mechanical sewing machine on a table

Mechanical VS Computerized Sewing Machine: Beginner’s Guide

Are you feeling torn between a mechanical vs computerized sewing machine? Or maybe you’re wondering what each of these machines are and what they can do.

When I was searching for a new machine, I felt like I was making a choice of staying loyal to my faithful mechanical machine, or taking advantage of the technology with a more complex machine – and believe me, the debate between which one is better is still going on internally!

Some find computerized sewing machines easy to use while some insist that mechanical machines will do fine for a beginner.

Both machines each have a set of advantages, which are a matter of preference for each sewist, but let me take you on a journey that will tell you the difference between mechanical vs computerized sewing machines.

What is a mechanical sewing machine?

Mechanical sewing machines are the domestic sewing machines most commonly seen in homes today.

The mechanical sewing machine is fairly basic, and requires some responsibility from the user such as moving dials to control stitches, moving the hand wheel, moving the presser foot.

Mechanical sewing machines start sewing by pressing on a foot pedal, which controls the speed.

If you’re more of a visual learner, this video below will introduce you to the features of a mechanical sewing machine.

YouTube video
An Introduction to a Mechanical Sewing Machine

Most mechanical machines have several built in stitches such as a zigzag, straight and one or two decorative stitches. The length and width of these stitches can be adjusted from 1 – 5mm with dials at the top of the machine.

The sewist will have to adjust the tension, which can take a few tries to get right.

The needle will need to be lowered and raised with a hand wheel often situated on the side to the right, and in most cases you will manually cut the thread and thread the needle.

Pros of a mechanical sewing machine

  • Mechanical sewing machines are much simpler to use than a computerized sewing machine. There’s not much that can go wrong in terms of settings, it’s mostly trial and error and lots of practice.
  • Mechanical sewing machines are super low maintenance, as long as you get the machine serviced once a year or so they should last your entire life. The pieces are usually easier to replace with big name reliable brands, if any of the hardware should malfunction.
  • Mechanical sewing machines are often cheaper than computerized sewing machines, and you can sometimes find them in second hand stores.

NOTE

My mother uses my grandmother’s mechanical sewing machine which is over 60 years old, which just shows how long a sewing unit can last when it’s serviced regularly and well looked after.

Cons of a mechanical sewing machine

  • Mechanical sewing machines do take time to learn how to use perfectly as there are so many elements to master such as tension settings, stitches and the mechanics.
  • Using mechanical sewing machines can take longer than a computerized sewing machine, as you need to nail precise stitching and concentrate to the max!
  • Most mechanical sewing machines are limited in terms of their functions and extra features. For example, they don’t come with as many decorative stitches for buttonhole stitches.

What are computerized sewing machines?

Computerized machines are like the robots of the sewing world. They have full computerized controls and often have a small LCD touch screen to make operation easier.

Computerized machines are built with a small computer to control the different functions of the machine. The responsibility falls on the machine, and will do everything from adjusting your needle to your stitch length.

A set of sewing machjines on a table
A table of computerized sewing machines

Some machines have built-in embroidery designs for decorative embellishments, and a USB port for the user to import their own stitch designs.

These are more commonly seen in professional sewing environments, used by tech savvy sewers who create garments from fabric. They have several advantages over mechanical sewing machines.

Pros of a computerized sewing machine

  • Because of the precision of using pre-programmed built-in stitches, computerized machines often sew more precise and neater basic stitches. The tension is automatically set based upon the stitch length and width, although you can adjust it via the screen if you desire.
  • A computerized machine offers so many features and cool functions, such as an automatic thread cutter; automatic needle threader; automatic buttonholes; needle up down button; stop start, and more built in decorative stitches.
  • A computerized machine allows you to have better speed control over your sewing as you can set your desired speed, whereas a mechanical sewing machine, the speed is controlled with your foot – if you are jolted can result in some questionable stitching. This makes it easier to perform free motion sewing.

Cons of a computerized sewing machine.

  • Computerized sewing machines of course come with a higher price tag in comparison to mechanical sewing machines, so if you’re on a budget these may not be the machine for you!
  • Computerized sewing machines come with a complicated plethora of additional features and bells and whistles and for a beginner sewer you may end up paying for features that you just don’t use such as a knee lift presser foot.
sewing machine screen
Some computerized sewing machines have an LCD
  • Because a computerized machine is made up of a lot of electrical components, the risk is greater if the unit malfunctions. Parts are more delicate and require more upkeep to perform optimally.
  • I’m skeptical as to how durable computerized sewing machines are (a controversial opinion I’m sure), but think about the life of a phone with all the updates etc. you don’t want a computerized model to become redundant after a few years because of technological improvements in these electronic sewing machines.

