers and coverstitch machines. So you can construct seams using the serger mode, and then switch to the coverstitch mode to hem your project. On the “budget” end, the conversion process is manual, so expect to spend 5 – 7 minutes switching between modes. This can be frustrating for some sewists. On the higher end, the machine will have air-threading technology, so the process is much faster.

Best for: garment sewers who want to sew overlock and cover stitches, but don’t have the space for 2 machines. They also don’t mind switching between each mode during a sewing project.

Pricing: £700 – £5000. Here are specific machines that I recommend. This was written for the UK market, but most of the models featured are available internationally.

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