Should I use a mechanical or computerized machine?

Whether you should use computerized vs mechanical sewing machines is dependent on what you want to sew.

… dependent on what you want to sew.

If you are looking to expand on your sewing knowledge then a computerized sewing machine could be an ideal unit for you, but if you are looking for a simple unit that welcomes you into the world of sewing, a mechanical machine may suit.

Things to consider

If you are going to make a purchase of either machine, there are some considerations to be made in mechanical vs computerized sewing machines.

Usage

Consider what you are going to use the sewing machine for.

If you want to repair items, or whip up something simple like cushion covers or place mats then a mechanical sewing machine will provide basic sewing.

a mechanical sewing machine on a table
A vintage mechanical sewing machine

If you’re looking to step up your sewing game then a computerized sewing machine could help expand your sewing skills.

Whilst both can be used as for quilting, if you’re a serious quilter you may want to invest later down the line in a specific sewing and quilting machine. They are more capable of handling all types of fabric and quilt sandwich thicknesses.

Ease

There are less features to get your head around with mechanical sewing machines.

The technological advancements haven’t changed too much over the past 100 or so years with these machines, so if you’ve ever used one before it’ll be like riding a bicycle and you’ll pick it up quickly again!

Computerized ones can be easy to use with practice. I feel like some people just pick up bits of technology easily, so if you’re one of those, you’ll probably find the many automatic features easy to navigate.

Some users of these machines find them easier to work with because of how helpful the automated features are which can be used in heavy duty projects.

Technology

The best computerized sewing machines are going to be a challenge to learn, and like all new pieces of technology – you do have to be a little technologically savvy to work computerized machines.

woman writing on paper at a sewing machine table
New technology can take a bit of learning and getting used to

There’s no guesswork when using a computerized sewing machine, and the built-in computer will tell you the best stitch type and speed for the projects, and will then monitor the stitching for precise results.

NOTE

If you’re someone who is not massively into machines, gadgets or embracing lots of change then maybe a mechanical unit could be suitable for your projects. If you like to keep it simple and keep it basic then stick to a mechanical.

Affordability

Unless you’ve got loads of money sitting in the bank for a new sewing machine, a price point is going to be something that needs considering.

As mentioned previously computerized sewing machines are going to be a lot more expensive than most mechanical machines.

If it’s your first machine, or you don’t have a lot of money to spend then you may be limited to buying a mechanical one.

A mechanical one is usually in the lower price range, compared to a computerized sewing machine and you can purchase a top end new mechanical unit for much less than a computerized one. You shouldn’t really pay more for a sewing machine than you really need.

Maintenance

In my experience, maintaining a mechanical sewing machine has been easy and fairly cheap.

Of course a computerized sewing machine will be more costly than any other machine type to maintain due to all the electronic parts, and because of all the software you may require going to see a computerized sewing machine specialist.

A pair of hands working on a sewing macine
Maintenance is important if you want a well-oiled sewing machine!

Durability

A computerized sewing machine is likely to handle multi layer thick fabrics, better than a mechanical machine.

If your sewing projects are going to extend to quilting or sewing you may need a heavy duty machine that is a computerized one as it may be more durable due to the higher stitch speed.

However, in terms of their lifetime, I would say that a mechanical electronic sewing machine would probably last longer in terms of technological and software advancements.

Features

When it comes to features a computerized vs mechanical sewing machine will win every time.

A computerized sewing machine comes with a huge array of features that save time and will make sewing easier for you in comparison to mechanical ones.

An automatic needle threader is one of the best features in my opinion as it saves time and frustration, but other automatic features include automatic thread tension adjustment; bobbin winder; thread cutter;  locking straight stitch options for reinforcing seams and auto tying threads to secure the ends of seams.

A mechanical sewing machine has much fewer features as most of the above have to be controlled manually.

Conclusion

If you’re still not sure which machine to choose from mechanical vs computerized, remember that if you do purchase a machine it doesn’t have to be the final one.

If you’re totally new to the world of sewing, a mechanical sewing machine will give you the chance to develop your sewing skills and see how far you want to take the hobby.

The Next Level

Once you’ve accomplished the basic skills, you might feel ready to take the leap in the world of computerized sewing machines.

On the other hand, if you want to expand straight away into manufacturing fabric goods, then computerized sewing machines could be a great purchase for you.

Now that you know the differences between mechanical vs computerized sewing machines, I hope your decision is a little easier.

Make a choice which is based upon what and how you wish to sew – and do let me know in the comments which one you prefer!

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Kris Daub
Kris Daub
[email protected] byCurated I'm a maker at heart! I love to create and tech others to create. I particularly sewing and hand crafts like ebroidery. I also love larger home decorating projects. ✂️ ?